This was a very frustrating game to watch the All-22 of, because despite the early lead of the Atlanta Falcons, it never seemed like they were in firm control of the game.
The Falcons had several opportunities to really open things up and pull away from the New York Giants in the second and third quarters, but never did. Red zone and third-down struggles really plagued the offense and should be blamed for that failure.
It was truly shades of 2013 all over again, as the offensive line could be blamed for a lot of those issues. The red-zone problems could be partially blamed on questionable play-calling, with only one of eight plays in the red zone featuring a pass in the end zone. Although there was nothing glaring that I could call Dirk Koetter out for, it felt like the Falcons resorted to trying to score inside the red zone at five-yard increments as opposed to going for the jugular. That was far too common last year.
Matt Ryan got hit early and again showed that his accuracy, decision-making and general poise suffer when that occurs. Ryan’s play was by no means poor, but he had a couple of throws he wants back. For the most part, he was running for his life throughout much of the game, and thus was looking for the check down. While the pass protection really broke down in the second half, there certainly were many early struggles in the first half that foreshadowed what was to come. The absences of Justin Blalock and Joe Hawley meant that Ryan didn’t have the clean pocket to step up into that often, and that historically has a more negative effect on his play than your average NFL starter.
Harland Gunn struggled throughout the day in pass protection, although his run blocking was mostly solid. Earlu on, he struggled whenever he was left on an island against a Giants defensive tackle on probably is the primary culprit when blaming who caused Ryan’s dip in play. Gunn improved as the game wore on, but part of that was because he was getting more help from Peter Konz. Konz gave him no help on that fourth-down sack by Johnathan Hankins at the end of the game. But it probably wouldn’t have made a ton of difference as Gabe Carimi got beat by Mathias Kiwanuka on that play, and he was probably poised to make the sack had Hankins not beat him to it.
Jake Matthews played fairly well in the first half of the game but struggled mightily in the second half. That could be partially blamed on his ankle injury that he tweaked during the game as he struggled to play with base and was beat easily by most of Jason Pierre-Paul’s bull-rushes and speed moves in the second half. I don’t know when exactly Matthews re-injured the ankle, but it likely came near the start of third quarter, because that’s when he began to fall off the cliff.
None of the other linemen looked particularly good. Relatively speaking, Jon Asamoah and Carimi had good days. But both got beat their fair share. Peter Konz didn’t have a strong performance, but didn’t have any eye-gouging mistakes either. But his overall lack of athleticism and mobility really limited the Falcons on a couple of screens. There were also several times in the game where there were breakdowns in the protections on Giants blitzes, most of it coming on the left side of the line where either Gunn or Matthews missed assignments. Considering that Konz, Gunn and Matthews had very little work together prior to this week, those sorts of breakdown aren’t that surprising, but still disappointing.
At wide receiver, Julio Jones continues to shine on the handful of plays per game where he doesn’t draw a double team. But it seems like in every loss, there is one potential game-changing touchdown that Jones doesn’t manage to reel in. This one came on a go route at the start of the third quarter that could have given the Falcons a two-score lead about five minutes earlier in the game.
The Falcons did eventually get that big play from Antone Smith on their next series, but I’ve convinced myself that following Jones’ would-be score, Smith would’ve scored anyway (he always does) and potentially given the Falcons a game-sealing, three-score lead going into the fourth quarter.
When the Falcons offense was struggling in the second half, particularly on third downs, it would have been nice for them to design a play for Smith to see if it could provide another spark. He saw no touches or targets on 19 offensive plays from scrimmage after his touchdown. Smith is not particularly a great or skilled running back. His failed touchdown on the shovel pass was one indicator of that. On that play, he cut back too soon instead of showing the patience and vision to follow Gunn pulling into the hole. But despite Smith’s limitations, he’s still special when it comes to running in straight lines. And there’s plenty of plays that the Falcons should regularly dial up that ask him to do just that. On Sunday, the Falcons ran a designed screen to Smith for only the second time this season. That seems criminal, especially in a game where the Giants pass-rush was so effective pinning their ears back in the second half and getting pressure with just four guys.
Roddy White continues to look old and Devin Hester for all his speed doesn’t win on tightly contested throws. Levine Toilolo has been an afterthought in the passing game, although part of that is because the Falcons need him to help out in pass protection a lot more now given the injuries up front. But the Falcons are headed down a dark path if they can’t find other consistent options in their passing game besides Jones and check downs to running backs. That’s another reason why this game was so reminiscent of 2013.
It’s worth noting, that four of the Falcons seven key blocks came on Steven Jackson’s touchdown run. Asamoah, Toilolo, White and Jones each earned key blocks on that play that had Jackson almost spotless on his trip to the end zone.
