Both of these teams are struggling to remain in the playoff hunt. Indianapolis is barely holding on at the top of the AFC South, while the Falcons started the season strong but now seen to have fallen into the pack chasing a wild card berth. Indianapolis struggled at the start of the season, with Andrew Luck missing games and poor play all round. That cost offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton his job. Under his replacement, Rob Chudzinski, the Colts bounced back with a statement win over the Denver Broncos. After a bye week, and with Luck now set to miss several weeks, can the Colts keep that momentum? Atlanta started the season 5-0, but since losing to New Orleans in Week 6 they have won just one game. The Falcons look like a team that can’t contend in the wild card race for much longer unless they improve.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Can the Falcons run the ball?
The running game has been a staple of Atlanta’s offense this season. Devonta Freeman is the league leader with nine rushing touchdowns, while Matt Ryan has been able to make more plays to Julio Jones with a stronger running game supporting them. But they have struggled to win games over the past few weeks. Against San Francisco in Week 9, Freeman had just 12 yards from 12 carries. If the running game isn’t working, the Falcons will be in big trouble.
2. Can Atlanta pressure Matt Hasselbeck?
With Andrew Luck out with abdominal and kidney injuries, Matt Hasselbeck has to step in once again for the Colts. The 40 year old backup went 2-0 during Luck’s first stint of injury, but will have to play for at least three times as many games this time around. Hasselbeck seemed worn out after his two games earlier in the season, and durability could be a concern for Indianapolis. Dan Quinn was hired to find some fire for Atlanta’s limp pass rush. He hasn’t really succeeded despite drafting Vic Beasley. The Falcons have scored just 10 sacks this season; the least in the league. Indianapolis’ offensive line played better against Denver’s number one defense, so should be able to handle the Falcons.
3. Can the Colts stop Julio Jones?
Julio Jones has been a monster for the Falcons this season. Jones ranks 2nd in the league with 1029 yards and has six touchdowns. Despite Atlanta’s recent struggles, Jones has continued to dominate, and is averaging 114.3 yards per game this season; best in the league. Indianapolis’ strong suit has never been defense. But they have an underrated number one corner in Vontae Davis, who will likely need some help from safety Mike Adams when dealing with Jones. Both have played well this season, despite Indianapolis allowing 279.3 passing yards per game; 28th in the league.
Matchup to watch: T.Y. Hilton vs Desmond Trufant
Hilton is Indianapolis’ number one receiver, and will be a big factor in their game plan against the Falcons. Trufant has flown under the radar for the past few seasons, but is one of the league’s best lockdown corners. He hasn’t had high numbers because no one wants to throw at him. If he can shut down Hilton on Sunday, the Colts will have to spread the ball around to win.
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts
Without much of a pass rush, the Falcons will struggle to throw Hasselbeck off rhythm. Frank Gore will likely shoulder the load as Hasselbeck spreads out Atlanta’s defense and makes use of Indy’s stocked stable of weapons.