On Sunday, the Falcons played an undermanned Minnesota Vikings team, and performed admirably against them. It was a win, and a solid one at that, but the final score barely begins to tell the story of this game.
The Falcons have a bad tendancy to getting off to a hot start, the offense fizzles, and inferior teams are let back into the game when they have no business being there. The same thing happened in our Week 11 matchup with Tennessee. After getting out to a big lead in the first half, penalties, mistakes, and poor execution brought up third down and long situations. Luckily those situations did not prove to be deadly, but the more times a team punts and doesn’t put points on the board, the easier it becomes to give up points.
The first thing that needs to be praised for the Falcons is the red zone efficiency. Multiple times Mike Smith was quoted as saying that the Falcons needed to work on scoring touchdowns in the redzone as opposed to fieldgoals or, even worse, turnovers. Luckily Matt Ryan didn’t throw any interceptions anywhere on the field let alone the redzone, and threw three touchdown passes. There was only one failed attempt where Bryant was brought on to kick a three pointer, but these Birds were 3 for 4 in touchdown efficiency. That is a huge improvement over the past two games.
Second, Sean Weatherspoon is as good as advertised. When we drafted him, I was a little hesitant. I have grown up in SEC land, and have a little bias toward drafting players from that college conference. I guess I’ve always just seen other conferences as a little soft. Combine that with his injury that he sustained last year that severely limited him from seeing the playing field, I was thinking he might become a first round miss. Boy was I wrong. I am constantly hearing Weatherspoon’s name being called on tackles, coming on blitzes, rushing the passer, playing the run, shedding blockers, even dropping into coverage. Having Weatherspoon at Weakside linebacker is perfect and wonderful, a perfect fit for that position in our 4-3 defense. He is beginning to look like a slightly smaller Lance Briggs. He is playing lights out. Toby Gerhart may not be Adrian Peterson, but he is still a big strong back. Weatherspoon came off the edge and crushed him for a two yard loss. On the day he was in on 10 tackles, had a sack, and was pressuring Ponder. He has truly impressed me.
Lawrence Sidbury has also been a great role player for the Falcons. He ended up with two sacks of Ponder on the day. Having an interior pass rush is a necessity for us considering how many times quarterbacks have simply stepped up in the pocket and eluded pressure. Hopefully with teams focusing a little more on preventing an interior pass rush composed of Sidbury, Peria Jerry, and Jonathan Babineaux, John Abraham and Ray Edwards will be able to come off the edge and get some sacks that will result in turnovers. It doesn’t matter who is getting the pressure and sacks as long as we are getting them, but there is no debate that having a good interior pass rush will benefit this team.
The offensive line performed well. That seems to be nothing new, but the line is night and day different from what it looked like at the beginning of the season. Giving Ryan time to throw in the pocket is essential, and Atlanta did just that. Two sacks were given up, along with a couple hits on the QB, but for the most part, Ryan was kept upright and clean. Svitek again was awesome. Lined up for significant portions of the game against Jared Allen, he never surrendured a sack to him. It was just an outstanding job by him on the offensive line.
Matt Ryan also performed well. Completing nearly 80% of his passes with three TDs and no interceptions, Ryan was deserved of his nomination for FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week. His use of the no-huddle to keep the defense on the field and slow down the game to make good reads and move the chains were artful. Perhaps his biggest completion of the day was a 9-yard pass to Rodgers for a first down that essentially iced the game. If we continue to get play like this out of Ryan, and good focused play from our receivers, there is no doubt the playoffs in addition to wins in the playoffs are in our future.
The tricky thing to figure out about the Falcons offense is their lull in offense in the middle of football games. The Falcons sprung ahead to a 17-0 lead, only to see that lead disappear, and the Vikings pull within 3 for only a 17-14 lead. What I have noticed is in the middle of ballgames, the offense sputters. Big penalties happen on first and second down, or running plays that go for no gain or a loss are the culprit for this. When it gets to third and long in Falcons territory, it is difficult to dial up a play for a first down without putting the team in danger of a turnover. As a result the Falcons check the ball down, and that normally brings up the punting unit. It is essential that the Falcons gain positive yardage on first and second down, and cut out the penalties. Without those, there will be longer drives, more opportunities in the redzone, and as a result more points especially with the newfound success in the redzone.
Only one big play was given up that was truly disturbing. It was the 39-yard TD from Ponder to Percy Harvin. On the play Curtis Lofton ended up man-to-man on Harvin. Lofton is a good middle linebacker, but he should never be asked to cover Harvin. Based on speed alone it is a horrible mismatch. Chris Owens trailed the play and got within a few yards, but by that time it was too late. Lofton actually did a decent job covering Harvin, but he just doesn’t have the speed. This play broke down busted coverage, and that is all it really was. Against better teams, the Falcons cannot afford to make mistakes like this.
The only turnover was the Minnesota punt that grazed Franks and was picked up the Vikings. It led to the Percy Harvin TD reception. Again, this type of thing cannot afford to happen agains quality teams, but it was truly a fluke special teams play.
In week 13, the Falcons will clash against the Houston Texans. It will be interesting to see how well the Texans operate without Matt Schaub or Matt Leinart. Their defense has been playing well in recent weeks, but I think that had a good deal to do with their offense staying on the field for long periods of time, forcing opposing teams to throw, forcing mistakes. With the Falcons offense controlling the clock and the defense teeing off on the Texans running game, T.J. Yates will be forced into multiple mistakes. The Falcons need to build off the things that they did well against the Vikings, and get ready for the Texans.
Agree with me? Disagree? Any other opinions on what the most important storylines of the game were? Thoughts on the Houston Texans? We’d love to hear from you, right here at Bloggind Dirty.