The Falcons playoffs hopes are fading fast after a gritty loss in New York on Sunday. The Birds played tough and showed an unbelievable spirit of fight in coming back from two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Falcons started off strong on defense on the first series with an interception, and proceeded on a complete collapse from that point on. The offense started slow again, but did great things in the second half in clawing their way back in the game that looked to be a blowout heading into the fourth quarter. Jason Snelling did a magnificent job filling in for the injured Michael Turner (and Jerious Norwood….again) and Matt Ryan got back on track, looking like the cool and collected quarterback most fans came to expect from last year. The defense, however, was a complete train wreck. The defensive line got little to no pressure on Eli Manning, the linebackers seem to be lost in coverage, and the cornerbacks are beyond pathetic. Everyone knew this year’s defense would be young and inexperienced, but when wide receivers are completely wide open throughout the game, than something’s wrong. The Atlanta Falcons played tough and never quit, which is a good omen moving forward with a very young team, but moral victories certainly don’t exist when it comes to making the playoffs. There’s no shame in losing to the Giants in New York in overtime, but after losing a game that should have been won last week in Charlotte, this one puts the Falcons in tight window to make the postseason for a second year in a row.
What is the Falcons defensive identity? They supposedly are a “bend-but-don’t-break”defense, but it should be renamed “throw-it-whenever-and-wherever-you-want” defense. After 10 games, not sure that anyone can answer that question. Brian Van Gorder and Coach Smith built their reputations on tough and aggressive defenses, but save a few spots, this is anything but that. The linebackers are the corps of the D, the defensive line have played surprisingly well against the run this year, but there is no pressure on any quarterbacks from the defensive ends and the cornerbacks are really atrocious. Yes, there has been injuries to Brian Williams and Peria Jerry, but the inability of the Falcons defense to stop simple pitch and catch plays is embarrassing. It is very true that the Falcons defense is still extremely starved of talent, but something’s got to give concerning opposing teams and their quarterbacks (check out DOL’s new blog where he gives some great solutions the Falcons could have made @ CB). Any team with a halfway decent quarterback will have a record day against the Falcons. Did the organization switch Willie Martinez for Brian Van Gorder in secret? Blame deserves to go wide and far with the ineptness of the defense. Sure, they stopped the 49ers, Redskins, Dolphins, and did “pretty” good against Drew Brees and the Saints, but other than that the defense gets torched. Be a problem with philosophy, coaching, players, or whatever, many in the Falcons franchise should take responsibility.
Maybe no one more so than Thomas Dimitroff. Yes he has turned this franchise around in a very short period of time and deserves all the credit he gets, but sitting on his hands knowing the cornerback situation the way it was is fairly inexcusable. He did nothing until the preseason showed how bad the situation was. Then he signed Brian Williams, which was a good move, but a completely reactive one. Many other teams went out signed a corner to help them on defense including the Saints, Patriots, and Cardinals to name a few. He also took a huge risk in letting 5 starters walk into free agency. It was likely the right move for the long-term, but they’re paying the price in the short term. Can we as fans really expect to make the playoffs with the defense we have?
All fans understand that football is a team game and that when a quarterback completes a pass on a cornerback that it is combination of many things such as the pressure from the defensive line, the coverage from the safeties and linebackers, and schemes brought out by the offensive coordinator and the respective defensive coordinator, but most of the passes on Sunday lies solely at the cornerbacks feet. The defensive line can’t physically get to the quarterback in plays designed to take one step and throw the football up in the air, knowing the Falcons cornerbacks can’t play ANY man-to-man coverage. They either can’t or don’t understand the idea of playing the ball in the air, because they make the offense look like they’re playing backyard football. How many third and shorts did Eli Manning simply take one step back and throw the ball up to his receivers in man-to-man coverage and have huge success? The receiver times it out and jumps to catch the ball with little to no resistance. Fans know that Chris Houston is no #1 corner, but is he even a second? The guy is the epitome of inconsistency and has no concept of playing the ball in the air. Brent Grimes has amazing ability and great toughness, but is a legitimate starting cornerback in the NFL? It may be safe to say that Chevis Jackson has regressed from last year, and the Tye Hill experiment had success in one game. Still no sighting of rookie Chris Owens, which begs the question: can he be any worse? Blame doesn’t escape the coaches either. If there is no cover skills from your corner they have to find other ways to defend against the pass. The loss of Brian Williams was devastating, but he wasn’t in the original plans anyway. Pass defense was pretty poor last year, but playing one of the easiest schedules didn’t lead them to being completely exposed as they have been this year. Fans wonder whether the off-season will see cornerbacks acquired through free agency or the draft. Can they do both?
