There were many more than three plays from Sunday's game that directly contributed to the Falcons losing. From the outset, the Falcons were bested by the Cardinals on both sides of the ball. With a couple of exceptions--the Asante Samuel interception, Matt Bosher's recovery of Matt Bosher's onside kick--the team looked lackluster throughout the game.
The problem with this game was that so many of the ugly issues that have plagued the Falcons throughout the season--sub-par pass protection, a lack of any semblance of a rushing game, weak defense, the inability to score touchdowns in the red zone--were prevalent throughout the game. Because of that, let's look at the plays that haunt the Falcons from Sunday's game against Arizona, as they have continued to haunt the team throughout the season.
Asante Samuel's first quarter interception put the offense on the Arizona 31 yard line. A 20-yard pass to Drew Davis put the Falcons in the red zone, on the Arizona 11 yard line. This short series exemplified Atlanta's red zone struggles, so instead of focusing on just one of these failed plays, let's look at all three downs that led to the field goal.
On first down, the Falcons bring Joe Hawley in as a tight end for extra blocking. Darius Johnson is spread wide to the left, and Harry Douglas is in the slot. Steven Jackson is in the backfield with Patrick DiMarco. After the snap, Ryan Trueblood just fails entirely to block or do anything about Arizona's Darnell Docket. Steven Jackson is stopped for a loss of three yards.
On second down, Ryan completes an eight-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez, leaving the Falcons with third and five, because of the loss of yards on first down. Third down was an incomplete pass to Steven Jackson. Jackson is in the backfield, Darius Johnson is spread to the left, Harry Douglas is in the slot, and Drew Davis is spread to the right.
Ryan rolls out, attempts the pass to Steven Jackson in the end zone, and it is deflected by John Abraham. Jackson dives for a catch, but it doesn't happen, forcing a Matt Bryant field goal.
It was clear early on that the defense wasn't having a great day. Early in the second quarter, Arizona had a third-and-goal from the Atlanta ten yard line. The Falcons are in zone coverage. Desmond Trufant, Dominique Franks, and William Moore to a lesser extent, are all in position to contribute to coverage on Fitzgerald, and the spot where Fitzgerald ultimately catches the touchdown pass looks to be in Franks' zone.
Moore reacts to the pass and tries to get to Fitzgerald in time, but can't, and the pass is complete for a touchdown.
Possibly the most egregious play by the defense was the failure that allowed Cardinals running back Andre Ellington to break loose for an 80-yard touchdown run. As ESPN's Vaughn McClure wrote yesterday, the Falcons have been susceptible to giving up big plays, allowing 11 plays of 40 or more yards so far this season. Despite the fact that the Falcons specifically schemed for Ellington, according to safety William Moore, it did not help on this play.
The Falcons are in the nickel, with Desmond Trufant up on the line of scrimmage with the defensive line. Ellington takes the handoff from Carson Palmer in the backfield, and tries to cut up the middle, where his line has created a huge hole. Rookie undrafted free agent linebacker-turned-starter Joplo Bartu closes the gap.
The defense collapses to the middle, but Ellington doesn't. He bounces outside, and takes it 80 yards for a touchdown. Thomas DeCoud is initially in a position to make a stop, but he took a bad angle.
In the interest of having something positive to take away from this, I give you Robert Alford's hustle.
It just wasn't a good showing for the Falcons, and these plays haunt us because the same things keep happening week after week. The loss to the Cardinals is the first time the Falcons have lost by more than one score, which would suggest that the Falcons could pull it together if they would only correct these consistent issues, but there have been few signs of improvement through this point in the season.
Which plays from last week continue to haunt you?