Once again, my apologies for how late this review is.
Matt Ryan played fairly well in this game as there is really nothing to pick apart. A couple of off-target throws, but no real glaring negatives that requires greater scrutiny. Ryan’s performances in the second half of the 2014 (basically since the London game) left a lot to be desired in my eyes. He wasn’t ever bad, but considering how good a player he is, they were pretty middling performances. Outside the couple of games where Julio Jones went off, nothing about Ryan’s play stood out.
However, this game against the Saints was much more in line with Ryan’s regular, solid games that I’ve grown accustomed to watching over the past seven years. I won’t say he lit the world on fire, but he had a couple of nice throws sprinkled throughout the game and with no obvious negatives to speak of, overall it was a solid performance.
The Falcons had to deal with not having Steven Jackson for a large portion of the game. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman stepped in ably. Although there were a couple of instances where Rodgers’ vision was questionable, stopping in the backfield and not being able to find daylight. But to be fair to Quizz, the line didn’t give him a ton of daylight to run to on several of his smaller gains.
Freeman did a good job on his one scoring run with a nice cut in the hole to juke Saints defensive back Terrence Frederick, who frankly had an abysmal game. It seemed like whenever the Falcons made a good play offensively somehow Frederick was the culprit, whether it was the times he was lined up at cornerback or safety.
Freeman showed up in several phases, lining up at wide receiver and making two big receptions. The first one came on the opening drive, as he beat Curtis Lofton on a go route for a 36-yard gain. Then in the fourth quarter, Freeman converted a 3rd-and-7 on a quick slant. Although he owes Patrick Robinson a bit because he stupidly dove into the path of Brian Dixon, preventing the latter from having a chance to make the tackle after the catch. Freeman also had a couple of nice blocks in pass protection and contributed on special teams.
Jones had a solid game, but the Falcons did a nice job trying to spread the ball around to other guys. Roddy White had a couple of drops on deeper throws. He was able to beat Frederick a couple of times to get open, which is another reason why you know Frederick didn’t perform well, because he became one of a handful of corners in 2014 that couldn’t handle the aging White. Douglas had one bad drop over the middle on a wide-open pass.
The blocking was decent for the most part, especially if you remove Gabe Carimi from the equation. Carimi frequently had troubles handling Akiem Hicks, which is putting it mildly. Although to be fair, Hicks seemed to have his way with several Falcons interior lineman, finishing the game with four pressures and a hurry. But there were several instances where Carimi got pancaked and wound up on his backside, even getting bowled over by 214-pound safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Justin Blalock had a solid game, except a couple of times when Hicks got the better of him. Jake Matthews was decent, although there were a couple of times when Junior Galette’s speed proved problematic. But I would say Matthews’ run blocking was more worrisome than his pass protection. Ryan Schraeder had a solid game, getting a key block when he walled off Curtis Lofton on Eric Weems’ shovel-pass touchdown. Schraeder had another one on a swing pass to Freeman wiped out by a penalty on Weems.
The only real complaint I have about the offense is the questionable play-calling early in the game. I liked the fact that three of the first five plays featured Ryan throwing deep. But after that, they went back to the conservative, dink and dunk offense. Then it was a head-scratcher for the Falcons to dial up a pitch to Quizz on 3rd-and-1 towards the end of the first quarter. The official gamebook ruled that a fumble on Ryan, but I instead credited Quizz with the fumble since he was the one that dropped it. But it didn’t really make sense for the Falcons to not pound Jackson up the middle on that play, as he hadn’t suffered his injury yet.
Nothing sexy to speak of on offense, but an overall solid performance.
It was instead the defense that really highlighted this game, particularly the pass rush which seemed to step it up in the fourth quarter. The “old guys” really shined in this game with Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Babineaux consistently creating pressure. Both Osi and Biermann were relatively quiet through the early portion of the game with all of their collective “positive pass rushes” coming in the final 16 minutes of the game. All of Osi’s strong work came against left tackle Bryce Harris, while Kroy mostly was beating right tackle Zach Strief. Babineaux was able to create pressure throughout the game, beating left guard Ben Grubbs a number of times.
Ra’Shede Hageman also had his best game, working over right guard Jahri Evans a couple of times. His first career sack came when he was able to bully past Evans and turn a short corner to hit quarterback Drew Brees from behind. The Falcons were really able to dial up the pressure late in the game thanks to holding a lead, which then allowed them to use more of their nickel sub-package’s front, a unit that could subsequently pin their ears back and beat the struggling Saints offensive line. The Falcons were also effective blitzing at times to get added pressure on Brees earlier in the game.
