It was closer than it should have been, but the Falcons hung on for a crucial 34-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Julio Jones had a monster performance with 253 receiving yards to go along with two touchdowns in the victory. Atlanta now sits at 7-4 on the season.
On its first possession, Tampa Bay drove down the field and came away with a field goal relatively easily. However, the Falcons would then counter with a field goal and two Julio Jones touchdowns to take a 17-3 lead. The teams would trade field goals to end the half, making the score 20-6.
Atlanta opened up the second half with a touchdown on their first possession. However, Tampa Bay slowly crept back into the game and suddenly they had the ball in Falcons’ territory trailing 27-20 early in the fourth quarter. Tampa would make a curious play call, electing to throw the ball on fourth down and one instead of running it, and the pass was incomplete, giving the Falcons the ball back midway through the quarter. Atlanta would take advantage, constructing a long drive that resulted in a Tevin Coleman touchdown with just under two minutes remaining that ended Tampa’s hopes of a comeback.
While the Falcons’ offense scored an impressive 34 points on the afternoon, defensive injuries sustained during the game will certainly be a cause for concern going forward. Cornerback Brian Poole left the game with a back injury, and cornerback Desmond Trufant left the game with a concussion sustained during a collision with teammate Keanu Neal. This lack of cornerback depth certainly helped Tampa in their comeback attempt.
This victory is Atlanta’s third in a row and their fourth in five games. The offense seems to finally be playing up to its potential and the defense has been playing consistently solid. The Falcons appear to be peaking at the right time as they head into the final five games of the season.
Coming up for Atlanta will be a big test at home against the 9-2 Minnesota Vikings next Sunday.
Some important things to note from this injury report is the diminished “Legion Of Boom”. 2 of the top 3 members of the Seahawks secondary mean that mismatches will be all over the place. Earl Thomas, who has missed two straight games with a hamstring injury, is back and will try to take over Kam Chancellors role as the leader of the secondary. Hopefully with Sherman and Chancellor out, Sarkisian utilizes the TEs to get Thomas to cover him and forces the diminished secondary to cover our WRs 1-on-1. Eddie Lacy, after missing a few games, is now back and will most likely get the brunt of the carries but Seattle hasn’t had much success in the run game this year so it shouldn’t be much of a problem. Seattle’s starting LG is out and their LT is questionable but didn’t practice this week so it is unlikely that he will play. Adrian Clayborn has been licking his chops after every injury report has been released after having a 6-sack performance against the cowboys backup LT. Seattle’s strongside linebacker will also be out so look for Bobby Wagner to cover the strongside. Jarran Reed, Seattle’s starting DT, is also listed as questionable but that shouldn’t change much in the running game as Teron Ward and Tevin Coleman are both speed backs.
The only player listed as out on the official Falcons injury report is Devonta Freeman. He went out with a concussion on a hit by Andrew Hitchens last week and didn’t return. Tevin Coleman did well to fill in but Sarkisian needs to change his play calling from Devonta Freeman style runs up the middle to giving Tevin Coleman the ball on the outside. Duke Riley who hasn’t played since the Patriots game is listed as questionable but hasn’t had a full practice yet. Kemal Ishmael has done alright to fill in but Riley would be a nice step up. Matt Bosher did not practice on Friday and since it was no practice on Saturday we don’t know his official status but he is listed as questionable. Dan Quinn said, according to Jeanna Thomas, that he is very questionable to play and that our emergency punters are Matt Bryant and Mohammed Sanu. Matt Bryant has punted three times in his career, most recently last year when he punted twice for an average of 34 yards per punt. Sanu is one of the most versatile players in the NFL right now, He has thrown passes, caught passes, ran the ball, played defense, and played on special teams. The one thing he hasn’t done is punt the ball. He punted at Rutgers but has not yet done in the NFL.
