Analyzing How the Atlanta Falcons Lost to the Bears

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Oct 12, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) tries to avoid a tackle by Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Kroy Biermann (71) during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Bears defeated the Falcons 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Was That A Sack?

The Falcons defensive line has been much maligned this season and for good reason, they have been pretty terrible. The Bears game was unfortunately still pretty terrible but there were a few positives to take away from the game. The biggest positive was Jonathan Massaquoi, not only did Massaquoi play 44 snaps but he also had this thing called a sack where a defensive player tackles a QB while he still has the ball! All joking aside it was great to see Mass get some more snaps and he definitely made the most of them; 1 sack, 2 hits, 3 hurries. There is no doubting Mass is the best edge player on the Falcons roster and if they play him consistently this awful defense can be a little less awful.

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A couple of other posistives from the game was the play of both Jonathan Babineaux and Ra’Shede Hageman. Babs is still playing far too many snaps at the wrong position, but he was able to hurry Cutler pretty consistently all game with his penetration. Hageman like fellow rookie Freeman is a player the team is playing pretty spordcially at this point. The team gave Hageman 18 snaps vs the Bears and he played his best game as a pro as he was able to get some good penetration mainly by bullying his way past lineman. A lot of people are pretty damming of the Hageman draft pick but if we are patient enough we might just get rewarded with a very good player. Hageman’s got all the tools, let’s enjoy watching him putting them all together instead of trying to tear him down at every step.

Elsewhere along the defensive line Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson continued with the infuriating inconsistent play that has plagued their season. Corey Peters has looked good this season but he had a pretty quiet game. The problem for Peter is that his role as a double team eater has been taken by both Soliai and Jackson. As a result the team is predominantly using Peters in pass rushing sets which doesn’t suit his game at all. Peters is a two gapping space eater as opposed to a one gap penetrator like his line mate Jonathan Babienaux.

Kroy Biermann saw a reduction in snaps as the team finally realised he isn’t getting it done as a pass rusher. If he plays on run downs, fine, just keep him away from any passing downs. Osi continues to get snaps and he continues to do not a lot with those snaps. At this point why does the team insist on playing Osi so much? Give someone like Maponga a chance. Why Maponga isn’t playing is totally baffling, at this point we must hope it’s something related to his preparation or similar because from a physical standpoint, Maponga is probably the second best edge player on this team after Massaquoi.

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The defensive line as a unit were just far too inconsistent. Way too often the Bears were able to open up gaping holes on run plays and as a pass rushing unit, outside of a couple of plays the line was never able to consistently get pressure on the QB. It’s getting pretty tiresome watching this unit play poorly week in, week out and its getting pretty tiresome sitting here week in and week out wondering why the coaches aren’t changing things up.

At linebacker the biggest thing to note was that Prince Shembo lost his starting job to Joplo Bartu. There are conflicting reports as to whether Shembo didn’t play due to coaches choice or injury but it probably didn’t affect things too much. The problem with both Bartu and Worrilow is that they are incapable of getting off a block, once a lineman gets his hands on them its game over and this is a big issue, especially when you d-line is as leaky as Atlanta’s. Make no mistake the situation in Atlanta isn’t a good situation for a linebacker but don’t be fooled, none of the linebackers on the roster should be starting next season.

At corner Josh Wilson got the start again in place of Robert McClain. Much like the Bartu/Shembo duo, it makes little difference who starts at nickel, whether its Wilson or McClain, they are equally bad. Robert Alford has taken a lot of heat in the last couple of games and while he hasn’t played his two best games the criticism towards him is totally unwarranted. All too often fans see a player get beat and they immediately assume that player is responsible. This was the case Sunday as Josh Wilson was beaten so badly Robert Alford was left covering a player he shouldn’t have been covering, the result was an explosive play to Brandon Marshall and the fans calling for Rocky’s head. Alford is still a developing player whose still learning the game and yet he’s already one of the better players on this defense (arguably the 2nd best), so stop the aimless criticism towards him, he’s actually a player worth keeping around.

Desmond Trufant once again had a very solid game. Trufant isn’t a ‘shutdown’ corner but what he is, is just very consistent, you can beat Trufant but he makes you beat him with a perfect pass and a perfect route, and really, that’s all we can ask for.

Generally any in depth breakdown of the secondary this year has seemed fairly pointless as on this defense the secondary really has no real hope of playing at a high level, the fact that Trufant is, shows us just how good he is.

Last week Kemal Ishmael made the headlines for all the right reasons as he flashed his in the box ability from the SS position. This week things aren’t nearly so rosy for Ishmael who was exploited in coverage while also not contributing against the run as much as in previous weeks. Obviously the one play that stands out for Ishmael was the 74 yard catch that he gave up to Alshon Jeffery.

On the play the Bears were in 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR). The play was designed for a deep shot as the Bears only run 2 routes with Jeffery and Marshall, everyone else stays in pass protection. The Falcons were in a 3-4 alignment and would play a quarters (cover 4) defense on the play. The Falcons rush 4, the 3 lineman rushed the passer along with ILB Joplo Bartu. The two OLB’s, Biermann and Massaqoi both drop into coverage along with ILB Paul Worrilow.

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Credit: NFL Gamepass

Jeffery is afforded a free release off the line and from there he runs right up the numbers. At first Desmond Trufant has the coverage but as Jeffry continues with his route straight up the numbers Trufant passes him off to SS Ishmael. Instead of reacting to Jeffery Ishmael lets him run right past him before he reacts and by that point it’s too late, Jay Cutler is having a field day at the line of scrimmage, he flicks his wrist and 74 yards later the Bears are already knocking on the door. This play was a real sucker punch for the Falcons and a real turning point in the game. Ishmael is a good kid with a bright future but if he wants to stay on the field he can’t allow plays like this one.

Elsewhere at safety the news is much more positive. Dwight Lowery made two excellent plays in coverage, both denying touchdowns. Lowery hasn’t been perfect this season but he has been a pleasant surprise especially in coverage where his ability to line up in the slot vs both receivers and TE’s is a welcome flexibility for a defense that seemingly has no flexibility.

Dez Southward like Ra’Shede Hageman was viewed as another long term project when he was drafted in the third round this year. While he hasn’t seen a lot of snaps this year since Willy Mo went down Southward has seen a handful of plays when the defense uses its nickel package. So far Southward has looked very impressive, much further on that any envisioned when we drafted him. Granted it’s only a very small sample but let’s face it were clutching at straws for positives at the moment so this counts as a win. Southward’s stand out play this week was a play he made on third down where he was matched up 1on1 with TE Martellus Bennett. Southward plays a trail technique on the play and as Cutler throws the ball he shows his burst and length to get his hand in the way and knock the pass away for an incompletion. It’s early days with Southward but the early signs are very positive.

Sunday’s game marked another disappointing day for this defense. Personally it’s not the getting beat that bothers me rather the way in which this D gets beat. All game the Bears were able to gain chunks of yards through short dump off passes that simply shouldn’t be going for 10+ yards. The defense at present isn’t making teams work anywhere near hard enough, offenses like the Bears are simply able to stand back and pick and choose how they win, in truth they never even have to get out of first gear. Despite the negatives there are a few bright spots on defense which if nothing else we can focus on as the season progresses.