Sep 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) reacts to a turnover on downs in the first half against the New England Patriots at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
First, I would like to apologize for my elongated hiatus. I’ve had some family issues, but things are certainly looking better now. But let’s look at what might be wrong with the Falcons.
Atlanta has started the season unfavorably. Watching the Saints go 5-0 while Atlanta will most likely finish the week at 2-3 is not very comforting. To say that the Falcons have been disappointing may be an understatement. But I believe the problem lies, not so much the injuries, but the decision making.
I have full faith in the back ups. Atlanta has proven to have a pretty deep roster. Jonathan Massaquoi can fill in nicely for Biermann, Jacquizz Rodgers is doing a fine job filling in for Steven Jackson. Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow (for when he was out there) and even Stephen Nichlolas are doing just fine filling in for Sean Weatherspoon. We all see Robert Alford as an upcoming star and may arguably be better than a healthy Asante Samuel. Hell, even Lamar Holmes is looking competent at left tackle where he apparently is much more comfortable. You can blame the offensive line for not giving Matt Ryan enough time to open a passing attack. You can also blame the defensive line for not putting enough pressure on the quarterbacks. But I don’t believe it’s that simple.
Matt Ryan may be getting dinged up, but he is getting some time. He has Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Tony Gonzalez burning backfields for great passes. As for the defensive line, Babineaux, Peters, and even Jerry are breaking through lines and getting in the back field. Umenyiora, Massaquoi, and even Goodman are showing pass-rush capabilities.
I believe the problems that Atlanta is facing lies in the timid nature of the coaching staff. They tend to like to stick to what works and hope for the best. They play conservatively and just try to stay ahead of the opposing team.
Let’s look at the offense first:
Julio Jones is a monster. Tony Gonzalez is as good as ever. Harry Douglas is finally breaking out and Roddy White is getting healthier. Matt Ryan seems to have lost a little bit of accuracy here and there, but he’s still a top 5 quarterback. Despite a problematic offensive line, this offense is simply heavy weaponry. What other team does that sound like? Oh yeah, the Denver Broncos. With a top 3 quarterback and just as big of an arsenal of weapons, why is Denver scoring 46 points a game while Atlanta is scoring under 24? I don’t think it’s because that’s how much better Manning is than Ryan, I think it’s because Denver knows they have to ability to score every single drive so they attempt to do so. I wouldn’t say that Atlanta isn’t trying to score, just that when there is two minutes left in a half, the Falcons seem to play a different kind of game. Denver plays that way the entire game.
If Atlanta really wants to win with their offense, they need to use the run to set up the pass, not try to win the game on the ground. They need to pass for intermediate or deep gains on the majority of the attempts. They need play like the need a touchdown every single drive.
As for the defense, last year showed an improving and promising start to Nolan’s career in Atlanta. Dropping linemen and linebackers into coverage and switching up safety coverage made the defense very confusing. Often time, a quarterback would drop back to see what appeared to be that every receiver was covered. He would subsequently throw the ball to someone he had picked out to be intercepted by a guy that didn’t look like he was supposed to be there. Offenses figure that out. They know to look for the receiver that is covered by a backer, or a tight end who is covered by a defensive end. They know that if they just wait a while, since there are only three guys rushing, that a receiver will eventually get open and that will open up a deeper ball. Either way, opposing offenses now know what will come from Atlanta in terms of coverage and it’s not working.
A lot of linemen are having really good years right now and Atlanta has found a few diamonds in the rough at the linebacker position. Not to mention the young corners and safeties are very physical. It’s time to take a chapter out of Seattle’s defensive book. Let the tough corners and safeties stop the pass at the line of scrimmage, hit them off the snap and don’t be afraid to use simple man coverage while rushing 6 players. If Mike Nolan keeps dropping linemen into coverage, the Falcons are going to continue to give up a lot of passing yards. I’d imagine Nolan could see the difference of games against the dolphins early in the game, where there were a lot of sacks and a lot of pressures, and later in the same game when Atlanta was just dropping a lot of bodies in coverage allowing Miami to make a game-winning drive. Prevent defense only prevents winning.
Even with the injuries in place, Atlanta has the tools to be 4-0 right now. The coaches need to make the adjustments necessary to put this team back into contention. It starts with being 5-3 when they take on the Seahawks in the dome. Then we’ll know if they had really rebounded.
Also a side note, looking at the team that Atlanta has now, they are only one hulking nose guard away from having the tools to make a 3-4 switch.
What are your thoughts of the season so far?