In a hard fought game with an upstart divisional foe, the Falcons got back to doing what they do best with a gritty win over the Panthers. It wasn’t the prettiest victory in the world, but it showed the Falcons still have potential to achieve some of their original goals for 2011.
Obviously, beating a team that was 1-15 in 2010 and were 1-4 before the game started won’t get you much attention from the talking heads confederation, but this was a big one to regain some much needed confidence and hopefully be the first step in a new winning streak. The Birds still have some issues to correct, but they did what they had to do to win the game.
It’s not something that Arthur Blank or Rich McKay would want to hear, but the few empty seats might be a product of the way this team has played this season. Atlanta fans are usually late-comers anyway, but this one seemed particularly evident.
Perhaps it was just due to the Falcons hosting the 1-4 Panthers, but only a week ago the Dome was packed to see the Packers on Sunday Night Football. The fanbase needed this win almost as much as the team. Several players talked about this victory as a “morale booster,” and the same can be said of the fans.
The Falcons got back to their old identity which has worked so well for them in the past. They played ball-control, run-heavy offense with Turner leading the way for 139 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Matt Ryan was very accurate in a limited pass game going 14-22 with 1 touchdown and a QB rating over 100. The defense yielded their yards, but came up big when it counted, especially in the turnover department, picking off Cam Newton three times.
For those wishing that the offense would open up and let Matt Ryan run a wide-open attack, yesterday’s victory was your answer, at least in terms of this season. When the Falcons can run the football, they usually win. As we’ve seen lately, though, the problem comes when they play good defenses that have no issue stopping the run.
The Falcons returned to one of their hallmarks in the Mike Smith Era on Sunday, shutting down the running game. With two very talented backs in Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Carolina Panthers tried to run the ball effectively on the Falcons, but the Birds were having none of it. Even though Stewart did have a 7+ yard rush average and Cam Newton ran for 50 yards and a score, they were able to stifle the rush overall and put the pressure on the passing game.
There’s really not too much more to say here, because this has been a major issue over and over again and is evidently just a staple of the Atlanta Falcons defense under Head Coach Smith and DC Brian Van Gorder. It doesn’t matter who they play, the opposing team will have success on 3rd down. The Panthers were 8 for 12 on 3rd down conversions and many were even long third downs.
It doesn’t help when they play their jumbo jet, soft cheese zone defense and stick with the fetish of rushing only 3 defensive linemen on 3rd down plays. And here’s some proof in the stats: the Atlanta Falcons defense is officially the WORST IN THE NFL in 3rd down conversions. They rank 32nd out of 32 teams with a 49% conversion rate. This has been ongoing since Smith and Van Gorder took over the defense and now they’re officially the worst at stopping 3rd downs. No news to Falcons fans on this one.
Once again, fans see a great burst from rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers (1 rush, 8 yards), only to never see him get the ball the rest of the way. He also hauled in a reception which went for 6 yards. After only getting 15 carries so far this year, he’s already averaging 4.5 yards a rush, but an even better stat has him averaging 9.7 yards a reception.
It’s hard to complain too much when Turner goes for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns, but every time Rodgers touches the ball he gets positive yardage. Rodgers gives the Falcons a burst on the outside and legitimate threat in the passing game, but the Birds are still giving Jason Snelling carries and receptions, which is cutting down Rodgers chances.
This seems like a silly and ridiculous question, but the Falcons offense seemed more efficient without Julio Jones in the game. Just to be sure, this isn’t any knock against Jones, who is having an excellent rookie season, has just missed on several deep passes, and is one of the best young receivers in the game.
This goes more to the offensive coaching staff of maybe not knowing how to incorporate Jones into the offense. Have they been trying to force Julio the ball too much, which has had an effect on the offensive rhythm? As mentioned before, this could be an example of the disconnect between Smith and Dimitroff on the direction of the team and their respective philosophies.
One of the most reviled players in the 2011 season has been punter and kickoff specialist Matt Bosher. He still has some work to do, but he did have a little better day yesterday. He’s still not booming kickoffs out of the end zone as many other kickers are doing, but he’s getting it deep enough for most returners to take a knee. While his overall yards-per-punt average remains pretty low (37.1), he hit two inside the twenty yard line on Sunday. Again, he’s got a long ways to go, but there are some signs of promise.
Even though the scheme continues to give fans heartburn, several players had an excellent day on defense. Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud, and Big Corey Peters all had huge interceptions of Cam Newton on Sunday, leading him to his worst day as a QB in the NFL (44.6 Passer Rating). Ray Edwards notched his 2nd sack of the season. Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Babineaux, and John Abraham all put good pressure on Newton. Sean Weatherspoon continues to live up to his expectations both in pressure and in coverage. And Stephen Nicholas got his first sack of the year as well. Just to mention once again, this defense has the talent.
It was only Carolina, who despite all their promise has still only won 2 games in their last 21, but the Falcons players, coaches, and fans, feel like this has potential of getting the team’s mojo back. Even though they continue to have issues needing correction, the Falcons played their most complete game of the year in the win over the Panthers.
If they can steal a tough win from the Lions in Detroit, they will then head to a bye week and play the winless and Peyton Manning-less Colts. Those two victories would put them at 5-3 and hosting a newly vulnerable New Orleans Saints team with a soft patch of the schedule after that. All of it is null and void if they don’t win in Detroit, though.
Analyze the division win against the Panthers……….
-Dawson Devitt; The Bird Cage, Atlanta Falcons Fan Blog