Unlike a lot of Falcons fans, I was not particularly distraught by the loss to the Panthers. The reason for this is simple. In the overall scheme of things this game was meaningless. Irrespective of the result the Falcons barometer (at least in the regular season) was going to be their performance against the Giants. In that sense, nothing has changed. If they lose to the Giants, this loss will only be additional evidence to pile onto the case against them. If they win it will be an irrelevant aberration. The disappointment comes in the fact that the Falcons will not finish 15-1, something I was really looking forward to and because the Falcons showed no real desire to use Greg Hardy’s comments as motivational fuel, which in retrospect was pretty clear even before the game.
The most concerning aspects of yesterday’s game however, were the recurring problems that we have seen pop up for these Falcons all year and in some cases throughout Mike Smith’s tenure as head coach.
- First off, the coaching. I can somewhat understand (notice I did not say agree) that the Falcons did not feel disrespected enough by Greg Hardy’s comments to come out with extra motivation to shut him up, but the absolute no show in the first half was an inexcusable display of poor professionalism. It looks like the team took more than just four days off after the Saints game.
- On a related note, did the coaches not gameplan at all? In the first game, the Panthers scored using option plays with Newton and play action passing off of the threat of their run game. In this game, the Panther scored using option plays with Newton and play action passing off of the threat of their run game. What’s more, this has been the basis of Carolina’s offense the entire year. So I ask again, did the coaches not gameplan at all?
- The pass rush (something I mentioned last week) and their inability to close the deal. The Falcons, as in years past, are doing a good job pressuring the QB. However, they are doing a poor job converting that pressure into a negative play for the offense (sack, pick or incompletion). This is especially true against mobile QBs as demonstrated by Cam Newton yesterday.
- Ryan’ s play under pressure (also mentioned last week). A big part of the problem is poor pass protection up front but Ryan is not helping his line out. He is demonstrating remarkably poor pocket presence and for the second game in a row I detected the return of Ryan’s “happy feet”. It looks like Ryan doesn’t trust his line and that they are out of sync.
- Michael Turner (also mentioned…sensing a pattern?) looks slow. Although very little blame for this loss should be laid at Turner’s feet, he still looks like a spent force. I am praying that the coaches are smart enough to avoid using him in any critical situation down the road.
- Tackling – was NOT mentioned last week but has been an on again off again problem all season. As much as I hate to admit it the Falcons miss Curtis Lofton. The decision to let Lofton go was a calculated gamble based on the cap situation but Akeem Dent s playing extremely poorly. He is not dynamic enough to be a big playmaker and even when he is in position he gets blocked out of the play far too easily. To be fair though, the larger blame for the touchdown should probably go to the missed tackle by #27 McClain (Bruce Willis is very disappointed in you Robert).
- Lastly, and this is only in the last two games but our receivers are not gaining a lot of separation downfield which is surprising considering the state of the Saints and Panthers secondary corp.
This week, we break down one of Carolina’s sacks. The Panthers rush 4 down linemen while bringing a linebacker on a delayed blitz. This is supposed to be a slow developing route implied by Ryan’s 7 step drop (which explains why both receivers downfield being covered when Ryan was sacked). The Falcons thus, have their six men in to block while the fullback chips the right DE on his way out to the route. Blalock and Baker (with a little chip blocking help) are blocking one-on-one on the left side of the line while the right side of the line has three blockers accounting for two rushers. Turner furthest back is on blitz pick up and he does so when the middle LB comes on a delayed blitz. Initially (see first screenshot), McClure and Konz double team #99, Javon Kearse while Clabo is one-on-one with #95, Charles Johnson.
Seeing Johnson(#95) gaining an edge on the inside (see second screenshot), Konz(#66) disengages from Kearse and helps Clabo with Johnson.
Unfortunately, McClure is unprepared for this and it gives Kearse an opening to his left. Meanwhile Johnson counters to move to Clabo’s outside making Konz’s help useless. Johnson coming around from the outside forces Ryan into the pocket where Kearse is waiting for him. Result: 8 yard loss for a sack.
Despite the loss, the Falcons are in a very good position in terms of the playoff picture. With a win against the Giants and a loss from either the Packers (away @ the Bears) or the Niners (away @ the Patriots) they can clinch a first round bye. If they both lose, the Falcons will be guaranteed the number 1 seed.
One for the Road
I’m stilled a little miffed about the failed two point conversion. I understand how and why the decision was made but considering that one of the officials (the one closest to the action I might add) had signaled a score and the replay review showed that Roddy more than likely made the catch, the call still left me with a sour taste in my mouth. This was compounded by catch and fumble ruling on the next drive for the panthers. While the commentators were convinced he took a couple of steps before he fumbled, I thought he began to lose control of the ball before he took his second step which would have resulted in an incompletion. To compound this, the referee gave the Panthers the first down despite the ball going out of bounds short of the first down line.
To be completely fair though, the Panthers were never in any serious danger of losing this game and even if both of those decisions had been reversed they were still most likely to win the game. I’m annoyed largely because the Falcons were robbed of the possibility for yet another fourth quarter comeback opportunity.