There are plenty of cliches that can be used to describe the Falcons’ victory, and plenty will be used. “Winning at all costs” and “a win is a win” are some prime examples. Regardless of the circumstances, Dan Quinn’s team needed to show something.
Scoring under 20 points in three consecutive games is unacceptable for an offense stacked with talent. Not being able to get off the field on third down and allowing eight minutes drives on a consistent basis has derailed the defense’s progression. How could the Falcons alleviate the disappointment of what transpired over the past month? Explosive plays are a good start.
For the first time since Week 3, the offense started showing glimpses of their old self. Matt Ryan completed six passes over 15 yards. In grueling conditions, he played composed and made several impressive throws. Staying committed to the run proved to be worthwhile. Tevin Coleman broke open the Jets’ solid front seven with a 52-yard run. Based on his reaction, it was long overdue for the explosive playmaker to remind folks why he is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league. The defense didn’t necessarily produce any electrifying plays, but they still held up well by registering three sacks and shutting down the Jets’ ground game.
Responding to adversity
After missing multiple big play opportunities against New England, Ryan needed to start playing like a franchise quarterback again. Many believe that Steve Sarkisian is the main reason behind Ryan’s regression. Although the play calling and lack of formation diversity deserves to be questioned, he should be held accountable for his recent average play. Top-tier quarterbacks must be able to complete downfield throws in tight windows. That hasn’t happened very often this season in Atlanta. According to Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner, the 2016 MVP has only completed 17 percent of his passes that traveled 20 yards or more. To solely blame the scheme for his struggles is nonsensical.
Ryan bounced back in a major way. Following two botched snaps in the first quarter, he put those blunders behind him and looked dialed in. The offense started to run more no-huddle, which suits his style. A fast pace offense gives him more opportunities to stay in command. As the game wore on and rain poured on, he became more confident. His pocket movement was outstanding during the entire game.
It may not seem like a big deal, since Ryan possesses a strong pocket presence. For him to cope with Todd Bowles’ creative blitzes and awful weather conditions was very encouraging. Ryan repeatedly stepped up in the pocket or shifted outside to make an accurate throw on the run. His touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu was a thing of beauty. The precise ball placement allowed Sanu to go snag it and leave Jamal Adams no chance to break it up.
When Quinn speaks at a press conference, resiliency will likely be mentioned at some point. It’s something that the Falcons embody as an overall team. Ryan was at the forefront of it. Committing two turnovers is bad enough for any offense. To endure six drops, which includes Austin Hooper dropping an open touchdown, must be a heart-wrenching feeling. It didn’t faze him in the slightest. Ryan continued to look downfield and make big plays. He finally connected with Julio Jones on a deep ball after six long games. It was the type of morale-boosting play that the offense desperately needed. Ryan completed nine of eleven passes on throws over 10 yards in the air. The stormy weather affected his ability to execute snaps, but it didn’t stop him from throwing the ball at a high level.
Pass rush awakens
One of the more under the radar reasons behind Atlanta’s losing streak was their ineffective pass rush. They have produced five sacks in the past three games. Two of them came from De’Vondre Campbell being unblocked and Deion Jones chasing Tyrod Taylor out of bounds. After a strong start to the season, the pass rush has been non-existent at times. Blitzing more often didn’t translate into better results either. If the defense is going to improve on third down, it starts with a four-man pass rush causing havoc. Creating consistent pressure forced the Jets into converting only five out of 15 third down attempts.
The four-man rush was on full display in the fourth quarter. On a huge third down, they collapsed the pocket and swarmed Josh McCown. That forced Chandler Catanzaro to attempt a 48-yard field goal, which he ended up missing to start a huge momentum shift. As Vic Beasley’s impressive get off caused McCown to panic, Grady Jarrett charged into the open gap on a twist. That sack exemplified an excellent second half performance by holding the Jets to a mere three points. Beasley had his best game of the season. The explosive edge rusher played an integral role in their first sack by forcing McCown into Desmond Trufant. With his ridiculous burst off the edge and Takkarist McKinley starting to utilize more moves, the pass rush appears to be back on track.
Run defense shines
It was vital for the them to have a strong performance following two dreadful showings. Allowing only 43 yards on 22 carries can be considered as a pretty nice response. The front four showed better gap discipline, while the back seven were flying to the ball. With Athyba Rubin replacing Joe Vellano, there had to be some improvement. Rubin is a capable run stuffer with loads of experience. Not having an overmatched player like Vellano playing significant snaps can only help a struggling defense. It ended up working quite well, as Rubin made his presence felt in limited action.
The Falcons recorded eight tackles for a loss, which is a telling sign about a group’s dominance. Grady Jarrett was blowing past James Carpenter and Wesley Johnson with relative ease. His penetration played a significant part in forcing the Jets to essentially abandon the run. Dontari Poe responded well after his poor performance against New England. Even role players like McKinley made an impact in run support. Time will tell how this unit fares against the run. They will (likely) be tested in two weeks against Ezekiel Elliot and Dallas’ powerhouse offensive line. A solidified defensive tackle rotation of Jarrett, Poe, Rubin, and Courtney Upshaw inspires more confidence going forward for a defense still searching for consistency.
With the roller coaster AFC East experience finally over, the Falcons can move onto more familiar opponents. A road test against Carolina comes at an opportune time. Both offenses are trying to figure out their identity. Cam Newton’s variance of play has become incomprehensible at this point. Nobody transitions from playing incredible to abysmal quite like him. This should be a very compelling matchup between two enigmatic teams.
Devonta Freeman’s status will be monitored after suffering a shoulder stinger. His value is evident, especially with Quinn’s newfound stance on wanting their running plays to be in the high 20’s. They may need to lean on Ryan more than ever in this one. Based on his success in a hazardous environment, he looks ready for the challenge.