After a long two weeks without an NFL team from Atlanta playing football, the Falcons steadied the ship following a bumpy first quarter and cruised to a 38-19 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
This one looked like it could be another back-and-forth shootout after the defense looked incapable of slowing down Arizona on its opening drive. Fortunately, the defense settled down and the offense continued to do its thing throughout the afternoon.
Unfortunately, the win didn’t give Atlanta any more of a cushion in the division race as Seattle couldn’t defeat a Tampa Bay team that has apparently been inspired by Jameis Winston’s literary abilities.
Regardless, it was nice to see the Falcons get back on the right track after their bye week and they will need to keep up this level of play down the stretch.
Enough talk, here’s what we are celebrating and worrying about after the win.
One reason to celebrate
Jalen Collins and the secondary: If we awarded this spot based on in-game performance and excitement, then it would undoubtedly belong to Taylor “Holy s***, where’d he go?” Gabriel. The receiver appeared to be moving twice as fast as any Arizona defender and gives this offense an entirely different type of weapon.
As good as Gabriel was, though, there is something that will play a much bigger role moving forward. Before Sunday’s game, it was learned that Atlanta’s No. 1 corner, Desmond Trufant, would miss the rest of the season due to injury. While he has had somewhat of a down season, Trufant has historically been one of the most reliable pieces of a shaky defense.
Without Trufant, Atlanta’s secondary faced a tough challenge against a banged-up-but-talented Arizona receiving corps, led by the ageless Larry Fitzgerald. Without Trufant, the Falcons’ secondary allowed just 10 catches to Cardinals receivers, one more than the number of passes Atlanta knocked to the turf. The coaching staff showed faith in their defensive backs, employing quite a bit of man coverage with positive results.
It wasn’t a perfect day for the secondary, but that is a rare thing in today’s NFL. Instead, it was a performance that Atlanta can build upon. Jalen Collins gave a commendable effort and made some plays that showcased why he was taken in the second round. Again, he wasn’t flawless and made a few mental mistakes, but it was a reassuring day.
His play combined with that of Brian Poole and Robert Alford will be very important moving forward. Sunday provided an important test, and the secondary fared reasonably well.
One reason to worry
A Trufant-less secondary: On the other side of the coin, the loss of Trufant could prove to be big down the stretch. Atlanta’s secondary did an admirable job limiting Arizona’s receivers and preventing many explosive plays, but they won’t always face an injured receiving corps with a struggling quarterback.
Fortunately, the Falcons have already made it through the murder’s row of opposing quarterbacks. Outside of Cam Newton and Drew Brees, Atlanta will face Alex Smith, Jarred Goff and Colin Kaepernick.
But this selection isn’t so much about the end of the regular season, although that is of paramount importance, as it is a potential playoff run. In the postseason, a team’s weaknesses are targeted and exposed more often than not. Atlanta’s defense hasn’t been a strength, but it could at least hope to match opposing receivers with Trufant and Alford.
Now that Trufant is out, Alford will usually face an opponent’s top receiver with Collins manning the other side. Alford is talented, but he can be exploited and is good for at least one penalty a game. Collins’ reputation will be solidified over the next few weeks, but he is still probably a liability at this point.
As of Sunday night, the five teams that would join Atlanta in the playoffs are Dallas, Seattle, Detroit, New York and Washington. Without Trufant, most of those teams have a receiver capable of winning any head-to-head matchup and a group that can exploit this secondary.
The rest of the season will go a long way towards easing those fears or cementing them. Either way, the loss of Trufant is a reason to worry the rest of the way.