Overall, a very disappointing performance for the Atlanta Falcons were they got thoroughly outplayed by the Arizona Cardinals on both sides of the ball for four quarters.
Offensively, I’m going to blame the team’s lack of a deep threat and their inability to get much push on the ground for the main causes of their problems. I counted only one instance in the first half of the game where the Falcons took a measured shot and threw a pass beyond 15 yards. That occurred on an 18-yard throw by Matt Ryan to Drew Davis on a deep in on their second possession of the game. Remember the Falcons had 27 drop backs in the first half. They took more shots downfield in the second half, but that was mainly because they were trying to get back into the game. Ryan did not have the best game and had a few opportunities in the second half to get the big strike. On their first play of the third quarter, Darius Johnson was streaking down field and had a step on the defender, but for whatever reason Ryan chose to check the ball down to Patrick DiMarco for a 2-yard gain. It wasn’t a matter of not seeing him nor having protection, just that Ryan chose to check it down. Then in the fourth quarter, when Ryan hit Harry Douglas on a 25-play on an out and up, if Ryan had put a bit more air under the ball, Douglas could have ran under it and scored a touchdown. That would have given the Falcons six points with roughly 8 minutes left in the game. Instead they ultimately went down the field and scored on that drive, but four additional minutes bled off the clock.
Ryan threw four interceptions, and the first and third one were solely on him. He didn’t see Daryl Washington in the throwing lane on the first pick. On the third one, he tried to throw to a very well-covered Davis, forcing a throw. He then threw a bad ball, and Tyrann Mathieu had an easy pick. The second and fourth interceptions could be blamed on pressure preventing Ryan from stepping into his throws, and hanging up a ball for easy picks by Rashad Johnson. Both times, the Cardinals were able to get a free rusher to Ryan (Marcus Benard on the second pick and Karlos Dansby on the fourth one).
Overall, I thought the pass protection was serviceable. Granted, the standard has fallen sharply in Atlanta over the years. And I would say the line gave Ryan enough protection to make throws if not for the emphasis on short and intermediate throws. Frankly, the Falcons receivers aren’t good enough, and I liked that Dirk Koetter resorted to a lot of pick plays and complementary routes to help his receivers. But it’s clear that this group of receivers is not capable of carrying the load, especially when a team has to drop back 65 times in game. Especially when the no-huddle isn’t part of the equation.
That’s where the offensive line really gets the blame with their poor run blocking. Steven Jackson had really no space to get going, with maybe a yard before he would run into a wall. Granted, part of it was the fact that Jackson didn’t look sharp. And if this is all the push the Falcons can muster, they are better served using Jacquizz Rodgers as their primary rusher. Rodgers isn’t as consistent, but his quickness means he’s much more capable of creating beyond his blocking. The Falcons utilized a lot of traps and pulls in their man blocking, and frankly players like Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett were eating, chewing, and spitting out their blocks like sunflower seeds. I might need a second set of hands to count how many times the Falcons tried to double-team Campbell and he’d still clog the lane or make the tackle. I remember one instance vividly where Justin Blalock pushed Campbell downfield one-on-one, and then Reynolds was supposed to pull into the hole, but it was clogged by another defender and Jackson was stopped for a two-yard gain. Lamar Holmes struggled, but I should note his struggles came largely when he was blocking Campbell or John Abraham one-on-one. That has been the issue throughout this season, where there has been a significant gap in abilities when our blockers face opposing team’s good defensive linemen and/or linebackers. Blalock has been the only player that has shown that he can actually compete with premier opponents this year. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they face a lot of good defensive linemen and linebackers the rest of the season. So unless the Falcons make a move sooner rather than later, that’s an issue that isn’t going to be solved until the offseason.
Ultimately I am more disappointed with the defensive performance than the offensive one. I expected the offense to look at least mildly competent in some areas, but I figured they would struggle against the Cardinals defense, which is one of the best in the league. But I really thought the Falcons defense would find a way to keep us in this game, which they did not. They gave up too many big plays early in the game, and they never really got a significant amount of pressure on Palmer.
