The Atlanta Falcons looked very impressive against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday night. It was a game where most things went right for the Falcons, but even more things went wrong for the Bucs. Over the years, the Falcons have rarely dominated a game as thoroughly as they did last Thursday.
The Bucs’ initial game plan, which featured rushing only four guys and playing a large amount of zone in the secondary just really played into the Falcons hands. By the time the Bucs adjusted and started to bring extra rushers via the blitz and play more man, the Falcons were already up a couple of scores. A week ago, I said the Falcons got out-coached by the Bengals, well the opposite was true this past week, and the Falcons did the out-coaching.
Matt Ryan had a solid game. My only complaint about his performance was on one specific play in the second quarter. On the first play of the drive that started with 4:51 left in the first half, Ryan had an opportunity to throw a deep pass to Julio Jones on a go route. Jones had beat Johnthan Banks clean off the line. Ryan had a fairly clean pocket but hesitated to make the throw and wound up tucking it and scrambling for a two-yard gain. It was essentially the same play that Ryan would later connect with Jones on the 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter, except to the opposite side of the field. The difference being that Ryan had a cleaner pocket the second time with a five-step drop instead of a three-step drop.
It’s a relatively minor complaint since the Falcons were already up 35-0 by that point in the second quarter, and it was just one negative play that stood out in a sea of positive ones. But when Ryan is not in the shotgun or has a deeper drop, he doesn’t have the sort of spacing in front of him to step into those downfield throws. Thus he has a tendency to hesitate on pulling the trigger on throws that might test his arm strength. It’s a relatively minor shortcoming in his game that can be exploited in the face of pressure and I wish it would get fixed. But with Ryan in his seventh year in the pros, I’m probably wasting my breath suggesting that it could. But it shows why having good interior line play is important for Ryan in particular and that is something that he’s gotten this year, and it’s one reason why the Falcons offense has looked much more explosive thus far this season.
I also liked that the Falcons kept their foot to the pedal, continuing to dial up deep throws throughout the game after earning their early lead.
Steven Jackson ran with good power throughout the night. Devonta Freeman got the bulk of his work in the fourth quarter, but didn’t have great blocking in front of him with the Falcons subbing in Peter Konz and Gabe Carimi for Joe Hawley and Jake Matthews, respectively. Freeman’s fumble as well as Antone Smith’s were two blemishes on a mostly positive rushing night. Konz wound up getting three series worth of action at center, and watching him struggle to block on the move and whiff on a couple of assignments, I couldn’t help but think again that the Falcons were mistaken in keeping him on the roster as the backup center over Harland Gunn.
Patrick DiMarco deserves plenty of credit for a strong performance both as a lead blocker and having a pair of nice catches on offense. It was indeed reminiscent of Ovie Mughelli circa 2010.
Jones had a big night, and the Bucs really had no answer for him. Banks just had no ability to keep pace with him throughout the night, and the few times that Alterraun Verner matched up with him, he also struggled (including that 40-yard touchdown).
Devin Hester also had a big night. He didn’t get a lot of looks on offense, but made the most of the few that he did get. Obviously his leg injury might have had something to do with it, but given how well he was playing, it’s somewhat disappointing in hindsight that he only touched the ball twice on offense.
Eric Weems had a couple of nice catches, but I couldn’t help but wonder that on a couple of them, if he was a younger, more physically-gifted receiver could those too have been game-changing plays like those that Jones and Hester had. But Weems certainly made up for whatever offensive shortcomings he had on special teams, which I’ll discuss later.
Up front, Jake Matthews had a key block on Hester’s rushing touchdown. Jon Asamoah had a nice night as well and probably deserves line MVP honors. Lamar Holmes had a couple of lapses, but for the most part hit his assignments and did what he was supposed to do.
Not only was this game an uncharacteristic performance from the Falcons in terms of their scoring, it was also uncharacteristic due to the sheer amount of turnovers and penalties. I’m sure Coach Smith will be harping on that quite a bit this week in practice.
