The Falcons return home to the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome after losing 4 of their last 5 games, all coming on the road. This team is in a pure must win mode through the rest of the season and really have no room for error whatsoever. The losses at New England, at Dallas, at New Orleans, and at New York aren’t necessarily bad given the state of “the process” of this team, but the loss to the now 4-6 Carolina Panthers looks to prove a dagger in most of the Falcons playoff chances. Playoffs should be one of the farthest things from the Falcons minds at this point, though, because they get the 1-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Georgia Dome on Sunday and have to take care of business against a team in pure rebuilding mode. (Check out DOL’s new blog on the Falcons mindset vs. the Bucs). There really is not much satisfaction in doing what needs to be done against the Bucs, but dropping one like this would not only destroy any postseason thoughts, but would put major doubts into Coach Smith’s new regime. To his credit, Coach Smith led teams usually win the ones they are supposed to, barring that Panther game a couple of weeks ago. Much like the Washington game, this opponent will provide no immediate relief in terms of the playoff picture, but could seriously derail a season. Just ask Green Bay if they should take this team lightly. The Bucs have shown life in recent weeks and even led the New Orleans Saints for a quarter last week. The rookie quarterback Josh Freeman is playing extremely well and the defense still has some playmakers on defense. It’s a much overused cliché, but the Falcons have to take care of business on Sunday and get ready for the game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles coming into town. Without this one, though, the rest of the season may turn catastrophic.
The cornerback play has been one of the biggest reasons for a porous defense this year, but the defensive line’s lack of pressure on the opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis deserves a large part as well. Basically, the Falcons feast on less than stellar teams in terms of sacks and pressure (Washington – 5 sacks for instance), but can’t even get close to the quarterback when they run up against good to great teams. The defensive line unit couldn’t even get to Jake Delhomme after All-World left tackle Jordan Gross went down with an injury against the Falcons in Charlotte. John Abraham by all accounts should have made the Pro Bowl last year with his 16.5 sacks, and is a shell of his former self with 3.5 sacks to this point in the year with 2 of them coming in the first game against the Dolphins. Kroy Biermann was thought to be a possible long-term answer at defensive end, and likely still is, but he’s only four sacks as well this year. Biermann gets the benefit of the doubt to this point with most fans because he’s only in his second year and has a high octane motor. After giving some flashes in preseason, looks like Lawrence Sidbury Jr. will only see spot duty this year in his rookie campaign. Jamaal Anderson has moved inside and the results have been mixed, but generally have helped the run game. Jonathan Babineaux can be a force on any given day, but without a legitimate threat next to him, a double-team effort easily takes him out of the game. Trey Lewis evidently can’t reclaim his rookie form and Vance Walker may hold promise but is a rookie who was drafted in the 7th round. Do the Falcons miss a big body in the middle to occupy blockers for other playmakers? Issues abound on the defensive line and question is not whether the Falcons will draft or sign a DL, just if it’s a defensive tackle or defensive end.
The Tampa Bay Bucs do have their issues and do stand at 1-9 on the season, but to take them lightly as if they have no playmakers would be a huge mistake. Josh Freeman already has almost 700 yards passing with 4 TDs and is showing great promise as a first round draft pick. The Bucs may have finally found a long-term answer at quarterback, which was a main reason Jon Gruden is calling Monday Night Football games now. They may not be lighting up the scoreboard, but the Bucs offense is chock full of several names that could do some damage if given some time and allowed to get into rhythm. Cadillac Williams was once one of the most dangerous running backs before injuries derailed him. Williams has regained some of his play with almost 500 yards and 3 TDs. Derrick Ward was one of the best available backs on the free agent market last year, and Earnest Graham was an absolute stud at RB only one short year ago. Antonio Bryant had All-Pro worthy year last year in Tampa and could certainly make due against he Falcons corners. Michael Clayon hasn’t lived up to his young promise as a rookie, but is one of those big receivers (6’4, 215) that give the Birds CBs fits. Maurice Stovall and Josh Johnson are also threats as receivers. Kellen Winslow of course has the potential to be one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league and is en route to a possible 1,000 yard, 10 TD season. The Falcons did shut down offenses that had some struggles in the Redskins, 49ers, and Bears, but they allowed the Panthers to get on track early and often and the result may be the difference in making the playoffs. The Birds better not take this offense lightly.
