A particularly frustrating aspect was to watch the a team the Falcons beat early in the season, Miami Dolphins, go into Charlotte minus their best player and take care of business against a team in Carolina that was supposed to be on the brink of a really hot streak. The comparison game can get fuzzy and can prove to have little relevance, but are the Falcons really a playoff team at this point? The Falcons have been anything but consistent this year after smoking out of the gate to a 3-1 start only losing to the Patriots and beating Miami, Carolina, and Chicago in that span. Then the proverbial wheels and consistency have come off. The Falcons lost an embarrassing game in Dallas, played a tough game in New Orleans where they came up short, but then lost a game to a team that had serious issues and struggles, but failed to win. Just goes to show you that if you let any team in the NFL get into a rhythm, they will beat you. To say that the Giants win is a must-win is surely a cliché, but if the Falcons drop to .500 with the Eagles and Saints still left, do they really deserve to go to the playoffs. Time to show your city, fans, and selves whether this team is a serious contender for a wild card spot. Moral victories do not translate into playoff appearances. If the Birds drop this one, they really can only lose one more if they want to be a legitimate contender in the NFC playoff hunt. The Falcons usually play pretty well when their backs are against the wall and now they don’t have many other options.
Much has been made of the Falcons more difficult non-conference schedule this year, particularly on the road (New York, Dallas, New England), and by comparison their much easier road schedule last year (San Diego, Oakland, Philadelphia, Green Bay). The Falcons weren’t exactly road warriors last year with wins over weaker San Diego and Green Bay teams and Oakland, but they did go up to beat Minnesota to clinch a playoff spot. Regardless of schedule, they did what they needed to do and took a split on their road record at 4-4, but are currently 1-4 past the midpoint. After this one they get Tampa Bay on the road, who is playing much better as of late, and the Jets back in Meadowlands Stadium late in December and anything can happen. Barring two games, a big win in San Francisco and well-played loss in New Orleans, the Falcons haven’t played well at all on the road. They are a team that exemplify a tale of one half, either start strong and fall apart or don’t show up and turn it on. The Falcons couldn’t draw a much tougher task in getting an angry Giants team coming off a bye and a 4 game losing streak. Time to show if they belong in the playoffs or not.
This has become a standard question each week for the past month and has been analyzed ad nauseum, but if the Falcons hope to have any chance to get to January they have to get better, more consistent play from their QB. All the reasons have been discussed and brought up, but the simple fact remains that Ryan has got to get his confidence back and play like he did last year. He often seems nervous in the pocket and is not setting his feet and following through with authority on his throws. Ryan has absorbed what most rookies see in their first year and is committed to getting the mistakes corrected. At every chance, his teammates are quick to have his back in the media, relating the difficulty of playing quarterback in the NFL. That being said, Ryan must want to improve NOW and not assume that its ok simply because he’s young and learning. Along with Ryan, the coaches QB Coach Musgrave and Offensive Coordinator Mularkey deserve at least some of the blame as well. The passing attack has seemed to stagnate this year with Tony Gonzalez being the primary receiver, Roddy White getting fewer looks, and absolutely no production from the slot receiver. Ryan was at his best in Charlotte last week when he took what the defense was giving him, hitting short timing routes and using the running attack to his advantage. Michael Jenkins also has to get back to being a good complement to Roddy White as well and the loss of Harry Douglas looks to be hurting much more than many thought. The coaches need to adapt the offense to Ryan and his struggles to an extent, at least for this year. Ryan needs a comeback game in the biggest way.
One of the most painful losses to an already injury-riddled year was seeing #33 coming up limp after torching the Panthers for over 100 yards in the first half alone. After a couple of so-so games, Turner got it going in a big way and was en route to another Pro-Bowl year (and still might be). High ankle sprains are some of the toughest playable injuries to get over and there has even been mention that Turner may go against the G-Men. Everyone knows how tough Turner is and if he’s legitimately ready to go than so be it, but they dare not risk injuring one of their franchise players even more so it would be pretty shocking to see #33 on the field running against the G-Men. Jason Snelling showed that he’s more than capable of handling the duties in Turner and Norwood’s absence, but the return of a healthy and speedy Norwood would be a welcome sight to a struggling passing offense. The Falcons will need to have Snelling and Norwood on top of their games to come out victorious in New York. Getting a glimpse at Norwood and Snelling would also be nice assessment of what a healthy three-headed monster of Turner, Norwood, and Snelling might look like. Norwood is also in the last year of his contract and needs to prove to other teams that he can be a feature back if he wants to test free-agency. Snelling has shown that he is a tough inside runner with surprising elusiveness and an excellent passing option out of the backfield. Snelling has shown that he looks to be prominent in the Falcons future….if they’re smart.
