The wait for fans is a little longer than usual, as the week seems ever-longer until Monday night. Thankfully the rewards will be great, as the Falcons-Broncos match up looks to be one of the best games of the week. It's a game that features two offenses, both of whom featured heavy run schemes in 2011, but now look like decidedly past-first organizations. Let's take a look at three things to watch on Monday night.
1. The need for offensive balance
Last Sunday the Falcons displayed a balanced offense in which they ran the ball 23 times, and passed 31 times– it's this kind of offense that will have success. Against the Broncos the Steelers, minus Rashad Mendenhall displayed a pass heavy scheme, which proved unsuccessful. Ben Roethlisberger passed 40 times, and Pittsburgh ran the ball an uncharacteristically low 26 times. Denver pulled the team out of their element, and it showed. If the Falcons can manage to stay in their lane, and play their own game they'll be in good stead.
2. Get Julio Jones involved early, and often
Despite playing a pass-heavy game, the Steelers struggled because they couldn't get their wide receivers the ball. Antonio Brown had a decent day, but Mike Wallace was completely diffused by effective pass defense. Meanwhile, Atlanta succeeded against the Chiefs last week, largely in part to the contribution from Julio Jones. He's a near-impossible match-up, and that alone should cause headaches– but it will be all about how Matt Ryan can stand in the pocket and ensure his second year receiver is able to make plays.
3. Rushing Peyton Manning
It's a task that's easier said than done: rush a future hall of famer. Throughout his career Manning has shown an innate ability to keep his head on a swivel, and get the ball out with lightning quickness. Against the Steelers he managed to be sacked just two times, and a normally dominant defense really had trouble phasing Manning. Last week the Falcons totaled three sacks against Kansas City, but this is a far more talented offensive line, and a far better quarterback. John Abraham will be vital in getting to Manning, and he'll need to turn in a similar performance to last week in which he registered a sack and a force. If the Falcons can get consistent pressure on Manning they'll make huge headway in winning this game.