G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. I’ll analyse the best case scenario for the Falcons, with what are, in my opinion, a few keys to victory, while dunlagh will play devil’s advocate and look at how the game will turn out if we play at our true worst.
Hey guys, it’s time for the Best Case/Worst Case again! This one will likely be a quick one as a) last week’s best case was close to 2000 words plus pictures, and I don’t want to be that guy who overstays his welcome and b) as I may have mentioned, I’m currently halfway through my final exams for university for the year so….study and that. Anyway, coming off the third most bitter loss in the last 10 games for the Falcons (I’m going Packers in the playoffs, Chicago, Saints game), we’re looking to bounce back against the recently reinvigorated Titans. Tennessee absolutely put Carolina to the sword last week, and did a fairly good job of containing Cam Newton too if my fantasy loss is anything go by, and it seems they still have a shot at the AFC South with the Matt Schaub injury potentially derailing the Texans’ season. As such they have everything left to play for, as do we. I’ll be absolutely distraught if we lose two in a row from here on in, as it all but rules us out of the playoffs, and we’ll need to stay sharp if we want to dodge that bullet for this week. This week, the best case scenario comes if we convert it the red zone, get some pressure and integrate some more weapons.
Convert in the red zone: I am of the firm belief that going for it on fourth down was the correct call. I disagree hugely with the play call, but I love the decision. What I didn’t love was the fact that our offense stalled on some very promising drives (particularly the final drive of the 4th quarter). The Saints ranked last in red zone defence, and we left some serious points out there. Obviously it seems a lot worse due to the close nature of the game, but we can ill afford to come away with 3 instead of 7 too often. Last year our redzone conversion was fantastic, and our 80+ yards, 7+ minute drives usually resulted in 7 points. This year, and this might just be my perception, but it seems like we’re stalling a lot more around the 20-30 than we have been in the pass. If we can fix that up against the Titans, who are allowing 20.7 points per game, then it could start a series of successful games in the red zone.
Generate pressure: Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the rise and fall of the pass rush. We shattered Newton and Stafford in the pocket, but didn’t get to Painter as much as we could of. Then, of course, we successfully sacked Brees 0 times all game on Sunday. Abraham has been a complete non entity in recent weeks, and Biermann’s play has dropped off from the usual guaranteed explosive plays a few times per game to barely registering on the stat sheet. Our defensive bright spots have been the force of our interior, led by Corey Peters, and the brilliant LB play, however we really need to establish ourselves at getting to the passer more often. This has been probably the most inconsistent part of our game this year, and if we never know which Falcons pass rush unit will show up, it’s going to be hard to judge the games from here on in.
This week provides a challenge defensively in CJ0.5K as, although he’s had a very poor year, he’s started to pick up in recent years. Despite containing Sproles and the entire New Orleans RB crew, I think it’s still safe to say that we’re not exactly league leaders at covering RBs out of the backfield. Spoon seems to be a beast at sniffing out screens, which is fantastic, but if we’re not careful we could see Chris Johnson with a lot more receiving yards than rushing yards. If we can sniff out the screens early, and force a rejuvenated Matt Hasselbeck to hold the ball a second longer, we could generate some sacks – quite the achievement against a Titans O-line which has allowed just 13 sacks all year.
Intergrate some more weapons: This one seems more optimistic than plausible, but dammit, I’m writing it anyway! This season we’ve seen HD put up some solid numbers when shot into the limelight. When JJ has gone down hurt, Harry Douglas has been there. It looks at this point like we’ll be without Julio again which, whilst unfortunate, could help us open up a little. As has been mentioned in previous posts this week, there seems to be a feeling that Matt Ryan gets too locked onto particular receivers at any given point. However, last week Ryan connected with 8 different receivers prior to the final drive of the 4th quarter. Whilst this isn’t the 10-12 receivers you see from Aaron Rodgers, it’s definitely a good start on a team that has two receiving playmakers out of the backfield, as well as Turner and Cox who can contribute when called upon. Throw in the mix of Roddy, Tony and HD, and there’s 7 available receivers right there on any given drive. If we could somehow get Kerry Meier on the field for a snap, well that would just be great, but I’m not holding my breath. Even with 5-7 receivers being available on each drive, it’s not difficult for the defence to get their personnel mix up, or just have single coverage when double coverage was needed (or in Snelling’s case, only 8 men covering when 11+ were needed). I’d love to see how often we run with Jacquizz and Turner on the field at the same time, as I think an inverted wishbone with Ryan under centre and Rodgers/Turner 5 yards deep either side could really become an offensive threat if we’d ever bother to call something that adventurous. Whether you like him, hate him, want him fired or want him knighted, it’s hard to argue with the fact that Mularkey is vanilla. If we throw in 3 interesting, ‘new’ plays, ones which at least attempt to get all our weapons involved, this week I’ll be satisfied. Hopefully we can start building our playbook a little deeper and a little less up-the-middle-y. I said optimistic not plausible didn’t I?
We really need a win this week, both to get the sour taste of the Saints game out of our mouth and to mount our wildcard push. 11-5 is the only guaranteed playoff record we could have in my opinion, as 10-6 or 9-7 leaves us far too open for tiebreakers. With 4 of our final 7 games in the Dome, we need to capitalise on the chances we have. The Titans are picking up at the wrong time for us, but if we put together a four quarter game, and don’t leave so may plays out there, we’re always a chance of putting together a beatdown. Hopefully this is the week where everything comes together, and starts our back-end of the season on the right footing. As always, be sure to check out the Worst Case Scenario here, and thanks for reading. Go Falcons!