Atlanta Falcons: Birds Take on Bucs as Playoffs Await

Falcons vs. Bucs in Season Finale

Sit or Play? (Rick Ostentoski/AP)

How Much Do Starters Play?

That’s the big question as today’s game looms. It’s a very tough call in many regards. Do the Falcons keep their starters in for most of the game in hoping to keep the momentum going that they’ve built up the past few games as they head into an almost two week wait for the playoffs? Or do they pull their starters early on to prevent injuries and let many of the players completely heal? It’s a tough catch-22, but this much is known: Head Coach Mike Smith has got to find some way to have this team better prepared than the last time he achieved a first round bye. The Debacle in the Dome is still fairly fresh in fans mind and it all starts with Smith to have this team more prepared, more focused, and ready to play on a much higher level than 2010.

What was Smith’s Plan?

Yep, this is About Right (AJC)

As fellow Cage Member Arno said, if you say that you’re going to play to win, than you better be prepared to play lights out. To be fair, it was an extremely difficult game to manage. The Falcons had already locked up home-field advantage and the game literally meant nothing. Normal thought would have said to rest the starters, put the backups in, and try to win the game. But at the same time, perhaps remembering the Debacle from 2 years ago, Smith wanted to keep the momentum that had been built up the past two weeks blowing out the defending champs and beating the Lions pretty soundly on the road.

However, it became painfully apparent that the players weren’t focused and gameplan was pitifully weak. Add to that the fact that on consecutive plays, two of the Falcons defensive starters suffered injuries, both Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel, and it didn’t seem to make sense why the starters were still in the game well into the 4th quarter. Matt Ryan was taking shots left and right and even John Abraham got injured and had to be carted off the field. Using 20/20 hindsight vision, it’s a little unfair to say that Smith had the wrong strategy all along, but it seemed as though Smith wanted the best of both worlds: get momentum while also not putting in 100% effort and focus. It also seems that Smith really didn’t have a backup plan in case things didn’t go as planned (see injuries to key starters). Hopefully, the injuries aren’t serious and the Falcons can use this as motivation to remember how well they need to prepare to get this first playoff win.

Will Over-reliance on Turner Cost in Playoffs?

First of all, the normal complaint about Turner getting way more carries than any other running back doesn’t hold weight. Turner got 6 carries, Rodgers got 5 carries, and Snelling got 3 carries. That breaks down very good percentage wise in terms of what most fans hope to see: Turner (43%), Rodgers (36%), and Snelling (21%). Both Turner and Rodgers had long runs of almost exactly the same, with Turner netting a 17 yard run and Rodgers getting a 16 yard run. Both of the long runs heavily inflated both players yards per carry: Rodgers – 5.6 and Turner – 3. If you dig down a little further, however, the production is still out of whack.

If you take out each of their long runs, Rodgers ypc goes down to 3 yards per carry, but Turner’s goes down to 0.2 yards per carry. Yes, 2 tenths, not 2 yards. It’s hard to use this game as a good indicator, but it’s a microcosm of the entire season. Rodgers, and it could be argued even Snelling, simply fit better and are more productive in the Falcons new offense. What should make fans think that anything will change once the playoffs hit when over a 16 game span not much has really changed at all. The fear is that the coaches, namely Mike Smith, will over rely on Turner yet again and it will cost the Falcons at the very worst time.

Injury Watch

Awful Injury (AJC)

Hopefully, none of the injuries are too serious, but fans wanted to scream when they started seeing not one, not two, but three defensive starters go down with injuries. First it was Dunta Robinson being taken to the locker room. Then it was Asante Samuel re-injuring his shoulder that’s been popping up all year. And to top it off, arguably the most important cog to the defense, John Abraham, goes down with an ankle injury and has to be carted off the field.

If for some reason these injuries play a role in the playoffs, Smith will get plenty of criticism in a meaningless game. Even though he wasn’t injured, Matt Ryan took his fair share of brutal hits when the OL decided to mentally stay at home on the couch. If nothing else, the two weeks should allow time for the Falcons to be the healthiest they’ve had all year. Hopefully, the players nicked up in the Bucs game will be back to good and William Moore, who’s missed the last 4 games, will be ready to go as well.

Have Lessons Been Learned?

The coaching staff has to be busy at work getting as much game-planning and research on the three teams they know they’ll face between the Seahawks, Vikings, and Redskins. The coaching staff and players basically have a bye week and they need to use it accordingly. It may be tough to do extensive research on 3 teams, but they can be doing some. The biggest thing that this playoff game boils down to is whether or not Head Coach Mike Smith has learned the lessons from his first 3 trips to the playoffs, all ending in losses. Ironically enough, the Falcons best outing was the first one where he and Matt Ryan were rookies.

