Atlanta’s inability to score in the red zone really cost them this game. Only once did they score a touchdown in six trips inside the red zone, settling for a trio of field goals and two missed throws on fourth down. Typically the best offenses will score touchdowns on about two-thirds of their red zone trips, while a good one on half. Meaning that with six red zone trips, the Falcons should have scored three or four touchdowns. And presumably will kick field goals on the remaining. That means that the Falcons should have scored at least 30 points on their six red zone trips (3 touchdowns + 3 field goals). Instead, they wound up with just 16 points. And now it should be fairly obvious how that affected the outcome of the game.
The Falcons played relatively well down the stretch, and I give them credit for not quitting on this game when I certainly did. Once Blount scored that touchdown, I knew then that the Falcons were going to lose. Frankly, once they gave up that big completion on the preceding play on 3rd-and-19, I knew they were going to lose. Those two consecutive plays made it clear that it wasn’t their night. But they clawed their way back into it, and almost made an improbable comeback. It would have been among the biggest chokes we could or would have seen in a long time, and from the Patriots it just would have been unheard of. As far as finishing games, no team really has been better over the past several years than Belichick’s Patriots.
I criticized Matt Ryan last week for some mistakes he made in the red zone and I’ll do the same this week. Because I’ve heard it said multiple times from other quarterbacks, and I tend to believe it, the responsibility of scoring in the red zone falls on the shoulders of the quarterback. However, I will say this about Dirk Koetter in that the offense was far too one-dimensional on the entire night, but especially in the red zone. The Falcons had only one called run in the red zone on 17 total plays from scrimmage. Seven of those passes came in the first half, so the Falcons cannot completely blame that they were throwing to catch up or stop the clock at the end.
But when I look at the five red zone trips that ended in failure and look at nine key plays that were critical as to why they ended in failure, Ryan’s name pops up in being at fault on six of them. Most of them are instances where Ryan is making difficult throws that don’t connect. So it’s hard to definitively say that Ryan is messing up because the degree of difficulty on many of the throws is fairly high, but this is why we put so much on the quarterback because at the end of the day it’s his ultimate responsibility that these plays are made. Other instances include Ryan taking a sack, or Ryan looking for the touchdown where it may have been smarter to check it down, or others where Reynolds missed a block on the lone run play called, or drops by Roddy or Toilolo.
There is no blame per se as to who’s fault it is that the Falcons aren’t getting the job done in the red zone. But all parties: Ryan, Koetter, the receivers, backs, and offensive line have to play better particularly in the red zone if the Falcons are going to start turning these close losses into wins.
As for the rest of the offense, Tony Gonzalez was excellent and made plays throughout the night despite drawing double teams. And on that note, I think not having a healthy Roddy White really impacts the offense negatively to take advantage of all the double teams that Gonzalez and Julio are drawing. This is where the problem of the Falcons not having a good fourth option after the Big Three comes to bite them. Ryan isn’t even looking at Douglas or Davis and an injured Roddy half the time. Ryan doesn’t have another option that he trusts, because an injured Roddy really isn’t that much more effective than Douglas. But at least in the case of Douglas, he made several plays late and thus I can’t be too critical. But if the Falcons had an actual fourth receiver that was good instead of Davis, they could actually sit Roddy and allow him to get healthy over the past month rather than relying on him to limp along at 70 or 80-percent.
Up front, Trueblood struggled against Rob Ninkovich, who tallied four hurries against him. He just looked stiff and really struggled to adjust in space, and it also shows in his run blocking. Reynolds also did not have a great game as Tommy Kelly gave him some problems with a pair of hurries. But he did a pretty nice job run blocking on the limited opportunities he had on the night, minus that lone mistake in the red zone. Holmes held up pretty well once he came into the game in the second quarter, so I have to give credit where credit is due. He did get beat once by Michael Buchanan on a speed rush where he did a poor job punching, but for the most part handled Chandler Jones and his side of the line well. Blalock gets credit for a good game as he really made no mistakes.
I also have to give credit to Aqib Talib. He basically shut down Vincent Jackson last week, and shut down Julio Jones for most of this game. Talib’s play these past two weeks probably made him a ton of money next off-season as he took two of the most difficult matchups in the league out of their respective teams’ game plans.
