The Atlanta Falcons first game at home in 2012 will be on stage for the entire world on Monday Night Football. They will face off against one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, as Peyton Manning rolls into town with the Denver Broncos looking to hand Matt Ryan and his squad their first loss of the season.
After just one regular season game, it’s clear Manning has adjusted well to his new environment. Ryan and the Atlanta offense certainly looked strong in Week 1 as well, so we might be in for a barn burner tonight.
With Brent Grimes out for the year, the Falcons will need to learn how to cope quickly without their Pro Bowl cornerback. The Broncos have several talented, young receivers ready to push the Falcons secondary to their limits.
Aside from the secondary taking on an impressive passing attack, let’s take a look at what you should watch for on Monday night.
1) Falcons run game: Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers didn’t find much running room in Week 1 against the Chiefs. The duo combined for 54 yards on 18 carries. This wasn’t a problem for Atlanta, as Ryan tore apart Kansas City’s secondary. However, it would be comforting to see the ground game made some progress against Denver.
2) Matt Ryan vs. Denver corners: Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter will take Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside. Jones looked unstoppable in Week 1, while White is as reliable as ever for Ryan. Nickel corner Chris Harris has not participated in practice all week, and if is able to go against Atlanta, Denver’s depth is depleted. Tony Carter is next in line, but he has been off and on with the Broncos in recent years and is anything but sure in coverage. Ryan can exploit this matchup with Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez between the numbers. The Falcons certainly look like they have the upper hand here.
3) Sam Baker vs. Elvis Dumervil: When Dumervil is healthy, he is a dominant pass rusher. This is the first real test for Baker and the Falcons offensive line, as the Chiefs lead sack master, Tamba Hali, was out on suspension last week. Von Miller will also be in the mix. He took down Ben Roethlisberger twice last week, adding to the Broncos total of five against the Steelers.
4) Screen plays: Ryan threw three screens in the season opener. One of those three went for a touchdown. That’s a pretty good ratio if you ask me. Rodgers and Jones are built to tear apart opponents on screen passes, and the Falcons have to continue utilizing their talent in this situation.
5) Mike Nolan planning for Manning: The aforementioned Falcons secondary can no longer rely on Grimes. Christopher Owens was named as the nickel corner, but don’t be surprised if he plays on the outside while Dunta Robinson stays in the slot. Nolan made great adjustments at halftime in the Kansas City game, and he’ll need that same type of charm tonight against Manning. Atlanta has to put pressure on the Broncos star quarterback, or else he can just sit back and dominate. The Falcons sacked Matt Cassel three times in Week 1. That total will have to be matched or exceeded in order to take down Denver.