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Falcons - Vikings recap: A dispiriting season opener raises too many familiar questions

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Atlanta lost because of bad mistakes, a lack of discipline, and questionable defense and blocking. Where have we heard that before?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons lost. The Falcons were embarrassingly bad.

This team is incredibly talented on paper, and while they’re often less than stellar in Week 1s—recall their ugly loss to the Buccaneers in the 2016 opener—there’s far too much talent here for the Falcons to be utterly embarrassed by that. I imagine we’ll look back at this one later in the year and realize how good Minnesota is and how fluky some of this was for Atlanta, but I imagine that because all we have to go on at the moment is that single game, and it was abysmal.

Every question mark had its day in the sun in this one. There was Dirk Koetter’s play calling, which too often needed time to wind up and too often targeted guys like Luke Stocker (IN THE END ZONE) against a defense you can’t fool around with. There was the actual execution, which featured some cringe-worthy pass protection and run blocking, and some unforgivably bad throws from Matt Ryan. The defense was often dealt a bad hand with field position and did nothing with it, getting eaten up by Dalvin Cook early on and getting hit with too many penalties throughout the game.

They dug a deep hole from very early on, so it’s not like they were simply outclassed, though of course they were. They were also plagued by the kind of sloppy mistakes and close calls on turnovers that have too often marked this era of Falcons football, squandering red zone shots and chances and letting the Vikings walk on them. To belabor the point, it was an awful game for them.

The question on everyone’s mind now is whether this is a harbinger of things to come or just an awful game from a rusty team that did a lot of stupid things against the Vikings. With a game against the Eagles looming, it’s going to be an 0-2 start and a lot of misery if it’s the former. It’s only a single game—I would still urge everyone here not to doom this team based on a single game—but they can scarcely afford for the problems with discipline and execution to persist. There’s also the small matter that if they’re going to make a postseason push—hardly something I feel like discussing at length—they’re going to need to be able to beat teams as good and as physical as the Vikings. That’s the thing I feel worst about today.

On to the full recap. If you skip this one, I don’t blame you.

The Good

  • Justin Hardy weathered an offseason where many, including us at times, wondered if he’d be back and whether he’d have any kind of a real role if he was. In this one, he was a vital player, springing open multiple times when no one else could do it and coming down with tough catches in traffic. He had 3 catches for 31 yards in the first quarter alone, and had the Falcons been able to do literally anything else, would’ve likely keyed at least one scoring drive.
  • As the game ground on, Austin Hooper was one of the few Falcons who was consistently getting open and making something of his targets. He finished this one with 77 yards on nine grabs, and it’ll help the Falcons immeasurably in Week 2 if he can munch up yardage like that again.
  • Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones touchdowns, woo. They both started to get some separation later in the game, which we hope will continue into Week 2.
  • I don’t want to make too much of this given that Stefon Diggs was a bit limited, but Desmond Trufant stuck to him like glue and kept him from being a major factor in this one. He wound up with just two receptions for 37 yards, and I think the flashes of excellence we saw from Tru in his preseason action were a sign of things to come.
  • Ito Smith’s work made you sit up in your chair. He showed nice vision and good acceleration on several of his runs and had more success than Devonta Freeman Sunday. He’s not going to bully his way into a larger role in the early going, but it’s something to watch for the long-term as he gains confidence and the coaching staff pays attention to his good work.
  • Grady Jarrett remains a stud. He had a huge tackle for loss in the first half and got a strip sack on Kirk Cousins to start the second half, though sadly the Falcons couldn’t capitalize. Out of the many, many moves the Falcons made this offseason, locking up Jarrett might have been the single most critical.
  • The defense was...not abysmal, past a certain point. After that brutal first quarter, they held the Vikings to 7, 7, and 0 points over the coming quarters. They were too easily gashed on the ground for a rebuilt run defense and there were plenty of struggles, but the Vikings didn’t exactly run roughshod over their D, despite the final score.

The Ugly

  • That opening drive was...not ideal. Matt Ryan sacked on the very first play of the game, a run on 2nd and 18, and Ryan forced to scramble for like 10 yards. Then Matt Bosher’s punt was decisively blocked, giving the Vikings ideal field position. To say the line looked overmatched would have been an understatement, and all our happy hopes and dreams evaporated in instants.

The problem, of course, was that things did not immediately get better from there. The Falcons swiftly surrendered a touchdown to Adam Thielen, who handily beat Isaiah Oliver, and then Matt Ryan threw a pick on the next drive. The Falcons didn’t look like a team that had been hearing an urgent drumbeat all offseason, as they had assured us they were. They looked amateurish and unprepared, and frankly that was the most disappointing start imaginable.

  • Forget the start, the overall effort level was baffling. Matt Ryan missing Julio on one of the easiest throws he’ll have all year downfield when he had time in the pocket. Dirk Koetter trying, repeatedly, to get Devonta Freeman outside on slow-developing runs when the run blocking was very obviously not there. The defense coming in hot down the middle and the Vikings tossing the ball outside with obvious results. It was fair to suggest coming into this game that the Falcons would struggle, and I predicted the win knowing that they might let me down. I just never in my wildest dreams thought they’d look so completely overmatched, and it was one of the grimmest possible starts for a team that desperately needs this season to be better than the last.
  • Matt Ryan had his moments, but he was uncharacteristically stinky in this one, throwing one bobbled pick, a few errant throws, and one absolute gimme rainbow that was intercepted in the end zone, with Luke Stocker’s questionable route running certainly playing a role. Those misses had massive consequences, as Ryan missed on an easy touchdown to Julio Jones, a sideline bomb to Calvin Ridley, and a handful of others that might have actually kept them in this game. He’s the one guy I fully expect to bounce back a week from now.
  • Isaiah Oliver had a lot of trouble in this one. He was beaten soundly by Adam Thielen on the first drive of the game, got called for a critical defensive penalty in the second quarter, and generally scuffled in a tough matchup. Don’t think the Eagles won’t be watching that film with interest.
  • Jake Matthews and the tackle group in general also had a ton of trouble in this one, with Matthews getting Ryan killed on multiple plays and the Ty Sambrailo/Kaleb McGary rotation did him no favors, with McGary in particular looking overmatched early on. With all the investments the Falcons made in this offensive line, those kinds of hiccups can’t continue for long or there’s going to be severe and justified angst in the fanbase.
  • I don’t need to hear Dan Quinn and company talk about discipline any more, because the same kinds of penalties plague this team. I don’t need to hear them talk about the importance of turnovers when this team squanders their opportunities to get them, however luck-based they may be, on a regular basis. It’s going to be Dan Quinn and his coaching staff on the line if these things don’t get cleaned up, because they continue to cost the Falcons football games and even when we see progress in other areas, we rarely see it there.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Already giving this one to you, the viewer at home, who had to deal with this impossible nonsense for absolutely no reason. It’s not fair to you, sir/ma’am.

One Takeaway

The Falcons are either not as good or not as prepared as we would have liked to believe, hopefully the latter. They have to get this thing turned around with extreme quickness to avoid ending up in a big hole and having to claw their way out of the basement of the NFC South.

Next Week

The Falcons at least get to be home! They’ll face the Eagles on Sunday Night Football next week, and you should check out Bleeding Green Nation for more on what unfortunately looks like one of the best teams in the NFC despite some early shakiness against Washington.

Final Word

Pleasenomoreofthat.