On a night when it seemed like the universe was stacked against them, the Falcons went into New Orleans and left with a very impressive 45-32 win.
It wasn’t a perfect performance – well, it was for most of the offense – but Atlanta did beat a team that has pretty much owned everything Falcon-related for a decade and a half, which is just fantastic.
Another tough test lies ahead when Carolina comes to town on Sunday, but, for now, let’s take a little more time to relish in something that doesn’t happen often enough.
Here are a few things we can celebrate
The running game: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were electric on Monday night, and showed the offense is at its best when they are involved. Freeman gained 152 yards on 14 carries (an insane 10.9 yards per carry!!), while Coleman added 42 yards of his own and 3 touchdowns. Not only did the duo lead the way on the ground, but Freeman and Coleman led the team in receiving with 55 and 47 yards, respectively. The offensive line deserves a ton of credit as well. There were great running lanes and plenty of cut-back opportunities all night long. Most importantly, it was a lot of fun to watch.
Matt Ryan and Kyle Shanahan: Through the first two weeks of the season, there were noticeable signs of improvement from Ryan and Shanahan. Whether it was Ryan’s effort to adapt to what Shanahan need him to do, or the latter’s work to find ways to help his quarterback succeed in the system, the passing game looked sharper. In Week 3, they broke through the glass ceiling and lit up the Saints for 38 points. Yes, the Saint’s defense has more holes than Swiss cheese that was used as a shield on the beaches of Normandy, but the execution was a pure thing of beauty. Also, red zone offense!
Rookies on defense: While the offense was busy stealing the show, the Falcons’ defensive rookies did their best to share in that glory. Deion Jones was an absolute revelation. He not only looked like a veteran, but like the leader of Atlanta’s defense as he furiously clogged up holes and took on opposing backs. His 90-yard interception return was a major turning point in the game and helped seal the win. Jones had some help from a fellow rookie on that touchdown as Brian Poole, the team’s undrafted cornerback, tipped the pass away from the intended receiver. Poole has come on in recent weeks, which is a good sign for the team’s secondary depth. Keanu Neal also made his first appearance this regular season and flashed the big-hitting potential we’ve heard so much about. For a team that needs defensive playmakers, Monday night was a terrific showing.
Special teams: It may have gotten lost in the joy, but special teams were flawless again. Matt Bryant was automatic – as usual – converting his lone field goal attempt and six extra points. His partner in crime, Matt Bosher, contributed two punts and eight kickoffs, none of which were returned by the Saints. Eric Weems had a tremendous return to give the Falcons great field position after New Orleans took a quick lead. On a day when there was a lot going right, this unit deserved special recognition.
Matt Ryan’s business decision-making: A no-huddle aficionado, Matt once again made a superb decision on the fly.
An angel took Matt Ryan away from certain death https://t.co/8mxmVBMtdB— Zito (@_Zeets) September 27, 2016
One thing to worry about
(Not including pass rush, because there were actually 2 sacks and we don’t want greediness to anger the football gods)
Getting off the field on defense: Although there were some nice individual performances on the Falcons’ defense, that side of the ball, as a whole, struggled against the Saints. Personally, I’m of the opinion that Drew Brees and Sean Payton know exactly how to attack Atlanta’s defenses and that we are always doomed to struggle against them. This is a defense that is trying to get younger and has a few rookies at some key spots. As a result, the stats might not look good, especially against some of the quarterbacks the Falcons will face, but as long as the result is good and there is improvement, all hope is not lost.
That being said, Atlanta needs to do a better job of getting off the field when it has the chance. The Falcons are currently No. 24 in the NFL in opponent’s third-down conversion percentage, allowing teams to gain a first down 44.1 percent of the time. The Saints converted about 54 percent of their third downs, which is unacceptable. I’m not a fan of the bend-but-don’t-break defense, but I understand it. What Atlanta’s defense can’t afford to do, however, is bend so frequently that they can’t get off the field and give the ball back to the offense.