On Sunday night, Falcon fans were treated to two things. The first was what a dynamic offense looks like in the form of the Green Bay Packers, and the other was glimpses of the same from the Falcons.
Aaron Rodgers connected with 12 different receivers over the course of Sunday Night’s game. Matt Ryan and the Falcons with 7. That’s not a low number, as 6 or 7 targets in the passing game is fairly typical at this level of competition.
The glimpses of this dynamic Falcon offense came on their first two series where they got five different receivers involved. They ran the ball as well, getting Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers opportunities there along with their usual handoffs to Michael Turner. The Falcons ran the rub route for Harry Douglas to success on 3rd down, something that should be used more often. Later in the game, Eric Weems even got a reception, his first of the year. The Falcons used misdirection very effectively and it caught the Packers defense off-balance early on. After those two drives, the Falcons did very little misdirection plays and I would say non-coincidentally the offense stagnated.
The Falcons have to try and get more weapons involved on offense to make it harder for opposing defenses to defend. One of the issues that teams have to deal with when they play the Packers is that you have to defend the entire field. If you focus on Jermichael Finley or Greg Jennings, then Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver, or James Jones are bound to hurt you. Players like John Kuhn, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, and Alex Green have gotten a few touches on offense and also can become reliable outlets for Rodgers when those other more dynamic players are unavailable.
The Falcons should treat some of their lesser players similarly. Everyone knows about Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. The Falcons made some strides Sunday night with plays designed to Jason Snelling and Harry Douglas. Jacquizz Rodgers should be more involved than he was last week because he seems to be successful nearly every time he touches the ball. But what about players like Michael Turner, Ovie Mughelli, Michael Palmer, and Eric Weems? They aren’t dynamic options, but in the same mold as Kuhn, Crabtree, Williams, and Green they can add something to the offense when those other more dynamic threats like Gonzo and Jones are covered.
One of the things that hurt the Falcons on Sunday was their inability to stay on schedule and be successful on first down. They started too many drives 2nd & 10, 2nd & 8, and 2nd & 12, which tends to force you to go to your more tried and true options to try and get into a 3rd and manageable situation. Thankfully for the Falcons, they were very successful on those 2nd & Long situations getting the ball in the hands of many of those tried and true playmakers. But it is worth noting that on a 2nd & 13, Jason Snelling got 17 on a screen pass, and Rodgers got 11 on a pitch on 2nd & 12 early on. That suggests that going to White or Gonzo is not always necessary as the Falcons did on half of their 12 second downs where they had 6 or more yards to go to the sticks. On those 6 plays to either Gonzo or White, they were successful on 50% of them. On the 6 plays that did not go to that pair, they were successful on 83%. Those 6 other plays included two runs by Turner, his two best of the night for 8 and 15 yards, a 3-yard catch by Douglas, a 16-yard slant by Jones, and the previously mentioned plays by Snelling and Rodgers.
So it does seem that looking away from Gonzalez and White on occasion has been beneficial to the offense. Pretty much every game the Falcons have played this year, half of Ryan’s pass attempts go to those two players. Which is understandable because Ryan’s rapport is strongest with them and they are the two most reliable options in any given situation. But is that making the Falcons too easy to defend is the question that needs to be asked. Mularkey and Ryan need to put in more effort to throw the ball to other players. Whether that is Jones, Rodgers, Snelling, Palmer, Weems, or Reggie Kelly really does not matter. But I’m betting that regardless of which Falcon player is on the receiving end of those passes and designed plays, it will be beneficial to the offense like it was at various times this past weekend.