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Week 4 preview: Texans at Falcons

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Houston Texans (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-0)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon

*Keys to the game: QB Ryan Mallett has shown glimpses of emerging as a viable starter over the past two weeks, but the inconsistency remains and the Texans earned their first victory of the season last week because they their running backs combined for 187 yards on 45 carries. The Falcons had difficulty stopping the run in Dallas and are middle of the pack allowing 95.7 rushing yards per game this season. Atlanta can expect to see a heaping helping of RB Alfred Blue & Co. because Houston simply can’t afford to get caught up with the Falcons’ red-hot offense in the Georgia Dome.

The Texans’ secondary showed progress last week against Tampa Bay and rookie QB Jameis Winston, but the Falcons are an entirely different animal to tame. RB Devonta Freeman rushed for 141 yards and contributed 193 all-purpose yards at Dallas while WR Julio Jones continues to move around the formation and prove nearly unstoppable in coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense. To be in shouting distance come the fourth quarter, Houston will need to dominate time of possession, including stuffing the Falcons’ ground game, and then get a strong effort from its pass rush to pressure QB Matt Ryan into mistakes and flip the field.

*Matchup to watch – Texans LG Oday Aboushi vs. Falcons NT Paul Soliai: Aboushi was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 3 just two weeks after being claimed on waivers, and Houston promptly rushed for 186 yards on 46 carries against Tampa Bay. The Texans may get LT Duane Brown back, but RG Brandon Brooks (sprained ankle) was replaced by Derek Newton sliding inside last week and rookie Kendall Lamm stepping in at right tackle. Aboushi, 6-5, 306, will have an important battle between the tackles against veteran run-stuffer Soliai.

*Player spotlight – Texans ILB Benardrick McKinney: Houston continues to toggle its linebacking corps, with OLB Whitney Mercilus back in the starting lineup last week and McKinney, a second-round pick out of Mississippi State starting in place of Akeem Dent inside. The former All-American had two tackles but said his performance all-around was “a confidence-booster.”

*Fast facts: Jones is on pace to smash single-season NFL records with 181 catches for 2,346 yards and 21 touchdowns projecting his current numbers over 16 games.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Falcons have an excellent opportunity to sprint out to a 5-0 record with consecutive home games against the Texans and Redskins. The Texans don’t have enough offensive firepower to keep pace with Matt Ryan inside the Georgia Dome.

*Our pick: Falcons 34-23.


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