Pretty is probably the last word that would describe the Atlanta Falcons 17-14 win over the New York Giants. Nonetheless, no matter how it is viewed, a win is a win, which is something that the team needed at this juncture this season regardless of their opponent.
After losing embarrassingly in the season opener and trading a few punches with the defending champions only to be laid out in the final stanza, the Falcons were able to muster up enough grit to make a few plays late in week three and depart MetLife Stadium victorious. Here are five things we learned from the Falcons first win of the season.
#1: The defense is learning to get critical stops
If you’ve paid close attention to all three games played by the Falcons so far, each game saw their defense get critical stops in the second half of games to set their offense up to do important work. After giving up a touchdown with under 13 minutes remaining, the Falcons defense was able to keep the Giants off the scoreboard on a crucial drive halfway through the fourth quarter with the game tied at 14.
That stop included a vital sack by edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. that forced a long third down the Giants could not convert. For a unit that was without their top corner in A.J. Terrell, the group was able to prevent the Giants from doing much of anything outside of getting some yards in between the red zones. This is something we did not see all that often last year, and is a good early sign for the defense.
#2: Run game still in need of a boost
It is an offensive system that has a foundation of establishing and maintaining a solid run game. So far on the season, the team is ranked 28th in run game yardage and over the past two games, the offense have only generated 123 total rushing yards on the ground. A number of reasons exist as to why the run game for the Falcons has not been as productive as we had hoped.
An offensive line that is only three games in under their current starting combination is one reason. Game tempo and flow also tends to dictate the play calling, and has for Falcon. But in order for this unit to get off the ground at some point, consistent success in the run game is going to have to manifest itself. That is, unless we all prefer to see Matt Ryan have 40+ passing attempts every game at this stage of his career.
#3: Defenses are playing Kyle Pitts a certain way
If you approached this game with the notion that Pitts would receive double-digit targets and possibly have himself an 100-yard receiving day, then you walked away from this game with a little disappointment. When you check the box score, you’ll observe that Pitts only received three targets on the day with just two receptions for 35 yards. To his credit, the two receptions were arguably the biggest receptions of the game.
What you will not see on that box score is how Pitts was defended on the day. Although the rookie is only three games into his NFL career, he is getting a little respect from veteran defenses so far. On numerous occasions, I couldn’t help but notice that Pitts was bracketed by two defenders or in some instances, being shadowed. It seemed for a while that the Falcons were not getting their 2021 first rounder involved in the game plan, but that was not the case for a large portion of the afternoon. The Giants just had a plan for him.
#4: Koo in the clutch
The fourth-year kicker had some shoes to fill as the team moved on from former kicker Matt Bryant back in 2019. With big shoes to fill, Koo has been cool for the Falcons with his kicking. His 40-yarder as time expired was his first walk-off field goal as a member of the Falcons, but Koo drilling an important kick was a sight that the fan base has seen fairly often.
During his time in Atlanta, Koo is 16-for-19 in field goals of 40-49 yards and for an added bonus, he is 9-for-9 on field goals of 50 yards or more. Labeling him as just a ‘steady’ kicker for the Falcons is a complete disservice. On this day, Koo answered the call to seal a victory.
#5: Red zone question marks
The red zone iffiness continued in this game as well for Atlanta. Once the team made it to the red zone on a couple of occasions, they were not as efficient as you’d like. On their first red zone trip, the Falcons were not able to punch it in from the seven-yard line until it was third down.
On their second trip, the Falcons entered the red zone at the 11-yard line, yet it took six plays to get into the end zone from there. The silver lining of course is that touchdowns were scored on both drives. Peel back the layers a bit and you will see a red zone offense that has some notable work to do. They are middle of the pack in red zone touchdown percentage (17th, 62.5%) and as is the case with the rest of the offense, there’s real work to do here.