FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – This weekend's matchup between the Falcons (3-4) and the Redskins (5-2) will offer a litmus test of sorts for how certain styles can be effective in the NFL in 2018.
With a high-flying offense that seeks to hit explosive plays and a fast, slightly undersized defense, the Falcons are built for the way the league has evolved over the last decade. The Redskins, meanwhile, play a more traditional brand of football, focusing on shutting down opposing run games and controlling the clock on offense.
"I think, at the end of it, both teams are playing true to their style," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Some of the strengths I see in them and how square and strong they're playing in the run game … But, where I do love some of our matchups, the way we can feature the guys, the speed that we have. When I say both teams are true to their style, that's why it's a pretty cool matchup."
Naturally, these two different approaches have led to different types of games for these two teams. The Falcons have found themselves in plenty of shootouts this season with both teams scoring at least 28 points in nearly half of their games.
That's not the case in Washington. The Redskins have scored more than 24 points just once this season, and they've allowed only one team to score more than 21 points. Their last games – all wins – had final scores of 23-17, 20-17 and 20-13.
Sunday's game could come down to which team is able to impose its style of play.
If the Falcons are able to jump out to a quick lead, as the New Orleans Saints did in their 43-19 win against Washington, the Redskins may not have the firepower to keep up. Conversely, if the Falcons aren't able to get the Redskins' offense off the field and are forced into third-and-long situations by a stout defensive front, they could remain winless on the road.
"They've created quite a few third-down-and-longs," Quinn said "I don't know where their numbers would rank, but when I looked at the third-and-10-pluses, there was a lot. That's a good reflection of the way they're playing on first and second down. I think that's a byproduct of them playing good, too, in the run game."
The Redskins have the No. 2-ranked run defense in the league, allowing 80 yards per game. Washington also ranks fourth in total yards per game (322.4), fifth in points allowed per game (19.1), is the ninth-best defense on third down and gives up a first down just 36.9 percent of the time.
And Washington isn't just doing this against lesser-caliber running backs. Here are the opposing leading rushers in each of the games the Redskins have played:
- David Johnson, Cardinals – 37 yards
- Jordan Wilkins, Colts – 61 yards
- Aaron Jones, Packers – 42 yards
- Mark Ingram, Saints – 53 yards
- Christian McCaffrey, Panthers – 20 yards
- Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys – 33 yards
- Saquon Barkley, Giants – 38 yards
But just because the Redskins are one of the league's best teams at stopping the run, Quinn says the Falcons won't be afraid to try and pick up yards on the ground. Atlanta focused on correcting some of its issues with its rushing attack during the bye week, and the Falcons' offense is at its best when they can run the ball effectively.
"So just because they're good at [defending] the run, doesn't mean we can't [try to run the ball]," Quinn said. "We're going to run the ball, knowing that's an important part of what we do as well. They just happen to be one of the very best a defending it. That doesn't mean that we don't go down that road."