Players to Watch
As a standard with Julio, he was injured this week and held out of Thursday practice but did participate Friday. He will play but we don’t know how it will affect him. It will be interesting to see how Sarkisian utilizes him against the diminished secondary of Seattle. Julio has rarely been targeted this year and only has one touchdown. If there’s ever a day when Sarkisian should target Julio more it is today. The diminished secondary will create more one on one opportunities for Julio streaking down the field.
Coming off a very impressive six Sack performance last week against Dallas, Play born might be going against another back up tackle depending on Duane Brown’s status, but it is unlikely that he will play. Look for Clayborn, Jarrett, and Poe to get after the left side with Seattle (maybe)missing their left tackle and definitely missing their left guard.
Seattle’s strong side linebacker is out and this is most likely going to affect the coverage aspect of the game. Austin Hooper has played very well this year and since Wilhoite is a great coverage man and it is most likely that Wagner will not be able to fill-in in coverage.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Call runs for Tevin Coleman, not Devonta Freeman.
Coleman was forced to run way too many inside runs last week and once we got him out in space he had a lot of yards. Hopefully Sarkisian will use this knowledge to get him out in space because Coleman is a speed back unlike Freeman who is more of a power back
2. Bootlegs/ Rollouts
Last year, Matt Ryan did very well throwing on the run to tight ends and crossing routes. Last week on a scoring drive when we got to the red zone, we call to bootleg plays with Austin Hooper going out on a flat route. The first play, Austin Hooper got 10 yards and the second play he got five for a touchdown. On one of the touchdowns by Tevin Coleman it would’ve been very easy for Matt Ryan to fake an outside handoff to Kevin Coleman and run the other way and easily scamper in for a touchdown. This was used last year very often but needs to be used more this year.
3. Get Julio Jones Involved
I know it sounds obvious, but Julio needs to break out this week and the only way to do that is if Ryan and Sarkisian target him. This week would be the best week to break out for Julio because of the diminished secondary of Seattle as well as how important this game is. Last week on Justin Hartley’s touchdown catch in the back of the Endzone Julio was used as a decoy. When you have the talent that is Julio Jones, as an offense of coordinator you can’t use him as a decoy in the end zone. We all saw what happened when you just threw it up to him in the end zone versus the patriots so who’s to say he can’t do that against a worse smaller corner.
1. Keep Russell Wilson in the pocket
Russell Wilson is a Seahawks leading rusher. Although that means that Seattle can’t really run the ball, it also means that Russell Wilson is a great escape artist. He is smaller than cam Newton but also faster and this will mark the third straight week in which the Falcons face a running QB. In the two weeks against Cam Newton and Dak Prescott the defense allowed two rushing touchdowns. It will be interesting to see who manual makes the QB spy for Wilson and also how he utilizes blitzes and changes the defensive end’s strategy to better keep contain.
2. Keep Jimmy Graham in check
Jimmy Graham, as a saint, absolutely destroyed the Falcons’ defense every time the Falcons play the Saints. The Falcons have always had trouble against tight ends but last week, Devondre Campbell kept Witten in and held him to no touchdowns and a minimal amount of yards. It will be interesting to see if Campbell continues guarding Jimmy Graham as Graham is a bit bigger than Witten. Doug Baldwin is their biggest wide receiver threat and it will be interesting to see how safety help from Kyoto Neal and Ricardo Allen is utilized to help Trufant keep Doug Baldwin out of the endzone. Baldwin also gets a lot of his yards when Russell Wilson is scrambling as cornerbacks struggle to keep him from running for the first down. A QB spy from one of our linebackers will help this as it keeps Trufant on Baldwin.
3. Get more interior pressure.
Usually I would say that Clayborn and Beasley as well as Brooks read on the outside need to get pressure but with them over committing to get pressure it will make it easier for Russell Wilson to get outside. So today is more important for Jared and Paco to get interior pressure and force him outside the pocket and into Reed and Clayborn’s hands if they stay home.
