Our cardiac Falcons couldn’t make it easy on themselves or their fans could they? What a game, a thrilling finish, and the amazing death of the “playoff curse,” or whatever you want to call it. The Falcons came roaring out of the gates behind a huge crowd who were in their seats and loud from the first moment. The first half was a thing of beauty that saw the Falcons surge to a 20-0 lead, and even responding with their own touchdown on their first possession after the Seahawks took the opening drive down for a TD. Then, the wheels came completely off. Maybe a better analogy would be that they absolutely shut down in all phases of the game, seeing the Seahawks score 21 unanswered points. However, the Falcons found a way to win the game, needing only 31 seconds to do it. Kudos to the entire organization, from the players and coaches to Thomas Dimitroff and Arthur Blank and all the way to the support staff. It was a wonderful win in so many ways, even if it did almost send many of us into cardiac arrest. A look at the huge playoff win………….
No two people on the planet are likely happier today than Mike Smith and Matt Ryan. For the past 5 seasons, all that has been said has been Smith and Ryan’s inability to win the playoffs. The 0-3 playoff record has been stated so many times by so many media members that it was not only annoying, but just complete overkill. It literally has been repeated thousands of times as an excuse to denigrate or outright ignore the success the Falcons have had. Some of it may have been a little justified, but using it as an excuse to trash them in week 3 of the regular season? It wasn’t pretty at the end and Smith darn near tried to give it away, but it’s done once and for all. The media elite will have to come up with another excuse to slam the Falcons because the “can’t win in the playoffs” garbage is gone forever.
Where did that come from? The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the worst rushing football teams in the league the whole year and most of the times only ran enough to keep the defense at least somewhat honest. That was not the case on Sunday. Michael Turner ran for 98 yards on 14 carries with a long of 33 and Jacquizz Rodgers put on a highlight show when he trucked All-Pro safety Earl Thomas as if he were playing Madden. The offensive line was a big part of the running success and hats go way off to them. After being criticized so often and so heavily over the season, they showed up ready to play on Sunday and the running game was on track for most of the game because of it. The success on the ground also opened up the passing and play-action game, which was also a big reason for the win.
Fans are still trying to figure out what happened that precipitated a complete defensive meltdown in the 4th quarter, that darn nearly cost them the game after being up 27-7 in the final quarter. It may not have been one thing in particular, but a slew of really awful performances, from the players to the coaching. The defensive pass rush was non-existent, as Russell Wilson had enough time to do his taxes in the backfield. It literally seemed on one play that he almost 10 full seconds to try and find someone, without nary a Falcon even close. Some of it was losing John Abraham, but it seemed as though the scheme wasn’t even that concerned on pressuring Wilson. One of the main reasons that Brian VanGorder “found another job” was his insanely soft zones where QBs could just sit back and pick them apart with ease. That fourth quarter zone was as bad a zone / scheme as any of those the previous 4 years, with maybe the exception of the loss to the Packers in 2011 in the playoffs.
The Falcons also picked a terrible time to stop tackling well, after they had done such a good job of it in the previous 3 quarters. Maybe it was just a case of being way too confident with a 3 score lead with a quarter to go. Perhaps Coach Smith or Mike Nolan decided to just sit back in the zone and hope that the Seahawks wouldn’t have enough time or that the rookie QB would finally make a mistake (even though he gave no reason for them to think that). Zach Miller was made to look like Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe, and Kellen Winslow Sr. rolled into one. It was shameful how wide open Miller, Golden Tate, and Sidney Rice were in that fourth quarter. As fellow Cage member SOMEBODY said, it was like they were playing catch in the backyard. Maybe the entire team tightened up as the game was falling apart (the offense literally stopped doing anything, the coaches submarined, and even the special teams participated in the collapse). In hindsight, the fact is that the defense did a good enough job to keep them to 7 points for 3 quarters and decided to have a really bad last quarter. The Birds shouldn’t have that issue vs. the 49ers, since it projects to be closer for all 4 quarters rather than just 1.
