It had to happen sometime, it’s just a tremendous shame that it had to happen against New Orleans. The Atlanta Falcons finally lost their first game of the season. We knew they wouldn’t go undefeated all season long. But I sure would have much rather lost the game to Dallas, or Oakland, or Carolina, or any other team in the NFL.
I’m going to look at the positives for a moment. The Falcons played fairly well offensively. They still generated 450 yards of total offense, a very large sum, yet an amount that is normal in comparison to what the Saints typically give up. The Saint’s defense didn’t statistically play much better than they have all season, and the Falcons ensured that they didn’t get trapped by any disguises the Saints may have thrown at them in coverage.
Defensively, the Falcons kept Drew Brees from having a massive game. He still had a really, really big day, and you can’t really ever completely stop Brees as he had 298 yards and three touchdowns. They contained him to an extent, and that’s really all you can do. Asante Samuel intercepted him early in the game, and the Falcons turned that into a field goal. You can’t legitimately ask a defense to do a much better job than the Falcons did.
Now the bad. Atlanta had been pretty bad against the run through the first six games of the season, but as I noted in this piece, the Falcons run defense showed some improvement against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. My, what a difference one week can make. I know that Sean Weatherspoon wasn’t playing, but he isn’t the entirety of the Falcons run defense. Against the saints, the Falcons gave up 148 yards on the ground. That’s not good against any team, let alone the Saints who aren’t known for running the ball and hadn’t done a particularly good job of that so far this season. New Orleans ran the ball 29 times for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. That’s absolutely unacceptable.
The Atlanta Falcons have prided themselves the last couple seasons on running the ball and being physical. They looked the part when Jacquizz Rodgers was carrying the ball, but when Michael Turner was rushing they looked absolutely putrid. Turner has been a bruising back in his time in Atlanta, and known for moving the pile, breaking tackles, and gaining tough yardage. He couldn’t do jack. Turner was handed the ball 13 times, and got a grand total of 15 yards. That’s downright miserable. Turner couldn’t do a thing. As a result the Falcons couldn’t really use play-action passes as effectively or run the ball when they really needed to. If you have the ball on the 1-yard line, and you have a couple opportunities to punch it in, you should be able to do so. Turner was absolutely unable to do that.
A team is a sum of their parts. The Falcons were solid in pass coverage (as solid as you can be against a team like the Saints), and were excellent throwing the ball, despite the lack of a running game. But the Falcons weren’t good at stopping the run, and were way worse running the ball themselves on offense. We knew that the Falcons run defense wasn’t excellent, and that their running game was precarious, but if you can’t run on a terrible Saints defense, you can’t do anything. Just a miserable performance by the Falcons in those two aspects. And that really made all the difference in the world.