Falcons 31- 24 Seahawks
The bad news is that Chris Simms picked the Falcons to win. The falcons are 1-3 when picked by Chris Simms to win and 4-1 when picked to lose. I agree with Chris but I don’t believe it will be as close as he thinks it will be (23-21). I expect this to be a hard-fought and relatively close game but the Falcons will eventually pull away. The way for the Falcons to win this game will be to improve on the offense they had last week. They had great offensive rhythm going last week in the second half but need to have a full game of that same offensive power. The defense also needs to step up and limit their vertical attack. Seattle is one of the worst offenses in the league when it comes to rushing and so take away the pass and they virtually have nothing. Expect Julio Jones and the defense of line to have a big game today and the Falcons come out with a win and end up controlling their destiny for the playoffs. The referees will also have a huge impact on this game but at least Sherman won’t be there so this can’t happen again.
Eight games into the 2017 season, the Atlanta Falcons have put their fans through an entire roller coaster of emotions.
They’ve had convincing wins and ugly losses. They’ve sat atop most Power Rankings at times and they’ve also resided in the lower half of Power Rankings at other times. The one thing that has been a constant throughout this whirlwind of a half-season is the Falcons’ clear lack of confidence on the field.
Well, lack of confidence may be too harsh a term. Inconsistency with confidence is more accurate. There have been times where every facet of the game has been clicking on all cylinders. However, there have also been times when everything appeared discombobulated and forced. Times where they clearly didn’t believe in themselves. Now, the Falcons will begin the second half of the season in need of a spark.
Most Falcons fans feel like throwing up whenever they hear the word. The players spent an entire off season downplaying the impact that their crushing Super Bowl loss would have on this season. And for a time this season they looked like all that downplaying was for good reason. After the Green Bay win in Week 2, the Falcons were riding high and were widely thought to be among the NFC’s elite. The play calls were crisp and decisive and the defense was playing fast and furious. For a game, the Falcons looked like they had the mental advantage over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
After a narrow win in Detroit, things started to go sideways for the Falcons. They battled through numerous injuries and questionable calls only to lose on the final drive at home to the Bills. OK, well the fact that they were even in the game with all that adversity shows how great of a team they are. Fair enough. Fast forward to the next game. It’s halftime, the Falcons are up 17, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a comfortable home win over the Jay Cutler-led Dolphins. In the third quarter, things started to unravel. Ill-advised mistakes gave Miami momentum, and suddenly the Falcons found themselves down by 3 points, having one last drive to try to make things right. For the second straight week, they were unable to convert in the opposing team’s territory with the game on the line. Well, surely the game against New England will motivate them.
It didn’t. The game in New England was like a bad dream. Instead of coming out with the fire and passion necessary to try to avenge their Super Bowl loss, the Falcons looked passive from the start and were never truly in the game. Infuriating play-calling and penalties that even fourth graders aren’t stupid enough to make cost the Falcons dearly and they were suddenly staring at their third straight loss. There were no more excuses or positive takeaways from this game. People were beginning to realize that questions about Super Bowl Hangover may have been well-founded.
The Falcons would go onto split their next two, leaving the fans and the team sitting at 4-4, wondering what went wrong since that promising start.
Is it possible that this is all due to Super Bowl hangover? Well, I doubt that when Adrian Clayborne was roughing the passer and taking away an interception, he had Super Bowl flashbacks running through his mind. However, there is no denying that the Super Bowl loss itself and the manner in which they lost it have certainly cast a sense of tightness and expectation over this season, and it shows in the way the Falcons are playing now. What they need to do is relax themselves and realize that the only way they can make it back to the big game this year is by taking the weight of last year off their shoulders and playing to conquer this season.
The play-calling from new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has been shaky at best. While in earlier weeks Sarkisian seemed to pick up right where Kyle Shanahan left off at the end of the third quarter of the Super Bowl, he has since been so poor that many Falcons fans have decided to change their Twitter names to #FireSark.
