If I’m being honest, I was underwhelmed by this Atlanta Falcons performance. It seemed like a performance where they benefited from playing a worse Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, more so than any sort of post-bye week resurgence that many hoped for. Next week’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers will be a better litmus test to see if the Falcons are any different.
One reason why I am souring on this performance is that I believe this was one of the more average performances I’ve seen from Matt Ryan in a long time. He didn’t play poorly, but the words that come to mind when describing his performance are words like: functional, decent, serviceable, alright and okay. The pejorative version of the term of game manager could easily be used when describing Ryan’s performance.
Ryan consistently missed on his deep throws throughout the game. He badly underthrew Julio Jones on the opening drive. Jones had nearly a four-yard cushion on Bucs cornerback Johnathan Banks after a double move, and there was also no safety help. Earlier in his career, Ryan had a tendency to overthrow his receivers. It was something that I was fairly critical of, as receivers like Jones are gifted enough that they can go up and make a play. But there have been several instances where he’s underthrown Jones this year, and it has cost the Falcons points and arguably wins. There were games earlier this year where I pointed out such missed opportunities.
While I definitely think the Falcons have much bigger fish to fry when it comes to improving the supporting cast around Ryan, if they are successful in increasing the talent around their $100 million-quarterback, he’s going to have to start stepping up and taking advantage of these opportunities more consistently.
The best Falcon on the field was Steven Jackson, who had a performance akin to the early days of Michael Turner. I’ve already discussed how success rate is a sign of how well he played on Sunday. Half of his runs were for five or more yards, earning him the bulk of his totals from this past Sunday. His best run of the day might have been his first one. He was able to square up Bucs linebacker Danny Lansanah in the hole, run him over and get an additional eight yards after contact on a nine-yard gain. That’s what I mean when it was reminiscent of the Turner of old, who once upon a time was as good as they got when it came to getting yards after contact.
The Falcons offensive line looked better, although I’m not sure how much of that is because the Buccaneers defensive line isn’t particularly good outside of Gerald McCoy. But it should be noted that McCoy had a very quiet game, so clearly the Falcons offensive line was doing something right. Jon Asamoah had a couple of struggles, although it was interesting that more of them came against Clinton McDonald than McCoy. James Stone has been an upgrade over Peter Konz due to his ability to actually occasionally hit his assignments on the second level, screens or when pulling. He’s still underwhelming as an inline blocker and I’m concerned about how he will fare if/when he faces a team with a good nose tackle.
Jake Matthews, relative to some recent games, had a solid performance. But I’m not sure given that he was facing the likes of Jacquies Smith and Larry English for a large portion of the game, it warrants too much to be read into it. But he seemed to be moving a little better, suggesting that his ankle is a healthier.
Just like against the Lions, I thought Ryan Schraeder was serviceable. His technique in pass protection still leaves a little to be desired and he hasn’t been tested much the past two games against premium pass-rushers. It will be interesting to see how he fares against Charles Johnson next week. But Schraeder is certainly pulling his weight as a run blocker, consistently hitting his assignments, getting leverage, and occasionally showing some power on plays. That’s not a surprise. It was very clear this summer that Schraeder was more than capable when it came to run blocking, but still needs work in pass protection. We’ll have to see what, if any, growth he’s made over the past few months.
Roddy White had a productive game, although I’m still concerned about his struggles to separate from coverage versus quality competition. One of his biggest catches of the game, a 21-yarder on the opening drive, required him to push off of cornerback Crezdon Butler to create the needed separation on a skinny post. When you look up journeyman in the dictionary, there is likely to be a picture of Butler as the Bucs are his sixth team since entering the league in 2010. Much of Roddy’s other positive plays came against zone coverage or when Jones was able to pull coverage away from him. But at this point, I’ll have to take what I can get with White and hope that he builds off this game over the next seven weeks. When push came to shove, the Falcons offense looked mostly at Jones, a point I made earlier in this week’s takeaways.
It was not a great day for Devin Hester, as he and Ryan’s timing just looked off throughout the game. It reminded me of several of his performances where he was still a Bear and he and Jay Cutler never seemed to be on the same page.He also had that drop on what should have been an easy touchdown because he heard the footsteps from safety Bradley McDougald and took his eye off the ball at the last second.
But on top of that, Hester’s vision as a runner was a bit lacking. He earned a rare “missed hole” on his end-around in the second quarter. He should have cut it up behind a pulling Blalock, but continued to run outside, straight into Lavonte David, who made the stop for no gain. Then on a screen on the opening drive of the third quarter, it was one of the rare times the Falcons have used trips this year, with Hester, White and Toilolo lining up on the left side. After catching the pass, Hester potentially had a wall behind White and Levine Toilolo on the outside. But Hester cut back into the teeth of the pursuit and only got a five-yard gain on 3rd-and-8.
Defensively, the Falcons performed well. In fact, it was one of their better defensive efforts of the season, although I’m concerned about whether they benefited from the fact that the Bucs are simply a bad team. The Bucs have poor quarterback play coupled with poor offensive line play. I’m not sure they will have the benefit of seeing that same mix the rest of the year. I also didn’t like the ease at which the Bucs were able to move down the field in crunch times at the end of both halves. It makes me hesitant to buy into this performance as anything more than the Falcons showing up against a team that could potentially finish the year 1-15.
It was noticeable how much dime the Falcons were employing as they were consistently utilizing it in passing situations. I’m not sure exactly why they made that choice, but I’m sure part of it was to give Dezmen Southward a bigger opportunity to showcase his skills.
