I could spend a dozen angsty paragraphs breaking down how this game went, but the hell with it. No one wants to relive that ten car pileup of a contest.
Instead, we'll just say this. The Falcons are 9-1 and share the best record in the league with the Texans. As the Packers, Texans and Buccaneers showed us yesterday, good teams struggle against inferior teams all the time and still walk away with a win. The defense did yeoman's work even when you consider the state of the Cardinals defense, overcoming an incredible six turnovers to hold Arizona to 19 points.
We must temper our enthusiasm with the knowledge that the Falcons play a spectacularly sloppy, error-filled game against a team they should have been able to handle at home. We must admit that Ryan throwing five picks, the Falcons scoring exactly one offensive touchdown and the fact that all the same problems we've been complaining about since late 2011 haven't gone away makes us nervous. The Falcons simply aren't going to make a deep playoff run playing games like this.
Right now, though, we can't say whether this was a fluke or a sign of bumps ahead. A brutal two week stretch against the Buccaneers on the road and the Saints at home should help. Let's hope the Falcons walk away with two wins.
Into the individual performances.
- Roddy White did bobble the first pass of the game, which unfortunately set the tone for the rest of the day. He then proceeded to reel in eight catches for 123 yards, which made him by far the most effective receiver on the field for either team yesterday. I'm giving him his props.
- On a day where Julio Jones was clearly not right and wound up calling it a game in the third quarter, Harry Douglas did a nice job filling in on a few short passes. He finished with 48 yards on five catches.
- Jacquizz Rodgers can't get much done behind this offensive line, either, but as a pass catcher and returner he's more than solid. He finished up with 5 carries for 16 yards, five catches for 35 yards and two kick returns for 26.5 yards a pop.
- Give Dominique Franks some credit: He had a nice punt return today. Still wish he would make better decisions, but hey.
Matt Bryant was a perfect 3/3 on field goals, drilling his longest from 51 yards. This is a different game with a less accurate kicker, and it may well have been one the Falcons didn't win.
- Matt Bosher pinned an anemic Arizona offense way back in their own territory multiple times. He averaged 51.2 yards per punt today, evincing the leg that earned him the nickname "Ol' Howitzer Bosher."
- John Abraham was so eager to get after the quarterback that he actually went offsides on one play. He more than made up for that with a sack, a forced fumble and enough situational awareness to tell Jonathan Babineaux to get into the end zone with that fumble. Oh, and he had a second sack.
- Jonathan Babineaux is a beast.
- Stephen Nicholas terrorized Ryan Lindley on a 14 yard sack that all but killed another Cardinals drive. It was fun to watch.
- The secondary was pretty good all game. I was especially impressed with Robert McClain, who stepped in when Asante Samuel went down and did an admirable job of covering Larry Fitzgerald. I think the Falcons may have found a keeper.
- This was easily the worst game of Matt Ryan's career. The three tipped and bobbled passes were unquestionably fluky, the stuff of quarterback nightmares and largely out of Ice's control. The other two interceptions and several incompletions were on his shoulders, however.
I don't want to say that the NFL has figured out how to attack Ryan, but quality pass rushes have deduced that if you push the weak interior of the Falcons' line, get in his face and keep quality man coverage going, Ryan can't make the play. He repeatedly overthrew receivers, made poor split second decisions and displayed a level of panic that's unusual for a quarterback who's usually quite collected. There aren't too many teams that can do that to Ryan, but it's a worrying sign.
- Of course, it's fair to say that Ryan wouldn't be under so much pressure if the Falcons could run the football. The Cardinals had no need to respect what Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling could accomplish on the ground and were able to concentrate solely on stopping Ryan.
The coaching staff seems at a loss to solve what is rapidly becoming a major problem. They're not changing the blocking schemes, they're not cutting back on Turner's carries and they're not doing anything exotic out there. That's a real issue when your ground game averages three yards a carry and your offense becomes completely one-dimensional. They have to try something else and s top assuming that Turner's going to get it going behind this patchwork line. He isn't.
- CATCH THE BALL!
- The offensive line couldn't run block and couldn't keep a clean pocket for Ryan. That's crippling for an offense, and it cost the Falcons points and yardage all game long. It may be time to start thinking about personnel changes, though I don't know what moves they can make that would actually improve things.
- The run defense is embarrassingly bad, and it has a lot to do with the poor tackling. LaRod Stephens-Howling should have had half his yardage, but the Falcons repeatedly failed to bring him down and took lousy angles to the ball carrier. Sloppy.
- Mike Smith and his staff are top notch coaches, but the playcalling was shaky and Smith's challenge flag never should have happened. The resistance to changing up what is not working and the continued lack of discipline on defense is a blot on an otherwise stellar season for the coaches.
Game MVP: John Abraham. He rushed the passer, his sack led to one of the Falcons' few scores and he scared the crap out of two Arizona quarterbacks. You could also nominate Matt Bryant.
Game Theme Song: I recommend silent meditation. Clear your mind of this game and you'll thank me later.
One Thing To Take Away: 9-1. It's nothing short of miraculous after a day like today.
Final Word: It'sawinnomatterwhatitlookslike.