Atlanta’s aerial attack was on fire Sunday, racking up 359 total passing yards. With an injury plagued defense, it’ll have to continue throughout the year.
Sunday’s divisional game against bitter rival New Orleans was extremely important, as every divisional game is. A win would have put Atlanta at 2-1, undefeated in the division and tied for the lead.
Instead, New Orleans and Drew Brees had the last laugh, knocking off the Falcons 43-37 in overtime to send Atlanta to last place in the NFC South. Atlanta’s defense was horrendous, as the Falcons surrendered 534 total yards and missed 17 tackles. The pass rush, without Takk McKinley, was non-existent. Atlanta totaled just one sack and two quarterback hits against Brees on fifty drop backs.
To make matters worse, Atlanta lost their quarterback of the defense, safety Ricardo Allen, for the season with a torn Achilles. Allen’s importance was felt immediately, as the defense failed to get lined up correctly after he left on several plays. On third down in the red zone, the defense failed to get lined up and Michael Thomas was left open to convert the game’s most crucial third down.
In addition to the defense struggling, Atlanta’s ground attack couldn’t get rolling on Sunday either. Tevin Coleman was consistently getting bottled up on toss plays and stretch plays, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry. Sarkisian was committed to trying to get Coleman working outside of the tackles with stretches and tosses, but there was no running room at all.
On the bright side, Atlanta’s passing attack looked nearly unstoppable. And it wasn’t just force feeding Julio. Calvin Ridley had a breakout performance, catching seven passes for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Ridley’s speed and route running were on full display Sunday, which were both praised during the draft and offseason.
His first score came from 18 yards out when Ridley beat P.J. Williams on a stop-and-go route. Ridley really showed off his route running ability, getting Williams to bite hard on the route and giving Matt Ryan plenty of room to find Ridley in the back corner of the end zone.
Ridley burned Williams late in the second quarter on a 75-yard score, flashing his speed for his second score of the game. Julio Jones drawing attention to his side of the field allowed Ridley to exploit single coverage all game long.
Also, the speedster flew past double coverage and drew a huge 45-yard pass interference call in the third quarter. Ryan found him in the back corner of the end zone for his third score of the day two plays later. Ridley proved himself as a viable weapon for Ryan to utilize, and should continue to get 5-10 targets per game, including some inside the 20.
Ryan finished with 374 passing yards and a career-high five touchdown passes. Under coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Ryan had never thrown more than two touchdowns in a single game. Ryan hit a couple deep balls on the afternoon, a promising sign after struggling in the first two weeks on throws down the field. After struggling at Philadelphia in the opener, Ryan has returned to his normal, upper-tier form.
Just how good was Ryan on Sunday? Ryan posted the highest passer rating in a loss in NFL history (148.1), showing just how great his performance was and how bad Atlanta’s defense played. The offense’s showing gives fans confidence in Atlanta’s ability to score points, which was a major concern just a few weeks ago. Specifically, the red zone woes that have been well documented have been non-existent the past two weeks, as the Falcons have gone 8-8 in the red zone during that stretch.
For the near future, it looks as if Atlanta is going to have to win some shootouts in order to keep pace in the NFC South. The defense is missing four starters due to injury, and are all crucial parts to Atlanta’s scheme. Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Allen are all irreplaceable players, which has been seen on the field.
Ryan and the offense will probably have to score 25+ a game to give the Falcons a shot at winning unless some defensive players deeper in the depth chart step up. Players such as Duke Riley, Jordan Richards, and Vic Beasley have all struggled and need to step up in order to keep the defense from completely crumbling. If they can’t, expect a long, disappointing season similar to 2014 and another year of Matt Ryan’s greatness wasted.