Well, many Falcons fans certainly got this one wrong in expecting one of the toughest games of the season in traveling out west to play the upstart 49ers. This one was pretty much over at halftime. The Falcons showed how great they can look when every aspect of the team, offense, defense, special teams, and coaching comes together all at the right moment. Matt Ryan and Roddy White had career days, and the defense played a magnificent game in holding the 49ers to 10 points. Many wondered if the Falcons and coaches got their problems corrected on the bye week, and I think the final product speaks for itself. (Check out DOL’s new blog on the Niners win). A look at the positions:
Matt Ryan had a career day throwing the ball with 329 yards passing, 3 TDs (2 passing, 1 rushing), with 1 interception. Critics and fans alike have been calling for the vertical passing attack to come into play, and it certainly did today. Ryan connected with White on a 31 yard touchdown pass to go up 14 – 0 in the first quarter and united again on a 90 yard touchdown pass, with White racing 80 of the yards after shaking loose from CB Nate Clements. Ryan finished 22 for 32, completing 68.75% of his passes, breaking out against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Grade – A
Michael Turner had a great day as well going for 97 yards and 3 touchdowns. Turner showed the drive and hard-running style we’ve all come to expect from him. He had excellent vision today and ran the ball extremely well. The O-Line certainly created more holes and the deep ball helped soften the front, but Turner deserves credit for playing like the Pro-Bowl running back we’ve come to expect. Jerious Norwood had a good return, showing his speed and quickness to be a great complement to Turner’s power. The speedy threat may have helped reduce the tendencies for the defense to key the middle. Jason Snelling had a couple of tough short yard runs to convert 3rd downs. The backfield did have a combined 3 fumbles, though, one which Norwood lost and was thought to possibly give the 49ers a spark. Grade – A-
This category belongs to one person and one person alone: Roddy White. To say that he had a breakout game would be an understatement. He proved to be everything fans imagined from the Pro-Bowl season a year ago, hauling in 8 catches for 210 yards, and two touchdowns, the most spectacular being a 90 yard track meet after he shook off a tackle from All-Pro CB Nate Clements. White showed that Dimitroff and Co. invested wisely in locking him up as a Falcon, virtually for his career. Roddy also gets the hustle play of the game when he ran down Dre Bly on an interception,. in which he showboated after 10 yards, and forced a fumble that the Falcons recovered. Tony Gonzalez finished with 6 catches for 55 yards, but got many more targets. He got double-interference in the end zone that may have resulted in a TD, but dropped a couple of balls as well. Jenkins chipped in 35 yards as well as Justin Peele and Brian Finneran getting a few catches. Grade – A+
No unit has taken more criticism than the Burn Unit. Going from the second leading rushing team to one of the lowest in the first couple of games heaped some ire onto the Falcons offensive line. The O-Line enforced its will on one of the best defenses in the league and set the tone early and often that they would run the ball, regardless of who they were playing. They opened many big holes for Turner, Norwood, and Snelling, and held one of the most aggressive defenses without a sack on Matt Ryan. Ryan had plenty of time to throw the ball and rarely was rushed. Excellent game all-around for the offensive line. The only detraction from the group was the multiple penalties, both holding and false starts. Grade – A-
Big improvement from the defensive line that helped the Falcons rank two from the bottom in giving up rushing yards. The D-Line generated tons of pressure against a pretty solid offensive line. They put pressure on QB Shaun Hill and made him get rid of the ball entirely too early, frustrating him in to many errant throws. Given, one of the best running backs in the league (Frank Gore) didn’t play, but they helped keep a very able Glen Coffee in check. They held the Niners under 100 yards rushing, limiting Coffee to 45 yards and making the leading rusher the quarterback at 53 yards. A huge surprise came in scanning the starting defensive line: Jamaal Anderson was moved inside and started at defensive tackle, allowing Abraham, Biermann, and Babineaux to be on the field with him. Excellent move both to allow Biermann and Abe to rush the pass and utilizing his strength of stopping the run. After failing to register a sack since week 1, the D-Line rocked out 3 sacks, one each from Abraham, Biermann, and Thomas Johnson. Trey Lewis played throughout the game and looked much better from last week. Grade – A
