A Review of the Game in Tampa Bay
How could things have gone so wrong in Tampa? Their secondary clearly isn’t great, but that is unimportant. Someone really wise once said that football games are won in the trenches. And this holds absolutely true to this day and the Falcons against the Bucs. Everything starts in the trenches, and sometimes if they go poorly (or well depending on perspective) end in the trenches. This was the general theme that I everyone could take away from the game, and one that should make the Falcons faithful scared stiff.
Our pass protection is miserable as is our run blocking. They really go hand in hand. If we can’t run block and run the ball effectively, then we most certainly cannot throw the ball effectively. Setting ourselves in third and long situations are bad because it is clear to everyone that we will be throwing the ball. There is no deception to what we are doing, and defensive ends are able to tee off on our offensive line and get after the quarterback. By not running the ball and getting positive gains on first and second down we are simply in a bad situation. We must get in manageable third down situations. Running the ball for positive gains on first and second down is the way to get there.
Once we are in passing downs or when we do decide to throw the football, it just seems that there is no good play from the line. Perhaps it is our communication from center. Todd McClure has been the center for the past decade and handles all of the line adjustments for protections. When he was out the first two games second year player Joe Hawley handled these duties. I have no doubt that he is a little inexperienced and we may have suffered a little from his lack of communication, but he will be an effective replacement for McClure in the future. He handled the situation fairly well, but this could be part of the reason for the poor line play. One individual who has struggled is Garrett Reynolds at right guard. He routinely gets beaten by his man, manhandled, completely fooled either physically or schematically and has altogether been very porous on that line. I was excited about him going into the season, but am completely underwhelmed by him at this point. Nobody expected him to completely replace Harvey Dahl, but he HAS to do a much better than he has, and that much is clear. Now that McClure is back, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hawley and backup guard Mike Johnson rotated in or starting in the near future.
Perhaps the weakest link is at left tackle. Sam Baker has been completely miserable. I understand that he has faced some serious pass rushers over the first three weeks in Julius Peppers, Trent Cole, and Adrian Clayborn, but that is part of the job description: to protect the blindside of the quarterback. Perhaps nobody has played worse than Baker. He is consistently beaten by his man, when the situation should clearly be in reverse. Ryan is continually harassed, and even when receivers are wide open he is not afforded time in the pocket to hit his man. This is reason for the poor completion percentage, high number of picks, huge amount of fumbles lost. I’m tired of seeing Ryan under duress and throwing incomplete passes. It really is getting ridiculous, and to be honest, it’s starting to really piss me off.
Ryan is becoming a little shell shocked. He is under such constant pressure that he throws before he really needs to, the routes don’t develop, passes are broken up or incompleted, he doesn’t step all the way into his throws, they end up short, a little long, or just altogether off the mark. Even when Ryan has a clean pocket and time to throw deep he becomes nervous and doesn’t make the perfect pass. Here is a perfect example of this. On the 49 yard completion to Julio Jones Ryan is clean. There is some pressure to his right side, but it does not affect him. Baker actually makes a good block and keeps Clayborn off of Ryan. When you break it all down, Ryan has a clean pocket and a wide open Julio Jones downfield. However he is so used to being under pressure that he doesn’t step fully into the throw, it comes up short, and it forces Jones to basically fair catch the pass. If it were thrown correctly, the pass would have led Jones, and it would have been a 59 yard touchdown pass. The result of the drive was positive since Ryan followed that with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez, but you HAVE to be able to capitalize on the big play when you can. Ryan HAS to learn how to lead Jones and get him on deep routes into the end zone. If he can, the Falcons will be much more successful. Otherwise we will have to use more plays to get into the end zone. The way our line is playing right now, that’s not a risk I would be willing to take.
As I mentioned before and probably will in every article that I write for Blogging Dirty, the turnover battle is essential to winning the game. We picked off Freeman twice. Great. Wonderful. But if you don’t capitalize by putting points on the board when you create a turnover, you might as well call it a day. At the end of the first half, Ryan threw an interception. This one was absolutely not his fault, but on the scorecard it was an interception none the less. Roddy White needs to come up with that catch. If he does we are even closer and may take one last shot at the end zone. If it falls incomplete, that may be better because we could have kicked a field goal. Give us three more points the end of the game we are tied at 16, and go to overtime. That, and every other pick that is not a Hail Mary into the end zone at the end of a half or game absolutely cannot happen. We cannot afford to throw interceptions. No team can. Just ask Tom Brady.
The defense is one thing I was most worried about going into the season, but based on what I expected and how every team in the league is playing this season, I am fairly impressed. However, two things cannot happen. When a running back is stood up, the rest of the defense needs to push him back, prevent him from falling forward, and wrap up the legs of the running back. This is so very basic, and I can’t believe the Falcons just allowed LeGarrette Blount run for six or seven yards every run. I counted nearly every run he got two yards before being stood up, then spun around and fell forward for another two or three. This sets up countless third-and-short situations, which are the bane for a defense. It is just not good defense, and really is just pitiful football play. I have never seen grown men who have played football all their lives and are paid to do what they do play such terrible form. From a young age players are taught to tackle low and WRAP UP. I coach a little league football team of 9 and 10 year old kids. At least half of them can follow the basic directions and wrap up while tackling low. The Atlanta Falcons did not do either of these things against the Bucs running game. The result was reflected in the score of the game.
The second thing was the jumping offsides when Josh Freeman used a hard count to draw us offsides. I have employed this in my little league team, and had it employed against me. Even a completely undisciplined team of elementary school kids know not to jump offside when instructed not to. Everyone on the globe with the slightest understanding of football knew Freeman was trying to draw the defense offsides, and he succeeded. All that was necessary was to sit still. I seriously doubt that the Bucs had an offensive play called at all. They probably would have ended up calling a timeout. This just shows the complete and utter lack of discipline the Falcons defensive line had. If you get the chance to watch a replay of Brian VanGorder and read his lips after the penalty, it sums things up perfectly. I encourage you to see if you share his sentiments.
Based on how poorly our run defense played, I was very impressed with the pass defense. Granted, it rained before the game, but we still did a good job in pass defense. I couldn’t find anything to really criticize given the poor run defense. The only thing that we have to do in the passing game is to actually get pressure on the quarterback. I think Abraham and Edwards are pretty decent defensive ends, but there were zero sacks in the game. That says an awful lot.
All in all, it was a sloppy offensive game, and defense is what kept us in the game. The explosive plays were extremely lacking. Ryan actually got the ball downfield a couple times, but the perfect throw was never there and throws that could have been touchdowns ended in significant gains, but certainly not touchdowns. A couple of drops by receivers (White on what would have been a sure touchdown, and Gonzalez shortly afterwards) are unacceptable, but let’s be honest. Those happen, and we missed enough plays before and after that those weren’t horribly significant. But they have to be made. Ryan needs to make perfect throws, and the receivers have to bring those passes in.
So far, the season has been very disappointing for Falcons fans, but there is hope. We will get Tampa again, and it will be at home. We will win more games. It has just been a miserable start to the season. Continue to support your team through thick and thin. Unfortunately, things were expected to be really thick, and right now they are really thin.
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