It was only eight months ago when the Falcons’ Super Bowl aspirations were crushed in Philadelphia. Not being able to gain nine yards on four plays left a team that appeared to be on the right track searching for answers. With all the discussion surrounding Steve Sarkisian and red zone efficiency, it left a much-improved defense as an afterthought when assessing their playoff exit. The rematch on opening night should have guaranteed a different kind of outcome between two of the last NFC Super Bowl representatives.
History managed to repeat itself, as the Falcons faltered in the red zone once again. Scoring nine points on five red zone trips will ensure the Falcons dominate the news cycle in humiliating fashion. That leaves the defense as a forgotten figure once again.
They played relatively well, albeit against an offense missing their franchise quarterback and number one wide receiver. It was still a positive step in building off last year’s high level performances during the second half of the season. Ricardo Allen remains at the forefront of their success. With the recent NFL rule changes and difficult start to the season, the sharp-minded free safety hasn’t let anything affect him.
Ricardo Allen weighs in
“I haven’t gotten penalized yet, so I’m going to keep playing the way I play,” Allen said. ”Until they tell me to change it up and switch the way I hit, I’m going to keep doing what I do best. We practice how not to target with our helmet. Coach Quinn is constantly testing us. We are an assured tackling team.”
“Every now or then, you’ll get penalized and I don’t mind it. Football is an aggressive style sport. Penalties are bound to happen. I’m not going to slow down. I had one close call tonight. It is what is is. Until they call a penalty and tell me to change my style of play, I’m going to stay as aggressive as possible.”
Alford talks penalties
Robert Alford shares a similar approach. Despite being notorious for his aggressive style, the veteran cornerback hasn’t let the new rules bother him. He understands the responsibilities and challenges of playing such a difficult position. There weren’t any issues with him during the first full game under the stricter rules.
“Rules are rules,” Alford said. “We got to abide by them. At the end of the day, we are professional athletes. You got to critique your techniques, as the rules is. There is nothing we can do about what the league does. We’re all professionals that have to follow and play by the rules. You just have to properly focus and compete.”
With the challenge of playing under these rules, the defense also had to cope with one of the NFL’s true brilliant play callers. Doug Pederson is about as crafty and unpredictable as it gets for offensive-minded coaches. The Super Bowl winning coach will catch defenses slipping on a regular basis. Some defenses aren’t as culpable as others when facing the Eagles. Allen praised him for utilizing various formations, yet remains adamant that the defense held up well.
“They really do a fantastic job of setting things up,” Allen said. “They can go from I-Formation to shotgun to spread sets to RPOs to play action. Once you put the RPO into your game plan, the play action game starts to hit. That eventually helps your running game too. Pederson knows how to spin it all up to keep defenses on their toes. I think we did a pretty good job with the RPOs and containment of everything else. We just have to work on getting off the field earlier.”
Looking at Week 1
Allen wasn’t the only player complimentary of Pederson’s approach. As the game wore on, Alford and Vic Beasley could only appreciate what Pederson was orchestrating. They know how difficult it can be to prepare for him. It didn’t help that they had to play the Eagles on opening night, which left them with only tape from last year to prepare for one of the most complex offensive setups in the league.
“You can’t be too prepared for them cause it’s week 1,” Alford said. “You don’t know what they’ve been working on in training camp. They ran plays that we studied for the most part. The one surprising gadget play was the flea-flicker to the quarterback. That was crazy. All you can do is tip your cap to their offense and coaching staff.”
“You have to be disciplined against them,” Beasley said. “Pederson is always putting together something that could trick you. You can get caught looking one way or the other. He’s a clever guy. When Foles caught the pass, I was thinking not the Super Bowl play again. They got me with that one.”
For all the obstacles in playing under the new rules for the first full game and facing Pederson, there were plenty of bright spots for the Falcons’ defense. Damontae Kazee isn’t slowing down following his impressive preseason. The second-year player landed a huge hit that led to an interception for Deion Jones. Allen isn’t surprised by Kazee’s rapid progress into becoming a major asset.
“He always delivers,” Allen said. “That’s my guy. He’s been my partner since day one. For him to keep making plays week in and week out makes me so proud. To see him come in and make things look easy when things go down like tonight when I had to move to strong safety was fulfilling. Kazee is so reliable, which makes it easier for him to jump in and play alongside me.”
“We always focus on getting the ball when the opportunity is there. He keeps putting himself in good positions to make key plays. That comes from having such a great work ethic and strong feel for the game.”
Allen had his fair share of coverage responsibilities during the game. When the defensive leader wasn’t covering 20 yards downfield, he got into the box and played man coverage. That includes covering the everlasting elusive Darren Sproles. Allen is looking forward to receiving more of those types of opportunities.
“I can do it all,” Allen stated. “Deion (Jones) and I embrace covering running backs. We try to keep it flowing. I’ll cover tight ends. I’ll cover running backs. Bring them all on. We try to keep opposing offenses guessing. That way they can’t see where I’m lining up or what I’m doing on every play.”
Alford enjoyed some success as well. Although Nick Foles doesn’t throw downfield often, there was a moment he targeted the underappreciated cornerback. Mike Wallace was signed to replace Torrey Smith as Philadelphia’s main vertical threat. Alford made sure that Wallace didn’t make his mark on opening night. With Foles testing him deep, he tracked the ball calmly and made an excellent play on the ball to prevent Wallace from making his signature big play.
“God blessed me to make those those kind of plays,” Alford said. ”I got my hand on it at the right time. He definitely pushed me, but that’s what happens on most 50/50 balls. Mike always has speed. When I think about him, speed is the first thing that comes to mind. No matter how old you get, I don’t think it matters to speed receivers. You never know how they’re keeping their bodies ready. Mike definitely still has dangerous speed, where you can’t underestimate him at any moment. When I study him, that’s the first thing I focus on and then move on to what else he can do.”
What to take away from the loss
A close loss never feels good. This situation isn’t any any different for the Falcons, who are expected to be one of the NFC’s top contenders. One loss won’t greatly change their outlook going forward as a team, however concerning it was. Alford is confident that they will bounce back quickly based on past experience and making the necessary adjustments.
“It didn’t go our way, but you can’t panic,” Alford stated. “Everyone is competitive and wants to win. That doesn’t mean we don’t understand how setbacks are bound to happen in football. We’ll look at the film tomorrow and see what we can improve on. That’s all we can do right now as a group. I know there are plays we should have made, especially on my end.”