Key matchups to watch when high-powered Atlanta offense faces Denver
The Atlanta Falcons travel to Denver in Week 5 to take on the undefeated Broncos—and to make a statement that their 3-1 start hasn’t been an elaborate fraud, they are in fact for real.
Within this game, there are two really interesting one-on-one matchups to keep an eye on.
RT Ryan Schraeder vs. OLB Von Miller
One of the best things on Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz’ resumé is the tape he put down last season against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos, which doubtlessly came up in some capacity when setting his market in free agency this past offseason.
In a league of blindside protectors, Miller plays on the open side of right-handed QBs, and yet is arguably the league’s most devastating pass-rusher. Last season, he averaged 5.5 total pressures per game, but had just one against Schwartz when the two met.
That game effectively put the former Brown on the map as one of the best right tackles in the league, even though it was more a continuation of excellent play rather than a level to which he raised himself and then managed to maintain. Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder has been at the same kind of level as Schwartz for awhile now, and has a good case himself to be seen as the best right tackle in the game. He narrowly beat out Schwartz last season in terms of overall grade, and through four weeks this year, is Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest graded right tackle, with an 83.2 grade overall.
But he has never faced Von Miller.
After getting paid in the offseason, Miller has returned every bit as devastating as he left off last season—which entailed winning games almost single-handedly on the way to a Super Bowl 50 victory and Super Bowl MVP award. He is the leading edge rusher in the league with an overall grade of 88.3, has recorded 19 total pressures this season, and forced a fumble that effectively sealed the Broncos’ Week 2 win against Indianapolis. Schraeder hasn’t surrendered a sack this season, but has allowed five total pressures over 159 pass-blocking snaps. On paper, this is a matchup Miller should win, but the same was true last year when he was held in check by Schwartz. This is Schraeder’s opportunity to make the same statement and man up against one of the game’s best; if he can do that, he’ll have a shot of tipping the balance of this game in Atlanta’s favor.
WR Julio Jones vs. CB Aqib Talib
It takes a special kind of athlete to match up with Falcons WR Julio Jones one-on-one, and Carolina had nobody up to the task last week. That meeting resulted in Jones going off for 300 receiving yards on just 12 catches. Former Panthers CB Josh Norman made some comments on that after the game, but Norman has proved little more capable of covering Jones one-on-one in the past. The last time the two met, Jones notched 80 yards from five catches against Norman, and 178 overall in the game.
Norman is proof that you need to be not just a high-level cornerback to go up against Jones and have success, but to have high-level physical traits, too. The current Redskin is certainly a top corner, but he isn’t the best athlete in the league, and doesn’t have elite size and strength. Broncos CB Aqib Talib, however, is certainly closer to ticking those boxes. While Norman stands at 6-foot and weighs 190 pounds, Talib has another inch and 12 pounds on him, which may not seem like much, but is a significant difference when trying to contend with a receiver that has Jones’ size and speed combination.
Talib and Jones have actually met once before, back in 2013 when Talib was playing for the Patriots. Jones had six catches for 108 yards in that game, but none of them came against Talib. When those two squared off, the ball was sent their way four times, and Jones caught none of them, with Talib breaking one up pass and intercepting another. That was overall one of the best game’s of Talib’s career, and he allowed no receptions on seven targets to Jones and Roddy White.
The Broncos likely see Talib as their only CB that can challenge Jones one-on-one from a size and speed standpoint, and how close to replicating that last meeting he can come will go a long way towards deciding how successful this Atlanta offense can continue to be.