Corey Peters also got a sack, although it was probably more of a coverage sack, as Brees climbed the pocket to avoid Biermann and basically ran into Peters.
Saints center Jonathan Goodwin might have had the best game of their starting five, although there were a couple of instances where he struggled locating Paul Worrilow on the second level in the run game. Speaking of Worrilow, he was the most physical in this game I had every seen him in 2014. There were more than one instance where he was able to fill against the run and stood up Mark Ingram in the hole. And not simply just hold up Ingram and wait for the cavalry to come before he was brought down, but actually made the stop himself by taking Ingram to the turf.
The secondary also did a solid job, although their jobs were made easier by the work of the guys up front. Of course, cornerback Desmond Trufant had another solid day. His interception came when he made an excellent read and jumped an in-route by Marques Colston in the first quarter, showcasing his top-level instincts. Robert McClain got a big interception in the fourth quarter, jumping an out route, thanks to an off throw due to Brees getting hit by Osi.
The play of the game however might have been the one made by safety Kemal Ishmael to start the fourth quarter. His strip and recovery on a throw to Jimmy Graham at the two-yard line stopped a Saints scoring drive cold. Although the fascinating thing about that play was that when looking at the All-22, Ishmael was completely out of position and freelancing, which allowed him to make that play. In fact, Brees missed a wide-open Ben Watson to the opposite seam across from Graham, which should have been an easy touchdown.
As you can see in the above screenshot, Ishmael is sitting in the middle of the field reading Brees’ eyes. He catches a lucky break and Brees locks onto Graham, missing the wide-open Watson streaking past him.
It’s hard to decipher how I feel about the play. If Ishmael plays his assignment, then Graham is going to score on Dezmen Southward. So I guess this is certainly one instance where Ishmael’s questionable coverage skills really benefit the Falcons.
The biggest negative I can come with for the defense’s performance was how conservative the Falcons were on the Saints’ final drive. Playing prevent and zone and just allowing the Saints to get 10-15 yard chunks at a time because the linebackers covering the middle zones were getting way too much depth. The Saints were able to move the ball 52 yards on four plays in under a minute to start that drive because of how conservative the Falcons were being. Yes the Falcons were up two scores by that point in the game and eventually the “bend but don’t break” style worked as the Saints’ offense ground to a halt in the red zone. But I don’t like it when a defense basically concedes half the field, especially this defense, which was all about giving up long drives late in the games throughout 2014.
On the big 99-yard kickoff return to open the game, it appeared that Weems got out of his lane and Matt Bosher missed the open-field tackle that he usually makes. Javier Arenas ended up chasing Jalen Saunders down to prevent the touchdown. That was the first touchdown of the game that Arenas prevented, as he later broke up a pass to Colston in the end zone with 35 seconds left.
Freeman had an awesome crackback block on tight end Josh Hill on a punt return at the end of the first quarter. Early in the third quarter the officials called Josh Wilson for a penalty for holding but it was really Kemal Ishmael. They mistook No. 36 for No. 26.
Bosher had an excellent day punting, with four of his five punts landing inside the 10-yard line. And of course, Matt Bryant was money.
Advanced Stats from Week 16:
Poor Throws (3): Ryan
Missed Holes (1): Rodgers
Drops (3): White (2), Douglas (1)
Key Blocks (3): DiMarco (2), Schraeder (1)
Missed Blocks (5): Blalock, Douglas, Matthews, Stone, Toilolo
Sacks Allowed (0):
Pressures Allowed (4): Carimi (2), Blalock (1.5), Stone (0.5)
Hurries Allowed (5): Carimi (4), Matthews (0.5), Schraeder (0.5)
Tackles for Loss (2): Bartu, Worrilow
QB Sacks (3): Babineaux, Hageman, Peters
QB Pressures (3): Babineaux, Biermann, Hageman
QB Hits (5): Biermann (2), Umenyiora (2) Lowery (1)
QB Hurries (9): Babineaux (2), Umenyiora (2), Bartu (1), Biermann (1), Ishmael (1), Moore (1), Peters (1)
Passes Defended (3): Arenas, McClain, Worrilow
Blown Coverages (6): Wilson (2), Arenas (1), McClain (1), Trufant (1), Worrilow (1)
Missed Tackles (3): Lowery, Umenyiora, Worrilow
Key Blocked (2): Bartu, Lowery
Stops (7): Worrilow (3), Hageman (2), Lowery (1), Trufant (1)
I’ll leave you with Osi waving to the Super Dome crowd…