Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Week 4 with Falcons Wire

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The Washington Football Team looks to get back on track this weekend with their first visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face the Atlanta Falcons.

Both teams enter Sunday’s game with identical 1-2 records. Coincidentally enough, both wins came on last-second field goals against the New York Giants.

Washington coach Ron Rivera is looking to get his struggling defense back on track against Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan this week. But Rivera, who coached against Ryan for years when he was with the Carolina Panthers, realizes the veteran quarterback is still one of the best in the game.

“He’s a league MVP,” Rivera said of Ryan this week. “So you know, he’s a really good football player. He’s got a good arm. He still makes all the throws. He is a little older, but with that comes wisdom and experience. And that’s what you see from Matt.”

To get ready for Week 4, we spoke with managing editor Matt Urben of Falcons Wire, to learn everything we could about the Atlanta Falcons.

Washington Wire: Matt Ryan is undefeated against Washington in his career. How is Ryan playing in 2021 in this new offense?

Falcons Wire: Ryan has played progressively better each week thus far, but the offense has been overly reliant on short passes due to poor protection. Arthur Smith’s offense really does fit Ryan well. The line just hasn’t done a good enough job giving Ryan time to let plays develop. Plus, mobility isn’t the Falcons QB’s strong suit — so the offense has been extremely limited thus far. As the pass protection improves for Atlanta, Ryan’s production will as well.

Washington Wire: We know Arthur Smith liked to run the football with the Titans, how is Atlanta’s running game in 2021?

Falcons Wire: The numbers may not show it just yet, but Atlanta’s running game is improving. Arthur Smith’s scheme isn’t enough to mask all of the team’s offensive line issues. However, the Falcons are effectively utilizing the run to set up play-action passes and should only improve in this area. I don’t expect Mike Davis to suddenly produce like Derrick Henry; however, the team is effectively mixing in Davis’ power running style with Cordarrelle Patterson’s elusiveness.

Washington Wire: Is Kyle Pitts on the verge of a breakout performance? Washington’s linebackers could be exactly what Pitts needs for his first big NFL game.

Falcons Wire: Pitts clearly has the talent to be a dangerous weapon for years to come. We’ve seen flashes where he looks uncoverable and then big stretches where he’s not involved at all. Last week, he was held without a catch until the fourth quarter but caught a 25-yard pass from Matt Ryan to help seal the game. I expect him to get plenty of targets on Sunday; it just depends on how much space he has once the ball is in his hands.

Washington Wire: How would you describe the performance of Atlanta’s offensive line?

Falcons Wire: Against New York, they played their best performance of the year by far. That’s not saying much, though. Pass protection has been a major issue and the line as struggled with interior pressure. This could be an area Washington can exploit. Falcons rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield was abused in Weeks 1 and 2, however, his Week 3 performance was actually pretty impressive. The Falcons are committed to running the ball, which is what this offensive line does best.

Washington Wire: How are the Falcons on defense this season?

Falcons Wire: Scrappy best describes Atlanta’s defense after three games. They’re not really strong in any one area, but Dean Pees has them playing extremely hard and flying all around the ball. The secondary is definitely a major weakness, even with No. 1 cornerback A.J. Terrell returning on Sunday. If Washington can get time in the pocket, it could be a big day or Heinicke and the offense.

Washington Wire: What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?

Falcons Wire: I am compelled to pick Atlanta after last week’s win over New York, although this feels like a trap game to me. The Falcons are riding a little too high after defeating the 0-3 Giants last week. I like Washington to win 17-14 in a defensive battle.

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