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Dirty Bird Takebusters: Blown Leads = Bad Times, Bold Calls

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The raging hot takes circulating around the 3-2 Falcons get the best busting we can give them.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re team’s lost two quick, and people are throwing bricks, who you gonna call? Takebusters!

When the Pats are back, and the deck looks stacked, who you gonna call? Takebusters!

*melodious 80s guitar riff* I ain’t afraid of no t *dodges someone tossing a brick*

Hey, hey, people chill out! Good night. What was that? C’mon, who threw that?

Cory back with another edition of Dirty Bird Takebusters. Look, I get it. You’re upset. The Atlanta Falcons blew a 17-point lead to the Miami Dolphins, who had the statistically-worst offense in the NFL, and hot takes are flying left and right. It’s a danger zone on social media, and some are literally questioning if the Falcons season might be over after losing two straight.

It’s also NOT HELPING that the dad gum Super Bowl rematch is Sunday night, and could propel to the team to 3-3, which never, y’know, helps anything.

But, in the midst of anger, sadness, heated opinions and calls to strap Steve Sarkisian to a rocket and send him to Mars, logic and reason still have their say. I know them, well, decently enough, and they have some things they’d like to share with *dodges another brick* OK SERIOUSLY THEY’VE LOST TWO FOOTBALL GAMES WILL YOU PEOPLE CALM DOWN BRICKS ARE HARD OKAY

So, let’s do our best to bust the gripes about blown leads and ease your minds about Sark’s play calls.

HOT TAKE

THE FALCONS CANNOT HOLD A LEAD TO SAVE THEIR LIVES WE ARE NEVER GOING TO WIN EVER AGAIN AND THIS IS GOING TO TANK THE SEASON

HOT TAKE TRANSLATION

It’s troubling to watch the Falcons, week in and week out, surrender their first half momentum and flirt with close finishes when it’s fair to state that they’ve been the best football team on the field in each of their five match-ups. This team is two plays away from being 1-4, and this team looks to be destined to blow their huge leads when they mount them and continue to string together poor second halves. It’s in the organization’s DNA. They’re chokers. This season is kaput if the team is going to continue to play poorly when it counts.

HOT TAKE VALIDITY: 45%

REALITY CHECK

This, so far, is the hot take with the most reason behind it, but, y’know, it’s still a hot take. Yes, the Falcons could be 1-4 right now – very easily. But they could also be 5-0 if Austin Hooper makes a stronger play on the ball against Miami, and Sarkisian calls a more-crafty play against Buffalo. A 5-0 record would make them the only undefeated team in the NFL.

Blowing leads is troubling. It’s not fun. But, the team has only really blown one major lead this season. Their games against Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo were more back-and-forth than you remember, and the Green Bay game was soundly won in a similar fashion to the NFC Championship Game (do you really think Aaron Rodgers was going to not get his garbage points when the team switched to zone).

The team, when they hit their stride in 2016, did not surrender their huge leads easily until the Super Bowl. Look at these scores: Falcons beat Arizona 38-19. Falcons beat Rams 42-14. Falcons beat 49ers 41-13. Falcons beat Panthers 33-16. Falcons beat Seahawks 36-20. Falcons beat Packers 44-21.

Early into 2016, the team let up struggled to put their opponents away despite having no struggles on offense: The Raiders game came within a touchdown, the Saints game was closer at the end than you think, the Panthers nearly came back in that historic offensive day with Derek Anderson starting, the Broncos kept it close until the end. So, in those first five games, this whole team wasn’t exactly punishing opponents with free will. They were building up big leads, only to see the defense nearly, well, blow them. They were only executing well on one side of the ball.

That doesn’t indicate this team is a choker, can’t ever hold a big lead. It means they just don’t historically play great defense, and the offense has typically to be at its best to withstand that. The offense was good enough in 2016 to not get out of rhythm often and overcome the defensive flaws. With a new coordinator in 2017, this offense, like Dan Quinn said earlier this week, needs its snaps. Against Miami, the team only had four drives to close the game.

The last three Falcons games have not been traditional ones – at Detroit, Matt Ryan had two tipped passes for interceptions, which is statistically unheard of in football for a single game, to go along with his poor read returned for six. The defense also started to waver a bit when the Lions got into a rhythm, which can happen when the opposing offense turns the ball over repeatedly. That’s what made that game so close, and nearly won by Detroit if not for a heads-up play by Brian Poole in the end zone at the close.

With Buffalo, the team hit this sequence after halftime after losing their top-two targets in the first half: they had that utterly bizarre fumble-for-touchdown call go against them in the third quarter, which was immediately followed by a pick on a deep ball, then after a touchdown drive, the next possession a tipped ball for interception, followed by a last-minute drive down that put the team in the red zone, to no avail. How often does that happen?

