The Atlanta Falcons wanted to win this game to set the tone for a season where they were hyped for their talent, and they could have. The opportunities were there, and the Falcons squandered every single one of them.
The usual caveats apply. It was only one game, against one of the league’s better defenses and defensive lines, and the defense generally acquitted itself quite well. Even with Nick Foles at the helm, holding a team to 18 points is nothing to sneeze at, and there was no particular reason to believe the Falcons would lose this game allowing that many. Atlanta was unbelievably undisciplined—not all of those 15+ penalties were due to referee error, as much as we might like to believe it—and downright awful on offense. There’s no way to sugarcoat that.
The Atlanta Falcons who spent an offseason working on red zone packages scored 12 points and exactly one touchdown. The Atlanta Falcons who talked up their weaponry and creativity mostly fed the ball to running backs and Julio Jones and saw Matt Ryan play one of his worst games in recent memory. The Atlanta Falcons who had months upon months to learn from the mistakes they made against the Eagles made most of them again, and even lost in eerily similar fashion. In their last two games against Philadelphia, they’ve scored just 22 points.
Yes, you can chalk part of that up to Philadelphia. They play extremely aggressive defense, seem to always have a bead on what Atlanta’s doing, and attacked Matt Ryan all game long. Even if you take away the execution errors by this offense, there was a great defense to navigate. It’s just that the Falcons didn’t navigate it at all, and if anything, Ryan looked worse than he did last year.
So I’m not in a silver lining finding, excuse making mood this morning. The Falcons will lose a significant percentage of the games they play in that fashion, even if they come against vastly inferior opponents, and there just weren’t many signs of progress on Thursday night. We’ll hope for a big win against Carolina in a week-and-a-half that erases a lot of these grim feelings, but this one will linger for a long time, and it should.
On to the full recap.
- Devonta Freeman looked fast and physical almost immediately, and Tevin Coleman caught and ran a pass beautifully. The two combined for over 50 yards in the first quarter, even if they were stymied more often than any of us would like. Unfortunately, as the game ground on there was less for the ground game to do, and Freeman in particular got very little work, finishing up with 6 carries for 36 yards. Coleman did have that beautiful touchdown run, at least.
- Hey, it wasn’t all miraculous for Julio Jones, but it was close. If nothing else, his route running was beautiful. He absolutely annihilated Ronald Darby on a 23 yard catch in the second quarter that left him in excellent position to catch a lazy Matt Ryan ball, thanks to a fierce on the ball.
His impact only grew as the game went on. He tried his damndest to corral a 52 yard gain on the sideline but was undone by a no-catch call on review, but he still picked up consistent yardage and made a couple of beautiful plays, including a late fourth quarter 36 yard pickup that put Atlanta in Philadelphia territory, followed by two more great pickups to keep Atlanta moving. The Falcons lost for a lot of reasons, but Julio really was not one of them.
- Brian Poole is one of the best in the NFL at rushing the quarterback from the cornerback position, and he got the first sack of the season for Atlanta in the first quarter when he came in on first down to bring down Nick Foles.
- Ditto Takk, who is primed for a breakout season and wound up with a sack two plays later after Nick Foles couldn’t handle the ball properly. Takk was hurt a couple of times last night, but pushed through and looked like the team’s best pass rusher.
- Give Duke Riley credit: He made some nice plays early, including excellent sideline coverage of Dallas Goedert in the end zone, which is not an easy assignment.
- Damontae Kazee came into the game in relief of Keanu Neal, and he made sure we noticed. A huge fourth quarter hit that popped the ball loose resulted in a Deion Jones interception that set up the Falcons’ first touchdown of the game, one that gave them the lead back. It was a massive play, the kind we hoped he’d get the opportunity to make in 2018, albeit minus injury.
- Speaking of Jones, man was that a heads up play. As soon as the ball was in the air, Deion Jones was on it and running. There’s a reason he keeps leading this team in interceptions.
- There was some real strong coverage in this game, especially from Robert Alford. Twice, Alford was able to stop Mike Wallace from snagging a huge catch downfield, and he otherwise kept him quiet all night. The Falcons still do have a very good secondary, at the very least.
