Erstwhile colleague Jason Kirk has been chastising those Falcons fans who wrung their hands after the Steelers loss, which is fair. The Falcons are clearly a much better offensive team than we saw in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers bottled up the talented Chris Johnson yesterday. That said, our favorite team isn't going to drop 41 points and look utterly dominant every week. Our expectations should be tuned in the middle of that: A potential playoff team with a lot of promising pieces who will play a damn good game week-in, week-out.
I said last week that the Falcons were exposed as a team who struggle when enough pressure is exerted, and that may still be true. The Cardinals barely sniffed Matt Ryan in this one, and he responded by playing efficient football. Does he still lock in on Roddy White too much? I'd argue that he does. Does it matter when he's throwing accurate passes and White is absolutely abusing anyone brave enough to face his wrath? Uh, no.
Despite being down to their final active running back and a fullback, the Falcons gashed the Cardinals on the ground. They sliced through the Cardinals' well-regarded secondary. Their defense ate Derek Anderson and Max Hall alive, exerting pressure and accounting for three picks. It was absolutely one of the most stellar all-around performances you're going to see from the Falcons, and I insist you enjoy it. Glory—and yes, this was glorious—is fleeting in the NFL.
That said, want to bet against the Falcons hanging 35 points on the Saints? Can't say I would.
Join me after the jump and we'll break down the team's performance.
- I had to laugh nervously watching Matt Ryan today. It's entirely possible he's going to knock my head off with a pass for half-jokingly revoking the Matty Ice nickname.
He still overthrew a handful of passes, but Ryan's comfort in the pocket was evident Sunday. He was accurate, completing 21 of his 32 passes. He took what the defense gave him and occasionally reached back for a nice long pass. He formed an excellent rapport with Jason Snelling, White and Brian Finneran in the red zone, finding them in a sea of defenders. Ryan put a lot of doubt to rest this week, I think, and all that's left is to keep working on his footwork and ensure the offensive line can give him time to throw. Not fumbling would also help, but getting hit from behind will do that to a quarterback.
Someone said earlier this week that Ryan may never be Peyton Manning, and they were right. He won't be. But if he can complete 60% of his passes, toss a couple touchdowns and keep defenses guessing each week, he's one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Easily.
- I had to stop my revelry for a minute to reflect on Jason Snelling's career Sunday. Here's a guy drafted in the seventh round by the previous regime, a guy who has battled through epilepsy, and someone who seemed redundant after the team signed Michael Turner. Guys like that usually end up on the practice squad, bouncing to another team, or out of the league entirely.
A funny thing happened with Snelling, though. He was good. By all accounts, he's a great guy and a hard worker, and he showed up to practices running like an army was marching only an hour behind him. Over the last few years, he's gotten steadily better, developing to the point he's at now. There isn't a back on this roster who offers the same blend of power, deceptive speed, pass-catching ability and blocking. I mean, he rushed for over 100 yards and accounted for 57 through the air. That's kinda awesome.
Let's not get this twisted: Snelling should not start over Turner. A healthy Turner gives us our best chance to win, and he was explosive before tweaking his groin. The Falcons held him out because they were blowing out the Cardinals and Snelling was running exceptionally well. He should definitely be used to spell Turner moving forward, though, and he's the best insurance policy we've got for big guy.
- I may not agree with Matt Ryan's policy of throwing to Roddy White every time he sees a flash of his jersey number, it's hard to argue with the results. Targeted a team-high 12 times Sunday, White hauled in 7 of them for 78 yards and a touchdown. He's far and away the best receiver on this team, and he's giving opposing cornerbacks fits. Just what I want to see.
- Every time I leave Brian Finneran for dead, he comes back for more. He's the wide receiver edition of the Terminator.
Nothing outstanding in the final stat lines for Finn, but he was excellent this game outside of a bizarre unnecessary roughness penalty that saw him stacking furniture with a Cards defender. Three quality catches, one for a touchdown, and the crispest route running in the business. All young Falcon receivers should be required to study game tape of Finn and try to emulate his blocking.
- The offensive line held up well all day, with one exception, which we'll touch upon later on. They blocked well for Matt Ryan and they blocked exceptionally well for Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, who were hitting holes wider than Grady Jackson throughout the game. Very encouraging performance.
- The defensive front seven was quietly very good, except for Jonathan Babineaux, who was loudly very good. Babineaux sacked hapless Derek Anderson and hit him so hard on another play that, to quote Eminem, he smacked his clothes backwards like Kriss Kross.
In related news, Babineaux is going to dominate in 2010.
Sean Weatherspoon showed us exactly why he's starting as a rookie.
Looking quick and alert, 'Spoon piled up tackles and absolutely eviscerated hapless Derek Anderson to pick up a sack. His selection in the draft was a rare no-brainer for Thomas Dimitroff, and the talented linebacker is paying immediate dividends.
- Two defensive backs managed to pick hapless Derek Anderson (see a pattern here?). Chris Owens, who I'm praying is healthy, grabbed the first. William Moore, who laid some serious wood down in this game, got another.
Then there was jittery rookie Max Hall, who threw a terrible pass that Dominique Franks lovingly plucked from the sky. There's so much promise in this young secondary it gives me goosebumps.
- Dunta Robinson played well, tipped at least one pass and was aggressive in his coverage against one of the finest receivers in the league. Dude gets props from me.
- Converting both short field goals chances and all five of his extra points, Matt Bryant is golden. His leash just got a little bit longer, which has to be a relief for the Falcons and is CERTAINLY a relief for me.
- The entire team deserves to be mentioned. Bad teams just don't shut down talented teams like that and embarass a defense with multiple Pro Bowl contenders. The Falcons are pulling up to the station, and we are all witnesses.
- Oh, Sam Baker. How you make me weep!
On one hand, you have to appreciate Baker's desire to protect Matt Ryan, even if he has to grab a fistful of jersey and messily devour a pass rusher. On the other hand, three penalties in a single drive is a bad sign for his awareness and discipline.
Baker was efficient throughout much of the game and doesn't deserve to be crucified for this, but it's another indication of why a lot of fans simply don't trust him. There's still a lot for the young tackle to prove. Hopefully he does.
- I've been hearing whispers that Tony Gonzalez is losing a step. I'm not sure that's anything more than a reaction to his low catch totals—just two in each of the first two games of the season—but he's not getting the kind of separation you would expect. Facing a weaker corps of linebackers from the Saints next week, we'll see if he can bounce back.
Game MVP: Hand this one to Jason Snelling. He ended up with 129 yards on the ground, 57 through the air, three touchdowns and a lot of unhappy Cardinals in his wake.
Game Theme Song: One of my favorite songs of the moment also serves as a perfect way to kick our malaise to the curb.
One Thing To Take Away: Firing on all cylinders, the Falcons are as scary as any team in the NFL. Maybe scarier.
Next Week: We're off to New Orleans to face off against the hated Saints. At least wait until they finish their Monday night game before you start lobbing good-natured venom over at Canal Street Chronicles.
Final Word: Domination.