Monday Post-Game Thoughts – Atlanta vs. Denver

Yes, Atlanta lost a game they probably should have won.  Denver had a ton of players out because of injury and Atlanta should have taken advantage for more than 20 points.  Yes, Atlanta was 40 yards away (or a big holding penalty) from a game-winning touchdown in the final minute.  Yes, the Falcons squandered a lot of time with their last drive starting with around five minutes left.  But there are things to take away from this loss.  If you want to think of it in a trading sense, Atlanta snatched victory from Chicago a few weeks ago – a game they lose 99% of the time.  Against Philadelphia and here versus Denver, they had one possession to score a touchdown and win.  In Philly, the Falcons fumbled the punt at 20-14, ending their chances.  Here, they used a bunch of clock like they were ahead, had a questionable play call after the holding penalty and had Roddy White drop a touchdown in the endzone (no, it’s not his fault). 

The Falcons did a decent job against Cutler and the Broncos’ offense.  Hillis and Bell had more success on the ground than I imagined, but they limited the big play and giving up 24 points against Denver should produce a victory.  Atlanta went three-and-out on their first possession with two dropped passes – very uncharacteristic of how the Falcons have been starting games this year.  At least this was a non-conference loss.  The way this season is going, it looks like 10 wins will get into the playoffs with the contenders playing each other down the stretch.  That would mean 4-2 for the Falcons in the final six.  With Minnesota and St.Louis at the end (probable victories), 2-2 in the next four could still have them in the running.  Tampa Bay and Carolina loom, but are in the Georgia Dome.  San Diego and New Orleans host Atlanta.  It would seem unfair for the Falcons to get into the playoffs while going 0-4 against division rivals Carolina and Tampa Bay, but it’s certainly possible. 


Falcons vs. Broncos In-game Commentary, Week 11, 2008

The Falcons get the ball first and seem very out-of-sync.  Two dropped passes and a short throw on 3rd and 10 lead to a disappointing 3-and-out.  Denver, on the other hand, drives the field behind many completions by Jay Cutler to a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. 

 On their second drive, Atlanta has a few runs for 2 yards or less (including a couple of “Wildcat formations” with little success).  But Ryan completes passes to White, Jenkins and Finneran (key 3rd down) to set-up a 46-yard field goal by Elam for a 7-3 game.

Denver goes 3-and-out on their final drive of the 1st quarter after failing on a 3rd-and-1, relying on new running back Tatum Bell (just signed this week).

On the first play of Atlanta next drive (last play of the quarter), Ryan finds White one-on-one (against Denver’s best corner Dre Bly) down the sidelines for a completion of 35 yards.

1st quarter analysis – Denver completing a lot of short balls (Atlanta has yet to get pressure on Cutler even with a blitz or two), but no running game to speak of.  After a slow start, Ryan looks in-sync with receivers and Atlanta is running the ball a number of times (which usually bodes well for the second half). 

After two lackluster runs, Matt Ryan improvises on 3rd and long, completing a pass to Jenkins rolling left.  Atlanta is already in field goal range on their 3rd drive of the game.  Ryan is now 8/10 for 100 yards.  The drive stalls at the 20, resulting in another field goal by Elam.  Two scores in 3 possessions so far.

 Huge return by Eddie Royal, sets up Denver in Atlanta territory to start their 3rd drive.  Chris Houston makes a big play on 3rd down, deflecting a pass, to force a field goal attempt from 49 yards, which misses wide left.

Three Michael Turner runs produce 9 yards and a disappointing 3-and-out from Atlanta after getting good field position.  But Atlanta goes for it on 4th, a hard count gets an offsides call and an automatic first.  Great cadence by Ryan to extend the drive in Denver territory.  Ryan is now 8/13 after a long incompletion to White.  Ryan rolls out against the blitz completing a great pass to White on 3-and-8 down inside the 10-yard-line, nearly scoring.  Touchdown by Turner on 1st down.  Great blocking, good read by Turner.  Atlanta leads 13-7 halfway through the 2nd quarter.  Three scores on 4 drives today.

