By Matthew Asher
After a crushing defeat to the New Orleans Saints last Thursday night, the 2-9 Atlanta Falcons have assured themselves the first losing season in the Mike Smith era. The team has constantly said they were not going to tank the rest of the season in order to get a higher draft pick. If that’s the case, the 4-7 Buffalo Bills are a team that Atlanta has a legitimate chance at dominating.
Weakness vs. weakness
Both teams rank in the bottom half of the league, often in the bottom 10, in most statistical categories. This may be one of those games where the winner will be whoever messes up the least amount of times.
Don’t let the Bills run
The one part of Buffalo’s offense that is good is their running game. Averaging 134.1 yards a game, this is the seventh best rushing attack in the league. Atlanta’s running defense is one of the worst in the league. Allowing 130 yards a game ranks the Falcons at 28th in the NFL.
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have shared the load for the Bills this season. Jackson has started six games while Spiller started the other five. Jackson has played in all 11 games for Buffalo while Spiller did not play in the New Orleans game in October. The duo have combined to run the ball 264 times for almost 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. Jackson is responsible for six of those rushing touchdowns.
Let the quarterback(s) beat themselves
Buffalo has had three different quarterbacks play this season, all with varying degrees of failure. The trio of quarterbacks have thrown for about 2,300 yards, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and have been sacked a combined 32 times. Part of that reason is because E.J. Manuel and Jeff Tuel are rookies while Thad Lewis is in his second season.
Manuel may have the “best” statistics, but that’s not saying much. He’s completed 58.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,385 yards, eight touchdowns and four picks for a quarterback rating of 82.1. He’s also been sacked 17 times.
For the season, Buffalo averages 197 passing yards each game, the fifth worst in the league. Atlanta’s passing defense isn’t much better, allowing 251.2 yards through the air, the eighth worst. Still, this is the one area on defense Atlanta ranks higher than Buffalo so they need to focus on this.
Air the ball out
Atlanta has the second worst rushing offense in the league this season. Averaging fewer than 75 yards on the ground each game, only the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars pick up fewer yards via the run.
The one thing Atlanta does fairly well on offense is throw the ball, averaging 273.5 yards per game, the sixth best in the league. Buffalo actually has a decent passing defense, allowing 229 yards, the 12th least in the league, but compared to the numbers Atlanta puts up on the ground, it’s better if they try to beat Buffalo through the air.
With five games remaining, there’s no reason Atlanta can’t win at least a handful of those games starting with this one. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:05 pm EST.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.