Even though it’s technically game week as the Falcons prepare to face the hated Philadelphia Eagles, the Birds are coming off their bye week and, even though they’re 6-0, they better get some things fixed and fast if they want to stay that way. If the the bye week had come after the San Diego game, everyone’s confidence would be really high, but after 3 straight weeks of lackluster performances that needed a last minute comeback, most Falcons fans have to be one of the least confident of any 6-0 team in NFL history. So as our Atlanta Falcons get ready for the enormous game in Philly, give your fixes the Falcons must make………..
Newsflash: The Atlanta Falcons have a problem with their offensive line! It’s impossible to fathom that the Birds have issues with their offensive line, but they do. In all seriousness, this has been an issue, basically forever. Fans and the media elite alike have been harping and carping on this area for years, but especially this off-season. Some of the blame of course falls with Dimitroff for not bringing in quality offensive lineman, but he at least tried to correct the error a little by using his first two draft picks (2nd round on Peter Konz, 3rd round on Lamar Holmes) on offensive linemen. We’re not likely to see any changes after the bye week, at least in personnel due the Falcons being undefeated. But does that mean we shouldn’t?
Maybe it’s that whole deal of “the backup quarterback is always everyone’s favorite player,” but how many times can you continue to trot out the same lineup and expect different results? Perhaps the coaching staff feels as though the musical chairs rotation at right guard and left tackle last year led to inconsistency and ultimately poor play. Despite some decent performances to start the year, the OL continues to be the Falcons Achilles Heel. If the Falcons don’t get it fixed, fans are expecting some tough days ahead.
ProFootballFocus came out with some stats the other day detailing how many tackles the Falcons defense is missing. It went on to say something to the effect that it would shatter any missed tackles record for the Falcons in the Mike Smith Era. The Falcons have been playing pretty good defense through the first 6 games, but they’re certainly showing some cracks, especially in the run and the fundamentals of tackling. One of the reasons the Falcons have been gashed by runs is the inability to bring their opponents down on first hit. They’re making some big hits, but not wrapping up. Nothing to be too concerned about, but something that should be cleaned up during the bye week.
After the first three weeks, the Atlanta Falcons offense was seeming to finally become the juggernaut that so many had expected for so long. Matt Ryan was being tossed in the MVP conversation and the offense could do little wrong. Everyone was getting the ball and the offense was rolling along. Then the Falcons played the Panthers and it slowed down a touch, where they bogged down plenty of times in the game. They went on the road against the Redskins and had issues pretty much the entire game until the 4th quarter, when they had to get it done. The the offensive collapse happened against the lowly Raiders. After sweeping the problems under the rug, it became impossible to do so against Oakland at home. Hitting the offensive wall reminded so many fans of the previous years where it could fall apart in a flash and seem completely inept. Poor blocking, bad reads and throws by Matt Ryan, tons of drops by the running backs and receivers, and a very weak running game pulled an explosive offense crashing back to reality. Maybe the no-huddle attack can help or quicker and better designed route combinations or even better run play-calls. Dirk Koetter, Matt Ryan, and Co. have to find a way, any way, to get back their mojo from the beginning of the season.
Michael Turner and the offensive line are the easy scapegoats for a really weak running game, but it’s more than just their faults. The Falcons have to dislodge their running game some way and somehow. Michael Turner shouldn’t necessarily be relegated to never playing, but fans sure would like to see Jacquizz Rodgers (in the right playcalls), Jason Snelling, and even speedster Antone Smith get some touches in the backfield. Much like the offensive line, when fans keep seeing the same old, same old, it gets frustrating the max degree. The OL hasn’t done a very good job blocking and creating holes, but the running backs (Turner in particular) don’t seem to be hitting the hole very hard. If other NFL teams can see rookie running back after rookie running back (sometimes undrafted) find success, can’t the Falcons coaches at least mix it up?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like the offensive line woes, the failure to generate a good pass rush not named John Abraham is a problem yet again. Many thought that Abraham may have played his last down in Atlanta and be seeking a max contract to finish out his career. Luckily for the Falcons and all their fans, he decided to finish a Falcon. His play has not dropped a bit and is having a great year. Problem is, the Falcons continue to not give Abraham the help he needs. Sean Weatherspoon is second most with 3 sacks, Jonathan Babineaux has 2.5, Vance Walker has 2, and William Moore along with Kroy Biermann each have one a piece.
