Across the pond, the Dirty Birds go for the first international game of the NFL season! After coming off a tough loss against the Detroit Lions a week ago, the Falcons will look to get back on the winning path against the Jacksonville Jaguars. This will be the first of five international games that the NFL has in 2023 and the first out of two that Jacksonville will play. After this weekend, they'll stay in London to play the Bills next Sunday.
The biggest storyline going into the game will be Calvin Ridley going up against his former team. Ridley was the Falcons first-round pick back in 2018 and then was traded to the Jaguars in 2022. So far this season, Ridley has caught 13 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown. Ridley is part of a Jacksonville offense that has stumbled a bit after scoring 31 points against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1. Since then, the Jags have dropped two home games to the Chiefs and Texans. However, even with the offense stalling out the last two weeks, it still can explode on any given day. The offense features a plethora of talent, including Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Calvin Ridley, and Evan Engram.
Defesnisly is somewhere the Jags have struggled (at least with defending the pass). Jacksonville ranks 27th in passing yards against (793 total passing yards, 264.3avg). However, they have defined the run pretty well, only giving up 252 rushing yards on the season, which is good for seventh in the league. This could be an interesting challenge for Atlanta if they can't get the run game going like last week, and Desmond Ridder could forced to throw the ball over 30 times again.
Date: Sunday, October 1
Start Time: 9:30 AM EST/6:30 AM PST. (Yay, I get to wake up at 6:15!!!)
Location: The Wembley Borough of London, England
Stadium: Wembley Stadium
TV Info: ESPN+
Key Players- Offense
Desmond Ridder- Falcons QB
Jacksonville hasn't found success in defending the pass, and with Atlanta not having the most successful passing attack, this could be a week where Ridder can boost this offense. In three games, Ridder has thrown for 553 yards and two touchdowns, while touting a 65% completion percentage. No, those numbers don't blow anybody away, heck, there are not even top-15 numbers. I believe once Ridder starts to click and gets comfortable, Atlanta's offense will start firing off on all cylinders.
The Entire Jaguars Offensive Line
Obviously, my pick is Calvin Ridley, but since I already mentioned him above, I figured why not quickly mention another Jacksonville player....well...five...One place where Atlanta's defense has struggled mightily is with applying pressure. They have been able to get to the quarterback, but haven't been led to an abundance of sacks yet. It'll be another challenge for the defense this week as they'll take on a Jags O-line that has only given up six sacks, tied for sixth in the league.
Key Players- Defense
Grady Jarret- Falcons DL
Continuing with the pass rush, let's talk about Atlanta's top guy in the department. The Falcons rank 30th in sacks with three, and Grady Jarret has accounted for just .5 through three games. The pass rush has to be better for this defensive group to be successful. Look for No. 97 in white Sunday to start turning the Falcons' pass rush around.
Josh Allen- Jaguars EDGE
Ridder was sacked seven times a week ago, and the O-line could have their hands full with the Jaguars sack leader for this season. Josh Allen has three sacks so far this year and has been a menace for Jacksonville, racking up 30.5 sacks in his career. Defending against Allen's pass rush will be no easy task, but it will be necessary if Atlanta wants to rebound after last week's performance.
Points Spread: ATL +3 (-110) | JAX -3 (-110)
Moneyline: ATL (+136) | JAX (-162)
Over/Under: O 43.5 (-105) | U 43.5 (-115)
Lines via FanDuel as of Friday, September 29
Digging a little deeper into Atlanta's offense, it's been the same story so far this season as last year: A top running team but a bottom feeder when it comes to passing. Why is that? Is it Arthur Smith? Desmond Ridder? The O-Line? Well, it could be a mix of all those variables. Atlanta will always be a smashmouth, run-the-ball-down-your-throat type of team (8th in rush attempts, 27th in passing attempts) at least until Ridder gets more comfortable or they find another solution at QB. For example, when Detriot shut down Atlanta's run, the Falcons were forced to pass, and as we know, it didn't turn out pretty. That's exactly the issue for the offense though: lack of balance. We saw some balance in week two against the Packers, where the Falcons passed for 235 yards and ran for 211. However, Atlanta was able to run several different plays in that game which turned into positive yards.
Now, against the Lions (who played much more aggressively than the Packers), Atlanta couldn't rely on their run game, which made their pass game non-existent. Don't get me wrong, I love watching the Allgieier and Robinson duo run through defenses (hopefully Cordarrelle Patterson joins them soon), but Arthur Smith has to find a sense of balance when it comes to scheming/play-calling, or they'll just get bullied like they did last week. Yes, Ridder needs to perform better, as well as the O-line, but this team has a lot of talent that isn't being used properly (Drake London, Kyle Pitts), and I believe balancing out the play-calling will get those players more involved.
A quick note on the defense. I can't believe I'm watching a Falcons defense ranked ninth-best in yards allowed. Just to put that into perspective, during that Matt Ryan era, only once did the Falcon's defense finish a season in the top 10 of least amount of yards given up (2017). A lot of credit goes to the secondary. Jessie Bates and A.J. Terrell have been impressive this year. Now, add a little more pass rush, and the Dirty Bird defense could be back.
Finally, Atlanta goes into Sunday as three-point underdogs, just like last week against the Lions. This Jaguars team has more to show than what they have in the first three weeks. Atlanta cannot come out flat like they did against the Lions, or it will once more be a long game to sit through. My top two things to watch for on Sunday are a pass rush from the defense and more of a balanced offensive attack. If Atlanta can have success in those two categories, they should be able to improve their record to 3-1.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 28, Jacksonville Jaguars 20
(I'm not watching football at 6:30 A.M. to watch the Falcons lose) (Editors Note: Couldn't be me)
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