Things in Atlanta are still bleak. But a slight glimmer of hope remained before the game on Sunday. Afterwards, that hope got a little brighter.
The Atlanta Falcons may be able to string something together, but they’ll need help from the rest of the league as well. First, we’ll look at what the Falcons have to do:
Over the bye week, the coaching staff had to restructure the game plans around what the Falcons had left. With Julio Jones and Roddy White out, they built their offense around what they did have: A poor, but slightly improving offensive line, a pass catching running back, an overlooked slot receiver, and a Hall of Fame tight end. We know the star would be double teamed and taken out of the picture as much as the opponents could, so the goal is to use the other guys as much as possible. Harry Douglas proved with a 149 yard game that he absolutely could be a go-to guy. He’s a lot more skilled than people want to give him credit for. Jacquizz Rodgers may not be an awesome running back, but toss him the ball and his footwork is good enough to get a bunch out yards out of it, including two touchdowns.
Use these guys, throw in Toilolo, and wait for Roddy to get back to 100%, and you have the chance to make the offense very effective again. But the conservatism and trying to sit on the lead needs to end. Five minutes is way too much time left to try and run the ball a few times and end up punting after a three and out. That’s the situation you make a good long drive, score a touchdown and put the other team out of the game. Atlanta needs to be playing to score in that situation. Do that and they would eliminate that worry about letting teams back in the game.
As for defense, there were definitely improvements. However, there weren’t enough of them. Tampa Bay came in averaging less than 15 points per game and scored 23. If there was one thing I loved about Sunday, it was the fact that there was finally a pass rush. Mike Nolan finally dialed up some blitzes. The coverage was good, and the pass rush managed 3 sacks and a fumble on the day. But there were still far too many times everyone dropped back into coverage while only rushing three giving Mike Glennon the time to find someone open. That’s what he did and that’s why a 2nd and 20 turned into an easy first down pick up. I can’t help but speculate that if there were 5-6 rushers, it would be a lot more difficult to find that open guy. The blitzes helped, but there needs to be more of them.
Atlanta needs to go 2-0 for the next few games to take on Seattle 4-4. If they can do that and develop enough of a game plan around the weaknesses, they may have a chance to make an upset.
Now for the rest of the league, what will need to happen for Atlanta to sneak into the playoffs?
Unless Drew Brees gets hurt for some reason, I don’t see Atlanta catching up to them to win the south. The Falcons playoff chances lies with who is competing for a wildcard spot. There is only room for two, so Atlanta has to have at least the second best record in the NFC of the teams that didn’t win their division. First things first, Atlanta has to have a 9-7 record at least. The division winner will most likely be Green Bay, New Orleans, Dallas, and Seattle. It’s probably safe to assume San Francisco will make it in. That leaves only one spot open. Teams that will by vying for a spot (and teams you should be cheering against week in and week out) are Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Both Arizona and St. Louis probably won’t make more than an 8-8 record since they are in a tough division. Carolina could be in the hunt, but I can’t count them because if Atlanta wants a chance, they HAVE to sweep the panthers which would take them out of contention. Philadelphia may be in a good spot simply because of their chance at beating everyone else in the division to rack up some wins, but will still probably only go 8-8. The real threats are Detroit and Chicago. The Bears have a potent offense, but their defense is struggling mightily (sounds familiar) but they recently lost Cutler to an injury for several weeks with a groin injury. If they can’t win one of the next three, that’ll hurt their chances. Detroit has some tough divisional foes, but still has a light schedule. Either team could end a season with a anywhere from 7-9 to 10-6.
Atlanta should hate these teams for the rest of the season. If those teams can’t get it done, Atlanta might be able to sneak into the post season, but a lot more will rely on those two teams than we would like. There’s still a chance so don’t lose hope, we’ll see how Atlanta does these next couple of games.