Not for the first or the 50th time, the Atlanta Falcons have left me … well, perplexed. Going by the ol’ eyeball test, they’ve looked pretty much as I expected, the “pretty much” part applying because I figured the defense would be better, but half the defense is hurt and what remains isn’t very good. They’ve faced three strong teams and could easily be 3-0. Instead they’re 1-2, which leads to the first in a series of not entirely random thoughts.
* Since winning the NFC title on Jan. 22, 2017, the Falcons are 12-10. (This counts the Super Bowl loss and two playoff games from last season.) They haven’t been hurt to this extent for all, or even most, of those losses. Given that Pro Football Focus has ranked their roster the NFL’s best or second-best the past two summers, that’s not an especially bountiful return. Granted, the first and last of those losses were overtime excruciations, but still: They’re 12-10.
* They’re 6-4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That’s not great, either. That’s one Deion-Jones-leaping-interception-in-the-end-zone from being the definition of mediocre.
* On a cheerier note, those who believed Steve Sarkisian might, in Year 2 as offensive coordinator, do as Kyle Shanahan had done and look a whole lot smarter have been handed two games’ worth of corroborating evidence. After scoring one touchdown on Opening Night in Philadelphia, the Falcons have scored nine the past two weeks. In those two games, they were 8-for-8 at scoring touchdowns inside the 20.
* Fears that Matt Ryan’s indifferent night in Philly might be a signal of immediate decline have been filed in the trashcan marked #FakeNews. Per Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, Ryan’s 148.1 passer rating against the Saints was the NFL’s highest ever in a loss. (Also from Kacsmar: The Falcons became the second team since 1940 to score 37 points without a turnover and lose; the first was the Steelers in Week 2.)
* The Falcons aren’t going to see a quarterback on the order of Drew Brees again until Thanksgiving night in New Orleans. (They get Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field in December, and we can agree to disagree as to whether Ben Roethlisberger – the Falcons play in Pittsburgh 13 days hence – is on that exalted level.) There aren’t many teams that could’ve seen the Falcons’ 37 points and raised it. This offense is capable of winning lots of games by itself.
* Trouble is, the offense will have to win lots of games by itself.
* Where the Falcons’ defense ranks after three games – 28th in passing yardage, 28th in rushing yardage, 29th in total yardage and 31st in third-down conversions.
* Vic Beasley had a sack Sunday. (The Saints griped that he was offside.) That’s one for the year. The Falcons as a team have five. They rank 27th in a 32-team league. Maybe they should have taken a defensive lineman in Round 1.
* On second thought … nah. Calvin Ridley has caught four touchdown passes in two games – more than Julio Jones had all last season. Some of that surely has to do with Jones attracting the usual double coverage; some of it has to do with Ridley being really good. He made the Saints’ P.J. Williams look so overmatched that I had visions of Jerry Rice catching five touchdowns, four against the helpless Charles Dimry, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1990. (Maybe that’s just me, though. I often have visions of Glanville-era games.)
* For a team that styles itself as Fast & Physical, the Falcons sure do miss a boatload of tackles. Brian Poole missed Michael Thomas on the first play from scrimmage. Robert Alford whiffed against Ted Ginn on the Saints’ first touchdown. Beasley and Damontae Kazee missed Taysom Hill on his third-and-2 option keeper. Poole and Alford ran together and were unable to halt the 39-year-old Brees on the tying touchdown with 1:15 left in regulation. (Brees laid the American football version of the Cruyff Turn on them.) Foye Oluokun missed Thomas in OT. In the effort to splatter somebody, the Falcons seem to forget that there’s value in merely wrestling the other guy to the ground.
* Of the game’s 137 plays, the biggest was on third-and-5 with 25 seconds left in regulation. On a day when neither defense did much stopping, Saints linebacker A.J. Klein split the gap between center Alex Mack and right guard Brandon Fusco. (Both blockers were blocking other Saints.) Left in the backfield to pick off a blitzer, Tevin Coleman looked first for someone coming off the corner. By the time saw Klein, it was too late. Ryan was hit as he delivered and underthrew Mohamed Sanu. The Falcons would touch the ball only twice more – on the ensuing punt and the overtime kickoff.
* I know, I know. That’s a little thing, but we around here know too well that little things left undone can undo mighty efforts. Devonta Freeman whiffed on the blitzing Dont’a Hightower in the Super Bowl and everything fell apart. That day marked the only other time Ryan had a passer rating of 140-plus in a loss. That one also went to overtime. That one looked a little – OK, more than a little – like this one. Same ol’ Falcons, I guess.
* Unless they land Earl Thomas. Then they’d be a bit different.
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