The Atlanta Falcons stayed undefeated at home with a hard-fought 21-19 victory against the Houston Texans on Sunday. It was a win that featured some clutch plays on offense and steady play by the defense. As always, there are things the Falcons will need to clean up, but this is hopefully a bit of a get-right win.
If nothing else, it should quiet things down slightly and allow the team to focus on maintaining its perfect home record next week against the Commanders. Enough getting ahead of ourselves, though. Let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from Sunday’s much-needed win.
Atlanta’s defense was dominant
One silver lining about the Falcons’ slow starts on offense is that it’s made appreciating the team’s defense that much easier. Time and again, the unit has limited damage and kept things close. That was the case in the first half Sunday, as the Texans could only muster three field goals on their four drives into Falcons’ territory.
Houston converted just four of their 13 third-down attempts on Sunday, which is an impressive feat considering the Texans ranked fourth in third-down offense entering the game. The Texans also had 16 rushing yards in the first half, and those struggles were apparent in short-yardage situations.
This was a Texans team that had scored 67 points in their last two games, and the Falcons held them out of the end zone until the final moments. Of course, with it being the game-winning touchdown, that doesn’t necessarily make things better.
Atlanta’s coverage was largely superb against Houston’s talented weapons, although the loss of Tank Dell certainly had an impact. The stat sheet won’t reflect the pressure the Falcons generated on Stroud, but it was there and it was meaningful.
Something we shouldn’t lose sight of: The Falcon’s investment in their defense this offseason has already paid off. They had a mountain of money to spend, and it’s hard to argue with a lot of the decisions they made. Through those decisions, they’ve reshaped the identity of this team and found the balance they’ve been looking for.
Two-minute drill execution was flawless
After giving up the late lead, the Falcons’ offense responded with maybe their best situational execution of the season. It was a masterful bit of no-huddle rhythm that allowed Atlanta to move downfield in the final 1:49 and win the game on Younghoe Koo’s 36-yard field goal.
The drive included a one-handed catch from Bijan Robinson, a chunk play to Drake London and a timely scramble by Desmond Ridder. For a unit that entered the game with a lot of question marks, it looked down the stretch like one that had answers for every question on the test. Turnovers dampened what the second half could have looked like for the Falcons, but this offense might have finally woken up.
The offense shows signs of improvement
Although it didn’t result in a high point total, I thought this was a much better offensive performance for the Falcons than what we’ve seen the last two weeks. There was a lot of pre-snap action to clutter things up and help identify coverages for Ridder. That led to more consistent production from the passing game, which had to carry the offense for stretches.
Unfortunately, Atlanta couldn’t really get much going on the ground. Houston looked physical and ready up front to handle Robinson and Tyler Allgeier, and the box was loaded. The Falcons stayed patient with their rushing attack and began to make inroads in the second half, which allowed them to string together some nice drives.
The biggest highlight of the game came on a relatively routine play out of the backfield. But what Robinson did on the play was anything but ordinary. Another insanely slick one-handed catch provided Atlanta with its second touchdown of the game and gave the Falcons a 15-12 lead after Allgeier broke the plane for the 2-point conversion.
Bijan Robinson is one-of-a-kind!— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) October 8, 2023
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Second-half turnovers plague Falcons
Atlanta’s offense couldn’t keep the positive momentum going to start the second half. When the unit finally appeared to be clicking, it all slipped away. A Bijan Robinson fumble on the team’s opening possession after halftime gave Houston the ball in Atlanta territory and allowed it to tack on 3 more points to extend the lead to 12-7.
The more stomach-churning fumble came on the next drive, which was shaping up to be a beauty for Atlanta. The Falcons covered 72 yards in eight plays, but that came to an abrupt end when Jonnu Smith was stripped of a ball deep in Texans’ territory. Although Atlanta’s defense once again put the clamps down after the turnover, it was another drive that proved fruitless on offense. For a team struggling to score points in a game this close, this was a painful mistake.
Penalties were a bit of a problem
Under Arthur Smith, the Falcons have done a good job avoiding penalties, especially the pre-snap variety. Perhaps that’s why the seven penalties on Sunday stood out. There were some pretty costly infractions that knocked Atlanta out of field goal range, which could easily cost them a victory in these types of close games.
The Falcons entered Week 5 having committed just 22 penalties this season, and no more than six in a single game. That indicates this problem will be addressed and corrected, but it didn’t make life any easier against Houston.