Looking to bounce back from a tough loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons return home for a cross-conference matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders have been one of the surprise stories of the NFL this season, beating the Kansas City Chiefs once and coming very close to duplicating that feat this past weekend. Now, they will attempt to shake off that loss and improve upon their 6-4 record this weekend. Led by tight end Darren Waller and running back Josh Jacobs, the Raiders have the eighth-best scoring offense in the league this season.
To get a better sense of what the Falcons are up against this weekend, I spoke with AP freelancer Willie Ramirez (@WillieGRamirez) who provided some insights on how the Raiders could bounce back from a tough loss and what aspect of their offense Atlanta should really be focused on.
What are the odds of a let-down game for the Raiders coming off of Sunday night's slugfest?
Willie Ramirez: As much as there is chance the Raiders could let down after a disappointing setback to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, there is just as good a chance you see Las Vegas fired up to avenge the loss. Las Vegas has one of the more dangerous offenses in the league, because it can use its rushing game to set quarterback Derek Carr up in play action. Running back Josh Jacobs ranks fourth in the NFL with 755 yards and third in the league with 46 first downs. Las Vegas responded to back-to-back losses earlier this season with a 40-32 win in Kansas City. The Silver and Black responded to a closer-than-the-final-indicated loss to Tampa Bay with three straight wins - all in different manners. Las Vegas might prove to be more dangerous off this loss, than vulnerable.
Who should the Falcons be more focused on: Derek Carr, Darren Waller, or Josh Jacobs?
Ramirez: Considering Atlanta's defense comes into Week 12 having allowed the second-most yards passing (3,003), Carr should be the focal point. The Falcons are allowing 27.5 points per game this season, and Carr is 26-6 in his career when the Raiders score 27 or more points, an .813 winning percentage. He's proven he can lead this unit no matter what scheme coach Jon Gruden has drawn up, be it designed to run with a power rushing game, or to go up top with an aerial display to a number of weapons. Carr is the cog of this engine, and the Falcons will need to stop him to stall the Raiders.
Has a defensive identity emerged for Las Vegas since their bye in Week 6?
Ramirez: While they're coming off a loss that took place in the final moments on Sunday, it's safe to say the one thing the Raiders have learned to do is come up with big defensive plays at the right time. The Raiders were allowing an average of 30.4 points per game through their first five contests. Since their bye, they've given up 24.8 ppg. Their defense is now ranked third in the league with opponents ending their offensive drives with a score just 49% of the time - third-best in the league. The next-man up mentality is the true identity, as it can be any one of the defenders on the field to make a big play.
What is the view of this Falcons team in Vegas?
Ramirez; When you think of the Atlanta Falcons, the immediate thought is Matt Ryan. He's someone who has been to the Super Bowl, and he's someone who's always competed at a high level. His football IQ makes the Falcons dangerous whether they have three wins or eight wins. He makes Atlanta's offense dangerous on every down. This might be the best 3-7 team in the league, with three of those losses coming by four points or less. Their defense has improved since allowing 34.5 points per contest after four games. There's no doubt Atlanta has one of the toughest stretches from this point forward, but if it can figure out how to package complete games, you're talking about a tough defensive front and a fiery offense that is much better than the record indicates.
What do the Raiders need to do to win on Sunday and what do the Falcons need to do?
Ramirez: Las Vegas has to eliminate sloppy play and mistakes and find better consistency on defense. The Raiders had eight penalties called against them last Sunday. On Kansas City's final drive, the Raiders gave Chiefs pass catchers far too much space, something that plays into what Atlanta would need to do to win. While the Raiders need to clean up their miscues and tighten up the secondary to come away with a road win, the Falcons need to exploit those deficiencies and frustrate Las Vegas on both sides of the ball. If the Falcons can keep the pressure on Carr, and force the Raiders to punt, Las Vegas' defense will tire out and wear down for Ryan to work his magic and strike in the second half.