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Observations from Falcons vs. Dolphins

The Falcons lost in embarrassing fashion to the worst offense in the NFL on Sunday. Here are some thoughts on the game.

Miami Dolphins v Atlanta Falcon Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Whew. That may have been one of the ugliest Falcons games I’ve ever witnessed. It was like taking a time machine back to the Mike Smith days—a beautiful first half performance, only to see the team bumble and fumble away their lead with awful, uninspired play throughout the entire second half. You should be very angry with the Falcons for that weak showing on Sunday.

There’s no doubt that Quinn and the team have some serious soul-searching to do after that atrocity, but before we move on to next week, here are some of my in-depth observations after re-watching the game (it was difficult, and I don’t recommend it if you value your health and sanity).

The playcalling was a problem...again

The tendency of this Falcons’ team to go pass-heavy when they get a lead is as ridiculous as it is infuriating. In the second quarter, the Falcons’ run game finally got going. Freeman and Coleman were ripping off big runs left and right. It all culminated in a rushing TD from Coleman shortly before halftime. At that point, the Falcons were up 17-0 and in clear control of the game. I bet you can guess what happened next.

That’s right, the Falcons ran the ball exactly six times after piling up a 17-point lead. Let’s add to that the most glaring weakness of the Dolphins’ defense—defending RBs in the receiving game—and talk about the fact that Tevin Coleman had one target in the passing game. There were, plainly, a ton of questionable decisions throughout the game. The endless toss plays—which the Dolphins almost always stopped for a loss. Sark’s continued insistence to build a gameplan around Taylor Gabriel—who I love, but who should not be the focal point of your offense. Sark needs to get it together, and he needs to do it soon.

The pass rush was nonexistent against a bad OL

We knew the Dolphins’ defense was a quality unit, but the offense? It was the worst in the league, and the Falcons defense just provided a career, record-setting day for Jay Cutler. A big part of that was the inability of the Falcons’ pass rush—a unit that saw the return of Vic Beasley on Sunday and had been very effective through four games—to generate much of anything throughout the game.

Atlanta’s defense created zero sacks, and failed to even adequately pressure Cutler into bad throws. The Dolphins’ very good center, Pouncey, went out after halftime—and the Falcons still couldn’t create any pass rush. This is a huge problem, because if this team can’t pressure the statuesque Jay Cutler behind his porous OL, they have absolutely no chance against Tom Brady next week. They need to find out what’s wrong and fix it, or this defense is in serious trouble.

The bye week, somehow, made this team worse

This one is completely on the coaching staff. A bye week is supposed to be an opportunity for the team to fix some of their issues—to work on the little nagging troubles that have pestered the team throughout the early part of the season. We heard Dan Quinn talk a lot about how they used the time to “self-scout” and work on fixing the tackling and discipline issues. Then Sunday’s game happened.

The tackling was as bad as ever, maybe even worse. Atlanta gifted at least one touchdown to the Dolphins’ offense due to stupid penalties, and sloppiness plagued the offense once again—how do you false start every week at home? This is a team that looked like they took a vacation during the bye, instead of working on issues. Maybe they did, and if so, that’s a big problem. This team clearly isn’t good enough to goof off. Hopefully, they’ll spend this next week actually self-scouting and trying to fix the issues that have been there since Week 1.

The additions of Ryan Schraeder and Marvin Hall helped the offense

It sure was nice to get Schraeder back for this game. In the first half, it was clear that Schraeder provided stability to an offensive line that had lacked it through the last three weeks. Blitz pick-ups, in particular, were greatly improved with the veteran manning right tackle again. With Schraeder back, the right side of the line actually looked substantially better throughout the game than the left side. Schweitzer, too, has been improving every game.

We also saw the young WR Marvin Hall get his first NFL catch, and it just so happened to be a touchdown. It was the first well-thrown deep ball from Ryan all season, and Hall did a nice job of adjusting to the pass and hauling it in. Then, as quickly as he had appeared, Hall wasn’t targeted again during the game. Another puzzling decision by the Falcons offense, I suppose. Still, it appears the Falcons may have found a potential contributor down the road in Hall.

Will the real Falcons please stand up?

I’m not sure what to think about this team. We’ve seen flashes of dominance against the Packers and Lions, and stretches of complete and utter ineptitude against the Bills and Dolphins. Who are the 2017 Falcons, really? I’m not sure the team even knows at this point. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

Are these the 2015 Falcons, who got out to a hot 5-0 start only to come crashing down to earth in excruciating fashion? Or are these the 2016 Falcons, who stumbled a bit through the early part of the season only to get hot and reach the Super Bowl? At this point, they look more like the 2015 version—early on they were able to get some leads, but they held on to narrow victories or “heroic” finishes. In 2015, we kept asking when we’d see a “complete” game, and never really did.

It could be argued that the Falcons already put on a complete game against the Packers, and the 2017 version of the team is undoubtedly more talented on both sides of the ball than the 2015 squad. So, it’s time for the real 2017 Falcons to appear. Show the fanbase that 2016 wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Prove yourselves to Atlanta. You might not get a better shot than this week against the Patriots. Here’s to hoping that game is the start of a more positive trend for this team.

Despite all this negativity—and it’s completely warranted—the Falcons are still in fine position in the NFC South. They’re a half-game back on the Panthers for the division lead, and the Falcons’ two losses have come against AFC teams. For tie-breaking purposes, those are certainly the least impactful. This division is shaping up to be a bit more competitive than we initially thought, and the Bucs are apparently trash, but there is no reason to give up on the Falcons now.

Yes, we’ve now witnessed two sloppy performances in a row. Ricardo Allen summed it up pretty well. But look around the NFL: nobody is playing clean football at this point. The Broncos got whupped at home by the 0-5 Giants. The Packers, now potentially down Aaron Rodgers for the season, were thoroughly dismantled by the Vikings. New England struggled with a talent-poor Jets team throughout most of the game, only catching a break on a botched call. The Chiefs lost a bad one to the Steelers at home—a team that traditionally struggles on the road.

There aren’t any teams that are playing great football right now. The Falcons still have time to right the ship and take control of a wide-open NFC. Here’s to hoping that this awful game was the wake-up call that Atlanta needed to get them back on track. They’ll need to be firing on all cylinders this week against a Patriots team that will be energized for this primetime Super Bowl rematch.