It was not as if the Falcons defense played poorly but they just failed to make many plays. The inability to get any substantial pressure on Eli Manning was very problematic. Especially when you consider how much Manning’s accuracy dipped on the handful of plays were there was just a hint of a Falcons defender in his face. Manning had all day to throw for most of Sunday afternoon. The only sack of the day came when William Beatty slipped while trying to block Osi Umenyiora.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford continue to be the few rays of hope for this defense. Both got beat on Sunday and had a couple of breakdowns, but that comes with the territory of being a cornerback in the NFL. However, Alford did struggle quite a bit in the second half against Odell Beckham. Beckham roasted him on one play where Alford underestimated his speed. It would have been a touchdown had Manning thrown a catchable pass. Thereafter, Alford had a very healthy respect for Beckham’s speed. And the word “respect” is just another way of saying “fear.” And he played like it thereafter. A big part of Alford’s success in his brief NFL career has been his “moxie.” He lost it going against Beckham and his play suffered for it.
Kemal Ishmael had a solid game, continuing to impress as a tackler. He didn’t really make many plays, but appeared effective in coverage on a couple of occasions. There certainly weren’t any “WTF” moments from what I could tell, which I don’t think I could say about any other defender on the team. So relatively speaking, he looked great. But I’m not sure if taken on its own, it was an overly impressive performance.
Paul Soliai had a rough performance, as he got overwhelmed too many times at the point of attack by double teams from J.D. Walton and John Jerry. Eating double teams is exactly why the team spent so much money on Soliai this offseason, so that does not bode well for him.
As usual, a couple of Falcons defenders were able to pad their earnings late in the game when the Giants opted to run out the clock and the team was able to get a couple of stops. Soliai had one, Corey Peters another, and Paul Worrilow had two at that point.
Worrilow continues to be underwhelming. The play where Andre Williams ran him over for the touchdown stands out and it highlights some of his shortcomings. While Worrilow continues to deserve praise for showing good instincts and awareness about where he is supposed to be on defense, what was often overlooked last year was how poor he was as a one-on-one tackler. The hope was that with added muscle this year, that would be something that would improve. It has not. He’s been asked to take on too many offensive linemen on the second level as well (which also speaks to the underwhelming play of the defensive line), and he has struggled there. It certainly is expected that linebackers don’t win many battles against linemen, but people would be interested to know how often I’ve watched the Falcons own blockers fail to win on the second level against linebackers over the years. So I can conclude that it’s not impossible and that better linebackers would win more than ours currently are doing.
Worrilow is the epitome of a complementary player, in that he is capable of doing many of the little things that help other impact playmakers do their thing, but on his own, he’ll rarely make those sorts of impact plays. And that’s really the entire Falcons front seven in a nutshell. They just don’t have anybody that can consistently create problems for opposing blockers, even guys that should be weak links like Vlad Ducasse, John Jerry and rookie Weston Richburg the past two weeks.
Prince Shembo continues to underwhelm me, but I’ve been reluctant to be overly judgmental given he’s a rookie transitioning to a brand new position. But it’s hard not to notice the handful of plays per game that a player like Sean Weatherspoon would have diagnosed a lot more quickly, and show the sort of burst and range to actually make a play in the small window available. I believe Shembo can and will get better in time, but I’m also not overly optimistic that his ceiling is significantly higher. His flexibility, range and speed just look a little too limited to think his Falcon career is going to be substantially better than say Akeem Dent’s. But I’d love to be wrong there and I’m more than willing to be a bit more patient and wait until the end of the season. But it’s also frustrating because the Falcons could really use a boost at inside linebacker and are stuck developing a guy that in the end may never get there.
On special teams, Matt Bosher had one of his worst days punting since his rookie year. MetLife Stadium is known for windier conditions, certainly more so than the Georgia Dome. While he did manage to get hang time on some kicks on a short field, there was certainly room for improvement in terms of pinning the Giants back deeper. He also shanked one in the fourth quarter, and has routinely struggled to create touchbacks on kickoffs outdoors. In the end, it’s probably one bad game in an ocean of good ones, but I feel like to maintain some objectivity, you have to point out the times when even one of your favorite players doesn’t perform well.
Devin Hester nearly had a touchdown on his first punt return, but Steve Weatherford made a great, Bosher-esque play to slow him down and allow teammates to get the angle along the sideline.
Eric Weems continues to impress on special teams coverage units, with his forced fumble that could have been a huge play had the Falcons offense taken advantage of the field position and scored a touchdown.
Advanced Stats from Week 5:
Poor Throws (6): Ryan
Drops (2): Jones, White
Key Blocks (7): Asamoah, Gunn, Jones, Konz, Schraeder, Toilolo, White
Missed Blocks (3): Asamoah, Konz, Toilolo
Sacks Allowed (1): Gunn
Pressures Allowed (4): Matthews (3), Carimi (1)
Hurries Allowed (11): Gunn (5), Asamoah (3), Carimi (2), Matthews (1)
Tackles for Loss (1): Biermann
QB Sacks (1): Umenyiora
QB Pressures (2): Massaquoi, Umenyiora
QB Hits (0)
QB Hurries (1): Goodman
Passes Defended (7): Alford (2), Wilson (2), Lowery (1), Massaquoi (1), Trufant (1)
Blown Coverages (4): Wilson (2), Alford (1), Trufant (1)
Missed Tackles (3): Worrilow (2), Shembo (1)
Key Blocked (4): Soliai (3), Biermann (1)
Stops (10): Worrilow (4), Ishmael (1.5), Goodman (1), Peters (1), Shembo (1), Soliai (1), Wilson (0.5)