The Falcons rode a hot defense and a big special teams play to the 29-3 victory over the Panthers on Sunday.
The offense kept chipping away until it finally got in the endzone with 1:37 left in the second quarter to push the lead to 20-0. The Panthers were 5.5 point favorites in the game, but second-year quarterback Kyle Allen was no match for a simplified defensive approach and a fierce four-man pass rush.
The Falcons improved to 3-7 with the victory and are drawing praise around the league for continuing to fight after starting 1-7. Running back Kenjon Barner, who had the 78-yard punt return for a touchdown, gave us some insight to the team’s mindset.
“One thing that’s special about his team, at the time at the bye week, you don’t see a lot of 1-7 teams with the fight that this team has,” said Barner, who has won Super Bowls with the Eagles and Patriots. “I think that speaks volumes for coach (Dan) Quinn, the coaching staff and then the players. I think a lot of other places you see guys quit at 1-7, but that is not the case with this team.”
Film review of the Sack Patrol
The Falcons had 11 sacks and 21 quarterback hits in their past two games. Here’s the film review of the five sacks against the Panthers:
Sack 1: On third-and-3 from the Panthers’ 35 with 5:51 left in the first quarter, left defensive end Vic Beasley drove right tackle Taylor Moton back to the quarterback and popped out to his left to tackle Allen for a 13-yard loss. The Falcons rushed four. The defensive line was Beasley, left tackle Jack Crawford, who peeled off; right tackle Grady Jarrett and right end Adrian Clayborn.
Sack 2. On third-and-10 from the Panthers’ 30 with 1:50 left in the first quarter, Takk McKinley, rushing from left end, got home with a bull rush over tackle Daryl Williams. (In the complimentary football department, the punt return for a touchdown followed this play.) It was a four-man rush with McKinley at left end, Jarrett at left tackle, Clayborn at right tackle and Beasley at right end.
Sack 3. On first-and-10 from the Panthers’ 45 with 1:09 left in the second quarter, Clayborn, from right end, powered over tackle Greg Little to drop Allen for a loss of 10 yards. It was a four-man rush. Beasley was at left end, Crawford at left tackle, Jarrett at right tackle and Clayborn at right end.
Sack 4. On fourth-and-5 from the Falcons’ 35 with 11:38 left in the third quarter, Clayborn powered over Little again and dropped Allen for a 12-yard loss. It was a four-man rush. Beasley was at left end. McKinley at left tackle, Jarrett at right tackle and Clayborn at right end.
Sack 5. On third-and-4 from the Panthers’ 41 with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, Allen Bailey, rushing from left defensive tackle, beat Panthers guard Trai Turner and sacked Allen for an 11-yard loss. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner lined up at left end next to Bailey with Crawford at right tackle and Beasley at right end.
Summary: The Falcons moved players around looking for favorable matchups. They were able to get to Allen with four-man rushes. They disguised their coverages and forced the young quarterback to hold the ball. Against the Saints, they used stunts and a blitzes to get six sacks and 11 quarterback hits on Drew Brees.
Run offense: The Panthers were determined to shut down the Falcons’ run game and over-committed to achieve that goal. They committed so hard to the run that they left the secondary wide open for play-action passes. The Panthers achieved their goal as they held the Falcons to 54 yards on 26 carries for a paltry 2.1 yards per carry. Credit offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter for sticking with the run -- even though he wasn’t getting much -- to set up the pass. Brian Hill was held to 30 yards on 15 carries and had a long run of 11 yards. Grade: F
Pass offense: Matt Ryan completed 21 of 31 passes for 311 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 111.1, his third highest of the season and just the third interception-free game of the season. Ryan was sacked three times and hit five times. Calvin Ridley caught eight passes for 143 yards and one touchdown. Ridley had explosive plays of 36, 26 and 26 yards. Julio Jones caught 6 of 8 targets for 91 yards. Russell Gage continues to develop in the slot and tight end Jaeden Graham came up with two catches which converted first downs. The sacks brought the grade down from an A. Grade: B-plus
Run defense: The Panthers rushed 15 times for 77 yards, but had to abandon the run after falling behind 20-0. Christian McCaffrey had 70 yards on 14 carries. De’Vondre Campbell led the Falcons with 11 tackles. Grade: B
Pass defense: The Falcons had four interceptions with three of them in the redzone to take potential points off the board. Right cornerback Isaiah Oliver is starting to look more comfortable. “I thought that's the best that he's looked this season,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I thought there was really good technique – he challenged guys at the line of scrimmage. Thought he made a really good play down the sideline on a deep ball, and then in the end zone made a good play on a guy cutting inside him. You really saw why we like him with all the length at corner.” Left cornerback Desmond Trufant returned to action and had a nice interception in the endzone. The pass rush netted five sacks. Grade: A
Special teams: Barner took a “motorcade” to the end zone on his punt return touchdown. The punt was blasted by Panthers’ Michael Palardy as it went for 60 yards. Barner caught it at the 23-yard line, but his momentum took him back to the 18 and he made a circle back up the field. Carolina’s DeAndrew White missed his tackle. Falcons safety Sharrod Neasman sealed off the Panthers’ Cole Luke. Wide receiver Christian Blake was blasted on the key block. Barner then split two defenders and picked up blocks from Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Jermaine Grace to get to the sideline. Jordan Scarlett of the Panthers got a hand on Barner, but he flicked it off and kept on moving. Scarlett tried to chase Barner down, but safety Jamal Carter came over and smartly got in front of him and bumped him out of bounds. (Carter won the Way To Play award for this block.) Kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 38-yard field goal attempt that sailed to the right in the second quarter. Grade: A-minus
Coaching: The Falcons proved the Saints’ win wasn’t a fluke and that perhaps they have righted their ship. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians gave some insight as to what the Falcons have done to get things turned around. “They simplified it defensively,” he said. “They are playing really, really fast and they are not very complicated. The front four is teeing off and doing a heck of a job. Offensively, they are moving the ball and scoring points.” For the second week in a row, the Falcons won the coin flip and elected to take the ball. The Falcons had a season-low three penalties for 20 yards. Grade: A.
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