To paraphrase the great e.b. white, to be a great team in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you a lousy one means to fight the hardest battle any team can fight; and never stop fighting. Are the Falcons a great team? I'd say the jury's out on that one, and a few jurors are getting in their cars to head home.
The Falcons came into this game with some serious injury issues. They knew the offense line would be a problem, and they knew they would be facing a quality football team. To get the win, they would have to cover their weaknesses and emphasize their strengths. They would also have to get the win on the road. This was not going to be easy, and you should recognize that before you read the rest of this article.
The Falcons did not win, obviously. They did take a weak ground game and made it work, punishing the Dolphins to trying to get after Matt Ryan. In turn, Ice made them pay for trying to stop the run. The offense was mighty effective throughout the day. Unfortunately, though, they didn't finish several drives and the settling for field goals caught up with them when Matt Bryant missed a 35 yarder. Arguably it caught up with them sooner than that, given that they wound up on the wrong side of the loss column.
The defense was mediocre all game. The Dolphins successfully picked on Thomas DeCoud and Robert McClain all game long, coming up with long scoring drives where they were able to run a little and pass a lot against a team that had been reasonably stingy on defense. It wasn't a blowout, but it was a disappointing effort on balance. Combine the shortcomings on offense and defense and it was just enough to lead to a narrow loss.
Ultimately, the Falcons make too many mistakes. They settle for too many field goals. You can overcome those habits if you have a healthy team that plays flawless football, but this team isn't healthy and the issues that seem to be present in the DNA of Atlanta football are difficult to overcome. When a team like the Dolphins can hang around until the end, they've got an excellent chance of winning the game. Guess what? They hung around, and won.
The Falcons are now 1-2, back with the Panthers and two games behind the Saints in the race for the NFC South. It's early, of course, and I never would tell anyone to panic based on three games with a home game and the Jets coming up. It's far too early for that. If you're not concerned that the Falcons keep making the same mistakes and don't seem capable of putting teams away, though, I don't know what to tell you. You ought to be.
That said, three weeks in. A lot more football to be played. That's solace.
Let's get into the individual breakdowns.
- Matt Ryan came into this game without his starting running back, without his left tackle and with a clearly limited Roddy White. He proceeded to show poise and an excellent arm against a quality defense despite decent pressure from the first snap to the last.
His numbers don't jump off the page, but given the circumstances, it was a strong performance right up until a horrendous interception that sealed the win for the Dolphins. I have a hard time hanging too much around his neck, but we'll cover this in the ugly.
- Remember how we all thought the ground game would go nowhere? Uh, about that...
Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling ran hard, make tacklers miss and looked fantastic behind the new-look offensive line, which certainly can run block a little. Rodgers did great work all day.
Snelling was just excellent all around. He had over 100 yards combined between his rushing and receiving, and he continues to argue his case for a larger role in this offense. Let's hope he gets it.
- Julio Jones is the clear number one option in this passing game. Maybe it took Tony Gonzalez slowing down a little and Roddy White having a high ankle sprain, but there's no question that having to rely on Julio Jones has helped Ryan. The stud wide receiver should have an absolute gigas of a year, and he's had one already.
- Levine Toilolo deserves kudos for his first NFL touchdown, a two yard snag where he embarrassed the Dolphins' safety. Hopefully the first of many.
- The offensive line had its continued struggles in pass blocking, but man did the run blocking look a thousand times better with Lamar Holmes at left tackle and Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle.That's a plus, and even though the Falcons clearly gameplanned to keep Ryan clean, the line is making incremental progress in pass pro week over week.
- Osi Umenyiora is not too bad, no? Despite every Giants fan telling us that he was washed up, Osi has looked very good through three games. Yesterday he sacked Ryan Tannehill twice and forced two fumble, which was nice. You know, nice.
- Paul Worrilow entered the game in the third quarter and got the pressure that led to Tannehill's interception. The rookie linebackers are playing some unreal football.
- Oh, speaking of unreal football, Joplo Bartu got half a sack.
- Akeem Dent sacked Tannehill. Twice, though the second one only counted for half a sack. Bet you didn't think I'd be typing that sentence
- Robert McClain got a sack. The Dolphins were so surprised the Falcons actually sent McClain in that they barely even bothered to block. Helps make up for his continued issues in coverage, which have been real.
- William Moore is sick with it. His touchdown-saving coverage at the end of the fist half arguably altered the outcome of this game, and he followed that up with a turnover. He's the man.
- Ryan deserves very little blame for this one, but that last desperation heave wasn't pretty.
- Tony Gonzalez was mighty sharp on the first drive, but then he faded into the background again. Combine that with a bad holding penalty in the fourth quarter and you've got a recipe for a third-straight mediocre game for the future Hall of Famer. One starts to wonder if Gonzo isn't truly ageless.
- Harry Douglas had a brutal fumble. Brutal.
- I'm not sure Sam Baker should be coming back to his job, honestly. Holmes was fine in pass protection, Trueblood was a clear upgrade on Holmes in run blocking at right tackle and Baker's injury issues seem likely to linger. More than likely he'll be the left tackle in a week or two weeks, but I no longer think that's a given.
- That said, Baker will get his job back, because Trueblood can't pass block all that well. It's a glaring problem for the Falcons, who used plenty of run plays and short passes to compensate for that deficiency. Cameron Wake's injury solved that.
- The Falcons aren't getting the same kind of coverage out of Robert McClain as they got a year ago. That's a problem when Samuel is down, and if he's got a significan injury, it's a grave problem.
- The Falcons need to sit down Thomas DeCoud and talk to him about his aggression. I appreciate that he wants to make a big play, and I appreciate that he trusts his athleticism. I don't appreciate that he keeps missing tackles because his angles to the ball are consistently poor, that he's getting hit with penalties and that he mixes excellent coverage with lousy coverage. If he would just take better angles, he'd be one of the four or five best free safeties in the NFL. It's frustrating, and he's got to turn it around against the Patriots.
- The Falcons forced a punt at the end of the third quarter. This could have been their opportunity to go up by two scores. Instead, Harry Douglas fumbled away the punt and the Falcons score three plays later. Just an embarrassing mistake by HD.
- Multiple false starts again? Please. Stop.
- This team makes too many mistakes. They miss too many tackles, they blow too many chances to score and they settle for three points when aggression is called for. These are long-standing issues, but when you have several starters out and you're on the road, they're issues you probably can't survive. If the Falcons can't raise their level of play, they're probably not a playoff team.
- To piggyback off that earlier point, when is this team going to learn? Aggression is needed, particularly when your offense is moving well. Timidly settling for three points winds up biting this team in the ass far too often.
Game MVP: It's gotta be Matt Ryan, who carved up the Dolphins' defense. Honorable mention goes to Osi Umenyiora, who was superb as a pass rusher yesterday.
Game Theme Song: iiiiiiiiiiiii am comfortably numb.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons are a team that needs to call better plays and play better football to approach their 2012 form. Right now, they're a mess.
Next Week: The dreaded 3-0 Patriots are coming to the Georgia Dome. Check Pats Pulpit to learn more.
Final Word: Uhoh.