This was a pretty ugly win. There were a few instances of outstanding execution on the part of the Falcons, particularly in the final minute. But for the most part the Falcons had a pretty mediocre game, largely because of some mental errors, poor execution, etc. Thankfully for the Falcons, Carolina really lost this game at the end with some really poor execution and bad coaching decision. It’s not the first time the Falcons have benefited from a bad decision from an opposing coach. The Bears gave of ’08, and two games against the Bucs where Raheem Morris made a bad decision at the end resulted in Falcon wins. This is just another notch in the Falcons belt. Mike Smith may not be the world’s greatest game manager, but it does make you appreciate that he certainly is on the upper end of that scale.
Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White really stood out in this game. Really the only issues you have with Ryan is that two of the sacks he had I attributed directly to him holding onto the ball too long. He was a little inaccurate on a couple of throws (particularly the deep ball out of bounds to Jones on the penultimate drive), but other than that he was playing at a very high level. Those are really nitpicks on a handful of plays. And with that lone exception, it’s really good to see Ryan being able to hit on these deep balls. You look at the five deep passes he had in this game, where he completed three of them. The one noted previously to Jones was only off by a few feet, and would have been a touchdown otherwise. And he also missed a near touchdown to Roddy on a back-shoulder throw that Roddy didn’t get his head around quick enough to adjust to. A year ago, very few of his deep passes were catchable. Up until this week, you didn’t really see the Falcons trying to hit on the deep balls very often. But one hopes that after this game, it’s something that is newly acquired in the Falcons repertoire.
I have to take my hat off to Turner in this game as well. He looked like the young Turner due to the fact that he was running hard, breaking tackles, and getting yards after contact. I think my favorite run by Turner in this game was on their second offensive series near the goalline. It was just a simple little 6-yard run, but on it Turner made a nice jump cut to the outside, and pick up another 5 yards to get the ball down to the 4-yard line. I can probably count on one hand how many times over the past few years where I’ve seen Turner make a jump cut like that. The question going forward is going to be whether this is Turner getting some of that old magic back, or whether he was just able to prey upon one of the league’s weakest run defenses.
Roddy once again showed in this game why he is one of the best receivers in the game with this game. On the other side of the field Julio Jones was the polar opposite and largely a non-factor. Part of that was due to pressure. And part of that was because he wasn’t getting open. Several incompletions to Jones were because defenders broke up passes. Which is hard to blame on Jones, but they were situations where he could have done a better job attacking the ball. Gonzo had another solid game.
Up front, the Falcons really struggled to protect Ryan. The crosshairs firmly fall on Clabo for he really struggled in this game against Charles Johnson. But he wasn’t alone. Not strong performances for Todd McClure and Sam Baker as well. Blalock and Reynolds definitely did their jobs. The positive thing for Clabo is that he made up for some of his problems in pass protection by having a fairly solid game run blocking. It was interesting to see the Falcons mix in Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley to help out in pass protection and the ground game. They didn’t fare well in pass protection, but they made some solid contributions in the ground game at times. It’s certainly something that I think the Falcons should continue to do situationally going forward.