|Julio Jones, who had two touchdown catches last week, is quickly becoming Matt Ryan's favorite red-zone target. (US Presswire)|
Broncos at Falcons -- Week 2
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta (turf, indoors)
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spread: Atlanta by 3
Records: Falcons (Overall; 1-0, NFC South 0-0); Broncos (Overall; 1-0, AFC West 0-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- November 16, 2008: Broncos 24, Falcons 20; October 31, 2004: Falcons 41, Broncos 28. Series record: Broncos hold an 8-4 edge.
What’s important: For the Atlanta Falcons, the 40-point outburst against an unhealthy Kansas City Chiefs defense masked the need for a balanced offense. The Falcons threw on 56 percent (31 of 55) of their plays, averaging 9.4 yards per pass. But they got just 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. Coach Mike Smith has put an emphasis on running the ball this week after Michael Turner ran for just 32 yards in the blowout win over the Chiefs. The Steelers, who lost to the Broncos last week 31-19, had just two rushing first downs compared to 15 passing first downs. Atlanta’s ratio against the Chiefs was four rushing first downs to 17 passing first downs. On defense, the Falcons’ communication will be vital given Manning's propensity for the no-huddle offense. Manning exposes indecisions in defenders and with CB Brent Grimes out for the year, Chris Owens, who’ll sub in for nickel formations, will be tested by the pass-heavy offense, which is loaded with receiving talent.
Who matters: QB Matt Ryan proved against the Chiefs why many pundits believe this will be the year the fifth-year quarterback makes the jump from good to elite. He distributed the ball evenly among his deep receiving corp, varied his play-type with newly installed screen plays and was the only quarterback in the league to throw for three touchdowns and no interceptions. He even got TE Tony Gonzalez a touchdown in his first return to Arrowhead Stadium. “I have the utmost respect for him,” coach John Fox said on Thursday. “You earn that respect by what you see on tape. He had a great outing against an opponent we are very familiar with in the Kansas City Chiefs.” Denver will be hard pressed to allow just over 200 yards passing for a second consecutive week.
Key matchups: WR Julio Jones vs. CB Tracy Porter. Ryan wouldn’t say whether Jones has surpassed Roddy White as his favorite red-zone target, only conceding that he has three No. 1s in Jones, White and Gonzalez. Nevertheless, the 6-3 Jones had six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns last week vs. Kansas City. He’ll match up against Porter, who had an up-and-down game last week against Pittsburgh. The 5-11 Porter returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown last week to seal the victory but had been beaten on a 3-yard slant pass for a touchdown against the Steelers’ Mike Wallace early in the fourth quarter. “He was so frustrated when that guy [Wallace] caught the ball in the end zone earlier. I just told him, ‘Calm down; things will bounce your way and you’ll make a play,’” veteran cornerback Champ Bailey told Porter.
Injury report: White, who finished with six catches for 87 yards against the Chiefs, and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon were both limited in practice on Thursday. White had a groin issue, and Weatherspoon was dealing with a hamstring injury. Neither injury is considered serious and both players should be ready Monday night. OL Tyson Clabo was added to the list with a hip injury after not fully participating in Friday’s practice.
Inside stuff: Second-year LB Akeem Dent started his first game at linebacker last weekend vs. the Chiefs after playing solely on special teams last season. Since Atlanta was predominantly in its nickel package, which only features two linebackers, Dent only saw 11 snaps. “I thought he did a very nice job,” coach Mike Smith said. “Sometimes if you just read the stat sheet it can be very deceiving.”
Connections: Falcons coach Mike Smith was the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-2007 when current Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was the coach in Jacksonville. Dirk Koetter, Atlanta’s first-year offensive coordinator, was in the same capacity under Del Rio last season in Jacksonville. Denver LB Keith Brooking will return to the Georgia Dome, where he played 11 of his 15 years in the NFL. “It will be emotional. There’s no doubt about that,” he said to Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Stat you should know: 197. The number of pass attempts Ryan has thrown since throwing his last interception six games ago against the Texans on Dec. 4, 2011, which ties a franchise record set by Steve Bartkowski between 1982 and 1983.
Bulletin board quote: White posted a series of tweets commenting on the Broncos’ style of defense that caught Denver LB Wesley Woodyard’s attention. “No comment on that,” he smiled and said to Broncos RapidReporter Andrew Mason. “We knew about that, but we’re focused with what we have to do on defense.”
Watching film and the broncos love to play cover 6 and cover 4 little man coverage on third and medium or short #runmiketurnerrun— Roddy White (@roddywhiteTV) September 12, 2012
We can hit some throws over the top I think big plays this could be very interesting— Roddy White (@roddywhiteTV) September 12, 2012
Looking ahead: Following the Falcons’ Monday night game vs. Denver, they’ll travel to San Diego on a short week and play the Chargers on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET. It will be the Chargers’ first test against an elite offense after facing Oakland and Tennessee in the first two weeks.
Prediction: Atlanta 27-20
For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSFalcons.