Every week I name the five Falcons that had the biggest impact in the game. Here are my Week 9 Falcons who really earned their wings:
Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter: No, he was unable to dial up a play that gave Matt Ryan a touchdown pass, something I was really looking for. And he only called one play that resulted in a touchdown play, perhaps the most important thing for a football team. The reason I’d say Koetter earned his wings is because of his commitment to the run against a Dallas team missing their MLB Sean Lee. In the first half Michael Turner had eight carries for 18 yards, a really poor display. But he burst off for a 43-yarder late in the third, and eventually scored Atlanta’s only touchdown. It’s a testament to the fact that good things happen when you stick with running the ball, and Koetter’s commitment paid off.
Defensive Tackle Jonathan Babineaux: Babineaux not only had a big statistical day, but he was a constant presence for the Falcons defensive line. 5 solo tackles, 2 combo tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle went for a loss, a pass defended, and a quarterback hit. Talk about a productive day. When he wasn’t making tackles, he was forcing the ball carrier to the outside and allowing teammates to make the play. Babineaux did an absolutely fantastic job getting initial pressure in the Cowboys backfield, and definitely earned his wings.
Wide Receiver Julio Jones: Jones is certainly a more complete receiver than he was last season. Chalk it up to a full offseason including OTAs, continued time working with Roddy White and Matt Ryan. Whatever it may be, he’s really finding the void in the zone defense, as well as dominating when teams decide to use man coverage against him. The best example was early in the game when Jones caught a 38-yard shot down the field along the left sideline. Jones ran by Dallas’ Morris Claiborne, one of the better cover corners in the NFL. Jones is fantastic, and without his ability to get open and convert long third down situations, the Falcons may have come up short against the Cowboys.
Running Back Jacquizz Rodgers: Rodgers has had a bunch of potential to be a good outlet for Matt Ryan when everything down the field is covered up, or on draw plays, but was woefully underutilized last season. He is being increasingly used this year, and he did an outstanding job against Dallas. He had three carries for no total gain, but his true value came as Ryan’s checkdown. In that role he had 4 catches for 53 yards, including a huge 31-yard gain, and another third down conversion where he shook the Cowboys safety out of his boots. Rodgers is clearly an improved and improving player, and the Falcons can look to him to make plays with the ball in his hands.
Cornerback Robert McClain: McClain was the last player to make the Falcons roster. It was a question of whether to keep him or perhaps carry an additional special teamer on gamedays. Well, the Falcons decision to include McClain on the roster paid off. He’s been very good in past weeks, including an interception against the Broncos, but he was even better yesterday. McClain made a tackle on a Dallas running back that prevented a big gain. While he got no statistical credit for passes defended, he was clearly a part in a couple pass breakups, provided very good coverage down the field, and was good in run support. Don’t forget that McClain was also in on 6 tackles. Very good day for the young corner.