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A collective subpar performance puts the Falcons in a precarious situation

It wasn’t completely Dan Quinn nor Matt Ryan’s fault. The Falcons were outplayed in every aspect of the game.

Kansas City Chiefs v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Whenever a team loses in appalling fashion, fingers will usually be pointed in one direction. The quarterback or head coach are the most common suspects. Matt Ryan and Dan Quinn deserve to be criticized for their individual efforts yesterday. That shouldn’t eradicate what else occurred against a very good Kansas City team. They couldn’t afford to lose the turnover battle or allow their pass rush to start rattling Ryan. Both things transpired, which left the Falcons with another painful home defeat.

Although the stat sheet doesn’t indicate it, the Falcons were outplayed in all three phases of the game. Unnecessary penalties and Alex Smith overthrowing multiple wide-open receiving options downfield bailed out the defense. Ryan was fortunate not to be stripped by Tamba Hali on multiple occasions. The wide receiving corps failed to make major contributions besides Julio Jones. With poor execution in critical situations and a massive special teams breakdown, this was an inevitable loss. It only happened to be far more painful than expected.

Injuries mount, as Ryan crumbles

With the porous defense allowing practically no room for error, Ryan has to play at a high level on a weekly basis. The Falcons are 1-4 when they are held under 30 points. Beating Paxton Lynch (and a very good Denver team) on his NFL debut is their lone victory. Although the offense is clearly special, they shouldn’t be under such intense pressure against every opponent. Having such an unbalanced team will eventually cost you against a talented defense. It happened against Philadelphia’s outstanding front seven. The same issue transpired against Kansas City.

Injuries played a part in the offense’s decline. Tom Compton replaced Jake Matthews and nearly allowed three sacks to Hali. Although he fared well as a run blocker, the backup tackle forced Ryan into making rash decisions. Julio Jones and Mohmaed Sanu both suffered injuries in the fourth quarter. Attempting to score in the red zone with only three healthy wide receivers all under six feet is going to be an uphill battle. Thankfully for Ryan’s sake, a coverage bust allowed Aldrick Robinson to spring free for a five-yard touchdown.

Both of Ryan’s interceptions were poor decisions. He failed to recognize Eric Berry on the first interception, who was playing as a robber, as Ryan threw an errant pass right to him. With good protection, it was surprising to see him threading the needle to Gabriel, who is five-foot-eight and doesn’t have much of a catch radius. The second interception couldn’t have been more hurried, as Ryan threw a bullet right into Berry’s hands. Austin Hooper should be targeted more often in the red zone. It wasn’t the right timing, as Berry was lurking in the flat. Ryan appears to have panicked, as Frank Zombo applies some pressure. If he steps up in the pocket, Zombo doesn’t get a hand on him, which should allow him enough time to make a safer throw.

Ryan looked very jittery in the pocket. Without a reliable left tackle, he couldn’t take many shots downfield. Whether pressure actually arrived or the offensive line did their job, he didn’t look comfortable following Matthews’ injury. Questionable play calling did play a role in the red zone inefficiency. Poor pass protection and wide receivers not winning their respective matchups against Kansas City’s smaller cornerbacks ultimately proved to be their undoing.

Rookies underwhelm in a big spot

Although the defense technically only allowed 13 points, it was another below average performance. They were fortunate that Kansas City suffered from inopportune penalties, which put them in third-and-long situations. Chris Conley dropped a 30-yard completion over Jalen Collins, while Smith underthrew him on another big play opportunity. Don’t let the score fool you. They were very fortunate not allow bigger plays.

Allowing Travis Kelce acres of space was unacceptable. The star tight end made countless plays against Atlanta’s porous defense. From roasting Keanu Neal on a go route to turning checkdowns into big plays, he wasn’t contained in the slightest bit. DeVondre Campbell found himself at the forefront of many big plays.

