When a free-falling team continues to struggle at the same positions, the coaching staff is expected to make necessary adjustments. Usually flaws are easy to spot, especially for a team with a winning record. That has become extremely difficult following yesterday's collapse against the Indianapolis Colts. It was a complete team failure via penalties, poor pass protection, and turnovers.
While the defense has played reasonably well, they contributed heavily in the penalty department. It was an ugly game.
Decision making is becoming a constant issue for Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is first up again for criticism. After three quality quarters, the once-beloved quarterback unraveled. Ryan's interception to D'Qwell Jackson may very well be the worst interception of his career, though his interception against Detroit last season in London may surpass it. Regardless of how you rate Ryan's worst moments, he continues to look shaky in critical situations.
Jacob Tamme was his intended target on the interception. It couldn't have been more evident that Tamme was well covered, along with Jackson lurking in the middle of the field. It was an incomprehensible decision that can't be made at your own one-yard line. Kyle Shanahan has taken the brunt of criticism for the offense's struggles, and while inserting two wide receivers instead of just having Julio Jones on the field would have been wise for that play, he can't be blamed for Ryan's inability to make proper decisions.
The struggles continued with Ryan missing an easy third-down completion downfield to Jones in the fourth quarter. It has been that kind of season, where Ryan can hit Jones on a perfect deep pass, yet overthrow him on such a conventional play near the sidelines. His "Matty Ice" moniker has been proven on a yearly basis by converting big throws into breathtaking comebacks. That hasn't been the case over the past two weeks, as red-zone and execution failures have derailed a once-potent offense. Ryan's stat-line in the fourth quarter was abysmal, as Vaughn McCluretweeted out a few informative stats.
Pass protection has declined
When offenses struggle for an extended period of time, poor offensive line play usually lurks as a reason. Indianapolis only recorded one sack on a well-time delayed blitz by Jackson. This is a prime example of the box score not providing enough justice. Ryan was still harassed all game long, which limited his ability to throw downfield. They weren't able to attack either backup safety Clayton Geathers nor burnable cornerback Greg Toler. Erik Walden and Trent Cole had success against both tackles. Jake Matthews struggled in particular, getting caught out on multiple spins and swim moves by Trent Cole.
Matthews and Schraeder have struggled over the last couple of weeks. The right tackle allows speed rushers to beat him off the edge far too often, in particular. As Atlanta was forced to pass more without Devonta Freeman, the pocket kept collapsing before Ryan could look at his second and third reads. Both tackles were expected to take major steps in their development this season, and it's happened in fits and starts.
Matthews was beaten by Gerald McCoy on fourth down, which sealed Atlanta's fate against Tampa Bay. For them to struggle against an aging Cole and Erik Walden doesn't inspire much confidence against a vicious Vikings front seven. With two aging veterans at guard and a below-average makeshift center, Matthews and Schraeder need to develop into long-term dependable assets.
Defense continues to do their job
The defense shouldn't take too much of a beating for this defeat. They only allowed two scoring drives, which included one drive marred by penalties. Brooks Reed and Kroy Biermann played their best games of the season. The former Texan stood out in particular, and he was vocal about wanting more pass-rushing opportunities. Reed stood out far more often than O'Brien Schofield and Vic Beasley. Penalties derailed a nearly complete performance from the defense.
Despite only committing six penalties, three of them occurred on third down. Jalen Collins and Akeem King were the culprits of those head shaking penalties. It would be harsh to be overly critical of both raw rookies, but positioning and footwork remains to be an issue. King shouldn't be getting beat downfield by Coby Fleener. Although there has been some improvement, Collins will continue to suffer from growing pains against receivers that can stretch the field.
Atlanta will need to make better adjustments, as they take on a motivated Vikings team. Focusing on Roddy White to start the game with three consecutive passes isn't an efficient game plan, and it's one the hopefully will not repeat. Ryan running the same rollout to the right three times in the first quarter was a poor bye-week adjustment as well. Mike Zimmer is one of the best defensive minds in the league. With a defense full of excellent young talent, they are capable of taking games over and hitting Ryan at will.
Good teams don't find new ways to lose. They don't commit amateurish turnovers, struggle in the red zone, or collapse in the fourth quarter against weaker teams on paper. For a team that preaches finishing, Atlanta's last three losses have been by a combined seven points, which is hugely disappointing. A once reliable quarterback continues to misfire on throws that weren't an issue last season. With one of their biggest playmakers suffering from a concussion, Atlanta's playoff fate could rest solely on Ryan. Finding ways to win with better pass protection and execution needs to happen in order to not become the sixth team to miss the playoffs following a 5-0 start.