I’m really disappointed in Osi Umenyiora after this game, where it looked like his matchup against Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell was going to be a huge advantage in favor of the Falcons. Well, that was not the case as Sowell looked far more than competent going up against Osi. The interior was able to apply some pressure throughout the game, and Jonathan Babineaux had one of his better games since the mid-point last season. Corey Peters continues to do an excellent job defending the run. I think the team might want to consider using Peria Jerry as a situational pass rusher. He’s far more effective there than he is defending the run, and I think Malliciah Goodman might deserve increased reps as a run defender, where he has made the majority of his impact. The unfortunate thing about the Falcons pressure is that both Peters and Babineaux’s sacks came off stunts, and Jerry was really a coverage sack more than anything. The issue with why the Falcons pass rush has been sporadic at best this year is because they do not have players that can consistently beat one-on-one blocks, like the Cardinals obviously have with Abraham, Campbell, and Dockett.
Both of the touchdown passes the Falcons gave up were when they were working in zone coverage. If you don’t already know my thoughts on zone coverage, it’s fairly simple: I hate it. The Falcons have been bad at it seemingly forever and I think the Falcons corners have shown enough ability and promise that the coaching staff should be more willing to trust them to play on an island in man coverage. Desmond Trufant has broken up a pass in every game he’s played this year, which is a fairly impressive streak. Robert Alford has been an upgrade in the nickel spot over Robert McClain in terms of coverage. I do think the Falcons did feel a bit the effects of a downgrade in run defense there, as McClain’s effectiveness as a run defender is the main reason why his earnings this year haven’t been abysmal. Dominique Franks is the goat on the first touchdown pass to Fitzgerald, as he was responsible for the deep middle. If you’re going to play zone, then put McClain back there instead of Franks. The second touchdown, Paul Worrilow and Thomas DeCoud were credited with the blown coverage.
The only phase of the game where the Falcons won was on special teams. They did an excellent job covering punts, McClain was a breath of fresh air as a punt returner, and they even recovered an onside kick. Patrick DiMarco gets credit for clearing out the defender to allow Matt Bosher to recover the onside. I still don’t get why DeCoud is on kickoff coverage, but Kemal Ishmael got an opportunity there. I’m curious to see what he does there if he continues to get reps there, as he was a player that I believed had a bright future on special teams. Zeke Motta also is getting increased reps on both kickoff and punt coverage, and I think that will also pay off in the Falcons favor.
Advanced Stats from Week 8:
Poor Throws (7): Ryan
Drops (4): Douglas (2), Davis (1), Johnson (1)
Key Bocks (2): Davis, Rodgers
Missed Blocks (6): Holmes (2), Trueblood (2), Gonzalez (1), Konz (1)
Sacks Allowed (4): Konz, Reynolds, Ryan, Trueblood
Pressures Allowed (5): Holmes (2), Jackson (1), Reynolds (1), Rodgers (1)
Hurries Allowed (6): Reynolds (2), Blalock (1), Holmes (1), Konz (1), Ryan (1)
Tackles for Loss (5): Babineaux (2), Dent (1), Goodman (1), Umenyiora (1)
QB Sacks (3): Babineaux, Jerry, Peters
QB Pressures (0)
QB Hits (1): Worrilow
QB Hurries (1): Umenyiora
Passes Defended (2): Alford, Trufant
Blown Coverages (4): Worrilow (1.5), Franks (1), DeCoud (0.5), Moore (0.5), Samuel (0.5)
Missed Tackles (3): Bartu (2), Peters (1)
Key Blocked (5): Alford (2), Jerry (1), Trufant (1), Worrilow (1)
Stops (14): Babineaux (2.5), Peters (2.5), Worrilow (1.5), Bartu (1), Dent (1), Matthews (1), Moore (1), Samuel (1), Trufant (1), Umenyiora (1), DeCoud (0.5)