They dominated every single part of the game but found a way to lose the game. The Atlanta Falcons look really pathetic overall as they literally find a way to lose instead of finding a way to close out the game and win. They had a great run game in Steven Jackson’s absence. Julio Jones and Matt Ryan had another good game. They got really good pressure against the Dolphins, but its sickening on how the Falcons allowed their opponent yet again to climb back in the game and find a way to win. They have the talent to win any game, and maybe it can’t be put solely on coaching, but this team’s idea of hoping for a Super Bowl berth or Lombardi seems as good as the latest joke you might see. This is one of the more terrible losses in the Smith Era. There’s no reason whatsoever you lose a game like this, as the announcers mentioned many times, but by goodness, they find a way to lose. Just inexcusable. If you’re averse to feelings that border on extreme pessimism, this post may not be the best to get involved in.
If the 2012 Atlanta Falcons were labeled as finding any way to win, this 2013 squad should be get the label of finding any way to lose. The Falcons have had 5 straight games where they’ve jumped out to big leads and needed a last second drive to win just one of those games (Seattle in playoffs). They also nearly blew a huge lead to the Rams last week as well. Something’s got to give and there’s no one to blame more than the head person in charge of the team on gameday and that man is head coach Mike Smith. These are the types of games the Falcons would find a way to win under Smith, and now they are finding ways to lose. They already have two-thirds of the losses they had in all of 2012 and it’s only week 3. It’s still early, but if the Falcons operate like this the rest of the way, a true collapse could be on the horizon.
One of the very nice bright spots that was wasted in such a bad loss was the running game of Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Losing both Steven Jackson and Bradie Ewing was a big blow and most felt that the running game would be even more non-existent that it’s been the first two weeks (even though seemingly impossible). Rodgers and Snelling both ran very well both on the outside and between the tackles. They also were quite productive in the screen / shovel pass game, even though it became overkill in the second half. Both running backs stepped in and stepped up in a big way, combining for 146 yards rushing and the Falcons somehow found a way to lose with that rushing total (see above). The RB position seems to be proving to be plenty deep in case of losses to frontline starters.
It’s an uncomfortable question to ask and there will likely be no definitive evidence for the near future, but the Falcons seem to be getting worse, not better, from their previous year. Each year of major success (2008, 2010, 2012) has been followed by an extremely lackluster season to say the least. 2009 could be chalked up to Matt Ryan missing games and the team still being very young. Even though they didn’t make the playoffs, they beat the improbable odds of winning their final 3 games, two of them on the road, to rid the Falcons of that gosh forsaken curse. There really wasn’t one thing to point to in 2011, but just a bunch of bad losses, and 3 assistant coaches were given the axe (OL coach Boudreau) or “allowed to find other jobs” (OC Mularkey, DC Van Gorder). They may have been the fall guys and Smith had some major say in who came next with both Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan. Both very accomplished in their own right, but also two coaches with whom he had worked with before (sound familiar?).
Last year was the breakout that many had hoped for, but ultimately they couldn’t get it done at home, both games having been up by double digits. There are no more excuses, no more fall guys, and no more exterior forces to blame. Perhaps it’s only a few bad games, but this is an ugly trend that has developed over a 6 year period, but more acutely the end of last season and this season, including the playoffs and preseason of this year. The Falcons were 7-2 in games decided by 6 points or less and, as Pro Football Focus pointed out, that simply is not sustainable from year to year. Maybe they can turn it around and it’s obviously still early, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find many fans that Smith can change as needed, particularly with a brutal schedule to come. New Cage Member MG3 mentioned if this team needs a culture change, because it has either soured, stalled, or become stale. This team is regressing, plain and simple.
It was doom and gloom seeing that the Falcons would start Lamar Holmes at left tackle in Sam Baker’s place and recently signed vet Jeremy Trueblood in Holmes old RT spot. The Dolphins had one of the pass rushes in the NFL and it spelled disaster. The fact is, though not nearly perfect, they did pretty darn well. They didn’t allow a sack and formed a very good pocket in the first half and helped pave the way in rushing for almost 150 yards with backups Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling carrying the load. Again, this OL should never be confused with perennial Pro Bowlers, but they mostly did their job against a very good defense.
Major credit to Cage Member Knew Money for coining the phrase the “Atlanta Field Goals,” because that’s what they should be renamed. As will be mentioned below, this Falcons offense is downright horrific in the red zone. They might as well just start kicking field goals on 1st down, just in case it gets blocked. How can a team with so many weapons across the board (Julio, Roddy, HD, Tony G, Snelling, Quizz, SJax when healthy, Coffman, and now Levine Toilolo) be so terrible in the red zone?
The preseason was an ominous prelude to what was coming. Time and time again, the Falcons found ways to bog down and refuse to get 7 points. It may just be terrible play-calling or it could be something much deeper. In all three games, two of them losses, the Falcons have had a chance to put the ball in the endzone, only to kick field goals and lose twice. The Falcons get a huge stop on 4th down in their own territory vs. the Saints, settle for field goal, go on to lose.
