In what was being dubbed as the “bowl of sadness” or “the top five pick game,” only one team played like a bottom five team. It wasn’t the team considered as a Super Bowl contender going into the season. For the fourth consecutive week, the Falcons were in a game already decided when the fourth quarter began. It was the first game during this stretch that had them on the winning end of a one-sided beating. They looked focused, energized, and inspired in the last home game of the season. As gloomy as the crowd looked inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium going into the game, they left the stadium with something to be cheerful about.
The Falcons desperately needed a win to inject some enthusiasm back into the organization. Beating a dreadful Cardinals’ team doesn’t reveal anything about the team’s capabilities. It does show their commitment and desire to fight for their embattled head coach. They recognized their opponents’ lack of overall talent on both sides of the ball and pounced on every flaw. Players, who have largely underwhelmed, had their best performances of the season. Younger players continued to receive more valuable playing time. What you wanted to see from a team out of the playoff race was on full display in a dominant victory.
All-out defensive assault
During the last few minutes of the game, a remarkable stat about the amount of pressure Josh Rosen faced was shown. The Falcons produced seven sacks, nine hits, and 17 hurries. They only had five sacks in their first three games of the season. Based on how comfortable Nick Foles, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees looked in the pocket, it’s safe to assume that they didn’t record nine hits or 17 hurries in those three games combined. The front four was incapable of mustering any semblance of pressure. With Quinn set on his defensive philosophy, they didn’t attempt to blitz often. That allowed quarterbacks to pick apart their decimated and overmatched back seven without much resistance.
After how things unraveled over the course of the season, Quinn is working with Marquand Manuel to be more aggressive and creative. That has translated into utilizing more blitzes at different angles. Allowing De’Vondre Campbell and Brian Poole to cause havoc gives them a better opportunity to get off the field on third down. They showed more of a willingness to blitz last week against the Packers, which resulted in four sacks. Two of them came off pure blitzes on third down. Arizona’s offensive line was equally as banged up as Green Bay’s group. With a rookie quarterback that struggles to play on the move and far less talent across the board, this was a matchup where the Falcons had to impose their will. They managed to do it with authority.
Josh Rosen was left helpless on numerous occasions. As soon as he dropped back, pressure was being immediately generated. Grady Jarrett led the charge with two sacks. The always-reliable, perennially under-appreciated defensive tackle continues to play at a high level. On a defense lacking consistency, his ability to explode past guards with outstanding burst and hand usage gives them a significant lift. Only Deion Jones is more valuable within their defense. Jarrett’s strip-sack on third down set the tone for what was going to be an enjoyable day.
How the coaching staff remained relentless by bringing a variety of blitzes was very encouraging. It’s the type of ruthlessness the Falcons have been lacking since Kyle Shanahan departed in 2017. To pinpoint an opposing team’s flaws and successfully exploit it for an entire game is one of the best feelings a coach can experience. They recognized Arizona’s horrendous offensive line was there for the taking. Combining their deficiencies with Rosen’s tendency of holding onto the ball for too long made for a golden opportunity. Quinn and Manuel didn’t look back in getting everyone involved on blitzes and twists. On Jarrett’s strip-sack, Campbell blitzed through the B-gap to create a mismatch. Poole got into the fray by coming off the weak side unblocked to sack Rosen. Their game plan worked to perfection.
The defensive line deserves praise for their individual efforts. Steven Means impressed for the second consecutive game. He was expected to be the primary replacement for Derrick Shelby in the base package. Quinn decided to give him a chance as an interior pass rusher. It proved to be a wise decision with Means earning his first sack as a Falcon. Takkarist McKinley and Jack Crawford didn’t get in on the sack party, but they showed more than enough flashes in getting after Rosen. The front four has been manhandled for the majority of the season. For them to be the bullies, albeit for one week, is encouraging for a unit featuring several young players.
Running game comes to life
Similar to the pass rush, the Falcons’ running game has looked considerably better over the past two games after weeks of being non-existent. It’s been an ongoing struggle between managing the problems up front and devising ways to get the most out of Tevin Coleman. There are no secrets about Coleman’s limitations as a runner. He struggles to run inside, while his inability to make defenders miss or run through contact often makes it difficult to use him in a featured role. The coaching staff recognized that by giving Ito Smith nearly the same amount of carries.
Coleman is still a player defensive coordinators must account for. His breakaway speed and acceleration can blow past any defensive back at the second level. When someone as electrifying as Coleman gets into the open field, something major is bound to happen. How he exploded past Antoine Bethea on a 43-yard touchdown run was something only a handful of running backs are capable of doing. Following a beautiful jump cut, he found a gaping hole and didn’t stop running until he was completely off the field.
The coaching staff made one noticeable adjustment to bolster the ground game. They used Ben Garland as an extra blocker on the right side. Pairing him alongside Ty Sambrailo gives them more support in a problematic area. It also allows them to use Garland on pull blocks, which is one of his biggest strengths. His presence must be acknowledged as Coleman’s performance garners all the headlines. The dynamic running back made Arizona’s ravaged front seven suffer on toss sweeps and cut backs. It was Coleman’s best performance of the season, which was needed given his disappointing production. He wasn’t the only big-name player who shined in what may have been his final home game as a Falcon.
Vic Beasley makes his presence felt
There haven’t been many recent games where Beasley’s name could be used with that phrase. Despite possessing all the physical gifts coaches crave from an edge rusher, Beasley hasn’t been able to put it all together. Not being able to convert speed to power is a major limitation to go along with his subpar hand usage. These issues correspond with him being a non-factor in countless games.
When Beasley gets his timing down and uses his blistering speed effectively, he is extremely dangerous. Most offensive tackles can’t react quickly enough when his get-off is on point. Arizona’s collection of overmatched tackles witnessed it first hand by getting repeatedly beat around the edge. Beasley continuously got past them with his first step. It took some time for him to join the sack extravaganza, but the former first round pick eventually got on the stat sheet to make it two consecutive games with a sack.
What ultimately made Beasley’s best game of the season more impactful was what he did outside of rushing the passer. The 2016 sack king has a knack for tipping passes at the line of scrimmage. With Rosen trying to get the ball out quickly to David Johnson, Beasley wisely got his hands up to deflect the pass. The ball just so happened to fall into the waiting arms of Atlanta’s most valuable defensive player. That play started a 40-point swing for the Falcons. Beasley added another batted pass to his collection, along with an impressive tackle for a loss on a jet sweep. This kind of all-around performance will get the coaching staff’s attention. While Beasley isn’t going to receive the mega contract extension he envisioned two years ago, the organization may still view him as a capable contributor on the defensive line.
With two divisional games remaining, it will be interesting to see how the team fares against familiar opposition. Can they play with the same intensity that had been lacking for so long? Will players like Isaiah Oliver and Deadrin Senat receive more snaps? These are the biggest questions heading into the final stretch.
The opportunity to knock a divisional rival out of the playoffs could also be something on the players’ minds. After sending three teams to the playoffs last year, the NFC South can only have two playoff teams at most. The Falcons can make sure only New Orleans returns with another win over Carolina. That’s one way for them to finish the season on a high note.