In the 101 football axiom class, it is taught that blocking is fundamental and that it is very hard to win the game when you can’t block the other team.
The Falcons found that out as the offensive line got shoved around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday in a 24-9 loss to the division rival Saints.
The Saints, playing without their star quarterback Drew Brees and top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, shut down the Falcons’ running game and unleashed a relentless pass rush.
Playing without their star receiver Julio Jones for most of the game, the Falcons sputtered about and were held out of the end zone. Quarterback Matt Ryan was under duress and there was no room to run as the Saints’ defensive linemen regularly won their battles up front.
Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris was asked if the offensive line was overmatched, over-powered or out of sync?
“It was a combination of those guys covering us really well,” Morris said. “Not being able to hold up as long as some of those pass plays may have taken.
“Obviously, we’ll be able to go back and see what the analytics say on how long the pass goes, the progressions, who got covered and who did what as far as the progressions. We don’t want to just (place) blame on the (offensive) line all the way. A lot of those were combinations of coverage and rush.”
The Saints, who are trying to win a fourth-straight NFC South title, improved to 8-2 on the season. The Falcons, who had won three of their past four games, dropped to 3-7.
New Orleans’ backup quarterback Taysom Hill completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and no touchdown passes or interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 108.9. He also rushed 10 times for 51 yards and two touchdowns.
“Good athlete,” Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun said. “A lot of times, he extended plays. When we do know it’s a quarterback run, there is an extra blocker for him. The running back can be the extra blocker. So, get off the blocks and get to the ball faster.”
While Ryan was sacked eight times and hit on 11 other dropbacks, the Falcons were held to 52 yards rushing on 14 carries. Atlanta, averaging 396.8 yards per game for fifth-best in the league, was held to 196 yards until adding some garbage yards with 59 seconds left to play.
The Falcons finished with 248 yards, 148.8 yards under their average.
“They did a good job of rushing different packages the entire day, stressing our pass protection,” Ryan said. “They did a good job of covering on the back end. I’ve got to tip my hat to them. We have to play better in a couple of weeks when we see them again.”
Here are the five things we learned from the loss:
1. Stopping Hill. The Falcons’ defense had a tough time with Hill, the running quarterback, who had thrown 20 NFL passes over four seasons.
“He’s a NFL quarterback,” Falcons cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “He’s in the NFL. He’s very talented. He made the plays he was supposed to make today to win the game and we didn’t. It was as simple as that.”
The Saints’ longest play was a blooper of a pass that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders came back to and won the battle for a 44-yard game. He woefully underthrew several passes, but the Saints won the jump balls.
“We have to make some of those plays on the balls he did (throw) down the field,” Morris said. “We were not able to do that today. We have to go back and look at those reasons and reasons why. We have to correct those things quickly and efficiently because we have to move on. We are going to see these guys in a couple of weeks.”
2. Pass protection lacking. Ryan was under duress on 42% of his dropbacks.
On 45 dropbacks, Ryan was affected on 19 plays (eight sacks and 11 quarterback hits).
Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson led the charge. He had two sacks and three quarterback hits while rushing over Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews.
After having halftime to adjust, the Falcons came out and gave up a sack on their first play of the third quarter.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan, rushing mostly over Kaleb McGary, had three sacks and three quarterback hits.
Also, defensive tackle David Oneymata had two sacks and two quarterback hits and linebacker Demario Davis had a sack and two quarterback hits.
“We didn’t play well,” Matthews said. “That’s completely out there. We have to regroup and watch the film. We felt like we had a solid plan going in. Obviously, we didn’t execute. The numbers speak for themselves.”
The Falcons gave up nine sacks and 13 quarterback hits in their 26-18 loss to the Saints last Thanksgiving.
“It makes you angry,” Matthews said. “You don’t want to see the quarterback get hit. We have to do a lot better job. As an offensive linemen, the bottom line is you find a way to get the job done no matter what. It doesn’t matter what. They did a good job.”
The Falcons know teams will try to copy how the Saints shut them down.
“We just had to firm it up more,” Matthews said. “We were a little all over the place. We have to watch the film and correct. It definitely didn’t feel good.”
The Falcons believe they can bounce back.
“We know we are a good team,” Matthews said. “We were in that game early. Unfortunately, it just got away from us.”
3. Thomas takeover. Hill locked in on Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas to help carry the offense.
Thomas, who missed seven games with a high ankle sprain, had his first 100-yard game of the season.
He had nine catches for 109 yards before the Saints started to run the ball to run out the clock.
“He did a good job,” Dennard said. “Finding holes in the defense. He’s a good route runner as well.”
4. Jones’ hamstring. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones played sparingly in the first half with a hamstring injury.
Jones started the game and made two catches for 39 yards. He returned briefly in the second quarter, but then was not on the field during the Falcons’ last possession before the end of the first half.
He returned again in the fourth quarter.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley led the team with five catches for 90 yards, while Russell Gage had seven catches for 58 yards.
5. Time of possession. One of the keys to the Falcons’ success over the past four games was the team winning the time of possession.
In the previous four games, the Falcons’ average of 35:12 led the NFL. Over that span, Atlanta improved from 21st in the league to fourth.
The offense was not able to protect the defense against the Saints as they won the time of possession battle 33:41 to 26:19.
The Falcons were within field-goal range and had a shot to take the halftime lead, but Ryan was sacked by Jordan for a loss of 8 yards and were knocked out of range.
“We had a nice feel for it in the first half and going into half time, (had) a chance to take a lead into halftime,” Morris said. “Those guys get the big-time sack.
“We really felt like we could take control of the game in the second half, but we were never able to capture that. They were able to go right down and score on us (to start the third quarter). When we got the ball we had a bunch of three-and-outs.”
Falcons’ next four games
Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29
Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6
Falcons at Chargers at 4:25 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13
Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10
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