Just a fair warning that if you think many of the posts are overly negative or you don’t believe the Falcons have serious issues, than you may want to skip over this one. It’s just this simple: the Falcons aren’t very good. Yes, they are 7-5 and still have a shot at making the postseason, but can you legitimately see this team doing anything if they do get there if they play the way they did today? They have proven they can only beat average and below average teams and now have a new notch in their column of losing to a 3rd string rookie quarterback who were mostly without one of their best offensive players (Andre Johnson) and arguably their best defensive player (Mario Williams). The Falcons played one of their absolute worst games of the year and was the exact opposite of last year’s 13-3 team: unfocused, penalties, drops, errant throws, turnovers, and the list goes on and on. A look at the awfulness in Houston…….
When you are still talking about needing to find an identity or putting together a complete game in your 12th game, that should be a warning that this may just may not be the year. Beyond the extreme inconsistency, the simple fact remains that this teams just isn’t that great. They can beat the weak teams and average teams, but they have only beat one opponent with a winning record (Lions) and lost to all good teams.
The combined record of teams they’ve beaten is 27-52 (34%) and teams they’ve lost to is 39-17 (70%). They may make the postseason, but do they really deserve to when they can’t beat any good teams? There’s certainly no shame in losing to an 8-3 team, but you can’t lose to all the good and great teams and expect anyone to take you serious. The Texans just beat us without Matt Schaub, Mario Williams, and Andre Johnson. Can you imagine us winning in a similar situation if we were without Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and John Abraham?
We can talk all day about receivers dropping the ball, the offensive line’s issues, and the weak play-calling, but Ryan needs to take the responsibility of improving his deep game. He has to get better throwing the ball deep. He overthrew both Roddy White and Julio Jones in the first series alone that would have probably scored a touchdown if he had hit them. He overthrew other receivers throughout the game as well. It is true that a new offensive coordinator and system could help him make the jump, but he has to do a better job himself of hitting receivers that are open and that has nothing to do with the play-calling.
This Falcons team has been generally unfocused and undisciplined this year and that was never more evident than today in Houston. The Falcons lead the league in dropped passes and it was way too many to count today. Everyone got in on the action today. Roddy White and Julio Jones both had several dropped passes and even normally sure-handed Tony Gonzalez dropped one. They had not one but TWO defensive touchdowns called back due to penalties and had many other penalties at really terrible times.
Julio Jones had his worst game as a pro and even had a potential game-tying touchdown hit him in the hands. Falcons missed tackles all over the field and had several turnovers. Something just isn’t right with this team and it’s nowhere near the highly focused, disciplined team from last year.
Some may not agree with the following, but here goes. This defense is completely out of excuses. Coach Smith has said there is a process to the defense and it has taken time to get players in their positions, build depth, etc., but during the telecast the announcers pointed out that the Texans defense went from being one of the worst in the NFL to the absolute best, at least statistically, in the league in ONE SINGLE YEAR! They added a few pieces with rookies Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt and safety Daniel Manning, but those 3 aren’t the sole reason for the turnaround. Coaching matters. Gregg Williams in New Orleans, Dom Capers in Green Bay, and now Wade Phillips in Houston have proven that coaching makes an enormous difference and defenses can quickly be turned around and make great strides.
The process of 4 years has led to a defense that absolutely underachieves and that’s the cold, hard truth. They have been good against the run and that’s about it. They can’t pressure the quarterback. Their soft zone defense is sickening. They allow ANY quarterback to get into a rhythm including the great ones, former backups, rookies, and now 3rd string QBs. Who knows where to place the blame whether it be mainly on Coach Smith or in fact more on Van Gorder, but this defense just isn’t very good. Their secondary has been an issue since day one regardless of draft picks and free agents. Whether a change will be made or not who knows, but they just aren’t very good. Usually, they are fantastic against the run, but even that fell apart today.
Granted, Thomas Dimitroff has done a pretty awesome job of reshaping this roster in a very short time, but he doesn’t escape blame either. Most likely, the idea to trade up for Julio Jones will eventually pay off, but it sure looked pretty bad today. Rookies who may have been on the radar for the Falcons such as Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt playing well for the Houston Texans on the other side and the player we gave away four draft picks for was busy dropping balls, not turning around for a pass that caused an interception, and even dropped a potential game-tying touchdown as regulation expired.
Jones likely will probably go on to have a great pro career, but when you see the Falcons could have played it safer and still got a dynamic receiver like Torrey Smith and not given up any draft picks, that’s really tough to swallow. He obviously hit on Matt Ryan and seems to have on Sean Weatherspoon, but drafting both Peria Jerry and Sam Baker with known injury issues lies solely at his feet and that is coming back hard to bite this team now. He’s missed on almost every cornerback he’s drafted where they have either under-produced or can’t get on the field. He’s brought in several free agents that also haven’t lived up to their billing such as Dunta Robinson and Ray Edwards. Robinson, in particular, has moments of looking downright awful. It can’t be said enough that perhaps the poor play of the players is the coaching or system, but Dimitroff has to accept some blame.
If nothing else, there appears to be a disconnect between Dimitroff’s vision of the team and Coach Smith’s. When there’s not full agreement on the vision or direction of the team from top to bottom, you don’t go and trade away your draft for a seeming “missing piece.” If he believes that coaching is what’s holding this team back, such as the coordinators, than he can’t be afraid to pull the trigger and force a change because this is not an elite team and frankly nowhere even close.
Hard to imagine how a team goes from never making mistakes one year to making so many the very next year. The Falcons rarely ever dropped passes last year and now they can’t seem to hold onto the ball. Matt Ryan needs to improve his throwing, but many of the balls were just simply dropped. Roddy White and Julio Jones had to have at least 3 drops a piece if not more. This goes back to there seemingly being something not right with this team. They are an exact opposite of the well-disciplined team that got the NFC’s #1 seed last year with drops being at the top of the list.
A game like today leaves many thinking about the famous Jim Mora Sr. post-game rant about playoffs. Some will say that the critique is too hard or that the Falcons will be just fine, but going all the way back to preseason, this team just seemed to have something wrong with it. The Falcons are still very much in the playoff hunt, but its more of a product of other teams losing as opposed to the Falcons being a driving force.
This is the same team that has struggled beating such lowly teams as the Vikings and Seahawks and surely have lost to all the great teams including the Packers, Saints, and now the Texans. They have played good quarters and halves, but still haven’t come close to putting together a full game. Can we really expect this team to magically turn it on in the final 4 games or go on the road and beat a good playoff team? Sure, it can happen, but the first 12 games suggest that it won’t.
AJC’s Jeff Schultz just wrote an excellent article about the Falcons carnage in Houston in which he called it an implosion. He also points out how Coach Smith was trying to minimize or rationalize the loss away saying how he was proud of the way the team fought back and referenced the Texans as a measuring stick in December. Standardized comments aside, this part of a larger issue and it makes sense when you consider everything the Falcons do, which is highly conservative. It would have been nice to hear the exact opposite, that this loss was unacceptable. Smith is a stand-up guy and always takes responsibility, but trying to minimize this loss doesn’t help.
He has done a magnificent job of making the Falcons a yearly threat to be a contender, but the mindset of being overly conservative and passive just doesn’t seem to be translating into the Falcons being a legit Super Bowl contender. Can Smith move from being a stabilizing force into a head coach that gets his team to believing they are destined for postseason glory? The Falcons should have won this game and comments like this don’t help instill deep confidence.
-Take a spin at analyzing the awfulness that was the Falcons –Texans nightmare