Another tough loss for the Atlanta Falcons this week against the Chicago Bears.
Once again, the Falcons needed to start fast but failed to do accomplish it. I believe the main reason for that was the lack of quality pass protection. On their first three possessions, where the Falcons managed to score just three points, they converted one of four third downs. The main reason for that was because the pass protection failed to hold up on three of those plays. Simply put, when the Bears were able to pin their ears back, they were able to get effective pressure against the Falcons.
On the first third down, Justin Blalock got beat by Lamarr Houston simply due to speed. The second time, the Bears overloaded the left side on a blitz that allowed Khaseem Greene to come free and rush Matt Ryan’s throw that led him to throw quickly to Julio Jones well shy of the sticks. The third time, Stephen Paea beat Jake Matthews on a stunt.
In the second half, Matthews and Gabe Carimi both struggled mightily. Jared Allen basically was able to take advantage of Matthews’ busted ankle. Allen bull-rushed him pretty much every snap for the entire second half, and Matthews was mostly powerless to stop him because he couldn’t anchor. Matthews’ success in college was because of his feet and strong base since he has neither ideal upper body strength nor a powerful punch. So with a bum ankle, he becomes a very ineffective pass protector. The Falcons may have to strongly consider
benching resting him, otherwise he’s going to be a liability against anybody that has an effective bull rush until that ankle is healthier.
Carimi struggled mostly with speed from Houston and Willie Young in the second half. And that was exactly why I wasn’t too thrilled with Carimi’s performance against the Giants last week because his slow feet signaled that quality speed rushers would be able to beat him. Speed is going to continue to give him problems and the only hope really is that Ryan has a clean pocket to step up into to avoid that speed off the edge.
That is less the case with Peter Konz at center instead of Joe Hawley. Konz got beat by Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff for two hurries and lacks the sort of punch and anchor to give Ryan as clean a pocket as he got with Hawley. It also doesn’t help that Blalock’s back injury limits his power as well.
The Falcons will struggle to get off to the fast starts they need if every third-down situation is a passing situation and the protection can’t hold up any better. Essentially they either need to win on first and second downs or get into a lot of 3rd-and-shorts that will allow them to run the ball instead of passing the ball to convert. At this point, unless it’s 3rd-and-2 or less, I’m not sure the Falcons have enough faith in their offensive line to win. I’m not sure I can blame them. It’ll be a great day when the Falcons have enough trust in their running game to convert a 3rd-and-5. Even in the heyday of Michael Turner, they were never that team essentially passing unless it was 3rd-and-2 or less. Teams like Carolina, San Francisco and Chicago have been those sorts of teams and it would take a ton of pressure off Ryan if eventually the Falcons can get there. That should be a goal of theirs but it’s certainly not something that appears to be on the horizon in 2014.
Ryan had a decent game, but I thought he was a little off, particularly on some second-half throws in the face of pressure. A couple of throws he overthrew or underthrew his target because he got moved off his spot or rushed. Late in the game, he started forcing throws to Jones downfield. I can’t get too upset over that since Jones is the only reliable receiver he has and in the past, Ryan would have simply checked it down. Typically, I don’t fault quarterbacks for being aggressive, especially Ryan, who has a tendency to be overly conservative at times.
Also on the opening drive, Ryan missed a wide open Patrick DiMarco on second down that could have given the team a first down. Instead, Ryan threw a check down to Jacquizz Rodgers over the middle for a two-yard gain that set up the third down play where Houston beat Blalock (of course only after Konz backed the team up five yards with an illegal snap). Had Ryan hit DiMarco on that play, it was very likely to be a first down and would have resulted in a trip inside the red zone, a feat the Falcons failed to accomplish in the game.
It’s not to say that Ryan played poorly, but there were just some missed opportunities and he did not have one of his better games. But again, it’s hard to blame him for not having his best game when he has only one reliable receiver and a porous offensive line.
The drops were problematic. Toilolo’s drops appeared to be concentration issues. That can be fixed, but it often takes time. Roddy White struggled with concentration drops early in his career. But so did O.J. Santiago, and I think it’s much more likely that Toilolo goes the way of Santiago than White.
White continues to struggle to separate from coverage, which somewhat explains why Ryan was throwing passes to Jones even when he wasn’t open. The easiest solution to this problem is for the Falcons to go out and get another quality receiver (e.g. Denarius Moore), but that is typically not how they operate. So they will likely trust in White improving down the stretch and/or Harry Douglas providing a spark when he returns. But if neither of those things happen, this offense is going to continue to struggle to score points and move the ball in passing situations.
Perhaps they can put more focus on the running game to carry the offense, but of course that is problematic given the defense’s propensity to give up leads.
If you believe in prayer, then my suggestion is to pray that White returns to competency sooner rather than later and/or Douglas becomes a quality receiver for the first time in his NFL career. And in all honesty, I believe that it will take Divine Intervention for those two things to occur at this point.
The Falcons running backs did not do the best job in pass protection as there were a few too many breakdowns. There was one play where Daryl Sharpton absolutely pancaked Antone Smith and there were two plays where Rodgers missed a chip that could have prevented two sacks.
Eric Weems did a good job blocking on two of the screens the Falcons ran. He’s always been an excellent blocker and it’s nice to see that unlike his speed, that hasn’t diminished over time. Konz missed his assignments on both plays, and again if the Falcons had a competent guy there, you could have had Smith and Jones screens go for bigger gains than the five and 15 yards they actually gained, respectively.
Carimi and Weems both earned key blocks on Smith’s touchdown on the screen. Weems did a good job walling off Sharpton. Carimi didn’t exactly nail his cut block, but made enough contact with Ryan Mundy to give Smith the alley he needed.
