Maybe Kyle Shanahan isn't so bad after all...maybe.
Optimism runs abound as the Falcons finally have gotten themselves back in the win column after an offensive stretch that could've rivaled the offense behind the Gritz Blitz. The Jaguars, having scored nearly 100 points in their previous two games, were largely shut down by an Atlanta offense that did more of its 10 play drives and an Atlanta defense that completely neutered the big play capability of the Jaguars offense, forcing them to take 10 play drives as well. Given how poorly the Falcons have played of late, this is certainly a step in the right direction. There were obvious offensive changes in this game. Matt Ryan was barely hit (if at all) and seemed to audible rather often behind the line of scrimmage. He also ran many bootlegs to his right (the correct direction). Could the light bulb have finally come on with Kyle Shanahan? One can only hope this is the case, but a much, much tougher test heads to the Georgia Dome next week. We'll see whether or not this was just another flash in the pan.
Talent Deficiencies on the Offensive Line Need to be Addressed
The Falcons offensive line has shown a need to be improved in 2016. They have helped the Falcons have a semi-consistent running game and a solid passing attack at times, but inability for Mike Person to play competent football at center and inability for him to make coherent line calls has hurt the pass protection. Add in average play from Andy Levitre and Chris Chester, and the Falcons have a recipe for disaster from their interior three. Levitre is the only one of the three who should stick with the Falcons as a starter in the future, but the Jaguars exposed him in pass protection. Person's lack of ability as a run blocker hurt the Falcons in the second half because he wasn't able to cut off linebackers flying through the gaps created by the guards. Chester is the only solid all-around talent of the three, but even he'll need to be replaced after this season with someone more talented and younger. If Atlanta spent their first two picks on offensive guards, it wouldn't be that horrible of a move based on how the line has played this past season. The first half of the Jacksonville game was a small showing of what a good line performance can mean for the offense and how even when the current line plays well, it's still not really good enough to sustain success for the entire game.
Rookies show promise for 2016.
When it comes to rookies in the NFL, fans can be incredibly impatient. Often, expectations get out of whack and fans are quick to label players as busts or "bad" picks. In reality, you won't often know what you have in a rookie until their 2nd or 3rd year. However, the game on Sunday showed promise from several rookies. Grady Jarrett continues to turn heads as a fifth round pick. Tevin Coleman played will in limited snaps. Vic Beasley showed flashes of his ability to get after the QB. Justin Hardy demonstrated good instincts and nice hands. If the Falcons are going to get better in 2016, this rookie class will be critical to the turn-around. So far, it looks like there is a reason to be optimistic.
Third down efficiency was the difference maker
Third downs have been an absolute nightmare for the Falcons defense over the past five years. Besides 2012, they have been in the bottom five each season. A lack of pass-rush and depth at linebacker are the main causes for this yearly issue. Jacksonville failed to take advantage, as they failed to convert a single third down on eight attempts. Adrian Clayborn led the pass rush and harassed Blake Bortles all game long. Multiple timely pass breakups by Robert Alford helped Atlanta put together a rare shutout performance on third down. On the other side of the ball, they converted seven out of fourteen opportunities. Justin Hardy and Roddy White made critical catches to put together a time-consuming fourth quarter drive. Desperate teams need to prevail during these moments to stop such a brutal losing streak. Better success on third down can only Atlanta pull off the dramatic upset against Carolina next week.
The Falcons kind of got it together.
The Falcons played their best game in about two months. The results? Not bad. It looked as if Kyle Shanahan did fewer foolish things with the offense, and the defense somehow stopped the surging Jaguars offense. It is hard to read too much into one game, but Atlanta could go into the offseason with a strong finish if they can play competitively in their final two games.
The Falcons should play the Jaguars every week.
If you ever need a cure for what ails you, then play the Jacksonville Jaguars. The offensive line protected Matt Ryan and the offense converted third downs at will. Julio Jones scored a touchdown for the first time in five weeks. The defense found a semblance of a pass rush and didn't allow Jacksonville's offense to convert one third down. More importantly, the Falcons snapped their six-game losing skid. Thanks, Jaguars!