Another good return by Royal out to the 42-yard-line.  A stuffed run and false start lead to a 2nd and 14 for Denver.  A double reverse picks up 10 yards and sets them up for a 3rd and 4 for the first down.  Chauncey Davis blows up a toss to Eddie Royal to force another punt from Denver.

Atlanta begins at the 17 after a fair catch.  Norwood gets a big 12-yard run on 3rd and 1 to extend the drive with under 4 minutes to go in the half.  Ryan has run twice on the drive, once converting on 3rd-and-1 to get down to the Denver 43.  Atlanta hasn’t allowed a sack yet, but Denver is getting pressure on Ryan the past few throws.  3 incompletions and Atlanta will punt with a minute to go.  Ryan is 10/18 with 145 yards.

Denver will start at the 15 with two timeouts and 55 seconds left in the half.  There’s only 30 seconds left after two completions for 10 yards.  Will Denver shut it down with only one timeout left?  Cutler is 11/14 for 79 yards thus far.  A sack ends their drive and a possible opportunity for Atlanta.  A questionable fair catch by Douglas at the 43-yard-line leaves Atlanta with a timeout and 9 seconds.  Atlanta downs the ball to end the half, 13-7 the Falcons lead.

At the half, Denver has only 88 yards, Atlanta with 200, holding the ball for almost 19 minutes and 10 first downs.  Total plays, Atlanta 38, Denver 22.  After a slow start, Atlanta ends with 55 yards rushing in the half, with the lead, Atlanta will get to its season avergage in the 2nd half.

John Abraham gets nicked up on the 1st play of the second half.  Atlanta forces a 3rd and short, which Denver converts with a swing pass to Hillis.  12/15 for Cutler.  Like the 1st drive of the game, Denver is moving straight down the field – two more completions and a big run by Tatum Bell.  Atlanta stiffens to force a 3rd and goal from the 2-yard-line.  Easy score on an outside run by Hillis, his second on the day.  Denver leads 14-13 after a 5 minutes drive to open the second half.  11 plays, 77 yards on the drive.

Two big runs by Turner are a good sign, the second called back by a holding call – 2nd and 12 for Atlanta.  Two Norwood catches gets the first down.  Ryan is 12/20 for 168 yards now.  Atlanta almost up to 80 yards rushing now with Turner having 42 yards and a TD.  A Ryan sneak gets another 1st down around the 40 yard-line, the drive already taking 4 minutes off the clock.  Jenkins for 13 yards, past mid-field now.  No-huddle the last two plays, great control of the game by Ryan.  Big pressure on a 3rd down results in Ryan throwing off his back foot, an interception, only his 6th of the season.  No points after holding the ball for over 6 minutes.

Cutler goes back to work, getting Denver back into Atlanta territory.  Cutler now 16/21 on the day.  Brooking with a pass interference call, giving Denver 1st-and-goal.  3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard-line, with only 17 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.  Atlanta sticks the run up the middle to force a field goal, opening the 4th quarter.  17-13 Denver.

Atlanta begins at the 23-yard-line on a very important drive.  Finneran with a key catch to convert on 3rd down and into Denver territory.  Finneran with another catch on 3rd down – he doesn’t catch a lot of balls, but it’s always in a key spot.  White has 93 yards on the day, Ryan is 16/25 for 217 yards.  Only 82 yards on the day rushing for Atlanta.  On cue, Turner scores a 28-yard touchdown, his second on the day, now with 78 yards.  Under 11 minutes to play, Atlanta leads 20-17.  Turner with 4 rushes for 39 yards on the drive.

