By Matthew Asher
Atlanta has already beaten the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. This week, they attempt to sweep the AFC West as the 1-3 Oakland Raiders come to the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons, just one of two undefeated teams left in the NFL at 5-0.
Just like their previous games against teams below .500, Atlanta needs to make sure they take the opposition seriously because the last two games against the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins were much closer than they should have been.
Again, this game has every indication of a mismatch nearly everywhere on paper. Atlanta averages nearly 29.6 points a game, the sixth most in the league, while Oakland’s 16.8 points per game is the fourth worst.
In the first three games against the AFC West, Atlanta’s defense has limited the teams to just 16 points a game while Atlanta’s offense has nearly doubled up the teams, averaging 31.3 points each contest.
The real Achilles heel of the Raiders is the third quarter. They’ve been outscored 55-7 in their four games this season. This statistic is something Falcons coach Mike Smith finds odd. “Sometimes stats can be deceiving,” Smith said. “You watch them against the Pittsburgh Steelers and they won the ball game and played very well.”
Atlanta’s passing offense is one of the best in the league. Averaging 281.6 yards in the air each game is the seventh most in the NFL. Oakland gives up 283 passing yards per game, the fifth most in the league.
Oakland’s passing attack is still respectable. Averaging 258 yards through the air, the Raiders rank twelfth in the NFL. “Carson Palmer throwing the football can throw it as well as any,” Smith said. “He’s an elite quarterback and been to the Pro Bowl. If he gets an opportunity to go through his progressions he’s going to get the ball in the right place and they’ve got speed on the outside.”
But Atlanta’s pass defense is one of the best this year. They give up just 203 yards each game in the air and have allowed just five passing touchdowns through five games.
The game may ultimately come down to the ground game. Both teams do a poor job on both the offensive and defensive side when it comes to running the football.
Atlanta’s rushing offense is the only real weakness that has constantly come up. Averaging just under 95 yards on the ground each game is the twelfth worst. However Oakland’s running game is even worse. With less than 61 yards each game, Oakland is dead last when it comes to running the ball.
With Darren McFadden as the starting running back for Oakland, Mike Smith knows he has the ability to make any defense look silly when trying to defend him “They have a running back that can run by you, run around you, and run through you,” Smith said. “He’s also their number one receiver catching the football and does a nice job. It’s that West Coast offense. They want to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers very quickly.”
With all their troubles, Oakland does actually have the edge against stopping the run. Oakland is in the bottom half allowing 128.5 yards on the ground is the ninth worst in the league, but Atlanta is statistically worse. The 142.8 yards Atlanta allows on the ground is the sixth most in the league.
Being from different leagues, the Falcons and the Raiders rarely play each other. They’ve only met 12 times in the NFL with just two meetings in the past 10 years. In both of those games, Atlanta has come away victorious, winning 35-10 in 2004 and 24-0 in 2008.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.