Once again, another late review. And as I’ve said in other recent tardy reviews, I will do my best to minimize hindsight-driven analysis.
This was another outstanding performance for Julio Jones. His $16 worth of earnings was the most for any receiver since at least 2011, as I haven’t kept good enough records to see if that total eclipsed anything in 2009 or 2010. But I’m guessing it did, and prior to that Jones’ biggest earner was a $10 total he had in the 2012 season-opener.
And in all honesty, this could have been an even bigger performance for Jones and potentially a $20 game if he had reeled in one or two more passes. The Green Bay Packers really had no ability to cover him. They played a lot of zone against him, but even when they tried to man up against him for portions of the game, he was creating so much clear separation that it looked like they were playing zone.
Matt Ryan’s play was improved from recent weeks but there still were a handful of plays here and there that keep me from saying Ryan was excellent in this game. He nearly had four interceptions in this game. The one that actually did result in an interception was one where I doubt that Ryan was throwing the ball away. I think he just never saw Morgan Burnett and was trying to throw the ball to Devin Hester along the sideline.
Ryan nearly had a pick earlier in the second quarter where he predetermined off the snap that he was going to go to Roddy White on a “rub” route on third down. Levine Toilolo made the pick (and drew a penalty), but the Packers defenders read it the whole way and never bit on it. Tramon Williams should have made the interception, but simply dropped it. On that particular play, Ryan could’ve hit Jones on an easy slant on the opposite side of the field to get the conversion.
The next time Ryan was almost picked off came on the opening drive of the second half. The Atlanta Falcons attempted a rollout near the end zone, but Ryan was late on his throw to Jones on the out pattern. The reason why Ryan hesitated was because Micah Hyde was underneath and in the throwing lane. Luckily for Ryan was that Hyde did wind up breaking up the pass, because otherwise Sam Shields was breaking on the pass and about to pick it.
The fourth “almost” interception came in the fourth quarter when Ryan tried a fade to Jones in the end zone. But he underthrew the pass, and Davon House nearly picked it off. But once again, the Packers defender couldn’t reel in it.
Before I myself get criticized for being overly critical of Ryan’s play, I just like to point these things out because the box score doesn’t come close to showing the whole picture of a game. Most will look at Ryan’s performance and see greatness (as I initially did), but instead he was just pretty good. He made some mistakes that could have been costly, but also made some throws that could have been huge as well.
Relative to most quarterbacks in the league, Ryan’s play against Green Bay gets more than a passing grade. But compared to the level of play that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him over the past several years, it’s not quite up to par.
White and Douglas were virtual no-shows in this game. Part of that of course can be blamed on Jones’ dominance and there’s simply only one football to go around.
Arguably, White’s most impactful play was one that he did not make. At the end of the second quarter, with the Falcons driving to get into field-goal range, White slipped on a deep out. That pass sailed out of bounds, but had White not slipped and made the catch, it would have put the ball around the 30-yard line with 15 seconds left. That would have meant the Falcons were already in field-goal range with two timeouts left.
In reality, Ryan scrambled for a 15-yard gain to set up a 53-yard field goal from Matt Bryant that was blocked. But in this alternate timeline I’ve concocted where White makes the catch, it probably results in a much easier kick for Bryant that goes in. That puts the game at 31-10 at halftime. If the second half goes exactly the same, the Falcons likely don’t go for two or the onside kick with six minutes left in the game, since they’d be down only one score (40-34) instead of two (40-10). They probably play for the field position and kick away on the ensuing kickoff. In reality, the Falcons defense got a stop but the favorable field position due to the onside kick allowed the Packers to hit a long field goal. Instead, if they get that same stop, the Packers punt it away and the Falcons have a chance to have the go-ahead touchdown. So Douglas is potentially the hero of the game on his score.
Although in this hypothetical scenario, if/when James Starks breaks that 41-yard run, the Packers don’t proceed to sit on their lead and the clock. They probably end getting the go-ahead score in the final minute and the Falcons defense has another epic collapse in their hands.
But the point remains that the slip by White is one that has a potentially significant impact on how the rest of the game goes.
Up front, the Falcons’ offensive line held up relatively well. They did give up some pressure, but it was by no means a grievous amount. Everybody got beat from time to time, but I wouldn’t categorize any individual blocker of having a poor game. But I did notice how susceptible at times to the bull-rush that James Stone was at various points.
Stone has shown substantial improvement over the course of the year. When he started out, I thought he was going to be a massive liability. But now, I’d only label him as a below average starting center. He’s not as physical or aggressive as I want, but it’s hard to determine how much of that is because he’s still young versus whether that is an inherent part lacking from his game. For now, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that because he’s learning on the fly, he’s not as aggressive as he needs or wants to be.
There are many that think Stone has a legitimate future in Atlanta as a starter. I won’t close the door on that possibility, as I do think if Stone does develop that aggressive streak in him that he could function as a decent starting center in the NFL. But at this point, he’s a significant downgrade from Joe Hawley based on how Hawley played at the start of this year and end of last season. Hawley is by no means a great center, as like Stone, he’s far from what I’d call physically “blessed.” But Hawley does make up for whatever physical limitations he has with being extremely aggressive. If/when Stone develops that, I think he could be someone worth watching down the road. I’m not sure he’ll ever reach Hawley levels of “dirtbaggery” since I’d assume I’d already being seeing glimpses of it. But if he can get to 50 percent of Hawley, then I’d be comfortable saying he should at least turn into a quality backup center. That will be something I’ll be watching for next summer in preseason.
