This worked out to be a much better offensive game for quarterback Matt Ryan, who finished the day without any poor throws. Pretty much all of his incompletions came as a result of either dropped passes, pressure forcing errant throws or good defensive plays by the New York Giants defenders. It was a very clean game for Ryan, although he had a couple of throws he might want back. But they mostly came as a result of him not resetting his feet when throwing on the run, which to blame on that missed wheel route to Devonta Freeman in the fourth quarter.
Ryan’s worst throw of the game came in the second quarter, where he tried to thread the needle on a skinny post to Julio Jones and Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas nearly picked it off. Trumaine McBride was also in positionally potentially to pick off Ryan’s touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson, but Ryan put the ball up high and trusted that his receiver could climb the ladder to make the grab. I don’t have a big problem when quarterbacks are aggressive, particularly Ryan, who has been too often overly conservative throughout his career. That throw to Hankerson was a good example of Ryan being aggressive and it working out in his favor.
Jones had a very good game, although he was kept in check for the most part through the first 58 minutes of the game. It’s a testament to Jones’ ability when saying that a player who has 12 catches for 97 yards up to that point is being “kept in check.” But it’s true, other than a couple of third-down conversions, Jones didn’t have a huge impact on the game until he reeled in that 38-yard bomb at the end of the game to set up the game-winning score.
Speaking of that score, I do believe that Freeman was down on that second-down scoring run and then just managed to reach across the goal line after his knee touched. But there was no clear angle to say that definitively and thus the ruling on the field of a touchdown stood. The Falcons had run that exact play on the previous down and it was stuffed largely because of the inability of the left side of the offensive line: Jacob Tamme, Tyler Polumbus and Jake Matthews to get enough push in short-yardage. They only did slightly better on the second down, and only through Freeman’s second effort did that play prove successful.
The short-yardage blocking of the Falcons was pretty underwhelming throughout this game and that’s going to be something that is worth monitoring as the season wears on. Freeman was able to convert a 3rd-and-1 earlier in the game largely because he was able to power through a tackle by George Selvie. That was a play where Tamme didn’t block Selvie well enough to allow Freeman the easy conversion. The Falcons managed to convert on four of their six short-yardage runs, but two were the aforementioned runs by Freeman on the touchdown and 3rd-and-1 conversion that didn’t have great blocking and the success was solely on the running back. Another was on a first-quarter play where Selvie got too far upfield and Coleman was able to gain six yards on a toss on 3rd-and-1 . And the fourth was Coleman’s one-yard touchdown run later on that drive, where he did get a good block by fullback Patrick DiMarco. I would say the short-yardage is better than it’s been in past years, but I still don’t completely trust that the Falcons can get a yard when they need to with this current line. It all makes me wonder what would have happened on 3rd-and-goal from the one-yard line after Freeman’s “touchdown.”
Up front, Mike Person struggled at times with his punch. That gives me a lot more pause than his snapping ability. There were probably two or three plays where he gave up pressure due to getting overextended by a poor punch, but was bailed out by either Andy Levitre or Chris Chester helping to pick up his man. But for the most part, pressure wasn’t a major issue for the Falcons. Most of the Giants’ pressure came from unblocked blitzers as one sack, four hits and one hurry came as a result of unblocked defenders getting after Ryan as the Giants used a lot of overload blitzes. Two of the Falcons’ key blocks, one by Coleman and the other by Levitre, were as a result of both blockers picking up a free blitzer to buy Ryan enough time to complete a first down.
But one can still tell that the Falcons’ pass protection has been much improved from previous years as there were only three third downs where the Giants were able to get effective pressure. In past years that number probably would have been at least three times as high given the fact that there were 17 Falcons third downs.
Ryan Schraeder did a fine job in pass protection, but he still looks stiff and sluggish as a run blocker. Jake Matthews got beat a couple of times by power rushes by Selvie, still showing he’s susceptible to the bull rush. Chris Chester and Andy Levitre each had a couple of lapses, but were mostly solid.
As for Roddy White, he had a very quiet game with just one target on the second play from scrimmage. A lot of that had to do with his inability to separate from Prince Amukamara, but it had even more to do with how little Ryan looked at him after the second play of the game. I counted at least another four plays in the first half where White managed to get open, but due to pressure forcing Ryan to go to his hot route or just simply not seeing him, White never saw the ball. In the second half, White had a little less success separating from coverage and I don’t recall any plays where he was clearly open. There might have been one or two plays where he could have made a catch in traffic if Ryan had tried to go to him though. So I won’t be overly critical of White after this game. He did a better job in this game than many of the games last year in terms of separating from coverage. But it does signal that White continues to show a lessened ability to create on his own.