The linebackers continued their excellent play against the 49er offense. Lofton finished with 5 solo tackles and 4 assists and Peterson notched 2 solo tackles as well. The linebackers brought pressure early and often and made life really difficult for QB Shaun Hill all day. They again helped set the tone with their hard hitting style and athletic plays. Stephen Nicholas only recorded one tackle, but again played extremely well against the run and dropped back in coverage. Only negative was seeing Coy Wire getting outrun by Glen Coffee on 3rd and goal after having a good angle. Their job was made much easier by a drastically improved defensive line play. Grade – A
The much maligned secondary played much better from top to bottom against the 49ers. Part of it was due to the non-threat from the 49er passing attack led by QB Shaun Hill. That being said though, Shaun Hill was 7-0 all time playing in Candlestick Park and proved to be too much for Arizona, Seatlle, St. Louis, and even scored on Minnesota’s defense. Brian Williams came up with a huge interception in the 49ers second series, which allowed the Falcons to quickly go up by 14. Williams and Chris Houston played well and surely benefited from the better pressure on the QB and backfield. Brent Grimes takes the worst play of the day on defense when he came up to make an easy tackle on WR Josh Morgan and was dish-ragged to the side, allowing him to sprint down the sideline and inches from the end-zone. To his credit, Grimes came back and had some nice coverage and big pass break-ups in the game. Save for a couple of plays, Erik Coleman and Thomas DeCoud held Vernon Davis and the rest of the receivers in total check. Chevis Jackson saw some playing time when the game was out of reach, but it appears that Chris Owens won’t contribute in the secondary and who knows what the deal is with Tye Hill. He’s had 6 weeks to get up to speed, but was still on the inactive list. Grade – A
After suffering a fairly discomforting performance against the Patriots in Foxboro, the Falcons coaching staff came out showed the aggressive nature on both sides of the ball. Coach Van Gorder applied pressure early and often, harkening back to his UGA days, making QB Shaun Hill uncomfortable and frustrated all day long. Moving Jamaal Anderson inside to DT was an excellent move, allowing him to utilize his strength run defense, while putting the best pass rushers, Biermann and Abraham, on the field with him. The secondary played much, much better and the play-calling was aggressive and needed. Coach Mularkey also gets big kudos by finally opening up the vertical passing playbook, connecting on several deep passes and softening up the defense for the running game, which finally flourished. Good play-calling all around except for the wide receiver screen to Norwood that was ill-timed and produced a fumble. The offense finally hit on all cylinders and didn’t even have a huge day from Tony Gonzalez. Ryan spread the ball around good, and much of the credit goes to Mularkey. If the team loses then the head man gets most of the blame, but when they win they get most of the recognition as well. The team came out with a sense of urgency and fight not seen since week 1 against the Dolphins. Coach Smith set the tone early and sent a message that the team would play aggressive and tough. The final product after by week speaks for itself on corrections that were made. Grade – A+
Kickoff and punt coverage continues to absolutely outstanding, which is of course the norm now. Michael Koenen had several nice punts and kickoffs out of the end zone. The punt return and kickoff return game leaves some to be desired, although there were only three kickoffs to field throughout the game. Eric Weems certainly is making the catches on punt returns, but offered little else today. He seemed to lack vision on some of the returns and may be fairly compared to the injured Harry Douglas. Grade – B
-Assign your grades to each position
-See this result coming?
-Falcons deserve all credit or were 49ers overrated?
-Falcons offense hit on all cylinders or still room for improvement?
-Fumbles an issue this year or one-time problem?
-Happy with the rushing attack?
-Pleased with White’s huge day or need to spread the ball more?
-Like the Jamaal Anderson move inside to DT?
-Great defensive day or 49ers really pathetic offensively?
-Amazing omen for the rest of the year or beat an overrated team?
-Ready for Da Bears on Sunday Night Football?