Steven Jackson had another solid game, continuing to get those hidden yards after contact. Jacquizz Rodgers also seems to make the most of what limited reps he gets in the ground game. Looking ahead to 2015, the presence of Devonta Freeman makes me skeptical of the Falcons’ willingness to re-sign Rodgers as a free agent. They are too similar and would essentially will fill the same niche on most NFL rosters. But Rodgers is a player that if he hits the open market I think could wind up being a real coup if signed by another team. He just hasn’t gotten enough opportunities as a runner (which can be said of every running back not named Steven Jackson) in Atlanta this year and could potentially blossom elsewhere next year if given those.
The Falcons defense was simply overmatched early by the Packers. The front had difficulty getting off blocks, and it seemed like Dwight Lowery and William Moore were the only guys that could consistently tackle running back Eddie Lacy throughout the night.
I was impressed throughout the game how easily the Packers offensive linemen were able to get position against our linebackers on the second level as well as members of the Falcons’ defensive line. They weren’t blowing our guys off the ball, but consistently got position and nobody seemed capable of getting off a block to save their life.
Kroy Biermann was probably the best defender on the field for the Falcons, and certainly would qualify among the front seven. He was able to get a relatively decent amount of pressure compared to other Falcons pass-rushers and made a couple of nice plays against the run. Another front seven defender that didn’t make a ton of plays, but was active was Jonathan Babineaux. Besides Biermann, he was the guy that most consistently applied heat to Rodgers.
Watching this game live, it seemed like Rodgers faced almost no pressure throughout the game. Upon review however, I’d say that I initially missed how effective Rodgers was at escaping the pocket when just that initial heat was applied. And several times he was able to make a throw downfield or scramble for a big gain. Now to be fair, it’s not like the Falcons put that much pressure on him, but the utter lack of pass rush throughout 2014 has lowered my standards with this team.
The Falcons started out with a lot of zone coverage and Rodgers seemed to eat that alive early on. They blew a bunch of coverages because guys were losing track of guys over the middle of the field against the zone. It reminded me of the days back when Curtis Lofton was around and the middle of the defense was often wide open. I won’t put too much blame on Paul Worrilow for that, as I saw Joplo Bartu and Dezmen Southward look utterly clueless at times as to what their zone assignments were a few too many times. Bartu really struggled in this game at the point of attack. His eyes once again looked slow. At least when Prince Shembo shows subpar instincts as he did on a number of plays in this game, his excuse is that he’s still completely new to the position.
Kemal Ishmael was very active against the run and made a couple of nice plays there. But his deep coverage abilities continue to be problematic. Yes, he shouldn’t have been left on an island in deep zone against Jordy Nelson on that touchdown. But he also shouldn’t been as slow as he was turn his hips to prevent Nelson from blowing past him. All I really want is for Ishmael to be with five yards of Nelson on that deep post. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request, is it?
Ishmael is not a bad player. When in a short area, he can make plays in coverage as he did when he broke up a pass to Andrew Quarless in the first quarter. But if he’s asked to cover large swaths of the field, as nearly all NFL safeties are, he becomes a liability. It’s the third roughly 60-plus-yard touchdown that he’s given up this year, which doesn’t count one against Baltimore that Joe Flacco just missed. That has to be blowing away all other competition around the league. To be a starting or even third safety in the NFL means you have to be able to cover, and all these bombs that Ishmael gives up makes me extremely skeptical that he’ll be effective as more than a fourth safety moving forward.
I also discovered that I might not be able to be as critical of Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter anymore, since the Packers attempted a wide receiver screen when they inside the Falcons’ 10-yard line. Desmond Trufant read that play perfectly and got a tackle for loss against Nelson.
On special teams, Brad Jones was able to block Bryant’s field goal thanks to slipping between Tyson Jackson and Ryan Schraeder on the field-goal protection unit.
Eric Weems nearly blocked a punt of his own when the Packers failed to pick him up on the edge.
The Packers were smart to avoid kicking it off to Devin Hester as he was very effective on several returns.
Advanced Stats from Week 14:
Poor Throws (5): Ryan
Drops (1): Rodgers
Key Blocks (4): Asamoah (1.5), Stone (1), Toilolo (1), Schraeder (0.5)
Missed Blocks (3): Blalock, Matthews, Toilolo
Sacks Allowed (0)
Pressures Allowed (3): Asamoah (2), Schraeder (1)
Hurries Allowed (7): Matthews (2), Stone (2), Blalock (1), Carimi (1), Schraeder (1)
Tackles for Loss (5): Ishmael (1), Lowery (1), Soliai (1), Trufant (1), Shembo (0.5), Worrilow (0.5)
QB Sacks (1): Biermann
QB Pressures (3): Biermann (2), Soliai (1)
QB Hits (2): Umenyiora, Worrilow
QB Hurries (5): Biermann (2), Babineaux (1.5), Peters (1), Goodman (0.5)
Passes Defended (3): Ishmael, Trufant, Worrilow
Blown Coverages (9): Ishmael (2), Southward (2), Worrilow (2), McClain (1), Moore (1), Trufant (1)
Missed Tackles (7): Wilson (2), Worrilow (2), McClain (1), Moore (1), Soliai (1)
Key Blocked (9): Bartu (4), Goodman (2), Jackson (1), Shembo (1), Worrilow (1)
Stops (7): McClain (2.5), Bartu (2), Shembo (1), Worrilow (1), Ishmael (0.5)