Three keys to victory
1 Beware of Michael Turner » All the talk about the Falcons' passing game obscures Turner's effectiveness. The tricky part with the Falcons is that if you try to take away the passing game by playing both safeties back, then you leave potential lanes for Turner. He's excellent at making defenders miss and breaking tackles. Turner started slow, but he's gained 183 yards on 27 carries the past two games. If he gets going, the Falcons are tougher to stop. Much tougher.
2 Limit the big plays » Safety Madieu Williams has looked a step slow. If he takes a wrong step it's a killer and especially with Matt Ryan throwing the ball. The Falcons will throw play-action passes, and Ryan is a effective between the hashes and numbers. The Redskins have allowed 20 pass plays of 20 yards or more, third worst in the NFL. Atlanta ranks 20th with 11 pass plays for 20 yards or more, but the Falcons have an NFL-best five touchdown drives of four plays or less.
3 Force the Falcons' defense to stop them » In other words, don't turn the ball over. Atlanta leads the NFL with 12 forced turnovers. Sometimes teams get on a roll and this stuff continues. But if the Redskins handle the ball well, the Falcons' defense will have to prove it can stop teams when not forcing turnovers. They struggled with the zone read vs. Carolina. If they do so again, the Redskins also will hit them with play-action passes over the middle.
LB Ryan Kerrigan
He has 3? sacks, but there's more pressure on him without Brian Orakpo.
RT Tyson Clabo
He allowed three sacks vs. Carolina but had a hip issue. He was beaten with power and speed.
RT Tyler Polumbus
He's coming off his best game, but he'll be challenged by Abraham's speed.
DE John Abraham
He'll line up on both sides. Abraham has three sacks -- he'll also play a big role against the zone read.
CB DeAngelo Hall
He's the Redskins' best matchup vs. taller receivers. He needs help from the rush.
WR Julio Jones
He's been bothered by a hand injury and is coming off a tough game. But he has 16 catches.
State of the teams
Atlanta is 4-0 but is coming off a tough win over Carolina, needing late-game heroics to pull it off. The Falcons' defense was exposed a little bit in that game, but the offense remains explosive. Quarterback Matt Ryan is perhaps playing his best ball, with 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
The Redskins got a badly needed win vs. Tampa Bay, which seemed to calm some nerves in the locker room. And their confidence in rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III only increased thanks to the game-winning drive. But they have real issues on defense. They fared well vs. New Orleans, but the Falcons have better top-end talent at receiver.
The Redskins have an excellent shot at winning Sunday. Their offense should move well vs. the Falcons. But their D? They need to prove more before we believe.
Falcons 30, Redskins 28