Tamme, Hankerson and Freeman all stepped up in his absence. While Tamme’s blocking was suspect, particularly when he was asked to block inline, he did make some nice plays in the passing game, particularly on the 41-yard play where the play-action and Jones drew five Giants defenders, allowing Tamme to slip out the backside down the field. Hankerson and Freeman both had their fair share of drops (two each), but did make a number of important grabs in the second half.
If I’m being honest, I was not completely enthusiastic about Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling in this game. I thought there were a few too many screens in the red zone (a calling card of former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter) and there were instances where Shanahan called the same play back-to-back. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing as it can be construed as him trying to catch the Giants sleeping because it’s so unorthodox to do, but there’s a reason why teams don’t do it very often. The Falcons ran pretty much the same screen to Jones three times in the first quarter, and it led to gains of just two and four yards the first two tries, but then it was executed better the third time on the second series for a gain of 13 yards. Again, I don’t know how to feel about this repetition. You could certainly blame a lack of execution for why it didn’t work the first two times, but it’s hard for me to get thrilled about the Falcons running the same wide receiver screen over and over again after last season.
They were again repetitive at the start of the fourth quarter, where they ran the exact same screen to Freeman except flip-flopping sides on consecutive plays. The first time they ran it, it amounted to an 11-yard gain by Freeman to get the ball down to the Giants 10-yard line on the right side of the field. Then they ran it to the left side, but instead Ryan saw the one-on-one matchup between Jones and Jayron Hosley on the outside and tried to hit Jones on the quick slant opposite the screen. But two Giants defenders (Uani’ Unga and Brandon Meriweather) blitzed and the latter was able to bat down the pass that should’ve been a completion to Jones. Again, not the worst play call since it should’ve worked if not for a good defensive play by Meriweather. But one wonders if Meriweather and/or Unga saw it coming and that’s why they were in a position to make that play, or just got lucky. I can’t say definitively for sure.
Here are the two plays:
I thought Coleman looked sharp early running the ball, but with his injury at the start of the second quarter the running game slacked a little bit. Freeman had some nice runs late, but his lack of burst and acceleration, and occasionally iffy vision led to lesser gains for the Falcons on some runs in between the second and fourth quarters. DiMarco had a good day as a lead-blocker, able to take advantage of the inexperienced Unga on a couple of plays.
Defensively, the Falcons were solid thanks to their ability to generate a decent amount of pressure up front. They finished with 10 disruptions (sacks+hits+pressures) on 42 dropbacks (24 percent of the time), which is above the 14 percent benchmark that I tend to set as a productive game.
Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn were the most disruptive, with Kroy Biermann and Ra’Shede Hageman also making their presences known on a couple of pass rushes. Biermann had the most impactful rush, where he got the sack-strip of Eli Manning when the Falcons were backed up on their goalline. That was a sack purely off effort, as Manning completely missed a wide open Preston Parker in the end zone when he decided to extend the play outside the pocket. Biermann looped around Marshall Newhouse to get the sack and strip. Had Manning seen Parker, I probably would have credited Paul Worrilow with the blown coverage since that was his zone over the middle and he vacated it to try and hit Manning once he was outside the pocket. Although I also didn’t like the fact that both Ricardo Allen and Desmond Trufant were stuck in the end zone behind Parker covering grass and not cheating up to pick up the open receiver.
Other than that one play, Trufant had a solid game as Manning basically avoiding him for all four quarters. That put a lot of pressure on Robert Alford, who got beat a number of times by Odell Beckham, Jr.. But despite the low earnings, his performance was still admirable. He showed improvement from last year’s matchup with Beckham, where he looked completely out of sorts and unable to handle the receiver’s speed. Alford got beat for two blown coverages by Beckham, but one was due to a very well thrown ball by Manning on a go route. Alford’s most grievous error was when he missed a tackle on Beckham after a curl route, allowing for another conversion. Alford got accredited with blowing the coverage on Donnell’s touchdown pass, but that was another well-placed throw by Manning to put the ball into a spot where only Donnell could get it.
The 67-yard touchdown to Beckham was really the result of Ricardo Allen taking a poor angle and whiffing on a tackle. Alford could have done a better job trying to close on Beckham after the catch, but it likely wouldn’t have changed the result of the play. Allen Bradford and Nate Stupar both had an opportunity to potentially intercept or tip the ball by jumping the throwing lane to Beckham underneath, but neither player could close in time.
