Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.
The Washington Football Team is back on the road to play the Atlanta Falcons hoping to get back to .500. Here are three keys to the matchup, presented by Van Metre.
1. Put pressure on Matt Ryan.
Washington's defense was held without a sack for just the third game in Ron Rivera’s tenure against the Buffalo Bills. If Washington wants to take advantage of the Falcons' offense, which ranks 28th in the NFL, it needs to make quarterback Matt Ryan uncomfortable.
Luckily, there's a prime opportunity to do that against the Falcons' offensive line. The group has already allowed seven sacks on Ryan , but there are more numbers that reveal the depth of its troubles. In Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Pro Football Focus gave the Falcons' offensive line a pass-blocking grade of 1.4 out of 100.
The pressure felt by Ryan on a weekly basis has started to affect the veteran quarterback. Against the New York Giants, Ryan led the league with three "turnover-worthy passes," per PFF. And considering that Ryan is more of a stationary player, as opposed to the likes of Josh Allen, linemen like Daron Payne, who had 11 pressures against the Bills, should see their rushes reach their mark more often.
And while it's undeniable that Washington's pass-rush has struggled, there's still signs it can be dominant. Montez Sweat, for example, has a pass-rush win rate of 90.5%, which is on par with Myles Garrett. It's a matter of time before the pass-rush finally breaks loose, and there's a chance for it to happen Sunday.
2. Start fast.
Washington has experienced issues getting stops and maintaining drives to start games. Washington has allowed opening scores to all three of its opponents thus far, while all three of its own opening drives have ended in punts.
That's not a pretty stats, but it just so happens that Atlanta has had similar struggles. The only difference is that the Giants were held to a field goal in Week 3. For a team that has only scored once on an opening drive since the start of the 2020 season, it's an opportunity to take an early lead.
"We just have to consistently execute," said offensive coordinator Scott Turner. "I gotta make sure I evaluate what I'm doing and make sure I'm putting our guys in the best and the best position to make plays. Just come out ready to play and play fast."
Turner made the point that Washington has often gotten in its own way on drives. Washington had a third-down conversion to start the game against the Bills, but a penalty erased a chunk of yardage gained by Terry McLaurin.
Washington can't put itself in position for that to happen, Turner said. When Washington can put together drives, like it did against the Giants, it led to success. But playing with a lead, rather than a deficit, will help open up the playbook, allowing Turner to use its playmakers more often.
3. Lean on offensive playmakers.
Speaking of those playmakers, there have been a handful who have had solid starts to the season. Antonio Gibson is 12th in the NFL with 190 yards and averaging 4.2 yards per carry. His ground game is a large part of 285 total yards, which is helped by his 73-yard touchdown reception against the Bills, through the first three games.
In the passing game, Terry McLaurin has lived up to his reputation once again with three games of at least 60 yards and a 107-yard outing against the Giants. He leads the league with seven contested catches and has the league's second-best contested catch grade, according to PFF.
If Washington wants to come away from Atlanta with a win, it will need to utilize both Gibson and McLaurin. If that happens, it should open things up for the offense's complementary players, including Dyami Brown, Logan Thomas and J.D. McKissic. And with Atlanta being the second-worst defense Washington has faced, in terms of total yards allowed, the team could bounce back from mustering only 290 yards against the Bills.