The Atlanta Falcons started the 2012 NFL season in excellent fashion as they rolled over and through the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, only a last second, meaningless touchdown by the Chiefs made it seem much closer than it actually was. It was a struggle in the first half, but the Falcons took advantage of some of the turnovers to pull away in the second half. In particular, the offense looked superb as they racked up 40 points in the first three quarters and not even having to punt until late in the game. The defense looked pretty bad in the first half, especially on those dreaded 3rd and longs. To their credit, though, they tightened up in the second half, created 3 turnovers, and shut them out in the second half, excluding the gimme TD with only seconds remaining. Overall, a fantastic start to the season. Not perfect, but a superb start to the season. A look at the big win…………
Coach Smith said that may have been the best game he’s seen Matt Ryan play, throwing for 299 yards, 3 TDs, running for another one, and nabbing a 136 QB rating. Julio Jones had over 100 yards receiving with two touchdowns in barely over two quarters. Roddy White had a good day and got his touches. Tony Gonzalez had a sweet homecoming with a TD and subsequent field goal dunk. Harry Douglas got in the mix as well and (gasp) we even saw a few screen passes, one going for a touchdown. Dirk Koetter called a fantastic game and didn’t even have to punt until about 3 minutes left in the game. Sure, there were a few missed opportunities and the ground game didn’t look fantastic, but overall it was an amazing game for our offense. Yes, it won’t always be like this, but it’s something Falcons fans have been dreaming of for a long time. What a game!
A nice and welcome sight to fans was the opening up of the passing attack on offense. Matt Ryan was efficient and threw some great balls and the receivers made some fantastic catches. The Falcons didn’t turn into the Packers or Eagles, throwing 50+ times or anything, but there was definitely more of a propensity to throw the ball instead of forcing the run, even when it’s not working. Koetter called plenty of runs, but they just didn’t produce. It was refreshing to see a coordinator not be so rigid in his beliefs and go with what works instead of dogmatically sticking with a philosophy. The running game will have to improve at some point, but the running back-by-committee approach gained almost 100 yards total rushing, just enough to keep the Chiefs honest.
Fans no longer have Brian Van Gorder to blame for this because the Falcons looked every bit as bad on several 3rd and longs with hailed defensive coordinator Mike Nolan at the helm. There were several instances of the exact same calls being made by Nolan, such as dropping defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann into coverage while only rushing three (to no effect) and having their DB’s drop 10-15 yards off the ball. In the first half, it was literally deja-vu all over again seeing a quarterback who, does have potential but surely is not elite, finding time in the pocket and finding receivers wide open. At halftime, most fans felt it may be whoever gets the ball last would win since the defense couldn’t find any way to stop the Chiefs. Luckily, and to Nolan’s immense credit, the Falcons defense made adjustments and buckled down to essentially shut out Kansas City in the second half. The concern is that there’s a ton of quarterbacks who are better than Matt Cassel left on the schedule, and one of the greatest of all time is coming to town next week.
This is a really tough one to swallow. Arguably the Falcons best cornerback the last few years, the Birds secondary quickly goes from one of the biggest strengths (boasting 3 Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks on one roster) to a potentially major weakness. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, but one that almost no team can escape. Thankfully, Thomas Dimitroff traded for Asante Samuel, s0 the Falcons aren’t in complete dire straits just yet. The issue now becomes who fills in for Dunta Robinson in the nickel position and whether or not Mike Nolan can lean as heavily on his “big nickel” as a base formation as he had planned before this injury (Coach Smith said they only ran 11 plays out of their base 4-3 defense). The lead candidate is of course Chris Owens, but images of a Green Bay torch-fest are still seared into fans memory. To his credit, Owens did look pretty darn good on the outside in the few starts he got in 2009 to end the season, so maybe DRob can move inside when they go to nickel. Other than that, it’s either roster shocker Robert McClain or Dominique Franks, who only came back to the Falcons after Tim Toone got injured. It’s not something to worry about just yet considering Nolan’s excellent resume, but it’s a little concerning to say the least. The fact is that the best teams find a way to win in spite of injuries. Both the Packers and Giants proved that in their Super Bowl runs and subsequent wins.
