Scout’s Preview: Bills-Falcons
by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert
Things don’t get an easier for the 2017 for the Buffalo Bills as they play another playoff caliber team in the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta sits atop the strong NFC South with a 3-0 record having already beat the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. While many Super Bowl losers seem to have a down season following a Super Bowl loss, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Atlanta, who is strong both offensively and defensively.
The Bills defense, who has played very well in the opening three games, will have their hands full with the Atlanta offense. The Falcons are led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who has already thrown for 867 yards, three touchdowns and completed 68% of his passes. Right now, Ryan is at the top of his game and is one of the top five quarterback in the NFL.
The Falcons have as good a receiving corps as any club in the NFL. They are led by Pro Bowler Julio Jones who many believe is the best wide receiver in the NFL right now. At 6’3 – 220 with exceptional speed and athleticism, Jones creates a matchup problem with the Bills. Across form Jones is Mohamed Sanu who is another big and physical wide receiver. In the slot is Taylor Gabriel who is the opposite of Jones and Sanu because of his speed and shiftiness. The tight end is second year man Austin Hooper, who is just starting to come into his own. To date he is averaging better than 28 yards per catch in 2017!
The backfield has two outstanding runner in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman is a former Pro Bowler, while Coleman is a great compliment-type who has both speed and power. Both have been outstanding receivers for the Falcons, which means on any given throwing play Ryan has five very strong options.
Bills Defensive Advantage
While the offensive line doesn’t have any Pro Bowl types, they are an experienced group that plays very well together. What will help the Bills with their defensive game plan is Head Coach Sean McDermott’s familiarity with Atlanta. Having spent the last six season with NFC South rival Carolina, McDermott knows how to stop Atlanta as well as anyone.
This will be the third straight week that Buffalo plays against a very strong defense. Atlanta had some difficulties stopping the run in 2016 and brought in nose tackle Dontari Poe to alleviate that problem. At 340 pounds Poe is difficult to handle one-on-one and does a great job clogging up the middle.
The Falcons have a very strong pass rush that has alredy recored nine sacks on the season. When they go to their sub package, outside linebacker Vic Beasley goes to an end positon and is as explosive as any coming off the edge (Editor’s note: Beasley has been declared out of Sunday’s game). Opposite Beasley is Brooks Reed who is off to a quick start with two sacks. The other strong pass rushers for the Falcons are Adrian Clayborn and rookie Tak McKinnley. McKinnley was the Falcons first round draft pick and has a relentless motor.
With NFL offenses the way they are, Atlanta often plays with just two pure linebackers in the game. The two are Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. Neither is very big by NFL standards, but both have exceptional speed and athleticism. This allows them to matchup well versus tight ends and running backs when Atlanta goes to their sub package.
The Falcons secondary is very experienced and talented. While the corners aren’t that big, as compared to some NFL corner groups, they are accomplished zone and man cover guys. The third corner, who gets a lot of playing time, is Brian Poole. He’s really their fifth defensive back and can play either corner or safety. After three games, he is the Falcons leading tackler with 22. Strong safety Keanu Neal, the second year man from Florida, is the big hitter in the secondary.
With this game being in Atlanta the Bills have to bring their “A” game in order to have a chance. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who played his best game of the season last week vs Denver, has to play even better in Atlanta. That means more roll outs and boots and keeping the wide receivers as a big part of the passing game. The run game was held in check last week and they’ll have to be much more productive this week.
I didn’t think the Bills had a chance last week and they outplayed Denver in all phases. They have to do more of the same for the Bills to have a chance at getting a road win. The common theory in the NFL to get in the playoffs is win and home and split in the road. With the Bills already having one road loss this game becomes very important for them to win.
Read more from Greg Gabriel here.