By Rich Kurtzman
This week’s Monday Night Football matchup is shaping up to be a shootout between two high-powered offenses led by two of the best gun-slingers in all of football.
Both the Denver Broncos (1-0) and Atlanta Falcons (1-0) started their seasons strong, winning in Week One by 12 and 16 points respectively, and each one wants to continue those winning ways.
For the Falcons, fifth-year quarterback Matt Ryan is a blossoming star as he makes his case to be regarded as one of the greatest players in the NFL today. Ryan’s improved in nearly every stat category over the course of his career, enjoying a phenomenal performance in the team’s first week 40-24 victory over the Chiefs.
Ryan went 23-31 (74.2 percent) for 299 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 136.4 rating, while running another score in. He played nearly perfectly, deftly utilizing the no-huddle offense.
The Falcons’ offense flies high due to their big, strong and incredibly athletic receivers.
Second-year man Julio Jones is a physical specimen at 6’3” 220 pounds, and he’s not just massive, but fast as lightning too. Jones went wild with six catches for 108 yards and two scores Sunday and his height alone makes him a difficult matchup for any cornerback. Because Jones is Atlanta’s No. 2 receiver, he’ll almost certainly have reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week Tracy Porter on him.
On the other side of the field will be eight-year veteran Roddy White, who also caught six passes, but for 87 yards and no scores Sunday. White and future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey will lock up outside, in one of the game’s many marquee matchups.
Of course, we can’t forget to mention the venerable Tony Gonzalez, arguably the greatest tight end to ever play the game. The 36-year old’s still got it and the Broncos’ linebackers have consistently had problems covering tight ends, meaning Gonzalez could have a huge game.
And when the Falcons don’t pass, they’ve got the dangerously explosive Michael Turner in the backfield to run the rock. Turner didn’t have a good Week One, with only 32 yards, and he’ll be hungry to run all over Denver. The Broncos though, proved they were up to the task Sunday night, allowing only 75 yards on the ground to the Steelers by swarming the ball-carrier and gang-tackling.
Ryan and Atlanta love the no-huddle offense, which is most difficult to stop for a defense because it ill-allows substitutions, wearing down the players more quickly, and creates matchup problems as well. Although, Denver’s D practices against Manning and the no-huddle everyday in practice, so if any team can be prepared, it should be them.
Also, there’s no doubt that Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will send many blitzes, as he did in the team’s first game, which resulted in five total sacks. If they can get to Ryan, they’ll be able to disrupt his timing and may even rattle him a bit.
Defensively, the Falcons run a three cornerback, or “nickel” scheme, predominantly, an intelligent decision considering the league’s move to pass-first in recent years.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they lost their best cornerback in Brent Grimes last week to a torn Achilles tendon. Fortunately for Atlanta though, they still have strong starting-caliber corners in Daunta Robinson and Asante Samuel to matchup with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is a force to be reckoned with in the middle, recording seven tackles, one sack and one pass defended last week, while veteran defensive end John Abraham knows how to get after the quarterback.
The Denver Broncos beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII, completely controlling the game from the first gun on their way to winning back-to-back NFL championships.
Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has a 1-6 record against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Current Broncos linebacker Keith Brooking was drafted by the Falcons way back in 1998 and will play his first game as a visitor in the Georgia Dome, Monday.
All-time, the Broncos are 8-4 versus the Falcons, including going 3-2 in Atlanta.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.