Jussel: Broncos’ defense should slow down Falcons’ offense
The Denver Broncos have faced four downright scary quarterbacks in four wins.
In order of appearance: Cam Newton of Carolina (defending MVP); Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts (if you are starting a team and have one player to pick, wouldn’t you pick Luck?); Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals (repeatedly has led his team into the playoffs); and Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Bucs (was averaging more than 300 yards passing a game).
And now, appearing today in Denver, the best quarterback in the league and the MVP at the quarter pole: Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
Here’s what Ryan has done in leading the Falcons to a two-game lead in the NFC South with a 3-1 mark: He has thrown for 1,473 yards, more than 368 yards per. He has thrown for 11 TDs and only two interceptions. Last week alone in a 48-33 blitzing of Carolina, he threw for 503 yards and four TDs.
Should the Broncos and their fans be worried? Apprehension is fine. There is, however, reason aplenty for optimism.
First, let’s try these stats on for size: Denver’s Von Miller has 5.5 sacks on the season, the leading total in the league. Teammates Derek Wolfe and Shane Ray have 4 and 3 respectively. The Broncos lead the league in sacks as a team with 17.
The Falcons — as a team — have four.
According to Football Perspective and ESPN, the Broncos defense this season is better than it was last season at pressuring the passer.
Last season, the Broncos sacked the QB 8.1 percent of the time; this season, it’s 10.4 percent. Perhaps even more importantly, the Broncos are pressuring the passer on 38.4 percent of the plays, up from 32.3 last season.
Ryan will be pressured today by Miller and his pals.
Perhaps the biggest worry about Denver this season has been the relative inability to stop the run. The run defense ranked only 30th in the league through the first three games.
Last Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Broncos held the Bucs to 72 yards on 26 carries, 2.8 yards per. It was obvious stopping the run had been a point of emphasis for head coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Atlanta does run the ball well with Devonta Freeman their biggest threat. He is averaging 80 yards per game and the Falcons rank sixth in the league at 124.5 yards per game. Freeman is a scat back who needs to turn the corner on sweeps or screens.
The Denver D’s task will be to keep Freeman cornered, all the while pressuring Ryan. And that, as is usually the case, means it will be lots of one-on-one coverage on the outside, even against Falcon wideout Julio Jones, maybe the best in the league (22 receptions for a league-high 488 yards).
Mr. Jones, say hello again to Denver’s Aqib Talib.
Talib was formerly in the AFC South with Tampa Bay. Talib has three interceptions on the season, two of those coming last Sunday.
If Talib isn’t on Jones, it will be Chris Harris, the third-rated corner in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, just ahead of Talib’s sixth rank.
Julio Jones won’t beat Denver by himself and Atlanta’s other receivers, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and tight end Jacob Tamme, a former Bronco, have been mediocre at best.
Throughout the game, Ryan will look to Jones, who will be blanketed, then dump the ball off to Freeman or another similar running back, Tevin Coleman.
That explosive Falcons offense will be slowed.
The big reason the Broncos win this game, comes when we flip sides: Denver’s offense going against Atlanta’s D.
Even with rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch set to start today, the Broncos will be able to move the ball.
Lynch was superb in his debut in replacing the injured Trevor Siemian last week, showing quick feet and the ability to throw on the run.
There shouldn’t be a need for much scrambling.
Atlanta’s defense, quite simply, is ghastly.
The Falcons rank 30th in the league in total defense, 31st against the pass. Teams haven’t run much (only 102 yards per game) against Atlanta because they haven’t had to, instead throwing for more than 300 yards per game.
Get this: Atlanta’s best pass rusher is 36-year-old part-timer Dwight Freeney, cut loose most recently by the defensively challenged San Diego Chargers.
Lynch will have a clean uniform when the game ends. Ryan won’t.
I’ll take my 3-1 record picking with or against Denver and say the defending champs beat the new kids on the block rather easily, 33-24.