It looked the Falcons of old for a half. The offense was moving well and the defense came up with some turnovers and the Falcons looked like the team that had done so well the past 5 years. And then the second half started. The Falcons ugly habit of blowing leads, regardless of how big or small, continued yet again on Sunday. Atlanta’s team seemed to be in a good position to win their 4th game of the year vs. an Aaron Rodgers-less Packer team, until halftime at least.
Fans are sick of this. The argument can be drilled down to why a thousand times over, but the simple fact is this: Mike Smith the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons Football team. He is the person charged with fixing things that need improving on the field. The Falcons have been a disaster coming out of halftime since he has been head coach and there is literally no improvement. If anything, it’s getting worse. And there is no one else to blame except for the head coach. He is either unwilling or unable to fix it, and that alone should call in his long-term sustainability. There is no lead big enough for Smith and the Falcons to find a way to squander. Not only are fans not surprised when it happens, they’ve come to expect it. The Falcons held a 21-10 lead at halftime and came out with 4 offensive series that went punt, punt, punt, fumble. And some of them were 3 and outs. But not having injuries next year will cure all this, right?
One of the most beleaguered units in all of football showed some signs of life in a frigid Green Bay on Sunday. The Falcons offensive line has been one of the worst overall units in the entire NFL this season, but they looked decent for parts of the game vs. the Packers. They’ve had tons of different lineup changes, but may have found one that’s not terrible, settling on Lamar Holmes at LT, Justin Blalock at LG, Joe Hawley at C, Peter Konz at RG, and undrafted free agent rookie Ryan Schaefer at RT. Ryan seemed to have more time in the pocket and many more holes seem to be open much more than the past.
But then the Falcons OL remembered who they were. It wasn’t entirely their fault this time with a ton of key drops and hyper-conservative play-calling, but they allowed pressure as they’ve done all year long to get to Ryan in the second half and they had no rushing attack the way they did in the first half. This offensive line needs a miracle this off-season to fix all the problems that exist.
Thomas Dimitroff has gotten a lot of flack from fans with his abysmal failure on the construction of the Falcons weak offensive and defensive lines, and rightly so. However, in complete objectivity, he should get credit for his excellent haul in the undrafted free agent market. Paul Worrilow has virtually cemented himself as a surefire starter and difference maker going forward. In fact, only one of other Falcons linebacker has ever had two games with 15+ tackles in one season. That would be Ring of Honor LB Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle. Joplo Bartu has also had a good year, racking up 3.5 sacks in limited playing time. That’s as many sacks by a Falcons linebacker in the last 6 years.
Other UDFA’s are having some really good years as well. Darius Johnson has had a very good year, with an exceptional one vs. the Saints. He has big play potential and really has seemed to lock himself as a fixture of the Falcons receiving corps going forward. Ryan Schraeder got his first start at right tackle and seemed to have a pretty good game, at least in the first half or so. That’s coming on the heels of another good game Considering most undrafted free agents are lucky to even make the practice squad, Dimitroff’s draft looks pretty good when you can get that much out of one UDFA class. Too bad he’s missed on so many actual draft picks.
Another infuriating fact about the Falcons head coach is his stubborn refusal to give certain players playing time and touches, at least that’s the way it seems to fans. This is no more represented than with running back Antone Smith. Here’s the stat line on Smith before today’s game in Green Bay: 5 carries, 145 yards, 2 touchdowns, 29 per carry average. And today? Smith gets not one single touch. There’s a pretty good probability that he didn’t even get one offensive snap. This just defies logic in so many ways and just one of many reasons fans want a change, even though one isn’t forthcoming. The season has long been lost, what is there to lose? Just mind-numbing.
Could it really be? The Falcons have been beyond miserable at developing any pass-rusher in the Smith / Dimitroff Era. Fans just assume that it will never happen. But it could very well be happening. Jonathan Massaquoi was a 5th round pick and came in with high hopes. He of course didn’t see the field as a rookie due to Smith’s Witness Protection Program. He’s proving to be the Falcons best rusher so far and seems to only be getting better. He had a good game vs. Buffalo and an even better one in Green Bay. Unofficially, Massaquoi had 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and was in the backfield all day long. To be sure, he’s no Mario Williams just yet and anything can happen under this coaching staff, but he’s the most promise the Falcons have had in 6 years.
One of the only positives coming out of this season has been seeing some youth, talent, and development on the defensive side of the ball. Make no mistake, this Falcons D has a long, long ways to go. Considering they are next to or dead last in almost every category, they have nowhere to go but up. But there are some signs the Falcons could develop something special down the road. William Moore, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Robert McClain (assuming he’s re-signed) all form a young and athletic secondary that have already shown growth in a down year. Paul Worrilow has developed into a stud MLB, and looks to pair nicely with Weatherspoon (who seems to be getting his game back a bit) and maybe even Joplo Bartu.
As mentioned earlier, Jonathan Massaquoi seems to be taking a step towards a legitimate pass-rushing threat. Corey Peters is getting back to his 2011 form at DT. And there’s hope that Malliciah Goodman can develop as well. Finally, Zeke Motta showed some promise taking over for an injured Thomas DeCoud as well. Again, there’s a very long way to go, but with a few key pieces through the draft and free agency, this defense may finally at least become respectable. Of course there’s the whole issue of development, playing time, and all the rest that the head coach controls.
The Falcons have had a tough time with catching the ball at critical times on both sides of the ball in 2013. The last few games the defensive backs and linebackers have had chances to pull the ball in for an interception that could have killed drives, but couldn’t get it done. The offense have done their part of dropping lately as well. There were several crucial drops when the Falcons were trying to beat the Packers with late drives. Steven Jackson had at least 2 to 3 drops in the game. Tony Gonzalez dropped a sure first down on 4th and 5, and Harry Douglas dropped a pass that hit him dead center in the chest that could have given the Falcons a chance at a game-winning field goal. The drops are symptoms of a larger disease of being insanely undisciplined. Whether it’s stupid penalties, missed tackles, blown assignments, or dropped passes / interceptions, it’s been the story of the 2013 Atlanta Falcons.