Atlanta Falcons First Takes: Observations from Week Six

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 15: Matt Ryan /

Atlanta Falcons really surrendered another second half lead. This week’s Falcons First Takes has the answers why.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Atlanta Falcons blew a big second half lead on their way to a disappointing loss.

In almost comical fashion, the Falcons staked a 17-0 halftime lead on Sunday, only to have the Miami Dolphins and their 32nd-ranked offense seize control of the game in the second half. The Dolphins scored 20 unanswered points after intermission and did not punt once in the process.

Basically, everything that could go wrong in the third and fourth quarters did go wrong and both units deserve equal blame. But rather than mince words any longer, let’s get to this week’s takes surrounding the ugly loss.

Offense Has An Execution Problem

Before we get to the bad, it’s important not to lose sight of the good that occurred on Sunday. After all, a team can’t blow a big lead without having success earlier in the game.

With the exception of one first half drive which started with a Falcons guard, Andy Levitre, penalty, the Falcons marched the ball at will versus a respectable Dolphins’ defense. Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s game plan worked to perfection through two quarters as evidenced by the run-pass balance showcased below.

The deep ball even made a cameo appearance in the first half as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan connected on a 40-yard touchdown to the recently promoted Atlanta wide receiver Marvin Hall. It represented Hall’s first career catch which had the whole team celebrating, including a big embrace from his quarterback.

But then the second half came.

Miami came out of the break and played keep away for nearly nine minutes, ultimately scoring seven points. All the momentum the Falcons had built in the first half was effectively gone after the Dolphins’ opening drive.

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To make matters worse, the offense went three and out on the ensuing possession. Why you might ask?

Well, look no further than on first down. The Dolphins brought an extra man on the rush and sacked Ryan for a five-yard loss, effectively ending the drive before it ever got started.

Now consider the remaining three possessions Atlanta’s offense had in the second half. Yes, the Falcons only had three more cracks at the ball the entire game.

  • Drive 2 (Score 17-14): The Falcons drove the ball all the way to the Dolphins’ 33-yard line before a Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews hold and Dolphins defensive lineman Cameron Wake sack (which came off a free rush, by the way) forced the offense out of field goal range.

Sounds like Super Bowl deja vu, doesn’t it?

  • Drive 3 (Score 17-17): The second of the (2) three-and-outs the Falcons had in the second half. What was the drive killer on this series? A Falcons running back, Tevin Coleman, negative-eight yard run on second and eight, which followed a two yard run by Coleman on first down.

With this drive, you can’t even say the Falcons didn’t try to maintain some semblance of balance after halftime. The Dolphins just put their foot down and showed their true run stopping prowess in the second half.

  • Drive 4 (Score 17-20): Needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win, Atlanta did not play it conservatively. They played for the win and looked like they might get it as they knifed through the Dolphins’ defense. However, in the end, a fluky interception from Dolphins safety Reshad Jones was the final nail in the Falcons’ coffin.

In essence, the Falcons’ offense was stymied on two of their four second half possessions. But looking back, we can clearly see these drives were halted by execution flaws.

Not necessarily because of poor coaching.

Say it with me. You. can’t. judge. a. coach. based. on. a. handful. of. games.

If you could, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn should have been fired after finishing his rookie season 3-8. And you and I both know how big of a mistake that would have been.

Be patient with Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. He’s still learning his new team and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.

Look no further than these comments for proof as well as the fact that he coached this game from the coach’s box for the first time in the regular season.

Kyle Shanahan had a bit of a learning curve in his first year, too, as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator. There’s no reason Steve Sarkisian shouldn’t be afforded the same benefit.

The Defense Showed Its Kryptonite

How does the old adage go? Once is chance, twice is coincidence, and the third time is a pattern?

Well, we now have our third such game where this Dan Quinn-led defense has gotten bullied at the line of scrimmage.

November 13, 2016 at Philadelphia, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Week Four 2017 vs the Buffalo Bills. This past Sunday vs Miami.

In my opinion, that should raise more cause for concern than the offensive play calling. The Eagles, Bills, and Dolphins exposed the blueprint on how to beat this Falcons team. You outtough them.

One may argue the defense is fine and just like with the offense, there had to be positives if they held the Miami offense scoreless through two quarters.

However, I’d argue you that the unit exhibited more of a bend-but-don’t-break approach versus the Dolphins – a staple of the Mike Smith-run teams. In looking at the drive chart for the game, you’ll notice the Falcons’ defense bent to the tune of 33.75-yards per drive in the first half.

Had it not been for a Dolphins Ja’Wuan James 15-yard penalty or Miami quarterback Jay Cutler interception, the Dolphins may have won more comfortably. Instead, Miami waited until the second half to break the spirit of the Atlanta Falcons.

Four drives. Four scores. 18 minutes and 51 seconds of game time. And it was done with a steady mix of run and pass as the Dolphins finished with a 31-to-33 run-to-pass ratio.

Which for a team that faced a 17-0 deficit, the Dolphins should have had to abandon their run game altogether. But since the Falcons could not stop Miami running back Jay Ajayi from the opening kickoff, Miami kept dialing it up with great success. Ajayi finished the day with 26 carries for 130-yards, good for a 5-yards per carry average.

So while the offense did not do its job in seizing back momentum, the defense is the reason momentum was lost in the first place. Control the line of scrimmage; control the game.

If there’s one positive to glean from Sunday’s loss, it’s that the Falcons did not have any setbacks on the injury front.

With Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw scheduled to be back on the practice field this week, Atlanta may enter the Super Bowl rematch with New England at full strength. Unfortunately, that matters very little if the team can’t execute their game plan.

Next: Atlanta Falcons: Ricardo Allen tired of team’s disrespect

Enjoy the long week of answering hangover questions, Dirty Bird Nation.