This game was as grim as we anticipated, though in an unexpected ways. While the defense held early, the offense turned in one of the most inept performances of the likely ending Mike Smith era. The end result was one of the most thoroughly depressing Falcons games of the last two seasons, and that's saying something.
Being a Falcons fan was grim last year, but it was somewhat mitigated by the hopeful thought that a healthier team with a few key additions would make noise in 2014. This year, we're seeing more injuries, those additions not working and the same problems with the pass rush, offensive line and of late ground game that have been such crippling issues for this Falcons team in the past. Now hope centers around starting over with a new staff and personnel turnover, a potentially time-consuming road to a turnaround, but the only one that seems currently available to us. If I sound grim and defeated at the moment, it's because I am. This Falcons team has been a tremendous disappointment through seven games, even to those who forecast a less-than-complete turnaround. With nine games left in the season, the flame of hope is a flickering match at this point, at best.
We could talk at length about how horrendous the Falcons were in this game, but at this point the best defense mechanism is to simply acknowledge the problems and the loss and move along. This team was entirely outclassed because their offense is struggling mightily behind a makeshift offensive line, the defense isn't good enough to compensate for that and the team's combination of up-and-down coaching and lack of talent at key positions has doomed them for four straight games. We'll watch because we love this team regardless, but it's going to be rough. Band together, drink plenty and turn to your dark senses of humor and we'll make it through to 2015.
On to the individual performances.
- That was a nice touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White, and Roddy White set a franchise record on it. I couldn't leave the good empty, you know?
- The pass rush looked better than it has all year, thanks in part to the two missing offensive linemen for the Ravens. The Falcons applied pressure, hurried Joe Flacco's throws, came up with sacks and just did quality work in general for the first time since the Buccaneers game. It noticeably slowed down in the second half, but then, the Ravens could run plenty in the second half.
- Jonathan Massaquoi was a factor early and often. He got into the backfield to force a throw in the ground on third down, forced a hold later on and generally made a pest of himself. The Ravens were missing linemen, as I've noted, but Mass was impressive regardless. He may have finally, finally gotten himself more playing time going forward, which is a good thing for the defense.
- Paul Worrilow absolutely rocketed into the backfield and came up with a sack on Flacco. He's been doing a better job of getting into the backfield of late, and improvement from him will be critical going forward, because the Falcons can't overall their entire linebacking corps in one off-season and they desperately need Worrilow to be a guy they can count on.
- After a slow start, Robert Alford managed to pick Joe Flacco twice. The big plays are what could someday make him special, and while he still didn't have a great game on balance trying to cover the Ravens' Smiths, those interceptions could have turned the tide of the game had the offense been up to the task. We'll hope this is a sign of growth.
- The first offensive and defensive drive perfectly encapsulated everything that has plagued the Falcons this year. Missed passes, short of the first down, penalties on defense and then poor coverage in the end zone, and the Falcons wound up down 7-0 almost immediately. That was a harbinger if there ever was one.
- Matt Ryan looks like he's getting a bit shellshocked at this point. He was under constant pressure, but he checked down regularly, didn't take his rare opportunities to throw the ball away and hung in the pocket a little too long on at least a pair of sacks. No one's playing right well and there's a lot working against Ryan, but he was far from his best yesterday.
- The offensive line was horrible. After losing Peter Konz and inserting James Stone, the team's collapse on the offensive front was complete. Ryan was harassed, pressured and sacked all day long, while the ground game just couldn't get going at all. The Falcons were effectively harmless on offense, and that may be one of the last straws for this team, which has made offense its calling card.
Want to add insult to injury? Allow a safety at the end of the game, which is precisely what this entirely overmatched unit did. The Falcons' line will be better a year from now if it's remotely healthy, but the Falcons will need to shop for better backup talent in case they have a third straight year of borderline catastrophic injuries.
- The offense continually misfired against a tough Ravens defense. You can blame the line woes for a lot of that, but Ryan had his struggles, the ground game was ineffective, Koetter's play calling was far from inspiring, and the receivers certainly didn't dominate. Whole unit effort, and a dismal one.
- I'm not sure if Prince Shembo is still dealing with an injury or something else is going on, but Joplo Bartu has noticeably been struggling with coverage, the one leg up he should have over both Shembo and Paul Worrilow. Of course, that doesn't distinguish him from the rest of the team.
- While the defense played much better than usual, they once again allowed a few too many "explosive plays," as Mike Smith is so fond of terming it. Those long plays lead to quick strikes, and when the offense can't get anything done, that spells doom.
- Mike Smith is going to get killed for the two fourth down attempts, neither of which succeeded. I think it's more than fair to argue, given the state of the offense, that the team should have gone for the points. With things so grim I can't necessarily fault him for pushing hard to try to pull off a win, but the play calling and execution mixed with the questions around the decision to go for it will likely prove to be another black mark against a coach who probably isn't going to be presiding over any fourth down decisions for the Falcons next year.
- Did John Harbaugh need to go for it on fourth and long? No. Could he, and did it work? Yes. It was ugly, but the Falcons are at fault for not stopping the Ravens.
Game MVP: For the fourth straight week, we don't have one to award.
Theme Song: Funeral music. Start the dirge.
One Takeaway: This is an overmatched, injured, shaky football team. I wish it wasn't so, but it is so.
Next Week: Off to jolly old England to face the Lions in London. A lot of eyes will be on this game, because a loss there could accelerate the timetable for changes to the coaching staff. Visit Pride of Detroit for more on the Lions.
Final Word: Depressing.
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