The major takeaway from the Atlanta Falcons loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was that the Bengals seemed very well-prepared for everything the Falcons threw at them. There were just very few plays where the Bengals seemed out of sorts. They were able to predict screens, bracketed Julio Jones well and the rest of their linebackers and defensive backs were able to lock down the Falcons receivers and clog throwing lanes.
It did not help matters that the Falcons pass protection was poor. The Bengals were very effective with stunts, garnering three pressures, one hit and a hurry off those stunts. Three of them came on the right side and two on the left. The Bengals were also able to get pressure on Ryan with some overload blitzes and got too many free rushers to Matt Ryan. It might be too much of an oversimplification to say the Bengals out-coached the Falcons, but all the hallmarks were there at least in how the Falcons offense and Bengals defense matched up. The Bengals just basically seemed to know everything the Falcons were doing, and it resulted in the Falcons having difficulty moving the ball.
Ryan had just earned $1 before the final drive of the first half. On his first interception to Levine Toilolo, it was a poor read and poor throw. Ryan should have thrown it to Roddy White on that particular play because he was actually open on the curl route. On Ryan’s second interception, there was the possibility that Carlos Dunlap laying a hand on him caused the ball to sail, but it was again another poor read and throw behind Douglas on a skinny post. Ryan should have thrown to Julio Jones, who had gotten behind his man in single coverage as the safety (George Iloka) was bracketing Douglas rather than Jones. Had Ryan made an accurate throw to Jones on that particular play, it could have been a touchdown. Ryan’s third interception was to Douglas, who seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the ball was coming to him, never once looking back to the ball and seeming to jog on his route.
Ryan played hard, but the early hits probably led to him being antsier and missing more reads than he did a week ago against the Saints. But he was still trying to move around and keep a few plays alive, but he unable to find open receivers on the rare occasions when Falcons receivers were open.
This might have been a good opportunity for Dirk Koetter to try and use some combination routes to open things up for guys. Too many plays seemed to rely on those “man-beaters” that were so frustrating to watch because the Falcons really only have one (Jones) and occasionally two (when White doesn’t look old) that can win in those situations. With the Bengals effectively bracketing Jones for most of the game, it made it difficult for Ryan to find receivers.
But in reality, the tape suggests that the Falcons need to do a better job getting the ball to Julio. There need to be more of those “50-50” passes down the field, especially with the offense struggling as much as it did. There were two, including one that was a dropped touchdown by Jones. But it’s situations where with the offense struggling, they need to get the ball into the hands of their best player, and see if he can make a play even in situations where he’s not open.
But the bigger problem was the lack of protection for Ryan. Dunlap really dominated Lamar Holmes throughout this game, as Holmes was overwhelmed with his power, long arms and speed off the edge. Dunlap finished the day with one sack, one hurry, four pressures and one hit. Three of those pressures also involved Dunlap getting a lick on Ryan, so it was really four hits.
Gabe Carimi got slightly more help from the running backs in terms of chips, but for the most part held his own on the edge after a poor game last week. It’s very likely that if/when Jake Matthews is healthy again, whether this week or next, that Carimi will take over for Holmes as the starting right tackle. It’s a move that seems already in the making, as Holmes was quickly pulled in Week 1 in favor of Carimi, but when Matthews got injured, Holmes had to be re-inserted back into the lineup.
Blalock and Asamoah did not play up to the same standard as they did previously, mainly because the stunts were giving them and the tackles so many problems. Joe Hawley, relative to the others, had a good day.
The running game was adequate on the day, but was mostly marginalized because the team fell behind early. There was nothing in this game that really said otherwise, but I am curious to see what the Falcons rushing attack will look like if/when Steven Jackson is out of the lineup. Jackson by no means played poorly against the Bengals, but there is just a different vibe when backs like Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are in the game due to their superior acceleration and burst.
I’d have to add that I watched the play probably 10 times and still was unable to see the false start penalty called on Blalock on the opening series. I think that should have been an offsides penalty that the officials missed.
Unlike the offense, the defensive problems were simply guys getting outplayed. Simply put, the Falcons got pushed around quite a bit up front. While players like Paul Soliai, Jonathan Babineaux and Malliciah Goodman were able to flash from time to time against the run, the rest of the defensive line and linebackers really struggled throughout the day. I might even put Stansly Maponga in the mix as having a solid day, but he didn’t earn enough reps. He and Jermaine Gresham were mixing it up and jawing throughout the game and Maponga was even able to beat Andre Smith on a bull rush for a hurry on one of the few opportunities he had to rush the quarterback. Speaking of Smith, he really had it out for Ra’Shede Hageman as there were a couple of times where the two of them were mixing it up on the ground well after the whistle.
Kroy Biermann really struggled getting off blocks and looked very slow when he was asked to play in space, particularly on that 46-yard catch and run by Gio Bernard. Paul Worrilow struggled to get off blocks early on in this game and missed a couple of tackles. Joplo Bartu seemed to be out of positive a few too many times. Prince Shembo seemed hesitant particularly when it came to a couple of plays where he could have attacked upfield to make a stop on a ballcarrier in the hole or get pressure on a blitz. He seemed to be doing quite a bit of thinking, which is understandable given his lack of experience but it goes to show that his ability to start over Bartu may be a few months away. At this rate, inside linebacker is likely to be a high priority for the Falcons next offseason and you can expect the Faclons to invest as much in rebuilding their linebacker corps next offseason as they spent on their defensive line this past year. Worrilow from an instinctual, mental part is doing a fine job, but it’s the physical limitations that are keeping him from being an impact defender. And if he’s the best linebacker the Falcons have (and he is), then they simply don’t have good linebackers.