Unfortunately, Southward did not take advantage of that opportunity and really struggled, particularly on the penultimate drive in the fourth quarter. On that drive alone, Southward blew three coverages and missed a tackle. One of those blown coverages was forgivable since he was playing man coverage against Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is about as big a tight end as they come. That’s a very difficult matchup for a safety of Southward’s size, especially someone that has limited experience in man coverage. Seferian-Jenkins basically pushed off a little bit on a quick comeback on a 3rd-and-1. But the other two were in zone coverage where Southward really looked lost. Both times he was covering grass, essentially standing in one spot staring down the quarterback. It would have been one thing had he been trying to read Josh McCown’s eyes, cheat up and jump a throw. But in both cases, he was basically just sitting there waiting for God only knows what. He let Mike Evans get behind him on that 34-yard gain on 3rd-and-20. And then again on Evans’ sideline catch that was reviewed and reversed, he was covering no one. The missed tackle came as a result of taking a poor angle on an underneath throw to Bobby Rainey, who eventually gained 17 yards.
Based off Southward’s performacne, it doesn’t seem likely that Kemal Ishmael is in real danger of losing the starting job before William Moore’s return from injury. For much of the game, Ishmael was stuck playing centerfield and I didn’t notice any breakdowns.
Paul Worrilow had one of his better games of the year, and I wonder if the Falcons’ usage of the dime subpackage was a cause of that. Worrilow is the only true linebacker that the Falcons have in their dime, which utilizes six defensive backs. Dwight Lowery usually plays up in the box in those instances, essentially taking on the linebacker’s role or acting as an extra cornerback dependent on the offensive formation. I don’t know if playing beside Lowery somehow makes Worrilow’s job easier. Worrilow had several opportunities to be used a blitzer and was effective in that role. Perhaps Lowery’s ability in coverage frees up Worrilow to be used more as a blitzer. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out the rest of the season.
Kroy Biermann, another much maligned Falcons player, also had arguably his best game of 2014. And it wasn’t just because he was beating tight ends, but he also beat a couple of offensive tackles. Granted, Kevin Pamphile and Oniel Cousins may barely quality for that distinction, but I’ll give credit where credit is due. Osi Umenyiora also had another impressive game against Cousins, following up a standout performance against the Lions. I saw the Falcons utilizing stunts effectively for the first time all year, and many of Jonathan Babineaux’s pressures and hurries came in those instances because Cousins did a poor job picking him up when left guard Logan Mankins tried to pass him off.
Desmond Trufant had another impressive game, while Robert Alford was less so, who looked worse live than he did on tape. There were a few times where he had slight breakdowns on his technique that both Evans and Vincent Jackson were able to take advantage of. That’s just to be expected given his youth and lack of polish and was one of the reasons why I was initially skeptical of just handing him the starting gig this season. But despite the ups and downs, Alford has outperformed my expectations this year. Unlike a lot of players on the Falcons defense, his problems are clearly due to youth, not a lack of talent.
Josh Wilson was solid at nickel cornerback, making a couple of nice plays both in coverage and against the run.
Despite a subpar day on offense, Hester deserves a lot of credit for the big kickoff return at the end of the first half that set up the go-ahead field goal.
The Falcons made some switches to their coverage units. Jonathan Massaquoi’s injury was probably serious, since he wasn’t on either of the coverage units. On kickoffs, Malliciah Goodman stepped in for him, while Prince Shembo played his spot on the punt unit. Goodman also got work on punt coverage too. Southward was also given the more coveted inside spot on the kickoff coverage that Sean Baker once held. And his spot on the outside was filled by Devonta Freeman.
On the big return by Marcus Thigpen, I’d place blame on Southward for overpursuing and allowing the big cutback lane for Thigpen. Nate Stupar made the touchdown-saving tackle of Thigpen, and I believe it’s worth highlighting that Stupar consistently has been one of the team’s better players on both kickoff and punt coverage throughout this season.
Advanced Stats from Week 10:
Poor Throws (4): Ryan
Drops (2): DiMarco, Jones
Key Blocks (7): DiMarco (3), Schraeder (2), Carimi (1), Stone (1)
Missed Blocks (5): Carimi, DiMarco, Matthews, Schraeder, Stone
Sacks Allowed (1): Asamoah
Pressures Allowed (1): Asamoah
Hurries Allowed (4): Matthews (1), Schraeder (1), Toilolo (1), Blalock (0.5), Stone (0.5)
Tackles for Loss (2): Biermann (1), Trufant (0.5), Umenyiora (0.5)
QB Sacks (3): Babineaux, Biermann, Umenyiora
QB Pressures (3): Babineaux (1), Worrilow (1), Biermann (0.5), Umenyiora (0.5)
QB Hits (5): Worrilow (2), Babineaux (1), Southward (1), Umenyiora (1)
QB Hurries (10): Babineaux (2), Biermann (2), Umenyiora (2), Worrilow (2), Goodman (1), Lowery (1)
Passes Defended (6): Wilson (2), Alford (1), Biermann (1), Trufant (1), Umenyiora (1)
Blown Coverages (10): Alford (3), Southward (3), Lowery (1), Trufant (1), Wilson (1), Worrilow (1)
Missed Tackles (2): Southward
Key Blocked (4): Babineaux, Bartu, Shembo, Soliai
Stops (7): Worrilow (2), Biermann (1.5), Soliai (1.5), Bartu (0.5), Goodman (0.5), Shembo (0.5), Wilson (0.5)