This was potentially one of the most frustrating watches of the year. It was not that shocking to me that the Falcons lost this game. A great deal of people got caught up in the notion that T.J. Yates was the Texans starting quarterback, which was the same mistake that they made when Dennis Dixon was the starting quarterback of the Steelers last season. But in both cases, those people forgot to realize that the strength of both of those teams rested on thei rushing attack and their defense. The Texans defense is not as good as the Steelers defense from a year ago, but still more than good enough to slow the Falcons offense. And slow it, they did.
Matt Ryan got off to a very rocky start. His inability to throw the deep ball effectively has inhibited the Falcons offense all year long, and it was no more apparent than the opening series of this game, where two poor throws to an open White and Jones really did change the face of this game. If the Falcons hit one of those, it’s extremely likely they are touchdowns. And instead of the Falcons being down 10 points midway through the second quarter, they would be up 7 points a minute into the game. Then Ryan’s two interceptions on the ensuing drives kill their momentum, although granted neither of those throws were completely his fault as Turner threw off his timing on the flea-flicker and Jones zigged when he should have zagged on the second one.
But truthfully, besides those initial series, the rest of the game Ryan played fairly well. The Falcons had a ridiculous amount of drops in this game (8). Three consecutive ones occur on the final series of the first half which killed any chance that the Falcons move down the field and at least get three points. Really the only other mistakes Ryan makes are on the pair of delay of game penalties. The second of which was a critical mistake because it comes on a 4th & 1 with 2:35 left in the game that the Falcons actually convert and would have put them in prime scoring position to tie the game. But of course the penalty nullifies the play.
He also saw quite a bit of pressure, as the Texans pass rush was basically able to pin their ears back in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter and the Falcons blockers did not do a great job holding up. Svitek struggled in this game, as did pretty much all of the other blockers in this game. He gave up 2.5 pressures, but had another and a sack-strip negated by defensive penalties. It’s become apparent to me that while Svitek is better than Sam Baker is today, he’s not better than Baker was a year ago, which was considerably less than where Baker was in 2009. It’s fascinating to look at the Falcons left tackle position has gotten considerably worse since 2008. Svitek has done his best to maintain the status quo from a year ago. And it makes you start to realize that since the decline of Bob Whitfield, the Falcons have been fairly middling at that position. But that’s probably a topic worth broaching in the off-season. Joe Hawley also did not have a great game, and it’s clear that if the Falcons actually want to get some serious production from the right guard position they should move on in another direction. Presumably, they are playing Hawley there to get him reps for his eventual move to center. I think Hawley still has a future as the starting center, but the Falcons need to give Kirk Chambers a try at some point. Either as a replacement for Svitek at left tackle or as a right guard. Otherwise, Chambers presence on the roster is a complete and under waste.
The Falcons ground attack was pretty useless. Turner had basically two nice runs, and 9 wasted runs. And one wonders that against the fast Texans defense, that giving Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers more reps would have been smart.
Defensively, the Falcons really did do their thing. After the Mike Peterson touchdown was called back for the penalty on both Robinson and Weatherspoon, it was clear the wind was taken out of their sails. The Texans just pounded the ball on them, and were very effective in getting blocks on Weatherspoon, which opened up a lot of cutback lanes. All of the times he was key blocked (3) in this game were on that drive. And it’s also probably not a coincidence that the Falcons run defense began to get gashed the moment Ray Edwards was out of the game. Peterson and Lofton had their share of troubles getting off blocks on the second level, which you can credit for the Texans zone blocking scheme. Considering that Franks and Owens were playing large chunks of this game, the coverage was relatively solid, although again the bulk of the Texans game plan was to run the ball (42 times) and have Yates manage the game, which he did. Their performances don’t really give me much confidence that they are primed to fare well against the likes of Steve Smith this week.
There were really no stand-out defensive performances in this game. Nor are any of the performances as bad as some of the earning indicate. Everybody had their moments where they made some nice plays, and had their moments where they got exposed. Abraham and Sanders probably had the standout performances. Sanders of course gets credit for his fumble recovery, although I personally do not think that should have been considered a fumble. Not a great officiating day for Bill Leavy and his crew, although as I’ve noted before I tend not to get too caught in officiating. Both teams were gifted a few times, so it’s hard to say one party was screwed by the refs.
If any fingers are going to be pointed at someone who was just bad, it would be Peria Jerry. He is right now the fourth best defensive tackle on this roster, and it’s not like Vance Walker is only slight ahead of him. Jerry is essentially a non-entity, and I won’t say he should be cut because he has played well at one point early this year. But it’s apparent that this off-season the Falcons should look to move on and try to upgrade their rotation somehow.
On special teams, Darrin Walls made his presence known in his NFL debut. Bosher did not earn any thing but he had another solid game punting, helping the team out with their field position. Also Antone Smith was lights out in this game as a gunner. I’m sure either on Moneyball or in the forums I’ve mentioned that he adds very little value to the roster, but in today’s game and recent weeks (since Bosher has started to kick well) he’s proven to be a solid special teams defender. That has been the case across the board on special teams, as a number of solid to good special teams players have been revealed now that Bosher’s kicking no longer holds this unit back.
Advanced Stats from Week 13:
Poor Throws (6): Ryan
Drops (8): Jones (3), Gonzalez (2), White (2)
Key Blocks (1): Clabo
Sacks Allowed (0)
Missed Blocks (5): McClure (2), Blalock (1), Clabo (1), Cox (1)
QB Pressures Allowed (8): Svitek (2.5), Blalock (1.5), Hawley (1), McClure (1), Turner (1), Douglas (0.5), Gonzalez (0.5)
Tackles For Loss (11): Lofton (3), Peterson (2), Peters (1.5), DeCoud (1), Edwards (1), Robinson (1), Sanders (1), Biermann (0.5)
QB Sacks (2): Abraham, Lofton
QB Pressures (3): Abraham (1), Babineaux (1), Biermann (0.5), Weatherspoon (0.5)
QB Hits (0)
Passes Defended (4): Abraham, Peterson, Robinson, Weatherspoon
Blown Coverages (7): Lofton (2), Robinson (2), Franks (1), Owens (1), Weatherspoon (1)
Missed Tackles (2): Lofton
Key Blocked (16): Lofton (4), Peterson (4), Weatherspoon (3), DeCoud (2), Jerry (2), Peters (1)