Jason Snelling made the most of his opportunity with Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood both being injured against the Giants on Sunday. Snelling had 76 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns, as well as chipping in 3 receptions for 13 yards. Jason Snelling has come a long way from fighting for a roster spot two years in a row to figuring permanently into the Falcons future. Jerious Norwood was again a late scratch and that put the entire burden on #44 going against an aggressive Giants defense with a week to rest. Snelling ran hard and tough and willed himself to get many third downs. The coaches had enough faith in him to give him the ball on 4th and short all the way in the backfield, and he delivered. He may not have the speed of Turner, but he is shifty and is always going forward when he is hit in the running game. The lone running back also provided a nice dump off option when Ryan was pressured or could find no where to go with the ball. Those passes weren’t spectacular, but they at least netted positive yardage instead of taking a sack or throwing the ball out of bounds. Snelling and Turner are obviously the future in the Falcons backfield, but that brings up another question: do the Falcons even attempt to resign Jerious Norwood in the off-season or do they elect to draft their own speedster in the draft? Norwood has certainly been hurt, but he’s been a complete non-factor this year. Many, including the author, wondered if this would be Norwood’s last season in red and black because he would move on to another team’s feature back, but the possibility now exists if doesn’t come back for an entirely different reason?
One of the positives that the Falcons can take away from the Giants loss is the offense found its mojo again, and in particular, Matt Ryan looked like his old self from last year. He was pressured in the first half and was coasting on the same issues he’d had before of not setting his feet, seeming rattled, and not commanding the field with authority. The coaching effort did seem to make a concerted effort to allow Ryan to get into a rhythm early and often, electing to take some easy and quick throws instead of the long play-action or rollout plays that had been getting him trouble as of late. His completion wasn’t off the charts (56%), but he had no interceptions, over 260 yards passing, and two touchdowns. Also consider the fact that he should have had 3 touchdowns if Michael Jenkins doesn’t drop an easy floating TD pass with no one around him in the end zone. More importantly than stats, Ryan regained the composure and confidence he showed so often last year. The last drive, in particular, Ryan looked extremely sharp and poised with his throws knowing the game was on the line. The awesome strike to Tony Gonzalez with 35 seconds left sealed the deal and officially (hopefully) assured Ryan that he can be the ice cool quarterback of last year.
Michael Jenkins definitely redeemed himself throughout the game with some big catches and finished with 6 receptions for 76 yards, but the game against the Giants continues the trend of Jenkins dropping balls in really bad moments. With 3rd and 7 on the Giants 7 yard line, the G-Men sold out on an all-out blitz and Ryan read it appropriately and barely got the ball off. The pass was floated a little bit, but Jenkins was all by himself in the endzone due to the blitz. The ball hit #12 directly in his hands and he simply dropped it. You could even see Roddy White’s frustration when he realized Jenkins had dropped the ball. The Falcons did conserve a field goal, but the score would’ve been Giants 24 to Falcons 21, instead of 24-17. Combine that with Elam’s missed FG and there’s a total of 7 points left on the field. With Finneran’s injury, non-production from veteran Marty Booker, and Harry Douglas returning from major injury, the Falcons should look hard at some receivers in February through April. The teams with the best passing attacks (Saints, Colts, Patriots) take chances on receivers every single draft.
Elam is costing the Falcons an average of 3 points a game with his missed field goals, and the last two weeks a made field goal could have made the difference in the win. The theory would be an easy one that this will be Elam’s last year in red and black at the age of 39 and having such a hard time making easy field goals, but the Falcons signed the kicker to a 4 year, 9 million dollar contract in which he was guaranteed 3.3 million. Hard to believe the Falcons won’t start exploring more options in the off-season.
The Birds have endured one of the most difficult schedules this year in the NFL, particularly with their road games in New England, Dallas, New Orleans, and New York, but they put themselves in a really difficult position by losing a game they should have won in Carolina. Theory goes that 10-6 would likely put them in a favorable position to make the wild card, but they realistically can only lose one more game in the final stretch. The bad news is that they must beat Philadelphia to have a chance and have to beat the Bucs twice, who have greatly improved through the season, and the Jets late December in New York. Add to that the fact that the Giants, Packers, and Eagles all currently have a better record than the Falcons right now. The Giants have a tie-breaker and the Packers have a really easy schedule down the stretch. The good news is that the Falcons play 4 of their last 6 at home, where they are perfect this year and are 11-1 under Coach Mike Smith. Signs are certainly good from the offensive perspective, but if the defense can’t get their house in order, than it will all be for naught.
Game Ball – Jason Snelling; Filling in for injuried running backs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood, Snelling scored two touchdowns and ran for almost 80 yards against a tough Giants defense.
-Are the Falcons playoff chances fading fast?
-Can the Birds get on a serious run and make the wild-card?
-Who’s the most to blame for the cornerback meltdown: players, coaches, or GM?
-Looking forward, should the Falcons tweak the corners or blow it up and start over?
-Is Abraham hurt or just on the twilight of his career?
-Please fix the defense!
-Is Ryan back or just one good game?
-Should Falcons look for running back AND receiver in the draft?
-Lay out the scenario for us to make the playoffs.