What an incredibly embarrassing game for a franchise who believed they had something going for them, a chance at splitting the season series with the Saints and locking up the 5th seed in the playoffs. Now it looks as if we will have to go to New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs. That would be the case unless Green Bay beats Detroit next weekend, and that scenario looks less and less likely by the day. Given the performance last night, I wouldn’t be shocked to see us bounced out easily in the first round again.
A loss like this to the Saints depresses, enrages, and annoys Falcons fans the world over. It makes me not want to get out of bed in the morning the day after. I despise the Saints completely from top to bottom of the organization, from general manager, to vendors, to fans. My distain for the Saints is only surpassed by my love for these Dirty Birds. So that is where my focus will be instead, after that miserable performance.
Enough of the emotional side, the nuts and bolts of the game is what everyone wants to read about. The first thing that was noticeable was another inability of the Falcons to score in the red zone. This was the problems against these guys the first time we played in Atlanta and continues to be a major issue. Given the talent and number of talented players at the offensive skill positions it is unacceptable for the red zone production to be as ba as it was, for us to have three field goals, for there to be a turnover on downs in the red zone after having a 2nd & Goal from the 6-yard line. Against most teams you simply have to score when you have the opportunity to. Against the saints, you have to score touchdowns. And a lot of them. Follow the jump to read more.
The two things that came to mind when seeing this was not that the Saints defense was particularly good, or that we couldn’t move the ball against them, both of which are not true. I don’t think that defense is as bad as they were early in the season, as lately they have picked it up. But do not confuse them with the ’85 Bears. We were able to move the ball, but two things prevented this. First and foremost was ineffective running plays or runs for losses. I don’t thing the play calling was particularly bad. I actually think it was quite good. But having downs where a run gets you negative one yard, or it takes Michael Turner everything he has to stumble for a one yard gain, thats not effective running and it is very hard to play-action off of ineffective runs. Execution by the offensive line was very poor.
Secondly, penalties were not particularly numerous, but they were at awful times. Throughout the game we had little difficulty moving the ball between the 20′s and after watching the touchdown strike from Ryan to Julio Jones, I know we could get the ball across the goal line. But when Ryan would complete passes in that area (no small task when the area to throw becomes more compact) they were nearly always brought back by a hold, or an offensive pass interference, or something that not only required another try but took yards away. When that happens the defense can sit back, does not have to respect the run or short passes, and can play the ball in front of them. Checkdowns by Ryan to Snelling, Turner, or Rodgers are the only options, but they are quickly stopped short of the first down line. It is very difficult to convert 3rd & 15 from the 17-yard line. Its borderline impossible, and I think it can be suicidal.
It is a challenge to come up with many positive offensively from a game like this, but there are a few, First, the no-huddle seemed to be very effective in the Superdome. There is no more hostile and environment for the Falcons than that stadium and the no-huddle performed well despite the noise. Were it not for the silly stupid penalties, the Falcons would have (in my estimation at least) scored 31 points. I honestly feel that three of those field goals would have become touchdowns instead of field goals. The turnover on downs should have never happened, but I do understand the thought process at that stage in the game. 31 points is still way short of what would be needed to win, but I sure would have felt better about the loss and our chances in the playoffs.
Matt Ryan was poised, efficient, in command of the offense, accurate to a degree which is unusual even for him, and showed good arm strength when needed. Also very important, he did not throw any interceptions. The supporting cast didn’t help with the penalties, and neither did Ryan’s turnover on downs. But for the most part he looked great. Downfield passes to White early, stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure, the deep pass over the middle to Julio, those are a few of the things he did well, and I felt confident in his arm and pinpoint accuracy. Talk about touch with the football, the touchdown to Julio Jones was between three (almost four) defenders, each within inches of the ball and Ryan perfectly threaded the needle and hit his receiver. Tremendously tough touch throw, I think Matt Ryan showed a lot of toughness in this game, and I am more sure than ever he is the franchise quarterback we want.
Defensively, we were an absolute mess. There is one player who absolutely needs to be fired, and thats Dunta Robinson. He has come in, blown coverage consistently, made helmet crushing hits that end in penalties, and then walks out and blows coverage again. The man is a one man wrecking crew and not in a good sense. He has constantly gotten the Falcons beat in tough games. It is one player who is certainly not worth his price tag, and I for one look forward to getting rid of him.
Another problem for the defense was not bringing enough pressure at Drew Brees and giving him too much time in the pocket, or a comfortable pocket in which to pass. The Falcons defense has dropped into its base Cover-2 defense alot, and Brees easily carves that zone defense up. When the Falcons do bring a blitzer, it generally is just that: one man in addition to the four down lineman. The best example of that that I saw was when the Falcons brought Dominique Franks off the left side of the line in the 1st quarter. All it took was a tiny chip block from Darren Sproles to turn Franks from a free blitzer, into a defender who was out of the play. By the time Franks could get up and try to sack the quarterback, it only took him stepping up one step to complete a pass downfield. Brian Van Gorder doesn’t dial up exotic looks on defense often enough or with enough intensity for my taste.
Other than that, what else is to be said? The Saints run to pass ratio was good enough that it got us completely and totally off balance. We never regained our balance defensively and thats a very scary thing. The Saints exploited every single matchup they could, and won. Jimmy Graham is a bad matchup vs. Brent Grimes. Darren Sproles is an impossible matchup against any linebacker, even if his name is Weatherspoon. And Colston & Moore are going to get separation from Robinson and Franks. It was a night of mismatches and the Falcons seemed to lost every one of them. It certainly doesn’t help when fumbles are returned for touchdowns (Julio’s fumble returned by Malcolm Jenkins) and the porous defense never has an opportunity to make a play. The two interceptions were great, but if they don’t punish the Saints by scoring points off turnovers, it wears da defense down and nothing can help. The Falcons won in the forced turnover battle, but the end result is a final score where the Falcons lost miserably.
There really isn’t a whole lot else to be said from this miserable game. It almost appears the Falcons’ season end is in sight, and they way it will end seems fairly apparent. After such high hopes all season long, this had clearly been a very underachieving team. There is still a potential beatdown of the Bucs left, and at least one playoff game, so there is still hope for this squad. We must always stay true to our Atlanta Falcons.
Go Dirty Birds