The Falcons were triumphant against the Seahawks. That is the most important fact at the end of the day. But, the way our Birds accomplished this was highly irregular, and not something any Falcons fan wants to see again.
The first half, and the beginning of the second half is exactly what Falcons football is all about. We committed to the running game and it paid off. The first drive was magnificent. It was a 12 play, 6 minute drive, utilizing the no-huddle, and capped with a 1-yard TD pass to Gonzalez. Ryan was 4-4 41 yards, and never seemed in any trouble and had no dangerous coverage that he was forced to throw into. That was because of the effective running game. By running effectively, it sets up the play action, and allows players like Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez to draw single coverage. These players are so dynamic that they will consistently beat single or man coverage. But it certainly helps that Turner and Rodgers were running the ball so well.
That being said there are still opportunities for success without setting up a pass with the run, and these playmakers can make plays all on their own. The very first thing that the Falcons did to start off the second half was to throw it deep down the left sideline to Jones for a 45 yard pick-up. This was my favorite play to look at in the game. The first thing to look at is the offensive line. I know there really isn’t anyone really special on that Seattle defensive line, but on this straight dropback, the line held up. The second thing that was excellent to look at was the ball placement by Ryan. When I first watched the play I thought, Ryan really threw a rainbow right there! But on second look Ryan WANTED to throw it like that. He clearly has the arm to throw rockets downfield, that wasn’t the right throw because the coverage was tight. Very tight. Ryan put the ball up at the Seattle 35 yard line and let Jones make a play. That was the second step: a perfect throw. Not just a perfect throw, but the perfect type of throw, and Ryan did just that. The third and final step was for Jones to make a play on the ball, and that he did. Under very tight coverage from Seahawks corner Brandon Browner, it was very obvious that Browner read the route perfectly. However, Jones had a step, and with Browner’s arm partially obstructing his view of the ball made a great catch. The knock on Jones coming out of college was that he sometimes got stone hands, but he looks terrific right there. This was an excellent play, and an even more fun one to break-down.
A final positive note about the Falcons offense as a whole, Ryan was very efficient, posted a solid passer rating, made few mistakes, and didn’t appear to have happy feet. A couple more touchdown passes would be great, but hey, as long as he doesn’t throw interceptions, everyone is happy. The offensive line looked strong, kept Ryan upright most of the game, allowed him to make plays in the passing game, and opened up big holes in the running game. The surprise player who really came through was Jacquizz Rodgers. He only had 25 yards on six carries and one 10 yard catch, but he had a big 11 yarder, carried it well for a small back, and that catch was a huge one on third down that kept a drive going. He was overall productive, and I don’t mind him at all behind Turner. He’s not a punishing runner like Snelling, but he performed well.
Now to the bad. The attitude that got the Falcons off to a fast start and great production offensively disappeared after that magnificent deep pass to Julio. The offensive line simply forgot to run block. Honestly, that is where ball games are won and lost: In the trenches on both offense and defense. Michael Turner had no holes opened for him to run the ball, and certainly neither he nor Rodgers could open those themselves. When that happens it forces the Falcons (and every team for that matter) into third-and-long situations, which is not good. Obvious passing situations can be won, but not every single time. Nobody simply lines up on every snap without a running back and throws it around. There is at least the threat of a run play. Without that threat, it makes the job of the defense a whole lot easier.
Julio Jones is a man out there playing wide receiver, but he is not yet a really crisp route runner, and does not know how to set up the corner to open up for a big play. When he does figure out all of those things, the league had better watch out. He will hang a couple scores and 100+ yards every game. But right now he is just so raw, that sometimes Ryan and Jones just don’t connect. I assume its miscommunication on either or both player, but given Jones is a rookie, I’m willing to bet that most of these bad looking incompletions are on him. Now that will get better over time, a full training camp, etc. He’s gonna be good. I’m excited to see him on a goal line fade. But now I’m rambling, and it’s time to talk about another issue.
Ryan loves having Jones, but his two primary targets are still White and Gonzalez. Gonzalez is the same as ever, dependable and clutch. However, something seems to be wrong with Roddy. He isn’t open as much in the past, and he leads the entire NFL with 8 drops. Now, I am sure that he is not 100% healthy, but that’s not the only problem. I think that his non-participation in player-only workouts is part of the reason for this. Obviously there was no mini-camp, and limited training camp, so the player-only workouts were critical. White elected to skip the vast majority of them and workout on his own. I think if he had it to do over again, he would have been in attendance. The drops are hurting the team as they are happening in key or third down situations. If he makes half those catches the results of the Tampa game may be different, and the tense moments in Seattle would not be necessary either. And Ryan’s stats would be a little prettier. Hopefully this period of butterfingers and poor health for him will pass, and he will be the same player we saw last year.
The defense was solid in the first half. It was atrocious in the second half. There are only a few things to say on this front that haven’t been said. But I will try to attach them.
Explosiveness is what was preached all year long. Atlanta’s front office dealt with this by signing Ray Edwards in free agency. This attempt to bolster the pass rush so far had done anything but accomplish what was intended. It could be argued that it has had the opposite effect and made the pass rush even worse. The Falcons have not had a sack in past three games. That is a long stretch for a player with the stature of Abraham to go without a sack, but it is an eternity for an entire team to not have a sack in that period of time. Honestly it’s not just a lack of sacks it’s a lack of pressure on the quarterback. Tarvaris Jackson has never been accused of being a great quarterback, but he sure looked good against the Falcons. Even on the interceptions, there was no pressure on him they were simply poor throws, or timely hits by James Sanders that resulted in a pick. The lack of pressure almost got us beat by a poor quarterback, imagine how bad it could get against a good one. Next week looms large.
The Falcons are a base 4-3 defense, and the coverage against the pass typically drops into a cover-2. The best situation to run this defense is against a pro-set offense (i.e. 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE). The corners play a zone in the flat, and as a result are charged with jamming the receivers off the line, causing the routes to develop slowly, allowing the pass rush to get there. This breaks down a little when the personnel changes and a receiver lines up in the slot. In this situation it is typically a nickel-corner manned up against him. Here’s the catch: It is really hard to jam a receiver out of the slot. So, the slot receiver ends up with a free release, working against the worst corner on the field, and gets open in short order. Chris Owens played nickel in the game against Seattle, and is solid, but not great by any stretch of the imagination. If there was a good pass rush getting pressure on the quarterback, Owens would look a lot better and much of the pressure would be taken off of him because he doesn’t need to hold up in coverage quite so long. This is the reason Grimes has been able to be so productive. Granted he is supremely athletic, and drives well on the ball, but the less time he has to hold up in coverage the better. Every team can get by with average secondary personnel if they have a strong defensive line. Just ask the Detroit Lions. But when the defensive line never gets to the quarterback you have Jackson throwing three touchdown passes. The long pass to Sidney Rice was the prime example. Grimes got beat bad. The reason is partially because he allowed Rice to get past him. The majority is because nobody pressured Jackson.
The first half and the second half were completely different. The Dirty Birds have yet to put a whole game together, but they need to start doing that very quickly. They are going to start playing teams who play at a very high level for all sixty minutes. Hopefully it will all get ironed out this week in practice. I have faith in this team, and expect to see a more clean game than I have recently. I have no doubt that their play will improve, because it must. But, for this week at least we can say, “How Dirty are those Birds!”