We hear those adages about “stepping away from the ledge” and “look at the bright side,” especially since its so early in the season, but the Falcons put up yet another poor showing and lost to the youngest team in the NFL and a divisional opponent. An earlier post posed a question on whether a string of poor performances was developing into a trend. The sloppy game they pulled out from the Eagles was good enough, but this display against the Bucs reaffirms all the fears fans have been stirring with. There are no easy answers and the road ahead does not get any easier. A look at another pitiful game……..
This has been the main question plaguing this team for a long time and cracks are starting to show with the recent quotes like Tony Gonzalez and others saying how much more in rhythm the team is with Matt Ryan running the no-huddle. And other quotes like Roddy White essentially saying the Falcons don’t have an offensive identity. Whatever the reason or the issue, it is not working at all. Perhaps there is a struggle between Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey on the direction of the team or, more likely, between Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons coaching staff. Mike Smith is the one who makes the call for the Falcons to go to the no-huddle, which basically is taking the plays out of Mularkey’s hands.
Thomas Dimitroff didn’t give up 4 draft picks to keep the direction of the team as a conservative, run-first, ball-control offense. The gameplan basically goes like this: if the Falcons run the ball successfully, they usually do pretty well. If they can’t run or it gets shut down, they have no backup plan except to allow a 4th year quarterback call the plays and run the offense. A Sports Illustrated article recently claimed there may be a power struggle on the direction of this offense. This much is known: the offense has shown the ability to get shut down by a veteran (Chicago) and extremely young (Tampa Bay) defense alike. In 7 quarters of football against the Bears and Bucs, the Falcons have netted 3 field goals. Same statement as before: too much talent to have this poor of a showing.
The Falcons have been well-known for their conservative play while grinding out close wins at the end. Tons of examples come to mind from last season: the miracle fumble needed to beat the 49ers, the missed FG from the Saints in overtime, and the last second wins against Green Bay, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay to name just a few.
That’s not even mentioning having to storm back to beat the Eagles and turning around and almost giving it away to a 3rd string quarterback. The Falcons have conceded a few games of course at the last minute, but you can’t expect to continue winning on a consistent basis by getting in a hole and having to claw your way back in the 4th quarter or getting up good and letting the opponent come roaring back. Contenders put away at least some teams. How many times have the Falcons done that? The Falcons were only a few plays from looking at an 0-3 start with the Super Bowl champs coming to town soon.
Maybe Harvey Dahl was really that much of a difference. Maybe other teams have simply just figured out that if you stop the run, then the coaching staff has no answer and its tee-off time on Matt Ryan. The Falcons have been dominated up front in all three games they’ve played. It ranges from a very good defense (Bears), to a fast defense (Eagles), to a rookie and young laden defense (Bucs).
Sam Baker gets the ire of most fans, deservedly so, but the fault lies up and down the line. McClure botched another snap that killed another drive. Reynolds and Clabo are getting beat as well. The only bright spot is Justin Blalock at the moment. It appears that many fans are being proved right by overlooking the offensive line for so long. Unfortunately, there are no easy and quick fixes looking forward because the Falcons don’t own a 1st round draft pick next year and starting left tackles don’t come cheap. They better get it figured out in a hurry, or it will be a long year.
One of the most maddening things for fans is the soft zone that the Falcons give every opponent they play. It doesn’t matter if its Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin or Roy Williams and Mike Williams, they give their receivers 10 yard cushions and are completely picked apart. Most times when there is a completion, there’s no Atlanta defender anywhere around.
While not on the level of the “Dream Team” Eagles secondary, the Falcons do have talent in their secondary, but even the best cornerback in the world will look terrible giving up a ridiculously soft zone to their receivers. DC Van Gorder is out of excuses. They make any quarterback they play look pretty good, whether it be Jay Cutler and Josh Freeman or Mike Kafka and Blaine Gabbert.
Coach Smith’s winning formula last year included a heavy dose of not turning the ball over and not committing penalties. They couldn’t be farther from that belief this year. They are committing penalties of every type: personal fouls, offsides, false starts, holding, clipping, and many more. One of the turnovers happened on the very first drive of the game.
They have turned the ball over 8 times in 3 games. That’s just not going to win you a whole lot of football games in the NFL. A big deal will be made of the Falcons losing the game by jumping offsides, but it would’ve taken another Matt Ryan fourth quarter comeback to win the game with no timeouts.
This goes in line with earlier points, but the Falcons have never been a full-game team. The issues with them in the past were that they were a 3 quarter team that would always have lulls in the 2nd or 3rd quarter. Now they appeared to have transformed into a 1 quarter team.
