With a win on Sunday against the Denver Broncos, the Atlanta Falcons would have back-to-back wins for the first time in the 2020 season.
Interim head coach Raheem Morris said Wednesday the Falcons "have been bullied in the AFC" and wants to see his team have a physical finish this weekend. The Broncos are coming off of a physical finish of their own, a 31-30 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers that ended on a 1-yard touchdown pass by Drew Lock to KJ Hamler.
This is only the 15th regular season game between these two franchises, and for more information on what the Falcons can expect, I reached out to Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) of the Denver Post.
The Broncos' comeback win was impressive, but how much stock should we put into it?
O'Halloran: As unimpressive as they were in falling behind 24-3, they were that impressive in scoring four touchdowns on their five possessions to win 31-30. It was just the fifth time in franchise history the Broncos overcame a deficit of at least 21 points. How much stock should be put into it? A lot depends on Sunday's game against the Falcons. Beat Atlanta and the Broncos are 4-4 and everything is in front of them. Lose to the Falcons and the win over the Chargers won't mean nearly as much. But overall, I would put some importance on it because it showed quarterback Drew Lock can overcome a poor first half, it showed the continued development of rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy and it showed that the defense can intercept some passes (two).
Injuries aside, is Drew Lock making strides to become the quarterback that Broncos fans expected?
O'Halloran: Lock is getting there. Injuries have been his major issue – a sprained thumb in August 2019 and a shoulder injury in Week 2 this year (that cost him two games). His numbers this year are so-so – 58 percent completion rate, more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) and a 72.2 rating. That said, he is 6-4 in 10 career starts (2-3 this year) and had three fourth-quarter touchdowns in the win over the Chargers. Losing receiver Courtland Sutton (ACL) in Week 2 was a big blow to the passing game because Lock trusted him at every part of the field regardless of the route or opponent. The Broncos are all-in on Lock … right now. He will be given every opportunity to stop the Broncos' quarterback upheaval.
What should the Falcons expect from Denver's defense?
O'Halloran: A lot of four-man rush and I'm thinking a lot of zone coverage because cornerback A.J. Bouye was in the concussion protocol as of Tuesday. Bouye's injury leaves veteran Bryce Callahan as the top corner and he plays against the slot receiver on sub package downs, leaving rookies Michael Ojemudia and likely Essang Bassey outside. Coach Vic Fangio calls the defensive plays and he has relied on the four-man run this year except for the New York Jets game in Week 4. The Broncos allowed a season-high 210 rushing yards last week (on 38 carries), their first game without nose tackle Mike Purcell (season-ending foot injury in Week 7). Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb is the player for Atlanta fans to watch. He has 5 1/2 sacks in the last four games.
How do those in Denver view this Falcons club?
O'Halloran: When the Broncos ramp up their preparations on Wednesday, I'm guessing the major talking points about Atlanta will be 1) How the Falcons are 2-1 for interim coach Raheem Morris; 2) How Julio Jones is one of the best receivers they'll face this year; 3) How Atlanta is better than its 2-6 record.
What do the Broncos need to do to win on Sunday, and what do the Falcons need to do?
O'Halloran: Broncos: Continue the Falcons' struggles in the run game (3.8-yard average this year). … Show up in the first half (the Broncos have a minus-40 point differential in the first half). … Match last week's two interceptions. … Get Jeudy and rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam involved early.
Falcons: Make sure running back Phillip Lindsay doesn't start stacking up 20-yard rushes. … Continue the Broncos' misery on third down (30th in the NFL). … if right guard Austin Schlottmann is getting a second consecutive start for Graham Glasgow (COVID-19 reserve list), challenge him as a pass protector. … If Bouye is out, find ways to get Jones matched up against Ojemudia or Bassey.