Falcons vs Saints: Reviewing the Falcons Week 1 Victory


Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons and Saints rivalry has for the past few years been one of the most underrated rivalries in the league. Hopefully after Sunday’s thriller this rivalry can garner some more respect as the Falcons and Saints never fail to deliver a heart stopping performance that more often than not comes down to the final possession. With the All 22 game film coming out on Tuesday I have now had time to watch the film and below is my position by position breakdown of the game.

However, before we delve into the tape I want to just touch on a couple of things. Obviously any divisional or rivalry game is an important game but Sunday’s game was of extra importance to the whole Falcons organization. After the disaster of last year the Falcons needed to restore some confidence and faith both into the team and the fan base. Sunday’s win definitely did this as the team showed great heart and determination to respond to an early deficit and grind out the win against what must be said is a very good football team.

All offseason the keyword for the Falcons has been ‘toughness’, last year’s team was not tough enough and as a result this whole offseason has been centered around creating a bigger, tougher more physical football team. Were the Falcons tough on Sunday, yes, but probably not in the way that the team and fan base has seemingly been trying to enforce all offseason. The Falcons did not come out and dominate both lines of scrimmage, far from it. What the Falcons did do however was respond to adversity, when their backs were up against the wall, (which they were down 13-0) the team didn’t panic. The team showed composure and heart which we rarely saw at all last year and we should applaud the coaching staff for having this team in such a positive mindset after what was a hugely negative 12 months for the team. Sunday’s win was absolutely huge for the Falcons, it sets the tone for the entire season and anything positive that comes out of this season can be attributed to this win.

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Matt Ryan had arguably his best game in a Falcons uniform Sunday. Ryan’s biggest flaw since he came into the league has been his inability to extend plays once the pocket breaks down, Sunday we saw Ryan putting all his doubters to shame as he showed mobility and pocket awareness to not only avoid negative plays but for positive, explosive plays down the field. On numerous occasions Ryan sidestepped pressure, rolled out the pocket and delivered a perfect pass to one of his receivers. If Ryan can continue this sort of elusiveness for the rest of the season then opposing teams are going to find it very difficult to stop this offence.

Ryan has never been known for having the strongest arm in the league but on Sunday his intermediate velocity seemed to be much improved. Maybe it’s just playing behind a competent offensive line but vs the Saints Ryan was delivering the ball with pin point accuracy time and again. Ryan has always thrown a ‘pretty’ ball and on Sunday he threw numerous gorgeous passes that were simply too good for the defense.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

I don’t want to be negative for the sake of it but there were a couple of poor throws/decisions from Ryan that he probably wishes he could have back. The biggest miss on film came when he misses a wide open Harry Douglas over the middle, if the pass had been completed it would have probably been a touchdown as  Douglas was all alone in the middle of the field. However, overall it was a brilliant performance from Ryan and it’s no surprise he has climbed to the top of the MVP standings this week.

Running Backs:

Steven Jackson saw the most snaps of any back and for the most part played reasonably well. While its clear Jackson isn’t a premiere back anymore he ran well and fulfilled his role as that hardnosed pounder which the team does need. Jackson didn’t get the best blocking on his 12 running plays so his stat line of 12 rushes for 52 yards is respectable.

Jacquizz Rodgers is a criminally underrated player so it was nice to see him make a huge play Sunday and get the credit he deserves. On his touchdown run Quizz showcased his ankle breaking agility and perhaps reminded everyone that in this now crowded backfield he still very much has a role to play.

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  • Antone Smith has been promised a role on offence this year and the coaches fulfilled that promise by getting him involved in the game Sunday. Smith’s 54 touchdown catch showcased his blistering speed as he left Saints defenders scrambling in his wake. Levine Toilolo does deserve credit for his block on the perimeter which ultimately was the decisive block that sprung Smith. While I am very much a fan of Smith the Falcons need to make sure that when they do use him it’s not just as a traditional running back. Having Smith run a couple of times up the gut isn’t going to work and it isn’t playing into Smith’s hands. Dirk Koetter needs to make sure that he puts Smith in space as much as possible as this is where he can utilize his game changing speed that is pretty much unplayable.

    Devonta Freeman only saw five snaps but he more than made an impression. Freeman’s most impressive play was the catch on third down in the redzone where it looked like the play was dead after Ryan dumped the ball off to Freeman. Freeman made the first defender miss before battling through contact to reach the first down marker, a huge play which ultimately resulted in 7 points rather than 3. Freeman had 2 runs for 18 yards but his 13 yard run could possibly have been even longer if he hadn’t stumbled after duking the Saints defender. Nonetheless a hugely positive debut for Freeman and it would not be surprising to see his role increase as the season progresses.

