There's an air of confusion about this Falcons team.
Yesterday, there were ecstatic fans--I was among them--and dour fans. Some could not understand how the Falcons could be so inconsistent, and fail to absolutely destroy a team as inept at the Minnesota Vikings. Others were just happy for a win and the flashes of absolute brilliance the Falcons managed in this one.
The truth is, both camps have valid points. This is a 7-4 football team with a strong defense and an offense that appears to be coming into its own. On the flip side of that, this is a football team that has lost very winnable games due to an offense that craps out at exactly the wrong moment and a coaching staff that cannot seem to establish consistency in all three phases of the game. It is, in short, a perfectly imperfect football team.
We saw another microcosm of that on Sunday. The Falcons played almost perfectly for the first half, putting up 17 points and allowing none. It seemed like they were well on their way to victory, until the third quarter happened. The Vikings hung seven on a suddenly hapless Vikings team and actually pulled to within three before the Falcons roared to life, scoring, narrowly avoiding a Percy Harvin kick return for a touchdown and making a crucial stop on short yardage.
If you wanted to see the Falcons at their best, you saw it. If you wanted to see them near their worst...well, you saw that too.This is a baffling, deeply maddening football team with an enormous amount of talent. On any given Sunday, you're likely to see what you're inclined to see.
As the eternal optimist, I believe the Falcons will end up with a 10-6 or 11-5 record, which may or may not be good enough to get them to the playoffs. They've now won five of six games and are improving to these eyes by the week. A lot can go wrong in the weeks ahead, but the Falcons took care of business on Sunday and are three games over .500.
Strap in and try to enjoy the ride, everyone. Figuring out this team may be damn near impossible.
After the jump, a breakdown of individual and team performances.
- Matt Ryan is coming on strong. He's now turned in three straight quality performances, and he treated the Vikings secondary like a pasture full of gentle breezes on Sunday.
By the end of the game, he was 27 of 34 for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a tiny handful of bad throws, but it was a consistent, borderline dominant performance throughout. If Roddy White and Julio Jones hadn't dropped a couple of deep passes, it could have been even better.
Aside from a daunting matchup against the Texans next week, Ryan's got a fairly easy slate ahead. He could really take off between now and the playoffs, is what I'm saying.
- Jacquizz Rodgers is such a weapon. With only three carries and two catches, he accounted for 31 total yards, coming up with a huge first down late in the game. The Falcons would be wise to integrate him into the offense even further in the weeks ahead.
- Roddy White let one go through his hands early. It was a tough catch, admittedly, one where he was stumbled and where Ryan led him by a few inches. But it was probably still catchable.
All White did from there on out was catch over a third of Ryan's completed passes, haul in a difficult touchdown pass and rack up 120 yards through the air. Against a middling secondary, White was clutch and capable and consistently fought for extra yardage. As Ryan has caught fire, so has Roddy.
- Harry Douglas came up huge on both of his catches. The touchdown reception was a thing of beauty, especially when he shed a tackle from EJ Henderson. On the lighter side, a guy like HD shouldn't consider the middle his bread and butter, but that's where Douglas is comfortable.
- Tony Gonzalez is the most consistent weapon on the team. He caught all nine of his targets for 69 yards, which speaks volumes about how sure-handed he is.
- Michael Palmer ran a nice route and held on for a touchdown. You gotta give props to guys down on the depth chart when they manage that.
- On a day where Ryan was sacked twice and harried a few times, it would still be fair to argue that the Falcons held up pretty well along the line, Joe Hawley's daylong meltdown notwithstanding. Particularly impressive was Will Svitek, who held Jared Allen to zero sacks. He deserves to keep his starting job even when Sam Baker is healthy.
Give props to the line as a whole, though. A team with almost 30 sacks in 10 games being limited to two is solid.
- Eric Weems had one huge punt return and three other pretty good ones. When he's not making mistakes and not hesitating, Weems is as dangerous as anyone not named Percy Harvin or Devin Hester.
Matt Bryant is automatic.
