The Falcons offense was able to move the football effectively after the first two drives of the game which is an excellent sign for the rest of the season. The first two offensive drives of the games have become notorious for being very successful as they are scripted drives by Mike Mularkey. Once the Falcons settle into the rest of the game, the play calling seemed to become very stale, uninspired, and poor in general. The offense tended to become very stagnant when Mularkey was calling plays on the fly (when they have not been previously scripted).
The one exception to that putrid play calling was when the Falcons decided to go into their no-huddle offense and allow Matt Ryan to call plays from the line of scrimmage. This was highly under used, and in the first nine games of the season was only really used in the two-minute offense. When it was used we saw a multitude of really great things. There are basic positives that come with running any no-huddle offense. Keeping the defense on the field and tired is crucial. Preventing substitutions purely based on personnel (adding another corner and removing a linebacker) is no longer an option for the defense as they need to be ready for the ball to be snapped at any time. Any offense that runs the no-huddle gets these benefits.What helps Atlanta’s no-huddle is that Matt Ryan is excellent at diagnosing and reading coverages pre-snap and when dropping back to pass. Before Ryan was drafted, we heard several comparisons between him and Peyton Manning. If you saw how he used the no-huddle, you would not be completely surprised by that comparison. Throughout the first three quarters of the game, Ryan consistently called plays from the line of scrimmage, when necessary checked to a different play, and was not afraid to take what the defense gave him. Early in the game, he called Michael Turner’s number multiple times for rushes because he read the defense, saw a weakness that would accomodate a big run by Turner. These were very solid, selfless reads that eventually presented Ryan with chances to be selfish and throw the ball down the field. He can make all the throws, it is clear physical talent is there, and a tremendous ability to read coverage are two talents of Ryan’s. When throwing the ball down the field against Tennessee Ryan looked great, and I really think it was because the Falcons used Ryan’s strength: the no-huddle offense.
Having a quarterback who is competent enough to not only run the offense but to run it very effectively is nothing short of a blessing. Having a quarterback who is able to do it missing what should be one of his most potent weapons is absolutely outstanding. Anyone who watched the Falcons all last season knows very well that this team does not need Julio Jones to win football games. I don’t think there is any doubt that he makes the team a lot more dynamic when he is in the starting lineup, but he is not the quintessential linchpin to this offense being successful. Roddy White finally stepped up and played the way he should be, and the way he absolutely has to play when Julio is not playing. Harry Douglas has been doing a great job starting at outside receiver, even though he is more useful and proficient in the slot. With Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner playing at pro-bowl levels, even without Jones, there are more than enough playmakers to allow the Falcons to put a good number of points on the board.
Perhaps the most important factor for the Falcons offense playing much better lately and protecting Ryan is the offensive line play. The old cliche about football games being won and lost in the trenches could not be any more true than it was for the Falcons early in the season when they were not protecting Ryan very well, and were not run blocking very well either. While Joe Hawley did an admirable job holding the line together while veteran center Todd McClure was out with an injury, he is still very young. With the return of McClure (who I see as the glue of that offensive line) it gives the Falcons the player who gives all of the linemen their assignments in blocking. It allowed Hawley to slide out to right guard, a position that had not been played very well this season, and perform very well. Clabo has turned his season around and begun to play a whole lot better than he did early. Blalock has been great, and I am very happy the Falcons resigned a talented and smart lineman like him over the offseason. The greatest thing that Atlanta has discovered is that Will Svitek can play left tackle. Sam Baker was playing very poorly this season until he came down with an injury. It was questionable whether Svitek would be able to hold his own in pass protection or not, but after four games with him starting at that position, I would find it doubtful that Baker would be back this year. I don’t believe that Svitek has surrendured a sack since he has been starting this season. I know that Detroit and Indianapolis both have elite pass rushing defensive ends, so the fact that he has performed well against those teams says a great deal about him. I don’t want to sing his praises too much, but I think he should be the long term 0ption at left tackle for the Atlanta Falcons. Aside from McClure (34) and Clabo (30) the entire offensive line is under 30. The way they are playing right now, I think it would be wise for the Falcons to keep this group together for the long term.
These are just a couple of my thoughts on the offensive situation for the Falcons. We have been looking up lately, and things are bound to improve with the return of Julio Jones and better redzone performance. But, if Matt Ryan continues to not turn the ball over, Jones can stay healthy, Roddy plays up to his ability, and the O-line keeps up the good work, this offense can be as dangerous as any in the league.