As bad as the Falcons defense looked in the first half, they more than made up for it in the second half. One of the biggest complaints that fans had the past four years on defense was the inability of the defensive coordinator (and offensive coordinator for that matter) to make halftime adjustments that could prove the difference in the second half. The defense came out in the second half exactly they way they started and would end up getting beat by better coaching changes (Green Bay last year at home comes to mind). Well, Mike Nolan obviously made some adjustments because the Falcons got pressure, caused one fumble deep in the Chiefs territory, forced two interceptions, and generally shut down the Chiefs offense to a screeching halt. In fact, the only points Kansas City scored came on a late game gimme TD with only a few second remaining. The offense kept the Falcons in the game and the defense delivered after halftime, which is a wonderful sign. Maybe the D won’t have to wait so long next time.
This isn’t a criticism on Michael Turner from the Chiefs game because no running back did much of anything on Sunday. Turner got 11 carries for 32 yards, but Jacquizz Rogers didn’t fare any better gaining 22 yards with 7 touches. This issue was brought up in the off-season and in preseason about Turner seemingly not fitting in the new, more open offensive setup. This is more referring to the quote about Coach Smith saying, “he wants to see Turner get more production” (paraphrasing). This is not an indictment saying the Falcons are going back to SmittyBall or anything, but it is concerning that there’s a possibility that Smith will go with Turner regardless of whether he’s being productive or not. No reason to send arrows this way, just a slight cause for concern when backs like Rodgers, Snelling, and Antone Smith may fit better and deserve more looks.
Pat Yasinskas at ESPN’s NFC South blog noted a very interesting number from Sunday. He noted that Matt Ryan was 18 for 21 passing, with 208 yards, and 3 touchdowns when the Falcons were in the 3 receiver set. Fans have been clamoring and howling for the offense to take advantage of one of their biggest strengths at the same time: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Tony Gonzalez. It always made too much sense because there was so much talent and it was such a complementary receiving corps with White being the all-around, Julio being the deep threat, and Harry Douglas and Gonzalez working the middle. This also seems to fit Ryan’s modus operandi at Boston College. Throw in a running back that run and catch out of the backfield and it seems almost unstoppable.
It’s only one game out of 16 and that doesn’t even include playoffs or is it? Most fans will fall somewhere in the middle, both being very happy and excited about the future may hold, but also being weary of putting too much stock into a first week win, especially against a defense missing several starters. Super Bowls aren’t won in week one, but it sure was a great start. What are your thoughts on the importance of the week 1 victory?
If any fans felt that Peyton Manning would have too much rust to be effective or give the Falcons a true test on Monday Night Football, those fantasies were washed away in 60 minutes of the former Tennessee quarterback dissecting one of the best defenses in the NFL in the Steelers, at least traditionally. After a big week opening win for both the Falcons and the Broncos, it’s hard to guess who’ll be favored, but we know what the MTV Sports machine NFL media will be gushing over nonstop. How should the Falcons go about stopping the great Peyton Manning? Should they sit back in zone a la Brian Van Gorder and let him pick them apart methodically? Should they go after him and risk getting torched in an instant? Or should they pick up the ol’ Smitty/Mularkey ball hat and just try to keep him off the sidelines? Pick your poison you’d guess.
1) Leadoff: Overall thoughts on the Falcons big win?
2) What’s your thoughts on the Falcons big offensive explosion?
3) Is the new aerial attack here to stay or just adjusting to Chiefs secondary?
4) Do the Falcons have a 3rd and long curse?
5) How big of an impact is losing Brent Grimes for the year?
6) Great second half adjustments or 1st half weakness?
7) Are you fearful of Smith forcing Michael Turner regardless of production?
8.) Is the 3 WR the offense’s new base set? Should it be?
9) How much stock do you put into week 1?
10) How should the Falcons go about defending Peyton the Great?