NFL Preview - Atlanta (4-0) at Washington (2-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - They call him "Matty Ice" for a reason.
When the going gets tough, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan seems to
overcome the pressure and bring his team out on top. Through the first four
games of the season, Ryan has done that for the 4-0 Falcons.
The Falcons aim for the best start in franchise history Sunday against Robert
Griffin III and the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, and are coming off an
exciting 30-28 finish versus the NFC South-rival Carolina Panthers.
Ryan lived up to his moniker by getting the Falcons into field position for
placekicker Matt Bryant, who nailed a 40-yard field goal with five second left
to put Atlanta ahead for good. Ryan, though, chucked a 59-yard pass to Roddy
White from the one-yard line in the final drive to set up Bryant's kick.
"We made the plays when we needed to," Ryan said. "That's what you need to do
week to week in this league."
Ryan threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns with an interception for
Atlanta, which is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since reaching the NFC
Championship Game in 2004. The Falcons also were 4-0 back in 1986. Ryan, who
has thrown at least two TD passes in every game this season, had a 107.2
passer rating and has hit the century mark in that category in all four games
this season. The Falcons are 27-0 when he has a rating of more than 100.
Sunday's performance marked Ryan's 11th career 300-yard game -- two shy of
breaking Steve Bartkowski's all-time franchise mark of 12 set from 1975 to
1985. Ryan has an NFL-best 112.1 rating, is tied with Griffin in completion
percentage at 69.4, is second with 11 touchdown passes and has been sacked 11
Ryan was a sacked a season-high seven times versus Carolina.
"I don't want to get into all of the specifics, but there is more than just
the five offensive linemen that are responsible for pass protection," Atlanta
coach Mike Smith said. "When we don't protect the passer, the first group that
gets scrutinized is the offensive line. The running backs, the tight ends, the
wide receivers, and the quarterback are all part of the success that we have
or the success that we don't have, in terms of protecting the quarterback.
Every group was a part of us not having the protection that we needed."
Who knows if Ryan would be this successful so early without White? White
caught eight passes for a season-high 169 yards and a pair of scores on
Sunday, and owns a franchise-best 30 100-yard games. Julio Jones is another
receiving threat, but had just one reception for 30 yards. Jones and White are
a dynamic duo for the Falcons, who are third in points scored (31.0) and 11th
in passing yards (267.5) this season.
Atlanta did the best it could to contain Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton connected on 15-of-24 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, and also
carried the ball nine times for 86 yards and a score. The Falcons have another
stiff test ahead with RGIII and a high-octane Redskins offense.
Washington put the brakes on a two-game losing streak by squeezing out a 24-22
win at Tampa Bay on Sunday. One game after getting sacked six times and
throwing for 221 yards with a touchdown in a 38-31 loss versus Cincinnati,
Griffin threw for a career-high 323 yards and was sacked just twice.
RGIII ran for a score and Pierre Garcon came back from injury to recover a
loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown, as the Redskins racked up 474
yards of offense, including 160 on the ground against the NFL's top-rated run
defense, and blew an 18-point lead. The yards total was the most since 481
versus Jacksonville on Oct. 1, 2006.
Griffin's headset was not working on the final drive that set up Billy
Cundiff's decisive 41-yard field goal with three seconds to go. Cundiff missed
three other attempts.
"Every week, we always practice me calling the plays [as if] the headset has
gone out," Griffin said. "The funny thing is, the headset did go out on that
Griffin scrambled for 43 yards and was sacked just twice, one week after the
Bengals got to him on nearly every play. Alfred Morris played a big role in
Sunday's win with 113 yards and a score on 21 carries, and has been averaging
94 yards rushing in four games. RGIII, Morris and Arian Foster of the Texans
lead the NFL with four rushing touchdowns.
The Redskins have the best ground attack in the NFL at 175.5 yards per game
and will face an Atlanta defense that is 29th against the rush, giving up
146.2 ypg. Having left tackle Trent Williams at full strength was a plus after
he was knocked out of the Cincinnati game.
Washington hopes to halt a seven-game home losing streak in its second game as
the host this season. It suffered a 31-17 loss to Atlanta in the previous
meeting in Week 9 back in 2009 and has dropped two straight and three of the
past four meetings between the conference foes.
The Redskins are 15-6-1 in the all-time series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
It will be interesting to see if Ryan can stay hot heading into a hostile
FedEx Field. Defense used to be Washington's forte, but now the tables have
turned and Griffin has the offense leading the way. The loss of Brian Orakpo
and Adam Carriker is huge for Washington, which will have to harass Ryan into
making mistakes. Carolina registered seven sacks in last week's loss.
"Matt's done a very good job through the first four games," Smith said Monday.
Ryan has been intercepted in each of his last two games and faces a Redskins
defense that is decent against the rush, allowing 89.0 ypg, but 27th in points
allowed (30.8), 29th in total yards (415.2) and 31st in pass defense (326.2).
The poor pass defense should get Ryan and White excited, as they have been a
dangerous tandem through the first four weeks. The Falcons should be wary of
Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who has 3 1/2 sacks on the season and at
least half a sack in all four contests. Kerrigan is expected to carry the
defensive load up front with Orakpo gone.
"Losing [Orakpo], you've got to try to take advantage of it," Redskins
defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "(Kerrigan has) got some good
pressure. We'll keep trying to get the right match-up for him and for the rest
of the group and get him in a position where we can win."
Washington has manufactured a potent ground game in the first quarter of the
season. Griffin and Morris deserve most of the credit for that. RGIII, who
joined Newton (2011) and Ryan Tannehill (2012) as the only players to reach
1,000 passing yards in their first four games of their rookie seasons, keeps
defenses honest and should have another productive day versus Atlanta's
mediocre run defense that yielded 199 yards on the ground to the Panthers.
Newton is a tough customer and the Falcons did their best to contain him with
three sacks, one by defensive end John Abraham that sealed the win. It could
be deja-vu all over again in Week 5.
"When you're playing a running quarterback you have to account for him, and
there were often times the guy that's accountable for him is a defensive end,"
Smith said in reference to Abraham.
Morris had his first 100-yard game for the Redskins, who have rushed for 150
yards or more in four straight games. RGIII and Morris are the first pair of
rookie teammates in NFL history to each run for four touchdowns over their
team's first four games.
The Falcons haven't been short on points this season and a showdown with a
Washington stop unit rated 27th in scoring defense will help them to the best
start in team history. Ryan has been recipient of all the hype for the "Dirty
Birds" and is expected to pick apart the Redskins' secondary for at least
another 300 yards. Falcons running back Michael Turner has been flying under
the radar lately and is becoming more involved in the passing game. Atlanta
has the blueprint in containing athletic quarterbacks and will face the second
one in as many weeks. Griffin is too talented to be stopped completely and an
improved ground game will keep the score respectable.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Falcons 27, Redskins 20
10/04 14:55:06 ET
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