After a slow start Brandon Jacobs has turned it on in recent weeks running with toughness and power, using his huge 6’4, 250 lb frame to gain tough yards as well as showing a burst on the perimeter. The Falcons defensive line will have another tough assignment in trying to defend the running back in a lineman body, also having to account for speedy Ahmad Bradshaw who can take it to the house in an instant. The defensive line did a pretty good job against the Deangelo Williams-Jonathan Stewart combo last week and may have held the duo close to 100 yards if not for the late game game-ending jaunt by Jonathan Stewart. The D-Line is by no means a world beater, but they at least can hold really talented backs from dominating the game. There’s still a long way to go in improving the rush defense, but they have shown an ability to at least limit backs with the help of the linebackers. More at issue is the completely inept pass rush against good offensive lines and quarterbacks. The Falcons have shown an inability to get pressure on talented QBs when they run against a half-way decent OL. The four Falcon losses were games where they were unable to get pressure on the quarterback (Brady, Romo, Delhomme), and got Brees out of his normal game but still came up short. Where is the John Abraham from last year? If it’s injury, than he just needs to sit or work in only pass-rushing downs. After some promising snaps, rookie Lawrence Sidbury Jr. has not worked into the rotation and is Kroy Biermann a long term answer at D-End or did he just have a couple of good games?
Falcons fans thought that Thomas Dimitroff may have pulled another fast one after Tye Hill dazzled the home crowd with good coverage skills, speed, and an awesome pick six. Then a splash of cold reality happened with a trip to Charlotte and Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammed on the field. Tye Hill was picked on over and over against the Panthers and had such a bad outing that he the hook pretty quick in the first half. Steve Smith had only scored one touchdown on the year, and he doubled his total with a critical third down TD against Hill. Brent Grimes came in and played well, but still has issues with big and tall receivers. If Grimes was a long-term answer at cornerback than why was he replaced in the first place. Chris Houston had a good day in Charlotte and is showing fans that they may have a solid cornerback for the future after all. With all the rotation and unsettled nature at the open cornerback spot, would it be that terrible to work Chris Owens into the rotation, at least in some nickel or dime situations? After having a good game against the Redskins, is Chevis Jackson back to his former self or still struggling to find a place? This is the risk that Dimitroff took when he let Foxworth walk and made no moves at cornerback until the first cut of waivers in Brian Williams. He only made that move after the really bad performance in preseason by the secondary. To say that the cornerback situation is fragile and needs an infusion of talent is the understatement of the year.Manning has confidence and has developed a great rapport with young receivers Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, & Mario Manningham. If the secondary doesn’t show up, it could get ugly. Houston has stepped up and its time for another corner to do the same.
The season is barely past the midpoint, but fans and media alike look to games as must wins in order to get to the postseason. This one is huge in so many ways for the Falcons. Atlanta needs this win to regain confidence, to take a step ahead in the tiebreaker category, to show they can win on the road, and generally to act as if they belong in the playoffs. If they win, it will be a huge boon of confidence rolling into the tough stretch of Philly and New Orleans coming to town and will put them in the driver’s seat concerning the wild card. Losing to the Giants at home may not be the worst thing under any normal circumstances, but since the Birds failed to take care of business against the now 4-6 Panthers, than this game just got a whole lot bigger. Yes it true that they could get on a run and win some games down the stretch to make the playoffs, but time will soon be running out. Sure they may beat the Bucs, Jets, and Bills towards the end, but teams like these will not be suiting up in January and moral victories won’t get you into the postseason. If the Falcons want to be a playoff team, they have to start acting like it starting in New York.
Did the Falcons make the right choice in letting Michael Boley walk into free agency and into a Giants uniform? (Check out DOL’s Falcons-Giants Preview Blog) Boley’s numbers are modest (21 tackles, 0 Ints, 0 Sacks), especially considering that he signed a 5 year, $25 million contract in March. His off-the-field issues may have been a part Boley leaving, but the main reason was a failure to connect with the new coaching staff. He was benched in favor of Coy Wire at strongside linebacker and Stephen Nicholas would be given a chance to earn a starting spot, but they still had to go out and sign another linebacker in Mike Peterson, who’s 33 years old. The Giants may have overpaid, but did the coaching staff miss out on an chance at an unbelievably young and talented linebacking corps (Lofton, Nicholas, Boley)?
Many of us are meeting up at the Taco Mac @ Lindbergh to watch the game. Come and put some faces with some screen names if you want.
-Will Falcons prevail in the Big Apple (technically Jersey)?
-Do the Birds have to have this game?
-Can Ryan finally rebound and break the 4 game slump?
-Will Turner play and how will a Norwood/Snelling combo look?
-What does Coach Mularkey need to do for the passing attack?
-Can the offensive line keep Tuck and Umenyiora off #2?
-Will defensive line hold Jacobs and Bradshaw in check?
-Who can or will step up and help this cornerback situation?
-If the Falcons fall short, are the playoffs done too?