It was an impressive 2015 debut for the Atlanta Falcons against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. But to be completely honest, some of the warm and fuzzy feelings I had over the next few days after watching the game live went away once I went back and looked at the All-22.
The Falcons certainly played well, but there were a lot of things that need to get cleaned up. That should be expected given there’s a new coaching staff in town and there should have been no expectation that everything would fall into place in Week One.
I say that not to be negative or overly critical, just that I think people have a tendency to overrate teams after wins and underrate them after losses. There is an old mantra that says in football, “you are what your record says you are.” I find that to be baloney. I think it should rather be “you are what your film says you are.”
That being said, the Falcons are a team that have a roughly equal number of strengths and weaknesses. And people shouldn’t be lulled into the notion of thinking that just because the Eagles were unsuccessful in exploiting those weaknesses to a degree to get a win, doesn’t mean that other teams will follow suit. So if this review comes off as overly critical, it’s just simply me trying to do my due diligence in shining a light on both the strengths and weaknesses of this team, based off the film.
Wide receiver Julio Jones was a definite strength on offense. He definitely was an overwhelming matchup for Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll throughout the game, and really his earnings don’t accurately reflect his performance as a couple of holding/offensive pass interference calls wiped out a couple of impressive catches and runs, leaving about $6 on the field because of flags.
It was certainly a dominant performance and one of his best ever at least as far as Moneyball goes. His biggest earnings to date were the $16 he got against the Packers last year, followed by the $15 he got against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, so this one at least settles into his third best. Even though again the penalties prevented him from getting a clean $20, which as far as I know would have only been the second time someone not named Matt Ryan earned so much.
Tevin Coleman was another positive. What I liked about his running was that he was able to use his impressive speed to get out of some poorly blocked plays. There were a couple of times where an Eagles defender got penetration but since Coleman is so fast, he was able to get to the edge before the defender could get their hands on him in the backfield. The following GIF shows:
The only real blemish on Coleman was one missed pass-blocking assignment on a play that led to a sack. He did a poor job picking up Carroll on a blitz off the edge, splitting a pressure allowed with Levine Toilolo, who also blew that assignment.
Devonta Freeman also had a couple of nice runs, but didn’t quite get the blocking that Coleman had. As the game wore on, Freeman tended to look better.
But beyond them, there wasn’t a whole lot to love about the Falcons offense. Ryan struggled with his placement being off early and got some breaks when Eagles defenders did not catch some of potential interceptions.
Ryan’s first interception was a great play by Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso, but Ryan underthrew Roddy White in the back of the endzone. Even if Alonso didn’t make a spectacular one-handed catch, the trajectory on the pass was too low that should have allowed for a relatively easy pass breakup.
His second interception was due to him losing sight of Walter Thurmond, who Ryan had thought he had successfully looked off and moved with his eyes to open up a window on a deep cross to White. Thurmond didn’t get moved and stepped in front of the long throw for an easy interception.
But to Ryan’s credit that would’ve been an accurate throw roughly 22 yards downfield if Thurmond wasn’t there. It’s been rare that I’ve seen him attempt and make such throws over the years. That’s one thing I noticed when the Falcons got into some of the few 3rd-and-longs, they were much more willing to ask Ryan to take a deep drop and sling it to try and get the first down than years past. I liked that aggressiveness. Unfortunately, it didn’t prove very effective as Ryan was 1-for-4 for 7 yards and an interception on 3rd-and-longs against the Eagles.
That is going to be my main question about this offense moving forward: its ability to respond in adverse situations. I ask if or rather when they get “behind schedule” with down and distance, will they be effective? One of the hallmarks of the Mike Smith Era was how much this team tended to struggle when things weren’t going exactly their way. Seemingly every time the Falcons lost to the Saints over the past seven years, it always felt like that was the main reason why.
That will be one of the things that must be monitored as the rest of the season wears on with this Dan Quinn-led team. Based solely off this game, the answer is currently no, the offense doesn’t respond particularly well in adverse situations. But it’s just one game and cannot be applied to the season as a whole. And there’s no reason at this point to not think that things will change for the better as Ryan gets more comfortable in the new system.
Up front, the Falcons did their job fairly well as Ryan didn’t see a whole lot pressure. Fletcher Cox made his presence known a number of times, but outside him, nobody on the Eagles really gave the Falcons’ blockers too many problems. Of course Falcons left guard Andy Levitre bore the brunt of Cox’s wrath and thus explains his struggles in this game. Center Mike Person had a couple of lapses early trying to block nose tackle Bennie Logan, but as the game wore on was far less problematic. Chris Chester had the cleanest game of any of the five starters.
Left tackle Jake Matthews was solid, although he missed a couple of blocks on the edge against blitzing safeties. He was the culprit that missed the block on Malcolm Jenkins at the end of the game on that 3rd-and-1 run.
Right tackle Ryan Schraeder didn’t have a bad performance, but there were enough lapses that makes me even more convinced that the signing of Jake Long is a shot across his bow. He looked sluggish and lost a bit too often when trying to block on the move.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Schraeder is dealing with an undisclosed injury due to his limping a couple of weeks ago and not looking as athletic as he did a year ago. It’s noticeable enough that if Long showcases that he has better movement skills in practice, I think we’ll be able to count on one hand how many more starts Schraeder will have at right tackle.
Beyond Jones, the other receivers had a couple of moments. White was able to make three big plays off play-action. I give White full credit for making those plays, but I still remain skeptical of his ability to create on his own. I think he really needs those sort of misdirection plays and combo routes with Jones to open up the windows for him because I’m not sure he can separate all that well. But at least in this game I can say he was beating decent starting-quality corners unlike last year where he was struggling to beat backups. So that’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Relative to the offense, the defense overall was a lot more impressive. Obviously, there was no one individual player that performed on Julio’s level, but collectively there were stronger individual efforts across the board.
