The Bird Cage offers up a combination of sorts since the week is winding closer to the Eagles game and farther away from the Browns game. Apologies for lack of post this week, but a little downtime and recharging was in order. The Browns game was a win in the NFL on the road and that’s enough said. No, it wasn’t the prettiest or a big blowout that many fans wanted, but it was a win on the road in a tough environment against an underrated team. The Falcons came out sloppy once again on offense and are starting to create some worry among fans as the meat of the schedule looms. The Birds fell behind and did what had to be done to win the game, particularly on offense, but many fans will remember that the Falcons were 4-1 last year as well, and then went on to go 2-6 over the next 8 games, needing a three game win streak to erase the “never-back-to-back” cures once and forever. A much improved defense is proving to keep the Birds in every game, but the offense is starting to cause anxiety among fans as the Eagles, Ravens, Bengals, and Packers loom ahead. A look back at the Birds win in Cleveland……..
It has graced every highlight reel from week 5 of the NFL and will likely go down as one of the single best individual plays of the 2010 season. With the Falcons nursing a very tentative 13-10 lead and the Browns driving, Biermann rushed the QB Jake Delhomme on third down. Knowing he wouldn’t get to him in time, he jumped up when he pulled back to throw. He batted the pass in the air, scrambled to his feet, made an awesome diving catch, had the awareness to know he wasn’t touched, jumped to his feet and made an amazing rumble and tumble down the field for an mind-blowing 31 yard touchdown. He may only have one sack to his name so far, but the Bier Truck nabbed a pass defensed, an interception, and a touchdown all in one play. The guy just turned 25 and his ceiling is limitless.
The Atlanta Falcons defensive line has gone from a liability to a major strength. The injuries that have forced the Birds to develop depth is now a contributing factor in the Falcons making a leap to a top 10 defense. The Birds are ranked tied for 9th in sacks, 10th in total yards per game, 8th in rush defense, and 1st in interceptions. The Falcons defensive line gets much of that credit. John Abraham is on target to nab almost 16 sacks, Biermann is progressing superbly, Jamaal Anderson is only 24 years old and is wreaking havoc on the inside and outside, Corey Peters has claimed the starting spot and is doing well as a rookie. Jonathan Babineaux is on his way to the Pro Bowl, according to Eagles coach Andy Reid, Peria Jerry is slowly making his comeback to form, and Vance Walker is getting invaluable experience in Trey Lewis’ absence. Chauncey Davis has been a great rotation and versatile player. The D-Linemen are fresh and are driving this defense towards being one of the best in the league. Against the Browns, obviously Biermann’s play gets the notoriety, but the Falcons also limited Peyton Hillis to 28 yards rushing and the D-Line in general disrupted the Browns offense all game long.
The Bird Cage posed a question last week asking whether Turner has lost a small step: his answer was to run for a season best 140 yards and carry the offense on his back. After seeing a few weeks of Turner run hard but not really bust loose, #33 tore the Browns apart and helped to put the Falcons in scoring position over and over and over again. The Falcons early offensive struggles in Cleveland can’t be placed on him. The Burner is proving he’s got what it takes to get himself back to his 2008 Pro Bowl form. The TDs aren’t coming like they were (1 TD so far), but the yards are coming back in heaps and the goalline scores will likely soon follow. Turner the Burner is just getting warmed up and that’s a good sign as the Birds enter a critical stretch.
This will be a film review in The Bird Cage until the dubious streak is broken. Say what you will, but the mistakes on special teams will catch up with the Falcons at some point if they continue. Granted, besides the one token major mistake per game, the special teams play is pretty solid overall. But five games into the season, the Falcons have received a drive-killing holding call on kickoff return in overtime, given up a huge return on punt coverage to the 2 yard line, allowed a punt block for a touchdown, and allowed a field goal to be blocked. Rookies, newbies, and new alignments be darned, the Falcons can’t keep giving up these plays in big games.
Who knows where the problem lies on offense in several games: Mike Mularkey’s play-calling, Matt Ryan’s inaccuracy, lack of a running game, too few receiving options, little to no deep threats, or poor offensive line play, but the Falcons offense has a knack for starting insanely slow and thus putting a ton of pressure on the defense to keep them in the game. To their credit, they have put it together when they’ve needed to, but the offensive struggles are an enigma and have shown themselves more often (Steelers, Niners, Browns) than not (Cardinals, Saints). Fans keep waiting for this offense to hit another gear on a consistent basis and if they don’t drop their mandatory offensive coma, then the defense may not always be there to save them.
