The Atlanta Falcons seemed to be on an easy track to demolishing the Tennessee Titans, before the offense stalled, and the defense began giving up some big plays. This was not an ugly win, but it was not the dominant force that one would expect over a team like the Titans.
The offense imposed its will early, and this was the best example of the explosive offense that we have all been looking forward to all season long. The first and most important factor was establishing the run. Anytime a team can establish the run, keep the defensive line on its heels, and then play action off the run, that offense can dictate coverages to the defense. What I mean by that is the defense will have to commit more more men to the box to prevent the run. When they do that, fewer men are able to drop into coverage, and it facilitates the pass. Even when the linebackers and defensive backs are committed to dropping into coverage, the play action will draw those defensive players up a couple steps or cause them to pause for a second or two, opening up for passed to be dropped in over their heads. Essentially, this is the Falcons’ plan going into every game, and they executed this very well. Being successful running the ball early and on first down does wonders for the offense and the passing game. Most of us have heard this before, but when Michael Turner rushes for 100 yards, it’s hard for the Falcons to lose. He rushed 21 times for 100 yards. The end result was a win.
A second thing that was crucial for these Falcons was efficient quarterback play. From the beginning, Matt Ryan was throwing very well even in obvious passing situations. That shows that even though the run set up the pass, the Falcons were able to impose their will in the passing game. The offensive line held up long enough to allow Ryan to deliver the ball on time to his targets. Matt Ryan was only hit once on the day. That shows the pass protection was good as well.
Lets delve a little deeper into the passing game. Many things were very positive here. Ryan looked very good. Over the past weeks he hasn’t looked particularly accurate, and that combined with receivers dropping passes has really irritated me (amongst other fans) over Ryan’s completion percentage. He was sharp getting the ball to his receivers, good on third down, and also got a good deal of help from his receivers in the fact that they didn’t have lots of drops. The touchdown pass to Gonzalez in the endzone was fantastic, but it was really just another case of Tony being Tony and catching anything thrown remotely in his direction. It wasn’t the most on target pass, but it was a bullet in the general vicinity, and Gonzalez made the catch. The other receiver who really made his presence felt and was looking like he had recovered his 2010 form was Roddy White. It was about time that we saw him playing at a high level again, and he rose to the occasion. The wide receiver screen to him for 38 yards was great, it showed him looking the ball all the way in, using some moves to get past defenders, and his speed for yardage. This is a type of route we haven’t seen enough of this season, and need to see more of. Earlier this season White would have been trying to run before he caught the ball, and that almost always translates into drops. His focus was clearly on the task at hand, and he executed it there. We certainly need more of that.
The other factor of Roddy White’s game that we saw was his use as a deep threat. With Julio Jones out, he is both our most complete reciever, and our best deep threat. I was very please to see that he was used down field, and used to great effect. My first inkling that the Falcons would try to get the ball to White deep was with a couple minutes left in the 1st quarter. From the Tennessee 21-yard line, Ryan took a shot to White in the end zone. The throw was just out of bounds and White never had a shot to catch it in bounds, but it was close. White had beaten the corner assigned to him, and had a safety over the top. It was very tight coverage, but Ryan put the ball in a perfect spot where only Roddy could make the catch, and he went up over the coverage making the catch. Granted, the ball was slightly out of bounds, but it shows that Roddy White can definately be a jump ball threat. It is simply an underused element of his game. The second exapmle of this is the 43-yard completion to White. It was a similar coverage, with a trailing corner, and a safety over the top. Ryan makes a perfect throw between the two defenders, with the ball on White’s outside shoulder. Anywhere else that ball is thrown it is an interception or an incompletion. The second part of the play also came to fruition, as Roddy caught the ball, and maintained possession while taking a big hit from the safety. This is another example of great speed, route running, and concentration from White, and outstanding accuracy and good arm strength from Ryan even into tremendous coverage.
