Now that I've had a chance to cool down considerably from last night, I thought it might be instructive to look at five things we learned from sifting through the wreckage of that close loss to Miami. If you think this list is going to include "we are doomed because we are 1-2" or "Mike Smith should not just be fired but fired out of a cannon into another cannon and then fired into the sun," you are going to be quite disappointed. You'll find things in that vein in my recap.
Here are five things we learned from these Falcons, and what it means for Atlanta going forward.
- The coaching staff doesn't adjust. Forget the lack of aggression for a second, because that can be a bit nebulous. Forget that the coaching staff was dealing with a lousy hand because the roster is riddled with injuries. What's important is that they seem incapable of meaningful in-game adjustments.
I discussed this yesterday with reader J Tadpole, who had a salient point about the Falcons being extremely well-prepared for games. They tend to jump out to early leads, after all, and the offense and defense often look fantastic early on. Heck, even when the Falcons head into the locker room for the half, they often come out fairly strong to start the third quarter. It's the in-game adjustments that are the enduring problem here.
In this one, the Dolphins reacted aggressively to Tony Gonzalez's stellar opening drive by clamping down hard on him. They rotated heavier coverage on Julio Jones and basically dared the Falcons to run the ball, something Atlanta did effectively all day. They adjusted their pass rush. And the Falcons...started passing more and more as the game wore on, basically. The last drive of the third quarter saw the Falcons pass six times. Only two of those were completions, which got the Falcons done to the 15 yard line...where they passed three straight times, missed all three and settled for a field goal. Miami adjusted on D. The Falcons didn't adjust to that.
It's an Achilles heel for Mike Smith, Mike Nolan and Dirk Koetter, and something they need to get better at going forward. Or else.
- The Falcons can run the ball, with caveats. Miami isn't the league's preeminent run defense, sure, but they're plenty solid even without Paul Soliali. The Falcons, meanwhile, were down a starting left tackle. They ran for 146 yards on 30 carries.
Considering Steven Jackson and Sam Baker were out, this was eye-opening stuff. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling were able to make things happen, and they consistently found open running lanes against the Miami defense. It would be simplistic to say that moving Lamar Holmes to left tackle and installing Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle made the difference, though Trueblood in particular is an effective run blocker. The true story is that basically the whole dang line blocked pretty well for those two backs today, and even though the Falcons ran 30 times, you could argue they should have done so more.
Homework for the team? Study the tape and figure out how they were able to pull this off. If having Trueblood at right tackle makes this much of a difference, they've got to at least think about what this line is going to look like going forward. If it was just an excellent overall effort, particularly from the middle of the line, then maybe there's something to smile about.
- Red Zone blues, baby. Things get weird in the red zone. The Falcons took five (!) trips there against the Dolphins on Sunday and walked away with two touchdowns, two field goals and one missed field goal. An optimist might say that scoring four out of five times is pretty good. A pessimist might say that only scoring two touchdowns on five trips is pretty sad.
Either way, this is a different game if the Falcons can squeeze even one more touchdown out of their red zone trips. They'll need to get a little creative moving forward, or just throw to Levine Toilolo because he's 30 feet tall and breathes fire.
- The Falcons have a pass rush! Five sacks. Two-and-a-half of those sacks came from linebackers, one from a defensive back and two from the line. That's exactly what Mike Nolan's defense should be offering up, blitzes from unexpected places and consistent heat from the front seven. The sack numbers will vary week-to-week, but there's reason to believe that having Jonathan Massaquoi up front (with a nice little game, even if he didn't get any sacks) and super athlete Joplo Bartu available to rush is going to make a difference.
- Stephen Nicholas is done. He only played 11 snaps yesterday, and he was in the game (though not totally at fault) for the game winning touchdown pass for the Dolphins. Nicholas simply can't cover anyone at this stage of his career, and he's losing snaps to Paul Worrilow because of it.
If the Falcons don't trust Nicholas enough to get him more than 11 snaps when 'Spoon is out, it might be time to start working Jamar Chaney into the game.
What did you learn from the game?