No, it wasn’t the Super Bowl or the NFC Championship game, but this one will go down as one of the Falcons, Coach Mike Smith, and, particularly Matt Ryan’s best franchise wins. All the ingredients were there for steamroll by the Eagles, but the Falcons showed that gritty moxie that has come to characterize the Falcons under Mike Smith and Matt Ryan. There’s nothing really more to say than it was just a fantastic, awesome, and amazing win in so many ways. To the huge victory………
Some will still question Matt Ryan as the right guy for quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, but it has to be an insanely small majority after last night. The leader of the team who won Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl in his first 3 years has had his share of ups and downs, but he proved once and for all that he truly is unquestioned leader of this franchise.
When things looked hopeless, Ryan put the team on his back, called his own plays, picked field turf out of his teeth, and willed this team to win. After both quarterbacks got smashed pretty good, only one stayed in the game and willed his team to win. That would be the same guy who owns a 21-2 record in the Georgia Dome. Sure, he’ll have his down spots, but can anyone honestly say that this guy isn’t the face of the franchise who gives this team the best chance to win the Lombardi Trophy? The long shadow that Vick cast over him is completely gone.
It may not have been the prettiest of games, but it reminded us fans what a Falcons team under Coach Smith has come to represent: gritty, tough, and refuse to lose. After a shaky last couple of games have left the fan base less than thrilled, this one reminded us all why we love our Falcons so much under Coach Mike Smith. They willed themselves and found a way to win the game.
A few years have passed since Peria Jerry was taken as the Falcons first round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and injuries and question marks have plagued his time as a Bird. After a promising start as a rookie, he quickly tore his ACL and was lost for a year. Then he came back last year injury free, but whispers started about his potential possibly being lost.
Jerry had one helluva a game on Sunday night and reminded fans why this coaching staff has been so high on him. He was in the backfield harassing and hitting Vick all night long, and the QB sack that forced a fumble which Ray Edwards scooped up may have been the play of the game. If the Eagles score right there, it’s a much longer way back. It appears that the real Jerry we’ve been waiting on has finally arrived.
Some rumblings and recent showings had some believing that the best days might be behind Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez as they hit the peak and twilight of their careers, respectively. Boy, were many of us wrong on that one. Turner helped pave the way for the Falcons rushing attack and helped keep the Eagles offense on the sidelines, even after being stymied for large parts of the game. There were flashes of the old Burner lighting up linebackers and turning on the nitro boost in the defensive backfield. When Turner runs like he did Sunday (even in spite of predictable playcalling), than the Falcons can hang with and beat anyone.
Gonzalez looked like he was 25 years old out there. Gonzo was running his usual crisp routes, being a 3rd down conversion machine, and making spectacular catches in the end zone. He was quoted as saying that he could play for several more years with the new practice rules. Let’s all hope so.
Even though it was an enormous victory by no means was it a perfect game in the win against the Eagles. In fact, there were swaths where it was downright sloppy. One of the worst performances came from CB Dunta Robinson. He looked off pretty much all night, although the Van Gorder 20 yard cushions help no one.
Robinson was most known for the flagrant helmet-to-helmet personal foul (although some of us don’t think it was that egregious), but he showed plenty of bad the rest of the way as well. There was one time when he had Lesean McCoy in the backfield, only to look insanely silly when he jumped and hugged air as McCoy zoomed past. Then there was the deep post thrown by backup Mike Kafka where Robinson was beat and he started pointing, as if looking for an excuse, before the ball had even dropped in. He must get better if the Falcons want to go far.
One of the big shockers was looking in the defensive backfield and seeing #36 starting instead of the usual #28 that belonged to Thomas DeCoud. James Sanders got the outright start of over DeCoud where many fans have been clamoring for DeCoud to take a seat with his recent play. It appears the coaches noticed as well. Whether it was a legitimate change of the guard or just a ploy to light a fire under FS, time will only tell.
The defensive line had an excellent night, disrupting Vick and the entire backfield. Abraham, Edwards, and Biermann all did a great job of knocking Vick down and creating pressure. Peria Jerry had a great night, as did Corey Peters and Vance Walker.
