In Week 1’s defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Atlanta Falcons, found themselves in the exact same scenario as the one they were in to close out the Divisional Round of the playoffs back in January — the offense had the ball and needed to drive downfield and score a touchdown to win the game.
In both scenarios they got the first part of that equation right — through the might of Julio Jones, the offense did indeed drive downfield to put themselves in position to win the game. In a case of déjà vu, however, they stalled out inside Philadelphia’s 10-yard line and lost the game.
Matt Ryan completed a 3rd-and-8 pass to Mohamed Sanu for 10 yards to the Philadelphia 10-yard-line, and the team took its final timeout with 24 seconds remaining, putting themselves in position to attempt four more passes into the end zone. That was the last bit of success the offense would have in the game. But when you look at the deeper intricacies of the next few plays, it’s infuriating.
Following an incompletion to the right, where nothing was available for Ryan, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian dialed up a verticals play three straight times on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-and-goal. I’ll let Twitter user Justis Mosqueda tell you about it:
Yes, that really happened. For three straight plays to end the game, the Falcons lined up in an empty set shotgun formation and sent all five pass catchers on a go route. I would say they did this as if it were a game of Madden, but not even Madden players would call that same play over and over again. Against the Eagles’ zone, nobody was open once on those three plays.
If you think it can’t get worse than that, you’d be wrong, because it’s about to get so much worse. Let me allow Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner to tell you about it:
The @Eagles ran same D on each of those last 4 snaps in RZ... how the @AtlantaFalcons didn’t come up w/ a better play than those? They played 7 across - needed to attack 1 zone w/ 2 guys & it’s an easy TD - they kept sending guys 2 different zones??? Beat zone by overloading it!— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) September 7, 2018
Yes, you read that correctly: The Eagles literally ran the exact same defense on every one of those four final plays. Instead of seeing the defense and adjusting accordingly to beat the zone by overloading it after the first failed attempt, Sarkisian dialed up the same play (verts) again. And then, after it didn’t work the second time, he called it yet again. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The Falcons were bailed out on that final 4th-and-goal play when Eagles’ LB Jordan Hicks was called for an illegal contact penalty which put Atlanta on the 5-yard line and gave them one more chance. Matt Ryan targeted Julio Jones on a fade pattern, and Jones caught the ball out of bounds.
Giving credit where it’s due, Sarkisian actually dialed up an excellent play call after those initial three failures. Twitter user Joel Bishop has the goods here:
The Falcons utilize the pick play to near perfection, with Calvin Ridley’s brush block opening Tevin Coleman up for what should have been an easy touchdown pass for Ryan to make. Unfortunately, Ryan seemed to have made up his mind to target Julio on the fade before the play even began.
Give the Eagles’ defensive line credit for consistently hounding Ryan to the point where he was seemingly hearing footsteps on the final play and rushing the throw instead of looking to see what was happening right in front of him. However, you still expect a quarterback of Ryan’s caliber to make the right play here, or to at the very least give Jones a chance of catching the ball inbounds (which he didn’t have because the pass was poor).
Awful play calling followed by a lack of execution on a good play call ended up burying the Falcons on the final drive of the game. The red zone woes from a year ago are as prevalent as ever, and if they aren’t fixed, then this team has no chance of reaching its potential.