OLB Miller versus Atlanta's offensive tackles
There are many different ways to describe a star athlete. On Monday, head coach Dan Quinn called Von Miller a player who can "ruin the game," which, given his performance in Super Bowl 50, feels like an apt characterization. The four-time Pro Bowler already has 5.5 sacks in 2016, and it'll be up to Atlanta's offensive tackles, Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, to slow him down.
Miller has a lot of respect for that duo, and as one of Matthews' college teammates —the two attended Texas A&M together—he knows the LT will put up a tough fight.
"Jake has grown tremendously. He's a tough tackle," Miller said Wednesday. "You can just turn on the film, and you can just see, 'That's the alpha. That's the alpha O-lineman.' I'm proud of him. I went to school with Jake. Proud of him. He's legendary, already a top left tackle in this league. And we're going to have to have a great pass rush to get the game going."
CB Talib versus WR Jones
The Broncos like to call their talented secondary the "no-fly zone," and the moniker has held up of late: In four contests, Denver has given up just 199.6 passing yards per game—the lowest rate in the league. That could change, however, when Julio Jones takes the field at Mile High.
Coming off a career-best performance, Jones will likely see a lot of Aqib Talib, who, according to Pro Football Focus, has allowed only 12 completions on 24 targets this season for 108 yards. What's more, his three interceptions are one shy of the league lead.
Denver's scheme calls for a lot of one-on-one coverage, and it'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tries to neutralize (or at least contain) Jones.
"They play a good bit of man-to-man. They're very good at it, Talib especially," Quinn said. "He's made some terrific plays for them through the years ... He's a very good ball hawk. Those are some of the things that we've noticed about him, but the man-to-man coverage and the ball hawking are certainly things that we've got a lot of respect for him and his game."
Atlanta's LBs versus Paxton Lynch
Falcons CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will have their hands full with WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Similarly, Atlanta's linebacking corps, which is dealing with a rash of injuries, will have a tall order in the passing game.
Sunday will be QB Paxton Lynch's first career NFL start; with a quick release, an accurate arm and a lack of pro experience, he'll likely target his tight ends and running backs on a frequent basis. The University of Memphis product can scramble, too, and making sure he doesn't burn the Falcons on the ground will be important.
Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell, Sean Weatherspoon and Paul Worrilow have been ruled out, meaning LaRoy Reynolds, Philip Wheeler and the newly signed AJ Hawk will be asked to step up at linebacker. If they perform well together and help prevent Lynch from having a strong debut, it'll go a long way towards earning a victory.
"We feel comfortable with where we're at now in terms of adding the player that we did," Quinn said about the LB position. "We've got good versatility in how we utilize the guys. They're totally prepared and ready so that's why we like to move guys around to different spots. And when we do play the system that we play sometimes, the name may change, but that person has done that job before. A linebacker that plays outside (can play) inside. We'll have that versatility in this game as well."