Previewing the opposition: Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta arrives in town tomorrow desperate for a win. After blowing a huge lead in last year's Super Bowl, their season got off to a solid start. However, after a somewhat fortunate win in Detroit made them 3-0, they ran into a roadblock in the shape of the AFC East. Buffalo, Miami and New England all beat them and now they need to ensure they don't also lose to the Jets to avoid a clean sweep.

Let's review how Atlanta's roster shapes up:


Reigning MVP Matt Ryan is struggling to recapture his 2016 form. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio are all down on last year and he hasn't had a 300-yard passing performance since opening day. He had eight last year, including the postseason.

Ryan's back-up is Matt Schaub who has only thrown three passes since 2015.

Offensive line

The Falcons' offensive line is anchored by three veterans. Jake Matthews at left tackle is a former top 10 pick and left guard Andy Levitre once signed a contract for almost $8 million per year. Alex Mack remains one of the top centers in the NFL, although he'll be 32 in November.

The only change on the offensive line the Falcons made since last season was to replace veteran right guard Chris Chester with last year's sixth round pick Wes Schweitzer. Chester struggled last year and Schweitzer seems to be improving as the season goes along.

Ryan Schraeder is an excellent run blocker at right tackle but missed a few games earlier in the year with a concussion. His replacement, Ty Sambrailo, struggled but Schraeder is back in the lineup now.

On the bench, they have Austin Pasztor, who started every game for the Browns last year, and rookie fourth rounder Sean Harlow.

Running Backs

In the backfield, the Falcons have a thousand-yard rusher in Devonta Freeman and a decent back-up in Tevin Coleman. They've combined for almost 1,000 yards from scrimmage already this year and the Falcons average 4.9 yards per carry as a team.

Last year, Coleman and Freeman combined for 24 touchdowns in the regular season. So far this year, Freeman has scored five times, but Coleman just twice.

Freeman caught 54 passes last year but has just 14 receptions so far in 2017.

Derrick Coleman is the fullback, although he's only played five snaps in each of the last two games.


Julio Jones is still one of the league's best receivers, but he's having a down year by his usual lofty standards. He has just one 100-yard game this year, after having had seven in 2016. His yards per catch average is down too but he's still catching over two-thirds of his targets and only has one drop all year.

None of the Falcons receivers, including Jones, have more than one touchdown reception this year but Mohamed Sanu has been a solid possession option and the diminutive Taylor Gabriel is a threat after the catch.

Youngster Justin Hardy also sees plenty of action, although he only has eight receptions.

Last year's third round pick Austin Hooper is developing into a nice receiving option from the tight end spot. Levine Toliolo adds some experience.

Defensive line

There's concern over Atlanta's run defense after they struggled over the past few weeks, but they are stout up the middle with Dontari Poe at nose tackle and one of the league's best young defensive tackles in Grady Jarrett, who also produces as a pass rusher.

They have experience at defensive end with Brooks Reed and Adrian Clayborn seeing the most reps. Another veteran, Derrick Shelby, is a good run stopping option off the bench and he started last week. They also have first round rookie Takkarist McKinley getting reps in pass rushing situations and Courtney Upshaw is actually listed as a starter, although he's barely played this year due to ankle and knee injuries.

Their best pass rusher is Vic Beasley who had 15.5 sacks last year and this year has three sacks in four games having missed a few due to injury. Beasley is listed as a linebacker but will mostly play with his hand in the dirt.


At linebacker, in addition to Beasley, the Falcons have two smaller, speedy linebackers in former LSU duo Duke Riley and Deion Jones and a bigger linebacker in De'Vondre Campbell.

Riley, a third round rookie, has been ruled out of tomorrow's game with a knee injury. Kemal Ishmael, who played safety last year, has been playing mostly in the box this year and may be called upon to play more with Riley out.

Defensive backs

Desmond Trufant is the Falcons' best cornerback, although they actually made their run last year after he was lost for the season. Jalen Collins, who replaced him, is currently suspended.

Robert Alford, who is the other starter at cornerback, led the team with 12 penalties last year. Brian Poole remains the team's primary slot corner.

At safety, Keanu Neal is a difference maker who will come up into the box and contribute against the run and pass. He starts alongside Ricardo Allen with rookie Damonte Kazee as the third safety.

Special teams

Placekicker Matt Bryant has already missed three field goals this season, including two from inside 40 yards. Punter Matt Bosher also handles kickoff duties.

Back-up wide receiver Andre Roberts, who hasn't been getting many reps on offense, has been handling punt and kickoff return duties. He already has a 61-yard kickoff return and a 27-yard punt return this year.

In kick coverage, the Falcons lost their most productive tackler from last year when Eric Weems joined the Titans. However, Coleman has been stepping up with seven tackles in six games.