Those aren’t outright terrible numbers, and do go in line with Mike Nolan’s desire for a bunch of sacks from different players, but the Falcons don’t seem to have any players ready to pick up Abraham’s slack when he finally does start to taper off. Biermann seems better suited for linebacker, Ray Edwards is evidently starting to enter the B-word territory, Lawrence Sidbury is pulling his disappearing act again, and rookie Jonathan Massaquoi along with second year man Cliff Matthews are always on the inactive list. Regardless of who or where it comes from, the Falcons must find a way to help Abraham rush the passer.
It’s understandable that most coaches don’t want to use the no-huddle attack as their main offensive base since it speeds up games, can increase the chances for errors and/or turnovers, and doesn’t give the defense hardly any time to catch their breath on the sideline. However, if it works and your quarterback thrives in it, why not? Ryan seems to operate best in the no-huddle attack, calling plays based on the defense, keeping the opposition on their heels, and most importantly, driving the ball down the field. Even the running game seems to flourish more in the no-huddle. Should the no-huddle attack only be used to unstick an offense that’s bogging down, instead of perhaps putting great pressure on the defense?
Akeem Dent has been many fans favorite player to pile on the first 6 weeks. The second year man out of Georgia has struggled taking hold of the middle linebacker spot vacated by Curtis Lofton. Every once and awhile he’s shown a few glimpses, but overall he’s had issues at MLB. He’s been over-running plays, missing tackles, getting blocked with ease, and had an overall tough time against the run and in coverage. The Oakland game wasn’t all his fault since he was being asked to play both MLB and outside linebacker with Stephen Nicholas being hurt. Dent is far from the only one to take blame. The defensive tackles have done well getting penetration, but they’ve had issues anchoring the line and keeping linebackers and the secondary clean from getting free-release blocks from the OL. As mentioned above, much of it is just tackling better. This is a big one to get fixed with the tough part of the schedule coming up.
While this likely is just hoping for something for hope’s sake, many fans would love to see some players get some chances on offense, defense, and special teams. Would it be that terrible to see Peter Konz or Lamar Holmes get some snaps on the OL? Kevin Cone has showed his game-breaking speed in pre-season, not to mention getting HD more involved. Then there’s running back with Snelling getting lost in the shuffle and and a backfield dying for speed not even giving speed merchant Antone Smith a chance.
On defense, Lawrence Sidbury’s speed is never used and rookie Jonathan Massaquoi along with Cliff Matthews never even make the active roster. Could rookie DT Travian Robertson help out in at defensive tackle, not to mention Vance Walker likely earning a starting spot over Peria Jerry so far in the season. Could they just try Kroy Biermann at linebacker to appease many of us Cage fans? Again, these players likely don’t hold the answers that fans are looking for, but it sure would be nice to see for ourselves instead of always thinking, “what if?”
1) Simple Quick Draw – what’s the biggest thing the Falcons need to fix?
2) Rank your list of areas that need fixing, highest priority to least?
3) Should the Falcons mess with the OL or give it a few more chances?
4) Can better tackling alone cure an ailing defense?
5) How best can Koetter, Ryan, and Co. break their offensive slump?
6) What kind of running back split would you like to see going forward?
7) Any new looks or players to help out Abe on the pass rush?
8.) How often should the Falcons use the no-huddle? Should it be a potential base offensive set?
9) What’s the best way the Birds can fix the run D?
10) Any personnel changes you would make to starting lineup in all 3 phases?
11) Should the Falcons give some new guys a chance? Which ones?