Due to technical issues, there was no film GIF review for the Packers vs. Falcons, which is incredibly disappointing considering how thrilling that game was. The series makes its return this week to cover one of the more deflating one-sided defeats in recent history for Arthur Smith’s team. They were outfought. They were outworked. They were outcoached.
It was a troubling loss for a team with high aspirations. Let’s get into what went wrong but also highlight a few individual shining offensive moments and an overall strong defensive performance.
If you missed the GIF review for the Panthers vs. Falcons, you can view it here.
Pass Protection Breakdowns
Slide protections are supposed to give quarterbacks ample time to survey the field to make an accurate throw off play action. It’s rare to see the pocket immediately collapse on these types of play designs, yet it stunningly happened on multiple occasions. Drew Dalman’s positioning is awkward, as he barely gets his hands on Benito Jones. Chris Lindstrom is late in providing support.
Both players make rough errors on a sack that set the tone for the game. Detroit’s defensive line was consistently bursting off the line of scrimmage and playing with violent hand usage. Atlanta’s offensive line looked sluggish and unprepared to handle basic blocking assignments. Better protection could have allowed Desmond Ridder to take a shot downfield to Drake London off the deep post.
This is arguably the most painful sack out of the seven allowed. Matthew Bergeron and Kaleb McGary were the two culprits, as it’s often been when Ridder has been sacked. On third and 16, you can understand why the rookie left guard is isolated against Aidan Hutchinson. He’s got to get experience blocking versatile top-tier defensive linemen. Unfortunately, his punch is too slow and allows the rising star to blow past him inside to create instant pressure.
The play gets even uglier with McGary’s lackadaisical stance and slow hands to block Derrick Barnes. He receives chip help from Jonnu Smith yet fails to use it to his advantage. Instead of driving the edge rusher away to possibly give Ridder space to evade the pressure, he allows Barnes to barge right into the quarterback he is supposed to be blocking for. Unacceptable effort and troublingly bad technique from the right tackle.
Another slide protection, another sack allowed. McGary is the culprit for once again being too slow off the line of scrimmage. Ridder doesn’t even have a chance to step up in the pocket. If he does, he has a great opportunity to connect with Kyle Pitts off a well-designed Yankee concept. Instead, what was a promising call utilizing play action turns into another wrecked play due to appalling pass protection.
Predictable, Questionable Play Designs
As promising as some play action designs looked, some of them left a lot to be desired. There is nothing wrong with using two receiver route concepts. If Bijan Robinson hadn’t gotten caught in traffic, he would have been the check down option. What’s alarming is the lack of spacing between Pitts and London. They are lined up alongside each other and don’t stretch the secondary at all.
It makes defending this play significantly easier with how London sits on the route and Pitts loops around. There is no disguise, creativity, or legitimate vertical threat. Ridder was bound to get sacked, with Keith Smith being forced to block Charles Harris. It’s hard to see how this play could have ever resulted in an explosive play downfield.
Smith admitted he called this run with the mindset of going for it on fourth down. Regardless of whether that is a sensible strategy or not, the play call isn’t a wise decision. The designed run is going to the overloaded weak side of Detroit’s defense. Other than Pitts, no other player is blocking outside of the five offensive linemen. The Falcons are simply outnumbered to go along with having a right side of an offensive line not up for the task of matching Detroit’s intensity.
Lindstrom’s lackluster cut block barely affects John Cominsky. McGary struggles to make contact with his blocking assignment. This play turned out to be a total disaster, contributing to the Falcons’ abysmal third down conversion rate and ultimately not scoring a single touchdown.
This is about as uninspiring as it gets. The formation looks intriguing, with Robinson in the slot. A fake run up the gut with Tyler Allgeier can get linebackers instantly off balance. It’s hard to sell either of them as threats when the player you’ve been trying to get involved is motioning, waiting to receive the pass.
This play design was doomed from the start, as Detroit pounced on the lackadaisical effort to go with the predictability. Brian Branch was flying all across the field, making standout tackles. The rookie nickel corner added to his collection by blowing past Robinson to force the Falcons into another third-and-long scenario.
