The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Falcons 2015 Week 5 matchup in Atlanta.
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If you glanced at Julio Jones' stat line last Sunday in the Falcons' blowout victory over the Texans, they weren't particularly impressive, especially in comparison with his performances in the previous three weeks.
Houston made sure Jones was their biggest priority, shading safeties towards his end of the field at all times. Of course, the intensified focus allowed running back Devonta Freeman to have a banner day. Even a relatively poor outing from Jones – four catches, 38 yards – was impactful.
That's one reason head coach Jay Gruden, who calls Jones a "different human being," knows that stopping the league's best passing threat will take more than one position.
"It's going to take a team effort," Gruden said. "It's not going to be one guy that takes Julio away. It's going to be pass rush, the linebackers taking their proper drops, obviously [defensive coordinator] Joe Barry mixing in the coverages here and there and trying to give [quarterback] Matt [Ryan] some different looks and make it as uncomfortable as possible for him."
In four games, Jones has a league-leading 38 receptions for 478 yards and four touchdowns. Thanks to Atlanta's offensive system, he'll likely line up at a variety of places, which means cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Kyshoen Jarrett, who often plays in nickel coverage, will have to be on their toes.
Then there is Roddy White and Leonard Hankerson, two receivers that also have benefited from Jones stealing defenders' attention.
"We can only prepare for the scheme, you know what I mean?" said Breeland. "I can't really dictate as far as what he'll do. I can only prepare for what the offense gives us."
One thing is certain. Ryan isn't afraid to throw to his receivers, and specifically Jones, in coverage, which means all defensive backs will need to bring their hands on Sunday. (By Jake Kring-Schreifels)
TAKE YOUR SHOTS
While Atlanta's offense is all the rage right now with Jones leading the NFL in receiving yards, Freeman leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns and, yes, even familiar face in Hankerson having a breakout year of sorts, their defense hasn't been as stout, as it ranks 28th in the NFL by allowing 390.5 yards per game.
Up front, Atlanta has struggled to generate much pressure to help out the back end. Outside of rookie Vic Beasley – the team's first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft – who has already tallied two sacks, the rest of the Falcons have just three sacks combined.
In the passing game, the Falcons rank 30th in the NFL as they give up more than 305 yards through the air per game.
So even though wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) can't go on Sunday, the Redskins still feel they have other weapons that could tilt mismatches in their advantage at the Georgia Dome.
"We're going to try and take advantage of a few things," said Carrier, who will be the team's top tight end on Sunday. "At the end of the day, we've just got to go out there and play our game."
And at first glance, one might look at the numbers and believe that Atlanta, for all its faults against the pass, has been doing well against the run, allowing just 85 rushing yards per game so far in 2015.
But because the Falcons' offense has been so good, their opposition has been forced into many more passing situations as they try to mount quick comebacks through four games.
The Redskins have the league's most potent rushing attack between Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, and they look forward to trying to exploit the Atlanta defensive front, which has allowed an average yards-per-carry figure of 4.4, tied for the sixth-most in the league.
"You've got power, speed and patience," Jones said of the Redskins' running backs. "Chris Thompson is the speed. Alfred…he's more of a patient guy. And I'm the power guy. It's a lot you have to account for. It's just not playing a running back who just has power. You have three of them bringing good variety to the game." (By Stephen Czarda)
RED ZONE FOCUS
The Redskins know they let some huge opportunities slip away in the red zone last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Of course, Washington still cashed in when it mattered most – Kirk Cousins' four-yard pass to Pierre Garçon with 31 seconds left was the game-winning score – but the team knows that against a high-scoring offense like the Falcons, they must take advantage of their red zone opportunities and score touchdowns, and not field goals, on Sunday.
Now, overall, the Redskins haven't been bad in this category so far in their four games against the Dolphins, Rams, Giants and Eagles. They've scored a touchdown in 60 percent of their trips into the red zone, which is tied for the 11th best percentage in the league.
But, again, Atlanta has been terrific in cashing in from 20 yards out so far this season, as their 80-percent touchdown rate from within the red zone is first in the league by more than three whole percentage points better than second-place Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
Much of that can be attributed to the threats that the Falcons possess on offense. They have a smart, experienced, talented quarterback in Matt Ryan, they have three big-bodied, fast receivers who know how to get open, and they have a running back in Freeman who is on fire right now.
So defensively, the Redskins certainly have their work cut out for them in this particular area. Offensively, the team knows it can't make critical mistakes – mostly in the way of untimely penalties or blown assignments – when they get into those goal-to-go situations.
Cousins said points in the form of touchdowns, no matter how they get them, will be key for the Redskins.
"I think it's important to score points, so whether you get them quickly or whether you get them on a long 15-play drive that eats the clock, you've got to come away with points," he said this week. "I would agree with you that too many times we probably haven't come away with touchdowns when we need to in the red zone. That will be a point of emphasis going forward – how can we get six instead of three?" (By Andrew Walker)
DROWN 'EM OUT
There's no doubt about it – the city of Atlanta is loving their Falcons right now. The team is off to a terrific start at 4-0 and has an offense that shows no signs of slowing down.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 5 match up against the Atlanta Falcons Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
So you can imagine that Sunday's game, played indoors at the Georgia Dome, will present some challenges noise-wise for the Redskins' offense.
The Atlanta faithful will do whatever they can to throw Cousins and Co. off their game. The Redskins know this, and have prepared accordingly, turning up the music at practices this week and working even harder on their means of communication.
"You detail your snap count. You detail your communication in the huddle. You detail the play clock – making sure that when the play call comes in you just have all the words right and make sure communication is as strong as it can be," Cousins said. "As long as everyone is on the same page and has good preparation with practicing with noise this week I think it's something that we will be ready to handle."
Of course, the best way to quiet a raucous home crowd when you're the road team is to get a lead and never step off the gas pedal.
By working on the little things, Gruden and his team hope they can do just that on Sunday.
"The biggest issue is snap count," the second-year head coach said. "Atlanta does an excellent job with their defensive line of getting off on the snap. You can see it at home especially. It is a major advantage when you are on the road for the defensive line mostly, getting off on the snaps. We have to do a good job of snap count and handling that is what we're working on this week." (By Andrew Walker)