Matt Bosher was huge today. He averaged 50.4 yards per punt with one inside the 20, and it's hardly his fault that Percy Harvin had such a great return. We'll talk a little bit more about that later.
- Lawrence Sidbury is a fantastic situational pass rusher, and I believe he will someday be more than that. He twice managed to sack Christian Ponder, even if one of those was basically Ponder wandering right into him. The combination of speed and agility is something the Falcons are lacking at end outside of El Sid.
- Speaking of sacks, Sean Weatherspoon got one. He also completely dominated the Vikings.
There may not be a better defender on the D right now than Spoonami, who was in the backfield constantly, making aggressive tackles at the line of scrimmage and just generally flying all over the field. He's fast becoming unstoppable out there.
- Chris Owens takes a lot of crap. He took some more yesterday for struggling in coverage on a couple of drives after being forced into the starting lineup in relief of Brent Grimes.
That said, he had two huge plays on Sunday. The first was a sack. The second was a relentless pursuit of Percy Harvin that saved a return touchdown. The Falcons got a stop four plays later, but that never would have happened if Owens hadn't shown the kind of hustle and resilience that sportscasters drool over. He deserves huge props for that play.
Dunta Robinson was sharp in coverage all day long. The crucial third and long where he popped a hapless receiver over the middle was an exercise in good timing.
- Christian Ponder had a pretty good game all the way around, and it's clear that the pass rush was not consistent. It was great in stretches, though, and Ponder's mobility is a mitigating factor. I give the pass rush in totality a B.
- Michael Turner was pretty mediocre after the first drive, when he was a big part of the offense. Uninspired playcalling reared its ugly head with him again, but Turner just had a hard time against the Vikings front seven. It's not going to get any easier against the Texans.
- Julio Jones was a complete non-factor, except as a decoy. He committed a penalty and dropped a perfectly thrown Matt Ryan deep pass before disappearing for the rest of the game. He's still a valuable piece of the offense, but I'm glad Ryan's not forcing throws to him.
- Joe Hawley settled down in the second half, but he had his first truly terrible game as a pro. He allowed Everson Griffin to kill Ryan, committed a penalty and looked shaky in run-blocking. I'll chalk it up to a bad game for now.
- Mike Mularkey and Mike Smith let Matt Ryan pilot the offense through most of the first half and called smart plays when he wasn't. Then the third quarter hit and the offense turtled, going timid and conservative and just generally lacking any semblance of balls. It's not a coincidence that the Falcons managed about 30 yards in the quarter and the Vikings scored.
The Falcons need to develop a killer instinct when they have a lead. Running up a 17 point lead to 24 or even 31 points isn't a bad thing. It's smart football, particularly when the defense is prone to third quarter lapses of its own.
- The special teams coverage kind of stunk on the Harvin return. Just pointing that out.
- The pass rush gets a B, but it would have been nice to see more pressure from the line outside of Sidbury. Abe and Edwards got into the backfield a couple of times but totally whiffed on the athletic Ponder, which somehow manages to be understandable and disappointing at the same time.
- Outside of Dunta Robinson, the secondary had a little trouble containing Ponder. It was even worse when Brian Van Gorder's soft zone met Percy Harvin, who managed to streak down the field for a touchdown with only Curtis Lofton to cover him. That just can't happen.
- Consistency is a good thing. It's fine that Mike Smith admits the Falcons still have issues to fix, especially in the third quarter. It's another thing to finally fix them. Let's hope they do so before they have to take on the Texans.
Game MVP: Lot of deserving candidates in this one, and Matt Ryan would seem to be impossible to pass up. Still, I'm going to give it to 'Spoon, who single-handedly ruined a couple of Vikings drives in this one.
Game Theme Song: I don't know that this actually fits, but I was listening to it while I wrote the post and it kinda felt right. You know? Totally.
One Thing To Take Away: A win. Because that's what the Falcons took away.
Next Week: The difficult task of facing the Houston Texans. They have a great ground game and a terrific defense, even if they're starting their third string quarterback against the Falcons. It won't be easy, so brush up with Battle Red Blog.
Final Word: Sevenandfour.