FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons (3-4) are fresh off their bye week and will carry a two-game win streak into Washington for a meeting with the Redskins (5-2).
The Falcons have yet to win on the road this season, but they play three of their next four games away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That stretch, which starts Sunday, will determine whether Atlanta has serious playoff hopes or not. They could help their case in that regard with a win against a NFC foe this weekend.
Here are the three key matchups that could shape how this game unfolds:
*1. Falcons' interior offensive line vs. Redskins' interior defensive line *
The Redskins have one of the stoutest defensive fronts the Falcons have faced so far this season, and it really begins on the interior of the defensive line. Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis and Da'Ron Payne are the three guys to watch in the middle of the Redskins' defensive line, and they are strong run defenders and powerful pass rushers who can collapse the front of the pocket. Ioannidis leads the Redskins with 5.5 sacks, while Allen has four sacks and Payne has three sacks.
It's not just about the sacks for those three guys, however. They are a big reason why the Redskins have the league's second-best run defense and are allowing only 80 yards per game to opposing teams on the ground. The play of Alex Mack, Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland will be crucial for the Falcons not just in the run game but in the protection of Matt Ryan.
2. Falcons' run defense vs. Adrian Peterson
Washington plays a traditional style of offense, meaning the Redskins' running game leads the way with the pass game complementing it. Adrian Peterson has proven the perfect back this season for that ball-control style the Redskins employ. He's having a renaissance in 2018 and currently has the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL with 587 on 127 carries.
Atlanta's run defense played well against Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley, holding him to just 43 yards on 14 carries. They were effective against Barkley because the Falcons rallied to the ball-carrier and had more than one man making the tackle. The Falcons will have to do the same against Peterson.
"You can contain him, you can contain him, and when you take a break, he doesn't," Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. "One man shouldn't make the tackle on this guy. And he would not let one man make the tackle. So we've just got to be prepared from that standpoint."
3. Falcons' early down offense vs. Redskins' defense
Another aspect of the Redskins' defense that stands out is their ability to get off the field on third downs. Teams are converting just 36.9 percent on third down against the Redskins, which is the ninth-lowest rate in the NFL. But one factor that plays into that is Washington's success on first and second down, which often forces an offense into a third-and-long situation.
"They've created quite a few third down and longs," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I don't know where their numbers would rank, but when I look at the third and ten-pluses, there's a lot. That's a good reflection of the way they're playing on first and second down."
Opposing offenses have run 47 third-down plays of 6 yards or longer against the Redskins this season. They've only picked up a first down on eight of those plays, a conversion rate of 17 percent. Suffice it to say, that's not a way to beat this team.