This was a hard loss for the Atlanta Falcons to review.
And that was mainly because of how poor the offensive line performed. Throughout the year, I have been adamant in the belief that the Falcons haven’t been aggressive enough in terms of their offensive game-planning to try and generate big plays. And I have consistently heard that the Falcons can’t throw down the field because their offensive line is too porous. Well, this was in fact the first game where I saw that belief was a reality. You may recall both of my reviews from Panthers games last year, where I made note of how the Falcons front got whooped. It was the same again this year, but even worse.
I had to check the notes I’ve been keeping since Week 9, but the 23-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez was only the third time since then where the Falcons attempted a deep pass on their opening drive. And the Falcons then tried to go down the field on the second play of their next series, but Roddy White was doubled on a deep in and Matt Ryan settled for a five-yard checkdown to Steven Jackson. Two designed deep plays in the first quarter? That hasn’t happened once since Week 9.
But going back to the protection issues, that latter play was an instance where the Falcons used max protect, with eight blockers to help Ryan. But pressure still got to him on that play, as Greg Hardy was able to beat Lamar Holmes and deliver a hit on Ryan from behind. That wasn’t the only instance where the Falcons used max protect and the Panthers pass rush still managed to beat it.
This game was essentially the Greg Hardy Show. Hardy was a pass deflection away from hitting for the “pass-rushing cycle,” a distinction that Cameron Jordan achieved in Week 12. Hardy finished with four sacks, two pressures, two hits, and a hurry. Almost no blocker was immune from the Wrath of the Kraken, with Justin Blalock being the only member of the starting five that did not get beat by Hardy. Lamar Holmes and Tony Gonzalez were routinely beaten with Holmes getting beat for a sack, hit, pressure, and hurry and Gonzalez giving up 1.5 sacks and half a hit. Gonzalez’s issues signaled poor protections by the Falcons in which there were too many instances where he was asked (along with a chipping running back) to try and block Hardy, and I don’t think it worked once. It was a rough way for Gonzalez to finish his career, being overused as a blocker and performing poorly at it.
I’m ready to give up on Peter Konz. It’s not the fact that Konz was exceptionally bad in this game (he fared worse a year ago). But the skills and tools simply aren’t there with Konz. He’s stiff with poor footwork and hand usage and he just appears to be moving in molasses. It was a complaint I once had for Lamar Holmes last summer when he was coming off injury and a rookie. Konz just doesn’t have an excuse to be as slow as he is. Harland Gunn is by no means a good guard, but he’s much better than Konz because he isn’t slow and makes up for his lack of size and strength with aggression.
Joe Hawley is the goat for this game for his botched snap at the end, although he didn’t have too bad a performance relative to the other blockers. But that probably is because he was the only one not to give up a sack. Ultimately for this game it’s degrees of crappiness, with Hawley and Blalock’s crap doesn’t smell as bad as the other starters.
Offensively, I thought the Falcons did a good job using screen passes to supplement their running game. None of the plays went for more than seven yards, but they were often utilized on first downs instead of running it into the teeth of a good Panthers defensive line. And given our blocking issues, I think that was a smart call on Dirk Koetter’s part.
Roddy White got credited with three drops, which matched his season total up until now. The critical one came in the fourth quarter with the Falcons driving. It happened on a 3rd-and-10, forcing the Falcons to settle for a 37-yard field goal that put them down 21-20. White was running a slant, and the safety was in position to make the tackle before he reached the first down. It was possible he could have broken the tackle and gotten the first, but my bet is that he would have been stopped a yard or two shy. But it begs the question, would Mike Smith had gone for it on 4th-and-1 down four points with 7:14 on the clock? The outcome of that potential decision changes the narrative for this game somewhat, especially if Smitty had opted to kick. The right decision in that situation (at Carolina’s 19-yard line) would have been to go for it. But given all the questionable decisions Smith has made this year, I’m not confident at all that he would have made the right call.
As for the pick-six, I’ll blame both Ryan and Harry Douglas. But that play really signaled exactly what I was referring to a few weeks ago when I discussed the poor rapport of Ryan and Douglas. Ryan stared down the throw from the jump, allowing Melvin White to read it easily. But Douglas clearly was not expecting the ball to come out quickly with White in off-coverage. By the time he turned around to wait for the pass, the ball was already behind him and White made an easy play. I’m sure we’ll continue to hear a lot of things out of Flowery Branch about how Matt Ryan is really comfortable with Harry Douglas but the proof is in the pudding. After two months of him being a primary target and six years of working together, their rapport is worth no more than the pile of crap that the offensive line was. Tom Brady had a great rapport with Wes Welker, but then Julian Edelman emerged this year. That is something that the Falcons should consider when they are making the decision about whether Douglas is worth keeping in 2014.