Do Da Dirty Bird: Previewing Week 16, Falcons v. Bills

John McCurdyCorrespondent IDecember 27, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 20: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons gets ready to pass the ball during an NFL game against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium on December 20, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim Luzzi/Getty Images)
Jim Luzzi/Getty Images

The 1-2 records in the past three weeks of the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills appear similar on the surface. But I don't have to tell you that looks can be deceiving, now do I?

The Bills are averaging 13 points on a little over 120 yards passing and considerably less than 100 yards rushing per in that stretch. They've guaranteed themselves another losing season, despite the move for Terrell Owens in the summer and the promise showed by Trent Edwards in '08.

The Falcons, on the other hand, put up a decent fight against the best team in the NFC and gutted out a tough road win at a decent New York Jets team over that span. They've kept their hopes for back-to-back winning seasons alive, and ignoring the debacle of a game that occurred when the Eagles came to town, they've looked a little like the team of the first four weeks of 2009.

In other words, one of these clubs is performing like their same old selves - disappointing and mediocre year after year. The other might just be ready to buck their trend, get the gorilla off their collective back, and legitimize themselves as an NFL team.

One of the marks of a true pro is being able to find something to play for when there apparently is nothing. Last Sunday the Falcons did it and took a big step towards finally becoming a legitimate NFL team.

Now can they do it again?


Buffalo Rush Offense vs Atlanta Rush Defense

Allowing just 99 yards (and zero points) on the ground to the best rush offense in the league was an important confidence-booster for our run-down (pun intended) defense last week. It's got me thinking that we can handle what Buffalo's 17th-ranked unit throws at us.

Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch continue to share carries in this backfield, though neither one has shown much throughout the campaign. In my personal opinion, both have a chance to be decent lead backs, but I think it's safe to say at this point (with all of one triple-digit rushing game between them) that they are not making good on their potential here in '09.

Of course, it's far from just the backs' fault; indeed, the real culprit is probably the ineffectiveness of the passing game, but more on that later. Anyways, in terms of the big let-down (read: coughing the rock up), Jackson and Lynch have fumbled just five times.

But that's just about the only thing the Bills can take away from their offense at large this campaign. We, meanwhile, are coming off somewhat of a renaissance with Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson playing again like they just came off summer workouts.

Between them, they had 23 tackles against the Jets, reminding me intensely of how we stopped the solid attacks of the Dolphins and Panthers in Weeks One and Two.

Tell you what: Those two give me 18 today, and I'll be happy. Lofton's injuries are certainly a concern, but with the line's distraction of Jonathan Babineaux's arrest seemingly already on the past (not saying it should or shouldn't be...just that it is), other people providing the necessary compensation is likely.


Atlanta Rush Offense vs Buffalo Rush Defense

To put it nicely, Dirty Bird fans can look forward to next year when Michael Turner will hopefully be healthy again. I mean, with the amount of time he's been out this year, when he returns healthy in '10, it'll be like his debut season with us all over again...right?

The point is, Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, for all their efforts, are not getting much of anything done. I've said it before and I'm afraid I must say it again: The run game is serving the role that the pass did last year, in that it appears with about a third of the frequency of the alternative in the hopes that it keeps defenses partially honest.

The Falcons face a D not nearly as fearsome as New York's, but still with its threats. Sure, there's a big discrepancy between the linebacking corps with Bart Scott and David Harris clearly outclassing Scott Posluszny and Keith Ellison, but what Buffalo packs the box better than the Jets. Bryan Scott might be out, but George Wilson is way better than just a "backup" and might just rank as the most underrated safety in the league right now.

In terms of playcalling, I rescind my remarks encouraging creativity. Snell going up the middle or taking a short pass is way better than trying to run a reverse, and I realize that now. Norwood is slower coming off his injuries, so I think simple, low-risk plays suit him better for the moment anyway.

Some good news for us is that the line is back at full health. They need to not underestimate Kyle Williams and Aaron Schobel on Buffalo's line, as both can break through (they have eight and six tackles for loss, respectively).


Buffalo Pass Offense vs Atlanta Pass Defense

Well, at least we'll (hopefully) get to see something new today: Brian Brohm in extended NFL action. Sure beats the heck out of more of former Bengals benchwarmer Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Regardless of our opponent's offensive leader, though, my focus is on poor Trent Edwards. It's too soon (and to cruel) to assume he'll suffer the same fate as the last talented-but-unfortunate Bills quarterback, J.P. Losman; after all, this is just like a delayed sophomore slump, and he couldn't do anything about his ankle.

Still, this was supposed to be his year, with T.O. complementing favorite target Lee Evans in a wide-open vertical passing game. Alas, the football gods are a mean bunch.

For once, I'm not going to moan about our cornerbacks' chances to match up; we ought to just let 'em beat us, considering Buffalo is 29th in the L in pass plays over 20 yards. You want to talk about an inability to capitalize on a roster's strengths?

Overall, the aerial assault of our foes ranks 30th, and their slingers have notched 14 TD to 17 interceptions. And beyond that, they're tied in second for sacks allowed (not that we particularly like getting after the QB, but it's something).

To be fair, there was a fair amount of shakeup on the line this offseason. Anytime a team has Jason Peters leave and must replace two other spots (LG and C) with rookies and free agents, it's tough.

But weren't all the new fellas they brought in (Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner, Richie Incognito, etc.) supposed to be significant upgrades?

Maybe the curse of the Buffalo signalcaller is spreading...


Atlanta Pass Offense v. Buffalo Pass Defense

Some people I know couldn't stop talking about how shaky Matt Ryan's mechanics looked last week, about how his turf toe injury was clearly affecting his follow through and how he moved backwards and laterally.

What I couldn't shake was that he was out there, despite his aches and pains, leading us to a halfway tolerable performance. The confidence he brings every time he takes the field really does make a difference.

Yep, his number really did look like those of a man playing on the road against the top pass defense in the league, but in the end, he came through. He was mentally on when it counted, though perhaps a little bit quicker to give up on a play (or entire drive) due to his decreased stamina.

At home against the third-ranked pass defense, I like our chances. Ryan's been in practice all week (as compared to once last week), and though he's been limited, that's a week more to heal and get used to the game again. He won't face anywhere near as much pressure, as once again, these aren't the Jets linebackers we're talking about.

Schobel comes off the edge pretty nasty, but the lack of other pressure points produced along the line by his teammates mean he's easy to key in on (and he's got "just" seven sacks to his name this year).

Besides that, Tony Gonzalez looks to have a heyday as he faces no one over 6'1", and Posluszny can't hope to keep up with him all game long while playing defensive coordinator on the field.

It's that mid-range passing game that'll be key; we don't want a hurt Matty Ice throwing into a secondary that has 26 picks (nine from one young Mr. Jairus Byrd) to 11 touchdowns. Besides, Buffalo just doesn't allow the long pass: They're fourth in plays over 20 yards allowed.


Prediction : Falcons 28, Bills 14

"The NFL is a league of parity."

"Everything can change week to week."

"On any given Sunday..."

All so, so true. But I'll put my money on an Atlanta team that dug deep a week ago in cold confines, as long as they aren't looking ahead to a surprisingly formidable road test in Week 17.


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