It’s becoming clear at this point in the season that each Falcons game is going to be a roller coaster ride of emotion. Fortunately, Atlanta wound up on top of another tight shootout that came down to the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, so it was more up than down.
The offense continued to operate at a high level despite missing Tevin Coleman and having Jacob Tamme and Julio Jones suffer injuries early in the contest. That bodes well for the future, as Atlanta has proven it can score against anybody, but there are still some improvements that need to be in various aspects of the game.
Nevertheless, a win is always better than a loss. At 5-3, the Falcons now hold a 1.5 game lead over Tampa Bay and can stretch that lead even further when the two teams meet on Thursday.
Here’s what we are celebrating and worrying about after Atlanta’s win.
One reason to celebrate
The offense and Mohamed Sanu’s timely emergence: Atlanta continues to prove its offense is capable of thriving without the Demigod commonly referred to as a “Julio Jones.” The Falcons have won all three games in which Julio has been held under 30 yards, including Sunday’s matchup with the Packers. What made this last win different, however, were the players who stepped up while an injured knee left him playing a decoy role.
With Coleman, who has carried the offense at times, scratched from the game with a hamstring injury, three newcomers stepped up in a big way. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper played a great game and caught all five passes that came his way for 41 yards. Free agent wide receiver Taylor Gabriel has become a terrific piece to the Falcons’ offense and had another strong showing, catching three passes for 68 yards and this nirvanic touchdown:
ryan's touchdown throw to taylor gabriel was absurd. best throw he's made all year pic.twitter.com/nnRjWVN8tp— charles (@FourVerts) October 31, 2016
Most notable among the new Falcons who stepped up in crunch time, though, was Mohamed Sanu. Brought in during the offseason to become Atlanta’s No. 2 receiver, many have questioned Sanu’s tendency to disappear during games, but he made played a crucial role in Sunday’s victory. During the Falcons’ game-winning drive, Sanu caught five passes for 50 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
julio and sanu ran a switch verticals look on the final TD. great playcall, nice throw, $32.5M catch pic.twitter.com/00h5somQST— charles (@FourVerts) October 31, 2016
Atlanta’s offense continues to impress even in the face of adversity.
One reason to worry
Defense: This may seem weird to some, but I believe that the Falcons’ defense is on the verge of becoming a good unit. The young players continue to make plays all over the field and the issues are mostly mental as opposed to talent-related, which will happen with this much youth.
Atlanta’s pass rush finally looks like it’s turned the corner – knocks on wood – and they are playing with a speed and physicality that has been missing in recent years. Unfortunately, none of that matters as long as the mistakes kept being made.
Fans will argue whether the issues are related to zone or man coverage, but that isn’t the problem. Dan Quinn isn’t going to change his schemes because they have proven to be successful in the past and will likely be successful in Atlanta. Instead, its mental lapses and young players having to think on the field instead of playing instinctually that is making a difference.
There’s a reason why players usually reach their potential around year three or four, it’s because at that point everything should be second nature to them out on the field. The second or two that it takes for a rookie or a second-year player to think about what he’s doing is usually all that it takes for a receiver to get by him or a running back to make a cut.
The Falcons’ defense needs to eventually put it all together or it will cost them games, but this isn’t some widespread problem. Most of the time, the players are making good plays and doing what they’re supposed to on defense. The issue happens when one or two players are out of position on a couple of plays during a drive and the offense takes advantage. That is something that needs to be fixed, but I have confidence that there is progress being made.