The Falcons’ offense faced its toughest test yet in the Broncos’ defense, but it was really Atlanta’s defense that stepped up against Paxton Lynch and the Denver offense in a 23-16 win.
Atlanta’s pass rush has consistently been anemic at best, but it wasn’t on Sunday. Second-year linebacker Vic Beasley Jr., the Falcons’ first round pick in the 2015 draft, logged 3.5 sacks on Lynch, who was starting in place of an injured Trevor Siemian.
Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney had a sack, and Adrian Clayborn also contributed a half-sack late in the game. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett sacked Lynch on Denver’s last possession, which helped the Falcons hold the Broncos to a field goal.
The Falcons harassed Lynch all day, holding him to 223 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The pick by Atlanta free safety Ricardo Allen to start the second half kept the momentum swinging in the Falcons’ direction. Atlanta also forced two fumbles, though Denver recovered both.
Atlanta was stout against the run, too, containing C.J. Anderson to just 41 yards. Denver’s offense as a whole managed just 84 rushing yards against the Falcons.
The Falcons were also stingy in the red zone, holding the Broncos to two field goals until Denver finally got into the end zone with 2:38 remaining in the game on a 3-yard pass from Lynch to Demaryius Thomas.
There was no question that the Broncos’ defense would make plays against the Falcons on Sunday. An aggressive pass rush coupled with a stellar secondary meant that the Falcons’ offense would have to work for a win, and that’s just what it did.
Matt Ryan went 15 of 28 for 267 yards and a touchdown and was sacked just twice. Atlanta’s offensive line was effective protecting Ryan from the likes of Von Miller, Shane Ray, and the rest of the Broncos’ defense, which has sacked opponents 19 times this season.
The Falcons knew they needed to attack the element of Denver’s defense that most closely resembles a weakness, which is the run defense. Heading into this game, the Broncos were ranked 21st against the run, and they allowed Atlanta’s dynamic rushing duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to rush for 119 yards.
Denver did limit Julio Jones to just two catches for 29 yards, but the Falcons spread the ball around, with Ryan connecting to seven different receivers on Sunday. Coleman was Atlanta’s leading receiver on the day with 132 receiving yards and a touchdown on just four catches.
Even with a rookie quarterback starting, the Broncos were a good litmus test to establish how good the Falcons may actually be. Walking out of Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a win thanks to an aggressive defense suggests Atlanta should pose a challenge for opponents throughout the remainder of the season.