    Overall the whole running back unit performed very well. Moving forwards it would be nice to see the team spread Jackson’s snaps around more and perhaps use Jackson more as that short yardage, goal line power back.

    Wide Receivers:

    Rob Ryan is usually an extremely aggressive, attacking coordinator. However, on Sunday Ryan and the Saints deployed a very conservative gameplan whereby they had their safeties playing very deep. Now the reasoning behind this is clear, the Saints wanted to limit the explosive plays that the Falcons receivers are capable of. However, Ryan’s scheme backfired in a big way as the Falcons receivers were able to exploit the middle of the field on numerous occasions.

    “Roddy White was mainly covered by the Saints number one corner Keenan Lewis and for the most part Lewis did very well”

    Julio Jones had 7 catches for 116 yards but he seemed fairly quiet on Sunday. The Saints were clearly scared of his big play ability as they often rolled a safety onto Julio’s side of the field. Despite seeing a lot of attention Jones still got his catches and if it wasn’t for the fumble Julio would have had a very good day.

    Roddy White was mainly covered by the Saints number one corner Keenan Lewis and for the most part Lewis did very well. It’s not as if White struggled as he still had 5 catches for 72 yards and a TD although White did look lucky not to be flagged for offensive PI on the touchdown as he seemed to push off. White is definitely going to start slowing down soon (if he hasn’t already) so it won’t be too surprising if opposing number one corners start to have more success covering White.

    Harry Douglas saw a lot of favorable matchups Sunday and he was able to take advantage for the most part. Douglas has always been a dangerous player in space and on Sunday the Saints afforded Douglas far too much space as he was able to find holes in the Saints defense time and time again. The one negative play from Douglas was the dropped deep pass down the left sideline where Douglas seemed to let the pass fall through his fingers. Why the team continues to use Douglas on contested deep catches I do not know as Douglas is not good in contested catch situations.

    Devin Hester, what a debut. Firstly I feel I should apologies as all offseason I have doubted the hype that has surrounded Hester as an offensive weapon. After he dropped the pass early in the game I was ready to throw Hester under the bus but after that early drop Hester made me eat my words. Hester was terrific all game and Ryan clearly has tremendous trust in him as he looked Hester’s way all game, even  with the game on the line. If Hester can continue playing at the level he showed Sunday the Falcons offence could truly be in for a huge year.

    As promised this offseason the Falcons ran a lot of 4 WR sets vs the Saints and the results were very good. Obviously one game is too early to tell but so far the 2014 Falcons look very explosive on offence. If Jones, White, Douglas and Hester can stay healthy they should give opposing defenses fits all year.

    Tight Ends:

    Levine Toilolo was a pleasant surprise as he contributed enough in the passing game to not make him a complete liability. As expected the bulk of Toilolo’s work load is as a blocker where he had a mixed day. As an inline blocker Toilolo still struggles but he looks much better out in space when he is not blocking lineman. Toilolo did a nice job of disguising the TD pass as he really sold the block before he slipped past the blocker to make the catch. If Toilolo can contribute a couple of catches a game and not be a liability in the blocking game then this is really all the Falcons are looking for form their starting TE.

    Bear Pascoe only saw 4 snaps on offence, expect that number to improve in the coming weeks as the Falcons commit more to running the ball.

    Offensive Line:

    The Offensive Line deserves major credit for allowing Matt Ryan the time to throw the ball. There is no question that the interior of the line deserves the most recognition as they were very good. Free agent signee John Asamoah put in a very stout performance and Joe Hawley was the live wire at the middle of the line that we have been hoping for since Todd McClure retired. Justin Blalock was his usual steady self. As a unit the interior three seem to already have formed a bond and play style that suggests they well be a very solid unit moving forwards.

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    As solid as the interior line played the tackles were a bit more shaky. Jake Matthews injured himself at the end of the second quarter but before that he had been solid enough. Matthews got beaten a couple of times on the tape and he does still struggle anchoring against power bull rushes. However, considering it was his first NFL game the signs looks very good for Matthews as the stalwart on the left side in the coming years. Lamar Holmes started the game at right tackle but he made way for Gabe Carimi. The team said the plan all along was to have Carimi get some reps on the right side which appears to be a slightly strange scenario. Maybe the team is still worried about Holmes’ conditioning. Personally I felt Holmes was playing better than Carimi so it would have been interesting what would have happened had Matthews not gone down.