The Falcons defense generated considerably more pressure in this game. I think a lot of that had to do with playing a weak Buccaneers offensive line coupled with several blown assignments and breakdowns in their protection. I counted 14 plays where the Falcons were able to get effective pressure on the quarterback, not including a pressure by Jonathan Babineaux that was nullified by a penalty. On six of those plays however, the Falcons defenders were essentially unblocked. One of those plays included Jonathan Massaquoi’s sack. Now being able to get effective pressure on eight of 39 dropbacks otherwise is still a solid performance, but I’m not ready to start doing back flips yet over the Falcons newfound pass rush.
Stansly Maponga did a nice job bending the edge on his sack at the end of the game. He continues to show much better first step off the snap than Kroy Biermann. I’ll continue to harp on Maponga deserving more reps as a pass-rusher, although I should point out that Biermann had a solid performance against the run. Ra’Shede Hageman almost had his first career sack when he bowled over Patrick Omameh near the start of the fourth quarter, but stumbled when he had a free shot at Mike Glennon. I would love to get a glimpse into the film room when Bryan Cox asks him about that.
Babineaux remains the team’s most reliable pass-rusher up front, although it was nice to see Osi Umenyiora looking effective throughout the night going against Anthony Collins. Corey Peters had a solid game, one of his best ever. But he does owe both his tackles for loss and a hit on the quarterback to essentially being unblocked. But nonetheless, it was nice to see another one of the team’s defensive linemen besides Babineaux showing disruptive abilities.
After two lackluster performances, Paul Worrilow had a nice game. He made more impact plays and showed nice ability as a blitzer. The Falcons need to be more willing to dial him up as a pass-rusher, although their unwillingness up to now may be due to lacking confidence in Joplo Bartu and Prince Shembo, who were both decent but relatively quiet.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford had impressive games against the bigger wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. They got beat a few times, but both were also able to break up a couple of passes and not back down from their opponents’ size and physicality.
Kemal Ishmael made a nice play on his pick-six and also was very active and effective in run support. The Falcons played quite a bit of dime after they earned a big lead, leading to his high snap count. It was surprising that William Moore continued to play late into the game with Dezmen Southward’s only real reps coming on the final three plays of the game. Why Southward didn’t get into the game on the previous series, which lasted 15 plays, especially since Dwight Lowery was already injured, is beyond me. I won’t try to read too much into it, but it does suggest that the coaching staff doesn’t have a ton of confidence in him (yet).
Obviously, Hester had a big night on special teams. Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher didn’t have to do much besides the latter having to kick off a number of times. As I hinted previously, Weems did a good job on special teams as there were three punts that he came close to blocking.
Malliciah Goodman’s presence on kickoff coverage was validated as he made a nice tackle on that early return that should have been called a fumble.
Advanced Stats from Week 3:
Poor Throws (2): Ryan, Yates
Key Blocks (9): DiMarco (4), Asamoah (2), Blalock (1), Hawley (1), Matthews (1)
Missed Blocks (4): Carimi, Konz, Matthews, Toilolo
Sacks Allowed (1): Freeman
Pressures Allowed (2): Blalock, Holmes
Hurries Allowed (1): Matthews
Tackles for Loss (2): Peters
QB Sacks (3): Maponga, Massaquoi, Peters
QB Pressures (1): McClain
QB Hits (4): Biermann, Peters, Shembo, Umenyiora
QB Hurries (9): Umenyiora (2.5), Worrilow (2), Babineaux (1), Hageman (1), McClain (1), Soliai (1), Maponga (0.5)
Passes Defended (5): Alford (2), Jones (1), Lowery (1), Trufant (1)
Blown Coverages (3): Trufant (2), Alford (1)
Missed Tackles (3): Bartu, McClain, Moore
Key Blocked (0)
Stops (8): Biermann (1.5), McClain (1), Moore (1), Shembo (1), Stupar (1), Umenyiora (1), Worrilow (1), Jackson (0.5)