- The one positive here? The Falcons have shown they can’t get it done against the Eagles, which is a terrible positive until you realize they seemed perfectly capable of getting it done against other strong opponents last year, Vikings excluded. Their issues with great defenses are going to rear their heads again and they’re going to need to find a way to get decent results, but chances are very good this isn’t the result we’re looking at a week-plus from now.
- Sark did solid work in getting the Atlanta Falcons into the red zone on the very first drive of the game, but then he did some very Sark things in the red zone, as exemplified by this play.
Running into an 11 man box to own the libs pic.twitter.com/81KIycdxit— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) September 7, 2018
That said, I greatly appreciated the ballsiness of going for it right away, so you get a pass, Sark. You just don’t get a pass for weird bubble screens and not finding a way to get receivers open so that Matt Ryan doesn’t get killed and not adjusting for the fact that Matt Ryan’s arm appeared to be made of loosely coiled vines for the majority of the game. At the very end, Sark once again had four opportunities to get the Falcons in the end zone and be a bit of a hero, and once again, the Falcons didn’t seem to have any answers.
He’s not on a short leash just yet—it’s still one game—but the Falcons can’t have too many stinkers like this one without people inside the building starting to ask big picture questions.
- The Falcons worked on the red zone all offseason, and on their first two trips into it, they came away with three points. On many plays, it just didn’t look like the Falcons had any open opportunities, which is partly a testament to Philadelphia’s strong defense and partly a problem that deserves further attention. If you need to constantly force feed Julio, something has gone awry, as good as Julio is.
- The offensive line held up pretty well, all things considered, but between penalties on Ryan Schraeder and some pass protection miscues, it wasn’t exactly a rosy game, either.
- I was a bit concerned with Matt Ryan’s arm in this game, though I don’t dare say that above a whisper. A handful of throws to Julio were slower and floatier than I would have liked, especially the 52 yarder (subject to challenge) where he threw short of Julio, and a late third quarter bomb to Julio that went dud about three quarters of the way there. There was no indication that Ryan was dealing with an injury or had suddenly been hit by a giant wave of regression, so we’ll chalk it up to a bad night for the moment. Had he been sharper, though, the offense would certainly have been as well.
This is another thing that just has to be a one week problem, or the Falcons are in deep trouble.
- Devonta Freeman’s pass protection has come under increasing scrutiny, and what it has revealed is not always been pretty. He absolutely got run over on a costly third down sack for Matt Ryan in the first half, and as good of a runner as he is, he needs to be able to pick those up consistently.
- Justin Hardy’s first game as a returner went...okay? He let a couple of balls bounce he shouldn’t have, which hopefully will be fixed with more experience, and was lucky that two offsetting holding calls in the fourth quarter wiped out a punt that otherwise would have traveled another 20 yards thanks to his decision not to catch it.
- The officiating was not at all biased, but it was overly flag-happy and not very good, if we’re being honest. Chris Long got nailed with a roughing the passer penalty he didn’t deserve, as did Chris Long. Foye Oluokun got blocked into the Eagles punter and picked up a call for that. Desmond Trufant got a pass interference call on a play where the Eagles receiver got a reception on a ball he wasn’t even in bounds for. And then there was the Julio Jones catch, which was a catch, that the crew said wasn’t even on review.
The NFL has every reason to want to improve the quality of its refereeing, but appears unable to do so. At the very least, there would have been more scoring in this game if the refs hadn’t been so involved.
- The issues that plagued the Falcons last year mostly plagued them in this game. The Falcons dropped picks, nearly closed out sacks, nearly made big plays, and struggled in the red zone. It’s just one game, and the Falcons were playing a very tough opponent, but it wasn’t exactly the super-encouraging start we were all hoping for. If it persists, even for a short time, it has the potential to derail what could and even should be a great year.
Julio Jones, because he was easily the best player on the field for Atlanta on offense, and more or less single-handedly kept them in it. If you’re more defensive-minded, give it to the unit for doing very good work the bulk of the game.
The Falcons, as an offense, cannot be this bad. If they continue to be against opponents who aren’t as talented as the Eagles are on defense, panic is going to hit Flowery Branch pretty quickly. For what it’s worth, I don’t think they are this bad.