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Storylines: Atlanta Falcons vs. Washington Redskins

Dan Ciarrocchi explores four storylines before the Atlanta Falcons travel to FedEx Field to take on the Washington Redskins.

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

There's a lot to dread this week if you are a Redskins fan anticipating the undefeated Falcons coming to town. But there's also quite a bit that hasn't been considered which could make this game a much closer contest that it's being perceived to be. Dare I say it's favorable? No, I won't go that far, but it's worth mentioning that going to The Superdome to face a furious Saints team on opening day wasn't a favorable situation either. And we all know how that turned out.

So let's take a deeper look at what the Redskins and Falcons will be getting into this weekend:

1. How Do the Redskins Stop Matt Ryan?

They don’t. Their best bet is to slow him down.

Matt Ryan has had superb protection all season, and if he has time to find Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, he will. It’s imperative that the Redskins get pressure on Ryan, but they are really feeling the loss of Brian Orakpo this season. The bright side is Ryan Kerrigan continues to get pressure despite added focus on him, and he has a favorable matchup versus Tyson Clabo who got absolutely manhandled by Charles Johnson a week ago.

Per Pro Football Focus, Kerrigan currently leads all 3-4 outside linebackers with 24 pressures, but he can’t do it all by himself. The tandem of Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson won’t likely put Ryan on his back often, therefore it is imperative that the inside guys like Barry Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Bowen muddle the pocket if they want to force dangerous throws. But against the sturdy interior unit that the Falcons boast, that task is not going to be easy.

2. Two Sides to Every Story

Sure, there is a glaring discrepancy between the Falcons offense and the Redskins defense, but there’s another huge discrepancy that isn’t getting talked about enough—the Redskins running game vs. the Falcons defense.

The Falcons have allowed 5.2 yards per carry this season and six touchdown runs to their opponents, and in case anyone hasn’t taken notice, the Redskins are a team that runs the football. Alfred Morris is a ferocious runner, and is emerging as the biggest steal of the 2012 draft. He could give the Falcons front seven fits this week.

Robert Griffin III is a name that can’t be forgotten either (I mean, how could it be at this point?). The Falcons have a very good secondary even with the loss of Brent Grimes for the season, and should pose a difficult challenge through the air. But reagardless, they are going to have to pick their poison. Do they take a man out of coverage to spy Griffin, and let themselves become vulnerable deep? Or instead, do they not give him the top of the field and risk Griffin gashing them for big chunks of yards on the ground?

Whichever the case, the Falcons gave Cam Newton plenty of room to run last week, as the second-year star racked up 86 rushing yards and averaged nearly 10 yards per carry. Griffin is a different type of runner than Newton, but he is still more than capable of picking up a few first downs with his feet if nothing’s available downfield or if he is flushed out of the pocket.

As far as this Sunday goes, the Shanahans have to know that their best bet to counter the Falcons passing attack won’t be their defense, but their offense. They’re going to need to run the ball and convert to sustain long drives and keep the likes of Ryan, White and Jones off of the field. Personally, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t achieve that.

3. Garcon a Full-Go

For the first time since the first eight snaps of the season, Pierre Garcon will not be limited in the Redskins offense. This is huge news not only for the passing game, but for the running game as well. It’s that second-level blocking that Garcon flashed early on which can be the difference between 5-yard runs and 25-yard runs.

And on the other side of the spectrum, we know Garcon and Griffin have developed a rapport. It’s dangerous to generalize too much from preseason and from the first quarter of one regular season game, but we’ve seen Griffin look to Garcon early and often. With that expanded role and extra attention, things should get easier for Fred Davis and Leonard Hankerson, who are already riding high momentum after strings of solid performances.

4. The Falcons Lead the NFL in Touchdowns from Screen Plays

Screen plays are especially effective when the opposing defense brings the house and over-pursues, leaving the offensive line to pave a clear road for a receiver who would already have green pastures in front of him.

It’s a really good thing that the Redskins defense isn’t the type to bring the house often and it rarely gets caught over-pursuing, and…oh wait. That is actually a huge lie.

To be fair, Jim Haslett made adjustments last week against the Buccaneers when they trotted out max-protection formations, so there is the potential for Haslett to adjust accordingly if need be. But the fact remains that pressure is going to be very hard to come by, and if they resort to extremes by often bringing the house, Matt Ryan can and will burn them.