For instance, there was a fourth down and long situation in the Patriots game that occurred near mid-field. The Patriots’ defense was playing well at that point and there was a good chance that the Falcons would not convert. They went for it anyway and didn’t get it. The Patriots promptly drove right down the field and scored.
Play-calls like that demonstrated a clear lack of confidence in the Falcons’ defense to make a stop. This lack of confidence clearly got into the defense’s head as they allowed the Patriots to score easily.
Later in the game, the Falcons called a jet-sweep on fourth down and goal from less than a foot away from the end zone. It was a doomed play from the start, as they lost yards and turned the ball over on downs. Because of the ill-advised play calls from earlier in the game, the Falcons painted themselves into a corner and began to force themselves to make poor decisions later on, perpetuating the mental body blow cycle.
Penalties have also been a huge problem for this team. They have had two interceptions wiped out by roughing the passer penalties this season. Last Sunday against Carolina they gifted the Panthers fifteen yards after an illegal block on a failed fourth down attempt. The Panthers took advantage and scored. Mental mistakes like this are not seen on championship caliber teams, which the Falcons claim that they’re striving to be this season.
Instead of putting mistakes behind them, this Atlanta team lets mistakes linger over the rest of the game and they are usually unable to recover from them. If they want to make the playoffs this year, they will have to learn how to bounce back and respond to adversity. All great teams do.
What Must Change
There’s a scene in Rocky III (yes, the Sylvester Stallone movie) that is reminiscent of the Falcons’ current situation. Rocky has recently been defeated in a devastating loss to Clubber Lang, and it’s been nagging at him ever since, severely impacting his confidence. Enter Apollo Creed, Rocky’s old arch nemesis. Apollo reminds Rocky that the only way he’s going to regain his confidence is by going back to the beginning and revamping his style. He motivates Rocky to rediscover the “eye of the tiger,” or the edge that allowed him to be so successful earlier in his career.
The Falcons need to watch that scene now. They had their devastating loss (the Super Bowl) and they’ve lost the mental edge that they had all last season, up until you know what. Somehow, someway, they must rediscover the eye of the tiger and start playing with confidence. This doesn’t mean looking for a new offensive coordinator or anything drastic necessarily. It just means viewing these next 8 games as a fresh start and choosing to learn from their mistakes instead of being haunted by them.
When the Falcons are on their A Game, they play with a swagger and style that is unmatched by most teams in the league. However, when they’re not on top of their game, things get ugly. Really ugly, as the last few weeks have proven. Their fate this season could very well be decided in these next few games. If they want to turn things around, they’ll have to start winning the mental game.
After struggling with a 0-3 losing streak after the bye week, loss to Patriots, and win over Jets, the Falcons looked to beat their divisional rival Carolina Panthers.
Sunday the Panthers hosted the Falcons in Atlanta’s first divisional game this season. The Falcons lost to Panthers in a crazy battle to the last second.
Many thought the Falcons had a last-second opportunity but couldn’t push forward for a first down to move the chains.
The Panthers started off with two 3 and outs and two forced fumbles which only led to a field and a touchdown. Matt Ryan connected with Mohamed Sanu for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Freeman had 11 carries for 46 yards, but Coleman scored the only touchdown for running backs on a 25-yard screen pass.
Julio led all receivers with six receptions for 118 yards but dropped a wide-open touchdown pass that would have given the Falcons the lead.
Matt Ryan went 24-38 with 313 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
The Panthers scored off two run plays in which Cam Newton scored off a 10-yard rushing touchdown, and Christian McCaffrey scored off a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
Deion Jones led the defense with 11 total tackles and 4 solo tackles. Keanu Neal forced two fumbles early for the defense in which they took a 10 point lead off both. Atlanta’s defense could not stop Cam and McCaffrey from gaining positive yardage while eating up the clock to close the game out.
The Falcons are now 4-4 and 0-1 in the division. They look forward to hosting the Dallas Cowboys in Atlanta next Sunday and get back to Falcons football.