The Atlanta Falcons cruelly gave us a solid first half of football in this one, convincing us they might be able to steal a win and make our Sundays a little bit brighter. Unfortunately for us, that brightness was fleeting, and the Falcons stunk in much the same way they have stunk all year long.
Arthur Blank wanted to give Dan Quinn a real chance to win after a Super Bowl berth in 2016 and a playoff berth and win in 2017. The injuries in 2018 bought him a year and Blank was always going to give him that year, same as he gave Mike Smith 2014 after a miserable 2013. But it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that Dan Quinn survives this year, because the Falcons become increasingly difficult to watch.
The Falcons did some good things, which is sort of tragic given how quickly they’ll be forgotten. They ran the ball a bit better, avoided the super costly turnovers (until late) that have plagued them in weeks past, and actually got some quality movement on offense. For all that, they still got a loss, and it was an absolutely awful one where they surrendered nearly 50 points. Whatever strides they made on offense were buried under the avalanche of terrible mistakes they made on defense.
At the end of the day, I watch the Falcons because I love them and want them to do well, and when they’re really abysmal that turns everything inside out. At 1-4 they are unlikely to recover from their awful early season mistakes, and they’ve shown so little fight to this point that there’s only one reasonable conclusion: This team needs to clean house and figureout what comes next.
They came close more than once to delivering a championship to Atlanta and I’ll appreciate those runs, but those runs are not coming again without significant changes. Those changes are not far away.
At the end of the day, I feel for the best Falcons players who are stuck on this sinking ship, and I feel for those of us who are going to have to watch the rest of the NFC South fare well while Atlanta collapses. It’s not what any of us deserved and it is what few of us expected, but it is what inevitable. Hopefully the Falcons who rise out of the ashes are better than the ones we’ve seen to this point, but if you’re still hopeful at 1-4 I do not know what to tell you. This team simply does not have some grand revival in them.
That knowledge is deeply depressing but also freeing, because we are now able to watch this team with a fully jaundiced eye and figure out who deserves to be here a year from now, though we do not know what the next head coach is going to want. Arthur Blank can and will say what he wants about this coaching staff—and his vote of confidence is no doubt sincere and typically Blank—but for all the investments this team has made they are still lousy. No one’s coming out of this year unscathed, not with what was at stake and what has transpired.
But we still need to talk about this game. Let’s do so now.
- No matter how much I watch him play, Grady Jarrett manages to surprise me with his excellence. This time around, it was punching the ball out of Carlos Hyde’s sturdy grip on second down to force a fumble the Falcons should have recovered but didn’t. It still basically killed the Texans drive. Throughout this dumb, frustrating game, you just kept seeing Grady Jarrett in the backfield, desperately trying to make a play. He will be here when the inevitable changes come, and he will still be a star.
- Matt Ryan was not perfect, but aside from an extremely late game pick when things were already salted away, he performed pretty well. Under pressure much of the day and with no ground game to speak of, Ryan still completed over 70% of his passes, tossed three touchdowns, and avoided the kinds of mistakes that have doomed him in recent weeks. The fact that it wasn’t even close to enough speaks to the magnitude of the problem in Atlanta.
- Calvin Ridley had a far better game this time out, getting open more often and capping things off with a beautiful score in the fourth quarter that showed phenomenal body balance. The Falcons are an absolute mess, but Ridley is a huge part of what comes next for Atlanta, and it was great to see him back on his game in this one.
- It’s not all perfect, but Desmond Trufant had a nice start to this one, with a great pass deflection and a huge first down-saving tackle in the early going. With Isaiah Oliver disappointing struggling, Damontae Kazee having an up-and-down year, and Kendall Sheffield showing little more than flashes of promise, he’ll be the team’s top cornerback for the foreseeable future.
- Matt Wile had a couple of nice punts!
- Coverage is just such a struggle for this football team. You get a nice pass deflection by Desmond Trufant but the Texans simply pivot to throwing at Isaiah Oliver, Damontae Kazee and others and find success.
