The Falcons went on the road with optimistic feelings after a 37-34 win over the Saints a week ago, and by and large, Falcons fans felt optimistic too. It didn't take long for those good feelings to wear off, and after this game, all the familiar questions about this team crept right back in.
The Falcons were quite simply outplayed. The Bengals' front seven pressured Matt Ryan, the Falcons executed poorly and the defense was lucky to hold Cincinnati to the number of points they did, given that the run defense struggled and the pass rush was virtually nonexistent. All game long, this team played a sloppy, uninspired game against a team that looked superior in every facet of the football game, and it was not fun to watch. Giovanni Bernard was unstoppable, the pass rush was killing Atlanta's ability to throw deep and the defense showed competence for two plays at a time and then shut down. It was a brutal performance, particularly for an offense that absolutely tore through their Week 1 opponent. The fact that the Saints lost to the Browns, while both hilarious and beneficial from a standings viewpoint, only creates more doubt about the team's fortunes thus far.
There's no sense in hiding disappointment with this performance, frankly, and if the Falcons can't slow down the Buccaneers on Thursday night, we're beyond concerned with this defense.The good news is that the offense is unlikely to be this dismal again, and the defense has played worse than anticipated, too.
We have to hope this isn't an accurate representation of the Falcons this year, just as last week wasn't. It's clear the defense is going to struggle mightily all season long, but the offense is going to look much better against most teams in the NFL, which should at least keep them in games. This was such a flat, uneven performance that it's tempting to chalk it up as an outlier, and perhaps it is. We may know soon enough.
Let's hold our noses and hit the individual performances, below.
- Look, Matt Ryan did not have a good game. We know that. We can hang a lot of that on the inability of receivers to get open and the offensive line, but one good thing: Ryan still managed to scramble effectively and evade pressure when given the opportunity to do so. That still bodes well for the rest of the season, even if Ryan's inability to find the open man does not.
- Steven Jackson actually ran reasonably well yesterday, averaging over four yards a carry. It's just that the Falcons repeatedly gave him the ball in obvious first down run situations, which hurt him, and he only got 11 carries with which to work. Little question he looks better than a year ago.
The bigger question is whether he should be getting the majority of the carries. I still think he should, but against a rough front seven like the Bengals, the Falcons should probably be trying out their most dynamic options.
- It was a relatively quiet game for Julio Jones, but that's a relative kind of quiet. He was the only receiver who showed up regularly in this one, with one touchdown and almost had another that was wrestled out of his hands, finishing with 7 catches for 88 yards and a score. He'll hope to destroy Tampa Bay next week.
- Those who love attitude from the line will appreciate that they went after Carlos Dunlap after he nailed Matt Ryan. I'd trade that for better play, but it's something.
- The Falcons finally seemed to figure out the Bengals' offense in the fourth quarter. It was way too late for that epiphany, but given the number of run-heavy teams on the docket, anything the Falcons learned here may be valuable later.
- Desmond Trufant was still excellent, albeit without A.J. Green in the game. He remains the team's most effective cornerback, while Alford mixed a couple of nice plays and consistently stellar effort in with a couple of clunkers. I still believe the duo will be one of the best in the NFL, as soon as later this year.
- The game did, eventually, end. A bad loss like this feels like a season's worth of losses when it's happening, so the ending is a relief.
- Every problem Matt Ryan has had over the life of his career came home to roost. Poor throws in the face of pressure? Yup. Tendency to check down? You bet. We're going to go into why that happened in the next couple of items, but a big piece of this of that is still on Ryan, who had what I hope will be his lousiest game of 2014 while tossing three picks. The Falcons need to figure out a way to buy him more time in the pocket, or get his receivers open a little quicker and give him an out.
Regardless, Ryan still needs to make better decisions with the football. May not have been the difference in this one, but Arizona's on the schedule, and nobody wants to see a repeat of the last two meetings.
- The receivers simply couldn't get open. If you re-watch this game, keep a close eye on the receivers and note that the Falcons had a surprisingly tough time against a group of cornerbacks who allowed quite a few yards to Joe Flacco just a week earlier. That allowed the pass rush to get home and made life harder for Matt Ryan, who obliged by tossing those interceptions.
It's terrible when Ryan is actually buying multiple seconds with his feet and he can't find an open player. Again, the Falcons have to watch the tape and see what the Bengals did to keep them in check so they can prevent a repeat with another team.
- The offensive line struggled all day against a rough Bengals front seven, which we anticipated. What we didn't anticipate was the degree to which it would happen, and that the Falcons would be unable to get Ryan the kind of quick routes that make his life easier. The Falcons repeatedly tried to get the ball to Julio Jones and the running backs on screens and saw them blown up repeatedly before they got anywhere.
Suffice to say Jake Matthews will be back as soon as he's able to be, because the Falcons can't roll with the status quo on the offensive line for very long. I applauded their makeshift line against New Orleans, but it's pretty clear this is a more accurate representation of how they'll fare against a strong front seven with their current personnel. Lamar Holmes, in particular, probably doesn't have any overly long leash.
- The run defense tightened up as the game went on, but early on they were wholly unprepared for what Bernard was doing. That gave the Bengals an early lead, one that they never relinquished. Bernard is dynamic, but whether it was Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu or a defensive end tasked with stopping him, they just couldn't. That's not a good look.
- Brandon Tate is fast, but not a particularly great receiver. Mohamed Sanu is not a quarterback. That didn't stop the Bengals from completing a brilliant 50 yard pass down the sideline despite Dwight Lowery desperately crossing to try to intercept the play. I don't know if you can truly prepare for a gadget play like that, but it still caught the Falcons tremendously flat-footed.
- The secondary has had finer games. It's still a talented unit and I'm not overly concerned about how they fared here, but keep in mind that the Bengals were without A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones in this one and cringe a bit.
- The execution, particularly in the first half, was embarrassing. The Falcons saw Matt Ryan trip over Steven Jackson, they saw poor blocking and they saw a completely inability to stop Bernard and Jeremy Hill. When you're playing a tough defense like Cincinnati's and they gift wrap two missed field goals to you, the onus is on your team to punish them for those missteps. The Falcons simply didn't, and they found themselves losing an ugly one as a result.
Game MVP: You think I'm giving an MVP award game out for that effort? Psssssh.
Game Theme Song: Silence. Stony, angry silence.
One Thing To Take Away: When the offense can't get going, the Falcons are in real trouble.
Next Week: Only four days until a Thursday night divisional game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which I hope will reverse the Falcons' fortunes. Check out Bucs Nation for more.
Final Word: Badlossbutlet'smoveon.
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