Same old Falcons. Unfortunately.
Atlanta's not dead after dropping yet another game, this time to Minnesota, but while they remain on the fringes of the NFC playoff hunt, they simply aren't playing well enough for us to assume they'll be there much longer. There were more ugly Matt Ryan picks, another bad Tevin Coleman fumble, some lackluster defense in between quality stretches, and tons of penalties. They're just playing lousy football, particularly when the offense needs to actually score, and it has continued to so long that you can't expect Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan to get together and discover alchemy or anything like that.
The loss to Minnesota was particularly galling because of just how bad the Falcons' offense and defense looked. The D was called for costly penalties, dinked and dunked to death by Teddy Bridgewater and run over by Adrian Peterson, and needed a couple of lucky breaks and a turnover to avoid letting Minnesota run away with this game...and yet they also held Minnesota to 20 points and were the clearly superior unit on the field. The offense got a strong performance out of Tevin Coleman, minus the fumble, but the passing game was only effective in short spurts. Matt Ryan looks as uncomfortable as he ever has in the offense, with two more bad interceptions marring an average day, and the team can run effectively but can't translate that into points. I think most of us were bracing for a loss, but were hoping to see better than this.
The bright side here is that the Falcons have already been getting rookies like Vic Beasley, Jalen Collins, Tevin Coleman, and Grady Jarrett valuable game experience that will likely pay dividends in 2016. I do believe this team is well-positioned for the future, but it's time to acknowledge that anything we get in the present is a bonus, and figuring out what Shanahan needs to run this offense efficiently and get Matt Ryan feeling comfortable and playing at a high level is paramount. I came here reluctantly myself, but the team's performance has given us no other choice, and you can keep yourself somewhat sane by watching for signs of progress and development. A miracle run would be nice, but for obvious reasons, I wouldn't expect one.
On to the breakdown, which will be relatively brief because I'm tired of talking about this team losing.
- What a year Paul Soliai is having. We can quibble about his price tag, and I'm sure the Falcons will take a hard look at his contract this offseason, but he's been the team's best run defender and a force of nature even against backs as talented as Adrian Peterson.
- Tevin Coleman's fumbles are the headline-getters, and for good reasons given how costly they are, but he had one of his better games against the Vikings. Quality blocking helped him on the 46 yard gallop, but you can see glimpses of the speed and agility that could make him a star someday.
- Justin Hardy is slowly getting more involved in the offense, largely out of necessity, but he had a couple of nice catch and runs yesterday. He's going to be more of a possession option for the passing game than a threat to break one, but that's valuable for an offense that made good use of Harry Douglas for years.
- Ricardo Allen has taken the starting free safety gig and run with it. He picked Teddy Bridgewater in the end zone, his fourth interception of the year, and he's been a revelation as an aggressive, physical presence in the Falcons' secondary. With any luck, he'll be here a long while yet.
- Matt Ryan was having a solid day until he threw yet another ugly pick to Captain Munnerlyn with the Falcons driving toward points near the end of the first half, and then another red zone pick in the third quarter that effectively put the Falcons out of the game, and then a fumble caused by a sack in the fourth quarter, one keyed by Mike Person totally whiffing on a block. The pass protection has been legitimately hurting him for weeks now and his receiving options are not good outside of Julio Jones, which is hurting him, but right now he's good for a couple of horrendous throws per game, and is part of a major problem.
- You have to consider the circumstances—down 17 late in the fourth quarter, it's probably going to be easier for Atlanta to pass—but the swift success of the no huddle on the team's drive with just over three minutes left in the game doesn't look good for Kyle Shanahan, who has made a point of pointing out how little the Falcons run it. There are reasons to believe that there's friction between the coordinator and his players that have everything to do with the team's relative success thus far in 2015, and the team's anemic offense when they're outside of the no huddle is one major one.
- Tevin Coleman busted an incredible 46 yard run aided by a potent Patrick DiMarco block...and then fumbled the ball away, the third time this season he's managed to wreck a quality drive or nice run in that fashion. The talent is there and the team loves his ability, but he's going to end up parked on the bench for a long while if he can't get that issue under control.
- With time in the pocket, Teddy Bridgewater showed why he's such a capable quarterback, routinely finding the short and intermediate holes in the Falcons' coverage and exploiting them. He was steady in the pocket without the Falcons pass rush harrying him, and it hurt Atlanta early. Between penalties and lousy coverage, the Falcons allowed Minnesota to move way too easily, even if a missed field goal and Teddy Bridgewater end zone pick took points off the board.
More on that pass rush: It's non-existent. The Falcons can probably count on Vic Beasley evolving into his second form for the 2016 season and can add talent up front, but there's no clear path to pressure over the last five games. It puts a lot of stress on the secondary, which has done better than any of us could have expected.
- The run defense wilted late, though you have to pin some blame on the offense not doing its job for the tired, lackluster effort we saw toward the end. Adrian Peterson is a tough opponent, but the Falcons did a nice job of bottling him up early and just fell apart toward the end of the game.
- You can blame the refs for calls like the weird clipping penalty, but the Falcons getting hit with costly calls again and again in this one has more to do with the team than the state of NFL refereeing. Penalties cost them a touchdown, at least, and can safely be blamed for a mediocre Vikings offense scoring 20 points.
- I know I keep saying this, but it helps me work through things to note that the Falcons are bad, very bad, and not very good. We know that a first year coaching staff is going to have kinks to work through, but they need to figure out a way to keep the team from getting demoralized down the stretch, lest it impact the development and confidence of players heading into 2016.The defense will be good sooner rather than later, but it's clear that the offense will need to use draft and free agent resources and retool the game plan before we can feel confident in that side of the ball.
We should note that Minnesota is a good, well-coached team, and there's not a ton of shame in losing to a team like that. It's losing in such a weak fashion that makes us unhappy.
Game MVP: No way am I naming one after this crap.
Theme Song: We still have to write about this team.
One Takeaway: The Falcons are probably going to be mediocre for the rest of 2015, so I guess we're looking forward to next year again!
Next Week: The Buccaneers on the road, which means another dose of Jameis Winston and a team that beat Atlanta earlier this year in the Georgia Dome. Visit Bucs Nation for more.
Final Word: Bringuswinsforweareweary.