Football requires balance not only offensively but defensively. If you aren’t running the ball effectively, it’s really hard to have a good passing attack. If you can’t stop the run, it’s going to be really hard to stop the pass. In the same way, if your defense isn’t stopping anyone, it puts undue pressure on your offense to put points up on the board. If your offense isn’t doing anything, it places undue pressure on your defense. The latter is that happened Sunday against the Panthers, as the Falcons got clobbered by a three-win team.
I know many fans won’t feel much sympathy for a Falcons defense that wasn’t particularly good, and that would be for good reason. Atlanta surrendered 475 yards of total offense. They allowed the Panthers to score on all of their first half possessions, they gave up big play after big play, they couldn’t buy a third down stop, and missed tackles along the way. Yeah, there weren’t a whole lot of positives for the Falcons defensively. Matter of fact, I can’t think of one.
But there’s a bigger problem. The Falcons only ran 13 offensive plays in the first half. They had three possessions, and on two of those possessions they got first downs. But they also had a three and out, and on those three possessions (it wouldn’t be accurate to describe them as drives) they only held onto the ball for 6 minutes a 12 seconds. That’s an abysmal amount of time. And there’s two reasons for that.
The first reason is obvious; if you can’t get more than one first down on a drive before you have to punt, there’s no way you’re putting points on the board. I don’t mean touchdowns, I mean even field goals. It’s distressing that the Falcons would be held scoreless in the first half, and it brings back horrible memories of last years playoffs. It’s completely stunning. This is an offense that should be putting up big numbers, and it just isn’t. Receivers just aren’t getting open, pressure gets to Matt Ryan too quickly, a combination of pressure with excellent coverage is doubly deadly, and Michael Turner first down runs are basically a wasted down these days. The interior of the Falcons offensive line doesn’t seem to be blocking much of anyone. That translates to quick possessions that don’t take much time off the clock, but much worse, it’s putting points on the board. For a team with an outstanding quarterback, great receivers, and who is trying to be an explosive offense, there was a severe lack of that.
The second reason is it gives your defense next to no time to recover and recuperate from the previous defensive stand. That’s not excusing the defense’s inability to stop Carolina offense from operating like a well oiled machine. But after Carolina took 7 minutes to score a touchdown on their opening possession, the Falcons answered by punting after only two and a half minutes had passed. Carolina’s next drive took up over 9 minutes, and the Falcons answered by going three-and-out, taking only 2 minutes off the clock. And in the Falcons last offensive possession of the first half, they only took 1:17 off the clock. That’s terrible. It gives the defense no time to re-group, catch their breath, and get ready to play. As a result, the Falcons defense was pretty much spent by the time the went to the locker room for halftime.
I will say this. The Atlanta defense overcame quite some adversity to hold Carolina to field goals on three of the drives. That’s not quite stopping an offense, but considering just how much time the Falcons D spent on the field, it’s a wonder they didn’t give up many more points in the second half than the 14 they did.
Like I said before, I in no way am finding the Falcons defense ‘not responsible for their actions’ after giving up 30 points. But I think the biggest problem was the lack productivity by the offense. The Falcons should be an offensive juggernaut, eating up large portions of the clock, and scoring around 28 points per game. Instead, they looked completely out of sync, couldn’t get anything generated, and were not able to hold up their end of the bargain. They didn’t put points on the board early, dug themselves an early hole, and put the defense in a situation they simply couldn’t win.