This was a very bad game for the offense as the passing game never got into sync. The Falcons went nearly the full game without converting a third down and the lack of big plays was stark. I don’t think Ryan played poorly, but he certainly did not play well. He looked rattled early, as the Saints were effective pressuring him early. It caused him to be off on some throws and reads. Towards the latter part of the game, he seemed less willing to sling it downfield, and was going more for the easy completions in an effort to keep the offense on schedule. They attempted to take some shots early in the game, but they failed. Obviously when this offense is settling on 6 or 7-yard completions on a lot of dumpoffs to the running backs, then it is not potent at all.
The running game started strong, and one criticism could be that the team abandoned it during the middle portion of the game where the offense was struggling to move the ball. I don’t really adhere to that criticism. Everyone knows this team offensively is carried by its passing attack. The running game was on point against the Saints, but I don’t think you could believe it would be sustainable throughout the night.
One thing I did notice in terms of the backs was that I think Rodgers could be more potent with Mike Cox blocking for him. Cox has been an upgrade at the fullback position in recent weeks. And while he’s no Ovie, he’s at least competent to good for the most part. Traditionally, the Falcons like to use Cox in conjunction a lot with Turner, but I think Rodgers might be a better match. Turner’s late fumble was partially his fault for fighting for yards, but also it did seem that the refs were fairly lethargic on blowing the whistle for forward progress. But in the end, you still have to secure the football, which Turner did not, and ultimately the blame still falls squarely on him. After recent games, it’s going to be hard for Turner to earn the trust back of the coaching staff in order to finish games. While Turner was superior to Quizz in the early going, it does seem that the Falcons offense seems more effective with Quizz as the closer.
Up front, the line blocked well earning most of their key blocks in the early going. Konz was the weakest of the front, as he along with McClure, Blalock, and Baker all had their troubles blocking Sedrick Ellis. By my count, Ellis had a pressure (vs. McClure), 2 hits (1 vs. Baker, 1 vs. Konz), and a hurry (split by Baker & Blalock). McClure had his ups and downs, missing a couple of blocks (one of which was on a screen), giving up pressure to Ellis and Hicks up the middle. But he also made some very nice blocks in this game, so it also balances out. Clabo had a good game, as it seems like this is the first game in forever that he didn’t give up a pressure/hurry once. But overall, I think the line has been showing some improvement in recent weeks. It’s about time…
Defensively, you have to give a lot of credit to Mike Nolan. Drew Brees was off in this game in a similar fashion to Ryan. There must have been something in the air. But I know one thing is that the Falcons front really got after Brees in this game, probably more so than any other time playing the Saints over the past few seasons. While I only counted 1 sack and 1 pressure, there were multiple times where Brees was hit after he threw. I also counted 8 hurries, 4.5 of which came by Abraham. Abe came alive this week, as did Biermann. Both preyed upon an injured Zach Strief at RT quite a bit, with I believe all of Biermann’s pressures/hits coming from that side. Abe pulled double duty and gave both Strief and Bushrod fits. 3 of Abe’s hurries came essentially from moving Brees off his spot. But those were plays that helped the back seven because a lot of throws Brees made in cluttered pocket, or rushed throws were off the mark.
Essentially, the Saints did not take advantage of the opportunities presented to him. They missed a chance to score at the end of the first half, having a Sproles TD negated by penalty. Then Brees mismanaged the clock and they didn’t get at least a FG. Then on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter, Lance Moore dropped a TD, and they ultimately settled for a FG. That’s really at least 7 points, if not 11 points that they left on the field just on those two drives. That was arguably the difference in the game.
That and the turnovers. Breaking down the interceptions, the first one by DeCoud came because Brees mistakenly thought he had successfully moved DeCoud with his eyes. But DeCoud recovered well, plus with a slightly underthrown ball, it was an easy play for him. The second was a result of edge pressure from Cliff Matthews caused Brees to throw the ball early, with Ivory not being ready. He dropped it into Spoon’s hands. The third interception (Moore’s first) was due to Brees not seeing him sitting in the lane, and Brees trying to throw back across his body on the rollout. The fourth was due to Biermann doing a good job pressuring and hitting Brees from behind, which knocked the ball into Babs’ hands. The fifth came on a late pressure by Biermann off a stunt, which prevented Brees from stepping into the deep throw. It resulted in a high rainbow, which allowed Moore the time to make a play on it (like DeCoud on the initial INT, he was working as a single high safety). Moore showed good speed and range as he was able to essentially cover 24 yards (nearly half the field) to make the catch.
Corners were active with multiple pass breakups. Owens was beat badly on the second one, but again Brees underthrew his open receiver, which gave Owens just enough time to recover to break up the pass. I like that Nolan varied up how they tried to deal with Jimmy Graham. I noticed a number of times that they lined up Babs over him as a standup end, and jammed him at the line. They also tried to mix up who covered him. Obviously when it was ends like Biermann or Abe, it did not work out so well. But I saw a mix of corners, linebackers, and safeties covering him. It at least gave Brees something to think about and worked in containing Graham.
Spoon struggled to cover Sproles all game long, and I’m thankful that with the win the Falcons won’t have worry about him anymore. For the future, the Falcons need to get a fast cover linebacker/safety specifically to try and deal with him because currently there isn’t anybody on the roster that can.
I liked that I took notice of players like Matthews and Travian Robertson, as they made a couple of nice plays in the game. I also give kudos to the run defense for containing the Saints this go round. Pierre Thomas seemed to have success nearly every time he touched the ball, but not a lot of huge, gashing plays against the Falcons defense.
While the Falcons individually lack playmakers, I do think Nolan’s presence gives them an advantage against quality quarterbacks as long as the players execute the schemes well. They did that last Thursday, and it gives me optimism that regardless of who we face come January, our defense won’t be overmatched.
On special teams, there isn’t much to say. Franks lone return was a good one. Bosher outkicked the coverage a bit too much on the day, and with an explosive returner like Sproles, you have to be very, very wary of that. But coverage was solid, and Antone Smith continues to consistently make plays there.
Advanced Stats from Week 13:
Poor Throws (6): Ryan
Drops (2): White (2), Gonzalez (1), Jones (1)
Key Blocks (12): Clabo (3), McClure (3), Baker (2), Blalock (2), Cox (2)
Sacks Allowed (1): Konz
Missed Blocks (4): Gonzalez (2), McClure (1), Konz (1)
Pressures Allowed (4): McClure (2), Palmer (1), Snelling (1)
Tackles for Loss (4): Moore (2.5), Robinson (1), Weatherspoon (0.5)
QB Sacks (1): Abraham
QB Pressures (1): Biermann
QB Hits (4): Abraham (2), Biermann (1.5), Nicholas (0.5)
Passes Defended (7): Abraham (2), McClain (2), Owens (2), Nicholas (1)
Blown Coverages (9): DeCoud (1.5), Nicholas (1.5), Owens (1.5), Abraham (1), Robinson (1), Samuel (1) Weatherspoon (1), Moore (0.5)
Missed Tackles (1): Matthews
Key Blocked (2): Weatherspoon