1. Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder is expected to start against the Ravens after his debut last week. What did you see last week that breeds confidence in Ridder for this game?
Looking at last week, the numbers weren’t great for Ridder, but I liked how he kept battling back. The thing for me with rookie quarterbacks isn’t fully about the numbers, but how they react when things don’t go well. Everyone in the Falcons locker room talks about the leader he is and their confidence in him. In the game last week, there were about four passes that should’ve been intercepted, and the receivers weren’t getting much separation to help out. That being said, Ridder had the Falcons moving down the field in their final full drive in New Orleans before the Drake London fumble. The fact that he could lock in during crunch time really stood out to me.
2. Last week, the Ravens offense marched up and down the field due to the running game boasting nine yards per carry. The matchup this week is favorable, as the Falcons defense by rush DVOA ranks No. 26 in the NFL. What seems to be the issue with stopping or slowing opponent’s run game for the Falcons?
The Falcons have a few issues defensively, but I think one of the biggest issues is lack of depth. The Falcons lost a couple of rotational players before the season even started, and they’ve lost other contributors throughout the year such as Anthony Rush (waived) and Ta’Quon Graham (injury). There have been a few times this season where the Falcons actually start the game fairly well against the run, but they start to fizzle out as the game goes on. Take last week for example. The stats for the Saints’ Alvin Kamara look solid on the ground (91 yards on 21 carries), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Falcons were solid against the run in the first half, but the big chunk runs started showing up more in the second half. One way to help this out is if the offense can keep sustained drives to keep the defense off the field for long spurts.
3. Though the Ravens offense is solid running the football, the Falcons are close behind, ranked No. 4 in DVOA. What can you attribute to the success on the ground?
It all starts up front. The Falcons have a top 5 offensive line unit, especially with Elijah Wilkerson coming back from injury last week. The best player up front is easily guard Chris Lindstrom, but it’s right tackle Kaleb McGary who has taken the greatest strides from a year ago. All of the starting 5 up front for the Falcons are athletic guys who have the capability to get up to the second level. On the outside, the Falcons have some big body receivers who are willing blockers. That is always necessary when trying to extend run plays into big gains. Lastly, they can attack you in so many ways. Before Caleb Huntley got hurt, the Falcons had a legit three-headed monster in the backfield with Huntley, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Tyler Allgeier. All three can be punishing runners that’ll run through arm tackles. Keeping them fresh through rotation has been huge for Atlanta. Add in the fact that both quarterbacks who have started this season (Marcus Mariota and Ridder) are mobile fast guys (not Lamar fast, but they can move), and there’s a lot to deal with for opposing defenses.
4. Name two players (one offense, one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game?
I always show love to the guys in the trenches, so I’d say Grady Jarrett on defense. He’s been as consistent as any interior defensive lineman in the league this season. For a few years now, Jarrett has been a really good player on the line, but many still don’t know much about him outside of his big game in the Super Bowl. Offensively, I’ll go with Olamide Zaccheaus. Most know about the rookie receiver Drake London, who has had a solid first campaign. When Marcus Mariota was the starter, Zaccheaus was one of the go-to guys in big 3rd down situations. He arguably had his worst game of the season last week, so he’ll be looking to bounce back on Saturday. If the Falcons can get anything going in the air, I’d expect Zaccheaus will be a big part of that, especially with no Kyle Pitts.
5. The Ravens, even with backup QB Tyler Huntley starting on Saturday, are 6.5-point favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you agree with the line? If not, where would you place it?
I’m probably the worst with betting lines, but I do know that there’s a 3-point buffer that is added for home field advantage. So, we’re looking at a 3-point line or so, meaning toss up category. I think that’s fair given how the Ravens offense looked last week. I do think that this will be a shortened game due to both teams’ run ability and potential lack of passing game (we’ll see how the wind affects things too), so a one-possession game sounds right to me.