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Five things to watch when Falcons host Houston Texans in Week 5

The Texans are hot at 2-2. The Falcons are looking for redemption at 2-2. Which team gets over .500 Sunday? 

ATLANTA -- Let's be honest for a second. When the 2023 NFL schedule was released, this Week 5 matchup between the Falcons and Texans wasn't one of your top games was it? It's OK if the answer is that, no, it wasn't. It wasn't high on my initial list, either.

However, the feelings I personally had about this game have shifted in the last four weeks. In said time, the Falcons have gone 2-2. As Scott Bair pointed out in his postgame column last Sunday, you'd take that 2-2 record if this is at the onset of the season, but not within the season itself. That's because how the Falcons have gotten to 2-2 has left something to be desired by way of offensive production.

Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are coming into Atlanta arguably as confident as they've been in a long, long time. Like the Falcons, the Texans are 2-2. Unlike the Falcons, the Texans have won their last two, including a win against the team that just beat Atlanta in London last Sunday, the Jaguars. In their last two games, the Texans have outscored their opponents 67-23. They're a team on the rise.

So, what will Atlanta have to do to keep the Texans at bay? Let's take a closer look at the matchup with your five things to watch this Sunday.


1. More CP action?

Cordarrelle Patterson is on his second week of having a clean bill of health. After working through a thigh injury in the early weeks of the season, Patterson was active against the Jaguars last Sunday. He didn't play much at all, though, which shouldn't come as too much of a shock to Falcons fans who have paid attention to the way the Falcons have worked players back into their regular roles after injury.

Jeff Okudah (who also suffered a training camp injury) was slowly worked back into the starting lineup. In Detroit, he played only a handful of snaps, many of which came in third down packages. By the time Week 4 rolled around in London, Okudah was back as a starter but he was rotated out every now and again. The Falcons are likely following the same pattern with Patterson as to not ramped him up too quickly.

However, unlike Okudah, Patterson's first game back saw him only take one offensive snap at running back. He didn't get a carry nor was he targeted on that lone snap. One has to assume that if Patterson is progressing well (which the lack of appearances of any name on the Falcons injury report this week begs that he is) then that single snap count should rise. By how much? We shall see.

Regardless, the Falcons could use a bit of help offensively. The last two years have shown evidence that the Falcons are usually at their best when Patterson is on the field.


2. Stopping C.J. Stroud

Stroud has been nothing short of impressive through his first four games in the league. Even head coach Arthur Smith said so during the week's prep.

"C.J., he's got a special characteristic," Smith said Wednesday. "We'll see how his career goes, but I'd be betting on him. Good thing he's in the AFC South because I think the guy's got something to him. ... The guy's a good player, and he's shown it so far. And it's our job to go stop him and not make him a good player on Sunday. But I bet you he's going to have a really bright future."

Stroud's stat line has been eye-catching. The rookie quarterback has the fourth-most passing yards going into Week 5 with over 1,200 passing yards, along with six touchdowns. He hasn't thrown an interception yet.

According to defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, the Falcons have their work cut out for them, especially in the secondary. Stroud gets the ball out quick. He's decisive, too, per Nielsen. There's a respect the Falcons already have for the young quarterback. It'll be up to this defense to make him feel enough pressure to trip him up, though.

"He's a very impressive player when you watch him on tape," Nielsen said. " ... It's going to be a good challenge. I'm really looking forward to the challenge on Sunday, and how we match up with those guys."

3. Can this defense hold strong yet again?

We just spent the last five paragraphs discussing a key strength of this Texans offense. Let's spend the next few paragraphs doing the same for this Falcons team: This defense.

