The naysayers will keep finding ways to doubt the Falcons and their close wins. As Terry Bradshaw said today, “the Falcons are winning, but they just aren’t dominating.” Strahan chimes in that if they play too many close games, they may eventually lose one, maybe in January.” The fact is that the Falcons beat a very good division opponent who’s been one of the hottest teams in the NFL on the road, while still not even coming close to playing their best football. Sure, it wasn’t pretty at times and downright ugly others, but overall the Falcons won another tough game on the road, improved to 10-1 (which is still tied for the best record in the NFL), and essentially own a 4 game division lead with 5 games to go. A short week lies ahead in yet another enormous game, this time to the rival Saints, who handed the Falcons their only loss. A look at the Falcons big win over the Bucs………..
Some still say the Falcons aren’t winning big enough or dominating, but the fact remains that they are winning and have done so 10 times out of 11. There are those that continue to believe the Falcons are a House of Cards and that’s somehow projecting to another playoff failure. However, you can’t have it both ways and sing the praises of a team that’s one of the hottest in the NFL and when a win is achieved, it somehow wasn’t pretty enough. This wasn’t the Cardinals, Panthers, or Raiders, it was a division opponent who’s been playing really good football lately. Of course it wasn’t always pretty, but the Falcons overcame two turnovers and plenty of missed opportunities to get it done yet again. This time it was against a tough team on the road.
Most believed that the trade for Asante Samuel would lead to a much needed infusion of attitude and swagger the Falcons have sorely missed. Well, that surely has had a good impact, but the former All-Pro cornerback turned in an effort worthy of heroic proportions. With the Falcons either clinging to a tiny lead or having to come back to win the game on the road, Samuel willed himself in the game while visibly being injured. Several times it was possible to think that he may have separated his shoulder and be out for the year. He gutted it out through pain and suffering knowing how important the game was and epitomized heart and effort. He dropped a few potential interceptions, but seeing the amount of pain he was in, it became completely understandable. If anyone wondered about Samuel’s ability to back up his boisterous personality on the field, all those questions were answered with authority and then some with his gutty performance.
The belief among many was that rookie running back phenom Doug Martin would run laps over and around the Falcons porous run defense. It’s been a struggle pretty much all year and Martin has been tearing up the league the last few weeks. The Falcons defense bowed their necks and found a way to corral and stop the streaking running back. Martin did score two touchdowns, but the Birds held the former Boise State RB at 50 yards on 21 carries. Only the Washington Redskins held Martin to fewer yards (33) and that was only on 8 carries. Twice the defense kept the Falcons in the game after two costly turnovers and played a huge role overall in the game. They may not be a dominant defense just yet, but they are getting it done when they need to, especially regarding points and keeping hot players in check.
No point in beating a dead horse, but it’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. What will it take for Coach Smith and OC Koetter to give Jacquizz Rodgers the start and the vast majority of carries over Michael Turner. Smith and Koetter are “gradually” giving Rodgers more looks and he’s not disappointing. He had 49 yards on 10 carries and chipped in another 2 catches for 30 yards. And that’s not even including the huge return that Rodgers had to set up the game winning drive. This is not to say that Turner doesn’t have a place on the team, but as Cage Member Paddy O suggested, perhaps the Falcons should look to use Turner in more goal-line situations the way the Steelers did with Jerome Bettis towards the end of his career.
Maybe it’s unfair to just compare the numbers, but Turner averaged a meager 1.3 yards, gaining 17 yards on 13 carries, and that’s including a long run of 9 yards. Again, it might not be his fault as much as poor run play-calling, but it’s time to hand over the keys to Jacquizz Rodgers as the Falcons primary back. It doesn’t mean that Turner shouldn’t see the field anymore, but the evidence has also become insurmountable. Remember that it was Coach Smith himself who proclaimed that Rodgers was not exclusively a 3rd down back long ago in preseason.
The Falcons only came away with 2 total sacks (one by Biermann and the other by D.Robinson), but they pressured Josh Freeman very well on Sunday. They didn’t seem to get to him too much early on, but the they surely did as the game wore on. Many times it was seen that Freeman was getting hit as he released the ball and having to pick himself up after the play. In fact, at least one of the would-be picks came after Freeman was getting hit while throwing the ball. John Abraham was getting his usual pressure and Jonathan Babineaux seemed to almost exclusively play defensive end much of the time. Young guns Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson were both seen getting decent pressure as well, a welcome sign. It was also good to see Corey Peters come back in the game after leaving with an injury. Some of the blitzes seem to get picked up a little too easily, but that’s just going to happen sometimes. The blitz and sack by Dunta Robinson was a thing of beauty.
As mentioned earlier, the Falcons defense still won’t be confused with being dominant. However, they are making some big stands lately to keep the the team in the game, many times after offensive mistakes. The Cardinals game saw the defense save an offense in major meltdown mode and they made some enormous stops against the Bucs that could have easily led to a much more difficult game. And remember that this is only Mike Nolan’s first year at the helm and while there’s surely a ways to go, this defensive is showing excellent progress. They held the Bucs to 3 points after Matt Ryan threw an interception. When Ryan was pummeled by a Bucs defender and fumbled the ball away, the defense again held them to a field goal. They also held the Bucs to a 56 yard field goal attempt, which they missed. If the Bucs cash in a touchdown many of those times, this may be reporting a second loss.
