The mood in the fanbase heading into yesterday’s game was decidedly grim. Desmond Trufant was going to miss the rest of the year, Matt Bosher was hurt, and the defense was expected to be a massive liability against the Cardinals. After Arizona scored on the easiest opening drive of all time, there were not a lot of happy campers.
Thankfully, the Falcons righted the ship in spectacular fashion, blowing out the Cardinals in a game that was equal parts terrific offense, solid enough defense, and Arizona repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. The result was the team’s seventh win of the 2016 season, an affirmation of just how good this team can be, and the end of Arizona’s extremely slim playoff hopes. Not a bad Sunday.
The most encouraging thing by a wide margin was how well the offense performed against a physical, athletic defense. Matt Ryan was harried quite a bit, there were a couple of turnovers (though one was called back), and the ground game was only so-so, and the Falcons still scored over 30 points en route to victory. Pair that with a defensive effort that can be described as “competent” and you have a recipe for a victory, and I hope it’s a recipe the Falcons will repeat again and again over the next five weeks.
On to the full recap.
- The Falcons were ballsy from the jump, going for it on 4th and 3rd on their first offensive drive. Mohamed Sanu reeled in a great catch, Atlanta marched easily down the field, and they got a touchdown that wound up being very valuable...but not as valuable as it would’ve been if the Falcons hadn’t won by a lot.
- Matt Ryan turned in a solid game. He threw one interception that was called back, thankfully, and another that was entirely on Julio Jones. Despite facing real pressure, he spread the ball around effectively, was accurate and crisp on the majority of his throws, and did more than enough to win. His excellent season continues apace.
- I could not have seen this coming, but Taylor Gabriel has become an incredibly dangerous weapon. His 27 yard run in the first quarter and 35 yard touchdown in the second quarter were beautiful, and his fourth quarter touchdown grab put the Cardinals on ice. When teams have to account for the likes of Julio Jones, Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman, and even Mohamed Sanu, asking them to keep up with someone as fast as Gabriel just isn’t fair, and I’m hopeful he’ll be in Atlanta for many years to come.
- Freeman and Coleman didn’t have quite as much success on the ground as I had hoped, but they combined for three touchdowns. $$$$.
- Julio Jones’ impact is felt everywhere, even when he’s not making catches. Patrick Peterson’s desperate attempts to keep up with him extended the Falcons’ second drive and then saved the team from an interception when he rang up two defensive pass interferences keeping his hands on Julio.
- The Cardinals hilariously beat themselves throughout the first half, with bad snaps and penalties doing more to slow down their assault than anything Atlanta did. That gave the Falcons’ defense time to grind to life, and they did a nice job of limiting Arizona most of the rest of the way. Hell, Brooks Reed and Courtney Upshaw even combined on a sack!
- Vic Beasley didn’t get a sack, but he destroyed the Cardinals’ line and put a ton of pressure on the slow-footed Carson Palmer, leading to some bad throws and enabling others to get home. We can officially kill the bust talk, if we haven’t already, and start wondering aloud where Beasley will end up among the team’s (admittedly small) pantheon of pass rushers.
- Robert Alford, Jalen Collins and Brian Poole ran into trouble early, but they all showed up yesterday, largely keeping the Arizona passing attack in check through four quarters. Collins, in particular, came up with terrific coverage on a fourth down conversion attempt that stopped the Cardinals cold in the fourth quarter.
- Collins is going to be integral the rest of the way, given Trufant’s injury, so it was good to see him deliver a solid game in this one. He got burned a couple of times, but also had some very nice coverage and a big pass breakup on a two point conversion in the fourth quarter that might have given Arizona some hope of an improbable breakup. The next couple of weeks get easier for him, but I’ve been impressed with how well he’s held up so far. More on that later in the week.
- How did the Falcons go from getting destroyed on the first couple of drives of the game to largely holding Arizona in check the rest of the way? You can point the finger all over the place—even Jonathan Babineaux came to life in this one—but I’d like to focus on two of the team’s most productive rookies. That Keanu Neal was a leading tackler who delivered some timely, jarring hits is no great surprise, but De’Vondre Campbell is coming on in a major way with improved coverage and tackling, and his game-sealing interception was a nice play in and of itself.
- Matt Wile is good at punting, which came as a mild surprise. His first one traveled 57 yards, and he generally did a nice job in relief of Matt Bosher. He’ll be on the team’s call list going forward if Bosher gets hurt again.
- Obligatory reminder that Matt Bryant is great.
- The one area where Julio has been less than stellar is drops and mental mistakes, which have plagued him to an unusual extent this year. In this one, he bobbled a pass badly that was subsequently picked off by the Cardinals, ending what promised to be another productive Falcons drive and leading to a Cardinals field goal that made it 17-13 at the half. He had a quiet game in this one, by and large, so unfortunately that play stands out.
- The ground game couldn’t get going against a very tough Arizona front, but it was enough to win. We’re still waiting for Freeman or Coleman to have a big game on the ground, because it seems like it has been a little while.
- How did Matt Ryan get sacked three times to start the third quarter? SHEER GUMPTION. The Arizona defense is tough and athletic, but that was beyond ridiculous, and could have been damaging if the defense hadn’t stepped up.
- Hoo boy, this defense was lousy early. Through the first two drives, the Falcons had allowed 10 points, 74 total yards to David Johnson, and had maybe two or three semi-positive plays on that side of the ball. Thankfully, they got it ironed out, and Arizona helped considerably by screwing up again and again.
Some worthy choices in this one, but let’s give it to Taylor Gabriel, who did an extraordinary amount of damage on a limited number of touches, and utterly demoralized Arizona in the process.
The Falcons can win games even if Desmond Trufant is on injured reserve! They just need the offense to keep firing, and their cornerbacks to play competent ball, and yesterday was a nice start.
One of the great challenges left on the schedule in the tough Kansas City Chiefs. Follow Arrowhead Pride for more.