Overall, a very disappointing performance for the Atlanta Falcons were they got thoroughly outplayed by the Arizona Cardinals on both sides of the ball for four quarters.
Offensively, I’m going to blame the team’s lack of a deep threat and their inability to get much push on the ground for the main causes of their problems. I counted only one instance in the first half of the game where the Falcons took a measured shot and threw a pass beyond 15 yards. That occurred on an 18-yard throw by Matt Ryan to Drew Davis on a deep in on their second possession of the game. Remember the Falcons had 27 drop backs in the first half. They took more shots downfield in the second half, but that was mainly because they were trying to get back into the game. Ryan did not have the best game and had a few opportunities in the second half to get the big strike. On their first play of the third quarter, Darius Johnson was streaking down field and had a step on the defender, but for whatever reason Ryan chose to check the ball down to Patrick DiMarco for a 2-yard gain. It wasn’t a matter of not seeing him nor having protection, just that Ryan chose to check it down. Then in the fourth quarter, when Ryan hit Harry Douglas on a 25-play on an out and up, if Ryan had put a bit more air under the ball, Douglas could have ran under it and scored a touchdown. That would have given the Falcons six points with roughly 8 minutes left in the game. Instead they ultimately went down the field and scored on that drive, but four additional minutes bled off the clock.
Ryan threw four interceptions, and the first and third one were solely on him. He didn’t see Daryl Washington in the throwing lane on the first pick. On the third one, he tried to throw to a very well-covered Davis, forcing a throw. He then threw a bad ball, and Tyrann Mathieu had an easy pick. The second and fourth interceptions could be blamed on pressure preventing Ryan from stepping into his throws, and hanging up a ball for easy picks by Rashad Johnson. Both times, the Cardinals were able to get a free rusher to Ryan (Marcus Benard on the second pick and Karlos Dansby on the fourth one).
Overall, I thought the pass protection was serviceable. Granted, the standard has fallen sharply in Atlanta over the years. And I would say the line gave Ryan enough protection to make throws if not for the emphasis on short and intermediate throws. Frankly, the Falcons receivers aren’t good enough, and I liked that Dirk Koetter resorted to a lot of pick plays and complementary routes to help his receivers. But it’s clear that this group of receivers is not capable of carrying the load, especially when a team has to drop back 65 times in game. Especially when the no-huddle isn’t part of the equation.
That’s where the offensive line really gets the blame with their poor run blocking. Steven Jackson had really no space to get going, with maybe a yard before he would run into a wall. Granted, part of it was the fact that Jackson didn’t look sharp. And if this is all the push the Falcons can muster, they are better served using Jacquizz Rodgers as their primary rusher. Rodgers isn’t as consistent, but his quickness means he’s much more capable of creating beyond his blocking. The Falcons utilized a lot of traps and pulls in their man blocking, and frankly players like Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett were eating, chewing, and spitting out their blocks like sunflower seeds. I might need a second set of hands to count how many times the Falcons tried to double-team Campbell and he’d still clog the lane or make the tackle. I remember one instance vividly where Justin Blalock pushed Campbell downfield one-on-one, and then Reynolds was supposed to pull into the hole, but it was clogged by another defender and Jackson was stopped for a two-yard gain. Lamar Holmes struggled, but I should note his struggles came largely when he was blocking Campbell or John Abraham one-on-one. That has been the issue throughout this season, where there has been a significant gap in abilities when our blockers face opposing team’s good defensive linemen and/or linebackers. Blalock has been the only player that has shown that he can actually compete with premier opponents this year. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they face a lot of good defensive linemen and linebackers the rest of the season. So unless the Falcons make a move sooner rather than later, that’s an issue that isn’t going to be solved until the offseason.