Atlanta Falcons

Looking Ahead: the Atlanta Falcons

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The Atlanta Falcons have provided us with three games of tape to analyze before their matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Let’s take a look.

After everything the Atlanta Falcons have put their fanbase through, they have zero wins to show for it. While they were simply outplayed by a talented Seattle Seahawks team in week one, there’s no excuse for the Falcons’ lack of effort in weeks two and three.

We all saw it on the onside kick with under two minutes remaining against the Cowboys, in week two. We saw it again against the Bears in the fourth quarter of week three. Their ability to cave under pressure is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The loss against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl during the 2016 season was one of the most epic failures of all time. Four years later, we see it to weeks in a row. To be fair, the Atlanta Falcons are 14-17 in games decided by seven or fewer points since that game, but it isn’t how often they lose, its just “how”.

Losses like that are inexcusable and Dan Quinn will have to answer for those failures soon. But for right now, he remains as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. While they’ve already lost in dramatic fashion twice in this young 2020 season, the Falcons have been productive for a few quarters. Let’s analyze their scheme.

Atlanta Falcons’ Gameplan

Offense

Dirk Koetter runs the offense for the Atlanta Falcons and if your knowledge of the NFL is just average, you’ve heard of Koetter. He was Offensive Coordinator for the Falcons from 2012-2015. The offense was consistently productive during that time; enough so that Koetter was offered the head coaching position of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He of course accepted and led the team from 2016-2018, with middling results.

Koetter put all his eggs in the Jameis Winston basket and while the offense was explosive, he wound up with a 19-29 record in Tampa Bay, before he was back in Atlanta for the 2019 season, again as the OC. Koetter brings back the same offense that had so much success during his first stint with the Falcons.

Koetter likes to blend the old style with the new style, seamlessly shifting from 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end) on passing downs to an empty backfield on run downs. Koetter has never cared much for down and distance and prefers to keep defenses guessing, hoping for the big shot downfield.

There’s been plenty of that so far in 2020, with Matt Ryan producing highlight-reel throws to wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, and Julio Jones, and even tight end Hayden Hurst. While producing big plays hasn’t been an issue for the Atlanta Falcons, staying consistent has been a real struggle.

Matt Ryan was always known for a balanced game, showing a live arm and accuracy at every level of the field. However, this year, he’s been much less accurate in the short and intermediate range. His struggles have created some terrible stretches of play for the Falcons offense – he was 8 for 20 for 95 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception in the second half against the Bears.

Ryan has looked uncharacteristically anxious against a collapsing pocket, showing lapses in judgment and some bad misses. The Atlanta Falcons have gotten just average production on the ground which exacerbates Ryan’s struggles, however, it is worth mentioning that the Falcons have been better with Brian Hill in the backfield in place of Todd Gurley.

Defense

Though Dan Quinn is a defensive-minded Head Coach, he’s proven in the past that he can not manage a game and call plays at the same time. Since mid-season of last year, Defensive Coordinator/ Assistant Head Coach, Raheem Morris, has been handling the plays on the defensive side.

Morris and the Atlanta Falcons operate out of a base nickel but we can never be sure of what kind of front we’re going to see out of the Falcons. They might be in a three-man front with safety Keanu Neal at weakside linebacker or in a four-man with Neal at slot corner. We’ve even seen defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner covering Jimmy Graham from the cornerback position.

Morris will consistently show different fronts against the same offensive personnel packages. He’s equally unpredictable in the defensive backfield, constantly disguising his coverage. He’ll show press-man then walk back his DBs to zone just prior to the snap or show zone only to have it be off-man. Morris also loves to dial up run-blitzes.

With those three factors playing into one another, the Falcons have been able to confuse quarterbacks and throw off timing routes. They’ve generated six sacks and five turnovers on the year, with basically all of that production coming in the first half.

They’ve struggled in the second half but it hasn’t been because of Morris’ play-calling. In the losses to the Bears and the Cowboys, late struggles by the offense led to time of possession discrepancies from the first half to the second. Add in penalties and half a dozen injuries to players with significant roles on the defense and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Speaking of those injuries, the Atlanta Falcons may be without a handful of contributors when they come to Green Bay. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, defensive lineman Deadrin Senat, safety Ricardo Allen, edge rusher Tak McKinley, and cornerback AJ Terrell were all absent from the Falcons matchup against the Bears.

Terrell is the first player with a positive test for COVID-19 during the regular season. Defensive lineman Grady Jarrett and cornerback Darqueze Dennard also left the game against the Bears and didn’t return. We’ll be monitoring those injuries for you, going forward.

Three Factors for the Atlanta Falcons

1) The Passing offense

For as bad as the passing offense looked in the second half against the Bears, it’s been equally as impressive in stretches. In the first halves of weeks two and three, Ryan was 22 of 37 for 299 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.

He also went for over 400 yards against the Seahawks with all three of his top receivers converting 9 of 12 targets for over 100 yards. When the Falcons are clicking, they’re scary. Calvin Ridley is currently grading as the second-best wide receiver, via PFF, due to his ability to get on top of the defense. Russell Gage has also been a pleasant surprise.

However, when Gage and Julio Jones were both absent against the Bears, the offense was anemic. We’ve yet to see the offense click for four full quarters and I’m curious if we ever will.

2) Lack of Pass Rushers

Grady Jarrett – that’s the list of productive pass rushers for the Atlanta Falcons. Sure, there’s been sacks but, for the most part, they’ve all been schemed. Dante Fowler Jr hasn’t been the threat they were hoping for, while Tak McKinley and Charles Harris are both first-round busts.

It’s worth noting that McKinley played decent in his first two games before injuring his groin and missing the game against the Bears but this isn’t his first injury. Tak spent most of last season dealing with a shoulder injury before surgery landed him on IR. He’ll likely be a free agent in 2021 considering that the Falcons have declined his fifth-year option.

Fowler has been a journeyman pass rusher for basically his entire career. This is his sixth year in the league and the former first-rounder is already on his third team. Harris was the Dolphins’ first-round selection in 2017 but is yet to do anything of merit. He was cut by Miami after last season.

3) Red Zone Defense Struggles

The Falcons defense has been awful in the red-zone. While they held the Bears to just two successful red zone appearances out of four, both of the Falcons’ “successes” were originally called touchdowns before reviews resulted in an interception and a turnover on downs.

Prior to their matchup against the Bears, the Atlanta Falcons had allowed nine successful red zone attempts of a possible ten, eight of which went for touchdowns. Even against the Packers, the Falcons will have to clean that up.

 

The Cowboys and Bears have been able to capitalize on the Atlanta Falcons’ mistakes, with critical results. The Falcons can’t expect to play so sloppily against the Packers and have success. Rodgers is famous for making defenses pay for offsides penalties and short fields.  Add in the Falcons red-zone struggles and it looks like the Packers will torch the Falcons defense.

There will be some stretches of great offensive production for the Atlanta Falcons against the Green Bay Packers’ defense, which can be porous at times. However, the Packers have done a good job of limiting explosive plays on the defensive side of the ball, aside from their missed tackles against Alvin Kamara

Some aspects of this game will be interesting to watch and I expect the game to be close for a bit. However, it should end in yet another victory for the Green Bay Packers.

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