1. Control the clock: One of the biggest keys for success against Atlanta is controlling the tempo and time of possession. On Thursday night, the best defense against a high-powered Atlanta offense will inevitably be a ball-control, clock churning offense.
In order to hog the ball, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should devise a game plan that features plenty of intermediate pass plays and carries to the backs.
While finishing these drives will be equally important, the offense has to stay on the field to keep the defense fresh and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan on the bench.
2. Misdirection plays: The Falcons defense is a fast unit that flies to the football. In the Georgia Dome, they are even speedier and use that to their advantage against opponents.
With the Falcon defenders looking to get upfield in a hurry to make plays in the backfield, the Baltimore offense has to be ready to counteract their speed. The best way to accomplish this is to consistently use misdirection runs and gadget plays to make the Falcon defenders honor their gap responsibilities.
For example, if the Ravens run the fake end around, they may be able to hold the linebackers long enough to create space for their backs to dash through. Eventually they should even be able to run the end around with one of their receivers when the ends crash down the line.
There should be other opportunities to exploit the Atlanta front using misdirection runs that appear to flow one way, only for the blockers and backs to pull toward the opposite direction. If these plays are designed and timed correctly, the offense should be able to hit on a few big plays.
3. Throw out of power formations: In a game like this, it might be to the Ravens advantage to show run, only to pass the ball. The goal would be to get Atlanta to crowd the box to stop the run, creating favorable passing opportunities for quarterback Joe Flacco to exploit.
On early downs, the offense should be more packed in as opposed to spread out. If the Falcons use a base shell to stuff the run, the Ravens should be able to create some matchups in the passing game with their tight ends and their backs against the Atlanta linebackers and safeties.
In particular, tight end Todd Heap should be flexed out wide from these formations, as he would be a tough cover for a linebacker that has to motion over.
1. Contain the Burner: This is a game in which the big boy pads need to come out. The time to become an impenetrable front against the run has to begin in Atlanta on Thursday night.
The Falcons are ranked sixth in rush offense and they have the ability to push the pile. Not only is Michael Turner a tough runner, but they also have a sledgehammer in Jason Snelling to turn to.
The only way to slow these two backs down is to force them to hesitate and chop their feet before they get rolling downhill. That means that the front line has to get off of their blocks and shoot the gaps to get through the line of scrimmage.
It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Greg Mattison deals with Gonzalez. Given the presence of Atlanta’s rush attack, he may not be able to use a third safety to check the future Hall of Famer. Instead, he may need to rotate linebackers Tavares Gooden and Brendon Ayanbadejo – faster and more fluid cover men than linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe – to keep pace with the dangerous tight end.
3. Force Ryan to hit the sidelines: There are few flaws in the game of “Matty Ice.” He throws with tremendous anticipation, timing, and touch. One of his strengths is his accuracy on intermediate routes, especially those that cross over the middle of the field.
While he is also efficient throwing the ball outside of the numbers, this is an area of the field where he is not nearly as strong. Ryan lacks tremendous arm strength, and at times, this chink in the armor is magnified when he tries to hit on the outs and other late breaking routes that go to the sidelines.
Perhaps the defense that exposed Ryan the most was Pittsburgh. The Steelers did a tremendous job of forcing Ryan to throw the ball to the outside and their corners drove on the passes that lacked velocity.
If the Baltimore defenders are able to keep those passes in front of them, they may have some of the same chances to jump the sideline routes.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch