The Denver defense has emerged as one of the most ferocious in the NFL. Can it slow down an Atlanta offense hitting its peak early in the 2016 season?
The Falcons exploded in Week 4 to take down the defending Super Bowl champions in a 48-33 rout. Julio Jones made history by becoming just the sixth player in league history to gain 300 receiving yards in a single game. After slinging the ball for 503 yards against the Panthers, Matt Ryan leads the league in passing offense and passer rating by a wide margin.
All that can change against a stout and opportunistic Broncos defense. Denver is one of the league's three remaining undefeated teams thanks to Von Miller and a hard-charging pass rush that's derailed the early seasons of respected passers like Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Andy Dalton. After squeaking by Carolina in Week 1, the Broncos have won their last three games by an average margin of more than 15 points. Their opponents have scored just 14.7 points per game in that stretch.
While Denver's defensive prowess isn't in question for Sunday's matchup, its offense will be. The Broncos may be without emerging quarterback Trevor Siemian, who left last week's game against Tampa Bay on a cart due to a shoulder injury. His performance through four weeks had been good enough to strike fear in the hearts of football fans outside the Centennial State. If he can't play against Atlanta, the team will turn to rookie Paxton Lynch instead. Lynch looked steady, if inexperienced, in second-half duty against the Buccaneers.
The Falcons don't have a great track record against backups in 2016. While they limited Newton in last week's win, they also allowed Derek Anderson to complete 17 of 23 passes for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Carolina's comeback attempt. The effort also included two interceptions, but head coach Dan Quinn can't be happy with the late-game breakdowns suffered by his defense.
In fact, defensive guru Quinn's team has been unexpectedly deficient on that side of the ball this season. The Falcons have allowed opponents to gain more than 419 yards per game this season, a mark that stands 30th in a league of 32 teams. Atlanta has given up 31 points per game, albeit against a lineup that includes last year's Super Bowl runner-up, an always dangerous New Orleans team, and a revitalized Oakland team.
To date, they've covered that deficiency by rolling up 479 yards of offense per game -- first in the NFL by a full 83 yards. Atlanta won't be able to push a similar disparity on Miller and the dominant Broncos blitz. Denver leads the league in sacks, and that charge won't relent at Sports Authority Field on Sunday. Ryan will have to adjust his dropbacks and make quick decisions in the face of a flood of blue and orange in a hostile road environment to avoid a major crash this weekend.
How to watch Atlanta Falcons vs. Denver Broncos
When: 4:05 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Announcers: Chris Myers, John Lynch, Pam Oliver