Atlanta finally makes a play on Royal’s kickoff return, holding him inside the 20.  The crowd is back in the game for the first time in the second half.  A stuffed run and an incomplete pass leads to 3rd and long.  Cutler delivers with a deep pass to Marshall, down to the Atlanta 33 yard-line.  Three runs get the ball down to the 11.  A holding penalty, backs it up to the 22-yard-line, 2nd and 12.  Hillis with a big catch, 1st and goal at the 7.  Under 7 minutes to go.  False start, now Denver has 2nd and goal outside the 10.  Denver has been very calm on this drive going down the field.  Incomplete – now a huge 3rd down.  Field goal only ties the game.  Cutler steps up and guns a touchdown to Daniel Graham, 24-20 Denver with 5:35 left in the game.  Cutler 19/27 for 216 yards.

Atlanta begins at the 24 with all 3 of their timeouts.  White another catch for 9 yards to open the possession.  Turner picks up the 1st down, now under 4 1/2 minutes to play.  White again, now for 12 yards and a first down, 102 yards on the day.  Closing in on 3 minutes left in the game.  Jamie Winborn drops on interception that would have ended the game.  A break for the Falcons, Ryan never saw him.  Ryan beats the blitz on 3rd and 7 for 12 yards to Finneran.  All Finneran does is make clutch 3rd down catches.  A Turner run gets it down to the 2 minute warning.  Atlanta sits around the 35-yard-line, looking for the touchdown to take the lead.  This game has the feel that the last team with the ball could win it.  Atlanta needs to score a TD first.  Plenty of time for Atlanta, they need to execute right now.

Holding by Atlanta, huge penalty.  Now 2nd and 20 for Atlanta, they need to get yards on this play, you don’t want 3rd and 20.  This is 4 down territory though I would think.  A screen pass to Snelling only gets 2 yards.  3rd and 18, Ryan needs to be clutch again.  Deep to White in the endzone, but can’t haul it in.  Now 4th down for Atlanta.  Punt with 3 timeouts?  They are going for it.  White had a good chance for that one, just didn’t pull it in on the sidelines of the endzone.  It doesn’t look good for Atlanta, but they looked out of it against Chicago as well.  7-3 is a huge difference from 6-4 in the NFC right now.  Carolina coming to town next week in a huge game.  Denver calls a timeout after seeing Atlanta’s formation.  Incomplete pass – Denver takes over around midfield.  Ryan 20/33, 250 yards.  Game over, Denver wins. 


Inside the Numbers – Atlanta vs. Denver Week 11 – 2008

Turnovers – One of the most telling statistics in football – Atlanta +4 (9th in the NFL), Denver -11 (30th).  The Falcons have turned the ball over just 9 times this season with just 5 interceptions from their “rookie” quarterback Matt Ryan.

Offense – Denver is 2nd in Yards/Game, Atlanta 8th. 

Rushing – Atlanta 2nd, Denver 18th.

Yards/Reception – Atlanta 2nd, Denver 5th.

Field Goals – Atlanta 19/21, Denver 16/19.

Kickoffs Returns – Atlanta 7th, Denver 18th.

Matt Ryan – 5 INTs, 12 sacks on the year.  Jay Cutler – 11 INTs, 6 sacks on the year.

Points per game – Denver 9th, Atlanta 13th. 

3rd down % –  Denver 5th, Atlanta 16th. 

Penalties – Denver 24th (47 in 9 games), Atlanta 25th (only 44 in 9 games).

Time of Possession – Atlanta 12th, Denver 27th.

DEFENSE

Yards – Atlanta 23rd, Denver 29th.

Points – Atlanta 8th, Denver 28th.

3rd down % – Atlanta 16th, Denver 19th.

Sacks – Denver 12th, Atlanta 18th.

Passes Defended – Atlanta 13th (53), Denver 30th (30)


Week 11 – 2008 – Falcons/Broncos, What Does America Predict?

78% of Yahoo users predict a Falcons victory on Sunday, including the 3 exclusive Yahoo prognosticators.

Atlanta is favored by 6.5 at home with an over/under of 50.5.

