The Falcons defense was certainly anything but dominant against the Chiefs. There will be plenty to look at during the week, plenty to work on moving forward. Here are my notes from the week 1 matchup.
In the first half of the game, the Falcons surrendered 17 points, a boat load of yard, and didn’t so much as force a punt in the entire first half. An entire half without even forcing a punt is really bad. The Chiefs were 5/6 on third down conversions in the first half, which is an absolutely atrocious percentage from the defensive perspective. The first thing the Falcons need to improve upon overall is stopping teams on third downs. This team won’t be perfect, but they sure need to be a whole heck of a lot better than they have been.
The pass-rush simply wasn’t getting to Matt Cassel for most of the game. Far too many times the rush came, the Chiefs easily picked it up, they kept a back or a tight end in pass protection if that was even necessary, and Cassel had what looked like an eternity to throw the ball. The Chiefs have a bunch of really good weapons to use in both the pass and the run game, which makes them a handful, but I would have liked to see a stop or two in the first half. Basically, the Chiefs had their way with the Falcons in most of the first two quarters.
Then a funny thing happened. In the second half, nearly everything changed. On their first drive, down 20-17, the Chiefs marched down the field and got within field goal range. Then they missed it. The kick hit the upright and fell back in the field of play. The Falcons then got the ball back, and didn’t hesitate scoring a touchdown.
The key here was being up 27-17. When you are up by ten points in the middle of the second quarter, it almost completely forces the defense to be one-dimensional. The Chiefs were forced to throw the ball, and that allowed the Falcons defensive line to pin their ears back and focus on getting after Cassel. Now that pass rush wasn’t necessarily outstanding or really consistently getting pressure on the quarterback. However, it just got enough to create a couple sacks, and most importantly turnovers. John Abraham got a strip-sack of Cassel. Jonathan Babineaux got a sack, and Sean Weatherspoon got a sack. Those hits and sacks made Cassel get rid of the ball too fast, and combined with good coverage from linebackers and defensive backs, the Falcons also got two interceptions.
The thing that stood out about the first half was how effectively the Chiefs ran the ball with Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles. I pretty much figured that Hillis was the inside rusher, and Charles was the outside runner. Hillis mostly ran up the middle, but Charles is surprisingly good between the tackles. As a result, it makes it doubly effective when he bounces the ball to the outside. The Falcons had a really difficult time playing contain on him, and when Charles got to the edge, he used his speed to get up the field quickly. Charles is just so fast, it’s really difficult to tackle him. Obviously this set up the play-action early in the game, or made the Falcons have to respect the run in the first half. That simply wasn’t the case in the second half, when the Chiefs became fairly one-dimensional. The missed field goal early in the 3rd quarter was the turning point in the game.
As talented as our secondary is, it is difficult to cover guys when the quarterback and receivers have an eternity to complete passes. The Falcons defensive backs couldn’t be super aggressive and play up on the receivers; if they did, they would have risked giving up the big play because the pass-rush wasn’t getting to Cassel. They gave up a whole lot of long first down passes underneath the coverage, because that was what the secondary was going to allow. They weren’t going to allow passes over their heads for long gains or touchdown passes. It is really a problem that the Falcons couldn’t generate the necessary pressure, because they surrendered first down after first down to the great receiving weapons on the Kansas City roster. It didn’t burn them this week, but it may on the future.
The interesting thing about this ‘analysis’ of the defense is that it is based upon the Falcons defense when completely intact and with all of their pieces. Yesterday news broke that Brent Grimes would miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury. That is horrible news for this secondary. This defense was going to be questionable going forward as it was. Now, with the injury to Grimes, sirens are blaring for this defense, and things are looking rough. I’m really glad that the Falcons traded for Asante Samuel over the offseason, but that still means Chris Owens or Dominique Franks is going to see playing time–in the short term. Look for the Falcons to make a signing of a veteran corner at some point soon.