The Falcons lost a game that they definitely could have and should have won in Pittsburgh against a Steelers team that had less than a full roster on display. There were a few bright spots, in particular the defense, but blame goes wide and deep on the Birds coming up short against the Steelers. The offensive play-calling was pathetic, Matt Ryan had an awful and untimely interception, another missed field goal, zero running game, timid decisions from the head coach, and a defensive breakdown at the worst time. Yes, it’s only the first game and the Falcons certainly had their chances, but they better get some problems fixed in a hurry or this will be a long season for Bird fans. Points taken away from Falcons Film Review:
Not to pile on too much, but who deserves the lion share of the blame? It’s certainly a tough call because there are many candidates. Mike Mularkey is very much in the running as his play-calling was horrific bordering on egregious. Once again predictable in that if the running game is stuffed, the Falcons stall. Predictable inside running plays when they weren’t working, the same short passing plays, and going away from things that worked. Falcons never once gave a deep threat. Matt Ryan had a terribly untimely interception that well should have lost the game, even though Jeff Reed missed a field goal to force overtime. The defense giving up a 50+ yard run to in OT to lose the game. The insanely timid play-calling by Coach Smith in refusing to go for the win both in the red zone on 4th down and not taking a shot to win with 45 seconds left in the game. There was ZERO running game in an offense that’s supposed to be a run first offense. Michael Turner looked like he had pennies in his cleats. Sam Baker and Ovie Mughelli picked a really terrible time to have holding penalties. Tough decision we know, but try your hand.
Yes the Falcons defense was facing a 3rd string QB, but it played very well overall excluding a few 3rd and long conversions and the straw that broke the Falcons back in overtime. Again and again they gave the offense more chances to get in gear by forcing many three and outs and generally keeping the Steelers running game under control. The linebacker corps looked faster and more athletic and were flying around the field. Peterson had a pick, Weatherspoon had nice coverage, and Lofton had a monster game. DeCoud played tough as always and the defensive line held up reasonably well not having Jonathan Babineaux in tow. Even though being held on some plays, Abraham and Biermann provided good pressure and notched a sack a piece. It wasn’t perfect and they did technically lose the game, but overall fans have to be a good bit pleased that the Falcons defense has seemingly improved, at least from week one.
Coach Mike Smith will likely get some criticism for playing it entirely too conservatively in having a chance to steal the game in Pittsburgh with a few calls that may have made the difference. The decision to play it safe and kick the field goal on 4th and 2 with just over three minutes left inside the 15 yard line can’t completely be crucified because it was the safe bet, but he was thinking about it for second and decided against it. The Falcons had their best offensive drive going and could have made a statement. Even if they came up short then Dixon and the offense would have had to drive the length of the field to win the game. As he said, playing the percentages can be somewhat tolerated, but the Birds were close to the 5 yard line. What’s pretty inexplicable is the decision for the Falcons not to try and get in field goal range with 45 seconds left after getting a gift from Reed missing the late field goal. Smith should come right out and directly say that was a huge mistake. Most teams that are entirely too conservative usually don’t win. Take a shot for goodness sake. It wasn’t like there was only 10 second left or something. The Saints won a Super Bowl on being aggressive. Coach Smith could take a page from Sean Payton.
Yes Matt Ryan didn’t play like Tom Brady on Sunday, but he did complete over 60% of his passes against the Steelers defense and actually called his own plays when the Falcons went with the no-huddle offense. The fact that the no-huddle offense works so well is great, but the fact that only the times that Ryan was calling his own plays did the Falcons get in a good rhythm should tell you something’s wrong. The offensive coordinator has never been known to have a particularly explosive offense, but rather a hard nosed running attack with an excellent play-action passing assault with a few tricks thrown in for good merit. The easy culprit is to simply blame the quarterback because he controls the field and he certainly missed some opportunities himself, but people soon forget that few quarterbacks outside of Manning and Brady have been mistake-free signal callers this early on. Whether its Favre, Elway, Montana, Brees, Schaub, or Rodgers, they all have had their early struggles or sat on the bench learning and watching for several seasons before they hit their groove. Mularkey’s play-calling is stagnant, stale, and completely predictable. Stop the run and Mularkey can’t seem to adjust. There’s simply too much talent on this offense to be as bad and out of sync as they are. Many shrugged it off as simply preseason when the Birds struggled mightily, but preseason usually has much better omens than we realize. Brian Van Gorder has gotten better every season with his defense. It’s hard to say anything else but Mularkey’s gotten worse every year since he arrived. His seat should be getting warmer and warmer as we speak.
Special teams has always been a hallmark of the Mike Smith led Atlanta Falcons. They put a heavy emphasis on special teams and it has shown, particularly kickoffs and punt coverage. While not being the most explosive team in terms of the return game, they have always been consistent and not made any mistakes that cost the Falcons victories (the field goal kicker is obviously not included here). Atlanta’s usually consistent special teams picked a really bad time to have a letdown. It is true that Matt Bryant’s first missed field goal may have been the game winner, but you do have to give him some credit for coming back to make 3 in a row. After Jeff Reed’s missed field goal and Coach Smith inexplicably decided to sit on the ball for 45 SECONDS, the Falcons finally won a coin toss. Ovie Mughelli had a terrible hold on the kickoff return that pushed the offense inside the 10 yard line. Even though the Falcons nabbed a first down, a Sam Baker hold pushed the Birds to 3rd and 17. A failed attempt brought in one of the NFL’s best and most consistent punters in Michael Koenen. Backed up against his goal line, the usually sure footed punter picked a bad time to shank one. A less than stellar punt put the Steelers on the 50 yard line and the rest is history. Granted, the Steelers probably would’ve won even if he’d smashed the ball deep, but he sure made it much easier. Obviously the loss can’t be pinned on the special teams, but a couple of bad plays in a row made it much easier for the Steelers.
-How sickened are you by the Falcons loss?
-Who’s the most to blame for the loss? Feel free to lay blame wide and deep.
-Is it more Mularkey’s or Ryan’s fault the O sucks? Or one in the same?
-Was the defense a bright spot or just played a 3rd string QB?
-Can you please explain what Coach Smith was thinking?
-How hot is Mularkey’s seat? How can he redeem himself? Is he even capable?
-Special teams bear any responsibility?