There were a couple of other plays where Bradford’s lack of recognition or subpar range got him in trouble when he was replacing an injured Worrilow in the middle. The same could be said of Joplo Bartu when he subbed in for Justin Durant later in the game, although speed wasn’t Bartu’s problem, instead it was his slower reactions. Neither player were bad by any means, but there is certainly a considerable drop-off between the starters and them and the Falcons defense will suffer in the future should either Worrilow or Durant miss extended time.
Stupar deserves credit for giving the team positive ability at the strong-side linebacker spot. He did a pretty good job setting the edge against the run and covering the flat against the pass, showing much better speed and ability to make stops in the open field than Biermann did last week. While I think Stupar benefited from facing a subpar blocking tight end like Larry Donnell, he still deserves credit for taking advantage of that matchup. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in the coming weeks against Jason Witten, Garrett Graham and Jordan Reed. While I don’t think Graham or Reed are great blockers, they are better than Donnell and should be considered at least competent.
Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Babineaux also made solid contributions in run support, as did O’Brien Schofield. Had Biermann not made that 3rd-and-2 tackle for loss midway through the fourth quarter, then it’s likely Schofield would have since he managed to beat Newhouse as well on that play. That was a key stop for the Falcons, although I think the Giants were not smart to go for it on 4th-and-3 from the Falcons’ 39-yard line. Teams should definitely be much more willing to go for it on 4th-and-short when in opposing territory, even when they’re already up three points.
The Falcons special teams was universally underwhelming. Matt Bryant did fine, and Matt Bosher’s punting was very good for the most part. There was one instance where he outkicked his coverage, but considering the Falcons were backed up deep in their territory, I’m less critical when a punter nails a 69-yard punt to try and drastically flip field position. On that punt, Giants punt returner Dwayne Harris had a 26-yard return thanks largely to the inability of the Falcons gunners to get downfield effectively, leaving large gaps and alleys in the coverage. Phillip Adams for the second week in a row struggled as a gunner. Interestingly after Bosher’s first punt, Dezmen Southward came onto the field for Jalen Collins as a gunner. I’m not sure what prompted that substitution. But Collins did get pushed to the ground on that first punt and was unable to get downfield to try and down the ball inside the five, leading to a touchback, but the exact same can be said of Adams as well. Southward didn’t perform much better when he was working as a gunner. He certainly did a better job than Adams getting downfield, but was still out of position multiple times, leading to some big returns.
What’s interesting is that Collins continued to work on kickoff coverage despite his absence on punts. Notably in the second half, the Falcons pulled Desmond Trufant off one of the wings on kickoff coverage, replacing him with Collins, and subbing in Nick Williams in Collins’ normal spot. That’s only noteworthy due to the fact that Harris had a 41-yard kickoff return in the first quarter due to the fact that Collins got out of his lane, opening up an alley.
I’ll say it for the second week in a row, the Falcons miss Antone Smith. Adams is the guy that has essentially taken Smith’s spot on both punt and kickoff coverage units and just isn’t in the same ballpark in ability.
Advanced Stats From Week 2:
Poor Throws (0)
Drops (4): Freeman (2), Hankerson (2)
Key Blocks (4): DiMarco (2), Coleman (1), Levitre (1)
Missed Blocks (3): Levitre, Schraeder, Tamme
Sacks Allowed (1): Chester
Pressures Allowed (2): Toilolo (1), Levitre (0.5), Person (0.5)
Hurries Allowed (5): Matthews (2), Chester (1), Levitre (1), Person (1)
Tackles For Loss (5): Babienaux (1), Biermann (1), Schofield (1), Beasley (0.5), Durant (0.5), Jackson (0.5), Worrilow (0.5)
QB Sacks (1): Biermann
QB Pressures (4): Hageman (2), Beasley (1), Biermann (1)
QB Hits (5): Clayborn (3), Beasley (1), Schofield (1)
QB Hurries (3): Beasley (2), Clayborn (1)
Passes Defended (2): Alford, Moore
Blown Coverages (4): Alford (3), Adams (1)
Missed Tackles (6): Allen (2), Adams (1), Alford (1), Moore (1), Worrilow (1)
Key Blocked (5): Alford, Bartu, Durant, Hageman, Worrilow
Stops (13): Jackson (2), Babineaux (1.5), Durant (1.5), Worrilow (1.5), Allen (1), Beasley (1), Biermann (1), Moore (1), Soliai (1), Stupar (1), Schofield (0.5)