Defensively, the Falcons have fared much worse in previous games so I guess there was progress this week. They got stops on the first two Bears series, although I think that had more to do with receivers not making grabs more so than anything the Falcons defense did.
The Falcons gave up a pair of 3rd-and-longs thanks to working in zone coverage. I think that’s worth pointing out because I abhor zone coverage and that was something that happened to them regularly last season.
The pass rush was more effective, although I think that had a lot to do with the weakness of the Bears offensive tackles: Michael Ola and Jordan Mills. It would be an easy argument to make that they are currently the league’s worst pair of starting tackles. Osi Umenyiora was able to get both of his pressures against Ola, while Mills gave up both a sack and hit to Jonathan Massaquoi and hurry each to Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Babineaux.
It was nice to see the Falcons get some pressure, but I’m not going to hold my breath in believing this is a trend that will continue. It’s no different than the Bucs game where the Falcons got some pressure against a weak offensive line and for the two weeks after saw minimal production from the pass rush. We have enough of a sample size this year to conclude that if/when the Falcons defensive line appears competent, it’s more indicative that the opposing offensive line isn’t very good.
The secondary play could have been better. Robert Alford got credited with the blown coverage on the 47-yard pass to Brandon Marshall that set Chicago’s first touchdown. But Marshall was really Josh Wilson’s man on that play, and blew past him at the line of scrimmage. Alford then released his man to pick up Marshall, who was already by him. While I’ll blame Alford for the blown coverage, it wasn’t really his fault as he was trying to cover up for a teammate.
On the 74-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery later in the game, that was all on Kemal Ishmael. It appeared he was frozen by run-action, which was purely a mental error on his part, and Jeffery was able to run right past him. Had Cutler not underthrown Jeffery, it would have been an easy touchdown. Even if Ishmael had not bit on the play-action, he might have still been beat due to questionable makeup speed. Ishmael has been very good against the run and is about the only Falcons defender I trust to make an open-field tackle. But on that particularly deep play, I was reminded of Zeke Motta’s issues and his inability to stay “in phase” as Thomas Dimitroff might put it.
Joplo Bartu made a couple of nplays in this game, but there were several times early on where I think his slow eyes hurt him. He got caught peeking in the backfield a bit too much and led to him missing some man coverage assignments against Matt Forte.
Paul Worrilow doesn’t have slow eyes, just slow feet. He played better this week than in previous games, but there are still clear limitations. His poor earning was thanks to some mistakes made in coverage.
It’s frustrating to watch other team’s linebackers, including the Bears, who had three backups in the game, beat our offensive line on the second level and/or when they are pulling in the hole and not see the same from the Falcons linebackers. If it was Konz missing those blocks, I might conclude it’s because the Falcons blocker isn’t very good. But when it’s guys like Matthews and Jon Asamoah that are getting beat, it makes me think that it’s an indicator that the Bears linebackers are at least competent. And the fact that the Falcons linebackers rarely win in those situations makes me believe it’s because they aren’t nearly competent as the Bears’ backups.
I really believe the absence of Sean Weatherspoon is hitting the team a lot harder than many predicted, including myself. While I wasn’t as dismissive as others of Spoon’s value to the team, I did expect Worrilow and Bartu to be much more effective than they have been. But based off how they’ve played through the first six games, I think it would be a failure on the Falcons if either are expected to start when next summer’s training camp opens. And I would lump Prince Shembo into that group as well. He’s certainly more physical than either Worrilow or Bartu, but his speed and range appear to be significantly less. And I’m not sure the Falcons defense will show improvement by putting a slower defender on the field, even if he’s more capable of taking on and defeating offensive linemen. Obviously, there is still time for things to improve, but it’s been very disappointing thus far.
On special teams, I thought Matt Bosher had another adequate performance. But I thought the punt coverage was good. Dezmen Southward is showing he’s an effective gunner, which makes me believe Drew Davis returning won’t really matter. Nate Stupar, Sean Baker and of course Antone Smith continue to be effective in coverage as well.
The team opted to give Stansly Maponga reps on kickoff coverage this week instead of Bartu, due to the latter starting on defense. Bartu has never really impressed me during his limited opportunities on special teams, so I’m thinking this should be a permanent move once Shembo returns to the starting lineup at linebacker.
Advanced Stats from Week 6:
Poor Throws (3): Ryan
Drops (6): Toilolo (3), Jones (2), White (1)
Key Blocks (3): Carimi (2), Weems (1)
Missed Blocks (0)
Sacks Allowed (4): Carimi (2), Matthews (2)
Pressures Allowed (4): Blalock (2), Carimi (1), Matthews (1)
Hurries Allowed (7): Matthews (3), Konz (2), Asamoah (1), Carimi (1)
Tackles for Loss (4): Alford, Jackson, Massaquoi, McClain
QB Sacks (2): Massaquoi (1), Biermann (0.5), Soliai (0.5)
QB Pressures (4): Umenyiora (2), Babineaux (1), Hageman (1)
QB Hits (1): Massaquoi
QB Hurries (8): Bierman (2), Babineaux (1), Bartu (1), Goodman (1), Lowery (1), Massaquoi (1), Peters (1)
Passes Defended (2): Alford, Southward
Blown Coverages (10): Worrilow (3), Alford (2), Lowery (2), Ishmael (1), McClain (1), Trufant (1)
Missed Tackles (2): Bartu, Wilson
Key Blocked (7): Bartu (3), Worrilow (2), Lowery (1), Wilson (1)
Stops (8): Bartu (2), Biermann (2), Worrilow (1.5), Soliai (1), Wilson (1), Jackson (0.5)