The LB corps looked as good as it has looked in a long time Sunday night and finally came through on the expectations many have had of this group. Weatherspoon had one his best nights as a Falcon both in sure tackling and in coverage. Nicholas was equally good in coverage and came up with some big plays. Lofton missed a few potential interceptions, but was his normal self in tackling.
No, they weren’t perfect and the Eagles still scored 31 points, but an immediate impact was felt by James Sanders and Kelvin Hayden. Sanders provided very good pressure in the backfield and seemed to have a better feel for coverage than DeCoud has had recently.
Hayden came up with a huge interception and looked as good or better than anyone playing nickel back since Brian Williams a year ago. The sky’s the limit if they can build on the game they had against the Eagles and provide some much needed help in a leaky secondary.
It’s hard to get too mad at coaches, specifically the coordinators, when your team has such a huge victory as it did against the Eagles. But there are serious issues that remain. On offense, it was extremely sporadic and too often delved back into the same old predictable pattern of run, run, throw. Jacquizz Rodgers would come in and have a good run only to not be seen again. The receiver routes were unimaginative and the Eagles started shutting them down full-tilt until Matt Ryan ran the no-huddle, spread offense and willed the team back. Too much talent on offense to bog down as much as this offense does.
On defense, they were very hit and miss. They would get pressure and create a turnover and then come back with their soft cheese, weak zone where the closest defender was miles away. The blitzing seemed to be a little better, but the secondary coverage is still an issue. Simply put, the Falcons have yielded 61 points in two games and currently rank 27th in total defense, 27th in passing defense, 18th in rushing defense, and whopping NEXT TO LAST in points scored. Same as offense: too much talent to be performing this low. The defense almost let a 3rd string quarterback march down the field and steal the game away. That says way too much in and of itself.
The rookie punter experiment isn’t going so hot to date. Matt Bosher did finally boom one through the end zone on a kickoff towards the end and gave good hang time on the last punt of the game, but other than that he’s off to a really rough start. Almost every single kickoff against us by our opponents has gone through the end zone and Bosher got his first one of all preseason and first two games on Sunday night. Even worse, he had like a 20 yard punt at a terrible time in the game that gave the Eagles great field position. He’s a rookie, so this is to be expected, but he better improve in a hurry.
The Falcons have faced two of the tougher defensive lines it will face all year, but if these first two are any indication, than Matt Ryan better wearing a sumo suit. Sam Baker in particular was beaten like a red-headed stepchild and Chris Collinsworth must’ve said so at least a dozen times. The rest of the line wasn’t much better. Clabo got beat several times, as did Joe Hawley and Garrett Reynolds. The lone bright spot was Justin Blalock. Even though he improved last year, it looks as though the Baker LT experiment may be coming to an end. Dimitroff will probably need to invest in some better talent either in the draft or free agency if the O-Line play continues.
There was a second when you thought that just maybe the Falcons could start pulling away from the Eagles a little bit, and then we remembered that a killer instinct to put teams away just isn’t in this coaching staff or teams DNA. Yes, the Eagles are a very good-to-great team, but the Falcons hit their usual 2nd or 3rd quarter lull as they always do and let their opponent come roaring back.
Having your opponent score and make some good plays when you’re up is one thing, but letting them storm back, take all the momentum away, and take control is completely another. The last two Super Bowl Champions had a major killer instinct and put opponents away at the soonest possible moment. The Falcons must at least get some of one, or they’ll easily drop games like the ones on Sunday night.
Overall, the game was called pretty fair for the most part, considering that the refs were dropping their flags every 2 seconds on both teams. But there were quite a few really weak calls and no-calls against the Falcons. In particular, the “nudge” that Abraham did on QB Mike Kafka was one of the worst calls in a long time. He barely touched the QB with his helmet, almost like a kiss with his helmet on a failed third down and they called it, extending the Eagles drive. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan gets horse-collared, near decapitated, and hit late by Jason Babin only to see nothing.
One of the other big ones that many may not have noticed was pass interference on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Julio Jones. He never even turned his head and interfered with Jones on a ball that would’ve been easily caught. There were also several times that Kroy Biermann was being obviously held only to get nothing. Honestly, it probably evened out, but it appears there were more bad calls or no-call on the side of the Falcons than Eagles.