Having a full ten days between games makes for a great time to look forward to the Saints, and appreciate the tail whuppin’ the Falcons put on the Jaguars. I was in the Georgia Dome on Thursday, and I’ll be honest, by Sunday I was already ready for the Falcons to be playing again. The way the Dirty Birds looked was an absolute pleasure to watch in every single aspect of the game. I could have chosen better games to attend, but as Woody Hayes once said, “To hell with exciting. I’d rather be drab as hell and win.” Well, the Falcons won, and did it in exciting fashion.
The Jaguars aren’t a horrible team defensively. That’s easy enough to say in retrospect after hanging 41 points on them, but they have played well most of the season. They have played well in run defense and held up just enough in pass defense to get the job done. However, the secondary has lost many of its best players, with Rashean Mathis out for the season, the secondary was dangerously depleated. The Falcons offensive weapons were simply too much for Jacksonville to stop.
And boy, did those weapons fly all over the field and make huge plays. Michael Turner was not his usual productive self, but he did just enough to keep the defense honest. A pass to Snelling, a 14-yarder to Gonzalez, and then the shallow crossing route to Julio Jones allowing him to use his speed and physicality to stiff arm the defenders and scream his way into the end zone. Easy touchdown. Six points.
The offense consistently took what they wanted all night long. When it did have to punt, the Jaguars fumbled, allowing Turner to rumble in for a touchdown. Other times, the offense dominated drove right to the red zone where Ryan is at his very best, and scored. It was possible for either Gonzalez or White to make the catch, thats how wide open both receivers were on the play. Not that it matters, but White got the touchdown. Later on in the game, he caught a pass twenty yards down the field and carried it the other ten yards over the left pylon for another touchdown. Another great touchdown pass. At that point, Ryan’s day was done.
Ryan was remarkable, going 19 of 26 for 224 yard, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, passer rating of 137. In his last 7 games, he has thrown 17 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. That is tremendous quarterback play down the stretch of the season and exactly what you like to see from a decision making stand point. Ryan has looked fantastic of late. If you can’t tell, I really enjoy having him as a quarterback.
The thing that was most enjoyable about seeing the game in person, was being able to see all the other receivers and their route combinations in addition to the QB and the receiver he is throwing the ball to. Receivers who are not targeted on a certain play are still critical to the success of the targetted receiver getting open on his route. Being able to see the whole field can certainly change your perspective of a given play. The other thing I noted about the Falcons offense was just how many out and comeback routes Ryan throws in a given game. While watching games on television, the cameras typically focus on the ball, and most of the routes by the receivers are missed while the QB holds the ball or while the ball is in the air. It seemed like Ryan threw an inordinate amount of outs/comebacks when watching the game live, but it says alot about the Falcons’ confidence in that throw, and alot about Ryan. That is supposedly one of the most difficult throws in the NFL, and Ryan & his receivers consistently completed these throws with ease. Even on 20+ yarders, the throws and catches are fairly easy.
What more can be said offensively? No noticable drops, great chemistry between quarterback and receivers, productive running to keep the play action in order by Turner. The only things that could be improved is the couple of sackd that Ryan sustained, and the incompletions. There was one throw that could have easily turned into an interception, but luckily Jacksonville’s safety missed it and it fell harmlessly to the ground. What a teriffic offensive exposition, and it is clear there is still some room to grow. Great effort by offense.
You might think I have been forgetting the defense and special teams in the midst of this offensive explosion. Well they certainly earned their due. The defensive line seemed to keep everything in front of them all day long. It seemed likethe Jaguars could do nothing to protect Gabbert whatsoever. If the defensive ends weren’t breathing down his neck, the tackles surely were. If he dropped back to pass, there was someone getting after him, sacking him, stripping the ball, whatever it may be. John Abraham had a massive game. 3.5 sacks is a huge number. After not being highly successful in the pass rush most of the season, that was a nice performance and great way to practice hitting the quarterback in preparation for The Great Evil from New Orleans.
Corey Peters was nominated as the Walter Payton Man of the Year, and after this game, he did Payton proud by his effort on defense. Picking up the fumble for a touchdown was the icing on the cake for what has been a tremendous sophomore season for Peters. Rotating in at defensive tackle, Peters has played very well all year. Aside from Sean Weatherspoon, I would personally pick him as MVP of this defense for 2011. I have seen him as the heart and soul of the defensive line, and we all know games are won and lost in the trenches.
Weatherspoon came up with a big hit. William Moore had a HUGE hit on Maurice Jones-Drew, and Thomas Decoud had an interception. Even Chris Owens, the goat of the playoff game last year against the Packers, had a big pass deflection down the field, and held up very well on defense. It was a great game for every position on the defense, and every player made this defensive effort possible. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out Jamie’s Who Earned Their Wings article, it will give you an idea of who the stars of this game were. I agree with him wholeheartedly.
This game was a bit of a pleasant surprise as I thought we may struggle a little against Jacksonville’s defense. I don’t think they are horrible, but they are certainly down a few men, and all teams are tired at this point in the season. The truly important thing about this game is for the Falcons to use the effort against the Jags as a springboard to beat the Saints in New Orleans. Obviously the silent count has to be perfected in a loud road stadium, but doing the same things offensively are critical. Making big plays in the passing game, completing passes deep down the field, protecting Ryan, opening holes for Michael Turner (in turn setting up the pass) are things that can be built off, and the bad things corrected to beat the Saints. The pass rush is a nceessity against Drew Brees, but the way Abraham, Edwards, Peters & Co. played in Jacksonville can give them confidence and help them do some of the same stuff against New Orleans. The one player whose confidence must have been boosted the most (and desperately needed it) is Chris Owens. With Grimes and Kelvin Hayden probable for service against New Orleans, Owens will be critical in dime defense against the Saints 4-receiver sets. With some positives to work off, he can hopefully go forth and be productive on the road against a potent team.
In all three phases of the game, the Falcons looked primed, fresh, and hungry. All of those things are necessary to go on the road against a very solid team, but I think the Falcons can pull this game out. Everything seems to be clicking at the right time, many players will be returning from injuries, and the offense and defense both look ready to play against stiff competition. With ten days of rest, Atlanta will be better rested and hopefully better prepared than the Saints, and ready to punch them in the mouth. This is the time for the Falcons to Rise Up.