But in watching the All-22, I do think that the defense benefited quite a bit from Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford being off early on, similar to Ryan. As the game wore on, Bradford seemed to get more comfortable and that coupled with the fatigue setting in from the up-tempo attack caused the defense to be less effective in the second half.
However, the defense did make the necessary plays when they had to. Ricardo Allen made the game-sealing interception and overall was probably the most impressive individual defender on the field. He was flying around the field and made a positive impact in run support.
Vic Beasley also had a solid debut, although he was held in check by Jason Peters for most of the night. But given the level of competition, the fact that he managed to beat Peters a couple of times is a testament to the rookie’s skill level.
On the All-22, the pass rush wasn’t quite as effective as I thought when watching live on television. I counted about five plays where the Falcons pressure was the main cause of an incompletion by Bradford. That’s not bad, but considering that the Eagles had 52 dropbacks, it’s sort of underwhelming. I have a rule of thumb that a decent performance by a pass rush would lead to a ratio of seven dropbacks for every disrupted throw. So an above average performance based off 52 dropbacks should’ve seen about eight times where the Falcons sacked Bradford or caused an incompletion due to pressure.
But that being said, credit must be given to the fact that the Eagles have three Pro-Bowl caliber blockers on their offensive line and neither guard Allen Barbre or Andrew Gardner proved to be the huge liabilities. So factoring in the competition coupled with the fact that the Eagles relied on a lot of short throws, meaning Bradford was getting the ball out relatively quickly was a limiting factor, it was by no means a poor performance by the Falcons’ pass rush.
While in a vacuum, the Falcons pass rush might have been somewhat middling, relative to what this team has fielded in recent years it was a positive. So that should also be pointed out.
Also up front, I thought Ra’Shede Hageman showcased his strength on several plays. However, it didn’t really result in him making many impact plays. But he’s still growing and being able to disengage from blockers to make plays on the ball will be phase two of his development.
I was surprised by how much Grady Jarrett and Malliciah Goodman were mixed into the rotation. Jarrett subbed in for Jonathan Babineaux quite a bit in the team’s nickel sub-package. He did some good things, flashing as a pass-rusher. Goodman got quite a bit of work at the LEO spot in the team’s base package rather than Beasley. Presumably the Falcons thought he might be a better matchup against Peters’ power there. I also liked the fact that the Falcons were using more stunts to create pressure up front.
Justin Durant was active and impressive early on, but as the game wore on he seemed to be less impactful. His abilities to quickly read and diagnose plays and then close on the ball were impressive on a number of plays early on. He does an excellent sniffing out this screen in the following GIF:
Paul Worrilow had a couple of opportunities to make some big stops, which he did not for the most part. But he did make a big play at the end of the game on 3rd-and-1 to force a long field goal. That was one of the key turning points in the game.
William Moore got exposed in man coverage against Zach Ertz, losing track of him on a pair of blown coverages, although one was nullified by an offensive pass interference call against Nelson Agholor. It wasn’t a great performance for Moore, as he didn’t make enough positive plays to balance out the negative ones.
Phillip Adams spent the brunt of the game manning the slot, until late in the game when the team moved Robert Alford there with Jalen Collins entering the game. I don’t know if the team made a switch because they wanted to get Collins some reps or as an indicator of Adams’ subpar play.
Kroy Biermann struggled in this game, as he was exposed a number of times in space and in coverage against the quickness and speed of DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles. I think if there’s any positive for him is that he probably won’t have to pull such an assignment in the near future since none of the Falcons’ upcoming opponents have a tendency to spread the field as much as the Eagles.
On special teams, punter Matt Bosher was brilliant at times. His high earnings are due to nailing two punts inside the five-yard line and also having six touchbacks.
Adams and Collins worked as the gunners on punt coverage, and I have to say I was unimpressed with Adams’ performance there. It made me miss Antone Smith even further. Adams also seemed to struggle finding someone to block on kickoff returns also.
What was probably the most intriguing thing about the team’s cover units was that Desmond Trufant and Alford were both on kickoff coverage.Alford isn’t new to it as he was a regular there for much of last season, but I don’t recall Trufant ever doing it over the past two seasons. He was playing the wing spot opposite Alford that basically functions as the “safety” and last line of defense in the event of a big return and the fact that Bosher’s death stare doesn’t work. Thomas DeCoud manned that spot in 2013, so the fact that a starter is there isn’t a total surprise. It’s just that it was Trufant that was the starter as I would have expected Allen to be the likelier choice.
Advanced Stats From Week 1:
Poor Throws (5): Ryan
Key Blocks (3): Hankerson, Matthews, White
Missed Blocks (6): Levitre (2), Matthews (2), Person (1), Tamme (1)
Sacks Allowed (1): Levitre
Pressures Allowed (2): Levitre (1), Coleman (0.5), Toilolo (0.5)
Hurries Allowed (3): Chester, Schraeder, Tamme
Tackles for Loss (1): Babineaux (0.5), Beasley (0.5)
QB Sacks (0)
QB Pressures (1): Beasley
QB Hits (5): Beasley, Goodman, Hageman, Jarrett, Schofield
QB Hurries (5): Clayborn (3), Babineaux (1), Schofield (1)
Passes Defended (3): Alford, Beasley, Trufant
Blown Coverages (4): Biermann, Collins, Moore, Trufant
Missed Tackles (5): Moore (2), Adams (1), Biermann (1), Worrilow (1)
Key Blocked (6): Moore (3), Clayborn (1), Durant (1), Worrilow (1)
Stops (6): Durant (2), Adams (1), Allen (1), Moore (1), Schofield (1) Jarrett (0.5), Worrilow (0.5)