The Atlanta Falcons have no excuses if they lose to Miami
Coming out of their bye week, the Atlanta Falcons are rested and healthy. According to the team, not only was Calvin Ridley returning from his personal matter, but Russell Gage, Josh Andrews, and Marlon Davidson were returning as well. In the case of Andrews, that probably was well sent, as starting right tackle Kaleb McGary was recently put on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.
Their first opponent in the “second half” of their season? The Miami Dolphins, who are coming off a brutal 23-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, not only gave Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer their first career NFL wins, but also ended a brutal 20-game losing streak which was nearing the Buccaneers’ beginning level of moribund.
This leads to the main focus of this article: it’s one thing to easily turn to Twitter and complain about how officiating screwed your team (hello, New Orleans) or questioning a coaching decision via clock (hi, Dallas and Arthur Smith).
But with the Falcons, at least for this week, it’s very simple: there are NO excuses that can be made if they lose to Miami. The main reason why there are no excuses? The Falcons are well rested and getting healthier, while the Dolphins have to readjust to the time zone differences in back-to-back weeks. Truthfully, even as a Falcons writer, it’s a little unfair in a sense that of the four teams to play in London, three of them (Atlanta, New York, and Jacksonville) all returned to a bye week, while the Dolphins’ doesn’t come until December 12th.
Here are some facts about the Falcons currently: yes, they’re 2-3 and Miami is 1-5. Records usually indicate how a team’s truly performing on the field, though in Atlanta’s case, the last three games showed a slight possibility (maybe 2%, like a glass of milk) of some improvement. How much improvement? Well, they’ve gotten the wins quicker than this time last season, so that’s a plus.
Next, let’s look at some inside stats: Matt Ryan’s last two games have seen him grade 90+ by PFF, something that hasn’t happened since the 2017 season. In fact, since that game against the Buccaneers, while he has been bailed out by penalties or drops on some easy turnover-worthy plays, the offensive line has given him time to throw, and he’s still good enough to carve up defenses. How much is still in that tank is TBD.
Also, with inside stats, it’s safe to say Cordarrelle Patterson has been a revelation since the Falcons signed him because he’s basically doing everything that’s asked of him in the system. Need to be the leading rusher? Call 84. Need to score some touchdowns? Call 84. While it does bring the fabled “over-usage” moniker, Patterson simply wants to ball as an athlete, not just a football player.
Finally, let’s look at the bane of the Falcons’ existence since the dawn of time: the defense. It’s no secret that, for most of the 55 years of existence, that side of the ball is like Swiss cheese; the holes are always found, or there’s a costly penalty that extends a drive.
That said, this defense, while still struggling in the pass rush aspect in terms of getting home, they haven’t been getting burned on every single play. The loss of Isaiah Oliver still hurts for the slot, and while it wasn’t truly showcased because they played the Jets, a team like Dallas or Buffalo will feast on a much weaker secondary. However, if there’s one true bright spot on the defense, it’s AJ Terrell. There have been talks about whether or not he would improve from last year, and all he’s done is become one of five players to not surrender a completion in the red zone all year while also being one of PFF’s best-graded corners in man-to-man coverage.
Now, it’s also worth noting: the last time Atlanta and Miami faced off in the regular season, it was Week Six of the 2017 NFL season. After coming out of their bye week prior to playing another AFC East foe (back then, it was the Buffalo Bills), the Falcons raced out to a 17-0 lead against a Dolphins squad led by Jay Cutler (!) before giving up 20 unanswered points and lost (gee, wonder how many three-score games we’ve lost in the last decade?)
Since that game, the Falcons overall record is, surprisingly, the same as Miami’s over that span (25-34). Whether or not that’s another indication of mediocrity is another debate in and of itself.
Who wins on Sunday? Right now, Vegas opened the line at Miami -2.5, which means the game was essentially a pick-em by virtue of all home teams automatically getting -3 at the time of open.
Let’s see if these Atlanta Falcons not only exorcise the demons from 2017 and this preseason