Don't believe me? Go and read this week's Nerdy Birds from Matt Haley and John Deighton. There were so many notes and stats that told the story of why this defense has been so solid for four weeks. Here are some of the notes that caught my eye:

  • Atlanta is tied for fourth in three-and-out drives with 40.9% of opposing possessions ending without a first down or a touchdown. The Falcons rank seventh in drives ending with three plays and a punt (25%). Opponents are averaging just 5.61 plays per drive, the 10th fewest in the NFL this season.
  • Atlanta ranks fifth in the NFL in defensive red zone efficiency (40%), tied for eighth in red zone third down conversion rate (28.6%), and ninth in yards per play (2.2) and sack rate (12.5) when teams reach the red area.
  • Entering Week 5, no defense has had more success limiting yards after the catch than Atlanta, who leads the league with only 317 through four games.

Then, there were individual accolades, too:

  • Grady Jarrett is generating a positive pass rush on 62.8% of his rushes this season, his highest mark since 2018.
  • Jessie Bates III has allowed zero receptions and has three interceptions when targeted 10+ yards downfield.

These stats tell a story, the story being that the Falcons defense is a pretty good one. Have they been perfect? No. I am sure there are a couple explosive plays they'd like to have back. But as I wrote in my notebook Monday, when push comes to shove, this defense shows up in the moments that matter most. They have been a catalyst for this team in 2023, not only keeping the Falcons alive but with a chance to win in some cases.

This Texans offensive unit is -- perhaps surprisingly for some -- as high-powered of an offense as the Falcons have played to date. This defense has a challenge ahead, but through four games they've held up their end of the bargain.

4. *That* comment from the Texans locker room

Texans safety Jimmie Ward said something in the locker room in Houston this week that rippled through the Falcons fanbase in Atlanta. As he was breaking down the Falcons offense that he'll face Sunday, this is the comment he made:

"They got wide receivers if they use them," Ward said via a clip from KPRC 2 Houston's Chancellor Johnson. "I don't think they're trying to pass the ball. They're trying to out-physical teams, and run the ball. We're going to have a tough task at hand in stopping them from running the ball.

"When I was on San Fran (49ers), I didn't play last year, but I saw what they did to San Fran last year. San Fran went down there and they ran the ball and beat them up pretty bad. I already know they're going to stick to the run for sure."

Though some saw this comment from Ward as a slight, I tend to think it aligns with how the rest of the league views the Falcons. I go back to Aidan Hutchinson's comments about the Atlanta run game after the Lions beat the Falcons in Detroit, too. It gave me a similar feeling.

"I'm surprised they got away from (running) it more," Hutchinson said. "I thought they were going to – especially in the second half, get back to – that's their foundation is that bounce run game. I thought they were going to get back to it, but they didn't. I thought we did a good job stopping the runs that we got. But it was not the game I expected it to be."

Can the Falcons use Ward's comments as bulletin board material? Definitely. But is it far from what the Falcons foundation (as Hutchinson put it) actually is? No. It aligns with what the Falcons themselves have said time and time again about the team they want to be. They want to out-physical teams. They want to dominate at the line of scrimmage.

Ward speaks with another glimmer of truth, too: The Falcons pass game, collectively, needs to be better and more consistent. They'll have another chance to clean things up against the Texans.

5. A incredible need to get back on track

After the Falcons loss to Jacksonville in London, Drake London was asked what's holding this offense back from being what it knows it can be. His response was that, you know, maybe it's ourselves. Maybe we need to take a long look in the mirror to decide who we are and what we want to do.

I agree with London here. This lack of offensive rhythm has been a factor in wins and losses for the Falcons in 2023. At this point, I feel weird continuously pointing it out. I feel like I am still writing the same thing that I wrote after the Falcons beat Carolina to open the season. Isn't insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Well, that's what I feel like right now.

Here's the thing, though: It's not up to me to break the cycle. It's up to this Falcons offense. They know what they need to fix. Smith has said time and time again that the Falcons always take an objective look at their issues in order to find solutions. I know it's not as easy as simply happening upon a solution, but the Falcons need one. They know that. The Texans know that. I know that, and you do, too.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Washington Commanders.

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