The Atlanta Falcons will arrive in Houston on Saturday and it'll be the first time since February of 2017 that they've been in the city.
Why is that important? Well, NFC teams head to AFC venues once every eight years, but the Falcons' most visible, most disheartening, most gut-wrenching loss in franchise history took place in this building. With a 28-3 third quarter lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, the city's first ever Super Bowl championship was a fait accompli.
Until it wasn't.
A furious, 31-point Patriots second half comeback left the Falcons without that ring. It's a loss that haunts the city and the fans more than the players, given that there aren't but 12-15 players still on the roster since that night.
But, I'm sure the stain left from that night in Houston still resonates for many in that organization. Compounding the situation for the Falcons is the fact that they're reeling from a pair of losses to two AFC South foes. The Colts held on to a 27-24 win after the Falcons' second half rally, while the Titans went into Atlanta last week and scored 24 points in the first half, leading to a 24-10 victory. Those losses left the Falcons at 1-3, ready to embark on a road trip to its most recent house of horrors in Houston at NRG Stadium.
On the other hand, the Texans are coming off a gut punch loss last week to the Carolina Panthers, so there's a ton of pressure for each team coming into this game. Is it desperation? Is it a must-win situation? It is only Week 5 of the 2019 season, so I wouldn't go that far, but the sense of urgency is going be turned to full volume for both sidelines on Sunday.
Without further ado, let's get to know the wildly-talented Atlanta Falcons.
2019 Schedule - Record 1-3
L, @ Minnesota Vikings 28-12
W, Philadelphia Eagles 24-20
L, @ Indianapolis Colts 27-24
L, Tennessee Titans 24-10
Falcons offense in 2019:
Rushing yards per game - 70.2 ypg (27th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 312.5 ypg (3rd)
Total offense per game - 382.8 ypg (12th)
Turnovers lost - 8 (6 INT, 2 fumbles lost)
Projected Falcons starting offense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
QB - Matt Ryan
RB - Devonta Freeman
WR - Julio Jones
WR - Calvin Ridley
WR - Mohamed Sanu
TE - Austin Hooper
LT - Jake Matthews
LG - JAMES CARPENTER
C - Alex Mack (left game last week vs. Tennessee, did return later)
RG - JAMON BROWN/Wes Schweitzer
RT - KALEB McGARY (rookie)
Other key offensive pieces:
TE - LUKE STOCKER
WR - Justin Hardy
WR - Russell Gage
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Falcons offense:
1. Get just one turnover. The Falcons are in turnover mode right now, averaging two turnovers a game. It's this offense's Achilles heel right now and if the Texans can generate one early, it could hamper this group all day long.
2. Don't let Julio Jones ever see just one man in coverage. Put two on him throughout the day.
3. TACKLE! Running back Devonta Freeman is not tearing it up, statistically. More than likely, he's probably angering his fantasy owners, but he runs HARD. He destroyed the Texans four years ago, slashing through gaping holes. Most importantly, though, he also ran through weak tackle attempts often on that ugly Sunday in 2015. That hasn't changed in four years - he'll embarrass anyone that doesn't bring his big boy pads to tackle him.
4. Austin Hooper is a major problem. The safeties, in particular Tashaun Gipson, have a challenge Hooper in the intermediate passing game. But, if anyone can do it, and do it well, it's Gipson.
5. Find the weak spot up front and exploit it in pass protection schemes. Center Alex Mack has a banged up elbow and left last week's game for a bit. Right guard Jamon Brown left the game last week against Tennessee. Right tackle Kaleb McGary is going to be an excellent player in the future, but he's a rookie with early season struggles. Left guard James Carpenter struggles against some power and technique. As such, there are options to exploit. Find it early and let's make Matt Ryan's life miserable.
Falcons defense in 2019:
Rushing yards allowed per game - 109.5 ypg (18th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 215.2 ypg (T-7th)
Total offense allowed per game - 324.8 ypg (8th)
Turnovers generated - 3 (2 INT, 1 fumble recoveries - Falcons are -5 in TO margin)
Projected Falcons starting defense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
DE - Takk McKinley
DT - TYELER DAVISON
DT - Grady Jarrett
DE - ALLEN BAILEY
DE/OLB - Vic Beasley
ILB - Deion Jones
ILB - DeVondre Campbell
CB - Desmond Trufant
S - Ricardo Allen
S - Damontae Kazee
CB - Isaiah Oliver
Other key defensive pieces:
DE - ADRIAN CLAYBORN
DE - JOHN COMINSKY (rookie)
DT - JACK CRAWFORD
S - Kemal Ishmael
CB - KENDALL SHEFFIELD (rookie)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Falcons defense:
1. Eliminate the penetration. The Falcons run defense is only as good as the amount of penetration it can get into opponent's backfields, in particular star Grady Jarrett.
2. Play action, play action and even more play action. The Titans started each half with the same play - play action, 15-yard dig route - wide open for big plays for the Titans offense.
3. Interior receiving game must be a factor and give this offense opportunities between the numbers/hashes. The tight ends and Keke Coutee (and Kenny Stills, if healthy) must provide quick and dangerous outlets for Deshaun Watson.
4. Keep attacking downfield (deep downfield). It. Will. Happen.
5. Get in the left lane and let's get going 100 mph early and never stop. Up the tempo. Get rid of the ball quickly. Attack from the first play to the last. It's time to unleash the version of this offense that we all know exists.