The most unforgivable play came in the second quarter, when the Falcons rushed three and had a ton of guys dropped back in coverage, but somehow allowed Will Fuller to get wide open and catch an easy touchdown. They followed that up with multiple screwups, including letting Keke Coutee get loose in the third quarter on a scoring drive for Houston. The Falcons simply aren’t nailing the fundamentals right now, and that falls on the players who don’t notice Fuller slipping by them and the coaches who somehow aren’t driving these nuances of coverage home. Any way you slice it, this team is failing badly on defense, and given how pivotal this year was that’s going to come with a real cost.
- The ground game is inconsistent at best and terrible if you’re being honest. The Falcons never seem to get
- Few were higher on Isaiah Oliver coming into the league than me, and in a better year he’d take his lumps in relative silence. Unfortunately for him, the Falcons stink and every mistake is magnified, and he keeps making them. This week, the most noticeable mishap was Oliver losing Will Fuller entirely in the second quarter, allowing a big second quarter pickup that put the Texans in field goal range. They obliged by going up 16-10. I still think he has talent, but the Falcons should’ve been getting him his lumps in their lost year in 2018, not their lost year in 2019. He’ll probably need to turn it around pretty soon if he’s going to be part of the next regime’s plans, especially since they benched him in this one.
Isaiah Oliver appears to be benched. Kendall Sheffield in at cornerback. #ATLvsHOU— Kelsey Conway (@FalconsKelsey) October 6, 2019
- The pass rush was absolutely putrid. Before the game I dug into the numbers a little bit and saw the objective truth that the Falcons had gotten plenty of pressure and had forced a ton of fumbles, and figured their luck was due to change sooner or later. Naturally, that was the kiss of death.
Atlanta got one hit on Deshaun Watson. Besides Grady Jarrett, who is doing heroic work in spite of everything, they barely got close to the Texans’ star quarterback the rest of the game. There wasn’t a peep out of Takk McKinley, who had a nice year up until this point, or from Vic Beasley, who the team kept despite significant fan anger at nearly $13 million and have gotten solid-but-unspectacular play out of. Even Jack Crawford, who was a dynamo last year, continued to be quiet here. The Falcons simply didn’t have a pass rush this week against the second-worst pass blocking offensive line in the NFL, one week after they didn’t have a pass rush against the absolute work pass blocking offensive line in the NFL. It goes without saying that aside from Jarrett, absolutely no one on this line is safe over the long haul, given that abject lack of production.
- This team’s luck is hideous. They forced not one, but two fumbles in the first quarter, and Houston easily recovered both. The first was Grady Jarrett punching the football out of Carlos Hyde’s hands and the ball rolling, seemingly forever and agonizingly close to the Falcons, before it was recovered. The second was Deshaun Watson fumbling several yards forward and somehow picking it right back up on a drive where the Texans would go on to score. At some point that luck will have to change, but boy has it gotten ridiculous.
- Matt Wile kicked out of bounds twice. I think he’s good a good leg and had done a nice job filling in, but those are the kinds of mistakes that may well lead the Falcons to picking up a new punter to audition while Matt Bosher is on the shelf.
- This is a bad football team. That is made worse, not better, by the seemingly talent-rich roster in place here, and by the fact that other teams in the NFC South continue to do more with less. Ricardo Allen’s fairly disgusted post-game comments about accountability and Dan Quinn’s dejected press conference paint a picture of a team that doesn’t know what the hell is going on, but does know that effort is a part of the problem.
The Falcons in 2018 dug out of a 1-4 hole to return to .500 before collapsing to put themselves out the playoff race, but that team was laid low by injuries to starters across the board and lousy depth. This team doesn’t have that kind of run in them despite the superior talent, because this team isn’t losing close games so much as it is getting stomped to death on a weekly basis. They appear to have nothing left to give, and that’s going to make for a very long season.
There simply isn’t one, but Grady Jarrett comes closest because his effort level is so far ahead of everyone else’s. Ricardo Allen and Matt Ryan get honorable mention for that reason.
The Falcons are bad. They are showing no real signs of getting better.
The Cardinals. Traveling to Arizona should be an easy matchup, but at this point the Falcons are so hollowed out that I fear they will get crushed even by a team with massive talent deficits. Check out Revenge of the Birds for more.