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A Closer Look: Five Falcons flashes in a thrilling victory

In a game filled with highlights, here are five plays that stood out in the Falcons’ victory.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again. The film review sessions are back, although it returns with a twist. Instead of focusing on a certain player or situation, I’ll be centering each review on some of the biggest high-points following each game. The Falcons have one of the most talented rosters in the league. It seems only fitting to highlight the entire roster. I’ll be breaking down five memorable plays after each GIF review on my personal Twitter page. Here are some of the most impressive and meaningful moments from Sunday’s victory.

Second Quarter: 2nd & 10 at CAR 36

By gaining more experience in a bigger role, Takkarist McKinley has learned how to channel his ultra-aggressive style. The former first round pick is known for his sheer explosiveness and power coming off the edge. Combine those traits with a relentless motor and it’s easy to figure out why he is always active. What McKinley continues to show in his arsenal is a knack for being more disciplined, and that’s benefitting his game.

Watch him stay properly positioned in anticipating Cam Newton possibly turning left and taking off. He has watched Newton burn defensive linemen repeatedly in the past. Instead of gambling, McKinley keeps a strong base before turning upfield. One common critique on numerous pre-draft scouting report was McKinley’s lack of bend around the edge. Improving in that area has been a point of emphasis for his development into becoming a productive edge rusher. Greg Van Roten is unable to adjust and keep McKinley from pouncing on Newton. That ultimately leads to a well-deserved effort sack.

Second Quarter: 2nd & 6 at ATL 19

It was clear that Steve Sarkisian needed to get Calvin Ridley more involved against Carolina. Following a complete dud in the season opener, he needed to integrate his new weapon into the fray. Ridley’s blistering speed and change of direction ability makes him a nightmare in the open field. The first round pick has a keen eye for finding space with the ball in his hands. It’s a major reason why he handles kickoff-returning duties.

After scoring his first career touchdown on the previous drive, Ridley started feeling more comfortable against Carolina’s heavy zone scheme. Matt Ryan was going to look towards his direction at some point in their two-minute offense. Picking up chunk yards in quick succession was necessary for them to get into field goal range. Sarkisian dials up a great play to scheme Ridley open underneath, as Austin Hooper is running a corner route alongside of him. There is no defender in sight of Ridley with Mike Adams caught in no man’s land. A quick 22-yard gain sets the tone for the Falcons on a scoring drive that put them ahead right before halftime.

3rd quarter: 1st & 10 at CAR 38

One of the biggest highlights coming out Sunday’s win was the emergence of Ito Smith. Devonta Freeman’s absence opened up an opportunity for him. The diminutive back didn’t look back in an extremely impressive performance. Besides his terrific lateral agility and overall second effort, Smith’s exceptional footwork was on full display.

Carolina’s front seven had problems bringing him down during the entire game. Smith knows how to use his small frame by staying low to the ground. That helps him run through traffic and pick up extra yards in highlight-reel fashion. Not many running backs are capable of making Luke Kuechly miss. Smith got the better of the best linebacker in the league not only here, but on another run near the goal line as well. The Falcons have another potential playmaker coming out of their backfield. Credit to The Falcoholic’s own Eric Robinson, who had a good feeling about him back in May.

3rd quarter: 1st & 10 at ATL 10

It’s hard to recall a previous game where the Falcons had great success on the ground against Carolina. Ron Rivera’s defense is known as one of the stingiest units in the league. A front seven featuring the likes of Kuechly, Kawann Short, Mario Addison, and Dontari Poe will normally shut down most running games. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as the Falcons averaged over five yards per carry. They created gaping holes on a variety of stretches and tosses.

On this play, Tevin Coleman immediately recognizes the cutback lane and accelerates into the open field. Wes Schweitzer and Alex Mack do an outstanding job on their combination block taking out Kyle Love. With Jake Matthews and Brandon Fusco handling their responsibilities, it gives Coleman more than enough space to pick up 18 yards. This run represents how good the Falcons were up front on Sunday. For them to play so well, while undergoing a lineup change in replacing the injured Andy Levitre, makes it even more impressive.

3rd quarter: 1st & 10 at ATL 40

The Falcons didn’t need Julio Jones to have his standard monstrous performance against Carolina. After targeting him a whopping 19 times, Ryan and Sarkisian knew that the offense couldn’t thrive by targeting him at will. A more measured approach was necessary in getting the best out of the offense. It also required Ryan to get back in sync with him, as their timing looked off at times against Philadelphia.

This was a beautiful completion showing one of the league’s top quarterback-wide receiver pairings are back on track. Jones runs a simple over route across the middle. With James Bradberry covering him closely, Ryan’s ball placement needs to be on point. The former MVP puts it right where only Jones can catch it and leads him to a first down. These are the type of confidence-boosting plays a quarterback needs following such a disastrous performance. Although things aren’t quite right between them going downfield, they seem to be clicking again after not getting any reps in during preseason.