This game reminded me some of the classic sorts of games the Atlanta Falcons would typically lose in past years, particularly in matchups against the Saints. The Falcons would have a number of opportunities, but due to a few too many breakdowns, they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of them.
The key difference is that this game wasn’t against a Super Bowl-contending Saints team, but against a cellar-dwelling Tampa Bay Bucs team. And the other difference is that after the twenty-minute mark, the Falcons took a notable dive. Bobby Rainey ran for a 43-yard touchdown, which was followed by an onside kick recovery, and things snowballed from there. And that’s when the bad Falcons team that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past month showed up. Before the Falcons could blink, things quickly went from a competitive 3-3 tie three minutes into the second quarter to a 24-3 score in a nine-minute span.
I honestly thought that the Falcons offensive game plan and execution through the first quarter was pretty solid. The only real mistakes were the pair of sacks given up by Peter Konz. Konz just couldn’t handle Gerald McCoy’s quickness and speed, his lack of footwork and punching power showed.
Then at the outset of the second quarter, the Falcons were moving the ball but then things ground to a halt once they got into the red zone. On 1st-and-5 at the Buccaneer 18, Lamar Holmes whiffed on a block that allowed Adrian Clayborn to chase down Jacquizz Rodgers for a 3-yard loss. Then Ryan looked for Rodgers over the middle on a check down but McCoy read it perfectly, sitting back to try and knock down the throw. Ryan tried to throw it over him, and it was off the mark to Rodgers. And then McCoy beat Konz for a third time on the next play, using power this time, and forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal.
If I’m desperately looking for a positive, it would to say that at least up until this point in the game, the Falcons looked similar to the team they were at the outset of this season, which was a team that could move the ball before things stalled in the red zone. So perhaps that could be considered improvement from some of their recent performances.
But thereafter, the Falcons really did nothing offensively. Ryan did not have a good game as he saw quite a bit of pressure up the middle, particularly from McCoy (3 sacks, 3 pressures). And the Bucs were also effective with delayed blitzes and stunts from other players. But Ryan was not very accurate and was off-target on a lot of throws, matching his season-high of 7 poor throws. He also had 7 against the Cardinals, but it should be noted that Ryan threw the ball 61 times against Arizona as opposed to only 36 attempts against Tampa Bay.
And once again, the Falcons didn’t really dial up any deep shots. On the red zone play I mentioned earlier, other receivers did run deeper routes, but Ryan looked for Rodgers underneath. Although I can’t really blame him because Rodgers was the only receiver that got open thanks to bracket coverage on Tony Gonzalez. The first real designed deep play didn’t come until 1:50 left in the second quarter, where Ryan could have taken a deep shot to Roddy where he was 1-on-1 against Darrelle Revis on the outside. But in truth, Ryan really wanted no part of Revis throughout the game, content to basically look at other receivers. That reminded me of a younger Ryan, when he would generally avoid top cornerbacks (I’m reminded of games against Antoine Winfield and Charles Woodson from 2008-10) at all costs. On that particular play, Ryan locked onto Harry Douglas early, but Dashon Goldson was in position, thus forcing Ryan to flee the pocket and ultimately throw it to Antone Smith for a 4-yard gain. That again led to another field goal. It should be noted that White wasn’t open on that play, but it just illustrates the current tentative state of the offense. Whether due to the fear of Revis Island or Roddy not being 100-percent, in previous seasons (or even games this season) I could guarantee you that would have been Ryan’s first read.
In the second half, the Falcons took a few more measured shots down the field, but didn’t connect because Ryan either made a bad pass or the pass protection wasn’t there. The deepest passes Ryan threw was a 16-yard throw on the 80-yard touchdown to Douglas, which was largely thanks to Mark Barron being out of position. And then later, Ryan’s second interception was when he forced a pass to Douglas over the middle on a 17-yard throw. Goldson picked it off as Ryan did not look him off. He had Tony Gonzalez open on a corner route where he had gotten behind Lavonte David.
As for Dominique Davis, in his limited action, the play-calling centered on quick drops and throws to get the ball out quickly. With the Bucs settling for underneath stuff, Davis had little issues completing most of his throws. His best pass was one where he threw a laser to Douglas, but it went through Douglas hands probably due to timing and the ball came on him out of his break probably a lot faster than he’s used to with Ryan’s throws.
I thought the running game looked fairly solid. Steven Jackson ran hard early, broke some tackles, and seemed to out-producing his blocking. It’s funny because that was often the case with Michael Turner last year, where after games where I was highly critical of Turner in suggesting he needs to be benched (and I had similar sentiments with Jackson last week), he came out and had a strong performance. Then he’d typically fall back to Earth the following week, so we’ll see if Jackson bucks that trend against the Saints on Thursday. If Rodgers had gotten better blocking, he could have had a more productive game. Antone Smith showed good speed in garbage reps and I think the team needs to be more willing to get him involved on some screen passes in future games.
I should also note that the official box score credited Josh Vaughan with a 12-yard catch when it was clearly Gonzalez that made the catch.
As previously noted, the blocking was poor. I thought Ryan Schraeder handled himself down the stretch, although I didn’t see anything to suggest he was clearly better than Jeremy Trueblood. But I do think he needs more reps and maybe alternating series would be a good idea this week. Just like Konz, Garrett Reynolds had his hands full against McCoy, but seemed a bit better because he is stronger and has a better punch. Joe Hawley handled himself fairly well in the middle. He’s a much better second-level blocker than Konz is, and looked similar to an older Todd McClure in the sense of his ability to get position but not push as a run blocker. If that sort of competent performance continues for Hawley, there’s no reason to plug Konz back into the lineup. I’m more than willing to give Konz another shot in 2014, but at this point it’s clear that he’s not among the best five-man unit the Falcons could field.