Dunta Robinson has been one of the fans and critics favorite lightning rods since he signed the eye-popping contract as a free agent cornerback back in 2010. Many called him a free agent bust and a major overreach in a weak free agency class to simply fill a gap. While Robinson hasn’t been an All-Pro cornerback, he has looked much better this year and had a very tough and gritty game against the Bucs. He’s one of the few defensive players that will deliver a huge hit that many of the best defenses possess. Robinson had a bone-crunching hit on Doug Martin, popped up, and seemingly might be done for the day. He went and got check out and returned soon afterwards and help lead the defense to a big win.
What has happened to the Falcons safeties that looked like world-beaters the first few weeks? It was a good talking point throughout the off-season on which player or what position would benefit the most from Mike Nolan’s new scheme. While the safety position wasn’t the highest on many fans lists, some thought that it could see a major improvement. Some thought William Moore might elevate his game to a Pro Bowl level and Thomas DeCoud could get back some of the early magic he flashed in 2009. Early on, it looked as though those premonitions may come true. DeCoud and Moore were all over the field, making interceptions, knocking down passes, and delivering big hits.
Recently, however, they have both looked less than stellar. Moore hasn’t necessarily done poorly, but he’s not having the same impact he was in the beginning. DeCoud, on the other hand, has looked pedestrian at times. He’s often seen getting caught out of position, using shoulder bumps on players instead of giving big hits, and sometimes looking downright awful in coverage. It’s surely not all their fault as many other positions have had their own issues and that’s likely having a negative impact on them. Some of it may have to do with the front 7 having problems against the run and thus inching closer for run support. Whatever the reason, it would be very nice to see the safety tandem get back to their early season form.
Thankfully the Falcons have found Robert McClain to step up and in an otherwise huge gap left by a slew of injuries to the Falcons cornerbacks. Brent Grimes was lost for the year in game 1 vs. the Chiefs and Asante Samuel has been banged up the last few weeks. Dunta Robinson left for a spell on Sunday, but returned later. There’s a sense of concern on the depth chart after McClain as Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks are next on the list and are surely not the model of consistency. While McClain has been the best surprise of the season, this is a position that will have to have some infusion of talent, whether through the draft or in free agency. They don’t necessarily need starting quality, but definitely need some better depth.
The Falcons had plenty of chances to put some distance between themselves and the Bucs on Sunday. The Birds of course got the ball first as they always do and had a nice opening drive bog down yet again for a field goal. Of course there was the botching of the red zone opportunity to end the 1st half when Julio Jones caught a pass on the 4 yard line, where Coach Smith seemed more concerned with eating up the clock than scoring a touchdown. Matt Bryant misses a chip-shot field goal to get the lead at halftime. After the break, the defense holds the Bucs to a field goal and the Falcons promptly score a touchdown with an 80 yard strike to Jones. The defense gets a three and out to give the offense the ball back and big chance to gain some separation. What does the offense do? Only go three and out themselves with a rather pitiful play selection. Even though you can’t fault the defense very much, they did have the Bucs backed up to their goal-line at 1st and 21, only to let them drive all the way down for a touchdown. At the end Matt Bryant essentially misses a game-ending field goal. It’s a little nitpicking because they ultimately won the game, but the Falcons have to learn to stop squandering so many opportunities to gain some separation when they have the chance.
Fans keep talking about how awesome this team will be if everything clicks for one game and how they could be unstoppable. If the offense hits on all cylinders, the defense continues it’s excellent progression, special teams is on point, and coaching doesn’t bog down in too much conservatism, it could be a beautiful sight. The Falcons have obviously done some good and great things throughout the season, but rarely have all the phases been hitting at once. It seems each week that one of the phases takes their time off (defense earlier in the season, offense more recently). The Birds know better than anyone how important it is to be hitting the right gear at the right time and there’s still plenty of time, but the window is drawing more narrow as the season hits the final push to the playoffs. If this team can all click in at once, the ultimate goal could truly be in sight.
1) Simple Bomb – what’s your thoughts on the Falcons road win vs. the Bucs: huge win on the road vs. a streaking team or still making it too hard on themselves?
2) How about Asante Samuel’s gutsy performance. Could it be a rallying point of sorts?
3) Was the stout run defense a blip or sign of good things to come?
4) Will Smith and Koetter ever turn over the keys to Jacquizz Rodgers as the feature back?
5) Is the running back position the main thing holding this offense back from being great?
6) Was the pass rush better overall or more having to do with Josh Freeman’s errors?
7) What’s your thoughts on the defense overall this season, particularly of late?
8.) Is the Falcons defense having to keep the team in the game too much?
9) Has Dunta Robinson improved enough for your liking?
10) What’s going on with the Falcons safeties lately?
11) Time to panic on CB depth just yet?
12) Can the Falcons stop blowing opportunities to get separation on their opponents?
13) Will the Birds ever click into gear all at the same time?