London At His Best
One of the most exciting aspects of London’s skill set was his ability to make contested catches in tight areas. Without having elite separation skills, the former top-ten pick uses his strong hands, large frame, and tremendous athleticism to make big plays downfield. On third and seven, he runs a nine-route on Cameron Sutton, using his body well to create space in motion. Sutton eventually loses his balance while London has full concentration on the incoming pass. It proves to be the Falcons’ most explosive play in the game, along with Ridder’s most impressive play in recognizing a good matchup and putting the ball where only his top receiver can get it.
Pitts Downfield Frustration
This proved to be one of the few big-play opportunities the Falcons could have produced. It comes in 23 personnel, which fits nicely with Arthur Smith’s varied formation usage and aggressive nature of using heavy sets. This gives Pitts space to match up against a cornerback and utilize his dynamic skill set. Unfortunately, he seems to be hampered by a hamstring issue and can’t accelerate to catch Ridder’s deep ball. It did look like a well-thrown ball from where it landed and from how Pitts is slowing down his route.
With Jonnu Smith attracting safety interest, there will be opportunities to get him isolated downfield. It’s just a matter of the timing being right between a pairing that is clearly at a work-in-progress stage. It was encouraging to see Robinson bail out Dalman in pass protection after the rookie star struggled mightily against Carolina picking up defensive linemen and linebackers.
Counter Rushing Punch
Even in the most excruciating offensive performances, the rookie sensation will find ways to shine in the dark. Smith has dialed up this counter run on more than a few occasions this season. It has translated into major positive yardage on almost every attempt. With Dalman’s agility and KhaDarel Hodge justifiably being relied upon to make unorthodox blocks for a wide receiver because of his blocking capabilities, the space is there to accelerate into the open field with one sharp cut.
Everyone knows how tremendous Robinson’s cutting ability is. What makes this run impressive outside of the design and blocking comes from the physical running style of Robinson. The way he uses his lead arm without having to use a stiff arm to prevent defenders from bringing him down is remarkable. Then, the run is topped off by his elite contact balance to remain on his feet to rumble forward for a first down.
Run Blocking Falls Below Standards
On 19 designed runs, only three rushing attempts were deemed successful in gaining four or more yards. That’s how much the Lions dominated in the trenches. As McGary and Bergeron receive most criticism for the offensive line’s miserable showing, Lindstrom hasn’t played up to the All-Pro standard he set last season. The plethora of exceptional blocks he made in the running game simply haven’t been there much this season.
What’s even more concerning is that unheralded defensive tackles are overpowering him at times. Alim McNeill gets in front of him and doesn’t allow the former first-round pick to seal him off from the run. If Lindstrom makes the block, Allgeier has a chance to cut into space with only Hutchinson there to stop him from gaining quality yardage. Individual mistakes in crucial moments doomed the entire offense, and McNeill was a problem all day.
Formidable Run Defense
David Onyemata has been an outstanding addition. The way he controls the line of scrimmage against the run, at times, makes him a real difference-maker. It brings the best out of players around him, including Grady Jarrett, who has been waiting to have a presence like this alongside him since Dontari Poe left in 2017.
Onyemata’s sheer power and hand usage can destroy opposing interior linemen. He sends Graham Glasgow to the turf to combine with Jarrett for a tackle for a loss, who used his violent hand usage and agility to make an impressive play in his own right. Ryan Nielsen deserves enormous credit for his major contribution in convincing Onyemata to join him in Atlanta.
There has been at least one moment in all three games where Calais Campbell does a fantastic job of setting the edge to stop a running play from gaining much yardage. It’s remarkable how he still possesses the quickness to make opposing tackles look silly. This wasn’t the only time he got the better of Penei Sewell.
What makes this particular stop stand out is how he fights through a congested area to get into the backfield. Yes, Kaden Elliss was right there to bring the rookie running back down for a minimal gain. It doesn’t take away from the technique used by Campbell to continue being a difference-maker for a slowly improving run-stopping unit.