Yes, that is actually what a writer for the San Francisco Examiner wrote in one of the most blatant, poorly written articles about the Atlanta Falcons, maybe ever. According to this writer, if that’s what we’re calling him, his vaunted San Francisco 49ers are the best team to ever grace the field in this game we call football. They have the best RB’s, OL, DL, LB’s, and overall team in the history of the NFL. David and Goliath? No, this is more like Goliath vs. an ant. Should the Falcons even show up or just forfeit to the greatest ever? In all seriousness, there’s nothing wrong with saying the Niners are better on paper and likely should be favored and may even win the game, but this is something altogether different. When the 49ers got blown out by the Seahawks, Giants, lost the Rams (and tied them), and even the Vikings, it’s all good to discard. But when the Falcons WIN the games that were close with bad teams, that’s a sign it’s a mere formality. Not to pick on this writer too much, because really he’s just representing what pretty much everyone in the media (including hometown media) are saying: these Falcons have no shot whatsoever. Luckily, we get to actually play the games. That David kid was pretty small, right?
First of all, Kaepernick is not a rookie. He was taken in last year’s draft in 2011. So, even though it’s his first year playing, he’s not fresh out of college. After the Niners QB ran rings around the Packers and their poor gameplan, all involved are crowning him the next superhero of the NFL. And if the Falcons play as they did vs. Russell Wilson in the 4th quarter or Cam Newton in the second game, than he very well could set records rushing and passing. There simply is no denying that he is a special talent, but he’s not the first mobile quarterback that has been stopped, nor is he the first mobile QB that the Falcons have played this year. In fact, the Birds are 4-1 vs. all mobile QBs they’ve faced this year. Yes, they haven’t always done particularly well vs. mobile QBs, but they have found ways to win 80% of those games.
The defensive line is definitely undermanned and undersized against the Niners big and burly OL and the linebackers could surely use a touch more speed as well. First of all, you can’t imagine that Nolan will be running much type of man coverage the way the Packers got torched on and one benefit of running the 4-3 defense is it’s ability to plug gaps better and stop mobile QBs. Fellow Cage Member trademark detailed it best when describing how the old Tampa 2 defense used to not only contain, but downright destroy Michael Vick in his heyday here in Atlanta. Much like shutting down Marshawn Lynch vs. Seattle, Nolan will likely either use some type of QB Spy on Kaepernick, make the QB beat him with his arm, make Frank Gore carry the load, or some combination of them all. One idea might be to replace one of the LBs or nickel backs with William Moore, insert Chris Hope in as strong safety, and let William Moore track Kaepernick all over the field, having the speed and the hitting ability to slow down the talented QB.
Even though they don’t have as good a secondary as the Seahawks, the 49ers have one of the very best front seven in all of football. Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navorro Bowman make up a nightmare for any team because they stop the run so well, but especially get after the quarterback as good or better than anyone in the league. Are the Falcons doomed vs. the great Niners defense? As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!” Yes, it will be a major challenge, but if you feel as though you can’t get it done vs. the best, what makes you think you have any shot at the Lombardi Trophy?
No team had scored higher than 17 points since around week 7 this season until the Falcons scored 20 points on them in the first half and then 27 in the third quarter. Even though the media elite will gush and rave over the Niners being the best defense since the 2000 Ravens, they can be scored on to. The question is how. The natural inclination would be to keep rolling with the hot hand of running the football. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers put on a show on Sunday and racked up some major yards, most of them coming in just 3 quarters. Can the Birds do the same against a tougher defensive front 7? It sure would be nice, but the Niners will likely plan to stop the run anyway they can and surely not let Turner and Rodgers do what they did to the Seahawks defense. If the run fails, how long should they stick with it, and further, does playing clock control offense play into the Niners hands?
One clue from the past that might could work is Falcons vs. Ravens, Thursday Night Football in 2010. Matt Ryan ran the no-huddle offense virtually the entire game and tore the stellar Ravens defense to shreds. He was 32 for 50 passing, with 316 yards, 3 TDs, and no INTs. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s probably a good idea to have Matt Ryan throw the ball 50 times against such a great defense, but the Niners defense have many similarities to that Ravens. They have a great DL, great LB’s, studs at safety, but decent-at-best corners. The no-huddle is unpredictable and can not only help a blitizing team at bay, but also allows Matt Ryan to do what he does best which is call the shots, change the play if needed, and run the offense. In addition, it can also help wear out the strength of their team (LBs and Big DL). Maybe the Ravens game was just an element of surprise and maybe the Ravens depended heavily on substitutions, which the Niners do not. But it’s something that may help counter a tough, tough defense.
Short and simple – will the Birds get it done on Sunday and be in the Super Bowl?