The Atlanta Falcons are now 2-2, good for third in the NFC South. They avoided the basement for another week, and that's worth celebrating. So is the fact that they hung 30 on a pretty decent defense and looked, for stretches of the game, like a really good football team.
You'll forgive me if I'm not in a celebratory mood right now, nonetheless. What we saw last night from these Falcons was a brush with disaster. Nothing less, nothing more. They allowed a team with 30 points in its first three games to hang 28 points on them in the fourth game of the season, and the offensive play calling went from inspired in the first half to laughably predictable in the second. In a game they were expected to win easily, the Falcons managed only to hold on.
It shouldn't be this way. This team has weapons out the wazoo offensively and all the pieces needed to field a competent defense. What strikes me most from watching the Falcons in action is how little the gameplan seems to change from week to week, and I have to wonder if the team is learning from its many mistakes thus far in 2011.
Mike Smith freely admitted that the Seahawks were loading eight or nine players in the box and daring the Falcons to run all day long. Rather than audible out and attempt to exploit that, the Falcons gave Turner an astounding 26 carries. He managed just 70 yards off of those carries, and actually managed to lose yardage more than once in the second half on first down carries. Despite Tarvaris Jackson roasting them underneath all game, the zone remained intact. And so on.
I realize that it's easy for me to sit here and criticize the Falcons, and a lot harder to actually adjust a gameplan on the fly. But like 2pac, I've see no changes, and it's damn clear that there are a whole host of changes that need to be made. Until I see the Falcons willing to evolve according to what's happening on the field, all the talk about positions being open to competition and adjustments being made is just that. Talk.
At least the Falcons won, and at least there were positives to this performance that could carry over in the weeks ahead. Any momentum heading into a game against the Green Bay Packers is good momentum.
After the jump, we hit the highlights, lowlights and more.
- Matt Ryan had a superb game. Flushed from the pocket all day by a line that only incrementally improved over a week ago, he consistently found the open man and executed, completing 28 of his 42 passes for 291 yards. It wasn't a perfect performance, but he managed to avoid sacks and make things happen.
Even better, he was the team's most efficient ball carrier, managing 26 yards on four carries. There will be some attention paid to a couple of bad throws here, but in my eyes Ice deserves praise for the way he handled the pass rush today.
- Near the goal line, Michael Turner went into beast mode. He scored twice, propping up an otherwise dismal day.
- Julio Jones was a non-factor for the first couple of weeks, but he's come on strong the last couple. Any time teams match cornerbacks up against him man-to-man, as the Seahawks chose to do, his superior athleticism and guile win out.
In total, he managed 11 catches for 127 yards and displayed a fantastic rapport with Ryan. Given the well-publicized struggles of the Green Bay secondary, Jones should be a huge part of the offense for the third straight week next Sunday night.
- Roddy White was efficient and displayed his usual double team-beating skills on his six receptions, which he deserves props for. More later.
- Tony Gonzalez is the team's best red zone weapon. No one's going to confuse him with the Tony Gonzalez of younger years, who had the wheels to blaze by cornerbacks, but he's still fast enough and strong enough to get at the ball and make defenders pay. Yesterday he had 7 catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, which is almost par for the course for him now.
- Curtis Lofton is getting better all the time. Mike Peterson has a sweet deflection and he capitalized on it, picking off Tarvaris Jackson. The linebackers remain a strength, with a special tip of the cap to Spencer Adkins for applying fantastic pressure on Seattle's last, make-or-break offensive play.
- Thomas DeCoud had a nice pick, making two weeks in a row where he's victimized the quarterback. His subsequent decision to bring it out of the end zone was not a smart one, but I understand wanting to make something happen.
- The run defense remained stout. The guys up front are about as solid against the run as you can possibly get.
- Matt Bosher was incrementally better, especially because he was punting to a short field more than once. He'll be mentioned later, too.
- Matt Bryant is so money, I want to put him in my wallet.
- For all that noise about...well, noise...the Falcons dealt with the notoriously loud Seattle crowd well. They converted over half their third down opportunities and didn't have any blatantly obvious mistakes caused by it. Kudos for that.
- Don't let the lack of sacks fool you. The offensive line did Matt Ryan and Michael Turner no favors today, repeatedly failing to open up holes and stop the Seattle defensive line from getting penetration into the backfield.
Mike Johnson must have practiced pretty damn poorly to not get the call over Garrett Reynolds, who struggled all day and had a costly penalty in the second half. The Falcons also had horrible luck running up the middle when both Todd McClure and Joe Hawley were in the game, as well as running off-tackle to Sam Baker's side. Just a miserable day for the line, which is fast becoming the unwelcome norm.
- Turner can only do so much with a bad defensive line, but he couldn't get anything going today. I intend to go easy on him for reasons I'll talk about more in a second.
- Roddy White had a couple of dumb drops...again. I don't remember the days where this was a regular thing with any fondness, and I really hope it doesn't continue. The Falcons are a better team when Roddy is his 2008-2010 self.
- What the hell was with the play calling today?
The Falcons gave the ball to Turner even when they were up by two points and desperately needed a quick strike score. They did so despite the fact that the Seahawks were keying on the run all day and failing miserably against the pass. When Mularkey could be jarred out of his first down run calls and timid passes, he was calling some ridiculously bad plays, like the third down screen to Michael Palmer that netted the team two yards.
I'm sympathetic to Mularkey in a way many here aren't. I've defended him before because he takes more than his share of the blame, and there were stretches in this game when he ran the offense beautifully. You cannot deny that he did so.
But the Falcons are way too quick to go conservative and seem to panic when teams are ahead or making a comeback, and there's a basic failure to adjust that worries me to no end. As @mFalcons5 said to me last night, forcing balance when a lack of balance is required is not smart football.
- The defense was suffering against the pass, in large part due to a nonexistent pass rush. Facing a middling offensive line, the Falcons couldn't get a single sack and failed to punish Tarvaris Jackson for sitting comfortably in the pocket long after he should have been able to.
That led to a lot of strain on the secondary, which had a mediocre day outside of DeCoud's pick. With Brian Van Gorder locking them into his favorite zone—we're back to the adjustments discussion again—Jackson just picked the Falcons apart underneath until he was able to take a couple chances further downfield.
Without a real pass rush and with a zone that allows teams to relentlessly push down the field with short passes, the Falcons are going to struggle to stop anybody. It may be a fluke that the Seahawks were able to do as well as they did Sunday, but I don't think so.
I think the Seahawks made adjustments the Falcons couldn't or weren't willing to make at halftime, and it paid off in a big way. That scares me.
Game MVP: Giving that game ball to Matt Ryan. He really did it all today, despite being under duress all game.
Game Theme Song: Hell, we're going with 2pac.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons are still proficient at pulling out close games. They're just not playing well enough now to put teams away.
Next Week: The Packers are coming to the Georgia Dome. Check out Acme Packing Company for a lot more.
Final Word: Close.