The Cardinals came into the game with one of the best defensive units in the NFL. The Falcons offense subsequently put up 38 points on them. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, which makes the final score even more impressive. The defense settled down after a troubling start and held the Cardinals under 20. In total, it was a great win that offers hope that this team could get hot at the right time.
I did not see this coming, to be honest. I thought the game would look more like the opening drive of the second half with Matt Ryan on his butt a lot of the game,and that the defense would struggle a lot more than it did. I am very surprised with the way the defense got adjusted throughout the game and how well they performed down the stretch. This game was really about the offense, though: 38 points against the top defense in the league? Wow. That is a legitimate statement. Also, I just got Taylor Gabriel’s face tattooed on my chest with a number 18 on my back.Great, huh? Hello? Is anyone there?
Like Kyle, this game was a bit of a surprise. Partially because the bye week came after that ugly loss in Philly, and partially because I thought Atlanta’s defense did not match up well with Arizona. That looked to be the case in the first quarter, as the Cardinals moved the ball fairly easily, but the Falcons’ defense showed impressive resilience. After seeing “T. Gabriel” on the screen, my girlfriend asked me what Tyler Gabriel’s first name was. I told her his first name was “Touchdown,” and he will henceforth be known as such in my eyes. This wasn’t a pretty game, but it felt like the coaching staff was trying something a little different. If that was the case, they may have laid a strong foundation for the coming weeks.
I really, really thought this game would turn out to be a struggle, and at halftime, it still seemed that way. The first quarter featured two - TWO! - completed offensive possessions, each team had one, with the Cards working on their second as the quarter ended. That’s essentially how the Eagles were able to beat us, after all. The start of the second half was no better, featuring quite possibly the ugliest offensive series in Falcons history, but a funny thing happened: the Falcons adjusted, and the engine roared to life.
The second half of the game told me a few things: 1) There will be no collapse this year. 2) As the offense goes, so does this team. 3) This defense is scrappy, even when it’s down a few bodies. I’ve said it multiple times over the course of this year: if we make it to the playoffs, no other team in the NFL will be as battle tested as this one. They have faced the “#1 defense” in some category 3 or 4 times already this year, it seems, and only the Eagles have slowed us down at all. That’s incredibly dangerous, and while we may have to hit the road in the playoffs, we’ll be ready for anything.
The Falcons did exactly what they needed to do coming out of a bye: take care of a struggling opponent at home to stay atop the division and keep pace in the NFC playoff race. You also have to be impressed with how the offense hung 38 points on one of the league’s top defense, a couple of weeks after struggling mightily against the Philadelphia Eagles. As it stands now, it certainly looks like this team is headed for the postseason.
If you were worried about the offense stagnating after that ugly loss to the Eagles, you saw what you needed to see against a dangerous, athletic defense. If you were worried about the defense after...oh, the entire year, I guess...you saw what you needed to see. If you wondered how the secondary would hold up without Desmond Trufant, you saw what you needed to see.
Basically, the Falcons did a lot to assuage some of the most enduring doubts about their status as a contender, and they did so against one of the more challenging opponents left on the schedule. A win against Kansas City next week will have us all thinking playoffs in earnest, and honestly, it’s hard not to feel pretty good about this team right now.
The young players continue to develop, the returning players and new acquisitions continue to adapt to the new schemes, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.
A few random observations: the screens to Gabriel reminded me a lot of the plays we did with Antone Smith once upon a time. It’s amazing to think that the Browns simply threw Gabriel away. At times it seemed like the Cardinals were intentionally going after Jalen Collins. He showed that he was up to the task. Matt Wile may only be here short term, but he has a future in the NFL - his two punts averaged 52 yards net (!) and his seven kickoffs all went for touchbacks. Ryan and Sanu seem to be in sync - in Atlanta’s last four games, Sanu has 24 receptions on 27 targets.
Despite Arizona underachieving this season, they are filled with talent on defense. There are stars at every position from Patrick Peterson to Chandler Jones. Although the offense benefitted from good field position at times, they produced quality drives and managed another efficient performance against a top-tier defense. The screens were well designed against Arizona’s blitz-oriented defense. Taylor Gabriel has developed into a dependable weapon. He adds a scary element to an already high-octane offense.
The defense is still mysterious based on how poorly they played in the first quarter. A botched snap was the only thing that saved them from allowing a second consecutive touchdown. Following that drive, the pass rush got going and harassed Carson Palmer all game long. The next three weeks feature below average quarterbacks, which should allow embattled cornerback Jalen Collins to shift into a full-time role. He continues to show glimpses, especially against Michael Floyd. Technique is still a work in progress, but the second-year cornerback is more active and around the ball than last season.
Wow. Not much else to say. Atlanta’s defense isn’t great, but the offense keeps finding new ways to win against great teams. Putting up 38 points on the league’s best defense is nuts. I’m going to enjoy this win all week.
I was somewhat nervous coming into the game because the Cardinals clearly have the talent to be a good NFL team. But for whatever reason, they’re just bad right now. Atlanta handled the Cardinals they way they should have if they are truly a playoff-caliber team. The Falcons very much look like one now, although the defense is still a liability at times, and are in firm control of their destiny in the NFC South. If Seattle continues playing this poorly, the Falcons have a chance to take over the #2 seed. For now, I’m just glad they’re officially better than last year’s squad.