The Falcons have looked pretty awful in the first 3 quarters the last two weeks and needed a major comeback to beat the Eagles and make it close against the Bucs. They were kind of a no quarter team against the Bears. You can’t expect to play crappy football 75% of the time and wait for your quarterback to not only bail you out, but call his own plays as well.
The Falcons once again look pretty bad on special teams for the 2nd year in a row. On almost every punt and kickoff return there is a holding or clipping penalty. They average giving up at least one big kickoff and punt return to the opposition each game. Eric Weems steadied himself this week, but has looked less than stellar this year in the return game.
And that’s not even mentioning the punter and kickoff specialists Matt Bosher. He doesn’t even come close to kicking the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs and was only able to pin the Bucs on the 19 after punting from the 50. To their credit, they got it corrected last year and they better start in a hurry this year. Matt Bryant is the saving grace with him being automatic on field goals.
I guess Brian Van Gorder doesn’t have the excuse of not having a true training camp to blame this time around on the missed tackles. This defense has a serious issue, and has for some time now, on tackling and wrapping up. They made Legarette Blount look like The Bus Jerome Bettis out there. How many times did Blount get hit and then gain at least another 5-8 yards? On the last series of the game, the Falcons had the Bucs at 2nd and 9 and hit Blount in the backfield which should have been maybe a 2-3 yard gain and set up a reasonable 3rd and 6 or so. Nope. Blount broke several tackles on his way to making it a 3rd and 2.
They seem to stop the run well if they hit the back in the backfield and gang tackle, but one-on-one, they have major issues. Several times the Falcons defenders had Josh Freeman wrapped up only to see him break free and make a first down with his arm or his legs. How many times did the Bucs players on offense get the ball and keep going for a 1st down? When Van Gorder gave the excuse of “not having enough time” as the reason for missed tackles, we knew we were in a heap of trouble. Not trying to denigrate the talent of the Bucs, but we’ll be seeing more talented offenses along the way (Saints, Packers, Texans) and it doesn’t get any easier.
This will be one of the underlying themes of the entire year. His brand of conservative, control-the-clock, and play mistake-free football has served him well over his tenure, but if recent performances are any indication, his style of football has been left in the dust. His philosophy is so contingent on not making mistakes that it totally allows the opponent to dictate their will on the game and puts the entire team in a terrible box that where they have to play a perfect game (error free, run the ball) to win. In other words, Smith has shown no ability to adapt to the way the game is currently being played which is to be aggressive and impose your will on your opponents. Your team should be able to have mistakes and overcome them. Just ask Brees and the Saints.
Sure, Smith has built up a lot of goodwill, but the question now turns to will he make the needed hard decisions to move this team forward. The pressure has indirectly been put on him due to the talent that Dimitroff has acquired over the years (sure, he’s had a few misses, but overall this is a very talented team). Can he step outside of his comfort zone and declare that the Falcons are Matt Ryan’s team and they are changing to a pass-first to set up the run team? Can Smith completely shirk his conservative defense philosophy and get more aggressive with all the talent he has on defense? How well he answers those questions will determine his comfort level among the fanbase. This much is known: time is running out quick on this window with Gonzalez, Turner, White, and Abraham nearing the end. It would be shame to think “what could’ve been” with a different philosophy.
Yes, its only the 3rd game and they have eons of time to turn it around, but there are some big holes that have been exposed in the beginning of the season. The Falcons allowed a defense with rookies and young players galore to completely shut them down for 3 quarters. They even lost their starting safety, starting outside linebacker, and had a rookie (Mason Foster) calling the plays on defense. The road gets no easier and its impossible to find anymore “surefire” wins on the schedule. Are you still thinking playoffs or is something else much worse in store?
The Birds travel to the west coast after losing 2 of their first 3 and having played 3 of their first 4 on the road. Not to mention the energy-sapping Sunday Night Football game against the Eagles. The Falcons then come home to face the Super Bowl Champs, where nightmares of the “Debacle in the Dome” ring clear as a bell. Then they host an upstart Panthers team who just recorded their first win with a potent rookie at QB. Then it’s back on the road to Detroit, who is 3-0 and looking tougher every week. They have 2 games against the Saints, whose offense looks as stout as ever. They also play the Houston Texans who nearly stole a game from said Saints. Even the Titans are 2-1 and looking much more formidable than many thought. The point is that this schedule looks a whole lot tougher after dropping 2 of the first 3 and tons of good opponents lie ahead.
Analyze the poor Falcons showing if you dare………..