After playing well against Tampa Bay and Arizona, the rookie linebacker played arguably his worst game of the season. Smith bailed him out by overthrowing Spencer Ware on what should have been a game-sealing touchdown. Campbell’s lack of awareness is still an issue. He also looked clumsy trying to recover on plays that were over pursued. Rookie linebackers are going to suffer growing pains. As the season goes into the final stretch, coaches can only hope they start becoming more dependable.

Campbell wasn’t the only liability, as Neal found himself out of position on numerous occasions. Quinn quickly ditched the idea of Neal shadowing Kelce on the first drive. He missed tackles in the open field; as Kelce’s vicious cut left the first round pick bouncing off his shoulder. With Desmond Trufant done for the season and Adrian Clayborn out for an extended period of time, young players need to step up. Besides Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, nobody stood out in a positive manner.

Coaching decisions

Dan Quinn’s tendency to be overaggressive will be questioned again. None of his decisions were as egregious as the fourth down overtime call against San Diego. Attempting multiple two-point conversions wasn’t controversial either. Most coaches will try to cut the deficit to three points at 27-22 or extend their lead at 28-27. When your offense is averaging over 30 points a game, you have every right to feel confident about them converting a short-yardage situation.

Not kicking a field goal on fourth down in the red zone, while facing an 11-point deficit isn’t ridiculous either. It’s completely understandable why Quinn made the decision based on the offense’s success. An elite offense should operate like they are unstoppable. While that mindset can’t affect making simple decisions, it wasn’t an easy choice. The Falcons desperately needed to regain some momentum following Kansas City’s fake punt brilliance. Kicking a field goal doesn’t exactly do that. If the offense converts, this decision is completely forgotten about. Rather than focusing on unsuccessful decisions, the lack of execution and play calling deserves more recognition.

Kyle Shanahan’s red zone play calling seemed very bland. There were far too many shotgun sets, which became predictable. For an offensive coordinator, who loves implementing play action into his weekly gameplan, he rarely uses it in the red zone. Splitting out wide receivers and expecting them to win in a narrow area isn’t a successful model for this offense. Jones is going to attract double teams, while Gabriel isn’t known for winning in traffic. Hooper and Sanu have failed to deliver in these situations.

Shanahan should design more rub routes (pick plays) to create high-percentage opportunities in the red zone. It worked perfectly against Tampa Bay. With Sanu’s ability to run clean rub routes, there is no reason to abandon a very effective play call. Depending on the running game to score every single time in the red zone isn’t a recipe for success.

Quinn deserves more blame for the defense’s lack of organization rather than the fourth down and two point conversion decisions. They were routinely fooled by Kansas City’s misdirection designs. Ware, Kelce, and Tyreek Hill found openings and produced big plays. Screens proved to be an issue as well. The defense looked completely unprepared in some instances.

Not calling timeout with two minutes left in the first half can be pinpointed, but Andy Reid baiting him into wasting a timeout was embarrassing. A conservative coach like Reid wasn’t going for it on fourth down at his own 45. Timeouts are so valuable, yet Quinn wastes timeouts on a weekly basis by having to make constant substitutions or fix other structural issues. To have only one timeout left in the fourth quarter of a close game without using any challenges is inexcusable.

Looking Ahead

The loss certainly stings, but the Falcons left the game with several key players injured. Jones, Sanu, Matthews, and Ricardo Allen couldn’t finish the game. All four players are obviously needed for the long haul. Kansas City is a very good team that knows how to win ugly. They’ll generate pressure, design creative plays for their playmakers, and win the turnover battle. Better quarterback play and fewer penalties would have resulted in a more comfortable victory for them.

The Falcons have played more than enough playoff-caliber teams this season. They fell short in all three phases of this game. Battle-tested teams can’t be this disorganized and convert only three of six red zone opportunities, if they want to reach their potential. With Tampa Bay overcoming the odds, the Falcons need to rebound quickly. The next two games are considered to be the easiest stretch on their schedule. Not being 9-5 going into Christmas Eve would be a massive disappointment .