The Falcons open the 2012 home schedule with a big Monday night matchup against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Much of the talk heading into the game is about the showdown of two offenses, led by quarterbacks that are highly adept at running the no huddle. Both team's defenses are set for a significant challenge in what appears to be a game with an offensive lean. With a win the Falcons will take a commanding early-season lead in the NFC South.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith said the Georgia Dome crowd is always good for a few penalties against opponents. In front of a packed house on an exciting Monday night, Falcons fans can help give Atlanta's defense a lift as they face Manning. Any advantage that can be found against Manning needs to be exploited and the loud home crowd can play to Atlanta's favor. If a penalty or two is forced and communication between Manning and his offense is compromised, the Falcons will gain an edge in what is a fairly even matchup.
Crowd noise or not, Manning will make things happen. The defense must understand they'll give up some plays to the Broncos, but they neeed to work to minimize the damage. Facing Manning, a QB who appears to see and know everything, Atlanta's D must make sure they're lined up correctly and tight within their scheme at all times. If Manning sees a crack or a seam, he'll use it to his advantage. Additionally, they'll need to make sure they don't allow the no huddle to get them winded and unable to respond in crucial situations, when Manning is almost guaranteed to run his fast-paced offense.
Matt Ryan vs. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller
Denver features two dominant pass rushers in Dumervil and Miller, but they rush from different places on the field. Atlanta's offensive line will need to give Ryan some time to complete passes, but Atlanta's quarterback is also responsible for defeating Dumervil and Miller. If he can call quick plays when he's operating out of his own no huddle and use the screen game to slow down the two rushers, that will go a long way toward neutralizing them. Ryan needs to know their locations at all times and make sure he avoids their speeding rushes with quick recognition and quicker deliveries of the ball.
Falcons Defense vs. Broncos Running Game
While Manning makes the Denver offense go, there are other elements that help keep it engaged. Shutting down the running game will help make Manning one-dimensional and much easier to handle. The Falcons were one of the top teams in the league last season at stopping the run, but this season in the preseason and last week against the Chiefs, they appear to be getting off to a slower start. Stepping up against the run on Monday night will be critical for the defense.