Dan Quinn has used several mottos to inspire the entire city of Atlanta. For the most part, the team has responded to all of them. If there were one mantra that hasn’t always been fulfilled, it would pertain to finishing strong. The Falcons have lost close games in devastating fashion during Quinn’s tenure. Mike Conti noted that they were 4-5 in one possession games last season. Although it was somewhat fortunate, they won a close game on the road again yesterday.
Compared to last season, the Falcons’ victory was underwhelming. The offense struggled to generate big plays, despite putting together some decent drives. Not being able to run the ball certainly affected them. It put added pressure on the defense, which looked like their usual inconsistent self. Big hits and blistering speed were mixed with poor tackling and coverage breakdowns. Young defenses are going to endure those growing pains. If there was any glaring positive difference from last season, it was the pass rush getting off to a fast start.
Incoming pass rush brigade
It took three weeks for the Falcons to produce two sacks last season. They reached that total in the second quarter. With heightened expectations surrounding them, the defensive line needed to be productive against a solid offensive line. Mike Glennon is known for not responding to pressure very well. Although he didn’t turn the ball over, the oft-disparaged quarterback felt the heat.
According to ESPN, Glennon was sacked four times and took ten hits on 40 drop backs. Quinn’s decision to blitz more than usual worked for the most part. Brian Poole had a sack and two hits. By using Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell on a-gap blitzes, Quinn and Marquand Manuel caused disruption for an offensive line missing their leader in Kyle Long.
The defense wasn’t over-reliant on blitzing to generate pressure, even so. They were able to win with four man rushes. Vic Beasley showed off his excellent instincts to slide behind Dontari Poe and sack Glennon on third down. It’s not only the closing speed that makes Beasley so impressive. How he recognizes openings and instantly reacts allows him to produce those well-timed effort sacks.
Other players shone across the defensive line. Poe played more snaps in the nickel package than most expected. He flashed on a few occasions, along with nearly sacking Glennon on the final drive. Takkarist McKinley had some promising moments as well. According to Pro Football Focus, he created two pressures and looked powerful when using his bull rush. All signs are indicating that the first round pick will be brought along slowly. McKinley only played 14 snaps, which primarily came in passing situations.
Don’t underestimate the resiliency
Out of all the new additions and developing stars on the defensive line, nobody would have anticipated Brooks Reed stealing the show. The under appreciated defensive end ended up with two sacks and three tackles for a loss. After being considered as a potential cap casualty, Reed saved the Falcons from another grueling loss. He continued his productive play following a strong finish to last season.
His first sack came from remaining disciplined on a play action rollout. Reed didn’t bite on Glennon’s fake and chased him down perfectly. Opposing teams found success using similar rollout designs last season, as Reed would typically over pursue by looking to tackle the running back before realizing the quarterback had the ball. That didn’t transpire against Chicago. He stayed composed and brilliantly read the play to bring down Glennon for a big loss.
That led to him delivering on the final play of the game. It was shocking to see him on the field, considering the Bears were clearly passing on fourth down. Quinn opted to use Reed and Derrick Shelby off the edge. Nobody outside of the locker room knows if Beasley and Adrian Clayborn were fatigued, but for him not to keep two of his best pass rushers on the field in a make or break situation was startling. If Glennon gets good protection and throws a game-winning touchdown, that would have created plenty of discussion regarding Quinn’s personnel decisions.
Reed squashed those questions with a terrific play. He swatted down Bobby Massie’s hands to give him enough space to bend off the edge. With good burst to along with the efficient hand usage, Reed got the upper hand. Shelby got an initial good push up front; as Glennon was forced to adjust his feet. That allowed Reed to close in for the sack. It marked a huge moment for Reed, as he never receives enough praise for his work. The 2015 free agent signing may never live up to his big contract, but he is still a quality role player, who is going to give maximum effort on a consistent basis.
Offense finds some flow, despite lacking in the big play department
There are plenty of reasons behind the offense’s pedestrian performance. While Steve Sarkisan merits some blame, the execution wasn’t there on several drives. The Bears’ front seven was flying to the ball on nearly every running play. They didn’t allow the dynamic running back duo to find much space. It didn’t help that Tevin Coleman’s poor balance continues to haunt him. The explosive back slipped while making a cut on multiple occasions. This is an issue that continues to plague him.
Sarkisian’s play calling did leave a lot to be desired. Chicago’s secondary is filled with below average starters. They didn’t attack those exploitable matchups enough. Even though Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel were involved, their success felt more methodical rather than explosive. It was baffling to see Julio Jones only receive five targets. The game tape will reveal how much Chicago shifted their coverage towards containing him. Regardless of how often they did it, Ryan attempted 30 passes and targeted Jones five times. That has to be frustrating, especially against a vulnerable secondary.
When elite wide receivers don’t get the ball, they can still influence the game. Look no further than Austin Hooper’s 88-yard touchdown. Quintin Demps shifts over to provide support against Jones. That leaves Hooper wide open up the seam for a huge play. Jones commands so much attention on every snap. This is another example of his value to the offense.
It would be foolish to not praise Hooper for his efforts. The second year tight end didn’t receive his first target until the fourth quarter. On a huge third down, Ryan escaped the pressure and found him downfield. Hooper showed off his ability after the catch with a vicious stiff arm on Demps. The Falcons haven’t had a tight end that can make plays after the catch since Tony Gonzalez. He did it again on the next drive by making two defenders miss on a 40-yard gain. On a lackluster afternoon in dire need of big plays, Hooper delivered on two consecutive third downs.
It wasn’t a great performance by any means, but the Falcons needed a win more than any other team in the league. The defense looked as fast as ever closing down plays. Another week of preparation should benefit them as an entire group. It will take time for both coordinators to implement their philosophy. Patience should also be shown for young players who struggled such as Wes Schweitzer and Duke Riley. They couldn’t ask for a better early season litmus test than Green Bay. Asking someone to beat the same team three times in one calendar year is incredibly difficult. If any team can do it against the best quarterback in the league, it would be the Falcons.