He’s had every experience imaginable including two wild card games on the road and one home-field advantage #1 seed with a bye week. There was a thought among many fans that Smith played it way too lackadaisical and even soft. There were clips of the players with shorts and t-shirts and laughing and having a good time at practice. Maybe that’s unfair using 20/20 hindsight form the Debacle in the Dome, but it surely didn’t help.

Falcons Better Shore Up their Run Defense

HD One Bright Spot (AJC)

The Falcons are set to play either the Vikings, Seahawks, or Redskins in less than 2 weeks. All of them have excellent running backs and a playmaker at quarterback who is extremely mobile. In fact, all of the teams remaining in the playoffs have mobile QBs and all except the Packers also have a good running game to complement as well. They have bowed their necks when they’ve needed to, shutting down Doug Martin the first time, holding Alred Morris to no touchdowns, holding Ryan Matthews and Lesean McCoy in check.

However, they’ve also seen times where they’ve given up a ton of yards as well, namely Cam Newton, the Panthers, the Saints first game, among several others. They actually did a good job of shutting down Robert Griffin III the first time, but he’s had a lot more seasoning since then. Then of course there’s the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson and Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, and Christian Ponder are all out there as well. Ironically, the Falcons are one of the worst remaining rushing teams left in the NFC. The defensive line, linebackers, and all the secondary better be working hard on tackling and stopping the run, because otherwise, it will be another short off-season.

Enjoy and Go Falcons!!!!

620 comments Add your comment

JJ

December 30th, 2012
10:29 am

Enter your comments here

Arno

December 30th, 2012
10:33 am

Something in the Detroit game that stood out for me. It was a shot of Matt Ryan on the sidelines. Lions had just narrowed the gap to five points. Falcons had squandered the third quarter. Calvin eased into the record books. The crowd was going crazy. But that shot of Ryan– he looked ticked, agitated, about to jump out of his shoes. I thought– man he wants to get his O back on the field and grab the game by the throat. So as far as today goes– I want to see the CS put Ryan IN CHARGE. Running the third quarter waltz won’t help us get any spark for the playoffs.

JJ

December 30th, 2012
10:34 am

Idealy, get up by 21pts at half then sit them. If they come out lethargic and the game is close, they need some momentum in the 3rd before coming out.

Mr. Mustard

December 30th, 2012
10:43 am

Wonder what the “issue” is?

.

JJ

December 30th, 2012
10:50 am

Mustard, Gma passed away.

Chris

December 30th, 2012
11:02 am

Hard to say to start or sit. The Bucs can be a bad team to face in this situation. Look at the way they dive for QB’s on kneel down plays. They can’t even play spoiler because we handled business so well. As soon as you play not to get hurt, that’s when you get hurt. I hope to have a decent lead by the half to get our guys out of there safely. I especially want to A Smith and Snelling get some touches. Hold out Roddy and let him heal. Put in Davis or Cone and let the birds fly.

snacktastic

December 30th, 2012
11:13 am

Birds will roll today. Last year we were vying for the fifth seed and dropped 42 on the Bucs in the first half, and sat the starters in the second. We may not be blowing them out this time, but I suspect the starters will sit for, at most, half the game. Maybe they’ll be pulled mid-third if we’re far enough ahead.

JJ

December 30th, 2012
11:18 am

Looking fwd to seeing D.Davis but Dled is saying McCown will get the mop up duties. WTF???

snacktastic

December 30th, 2012
11:27 am

JJ: Davis is third on the depth chart, after all. Maybe if McCown tosses a couple of TDs, they’ll put Davis on the field, but I don’t even know if he’s active this week.

JJ

December 30th, 2012
11:58 am

http://espn.go.com/nfl/conversations/_/id/8793051/jacksonville-jags-fire-gene-smith-mike-mularkey-fate-air-sources

Some entertainment while waiting for the game ;)

Snack, tks but still would rather see Davis who has a higher upside than” avg joe” mccown on his 4th team.

snacktastic

December 30th, 2012
12:00 pm

I think we all would like to see him on the field; he looked pretty good in the preseason.

2 Men and a Truck

December 30th, 2012
12:13 pm

“After todays game, the saints defense will go down as the WORST NFL DEFENSE in the HISTORY OF THE NFL…all the panthers need to do is rack up about 250 yards, which they will do by halftime, to put that pathetic saints defense into the history books…”

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
12:58 pm

I’ll go a little easy on the blow-out scenario today…still an NFL team we’re talking about here. One thats very capable of keeping it competitive (close) if they allowed their A-Game to hitch a ride from Tampa.

BobbyDawg

December 30th, 2012
1:03 pm

I’d like to see us start off with the 2nd string players and leave them in ’till half. Then turn the first team loose on them in the 2nd half. Weird I know.