Elliss had his best game as a Falcon. From making tone-setting tackles in the open field to being active against the run, he made his presence felt across the field. This was his most memorable moment on third and one. The savvy linebacker recognizes the down block on the left side. That recognition helps him accelerate into the open gap. His refusal to allow fullback Jason Cabinda to convert on the dive is extremely impressive.
Arnold Ebiketie does provide an assist, which is welcome, but the physical edge and technical savviness Elliss plays with give the defense much-needed assurance at a position that has been missing tone-setters when defending the run.
Grady Jarrett Brings the Heat
The stellar defensive tackle almost single-handedly ended a drive at the end of the first half. It’s a fascinating alignment with him lining up as 0-tech, right over Frank Ragnow. As Elliss is used on this occasion as a pass rusher to bring a different look, Jarrett enjoys the direct one-on-one matchup with a swift swim move.
It’s so explosive that Glasgow can’t adjust in time to provide support. Jared Goff ends up throwing directly into Craig Reynolds’ back. Coverage is terrific on the back end, while Jarrett showcases what makes him such a special player.
On the next play, Jarrett goes to the left in the direction of Jonah Jackson when matched up against Ragnow. He goes for pure power rather than clever hand usage. Watching him bully his way past the double team is like a freight train bursting into the pocket. To do this against two Pro Bowl-caliber interior offensive linemen is spectacular. Jarrett can still generate pressure at a high level.
Nielsen mixed things up with Jaylinn Hawkins coming in to form a three-safety coverage look. It worked out nicely when they used it. Dee Alford handles his zone coverage responsibilities well by timing his break to perfection for the pass breakup.
Play Action Coverage Busts
Ben Johnson’s offense had its way when using play action. That was the one clear advantage Detroit used to perfection against Nielsen’s defense. This is a flood route where Sam LaPorta switches angles and turns what initially looked like a classic bootleg design into a tight end throwback.
Pre-snap motion gets the secondary out of sorts before Richie Grant is left on an island with LaPorta. This is more of a brilliant play design and terrific route running over poor coverage. Detroit’s coaching staff flexed their muscles all game long on both sides of the ball.
It’s hard to be too critical because this is once again a tremendous strategy and execution by Detroit’s offense. Setting Kalif Raymond in motion and having him run full speed a deep comeback route on Alford, is a great play design. Raymond gets Alford trailing on the move and makes a slick break at the top of the route to create separation.
There is some hand usage, but not enough to penalize him for pushing off. This is another one of those occasions where Detroit’s outstanding play action game shined to produce another explosive play downfield.
Open field tackling
Detroit loves to set their star playmaker Amon-Ra St. Brown in motion whenever possible. They use him on short motion to run a drag route. Alford is well-prepared, identifying the play design in front of him. He stays on top of the route and makes a fantastic tackle to prevent a potential big play. They have terrorized defenses in the past on underneath pass patterns.
Alford remained composed to bring him down for a short gain. He continued his strong start to the season with another solid performance. This play showcases the Falcons’ growth as an overall unit. They have made strides so far this season in making open-field tackles.
Defense Wears Down
As well as the defense played, they were bound to wear down after the offense was consistently unable to put together sustainable drives. Detroit still possesses a punishing offensive line despite missing two starters. They use duo in putting double teams on Jarrett and Onyemata.
This is a play Elliss has to make in space but doesn’t trust his instincts enough to make the quick stop. Ragnow gets to the second level and shields him away from Gibbs. It was the first run where you got the sense that fatigue was setting in for the defense.
On the next play, Onyemata gets taken out by a double team again. Not being able to hold up at the point of attack leaves a gaping hole, as Campbell gets driven to the outside. The commitment to the running game ultimately paid off for Detroit. They got Atlanta’s defensive front turning away from runs, losing their defensive shape and gap integrity.
Grant’s missed tackle summed up the state of a tired defense. They had gotten to the point of being on the field for too long. It can happen to any unit, especially against a persistent, well-designed offense.