Against Miami, a nearly-flawless first half performance was followed by an drastic change of a second half that really was eerily reminiscent of the Super Bowl. The team only had four offensive possessions – two of which were quick three-and-outs and one brought down by penalties and a sack. The fourth drive moved the ball well, but ended in disaster once more with a pick on a deflected ball. Again, how often does something like this happen? For the Falcons, you can’t be lazy and say every week. That’s just not true.

So, the Falcons got out of Dodge against Detroit, and sunk into the quicksand against Miami and Buffalo. Since week ones are fluky and the team executed well against Green Bay, the last three games are the microscope samples.

This team has had a poor mix of luck and situational nightmares in their last three at-bats. The team has been 1-2. They could easily be 0-3, and easily be 3-0. They’ve just come down to little moments. You can make criticisms here and there that are fair, but the last three weeks cannot be defined as systemic examples of being a “choking” franchise. Really, with all the situational Super Bowl reminders (waves his hands at the hangover narrative that’s part of this season), tipped passes, up-and-down play-calling from Sarkisian, elongated second half drives, injuries and quality defenses, this looks to be more of an isolated sample of worst-case scenarios for the Falcons. Though, obviously, they’ve got to tighten up on defense and be more aggressive with their weapons on offense in the second halves in order to really come into their own this season.

They’re not chokers. They’ve just been an unlucky team in transition.

Oh, and save me your “historic chokers” nonsense. New players, new coaches.

The Falcons aren’t systemically doomed.

HOT TAKE

STEVE SARKISIAN HAS RUINED THE FALCONS OFFENSE AND SHOULD BE FIRED

HOT TAKE TRANSLATION

Steve Sarkisian has taken his baseball bat and smashed everything that made the Falcons offense special under Kyle Shanahan. He’s a detriment to this program, and needs to be replaced immediately.

HOT TAKE VALIDITY: >.5%

REALITY CHECK

I say this with love – if you want the team to fire OC Steve Sarkisian at this very moment, you do not understand what you are talking about. I trust you with offensive evaluations as much as I’d trust a cat burglar with a diamond necklace or an arsonist with a box of matches.

Sarkisian has not done a bad job with the Falcons. He has not done an overtly great job with the Falcons. He’s been fine/middling, with moments of inspired play calls (Green Bay, most of Detroit, the first half against Miami) and times of admitted struggles (Buffalo, the second half against Miami). He’s had five games to call plays – five games. No, it hasn’t been seamless, but his offense has scored thirty points twice, has gone up against some high-caliber defenses in Buffalo and Detroit and two formidable front sevens in Chicago and Miami, and has spent only one drive of the season so far removed from Week One with all of his starters intact. That matters.

Being new, it’s important to have all your ducks lined up in a row. He’s still trying to get a feel for his players, and that’s difficult to do when not all of them are present. He’s missed nearly three full games without Ryan Schraeder, a game-and-a-half without Mohamed Sanu and a half-a-game without Julio Jones. Those are key figures you need on the field in order to be able to move the ball.

Have the play calls been perfect? No. He needs to use Julio Jones more in all facets of the passing game. He needs to draw up more creative plays using Taylor Gabriel. He needs to better acclimate Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the passing game. His unit needs more aggression, to work out the problems with the deep ball, to better size up mismatches.

The misunderstanding comes with thinking Sarkisian is oblivious to this. He understands it far more than any of us do. It’s Sark that has the weekly meetings with Quinn, who likely regales these same questions, and he’s got to have answers for it. He knows his offense isn’t doing as well as hoped. To think he’s in la la land is a fool’s errand.

Sark has his challenges to overcome with his first year on the job, particularly after not calling plays on a regular basis for quite some time – getting Sanu back is going to help tremendously, as that’s been a guy who’s been even better under Sark than he was under Shanahan thus far.

And, as Matt Ryan noted today, they’ve got to be the ones executing the plays. The play calls haven’t always been perfect, but the personnel have to do their best to get yards, even when the designs aren’t as seamless as one would like. The guys in pads are having their own adjustments to this change as well, and that’s part of why this unit isn’t as prolific.

Also, Patrick DiMarco and Aldrick Robinson being gone has hurt more than any of us would like to acknowledge at the moment. It’s a shock that Chris Chester has been the least-felt absence on the offensive side of the ball with Wes Schweitzer starting to emerge.

So, patience, young grasshopper. Sark’s not the biggest problem right now. The fan base’s unreal expectations are. Sark’s likely to improve. Are the expectations?

Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.