Jonathan Massaquoi is not getting enough opportunities to rush the quarterback, which is his strength, as he is instead being asked to defend the run and drop into coverage, which is not the way to use him best. At this point, I’d be much more comfortable if he took over for Osi Umenyiora as the designated pass-rusher in sub-packages. Osi was practically invisible in this game. And I think Maponga might be a better option than Biermann at the strong-side linebacker spot. Maponga is a lot more physical, athletic and explosive when it comes to playing on the line of scrimmage.
The defensive backs could have had even greater struggles in this game if not for some inaccurate throws by Andy Dalton. Dalton had three potential touchdown passes on his first two series that he overthrew out of bounds. The first two came on consecutive plays at the end of the Bengals first drive, where Mohamed Sanu beat Desmond Trufant on a fade route, but Dalton threw it nearly five yards out of bounds. Then on the very next play, Dane Sanzenbacher beat Robert McClain on an out pattern, but again Dalton threw it way out of bounds. Then on the first play of the second quarter, Sanzenbacher beat Dwight Lowery on a corner route, but pressure by Babineaux forced an overthrow. Why am I watching Sanzenbacher, the Bengals fifth wide out with Marvin Jones injured, beat our starters while Douglas can barely gain separation?
Robert Alford made a poor decision to try and break up the pass on the touchdown he gave up to Sanu. You simply can’t sell out like that when you don’t have safety help. He’ll have to play smarter in the future. But of course on that play, the Falcons were forced to try and blitz because their pass rush had been so ineffective up until that point. Babineaux did get a hit on Dalton as he came unblocked on that play, but up until that point in the game the Falcons had just had two pressures and two hurries. That isn’t terrible considering the Bengals had only thrown a dozen passes up to that point, but I’ll point out once again, the fact that Babineaux is this team’s best pass-rusher is not a positive sign.
I thought Corey Peters did an adequate job in his first game back. If things continue along this line, I think the Falcons will have to contemplate making Peters and Goodman their base ends beside Soliai, benching Tyson Jackson, and allowing Babineaux to be purely a situational pass-rusher. Jackson was by no means terrible as there were a few plays where he did a good job holding his block at the point of attack. But the reality is that the Falcons are paying him way too much money for a player that is occasionally going to hold his block and rarely make a play on his own. At least Soliai had two tackles for loss and there were a number of plays where he just absolutely dominated Bengals rookie center Russell Bodine.
On special teams, Dezmen Southward replaced Courtney Roby as the team’s gunner opposite Antone Smith. Eric Weems and Nate Stupar also got work on punt coverage, replacing Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi. Stupar looked solid. Southward and Stupar also replaced Roby and Matthews, respectively, on kickoff coverage. Although I still don’t know why Malliciah Goodman continues to get work there, as Josh Wilson probably would be a better option at least from a speed standpoint.
Wilson did get work on the hands team when the Falcons went for the onside kick in the fourth quarter, and that was certainly a cheap shot by Shawn Williams. It was very clear that Williams heard the whistle on the first onside kick attempt, but still took it upon himself to lower his shoulder into an unsuspecting Wilson. If you’re curious who else got work on the hands team that doesn’t normally work on kickoff coverage, it was Jacquizz Rodgers, Biermann and Toilolo joining Wilson to replace Southward, Alford, Stupar and Goodman.
Bosher had a better day punting. Devin Hester did a good job on his kickoff returns, but probably should have fielded the final punt that had the Falcons backed up to start their last series at the four-yard line.
Advanced Stats from Week 2:
Poor Throws (3): Ryan
Drops (3): Douglas, Freeman, Jones
Key Blocks (4): Asamoah, Hawley, Holmes, Toilolo
Missed Blocks (0)
Sacks Allowed (2): Holmes, Smith
Pressures Allowed (7): Carimi (2), Holmes (2), Asamoah (1), Blalock (1), Toilolo (1)
Hurries Allowed (7): Asamoah (2), Holmes (2), Carimi (1), Jackson (1), Smith (1)
Tackles for Loss (5): Soliai (2), Alford (1), Babineaux (1), Lowery (0.5), Worrilow (0.5)
QB Sacks (0)
QB Pressures (2): Babineaux, Goodman
QB Hits (1): Babineaux
QB Hurries (3): Maponga, Peters, Trufant
Passes Defended (1): Trufant
Blown Coverages (5): Alford (2), Lowery (2), Trufant (1)
Missed Tackles (4): Worrilow (2), Moore (1), Trufant (1)
Key Blocked (11): Worrilow (3), Biermann (2), Massaquoi (2), Hageman (1), Soliai (1), Trufant (1), Bartu (0.5), Goodman (0.5)
Stops (11): Worrilow (2.5), Lowery (1.5), Massaquoi (1.5), Soliai (1.5), Babineaux (1), Bartu (1), Biermann (1), Moore (0.5), Peters (0.5)