    As it were when Matthews went down the team opted to put Carimi at left tackle and Homes on the right. Once again this seems a slightly strange scenario as Holmes played left tackle last year and has much more familiarity with the position than Carimi. Despite his unfamiliarity with the position Carimi did well enough on the left side not to derail the Falcons offence. Carimi did get beaten a few times but because of the blocking by the interios of the line Matt had a lane to step up into. Carimi was guilty of giving up the sack on what was only a three man rush. Both Blalock and Asamoah are left with no one to block and instead of assisting Carimi, Blalock helps out Hawley when in reality he should have helped the third string left tackle. If Carimi wants to stay in the lineup he will need to cut out the penalties as the team cant have him giving up all those yards on penalties.

    What the Falcons offensive line did well was that the tackles pushed the pass rushers wide of the pocket allowing Ryan a pocket and lane to step up into. When Carimi and Holmes got beat for the most part they got beaten in a way which allowed Matt an escape route out of the pocket.

    Holmes wasn’t perfect by any means but its important to remember he was going up against Cameron Jordan who is an absolute monster and one of the league’s best lineman. Holmes still struggles with the consistency of his punch and this can result in him losing that initial contact which he rarely is able to recover from. For the most part though an encouraging start for Holmes who looks like he may have finally turned the corner.

    The Falcons are still doing a lot of pulling with the offensive line when running the ball and it’s not really working. It would be nice if vs the Bengals we saw a bit less pulling and some more zone based blocking concepts.

    Defensive Line:

    The new look defensive line was a huge disappointment. All offseason we have been promised a fun, attacking defense but this failed to emerge vs New Orleans. One of the major issues with the defensive line was the personnel groupings that were deployed by the team. Jonathan Babineaux and Kroy Biermann played far too many snaps. Babineaux who is probably still the teams most consistent pass rusher is being used on every down in every formation, the team needs to be far more conservative with Babineaux’s snap count in an effort to try and use him more effectively as a pass rusher. Biermann did make some nice plays vs the run but his value as a pass rusher is minimal at this stage of his career. The Falcons need to play Jonathan Massaquoi and Stansly Maponga more on the outside of the defense because they offer more as pass rushers than Biermann.

    Jonathan Massaquoi played 26 snaps but he only rushed the passer on 4 of these snaps, this HAS to change moving forwards. For some reason the team had Massaquoi drop into coverage more than they had him rush the passer, this is a crazy tactic and makes little to zero sense, you use your best pass rushers to rush the passer, not drop into coverage. Stansly Maponga only played 3 snaps on defence, Maponga has looked good all preseason and the team need to get him much more involved moving forwards.

    Free agent signees Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were solid if unspectacular. After his lackluster preseason Jackson did up his play vs New Orleans so there is a slim hope he can live up to some of his monstrous contract. Paul Soiai flashed his ability to penetrate from the nose tackle position but there were also a couple of occasions where Soliai was driven out of the play on run plays.

    After the preseason many fans were calling for Malliciah Goodman to replace Tyson Jackson in the starting lineup. While he wasn’t listed as a starter Goodman did play more snaps than Jackson so it’s nice to see the team acknowledge Goodman as the good player that he is. Goodman had a good game and alongside Babineaux was the only player who provided a consistent pass rush. On a number of occasions Goodman pushed the pocket backwards and made Brees move off his mark. Moving forwards it looks like Goodman could have a big role in this defense and it should be fun watching him emerge into more of a household name.

    Ra’Shede Hageman played a handful of snaps but he didn’t make much of an impact. On Robinson’s 2 yard touchdown run Hageman got penetration and almost makes the tackle, if he wants to keep seeing snaps on D then he will have to make these sort of plays otherwise he may seem himself crowded out especially once Corey Peters returns to the lineup. While Hageman has a lot of talent he still has a lot to learn about playing in the NFL so don’t be shocked if he only sees a smattering of snaps each game.

    Middle Linebackers:

    Paul Worrilow was his usual active self in the run game. Worrilow did miss a couple of tackles that he shouldn’t have and he is still a work in progress playing coverage but it was a solid enough game from the leader of the defense. Joplo Bartu saw the majority of the snaps alongside Worrilow and for the most part he was solid. Bartu is still learning the position so there are times when his inexperience at the position shows but he showed enough vs the Saints that his starting spot shouldn’t be in jeopardy in the immediate future.

    The team did get Prince Shembo into the game early on. Shembo did run over a Saints lineman on a blitz showcasing his physical play style but apart from that Shembo didn’t really show anything that says he should be seeing more snaps.


    Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford had very good games. Brees tried to go after both Trufant and Alford with long shots and both times the Falcons walked away on top. Moving forwards the duo of Trufant and Alford should gather recognition for their play as they could quickly become one of the league’s best duos.

    Alford is still a little too active with his hands and if he doesn’t learn to stop contacting receivers down the field then he will continue to get flagged for holding and pass interference as he was Sunday.

    Despite listing Josh Wilson as the starting nickel back Robert McClain was the Falcons starting slot corner. McClain had a very tough matchup as he was mainly lined up against rookie wide out Brandin Cooks who is quickly going to become one of the leagues better receivers. While McClain did get beaten a few times by the rookie Bobby Mac didn’t lose faith and he bounced back by making the interception that  was arguably the games turning point. With the Saints moving the ball down the field at ease they looked set to score another touchdown but McClain baited Brees into throwing a pass that McClain knew he could undercut. It was a great play and changed the whole momentum of the game.


    Dwight Lowery had the toughest matchup Sunday as he was mainly covering Jimmy Graham. No one is going to ‘shutdown’ Graham all you can do is hope to limit him and this is exactly what Lowery did. Lowery was unlucky not to get a flag on a third down as Graham clearly pushed off and caught the pass but there was no flag. Had that been another TE you feel a flag would have been produced. On the whole Lowery did a good job of trailing Graham and there were very few instances where he was beaten all ends up.

    Lowery did seem to have a couple of miscommunications on two deep completions to Cooks and Colston. While it’s hard to know what play was called on both occasions it looks like Lowery was a little late getting over to contest the catches. Perhaps the most surprising and impressive part of Lowery’s game was his tackling which he isn’t necessarily renowned for. Lowery was very active in making tackles and not once did he shy away from contact. Lowery had a few one on one situations and he did a very nice job of making the tackle and getting his man to the ground, a welcome change after the last few years of the free safety position.  If Lowery can cut out the mental mistakes he looks like he could be a very welcome addition to the Falcons secondary.

    William Moore saw a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage as the team obviously hoped to utilize his aggressive play style.  Moving Moore around the formation is a good idea as he has a lot of skills that make him useful in and around the box. Moore’s standout play was undoubtedly his tackle on Colston in overtime which resulted in a fumble and a turnover for the Falcons defense. With the ease that the Saints were moving the ball it was crucial that the Falcons made a play and Moore did just that.

    Kemal Ishmael got some looks in the game as the Falcons played a little bit of dime packages. Ishmael didn’t make any standout plays either positively or negatively, the play that probably stands out the most is him getting trucked by Ingram at the goal line. In Ishmael’s defense Ingram had a big hole to run through and stopping him in a short yardage situation is a tough call for any defensive back so we can probably excuse Ishmael for not preventing a touchdown.

    Special Teams:

    Matt Bosher did a nice job on kickoffs only allowing the one kick to be returned. Bosher did a good job punting as he punted 3 times for an average of 52.3 yards. Devin Hester only got the opportunity to return one kick and one punt and on both occasions the Falcons blocking let him down. The team needs to do a better job of giving Hester the opportunity to break the first tackle. The obvious standout player on special teams was Matt Bryant whose two kicks got the Falcons into overtime and eventually he won the game. Despite getting on in age Bryant still is as reliable as ever and its going to be an uneasy feeling when it’s not Matt standing over crucial kicks.


    First and foremost a win is a win. However, the Falcons have a lot of holes to fix in the coming weeks if they hope to keep winning. We knew coming into this season the defense was going to struggle and the team needs to do as much as they can to improve the defensive play. The defensive play calling was very conservative vs New Orleans as Mike Nolan opted to rush only 4 lineman for the most part while playing a lot of zone coverage. Nolan was clearly scared of blitzing Brees in fear of giving up a big play so perhaps in the coming weeks we will see Nolan use a more aggressive game plan.

    The coaches also need to use their personnel better, Massaquoi and Maponga need to get more looks rushing the passer while Babineaux needs more plays off. Hopefully next week Corey Peters will be active and he can take a few of Babineaux’s reps off of him. On the offensive side of the ball Matt Ryan and Co may well have to put up 30+ points a game if they hope to win and to do this week in and week out is going to be a very tough task, especially away from home.

    The biggest thing to take from the win Sunday is the grit and determination the team showed, this team has been criticized all offseason for not being tough, for cracking when the going gets tough. It’s nice to see the team silence its critics, for one week at least.