Atlanta Falcons’ Early Errors and Poor Defense Cost Them


Week 4 began as well as possible for the Atlanta Falcons, with the Carolina Panthers falling well short of Steve Smith and the Baltimore Ravens.

Since 1990, 65% of teams starting 3-1 went on to the playoffs, and the Falcons headed into the game vs  the Minnesota Vikings with the opportunity for that crucial third win and a chance to go 1 game clear atop the NFC South. Having been limited all week, Harry Douglas was designated inactive, but otherwise the Falcons rolled into week 4 at as close to full strength as possible.

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With so much on the line, the Falcons wanted to come out firing, but did anything but – going 3 and out on their first drive. “Teddy” chants rung out around the University of Minnesota stadium, as rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater walked out for his first career start. It was clear the Vikings were ready for the Falcons, and the crowd were feeling good. A 3rd down screen play to Jarius Wright picked up major yardage, and the Falcons looked shell-shocked. RB Matt Asiata pounded in a short yardage TD, and just like that the Falcons found themselves down 7-0 without having found any footing in the game.

Sep 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata (44) celebrates his touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the first quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons responded in excellent fashion, with a methodical 11 play 80 yard drive culminating in a touchdown to Roddy White. Matt Ryan spread the ball around in their response, and the Falcons showed a dedication to the run game not often seen in 2014. It was over to the defense to step up, but their efforts weren’t helped by an enormous return from Cordarelle Patterson to the 47 yard line, giving the Vikings a very short field in a tied game. The decision to cover WR Greg Jennings in the slot with Kroy Biermann proved to be the wrong one, as the Vikings exploded down the field, with another Asiata TD pushing the score to 14-7. A lifeless looking defense which struggled to get pressure had shown little on two drives, and adjustments were badly needed.

The offense began a second response drive, moving the ball well to midfield before a series of drops returned the ball to a hot Vikings offense. The defense again gave up easy yards, with a huge 55 yard rush to RB Jerick McKinnon, and the Falcons looked to be squandering the golden opportunity they had headed into the game. The big play looked to spark the D into gear, as they held the Vikings to a 49 yard field goal try on their first stop of the game. Blair Walsh missed, giving the Falcons excellent field position to move the ball looking for a tie.

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Despite some undisciplined play, including back to back penalties, Matt Ryan took control of the drive and converted a 3rd and 20 to move the Falcons inside the redzone. Some excellent athleticism from Matty Ice helped move the Falcons to the goalline, and the scores were tied after the Falcons excecuted a perfect play action pass to FB Patrick DiMarco for a TD. In keeping with the trend of the first half, it was again over to the defense to make a stop. Unfortunately, again in keeping with the trend, the defense failed to deliver – buckling on an 80 yard drive capped with a 13 yard rushing TD to Teddy Bridgewater. 21-14, and this defense needed a lot of work. Painfully, the Vikings took possession with just over a minute before half time, and drove the length of the field to score yet again, pushing their lead even further on an 18 yard field goal.

The 2014 Falcons were never expected to have a dominant defense, but the performance shown in the first half was nothing short of dismal. Words cannot describe how poorly the Falcons defended in the first half, but the all around effort was about as poor as could be imagined.

At half time, the Falcons had converted 8/11 3rd downs, were rushing with more purpose than they had all year and were protecting Matt Ryan well –yet trailed 24-14. The defense managed to force one stop all half, leading to a missed field goal, and had provided minimal pressure whilst allowing multiple 50+ yard plays. The 2014 Falcons were never expected to have a dominant defense, but the performance shown in the first half was nothing short of dismal. Words cannot describe how poorly the Falcons defended in the first half, but the all around effort was about as poor as could be imagined. With the Vikings receiving the second half kickoff, serious halftime adjustments were needed.