Two things were troubling about the Falcons offense today. The first was the inability of the Falcons offense to get into the endzone even when they enter the redzone. The first time was from 3rd&1, Michael Turner failed to get in from the one yard line. I would have liked for the Falcons to go for it on 4th down especially considering the decison to go for it on 4th last week. It would be great to get a touchdown in that situation, even it the Falcons don’t get it, they leave the Titans with horrible field position. I understand the argument about taking the points when they present themselves, but I think it would be appropriate to go for it right here. Another situation arose on 3rd & 5. Ryan completed a pass to Snelling for a 4 yard gain. Granted, that would have not given the Falcons a first down, but it would have given 4th and very short. Unfortunately, that minimal gain was negated by a hold by Eric Weems. Personally, I seriously question the penalty of holding here, as Weems was only setting up a block for Snelling, but it was a penalty nonetheless. The Falcons had a 3rd&15, a very difficult down and distance to score a touchdown from. This penalty prevented another potential touchdown for the Falcons. The last two weeks have been a clinic on how to not get into the endzone. Normally I worry about Matt Ryan between the 20’s and not in the red zone. Lately, the opposite has been the case. I don’t think I need to address the issue of Michael Turner fumbling at the Tennessee 7-yard line. That simply cannot happen.
The other thing was the absence of Julio Jones. It wasn’t so much a factor of the Falcons playing poorly without him, but apparently his hamstrings are a tremendous injury concern. He has already sat a number of games, missed parts of very important games, and not been very consistent. His play on the field is very good, some would say outstanding. But considering what the Falcons gave up to be able to draft Jones, he has to stay healthy and on the field. I grow weary of checking the injury reports, and I think that a player of his caliber needs to stay healthy and on the field. Hopefully he will get healthy, and stay that way.
The defense was great until Jake Locker was put in the game. The Falcons run defense was nothing short of outstanding against the Titans. Every single individual on the front made big plays in the run game. The defensive tackles got great penetration and filled the gaps well, the defensive ends played great contain, and it seems like every assignment in the run game was played to prefection. The Falcons defense pushed around the Titans offensive line, and got to Chris Johnson in the backfield multiple times. Chris Johnson’s line against the Falcons: 13 yards on 12 carries. That means the Falcons run D was outstanding.
I was very impressed with the Falcons pass rush agains Matt Hasselbeck. He is a prototypical pocket passer, with less than outstanding mobility. When the Falcons prevents Chris Johnson from getting positive rushing yards on 1st and 2nd down, it allowed the Falcons to blitz effectively and force Hasselbeck into poor throws. Since he is not very mobile, he became a sitting duck against the Falcons pass rush on 3rd down. When any quarterback cannot escape pressure and there is little to no doubt about what is coming, it is alot easier to send the rush after the quarterback. The thing that really changed with the implementation of Jake Locker at quarterback, was his mobility from the position. In situations where Hasselbeck would have not been able to go anywhere and would have taken a hit and made a bad throw, Locker was able to sidestep the rush, extend the play a little longer, and find his receivers. Locker is not a polished quarterback, as he was 9-for-19 passing, but it was his ability to extend the play and create big plays that kept the Titans in the game and score two touchdowns late. Those scores were huge, and are a sign of good things to come in the future for Tennessee if Locker can be complemented by a running game.
The sad part of the game was the inability of the Falcons defense to capitalize on mistakes by the Tennessee offense. There were at least 3 throws by Tennessee quarterbacks that were easy interceptions by the Falcons linebacking corps and defensive backs. I know these are defensive players and are not well know for carrying/catching the ball, but at least one of those needs to be reeled in and turned into another turnover. That really is a necessity for any defense, but especially one like the Falcons who need to be opportunistic in pass defense.
As you can see, the Falcons won, and while there are a lot of things that need to be worked on, there are alot of great things that happend that can spring the Falcons towards further improvement. Questions? Comments? Complaints? Please talk to us here!