Michael Turner looks to be out again and Jerious Norwood shouldn’t be counted on until he’s spotted on the field, but Jason Snelling showed he’s more than capable of picking up the load in his solid to great game last week (70+ yards rushing, 2 TDs) against he Giants. Ryan had another difficult half in New York, but rebounded very nicely in the second and led a second half comeback charge that was great for Falcons fans to see. Ryan led the Birds back down from 14 points in the fourth quarter by showing his cool and calm demeanor in the pocket, delivering his throws with authority and finally looking comfortable in the backfield. Possibly more importantly, Ryan broke his streak of interceptions, even though he did have a turnover. Michael Jenkins had a solid day receiving, but most fans will remember the big drop wide open in the endzone that could have won the game. Roddy White appears to be drawing double coverage and Tony Gonzalez continues to be bracketed across the top by linebackers and safeties, basically forcing Snelling or another option at wideout to beat them. Eric Weems finally got some looks in the slot and resulted in an easy touchdown. Weems should get every chance to prove he can add value to the slot the way he does to special teams. The Falcons offense not only want to continue their solid 2nd half performance in New York, but will need to be getting into peak form with the Eagles and Saints coming to town next. Here’s to hoping that the Falcons may finally find consistency with their offense.
A quote that came from John Abraham this past week likely went unnoticed by many fans and media types alike when he was discussing issues with the secondary and defense in general. Speaking of the defensive woes concerning the secondary’s spotty play, Abraham said “we’ve been having trouble back there, so we have to try something new. Everybody knows that after the Giants game, we were kind of exposed a little bit. Maybe with people not knowing the coverages or not being grown-ups about what they are supposed to do, so we’ve got to make changes.” Not only was Abraham calling out many in the secondary publicly, but the part that raises a few eyebrows is the part about people being “grown-ups.” Very interesting choice of words in referring to his own teammates in public. After starting 4-1 and going on a losing streak, frustration will definitely be commonplace, but when a player calls someone out without mentioning a name, than something may be running a little deeper. The cornerbacks inability to stop any passing attack has probably led to some anger, but the defensive line don’t escape criticism either. Abraham, in particular, is having beyond a down year and needs to step up as well. On one hand its good that players are competitive and not accepting excuses on poor play, but anytime it becomes public there may be larger issues afoot on the defensive side of the ball.
If asked right now, many prognosticators would not predict a postseason for the Birds as it currently stands. A look at the Falcons chief competition for the two wild card spots:
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are already at 7-4 and really only have a legit chance at two losses: Baltimore next week @ Lambeau Field and @ Pittsburgh in a couple of weeks. Maybe a loss in Arizona.
Best Case – Lose all 3 to Ravens, Steelers, Cardinals….9-7
Likely – Lose two out of 3 between Ravens, Steelers, Cardinals…10-6
Possible - Lose only one more out of 5…..11-5
The Packers have won three straight including a win over Cowboys, but struggled a decent amount against the Lions today. Packers will likely take one spot.
New York Giants
The Giants just got whipped by the Broncos 26-6 and have lost 5 out of the last 6 games (guess who the win was against?), and are currently at 6-5. The Gaints automatically have the tie-breaker against us, so we basically are 2 games behind them. Next week vs. Cowboys, (vs. Eagles), (@ Redskins), (vs. Panthers), (@ Vikings). Who knows with this team. Cowboys aren’t playing fantastic right now either, the Eagles appear to be getting hot, and maybe Vikings are resting their players at that point after wrapping up a 1st Round Bye.
Best Case – Lose two between Cowboys, Eagles, Vikings….9-7
Likely – Lose one more between Cowboys, Eagles, Vikings….10-6
Possible – Sweep next Five……11-5
With the Giants schedule, its doubtful they’ll sweep, and likely will lose at least two games. The G-Men get the Eagles and Cowboys at home, but they own a head-to-head tie-breaker, so if we both go 10-6, they’re in.
The Eagles have been very inconsistent this year, whipping the Giants and Panthers, but losing to Cowboys, Raiders, and Chargers. Schedule hasn’t been the most difficult to this point. Upcoming games: (vs. Redskins), (@ Falcons), (@ Giants), (vs. 49ers), (vs. Broncos), (@ Dallas).
Best Case – If the Falcons lose to Philly, they’re done….period. But assuming a loss in three between Falcons, Giants, Cowboys, Broncos….9-7
Likely – Lose two between Falcons, Giants, Cowboys, Broncos….10-6
Maybe – Lose only one. 11-5 puts them out of reach.
The fact needs restating again that if the Falcons lose to Philly, the playoffs are OVER. If the Falcons were to only lose to Philly, for instance, the Eagles still would have a tie-breaker and would still put them over the Birds. Say the Eagles, Giants, or Cowboys somehow win the NFC East, the Falcons have already lost a head-to-head to two out of three NFC East teams.
Basically, to have any chance the Falcons will have to win 5 of the next 6 to even have a shot, and that still may not be enough. If its close at the end, the loss in Carolina will likely be the dagger in the Birds playoff chances. Falcons win that game and they’re tied with the Packers and Eagles for the Wild Card and control their own destiny with their game against the Eagles