Writing about the Falcons after a loss is always tough. Being invested in the team emotionally, it's often hard to keep things in the proper perspective. That especially holds true whenever it seems like one piece of the team starts clicking, only to have another piece regress unexpectedly. And while this particular loss was ugly, I do think there are some positives to take away - and that ultimately, this is not the end of the season.
First, let's be clear: starting the season 1-2 is not ideal. You're automatically in the hole and you will be playing from behind for at least the next several games. Given that the Saints are 3-0, the deficit for winning the division has already spread to two full games. However, 1-2 is not a death sentence, and especially this year. Teams like the 49ers and Packers are also sitting at 1-2. In fact, if you look across the NFC, you'll find that we're still easily in the playoff hunt. Divisions like the NFC East have two winless teams, while the NFC West has one at 3-0 with a cluster of 1-2 teams. It's been a slow start for many NFC teams this year.
The truth is, it is way too early to be making predictions about who will and won't be making the playoffs.
As for the game itself, here's my take on what we can take away:
The Offensive line, minus our starting LT, didn't allow a single sack. This unit is improving. I'm not blind to the fact that we're using the quick passing game to make it happen, but the Falcons aren't the only ones. The Bears have adjusted to doing the same thing, with great success. In particular, Lamar Holmes looked very comfortable at LT. Trueblood looked terrible at times, but serviceable during others. Our Guards continued to look good and our young Center had his struggles, but overall play improved - especially in run blocking.
Speaking of the run - the day was filled with consistently great runs from both Snelling and Quizz. They both averaged well over 4 per carry and the loss of Jackson was barely felt. Snelling in particular looked like he was running with purpose. If it's possible for a running back to be "clutch," then Jason Snelling fits that description. My biggest frustration was that he didn't get more touches in a game where he was clearly the hot hand. Additionally, Patrick DiMarco impressed at fullback, lessening the loss of Ewing a good bit.
On the other side of the ball, the defense looked great for 3.5 quarters. They registered 5 sacks and were consistently generating pressure. Though he didn't get a sack himself, Massaqoui was consistently in the backfield. Definitely keep an eye on him, as his athleticism stood out to me. Likewise, many of our young guys stepped up again - with Paul Worrilow generating a key push on an offensive guard (!!!) that forced an ugly throw that ended up intercepted. We have lots of young guys on this defense that are showing considerable promise. Additionally, Trufant continues to look good as a rookie corner and his development just continues. Considering how some of the other first round corners have fared this season, I'm very pleased with the play of Trufant.
I hate to say it, but if a player can be "anti-clutch," then Sundays winner for that award would be Harry Douglas. He had a key drop in the middle of the game that would have turned a 2nd and 18 into a 3rd and short or even a first down. On top of that, after calling his teammates off of the punt in the third quarter, his decision to subsequently pick up the ball left him without blockers and completely blind to the coverage team as he turned his back to retrieve the ball. It was horrible decision making and it directly lead to 7 points for the Dolphins.
But the game can't be placed at Douglas' feet alone. The inability of the Falcons to punch the ball into the end zone is incredibly frustrating and needs to come to a halt. The reality is the Dolphins defense couldn't stop us - until we got inside the 20. The Falcons moved the ball efficiently all day - dominating the clock and yards gained. The reasons for this can be spread around, too. Play calling was often questionable. A lack of aggression from Smitty was really telling. And not having all of our weapons certainly contributed as well.
That said - this offense CAN move the ball. At this point, the only thing holding the Falcons back is the Falcons.
Defensively, one name in particular jumped out at me for the biggest set of frustrations: Thomas DeCoud. His struggles with tackling (he doesn't do it) and his absolutely horrid angles lead to one of the worst performances I've ever seen out of him. If the Falcons had any quality depth behind DeCoud, this game was bad enough to warrant a benching in the next.
This loss was more frustrating than usual, because the areas in most need of improvement showed just that. We got a much better pass rush and did a far better job of keeping Ryan clean in the pocket. Our defense did a great job of forcing some three and outs and all the key statistics showed a team that should have easily won. But the inability to get into the end zone (2/5) while in the red zone continues to plague this team. One could argue that not having all our starters healthy (particularly Roddy and Steven) is contributing to this - but the issue seems to be more mental in nature. Let's hope Flowery Branch is uncomfortable this week, and that the Falcons truly focus on fixing whatever is keeping them from putting together a complete game.