Since their season-opening loss to Tampa Bay, each of the Falcons’ losses could have very easily been wins. Atlanta was in each game it had played this year and had yet to have an outing in which it looked completely outmatched.
That changed with Sunday’s 24-15 loss at Philadelphia.
This bye week is coming at just the right time for Atlanta. If there is one silver lining to that loss for the Falcons, it’s that the game will hopefully re-focus the team during their week off and motivate them down the stretch.
There’s really no tiptoeing around it, though. That game sucked.
One reason to celebrate
Taylor Gabriel: There weren’t many positives against the Eagles. Nobody, in particular, stood out in a way that gave reason to believe he could make a difference in outcome of the game, but Gabriel came close to doing just that.
He had only one catch on five targets, but his lone reception turned into a 76-yard touchdown that gave Atlanta a 15-13 lead in the fourth quarter. Gabriel’s spot on this list isn’t based solely on Sunday’s performance. With nobody really standing out, it felt like a good time to give credit to someone who has been a wonderful surprise in 2016.
Gabriel is fourth on the team in receiving this season, catching 17 passes for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s been a terrific weapon at times and his elite speed gives opposing defenses another thing to worry about. More than that, though, Gabriel has come up with some pretty big possession catches thus far and deserves to be recognized for his contributions.
One reason to worry
Run defense: A lot of different worries could have occupied this spot after the loss. The offense failed to move the ball, killed itself with penalties *cough, offensive line, cough* and looked surreally unprepared to compete. Matt Bryant inexplicably missed an extra point and special teams as a whole was disappointing. It was a total team loss, but I really believe that all started with the defense’s inability to stop the run.
The Eagles ran for 208 yards against the Falcons and averaged a horrific 5.5 yards per carry. Someone on Twitter astutely noted that it was death by papercuts, and that is frankly the best way to describe it. These yards weren’t gained on four or five explosive 30-yard runs, they were accumulated with 5- or 6-yard gashes throughout the afternoon.
These problems started a domino effect throughout the afternoon and only compounded. Philadelphia held the ball for 38 minutes and 10 seconds, meaning Atlanta’s defense was on the field consistently. As the Falcons tired out on defense, it became more difficult to play with the speed and technique Dan Quinn’s schemes require.
On the other side of the coin, with the Eagles maintaining possession of the ball, the Falcons’ offense never found a comfortable rhythm. Atlanta’s longest drive spanned nine plays and 50 yards. That isn’t what we’ve seen all season from Matt Ryan & Co., and they have precious few opportunities to figure things out.
Philadelphia executed its game plan to perfection, and they deserve credit for that. But now the rest of the league has seen just how effective that strategy can be against Atlanta. It’s not likely the Falcons’ offense has a complete lapse like that again, but it would be best not to have to find out. For that to happen, the run defense must have a complete turnaround.