The Atlanta Falcons earned a much needed win in Detroit and gave themselves and fans a big boost heading into their bye week. It comes almost at a perfect time with several injuries needing healing and following a pretty grueling first part of the schedule. Seemingly, the road gets a little easier with 5 of their final 8 games being played in the Home Sweet Georgia Dome, where they’ve played pretty darn well for the most part. Have the Falcons turned it around after an initial rough patch? Or do land mines lurk ahead? Some questions to ponder during the break………..
It was a really bad stretch for the Birds to start the season. They collapsed in Chicago against the Bears, losing a game many fans thought they would win. They come back home to huge win (at the time) against Michael Vick and the Eagles. Then perhaps their worst loss came when they absolutely should have won against the Bucs on the road, leaving tons of missed opportunities and playing very sloppy football. They look fantastic for a half in Seattle and tried everything in their power to give that one away.
They come home to host the defending Super Bowl champs and exorcise yet another demon with a magnificent first half of football, only to completely fall apart in the second half and blow a 14 point lead at home. They play decent football against the upstart Panthers only to let them back in the game, but seemed to hit another gear in the 4th quarter to finish them off. Perhaps the best game to date was the big win on the road against a 5-1 Detroit team, where the defense in particular looked as good as it ever has since Smith and Van Gorder took over.
The road ahead in the next 9 games seems to be a bit easier, if you want to call any game in the NFL easy. After going on the road to play a winless Indianapolis Colts team (a game that obviously should be a win), they return home for a nice little Home Sweet Georgia Dome stretch. They host the Saints, Vikings, and Titans in consecutive weeks, and play the 2-5 Jaguars on Thursday Night Football in December. Of course they also have to play the Panthers in Charlotte and the Saints in New Orleans, but it seems as though the second half of the schedule is a touch easier than the first.
The Falcons favorite buzzword for the off-season was that famous “explosion,” that has really yet to materialize and really just focused mainly on the addition of Julio Jones. Well, the Falcons also have plenty of other weapons that can add some much needed explosion to the offense in Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers. It must be a challenge having to get so many players enough touches, but Douglas and Rodgers have shown they have an excellent burst in space.
Harry Douglas reminded everyone of his rookie year in Detroit on that fantastic long catch and run against the Lions that added a big jolt to the offense and helped quiet down a stadium of fans who were trying to get back in the game. Jacquizz Rodgers just doesn’t lose yards when he gets the ball. Needing only a first down to end the game, Rodgers got the ball on a sweep and it looked doomed from the outset with so many Lion defenders around. But the little package of dynamite made a spectacular run, spinning, and willing himself to get the first down. Just a reminder of how talented this offense is with Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Here’s hoping against jinx on this question, because the last time many fans asked this was after the Saints home loss in 2010, where the defense played as good as they ever have, putting pressure on Brees, playing aggressive, and hitting hard. Of course then they were made into mincemeat in the playoffs only a few weeks later. That being said, though, they looked pretty darn good in Detroit, showing flashes of brilliance with blitzes, pressure, good coverage, and limiting a potent offense to only 1 3rd down conversion in 10 tries.
The defensive line is getting good pressure with Babineaux, a very strong Corey Peters, Abraham, and Ray Edwards. The linebackers are living up to many fans beliefs that this is one of the most talented groups to come through in a while. Lofton, Nicholas, and especially Weatherspoon, are showing how well they can cover and get after the quarterback. Brent Grimes just played very well against the best receiver in the game right now and even Dunta Robinson has seemed to settle down. Thomas DeCoud was ranked in the top 5 in interceptions and William Moore continues to grow as a hard-hitting strong safety. Maybe the truly have turned the corner with no more setbacks.
It was a tough loss to find out that Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli is lost for the year with a torn MCL. The tough-as-nails fullback was a key to getting the running game back on track and opening huge holes for Michael Turner. Mughelli also provided a nice blocking back for Matt Ryan when the offensive line was having trouble.
The question now turns to what will happen to the Falcons offense. Will they just plug in Jason Snelling and do the same things as they did with Mughelli? Or will they open up the offense a little more with Snelling’s excellent catching ability out of the backfield? This probably does mean that both Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers will be getting more touches in the backfield. Will the run game suffer without the superb blocking fullback in the game? We’ll find out very soon in the next few weeks.
After a career game in Seattle, Julio Jones pulled up with a hamstring injury early on against the Packers at home. Even though Jones is having a heck of a rookie season, the Falcons somehow have a better winning percentage (2-0) without him than with him (2-3). This has been a hot topic for many fans, claiming that the trade was a bust since the Falcons offense seems more in sync without Julio than with him. That’s a false dichotomy in saying that just because Julio is out, that the Falcons are better.
Many factors are in play here. Maybe it has taken the Falcons coaching staff awhile to integrate such an explosive player into an offense that has had some of the same cast for years. Maybe it was the lost off-season where coaches didn’t have a chance to work with Julio in real action (Jones certainly did his part by being at every single activity the Falcons had during the lockout and learning the playbook). Perhaps Matt Ryan feels as though he has to get Julio the ball more than others because of the draft trade. Or maybe it’s just an inability by Mularkey and Co. to develop a dynamic offense that includes Jones, among other players. Either way, thinking that the Falcons are better without one of the most dynamic players in all of the last year’s draft (and who has proven it already in the NFL) is pretty hard to stomach.
The Falcons are 4-3 with 9 games remaining and 5 of those are at home. The Saints and Bucs have suffered losses in consecutive weeks so the NFC South appears to be wide open. What’s your thoughts on how the Birds will do the rest of the way? What will the Falcons need to do to A) win the NFC South and B) just make the playoffs. Will they need to go 7-2 or will 6-3 get them in with the topsy-turvy nature of this NFL season? What games will they HAVE to win and what games could they drop and still have a chance?
Have a go at the Falcons bye week questions…………