With the inglorious close to the play-offs and the damnable one-and-done comments rining my ears, I decided to think a bit about why they lost. And not just against Green Bay, but against all their opponents in 2010.
I think I stumbled upon two core problems.
- Mobile quarterbacks.
- Nervous/late throws by Ryan
The second one I most excited about being fixed. WIth the change in quarterback coaching, the ATL head office has a great opportunity to bring a new quarterback coach to assist Ryan in his ability. Ryan is dramatically improved from last year, showing very little of his tendency to give up pick-6's when backed up on his side of the field. Throughout the season a little nervousness showed with passing saililng long, underthrown etc. The last game showed just how much seperated him from being a good quarterback and being a great one. I strongly think that having 3 season in the NFL and leading your team to the #1 seed shows how far he's come. But the interceptions and points given away in the divisional game shows he's still got a ways to go. The ability to throw more timely seems a lot less of a challenge that the ability to call off plays at the line, read blitz packages and play smart. Ryan's got the latter and seems to be growing into the former. Going to the starting position straight from college is a hell of a learning curve. Comparing that to Rodgers who waited 3 years behind a great quarterback to start his first game. While Rodgers and Ryan have been starting for 3 years, Ryan is just finishing his Junior season while Rodgers completed grad school.
Now back to first item. While our defense was woeful in the last game, the true trouble isn't with pass coverage. It seems to me that the defense has one trouble: mobile quarterbacks. The loss to the Steelers in game one: no big Ben, but his back up. A quarterback who was willing to use his legs early and often. This guy through the defense into a 'wtf' mode that set up big plays. yes it was game 1. Yes, they got better. But the on field brain-fog of the players was palitable. The brain-fog set up big plays.
The next loss? The Eagles. One word: misdirection. Not exactly a mobile quarterback (Kolb) but still a lot of great play calling that set the defense into a tailspin of OMG's and WTF's. Let's call it a lesson in the fundementals of good defense. Once the offense started doing the things that they're not supposed to, the whole defense collectively started sitting back and just watching instead of driving.
Next? Yep, New Orleans at home. Brees avoided many sacks with a bit of mobility that threw off the pass rush. While close, the game was a loss. I think you can look to this game and see ATL's pass rush struggling to sack the quarterback. Yes, they hurried him, messed up his timing, but the defense missed many opportunities to bury Brees in that game. Just a little step to the left. A jump to the right. Defense with their hands on thier hips, Brees in tight. Pass-rush pass-rush pass-rush all game long. Let's do the time warp again.
The next game against an inadequate Carolina game was great for team's ego, but terrible for it's ability to adjust. That game told the defense "you're still special". The reality is the defense was dominant in that game but the quality of the opponent was terrible. Good defense always seem great against terrible teams. But the reality was still there: mobile quarterbacks are a problem for the pass-rush. And when you're getting ready for a title fight, you don't need to have a tuneup fight against a nobody. It just makes you weaker.
So here comes the post season with the results showing exactly how much of a funk ATL's defense gets into when faced with a mobile quarterback. Did they give up 7 points in two plays over 10 seconds? No. They made Green Bay put forth the effort to score. But could they stop an offense led by a mobile quarterback? Absolutely not. It was as if it was the Philly game all over again. Except this time it was the pass instead of the run. 1st and 20 to go. 2nd and 12. 3rd and oh wait, first down! The quarterback could read the defense all day. The quarterback could avoid the pressure when it came. The defense couldn't stop it because they couldn't get to the quarterback.
Conclusion: Atlanta's defense problems seems to stem from the inability to put pressure on mobile quarterbacks.
Postulation: ATL has effectively adjusted throughout the season to correct any troubles shown in previous outings. Remember this a copycat league. If problems persisted, they'd be exploited for the rest of the season. The Falcons do not appear to lapse. The closeness of games against mobile quarterbacks in the regular season failed to highlight just how much they needed to work on the pass-rush/sacking of the quarterback. 2011 will show a renewed defense that has addressed:
- Not giving up the big play for a score like against Pittsburg
- Not being fooled by misdirection like against Philedelphia
Now on to the problem of mobile tier 1 quarterbacks.