The experience on a national stage Sunday night was a continuation in the poor performance from all facets of the Atlanta Falcons. Many things went well throughout the game, especially the first half, but it was obvious those things deteriorated in the second half.
It still seems that the Falcons are trying to get something done and find their identity on defense. The first two possessions were very efficient and achieved the ultimate goal of getting into the end zone. I was very impressed with the play calling and the way that the Falcons ate up the clock on the way to scoring. Matt Ryan was effective going 8 of 10 for 80 yards and a touchdown to Roddy White. The other ended in a run across the goal line to Michael Turner. The positives are the fact that touchdowns were scored. The sad truth is that nothing else worked the rest of the game. I believe there is a reason for this.
It is well known that many coaches or offensive coordinators script the first 12-15 plays of the game, meaning they have a set series of plays that they will run. These plays are generally practiced extensively and are run nearly to perfection in the game. It allows teams to get the focus off of what play to run, and simply executing the play and starting fast. This is exactly what the Falcons did. They used their script and scored two touchdowns. The problem is when it comes to calling plays in real time during game situations. This is where things broke down. The runs became very ordinary, the passes were not at all unexpected, and the Falcons continued to call those plays even when they weren’t working. It seems to me that even if the play calls are great, the personnel aren’t very good for the situations. Teams know without a doubt that we are going to run the ball in three TE sets, and key on that. When extra receivers are on the field, there seems to be no pass protection for Ryan. Many of the pass obvious downs only have Roddy and Julio split wide, leaving little opportunity for there to be an explosive play downfield. There really is no creativity with the play calling, or the personnel. It is just unbelievable how poorly an offense with this firepower is performing. Coming into this season I was very glad that Mike Mularkey was not offered a head coaching job with another organization. My thought process was that Ryan is still young and maturing, and keeping the continuity of the organization would be critical to his development. I now know that there is a reason that he did not receive a job elsewhere. He simply is poor at making adjustments. He is holding this offense hostage, and nothing productive is happening.
The second thing this is a tad disturbing builds a little off of last week. Roddy White continues to drop passes, or at least not completely secure them making the ball easy target for opposing defenses. There was only one noticeable one, and it was a play that ended up in an interception. Ryan threw a pass deep left, and it was just above his head level. He simply needed to reach up to catch it, and he reached up. He could have easily reached it were it even higher, but it was an easily catchable ball. It hits both hands and is tipped up allowing Jarrett Bush to intercept the pass. This is inexcusable. Roddy has got to get his act together catching passes that are easy completions. I miss the dependable Roddy, and so does everyone else. He is hurting this team right now, and he is making his quarterback look bad. It just grinds my gears.
The offensive line continues to struggle. Penalties and not holding up to pressure from the opposing defensive line has caused more penalties. Trying to do more than they can do is hurting them. The linemen try to make up for missed blocks on previous plays all in one play, and end up whiffing. The pressure continues to get to Ryan, he can’t set his feet, and can’t throw an accurate pass down the field. This happened countless times, but was embodied in the interception on the pass intended for Gonzalez. Ryan panics under heavy pressure, throws the ball without planting his front foot completely, and the ball sails. This allows Green Bay’s safety to make the easy interception. This also was part of the reason for the three-and-outs, only 167 passing yards, lack of completed passes downfield, and only 56% being completed overall. And let’s not even get started on the run blocking. It simply wasn’t there.
I have to say, this was the highlight of the day. I have heard a lot of people calling for Brian Van Gorder’s head after that performance, but there were a lot of positives from that game. Four sacks are good for any team, but for a team starving for hits on the quarterback like the Falcons are, this was a good sign. Now I know that the Falcons aren’t playing very good defense at all. And maybe it was simply a slow start by Green Bay. But Sunday was the least amount of points the Packers put up on the season. Granted, its not like the Packers were really stifled a whole lot, but what offense (other than the Falcons) really is these days?
Sean Weatherspoon is becoming the player we drafted in 2010. He is looking really good at the weak-side linebacker spot. He has been dominant playing the run over there, and has been solid in pass coverage. He is playing best of just about anyone on the defense.
Lawrence Sidbury did a great job playing contain and getting pressure. He only had a sack on the game, but sometimes the stats sheet doesn’t tell the whole tale of the game. He was productive when he was in. He impressed.
Someone who didn’t impress was Thomas DeCoud. He has been money in the redzone in a couple games this season, but has been miserable stopping the big play. James Sanders was acquired to work in a platoon with DeCoud, but it always seems that where there is a big passing play, it is DeCoud who is getting beat in coverage. At some point this has to be fixed.
One thing Van Gorder has been doing that is really not getting it done is calling pure zone coverage. When he has mixed up coverages (i.e. zone vs. man) he has tended to get burnt in the passing game, so he calls pure zone. In the end, that just gives the quarterback a lot of time to throw the ball, and that leads to big passes all the same. Better defensive play calls are necessary.
The Falcons need to do a lot better job in many different areas. The offense is playing poorly, and it seems the big play can’t be stopped. The game of football starts in the trenches, and that seems like it is exactly where it isn’t getting done. Like I’ve said before, there is nowhere to go but up from here, so improvements will be made. It just needs to be done sooner than later, or the Falcons will lose their season, or worse, a coordinator will lose his job.