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Bair: Falcons must do two basic things well to beat Washington


The Falcons have a legitimate chance to start a winning streak on Sunday against the Washington Football Team.

These combatants occupy the same plane, with awesome talent at some spots and deficiencies at others.

There's a strong Falcons drive to even their record after two tough losses to start the year, and to play better at Mercedes-Benz Stadium than they did in a messy season opener.


"That matters to us," Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. "You want this to be a home field advantage, but we've got to do our part. We've got great fans here and you want to put out a good product, you want them excited, so it becomes an advantage. I mean, we're not anything without the fans. You might as well just go play in the parking lot, so it does matter, and I appreciate our fans and we want to put a winning product on there.

"We've got to win regardless of where it's at, but yeah, certainly we want to do so at Mercedes-Benz. We've got to do our part to [help that stadium] become a really tough place to play. My responsibility is to make sure we got the good product on the field to do that."

The Falcons must do two things consistently well to beat Washington.

Block and tackle.

I can feel you getting ready to roll your eyes and say that's mandatory every week.

Hold back. Hear me out here.

While, yes, it's always important, it's vital considering the opponent.

If you don't block well, a Washington defensive front featuring Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne will eat you alive.

If you don't wrap Antonio Gibson up and prevent yards after first contact, it's going to be a long defensive day at the office, with steadily moving chains.

As Smith put it, "Gibson's a problem."

Block and tackle.

That's boring stuff sometimes, far less flashy than high-powered attacks and speedy skill players.

It's essential in this game. If the Falcons can win or tie Washington in those areas and they can minimize mistakes, they'll leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a win. Lock it.

That will require better from a Falcons offensive front that has struggled some inside and on the right flank. There's optimism, however, the line is making progress as this season goes along.

"Those guys are coming together," Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. "You can see it on the practice field. Each group develops at different rates. One thing I can say about these guys is that they truly have each other's back. They believe in each other and they push each other. …You watch them ascend, but I love what they're doing with their brotherhood and they mentality they have."

A.J. Terrell and the Atlanta Falcons defense are hard at work as they prepare for this weekend's game against the Washington Football Team. Take a look at the best images in this gallery.

Cohesion is vital up front, and it's being built in-season after a training camp where the first-unit line was in flux at left guard and right tackle. The only way they stand up to Washington's collection of first-round picks is by working well together.

Matt Ryan can be impactful if given time to throw. If he's under constant duress, the offense stalls out.

That's on the pass protection, from the line to the tight ends to the running backs, to let Ryan work.

While Washington has other weapons – Terry McLaurin, in particular, is a handful – shutting down Gibson is key here.

The Falcons run defense was better against the Giants, keeping Saquon Barkley relatively contained. That Giants offensive line isn't good. Washington's, however, has some talent.

Breaking through is key, and it starts with interior force Grady Jarrett but must include all 11 guys closing gaps and tackling well. The Falcons defense is a work in progress, and coordinator Dean Pees believes his unit must look inward to get better.

"The biggest thing right now is us, even more than anybody else," Pees said. "You always have tendencies on a team or a certain guy … and you try to make the guys aware of it. As a defensive coordinator, you try to put together a package that's going to try to take that away. But it's really more about us playing our positions, learning them and seeing something over and over again and, pretty soon, that's how you learn to play it.

"You can't take away everything. You try to take away what they do best, but you ultimately have to go out and execute."


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Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.

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