Forget the embarrassment of last year (even though its hard as fans), the Falcons need to make a statement that they can win on a consistent basis in the NFC and that they are a force to be reckoned with. The victory in New Orleans against the defending Super Bowl Champs was huge, but it lost a little luster when the Arizona Cardinals dropped them by 10 points. The Falcons and their fans should be reminded once again that they were in this exact same position a year ago and went on to only win 2 of their next 8 games. It won’t be the end of the world if the Falcons don’t win on the road in Philly, but it will signal they’re not the dominant force in the NFC that some analysts are saying. Every game is huge, but this one is enormous in terms of what it means for this season. Can the Birds go on the road and win against the Eagles in Philly? Four fiery questions to ponder as the huge game nears………….
Even though the Falcons have played the Saints and beaten them in New Orleans, this is the most dangerous matchup in terms of facing a team loaded with weapons abound. Regardless of who the Eagles QB is, the green and silver birds possess some of the best offensive players in the NFL. First of all there’s Desean Jackson who can take it to the house anytime he touches the ball, both as a receiver and returner. Opposite of Jackson is speedster Jeremy Maclin who has had a knack for finding the end-zone so far this season. Brent Celek is getting close to making the jump to elite TE status with his excellent route-running, blocking, and catching. Running back LeSean McCoy already has over 500 yards rushing and receiving combined and 5 touchdowns. Throw in Jason Avant and you got a reason to worry.
As mentioned above in the Browns recap, the Falcons have now come out flat on offense in more games (Steelers, Niners, Browns), than they’ve come out roaring (Cardinals, Saints). Their only loss came when the offense couldn’t get going, they needed a miracle strip from Roddy White and a last second drive to notch one win, and a better (albeit great) second half to beat a Browns team with serious injury issues. Perhaps Michael Jenkins coming back as their true number 2 receiver may help, but the offense can’t continue to count on their defense to keep them around when they continue to go 3 and out much of the time and have to settle for field goal after field goal. It’s been analyzed, dissected, pulled apart, and put back together again on the reason for the offense’s often coma, so no need to go over it again, but to be considered the best team in the NFC, the offense has to quit they’re more than occasional lapses. Stalled drives are one thing, but the Falcons O has a habit of going quarters with issues.
Now mind you, he’s no Chris Houston and hasn’t given up any huge plays, but Dunta Robinson hasn’t exactly lived up to his 6 year, $57 million dollar contract either. He has been a sure tackler and kept the defense in front of him, but he’s also been giving up huge chunks of yardage after offering enormous pillow-soft cushions to opposing receivers. He’s notched 22 tackles and 3 passes defensed, but hasn’t been the cover corner many hoped for when he inked his big contract. To his credit, he has helped lead the Falcons secondary and defense in general to be the number 1 ranked team in terms of interceptions, even if he hasn’t grabbed them he has helped create them. He also has helped the Falcons be tied for 3rd in the NFL giving up the fewest amount of 20+ pass plays. Many fans would consider him doing good to this point, but is he living up to his big payday?
The Birds already were the first ones to beat the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints in their own house back in week 3. That was a huge statement game both for the NFL in general but also especially for this relatively young Falcons team, proving to themselves that they can hang with and beat any team, anywhere. Besides the Saints, the Falcons have beat the lowly Cardinals and 49ers, despite how much talent they possess, and beat a Browns team who may be on their way up, but is surely not there just yet. This is an enormous game for many reasons. For many years, the Philadelphia Eagles were the class of the NFC. They are consistent, play hard, have a smart front office, and will always be mentioned in postseason conversations. The Falcons lost a close one back in 2008 in Philadelphia and had a nightmare destruction in the Georgia Dome at the hands of the Eagles. Can the Falcons put the doubts of lower competition, inconsistency, and 2009 similarities to rest when they travel to Philly to take on the Eagles? Or will the whispers begin once again about being able to truly match the best of the best. The Eagles may not have the best team in the NFL to date, but they certainly have one of the most talented and consistent. Will the Birds make another statement in Philly?
-Is Biermann the real deal?
-Give your overall impressions of the Browns victory.
-Is the defensive line rotation paying off?
-The Falcons a legit top 10 D or just lower competition?
-Turner all the way back or just one good game?
-Concerned about special teams yet?
-Can you unlock the offensive enigma?
-Why does the offense slip into a coma?
-Who’s most at fault for the offensive inconsistency?
-Can the Birds contain the Eagles weapons?
-Overall happy, not, or somewhere in between with D-Rob’s play?
-Will the Falcons stop their obligatory offensive coma?
-Can Jenkins return spur consistency in the offense?
-Is this Eagles game another statement game or just another NFC game?
-Simply put, are Falcons one of the NFC’s best or WAY too early?
-What do the Falcons need to improve on as the real schedule hits?
-Any worries about 2009 similarities (same record, etc)?