- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2018

ASHBURN — Having spent four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Redskins cornerback Josh Norman was used to playing the Atlanta Falcons. The 30-year-old faced them twice per year in the NFC South.

But as Norman studies the Falcons again ahead of Sunday’s matchup, he sees an offense he barely recognizes.

Atlanta is still loaded with former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and a cast of talented playmakers in Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman. But now when Norman turns on the tape, he notices the variety of formations, route combinations and plays the Falcons run.

Norman is having trouble learning it all.

“They got so many unfamiliar patterns that I haven’t caught on to yet — and it’s Thursday,” said Norman, who then started laughing. “But by Saturday, we should be good to go. So I’m looking forward to it. I really am.”

The defense has been a strength for these Redskins, though they’re likely to have their hands full Sunday. While Atlanta’s defense has struggled this season, the Falcons‘ offense figures to be the most talented group the Redskins will face since their blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Falcons have piled up stats upon stats — averaging 27.1 points (11th) and 401 yards (7th) per game. Former MVP Matt Ryan has thrown 15 touchdowns this season to just two interceptions.

“You can see a lot of speed showing up across the board with the receivers that they have and with [Devonta] Freeman down, what happens is those other guys get an opportunity to really fly down the field,” Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “They can run. They have some speed, so we’ve got to make sure we match them up.”

The Falcons‘ offense starts with Jones — a 6-foot-3 star who has a remarkable 812 yards on 53 catches in just seven games. He’s on pace for 1,856 yards, which would be the second-most in history.

But here’s another unbelievable stat regarding Jones: He has zero touchdowns this season. Atlanta has been efficient in the end zone, though Ryan has found other receivers besides Jones. Rookie Calvin Ridley, in particular, has given the Falcons a much-needed threat opposite of Jones.

Drafted 26th overall out of Alabama, Ridley’s speed has torched defenses. Of his six touchdowns, four have come in the red zone, though the other two were on gains of 30 and 75 yards.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn raved about Ridley, saying he has the ability to accelerate and change directions.

“I’m anxious for you guys to see him and understand his speed and ability to go,” Quinn said. “When we scouted him, he had real ability to run full speed and then break somebody off with a cut … Not everybody can do that.”

The Redskins will have some additional help this week — getting Quinton Dunbar back after he missed the last two games with a shin injury. Washington will also have safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was acquired from the Green Bay Packers at the trade deadline.

Right now, the defense is a confident group and have been playing well. The Redskins rank fourth in yards allowed (322.4) and have allowed the fifth-fewest points per game with 19.1. Norman, though, is well aware of the challenge ahead.

“They want to go deep and want to [go] deep often,” Norman said. “So we have to very much so be keen in on our targets. Execution has to be at its all-time highest. I know we’ve played guys before, but this one right here — I know how these guys get down.”

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