Defensively, the Falcons gave up too many big plays as their young corners got exposed too often. That was disappointing because while Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman aren’t chopped liver, they should not have looked as good as they did against our young corners. There have been times in the past six weeks when I’ve questioned whether Asante was an essential piece of our defense. No more, the answer simply is yes he is.
I gave credit on that blown coverage on 3rd-and-19 to McClain. The Falcons were in zone and Thompkins found that soft spot behind the corners and linebackers and underneath the safety. It was a hard play to assign blame on, but I chose McClain. It could have been Trufant who was initially lined up over Thompkins outside, but he was drawn by the slot receiver (McClain’s guy) who ran a deep pattern, suggesting that maybe McClain should have switched over to Thompkins. I also credited Stephen Nicholas for blowing the coverage on the touchdown pass to Matthew Mulligan. He like all the other defenders bit on the play-action, and Mulligan ran a drag behind the defense. But since Nicholas was initially on the side of the field that Mulligan lined up on, I figured he was initially his man.
Once again, the pass rush was mostly a non-factor. They started to get a bit more heat on Brady in the second half, but it was not nearly enough to really affect the majority of plays. I know part of it is bias on my part due to my great affinity of John Abraham, but I’ve just been very disappointed with Osi through the first month. He has a pair of sack-strips and a pick six and those certainly are three game-changing plays. But outside those three plays, he’s virtually a non-factor. He was a non-factor on Sunday. I’m trying to be objective and fair, but right now I’m leaning towards declaring the Osi experiment a failure. The trade deadline is coming up a month from now, and if he doesn’t do something in the next four weeks, the Falcons might need to make a move. I don’t know what move is, but something needs to be done.
As for special teams, recovering one onside kick is relatively flukey, recovering two is like lightning striking in the same place within five minutes. I thought Bosher punted well, Davis looked solid as a gunner, and overall it was a very solid performance. My only concern was a couple of snaps by Josh Harris were a little off. They didn’t affect things, but the margin for error for Harris is small in my eyes. Joe Zelenka was near-perfect for the 37 games he played in Atlanta. I know Harris is young and holding him to the standard of a 13-year veteran is unfair, but is the $480,000 you save over the life of Harris’ three-year contract in cap space worth all the headaches he’s created thus far and potentially could moving forward?
I hate to be so negative as I’m sure I’ve come off in this review. I know a lot of people had this sort of negative reaction a week ago after the Dolphins’ loss. I didn’t because I really thought that game was a toss-up considering the Falcons were playing on the road and had a number of injuries. But with the way the running game performed, the offensive line not looking as dire as it did in the first two weeks, and the Falcons playing at home against what looked to be an overrated Patriots team, I was very confident the Falcons would win this week. It really shattered a lot of illusions about this team I had, and I will be looking forward to seeing how they respond against the Jets next week.
Advanced Stats from Week 4:
Poor Throws (6): Ryan
Drops (5): Snelling (2), Jones (1), Toilolo (1), White (1)
Key Blocks (3): Blalock (1), Hawley (1), Reynolds (0.5), Trueblood (0.5)
Missed Blocks (2): Reynolds, Trueblood
Sacks Allowed (2): Konz, Ryan
Pressures Allowed (2): Reynolds, Rodgers
Hurries Allowed (12): Trueblood (6), Reynolds (3), Holmes (2), Konz (1)
Tackles for Loss (4): Babineaux, Bartu, Dent, Massaquoi
QB Sacks (0)
QB Pressures (2): Dent (1), Babineaux (0.5), Peters (0.5)
QB Hits (2): Babineaux
QB Hurries (4): Babineaux, Goodman, Massaquoi, Peters
Passes Defended (2): Franks, Trufant
Blown Coverages (8): Trufant (3), McClain (2), Alford (1), Bartu (1), Nicholas (1)
Missed Tackles (3): Dent (2), Bartu (1)
Key Blocked (3): Dent, Massaquoi, Peters
Stops (6): Dent (2), Gaither (1), McClain (1), Nicholas (1), Bartu (0.5), DeCoud (0.5)