Falcons vs. Redskins
When: 1 p.m. today
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
ATLANTA — Kyle Shanahan seems to have all the answers in his first year as Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator.
An offensive line that looked to be a weak spot on the team has been successfully rebuilt. Julio Jones leads the NFL in catches. Devonta Freeman has scored three touchdowns in each of his first two starts at running back.
Sunday’s visit from the Washington Redskins provides a reminder of a less successful time for the coach. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator on his father Mike Shanahan’s staff when both were fired following a 3-13 finish in 2013.
Shanahan said facing the Redskins as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in the 2014 preseason opener helps make this week just another game.
“You’ve got relationships with some of the former players and coaches,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of those guys before the game or after the game, but besides that it’s not a big deal.”
Each team’s offense is off to a good start. The Falcons rank second in scoring and fourth in total offense. The Redskins lead the NFL in rushing.
Shanahan is not forgotten in Washington. Coach Jay Gruden said the team has retained some of the terminology from Shanahan’s offense.
“Kyle does an excellent job of mixing it up with the run and the pass and taking shots,” Gruden said.
Falcons quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, running backs coach Bobby Turner and defensive passing coordinator Raheem Morris also were in Washington with Shanahan, as were offensive guard Chris Chester and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said “We definitely have a bunch” of Redskins influence.
Here are some things to watch when the Redskins visit the Falcons:
FIRST THINGS FIRST: The Falcons (4-0) will look to stretch their best start since winning their first eight games in 2012. The Falcons also played the Redskins in Week 5 in 2012. Atlanta is tied with Carolina for the NFC South lead. Washington (2-2) is tied for the NFC East lead.
FREEMAN’S ROLL: Freeman took over at running back when Tevin Coleman suffered a rib injury in Week 3 against the Giants. Freeman is the only player since at least the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to rush for at least three touchdowns in each of his first two starts. He is the first player to rush for at least seven touchdowns in his team’s first four games since LaDainian Tomlinson had eight in 2005. Coleman could return this week.
SECONDARY ISSUES: Going up against Matt Ryan, Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s high-scoring offense is daunting enough, but the Redskins will have to do so with a secondary not at full strength. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall (right toe) is out. The team’s top cover guy, Chris Culliver, is dealing with a bad knee and also is sidelined. In addition, one starting safety, Duke Ihenacho, is already on season-ending injured reserve.
POSSESSIONS AND POINTS: Thanks in part to a consistent ground game, success on third downs and a bit of a plodding offense, the Redskins (36 minutes, 19 seconds) lead the NFL in time of possession. The Falcons rank second (34:17). The big difference? Washington is averaging only 19.5 points, Atlanta 34.2.
“Too many times, we probably haven’t come away with touchdowns when we need to in the red zone,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
‘DOGHOUSE’: Gruden insists that rookie running back Matt Jones did not fall out of favor by fumbling twice in the team’s first three games. The question was raised because Jones only got seven carries in Week 4; he had been averaging more than a dozen per game. Jones and fourth-year veteran Alfred Morris have been sharing the load at running back; Morris got 17 rushes last week.
Gruden said Jones “never lost my trust. … I like both of those guys. … They’re both excellent players and we’re going to split them up the best way we can.”