Whenever any team blows a 17-point lead, fingers will be pointed in numerous directions. How does the defense allow countless big plays? Why did the offense stop scoring? Refs can be blamed for missing calls, if you want to go that route. Kyle Shanahan's name will somehow enter the fray based on his status. It's difficult to pinpoint a singular cause for the Falcons collapse, however.
The current roster clearly has deficiencies, particularly on defense. The front seven rebuilding process isn't going to be completed in two seasons. They deserve partial blame for missing tackles and blowing a few coverage assignments. Dan Quinn's cover three scheme did a young defense no favors against a quick-hitting offense. This loss brings greater concern to an offense, which was pegged as the best unit in the league.
That label now seems far-fetched following a second-half debacle.
Lack of options
There were growing signs during the second half that certain issues from 2015 weren't completely addressed. As talented as Julio Jones is, Matt Ryan started to overly depend on him. Feeding a superstar wide receiver is essential, especially against a decimated secondary. When it came to the second half and red zone situations, San Diego did everything in their power to contain Jones. Shanahan can't solely depend on the running game during every red zone opportunity. Eventually, other receiving options need to step up.
Mohamed Sanu was signed as a legitimate number two wide receiver, according to Thomas Dimitroff. Dan Quinn believed that he could beat man coverage. The high-priced wide receiver proved to be a complete non-factor with two receptions for 16 yards on four targets. Both catches came on a simple out route and screen pass, which were two high percentage throws where Sanu didn't have to get open.
Justin Hardy and Aldrick Robinson were targeted a combined three times. These aren't exactly endearing numbers against a defense without Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers.
Last season proved that over relying on Jones isn't a winning strategy. It correlates with costly turnovers, as Denzel Perryman intercepted Ryan on a pass intended for Jones. Ryan admitted to not seeing the linebacker peel off. With San Diego dropped seven into coverage and only four players running routes, which includes Jacob Tamme, forcing balls into quality coverage wasn't going to help them.
Taylor Gabriel was sidelined with a concussion, while Tevin Coleman suffered a hamstring injury. They are valuable contributors, but neither player should make-or-break a passing game. The off-season concern about Sanu's inability to beat man coverage is becoming evident. Hardy is a possession-receiver who isn't going to beat cornerbacks vertically. Robinson is the polar opposite, yet still a one-dimensional wide receiver.
Not taking advantage of a below average secondary is a major red flag. Only converting one out of three red zone opportunities is problematic as well. These issues also apply to the offensive line, which deserves heavy criticism for the second consecutive week. When the running game isn't flourishing, the passing game needs to pick up the slack. Everyone needs need to step up, not simply one special wide receiver. When Jones put together a record-setting day against Carolina, Ryan received contributions from Robinson, Gabriel, Sanu, and Austin Hooper. Jones gained 174 of the 273 receiving yards yesterday. That's not a recipe for success against most teams, let alone talented ones.
Offensive line disappoints again
For the second consecutive week, the offensive line looked out of sorts. They couldn't handle Seattle's blitzing or explosive edge rushers last week. A once-consistent unit struggled with penalties, pass protection, and couldn't open up many holes in the running game. San Diego recorded three sacks and seven hits. Joey Bosa overwhelmed Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder. According to Nathan Jahnke, Bosa produced two sacks, one hit, and three hurries. The productive rookie also contributed with two tackles for a loss. Melvin Ingram also made plays, with two hits and one sack.
Schreader has battled against some of the top pass rushers in the league over the past three weeks. The highly regarded right tackle hasn't fared well against any of them, though he is not the only issue. Andy Levitre, Chris Chester, and Ryan Schraeder combined for six of Atlanta's nine penalties. Three of them were false starts, which is unacceptable at home. Two consecutive false starts put Atlanta in an unfavorable first and 20 situation, which ended in Ryan throwing an interception.
Brandon Mebane found success against their interior line. Besides one drive in the second half and Tevin Coleman's two big runs, the running game never found any sustained success. In overtime, they failed on multiple occasions. Not having Patrick DiMarco on fourth down didn't help matters. At the same time, Matthews appeared to have tripped and Perryman found an opening to wrap up Freeman. It looked like a freak accident. During a clear running situation, your Pro Bowl fullback should be on the field.
The game should have been secured before overtime. Three points in the second half is abysmal. Scoring only 23 points (remember that the defense scored seven) in an inevitable shootout isn't good enough. For the offense to thrive, the offensive line needs to play like they did between weeks two and four.
Those impressive performances were against below average defensive lines. Above-average defensive lines have punished them, for the most part. Green Bay is filled with quality pass rushers and an all-around monster in Mike Daniels, and they're coming right up.
Quinn's fourth down call resembled Mike Smith's decision from Atlanta's overtime loss to New Orleans in 2011. Two former defensive coordinators putting their offense in a precarious situation, while not showing any trust in their defense. It's understandable for Quinn to make the decision based on believing in a productive offense. If they can score on Denver and Seattle, why can't the Falcons pick up a yard against San Diego?
Trusting your gut isn't always the most sensible move. Despite allowing Philip Rivers to throw over 350 yards, the defense played fairly well. The pass rush generated steady pressure and sacked Rivers four times. Vic Beasley is proving that he isn't a one-hit wonder. Brooks Reed showed some life, while Adrian Clayborn continues to play at a high level. Nobody can pin this defeat on the defensive line.
Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Brian Poole combined for four pass breakups. Each breakup came on third down or a potential huge play. Keanu Neal was all over the field laying crushing hits and providing excellent run support. Melvin Gordon's three-touchdown game overshadows him barley averaging three yards per carry. Courtney Upshaw and Jonathan Babineaux even made some plays. The defense played as good as they could.
San Diego's offense thrives on short passes, especially crossing routes. They tore apart Quinn's cover three scheme on a routine basis. Deion Jones and DeVondre Campbell had a rough day trying to chase down wide-open receivers. In short yardage situations, they decided to play zone rather than man. Allowing a 36-year old (and clearly declining) Antonio Gates five yards of space in a fourth-and-two situation isn't rational.
Rivers found space on underneath throws and deep crossing routes to Tyrell Williams during the entire game. Seattle found similar success with Jimmy Graham and C.J. Spiller last week. At some point, the coaching staff needs to make proper adjustments and not allow offenses to eat them alive on underneath throws on a routine basis. The pass rush had no chance to affect Rivers, when he completes a pass in less than two seconds. There are plenty of exciting young players on this defense. It deserves better following three promising games.
As the defense continues to make small strides, a once-terrifying offense has completely fallen apart in separate halves. Seattle dominated them in the first half. Poor execution and San Diego's pass rush shut them down in the second half. They can't afford such prolonged lapses going forward. Expecting a rebuilding defense to contain Russell Wilson and Philip Rivers for a long period of time isn't possible.
Role players need to step up. The offensive line can't keep destroying drives by committing silly pre-snap penalties and not recognizing stunts. Consistency is required to compete in January. If the 2015 season proved anything, a few explosive plays and throwing to your superstar wide receiver fifteen times a game doesn't translate into victories.