There are several things from the Atlanta Falcons victory over the Seattle Seahawks that have to be pointed out as reasons that the Falcons were successful, but also others that need to be remedied if they are to advance from the NFC Championship game against San Francisco.
The first thing that is critical is the Falcons ability to run the ball. Now, San Fran is a better run defense than Seattle is, but that doesn’t mean the Falcons shouldn’t try to run the ball. For a team that had little to no success in the regular season trying to force the run, they had what amounted to an explosion of the running attack, carrying the ball 26 times for 167 yards. It also really helps that Jazquizz Rodgers ran over safety Earl Thomas, and that Michael Turner showed a good burst. He was able to get to the secondary untouched, the biggest thing to getting him going. He looked like a different player.
The interior of the offensive line (Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, and Peter Konz) did a great job blocking in the pass game, but especially in the run game. I said that Turner was generally not touched before reaching the second level? Credit the offensive line for opening holes, and then blocking linebackers and safeties in the secondary, allowing Turner and Rodgers to get up a head of steam.
The interior of the offensive line did a great job opening holes in the run game, and also protected solidly in the pass game. But look at what tackles Tyson Clabo and Sam Baker did. Matt Ryan was only sacked once, and there was only 1 quarterback hit registered on Matt Ryan on the day. Great job by that crew to keep Ryan clean. They didn’t have the most challenging matchup of the season, but it wasn’t a cakewalk either. And they did a great job.
Perhaps the best job was by little Jacquizz Rodgers. He was fabulous in pass protection, especially on the final drive. He picked up a free blitzer on each of the Falcons final offensive plays of the game. He cut down blitzers exactly how he needed to. Great job by him.
Early in the game, the Falcons did a solid job rushing Russell Wilson, and on the backend didn’t need to cover so very long, so they could be more aggressive in coverage. That’s exactly what they needed to do. They fit the run expertly, only allowing Marshawn Lynch a couple of yards per carry. The only run where they allowed him to do much was when Weatherspoon created the fumble. They did a very good job defensively preventing the Seahawks from scoring in the first half.
That changed in the second half. The Seahawks decided to quit running the ball. That put the Falcons in a tough situation. They couldn’t possibly rush Russell Wilson, especially since he is so mobile in the pocket and adept at avoiding the rush. They weren’t being as aggressive as they were in the first half, and that nearly came back to bite them.
When the pass-rush doesn’t get there, it puts undue pressure on the secondary to cover. Now the Falcons have some fine players in the secondary. But there’s no way they can cover for 8,9,10 seconds at a time and be successful. And that’s exactly how much time Wilson had to pass. He was able to get through his progressions twice on some plays, and ended up shredding the Falcons secondary. They didn’t let anyone behind them, but they gave up tremendous chunks of yardage in front of them, which is almost as bad. Essentially, they played a prevent defense all second half.
That’s not good. But what’s doubly bad is missed tackles. I remember the Seahawks first touchdown. Russell Wilson connected on a pass to Golden Tate– a smaller wider receiver– underneath the coverage. Dunta Robinson came up and laid the lumber on him, but he failed to wrap-up. He ended up missing the tackle, and ol’ Golden Tate rumbled right into the endzone. How Tate isn’t a bad receiver- far from it. But Robinson is a good tackler and big hitter, and he ABSOLUTELY HAS TO MAKE THE TACKLE. He can’t just try to come up with the big play every time. It’s far better to live to fight another day than continue giving up big touchdown passes play after play.
The Falcons defense needs to play aggressively throughout the game. They can’t just play aggressive until they have a huge lead and then quit. The old adage that the only thing a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning very nearly came home to roost against Seattle. Perhaps the Falcons will try to execute differently against San Francisco.