As far as much needed big wins go, the Falcons 31-17 win over the Panthers was right up there on the list. With all facets of the team really stepping up their play this week it will hopefully springboard the team back into their winning ways of last year. From Micheal Turner having his first really big day of the year, to the defense coming up with three picks it was an all around good day for the Falcons and their fans. There are still some glaring issues that will hopefully get worked out sooner than later, but if the they can continue to improve at the current rate then the season should be successful.
Even with the absence of WR Julio Jones the Falcons had a great day offensively, putting 31 points on the score board. They were mainly able to accomplish this because of running back Micheal Turner who had 139 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns giving him just shy of 500 yards on the season and 6 total touchdowns. One thing that I have started to notice about Turner is that early in the game he doesn’t seem to run as hard as he does once the number of carries he gets starts to go up. Don’t get me wrong, he is always looking to hit the hole and get some big yardage, but in the early stages of the game it seems like he will go down with the first tackler or go out bounds too soon. Later on in the game though he will start looking to punish the defenders with big hits to them. Either way he got the job done against Carolina. Matt Ryan also looked good. He only threw for 163 yards and 1 touchdown, but he did not throw an interception and he spread the ball around to 9 different receivers. No one specific receiver had a really big day but when Matt is hitting that many targets it makes it very hard for defenses to key in on any specific player or any specific part of the field.
I brought up last week how much the offensive line has improved over the past few weeks and I just want to really drive that point home. After starting the season giving up 12 sacks in the first three games and getting Matty Ice just totally annihilated, they have bounced back big and have only given up three sacks in the next three games. That leaves them with a total of 15 sacks at this point which is not particularly great but if they can keep the current production up things will look really good by the end of the season. They are pass blocking well now and they are getting back to that nasty feel run blocking, opening up big holes for the backs to run through and terrorizing defenders till the whistle blows. First year starting guard Garrett Reynolds still has a way to go, he often gets caught looking a little lost in pass blocking but he has made major strides and looks to wind up being a pretty good player at the end of the day.
Roddy Whites production still hasn’t gotten up to par for him yet. For the most part he was drawing double coverage from the Panthers with Julio Jones out, so it would have been hard for him to have a huge day. He did however draw two huge pass interference penalties setting up the Falcons first two touchdowns. The first of which he had his man beat deep and Matt Ryan threw a perfect pass to the end zone which Roddy no doubt would have caught for a touchdown if not for the defender pushing him and holding his arm. Even without the big receptions he had a huge part in this game and was a big reason for the win. Also kicker Matt Bryant is still perfect on the year! Got to love that guy.
Although I am not fan of the defensive philosophy and scheme that Brian VanGorder runs it’s hard to get down on it after a showing like they had this week. The type of zone coverage that they play allows for big gaps in the secondary to open up quite easily if the pressure is not there from the front four. It does however put the defense in good positions to create turnovers, as we witnessed against Carolina. They did give up quite a bit of yards once again, but were able to make some red zone stops and interceptions that kept the game on our side. The team has gotten themselves to a plus 2 on the turnover ratio so that is looking really good right now, but i would gladly give up a few of those picks for a few more three and outs to give us the field position advantage. I digress though, they are making some major improvements.
The defensive line has really started stepping it back up as well. After starting the year great against Chicago with tons of pressure and a few sacks they had slumped off for a few games. But with a good mix of blitzes starting to show up and the front four getting some good pressure, it is starting to turn around as well. The pressure up front was a big part of the interceptions. On one play in particular Newton was forced to throw the ball early (before he became a Cam sandwich) but because the pressure he didn’t see Will Moore crossing in front him. Moore tipped the pass up in the air and Brent Grimes went up high over Steve Smith for the pick. It was a culmination of team defense, beautiful. One more notable mention was a one handed Gonzalez like catch by D Tackle Corey Peters, who was rushing in when he recognized the screen pass being set up. He dropped back into coverage and just reached up and plucked the ball out of the air for the pick. I really felt like this was the point in the game that you knew it was in the bag.
Cacaaw Cacaaw that’s my dirty bird call… keep on rolling guys.