Sunday’s disaster against the Indianapolis Colts showed two sides of the 2019 Atlanta Falcons. The first half was a tale of hapless and haphazard play, the second half a show of grit and resilience that still left the team coming up short.
Penalties and questionable play calling were the primary takeaways, and we dive into all of that with this week’s Hat Tips & Head-Scratchers.
Devonta Freeman gets it going
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has been virtually non-existent through the season’s first two games. Entering play on Sunday he only had 19 carries for 41 yards — awful numbers for a team looking to establish its ground game.
He got back on track a bit against Indianapolis, finishing the game with 16 carries for 88 yards. But the most encouraging sign was the Falcons’ first play of the game, a 28-yard run that showed why Freeman can be extremely dangerous when he gets the proper blocking ahead of him. Vision, burst, breakaway speed — he showed it all on his first carry of the game.
It would not be his only run for over 20 yards, as Devonta would snap off a 24-yard run in the second quarter.
The second-half bounce back
The Falcons looked lifeless for the entire first half of this football game, and entered the locker room seemingly dead in the water, down 20-3. A different team hit the field in the second half, and immediately set the tone for a comeback that would fall just short.
The opening drive of the third quarter was brilliantly executed — a 75-yard drive that included a long toss to Julio Jones and was culminated by an Austin Hooper touchdown. The Falcons ultimately fell 27-24, but the way the team responded with their backs against the wall was encouraging.
Ricardo Allen on the second defensive series
Ricardo Allen’s play on Atlanta’s second defensive series of the game was a downright forgettable one. His helmet-to-helmet hit on T.Y. Hilton after a 26-yard reception was reckless, and gave the Colts the ball deep in Falcons territory. A few plays later he was late diagnosing Jacoby Brissett’s pass to wide receiver Zach Pascal, the coverage breakdown leading to an easy pitch-and-catch for the touchdown.
Matt Ryan’s first-quarter pick
Matt Ryan had five interceptions entering this game. It wouldn’t be long for him to add to that total, as he forced yet another pass into double coverage and was subsequently intercepted by Clayton Geathers in the first quarter. Ryan’s decision-making has definitely been suspect so far this season.
Giving up two 90+ yard scoring drives
The soft zone coverage that Dan Quinn deployed allowed Jacoby Brissett to simply carve up the Atlanta Falcons. He completed his first 16 passes, and it was that death by a thousand cuts that led to the Colts scoring on two consecutive 90+ yard drives. Unacceptable.
Calvin Ridley receives one target
This is simply offensive malpractice. The Atlanta Falcons possess one of the NFL’s brightest, most dynamic receiving threats, and he was the recipient of one target throughout the entire game. For comparison, blocking tight end Luke Stocker was thrown at four times — one leading to an interception. To render one of your biggest threats on offense a non-factor is indefensible, and if it continues, will likely ensure future losses.
This Falcons team lacks discipline — full stop. They committed 16 penalties Sunday for over 100 yards, which is absolutely inexcusable. The penalties have been one of the few consistencies so far this year, and it speaks to a disturbing trend with the 2019 iteration of the Atlanta Falcons: seemingly inadequate preparation and an absence of restraint.
Calling a penalty on Keanu Neal for unsportsmanlike conduct when he was writhing on the ground with a devastating injury is downright ridiculous. I understood the call in the immediate context of the speed of a football game — you see a player throw a helmet, you throw the flag. I get it, but once you have a moment to survey the entire situation, picking up the flag and waving off the penalty would have been the right thing to do.