With a lead of 21-3 at home and very close to the redzone with plenty of time and a timeout vs. the Rams, the Falcons don’t even try to close out the deal with a TD. They settle for a field goal and barely hang on to win. After having a great drive for a TD, Falcons get a huge 3 and out, get the ball back, and drive right down the field again. With a chance to go up 14-0 on the road and really put pressure on the Dolphins, they settle for a FG……….again. The Dolphins come right back down and score a TD, making it 10-7. Falcons follow suit and drive down again themselves with a chance to go up as much as 21-7 or at least 17-7. FG again. There’s so many field goals and field goal attempts that this could fill up a 500 page novel, but the final straw was trying a field goal with 2 minutes that only would have put us up even if we make it. And like clockwork, Dolphins drive down field and score game-winning touchdown. Even just one TD instead of FG puts the game essentially out of reach. Unbelievable.
Another sadly wasted effort was the excellent defense the Falcons played for most of the game. After coming in with only 2 total sacks, the Falcons amassed 5 sacks and pressured QB Ryan Tannehill all day long, including two turnovers. They gave the offense chance after chance, including a golden 3 and out following the Falcons very first touchdown. Osi Umenyiora had a huge game, as did Jonathan Massaquoi, Peria Jerry, Joplo Bartu, and Akeem Dent had a sack that looked as every bit good as a Patrick Willis heat seeking missile. It was very nice to see some sort of life on defense in terms of getting after the passer. Sadly, it was a masterful effort in a really terrible loss.
You can just imagine what head coaches of opposing teams say to their respective teams as they prepare for the Falcons, during the game, and especially at halftime: just hang in there until after halftime and we have this one in the bag. Heck, even one of the announcers, Tim Ryan, kept repeating over and over that all the Dolphins need to do is “weather the early storm,” and they would be OK. Interesting how correct he ended up being. The second half collapse, 3rd quarter lull, and any other demeaning moniker you want to heap on this team is well-deserved and that starts with one person: Mike Smith. Even though not perfect in their own right, neither Thomas Dimitroff nor Arthur Blank have anything to do with the late game meltdowns. The stats bare it out. Taking the Falcons first 3 games of 2013 and the final two playoff games vs. Seattle and San Francisco, the Falcons have been outscored an eye-gouging 90 to 34 in the second half. They’ve been whipped on almost a 3 to 1 score ratio in the 2nd half. There’s really not much else to say, and if you think this is only limited to the last two years, you haven’t been paying attention.
Usually known for being one of the better special teams units, the Falcons picked a bad time to have a special teams letdown. Harry Douglas’ terrible wave-off, change-mind-to-catch, and subsequent game-changing fumble is the most noted and sadly makes fans reminisce of the Fair Catch Franks days. With a chance to at least pretend to put some distance between themselves and their opponent (c’mon at a maximum just another field goal), HD bobbled away the ball to the Dolphins after a big stop and of course the Dolphins score immediately. That wasn’t the only special teams goof-up. Matt Bryant misses a field goal and Josh Vaughan is called for a block in the back on another critical punt return. Also, ironically, the Dolphins were so bold that they refused to even cover the gunners on a late Falcons punt because they absolutely knew the Falcons wouldn’t try a fake and were going after the block. Generally, they’re at least solid, but not Sunday and it hurt.
The Falcons extremely young LB corps stepped up in a pretty big way in the absence of Sean Weatherspoon and occasional LB Kroy Biermann. Nicholas didn’t seem to play much until the end when he gave up the game-winning TD. On the good news, though, the young guns played very well overall. Joplo Bartu had a good game, as did Paul Worrilow when he got a chance to play and those two should only get better and better. Akeem Dent may not have had a complete game, but he really showed some fans something on that blitz where he absolutely demolished the Dolphins QB. Gives fans a little hope going forward, even without Weatherspoon for the foreseeable future.
Pick your poison. Greatest show on turf. Unstoppable offense. There were a ton of labels thrown around when the Falcons acquired Steven Jackson. And so far, this offense doesn’t look much better than the inaugural one in 2008 with Mike Smith and Matt Ryan both being rookies. Save the occasional pass to Julio Jones, this offense looks pretty good between the 20’s and shrinks like a violet in the redzone. Roddy White is not 100% and just isn’t the same. Even a solid running game, the play-action was either never tried and surely not successful. After a few decent games, Harry Douglas goes back to his dropsy ways and WR’s Drew Davis and Kevin Cone are firmly entrenched in the WPP. Could practice squad player Darius Johnson do much worse? Finally, Gonzalez still gets his catches but father time is definitely catching up with him. He still catches anything close, but he’s having a much harder time getting separation the way he used to in games. And what about Chase Coffman? He must have gotten in the doghouse somehow. And do the Falcons have to go from no screens to 25 a game?
Unfortunately, it can only be said so many ways and has already been mentioned in this post, but this Falcons team plays not to lose. They get out to good leads, are unable or unwilling to put games away, and find ways to lose (mentioned earlier). Above all, teams take on the role and mentality of their head coach and this team plays with an inherent fear of losing, and sure enough, they’ve found themselves mired in it early on in 2013. Here’s to hoping they get it turned around, but surely won’t be begrudged for not believing so.