60. 14. 44. Final. 24

The Vikings came out firing again and when Bridgewater evaded several sacks on one play, there looked like there was nothing the Falcons could do. On a 3rd and inches in field goal range, the Falcons patented bend but don’t break defense came into effect, forcing the Vikings to kick the field goal. 27-14. Matt Ryan again began a surgical drive to keep the Falcons in touch, moving the ball down the field efficiently with a combination of running and deep passing. Atlanta got a huge spark when Devin Hester took a screen 36 yards, again showing his speed and elusiveness, and found the end zone for the 3rd time in two weeks, as the Falcons closed the gap to just 6. The game was turning into a shootout, and it would come down to which defense could make the most stops.

The Falcons defense bent again, allowing several first downs, but back to back tipped passes (one of which should have been picked) and the first real instance of pressure showed the Falcons had turned a corner. Unfortunately, the 3rd down stop was negated by downfield holding call, frustratingly extending a drive that should have been finished. The Falcons again put their foot down, forcing a stop on the following 1st down. The Vikings punted for the first time, and hit it poorly for only 24 yards, and when flagged for a hold the Vikings only managed to gain 14 yards on the play. The Falcons had excellent field position, and a hunger to hit the front. The desire soon turned to reality, as Ryan converted a key 3rd and 10 before handing the ball off to Antone Smith for the biggest play of the day. Smith, as usual, was at full speed before he hit the edge, and turned the corner to paydirt – a 49 yard touchdown run to give the Falcons the lead.

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Another defensive three and out, and the Falcons were beginning to pick up momentum. The Falcons tried to capitalise with a deep bomb to Julio Jones which fell incomplete, but disaster struck the following play. Having already lost Justin Blalock and Lamar Holmes for the day, Joe Hawley went down in visible pain just before the final break. The center was carted off, and the Falcons were left without 5 healthy offensive linemen in the game. Leading 28-27, with the ball but without enough linemen to finish the game, the Falcons would have to fight to bring this one home.

The Falcons were tested further, with starting SS William Moore injured in the first quarter and backup safety Kemal Ishmael treated on the sidelines on the Vikings’ first possession of the final quarter. The Falcons depth was certainly being tested, and win from here would certainly be a hard earned one. As the injuries piled up, the Vikings again wrestled momentum back, driving to the goal line before being held to 4th and goal at the 1. The Vikings would attempt the 4th down, but burned their final time out in doing so. Asiata’s third TD broke the back of a Falcons defense that had improved mightily since half time, and gave the Vikings a 35-28 lead with 10:50 remaining.

The Falcons next offensive possession was again moving along well, until an Anthony Barr sack forced Matt Bosher to punt. Another great return, excellent field position and it looked like the Vikings could wrap it up. Unfortunately, the injuries were piling up on both sides, as Teddy Bridgewater looked uncomfortable and was being addressed by the trainers. Backup QB Christian Ponder entered the game, and gained just enough for Blair Walsh to hit a 55 yard field goal to really put the Falcons on the ropes. When Devin Hester was injured on the next offensive play, the Falcons day was all but done. A deep bomb on the following play was intercepted by Harrison Smith, and that was it for the day. Another Blair Walsh field goal made it even more difficult, but the lead was no less than the Vikings deserved.

Final. 41. 60. 28. 44

Ultimately, the game was the perfect example of the strengths and weaknesses of this Falcons team. A clean, efficient offense that is capable of putting up points even when they’re not firing on all cylinders will need to outscore our opponents going forward, as this bend but don’t break defense smply cannot bring consistent pressure or provide crucial stops. Matt Ryan’s day was excellent, late pick aside, and Steven Jackson ran well. As always, Antone Smith was lighting in a bottle, but on a day with multiple key injuries there weren’t too many positives. Fortunately, the Falcons will still be tied for the lead in the NFC South, but a great opportunity was squandered here.

What did you think of the Falcons loss in Minnesota? Please, comment below and get involved with the Blogging Dirty community. Stay tuned for more post game coverage, as we review the game and move our focus towards the New York Giants game in a hurry.