Happy late Thanksgiving Falcons fans! As you settle down into your NFL Sunday, prepare a turkey sandwich and and perhaps begrudgingly get ready to watch the Falcons' next game, we're here to get you caught up to speed on the keys to today's game against Buffalo.
The Bills have an impressive running game featuring Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. Jackson has rushed for 591 yards this season and Spiller has rushed for 507.
Both players are doing well for neither getting a single 20+ attempt rushing game once this season. And while both have been relatively quite (with the exception of Spiller netting a 116 yard effort against Kansas City), that has to do with the level of competition they've been facing this year.
This includes the Jets, Steelers and Chiefs. They are not facing a good run defense today in the Falcons. The Bills rank fifth overall in the league in rushing yards per game and are going up against a Falcons unit that ranks 29th overall in the league defending against the run.
C.J. Spiller has been slowed by an ankle injury for the last few weeks, but after the bye week, he should be in much better shape than he was.
The Falcons will also have to contend with quarterback E.J. Manuel, who is also a rushing threat.
All sides point to the Bills having a big day on the ground. The Falcons will need to have eight in the box constantly on defense if they are hoping to stop this rushing attack.
ESTABLISH THE RUN TO PROTECT MATT RYAN
Matt Ryan has had a terrible season on the road this year. Ryan has been a turnover machine, throwing 11 interceptions away, to just throwing one at home. His touchdown ratio is far better at home, too, throwing 10 touchdowns to one interception. On the road, it's only eight touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Ryan has seen his completion percentage plummet away from the Dome as well. He only has a 60.5 completion percentage on the road.
Ryan will need to be wary coming into the game as the Bills have a strong front four that is sure to give the Falcons O-line fits. The Bills have 37 sacks, with 11 of those coming from DE Mario Williams. The Falcons will need to have extra protection on whichever side Williams lines up on to protect Ryan.
Much of Ryan's struggles on the road have come with the increased pressure he has received this year. Center Joe Hawley has been doing a much better job of blocking in running situations than former starting C Peter Konz has. The Falcons have rushed for 152 yards and 91 yards in consecutive games with Hawley manning the middle of the line.
The key for the offense's success today is to establish the run early to protect Ryan.
The Bills have 20 takeaways this year, 16 of those coming by interception, so it'll be important for the Falcons to continue their good work rushing the football to allow Ryan to settle in on the road, something he hasn't been able to do this year.
PLAY LOOSE, PLAY SPOILER
The Falcons season is over. They're out of the playoffs, they have nothing to play for but pride. It's hard to find something worth playing for after a season with such high hopes has turned out so horribly. It's appeared in some of these games before the Falcons' fate was decided, that they were playing too tight, putting too much pressure on themselves.
Now there is nothing to lose. The Falcons just need to go out there with no pressure, no strings attached and just play their hearts out. We saw some of that last week in which the Falcons were actually competitive against the Saints. This was a good sign, and hopefully a sign of improved play from this team.
Now they get to play the role of spoiler against a team that still has (albeit very slim) playoff hopes. The Falcons just need to focus on playing spoiler and having a bit of fun if possible. As silly as that may sound, a simpler mindset could be important in helping this team get its first win since October.
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