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Observations from Falcons vs. Bills

After re-watching #BUFvsATL (with some difficulty), here are some in-depth thoughts on the Falcons first loss of 2017.

Buffalo Bills v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Well, that sucked. The Falcons dropped a 23-17 stinker to the Bills that was a weird amalgam of awful play, key injuries, and truly horrid officiating. It was just as ugly to re-watch as it was to watch it live, but I did it for you guys. There were, however, some quality plays mixed in with all the bad stuff. I endeavored to look through all of it to give you some observations from the game.

Check out my in-depth thoughts below.

Officiating played a role, but the Falcons ultimately beat themselves

You should never blame an entire loss on bad officiating—it’s a slippery slope, and can lead to a lot of bad emotions and ultimately unhelpful analysis. That being said, it’s impossible to say that the blown call on the Matt Ryan “fumble pass” didn’t have serious effects on the outcome of the game. The Bills are a team, much like the 2015 Panthers, that thrive on having a lead. They play better in all facets when they do. The fumble gave them that lead at a time when the Falcons had the momentum.

Take away those seven points, and the Bills are behind at the end of the game 17-16. The Falcons final drive would’ve been a clock killer that ended in a FG to put them up 20-16. Not to mention all the other intangible aspects of not being in a hole for nearly the entire second half. Regardless, the Falcons had a chance to win the game at the end and they blew it. I said it last week about the Lions, and it applies here too: if you want to win the game, WIN it. They had plenty of chances on that final drive and pissed them away with bad playcalls. It would be naive, however, to ignore the effect that bad officiating had on this game.

The run game is dominant

If there were any questions before the season (shout-out to the Dolphins buffoon who claimed that Ajayi and Kenyan Drake were the best), the Falcons have silenced them: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are by far the best RB tandem in the NFL. They’re dynamic on the ground and through the air, and both appear to have improved their pass protection from a year ago. On a day when the offense struggled and lost their two biggest threats in the passing game, the running game stepped up in a big way.

Freeman and Coleman combined for 137 yards on 27 attempts for a whopping 5.1 YPA. Coleman was also the Falcons’ leading receiver, with 4 catches for 65 yards. These two are clearly the engine of the offense, and should be relied upon more consistently. Sark needs to find a way to get these dynamic weapons on the field together. Coleman is clearly talented enough as a receiver to play in the slot, and two-back sets could offer up very intriguing mismatches against less-talented defenses. An Atlanta offense that doesn’t appear to be as deadly through the air as 2016 might be even better on the ground.

The young offensive linemen have continued to improve

After Schweitzer’s disastrous Week 1 debut and Schraeder’s injury in Week 2, you could be forgiven for expecting the Falcons’ OL to struggle mightily against a very difficult stretch of opponents. In reality, though, the young players have stepped up. Schweitzer has gotten better every week, and is starting to look like a potentially dominant run blocker. He’s also been getting better in pass protection, though that is still an area of weakness for him. Sambrailo has been competent, particularly as a run blocker, and the offense has been able to continue functioning at a decently-high level.

Once Schraeder returns, which will hopefully be after the bye, the Falcons have the makings of a potentially good-to-great offensive line. That would be a major boon to a team that may not be able to scheme quite as effectively on offense. If the Falcons’ OL can be a very good run-blocking force, that could alleviate quite a few concerns in the passing game and open up even more opportunities for play-action success. Plus, the presence of dependable depth is always comforting in a game where injuries can strike at any time. Sambrailo looks to be a good, cheap option at swing tackle for the next few years.

The defense is doing enough to win games

While the Falcons’ defense certainly hasn’t been great through four weeks, it’s easy to see that they’re an improvement from the 2016 version. They’re no longer an active liability, and possess the ability to actually generate pressure consistently and get a few stops when needed. Without Vic Beasley, they’re not quite a dangerous pass rush, but they’ve been able to do enough. The speed they have at all three levels helps cover up some of their lack of experience, and Grady Jarrett is an absolute monster.

The run defense has struggled at times, particularly with the absence of Crawford and Upshaw. Atlanta is also failing to generate turnovers, which is a big problem when your offense is making too many uncharacteristic mistakes. A lot of that is bad luck—there were probably six picks they dropped in Week 3, and the Falcons forced a fumble against the Bills that just happened to fall right into the hands of an OL. But they’ll need to figure out a way to create those opportunities more consistently to help an offense that is struggling to find its footing early in 2017. The Falcons’ defense is playing better, particularly in the red zone, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

This game was eerily similar the Philly game from 2016

Sunday’s game reminded me a lot of the horrible game the Falcons dropped to the Eagles last season. Even the score was close (15-24). It was just an awful game where the Falcons looked out-of-sorts and suffered one blunder after another. The Eagles were also a similar team to this year’s Bills: strong defense with a good running game but otherwise limited offensively. In the same vein, the Falcons were also in contention in that game until the very end, despite a truly putrid performance.

That is basically exactly what happened on Sunday. A combination of bad officiating, a comedy of errors, and injuries created a perfect storm for the Falcons to fail miserably—and yet they were STILL in position to win the game at the last minute. They didn’t manage to pull it off, but I still give some props to Sark and the offense for getting close in the final seconds. The Falcons did some soul-searching after that loss, and shortly thereafter started playing their best football. I think that same thing could happen after this game. Atlanta has a good coaching staff and a lot of young talent—they have the ability to use this game as a teaching moment and fix many of these issues going forward.

I sure hope they do, because that game was a downright abomination. Let’s not ever do that again.

Those are my thoughts on Sunday’s game, but how do you feel? Any major concerns for the Falcons going into the bye week? Do you have big concerns about the offense? Have you been impressed by the defense through four weeks?