A new weekly feature began last week. On every Tuesday night, I rewatch the previous Falcons game and post GIFs on Twitter of the most standout plays or disappointing decisions. One particular player or positional group is excluded from the film review to be saved for this piece.
After evaluating Matt Ryan’s inconsistent performance against Seattle, the defense will be examined this week. A reoccurring theme during Atlanta’s devastating loss came from San Diego running common shallow cross route patterns. It has been largely successful over the years. Dan Quinn’s defense failed to prevent them from gaining first downs on nearly every play. Here are some of the third down conversions and big plays from this well-known play design.
1st quarter: 3rd and 5 at SD 30
San Diego faces an early third down situation on their first drive. They don’t hesitate to use their bread-and-butter. With DeVondre Campbell blitzing, it leaves Deion Jones as the lone linebacker handling coverage responsibilities. To make matters worse for the rookie linebacker, he can’t ignore Antonio Gates. Jones does a good job recognizing Williams is the primary target. This is a terrific play design by San Diego to give Williams enough space. They gained six yards on this pass to convert on third down. Previous stats indicated that Philip Rivers thrived against cover three defenses, and that was evident Sunday.
1st quarter: 1st and 10 at SD 36
Exploiting space underneath is San Diego’s specialty. Travis Benjamin’s speed makes him an even bigger asset for this offense. His breakaway speed commands respect, as Desmond Trufant is allowing him space. With Jones picking up Dexter McCluster, Campbell needs to be more alert. He is trying to read Rivers’ eyes, yet doesn’t recognize Benjamin is blazing past him. Awareness was one of Campbell’s biggest flaws coming out of Minnesota. It still remains an issue. This play goes for an eleven-yard completion, as Trufant chases him down.
1st quarter: 1st and 10 at SD 17
The defense is playing zone again, which allows Rivers to complete another easy pass. Unlike on the previous play, the defense looks prepared to prevent the Chargers from gaining a first down. Campbell commits another mistake to allow an unnecessary 20-yard gain. Williams makes a nice move, but Campbell can’t allow himself to be fooled like that in the open field. The six-foot-four second year wide receiver isn’t known for making defenders miss. Campbell gets faked out, while Melvin Gordon lands a crushing block on Keanu Neal. Jones fails to tackle him as well. A probable six-yard play turns into 20 yards. Not a good sequence for the 2016 rookie class on defense.
2nd quarter: 3rd and 7 at ATL 40
Another outstanding play design leaves the middle of the field wide open. Jones is prepared to cover McCluster, which forces him to the right side. That leaves Neal in an unfavorable situation against a speedy Benjamin. With Campbell busy covering Gates, there is nobody picking up Benjamin, who gets a free release at the line of scrimmage. The Falcons have so many defenders back there to prevent a big play, yet none are close to stopping Benjamin from picking up 21 yards on a third-and-long situation. The coaching staff will need to revamp certain elements of this defense.
4th quarter: 3rd and 5 at SD 30
San Diego devises a rub route (pick play) to free Benjamin here. When an explosive receiver gets a free release, the chances of him creating a big play increases greatly. By running behind Gates, Benjamin is already engaged and looking for the pass. Williams could have sold the pick better, but does just enough to get away with it. Ricardo Allen gets caught and can't prevent Benjamin from picking up 13 yards. This goes another first down based on flawless execution. The defense couldn’t have done much here, besides jamming at line of scrimmage to potentially throw the timing off.
4th quarter: 1st and 10 at ATL 25
It took until the fourth quarter for the defense to find success against shallow crosses. They clearly benefitted from Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley running a successful stunt. Beasley showed great instincts by remaining patient and hitting an open gap to sack Rivers. Look at how the back seven covered this play. Griff Whalen is running a crossing route. Jones recognizes the play and closes down Whalen. At most, this would have been a five-yard gain. This play was well-covered and rewarded with Beasley’s sack. Rivers could have checked it down to Gordon with better protection. The defense still deserves credit for staying organized.
4th quarter: 1st and 10 at ATL 37
Rivers ended up targeting Dontrelle Inman, but this play deserves to be mentioned. They are playing man coverage and lining up against each wide receiver. Benjamin attempts to run a crossing route, which includes Gates possibly setting up a pick. Trufant is running step for step with Benjamin on this play. It makes you wonder why Quinn doesn’t allow the defense to play man more often. The cornerbacks are extremely talented and made plays on the ball when individually targeted. Matched up against a slow Green Bay receiver core this week, Quinn should implement more press coverage.
4th quarter: 2nd and 10 at ATL 37
On the very next play, Atlanta moves back into playing zone and Benjamin makes them pay. Nobody jams him at the line of scrimmage. Campbell anticipates covering Gates with Trufant providing support. This allows Benjamin to pick up nine yards and put them in a more manageable third down situation. Jones is lined up eight yards away from the line of scrimmage. It appears that the defense was set up to not allow a game-winning touchdown rather than forcing them into a long field goal. Not exactly the approach you would expect from a Dan Quinn defense.