Greg Mendel

December 30th, 2012
1:12 pm

Two-Yard Turner. One direction or the other.

Big Lou

December 30th, 2012
1:13 pm

Of course, we continue to waste plays with Turner. This coach is an idiot!

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:13 pm

Drive stalling Turner! Roddy, being a veteran, should know where…and get to the first down marker on that 3rd down.

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:17 pm

Nice hit by Dunta, but looks like a concussion.

Big Lou

December 30th, 2012
1:20 pm

Thank God we got a bye week. Dunta don’t look like he’s coming back.

Greg Mendel

December 30th, 2012
1:20 pm

We can’t afford injuries. I’m worried about Ryan. Bucs have nothing to lose.

Greg Mendel

December 30th, 2012
1:20 pm

Now Samuel. First quarter.

BobbyDawg

December 30th, 2012
1:22 pm

I hate to see Roddy taking hits like the one in the first possession especially in THIS game.

Wabe

December 30th, 2012
1:23 pm

Injuries can happen at any moment…

But, it’s necessary to play these guys this week, simply because 3 weeks out of football action will lead to rustiness come playoff time.

Big Lou

December 30th, 2012
1:24 pm

Looks like the same injury Asante has been dealing with. He’s probably going to have to get surgery at the end of the season.

As for the defense, good stop.

Dear Mike Smith… stop using Turner? Please?

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:24 pm

Our secondary is decimated…

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:26 pm

WE WANT ANTOINE…WE WANT ANTOINE… WE WANT…

Big Lou

December 30th, 2012
1:27 pm

Somebody

It’s nothing serious. They will be playing by the playoffs. Dunta might even come back today. He’s done it before.

Wabe

December 30th, 2012
1:27 pm

I’m not too worried about Dunta…

Seems like a concussion. He’ll have to get by all the league protocol, but I think 2 weeks away from football will allow him to nurse back to health.

Asante’s injury has been lingering.

Big Lou

December 30th, 2012
1:28 pm

See what happen when you don’t use fat@ss?

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:29 pm

WE WANT TO BENCH TURNER…WE WANT TO BENCH TURNER…BENCH…

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:32 pm

CALLING SCREEN PASS, CALLING SCREEN PASS…WHERE ARE YOU?!?! Perfect call to catch things guys off-guard.

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:33 pm

I see we are intent on sharpening Ryan’s scrambling skills.

Wabe

December 30th, 2012
1:33 pm

tell ryan to quit with the superhero ish…

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:34 pm

See what happen when you don’t use fat@ss?

Oh, you tell the truth so eloquently, LOL

Wabe

December 30th, 2012
1:34 pm

dude needs to slide the second a defender comes at him…

not cut it back.

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:35 pm

Wabe ,

Ain’t that the truth. That said, dde wants to make the play, wants to win…can’t blame him…his inner fires got out of control.

He might want to share some of those fires with his OL, however…

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:36 pm

Nice effort by Asante.

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:37 pm

Damn….Dent really chased that play down. Nice work!

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:38 pm

Wide open…

Matt Daniels

December 30th, 2012
1:38 pm

Falcons need to stop running Turner up the backs of his O line. He can’t move them! where are his old skills and long runs?

Big Ray

December 30th, 2012
1:38 pm

Dent with another nice play.

Kid didn’t play much (and therefore didn’t impress) early in the season, but he’s a bit of a baller. May have a bright future.

Matt Daniels

December 30th, 2012
1:41 pm

Yeah, it’s Turner iyard on the back of his own player or 3 yards back. Does he know how to spin or slide?

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:42 pm

Saw a cut-away to M. Smith…seems if though he was giving McClure the buisness for allowing free runners up the middle.

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:46 pm

Quizz looking to juke…rather than go hard for the 1st?

Big Lou

December 30th, 2012
1:46 pm

Another wasted play by Turner.

Smith is a moron.

Matt Daniels

December 30th, 2012
1:47 pm

Atl. receivers need to at least get to first down marker. bucs playing short pass game well.

Slant Pattern

December 30th, 2012
1:50 pm

I’m just a little more than confused. We have already lost one starter and for what? We are not playing to win nor are we working on anything but killing drives with Turner. M. Ryan is running for his life and taking big hits because our O-line still blows chunks…what is the point of this?

Birdman

December 30th, 2012
1:50 pm

Falcons D looks flat

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH

December 30th, 2012
1:50 pm

Offense moved with Snelling and Quizz platooning…offense very rhythmic. Smith can stand the notion of having 2nd and 2-3 yards to go…he’s (Smith) very uncomfortable with 2nd-3rd and short.

Matt Daniels

December 30th, 2012
1:51 pm

where the hell is our right corner or safety?