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5 Questions with the Enemy: Week 2

How are Falcons fans talking themselves into a win against the Packers this weekend?

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We have another set of questions and answers for you, thanks to Kevin Knight — who writes for our sister site The Falcoholic. Both the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers are undefeated at the moment, so the real question is how their strengths and weaknesses stack up this weekend.

Question #1: Everyone is going to be talking about first-round pick Bijan Robinson, but the Atlanta Falcons also return a 1,000-yard rusher in Tyler Allgier. I saw a stat that Robinson ran the third-most routes by a Falcon in the season opener and noticed that Allgier saw some carries at the goal line last week. Is this sort of a thunder (Allgier) and lightning (Robinson) type of backfield?

This is definitely going to be a split backfield, with Allgeier taking a lot of the “grunt work” carries and Bijan providing more juice in the receiving game. Arthur Smith is still going to pound the rock as much as the opposing defense will allow, and he knows he needs to keep this dynamic duo fresh for a 17+ game season. Both guys will be heavily involved going forward, but I wouldn’t draw any firm conclusions from Week 1’s usage yet. Suffice it to say, I think both Allgeier and Robinson will get 10+ touches a game.

Question #2: Desmond Ridder only had 115 passing yards in the game last week, with most of those yards coming in the fourth quarter. You have a first-round tight end and a first-round receiver. Please explain.

The passing game was completely broken in the first half, and it was almost entirely due to the pass protection. Kaleb McGary had arguably his worst game as a pro going up against an extremely motivated Brian Burns (who has given him fits historically). Chris Lindstrom also had an uncharacteristically poor game against Derrick Brown (who has also given him fits in the past). That was a recipe for disaster, and Ridder was sacked or hit 10 times in the first half—which was equal to the number of actual passing attempts Atlanta had. Things improved in the second half, but there was a clear decision to move to a more run-heavy approach to attempt to grind out the win against Carolina. Desmond Ridder did have a few nice throws to Kyle Pitts, including the game-clincher and a 25-yard play that was called back due to a dumb illegal shift penalty. The Falcons averaged nearly 29 passing attempts a game with Ridder in the final four games of 2022, so Week 1 is likely to be an outlier. However, this type of game is always within the range of outcomes for Atlanta’s offense.

Question #3: How is the pass defense looking? I saw that cornerback Jeff Okudah, the former third overall pick from Detroit, missed last week’s action with an injury, but safety Jessie Bates made two interceptions against Bryce Young. Obviously, Grady Jarrett, David Onyemata and Calais Campbell are going to be problems on the interior, but are there any solid edge rushers on this roster?

The pass defense was definitely the most impressive unit on the whole team on Sunday, particularly in the second half. Jessie Bates was just named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, and for good reason: he completely took over against Carolina in all facets. Atlanta’s coverage was smothering and the pass rush, while still not “good” per se, was effective enough to keep Bryce Young from getting comfortable and improved throughout the game. The edge rusher group really lacks star power, but the Falcons actually have a stable of guys to rotate who are at least competent in Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter, and Arnold Ebiketie. How good is Atlanta’s defense, actually? We don’t know yet. Nobody is under any kind of illusion that the Panthers have a good passing attack.

Question #4: How are Falcons fans talking themselves into a win against the Packers this weekend? I’m interested in hearing how fans think about this Green Bay team.

The general consensus seems to be that this game is a toss-up, and I’d tend to agree with that assessment. It’s tough to glean much from the performance of the Falcons or Packers in their Week 1 games—both took full advantage of an opponent who turned the ball over repeatedly. The recipe for success for Atlanta will always be to exert dominance on the ground—if the Bijan/Allgeier pairing gets going, this offense becomes almost impossible to stop. Given Green Bay’s struggles to contain the run (and the strength of their pass defense), that’s probably the ticket for Atlanta’s offense. On the defensive side, finding a way to limit the passing game and stop the run more effectively than they did against Carolina. Atlanta played unexpectedly poorly against the Panthers ground game (over 150 rushing yards allowed), although that ultimately didn’t hurt them on the scoreboard. Maybe Jessie Bates has another heroic performance in him?

Question #5: As of Tuesday night, the Packers are two-point favorites on the road after being underdogs in Chicago. Which one of these teams do you believe starts 2-0?

This really is a toss-up for me. I think these two teams actually mirror each other pretty closely. Both are starting young quarterbacks, and both have a strong ground game they’d like to rely upon. I think Green Bay has the better passing attack and pass defense, but Atlanta has the advantage on the ground. With the Falcons at home—where Desmond Ridder plays his best football, as he’s 3-0 in the NFL and never lost a game in college—I’m taking Atlanta in an uncomfortably close game, 27-26.