Yes, the Falcons suffered a loss on Monday night. Yes, they missed an opportunity to take a firm lead in the NFC South. But if you watched the entire game, it's hard not to come away with some positive impressions and a belief that the Falcons may yet have some fight left in them. On a day when most in the media were expecting a slaughter, the Falcons fought hard and overcame a huge early deficit to make it a game early. Here are my key takeaways from the game:
1. This offense revolves around Julio
Let's get this out of the way: Julio Jones has been the best receiver in the league the last 2 weeks, and it's not even close. A week after torching Patrick Peterson for over 180 yards, Julio turned the Packers secondary into his own personal playground on Monday night. Julio set personal records with 259 yards on 11 catches and also took over the single-season lead for yardage amongst receivers. He broke Roddy's previous single-game record and also set the record for most receiving yards in a season for a Falcons receiver - with 3 games left.
Even when he was double-teamed, Ryan was still throwing the ball his way and Julio was delivering. It's clear that Ryan and Julio have made it a point to get on the same page, and the results are astounding. Their timing has been phenomenal and it's clear that Ryan trusts him far more than anyone else on the team - including Roddy.
Let's hope Julio's hip ailment at the end of the game is nothing serious, because without him, I'm not sure this offense can be the same.
2. The defense needs to be completely blown up this off-season
With the exception of the quite excellent Desmond Trufant, this defense has been atrocious this year. The underlying issue is a combination of everything: poor talent, poor scheming and poor coaching. And all of them need to be addressed.
There are some useful pieces on the defense, but the overall talent level needs a big boost. We appear to be okay at defensive tackle, but it's no shock that we need a considerable upgrade at defensive end/outside linebacker. And while Paul Worrilow has been a pleasant surprise as an UDFA, he shouldn't be our best ILB on the field. Our safeties have played well at times, and Southward has intriguing potential, but a true dynamic coverage free-safety would be a big boon for this D.
As for the scheme, the coaches continue to put guys in strange positions that don't maximize their talent. Babs at defensive end? Worrilow dropped into coverage? These aren't just a few of the decisions that seem to make poor use of the guys we do have.
And the coaching, week after week, appears to favor long-standing veterans over promising young players. It's been a weakness for Smitty since he's been here, and it has never gotten better. If he can play only veterans, it's what he's going to do. Guys like Maponga and Massaqoui are asked to ride the pine while guys like Kroy Biermann dominate the snap counts.
At this point, the only thing that makes sense is to just blow it all up.
3. The no-huddle was finally set loose, and the offense exploded
If this sounds like a broken record to you, you're not alone. We've spoken about how much better this offense has looked in the no-huddle in recent weeks and last night was the magnum opus to that line of thought. From the first Falcons offensive drive into the second half, it was clear that the offense ran best when Ryan was allowed to run it from the field. And for the most part, the Falcons stayed in the no-huddle for most of the game, despite being on a visitors field.
On a night when the team ran the no-huddle for the majority of the night, Ryan throws for 375 yards and 4 TDs. Julio destroys with 259 yards. Ryan hits 10 different receivers during the game. The running game has more success than usual.
It's getting to be an old story, but it is worth repeating until we see that the team makes the no-huddle the norm. It's just frustrating to see it take this long for the coaches to figure it out.
So what about you - what are some of your takeaways from the Monday night game?