Being bored outta my skull now that our roller coaster ride of an offseason is quieting down, I felt the need to write something.
And I decided I'd give us an opportunity to examine our quadrennial opponents, those of the Confederate NFC South. These slave lovin cousin kissin tooth missin obese southerners are going up against our Pittsburgh Steelers. And were going to be informed. As well as understand why I hate em and they stank!
This will be a 4 part series, examining our slack jawed opponents in order of appearance in the 2010 season.
Our first encounter with the Rebels happens to be on the first day of the season. We play host to the Atlanta Falcons.
Some people may be overlooking this game, given our strong standard of winning home openers. But lets not forget last years opener was, to say the least, a struggle.
Skip the shenaniganous logic I say, and go straight to the facts. Of course, this is a new season, and its a new team every year, but fortunately for Atlanta much of their core is still intact. They also finished an equal 9-7 as did our beloved Blitzburgh. However 9-7 seasons are not created equal:
Our 9-7 season was one of certain frustration. We won games against high caliber teams, such as the Broncos (who are super bowl status in the first half of a season), Minnesota, Baltimore, the Ten'Teeth Titans, and the bye week (which I basically considered a win last year). Unfortunately we really struggled in the games against lower quality teams.
This puts our 2009 campaign at a stark contrast with that of Atlanta's. Atlanta won the games they should have won, and lost those they probably should have lost. Nobody can fault losses against the Patriots, Saints, Cowboys, Giants and Eagles. That having been said, their highest quality win was probably their victory over the Jets by a 10-7 score.
This team is led by rising star Matt Ryan. Ryan benefits from a very strong run game, and solid offensive line. Ryan took just 19 sacks, losing 92 yards on those sacks. He only was sacked once every 24 drop backs. So you have to like that number. Losing just under 5 yards a sack is a good thing. He also has 0 rape claims.
Flip those numbers on our Big Ben, who won't be participating in this game, and you find scary statistics. Ben gets dropped roughly every 10 snaps, and lost almost exactly 7 yards per sack.
I bring these numbers up because I feel they are arguably the most important on the offensive side of the ball. Ryan doesnt have much in the way of star power at receiver. Roddy White has emerged to be at a probowl level, but there is little more. In fact, Tony Gonzalez was the 2nd leading receiver, and the 3 running backs filled in at slots 3-5. White was the only receiver in the top 5 on the team.
What this means is its not difficult to shut down White, but the rest of the players provide delayed outlets. RB routes are never first reads, save screens. Likewise with TE routes. This means Ryan usually has a lot of time to progress through his reads. We can get dink and dunked all day if we don't put him on the ground. Good LB coverage on these outlet routes will be crucial.
However, this all assumes we can stop the ground attack the Falcons bring to the field. Last year, Michael Turner was slowed by injuries, but Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling provide solid relief. The trio accrued over 1700 yards on the year, with Norwood being the least productive. Generally though, we know our run defense won't be missing much. With the return of a very healthy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, as well as Larry Foote, we should have no problem keeping this trio from producing 120 yards in my personal opinion.
This will put the onus on Ryan to handle a lot of the game I believe. I look for him to drop back 30 times, which he is capable of. Again though, Ike Taylor and McFadden should have no problem managing the Falcons modest receiving corps. And with Samoan Jesus flying covering Gonzalez, I really dont see anybody chalking up big numbers on the Falcons offense.
Adding to their probable woes, Ryan faces Two Time ProBowl Snub LaMarr Woodley and
demigod James Harrison. Those two accumulated nearly as many sacks on their own as the entire Falcons squad did last year.
Which leads me to our offense versus their defense. The Atlanta defense is not an extremely powerful unit one way or another. Their 4-3 style could however pose a problem for our running game. We havent had the most success against 4-3's in recent history. Their leading sackmaster is the aging John Abraham, who was second on the team with 5.5 sacks.
In the passing game, they do have a developing core of players. Brent Grimes was their best defensive back last year toting 6 INTs and relatively solid coverage. However his size leaves him vulnerable to physical play, and time and again Atlanta was roasted for big scoring days. They permitted over 30 points 4 times, which shows their vulnerability to big plays and strong passing games.
They will likely be attempting to stop Byron Leftwich, but possibly Dennis Dixon. Either way, I honestly don't think it will make a huge difference. The pass rush will not be incredibly strong here. A team that gets less than 2 sacks a game is not a huge threat.
While our running game may stutter, as our possibly re-tooled O-line continues to get comfortable together, our passing game should not. Mike Wallace should be able to break open some deep plays, and Heath Miller and Mendenhall can keep the chains moving throughout the game.
A small side note. We also have to hope our ST improved over this offseason. It looked fixed last year when James Harrison was finally re-inserted into the lineup. We never had a problem when he started on ST, and while he wasnt on the squad full time we saw nothing but problems. Fortunately Atlanta doesn't have Joshua Cribbs so we probably will be fine. They also only made 19/29 field goals (in a friggin dome half the year) and so aren't going to be making a lot in Heinz Field I imagine.
Boiling it down here. I think there is just one simple key to this game. Keep them from running the ball. Prior to Turner's injury, the Falcons relied strictly on a strong running game. And as such, they usually won whenever Turner was on his A-Game. But when he went down, they scrounged wins together in a variety of ways. That means they can still be resourceful. But to me, they were far less consistent without Turner. Shut him down, and that should solve the problem.
If we can then send the blitz down Ryan's relatively inexperienced throat, he should crumple accordingly. Our offense, even without Large Benjamin shouldnt suffer greatly against their defense. Although I expect a couple of sacks and probably not the most amazing day from our offense. But that having been said, I see a 10 point win in the works.
Failing to beat teams in the NFC South is basically endorsing slavery, illegal immigration, the gulf oil spill, teenage pregnancy, abstinence education, and obesity. Its not just football, its our duty. I hate the NFC South and it stanks!