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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looks for an open receiver during a home win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 14.

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has spent the past week preparing for what could be his biggest challenge this season.

If he thought it was tough scoring with goal to go late in the NFL opener at Philadelphia — the Falcons' 18-12 prime-time loss to the Eagles renewed criticism of their red-zone approach and Sarkisian's play calls — he knows today's test might be even more difficult as Atlanta tries to avoid becoming a one-dimensional passing attack against the host Washington Redskins.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan needs a play-action threat to keep the Redskins (5-2) from locking down on his receivers all afternoon, so the Falcons (3-4) must find a way to establish the ground game against a tough defensive front. The outlook, though, is not promising: The Falcons rank 30th in rushing yards in the NFL this season, and the Redskins' rushing defense ranks second in the league.

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta's top running back, was lost to groin surgery earlier this month, and starting guards Brandon Fusco and Andy Levitre are out for the season with injuries.

"Each game takes on its own personality in essence," Sarkisian said. "So it is beneficial when you can hang with it and stick with it, but there are times when we've got to do what is best for us right now. You just try to figure it out as it goes, and it's all part of making those decisions at those moments when they come and try to do what's best for the team."

Sarkisian insists he won't press if Atlanta struggles to run the ball early in the game. He plans to keep trying to mix it in on later drives.

The Falcons have one of the NFL's premier passing games with Ryan throwing to receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu plus tight end Austin Hooper, so the team will stick with what it does best.

"Sometimes to run the football you have to establish it at times, and then finally something does pop, but there's other times that this drive is so important right now, let's do what is best for us at this moment right now," Sarkisian said. "And that may be to run it more, and that may be throw it more."

The Redskins are loaded up front. Defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan have combined for 14 sacks and 22 quarterback hits, and nose tackle Da'Ron Payne figures to make it a long day for Atlanta guards Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer.

"There are a lot of twists and stunts and games that they do up front that make it challenging on your guys up front," Sarkisian said. "It's not always just the one-on-one rush. They start pairing two guys, three guys together, sometimes even all four of them together, so they really do it cohesively. The challenge for us is to make sure we're protecting cohesively."

Sarkisian likes how third-year veteran Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith have combined to fill Freeman's spot in the backfield. He thinks Schweitzer has done a respectable job in five games for Levitre, and Garland, who started the final five games last season, has plenty of experience as he prepares to take over for Fusco.

Sarkisian was pleased with how Coleman responded on a third-and-1 run early in the fourth quarter of Atlanta's previous game, a narrow home win over the New York Giants on Oct. 22. Running off right tackle, Coleman sprinted for a 30-yard touchdown that is one of the few rushing highlights for Atlanta this season.

"That type of explosiveness, we know, is there in our run game," Sarkisian said. "We've just to keep hunting and pecking until it comes."

Jones sees no reason to worry. He believes Atlanta will find ways to score regardless.

"The Redskins haven't played the 2018 Atlanta Falcons, so we're going in there and we're going to try to run the ball," Jones said. "We're going to run. We're going to pass. They've got to stop us on Sunday."

Washington's offense is trying to avoid remaining one-dimensional in the other direction.

Injuries to receivers Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson and running backs Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson have kept them from getting work in with quarterback Alex Smith at practice and stunted the Redskins' passing game so far this season. The NFC East leaders have run all over opponents with a banged-up Peterson.

"I think the success for a lot of NFL teams is if you can stop the run, and you can run the ball and control the clock, you've got a chance to win some games. We've been able to do all three," Thompson said. "The passing game has been up and down. It's been slow. We've been without our full group of receivers for a little bit of time. We just have to find a way to do a better job."

The Redskins have averaged just 212.7 passing yards per game this season, and only three teams in the league have fewer passing touchdowns than their eight. They won't have Crowder again today as he will miss his fourth consecutive game with an ankle injury.

All of that has made it even more valuable to Washington that Peterson is still running strong at 33, having rushed for 587 yards and four touchdowns in a comeback season.

"He's playing so well right now, when we call a running play, he better be out there," coach Jay Gruden said. "I expect him to be a major part of our offense moving forward. He has to be right now, the way we are throwing the ball."

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