Atlanta was the choice of 7 of the 8 ESPN.com experts (Mike Golic, who has the lowest correct % for the season so far, was the lone Denver supporter).

The Madden 2009 simulator predicts an Atlanta win (33-30) with the following highlights – Ryan hits Roddy White for a TD with only 17 seconds left, Cutler 17-27 for 236 yards and an INT.  Ryan 20/31 for 301 yards and 2 TDs.  7 FGs in the game (4 from Elam, including a 53-yarder).  Michael Turner – 87 yards on only 15 carries with 2 scores on the day.

Atlanta has surged to #8 in the ESPN power poll (previously #10) after the win against New Orleans with the tag line “Still think they’re a fluke? The Falcons seem to get better every single week. ”

Denver sits at #19 in the ESPN power poll, but they are in the 1st place in the cloudy AFC West at 5-4. 


So Much For The Rookie Quarterback Learning Curve – Matt Ryan Off To Hot Start In Atlanta

How about that Matt Ryan?  I think even the people highest on Ryan heading into the draft would say they didn’t predict this type of start from the Boston College signal-caller.  Last off-season, Atlanta fans and management were pretty locked into a quarterback with the #3 pick in the 2008 draft.  Joe Flacco was rising up the draft boards (ended up going in the mid-1st round to Baltimore, who is also 6-3 so far in 2008), but Matt Ryan was considered the top QB in the draft throughout the lead-up to the draft.

Pessimists spoke of the number of interceptions Ryan threw his senior year of college (19) and his lack of mobility why he was destined to join the names of Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith instead of Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer.  Atlanta was also supposed to begin the year with Chris Redman or even D.J.Shockley at quarterback until Matt Ryan eased his way into the passing pocket of live NFL games.  This was the ultimate rebuilding year for Atlanta — a roster skinned of their overpriced veterans from 2007, like Deangelo Hall, Joe Horn, Wayne Gandy (before re-signing mid-season), Ed Hartwell, Warrick Dunn, etc. — a rookie “quarterback of the future” sitting the bench learning the NFL game — a whole new coaching staff led by a virtual no-name (to the average NFL fan) in Mike Smith — an offensive line built for zone run blocking only — a defensive line anchored by an injury-prone John Abraham — and a secondary without a direction.

Instead of a 1-15 season where the hopeless team mentally checks out by November, the opposite has taken place.  Matt Ryan has played since day one, looking poised, calm and amassing statistics that haven’t been seen by a rookie quarterback since Dan Marino (even Peyton Manning threw 20+ interceptions during a full rookie campaign).  Ryan’s success has been helped tremendously by the offensive line, averaging less than 1.5 sacks/game and leading the league in rushing (now without the help of Michael Vick’s numerous bootlegs).  Matt Ryan has looked more comfortable each and every week in the pocket, making more audibles and reads at the line-of-scrimmage.  Here’s a few telling statistics for Matt Ryan through 9 games…. has not taken a sack in the 1st quarter while completing 67% of his passes.

Sam Baker has stepped into the left tackle spot to protect Ryan from all those blind-side pressures that plague young quarterbacks.   Michael Turner has earned every penny of his big free-agent contract in his first starting role in the NFL.  Jerious Norwood has contributed with key carries, a few returns and great hands in the passing game.  Roddy White has developed into a top-five wide receiver in the NFL and a favorite target of Ryan’s. 

John Abraham has always been a force…when healthy.  Well, he has stayed healthy in 2008 and produced more than a sack a game through 9 games.  What’s more important is his impact stopping the run, consistently getting penetration and disrupting running backs. 

The secondary has transformed from the maligned unit led by an overhyped Deangelo Hall in 2007, to a group of hard workers in 2008.  Chris Houston and Brent Grimes play well, while Dominique Foxworth has emerged as a nice #1 cornerback on the depth chart.  Veterans Erik Coleman and Lawyer Malloy anchor the safety positions.

The coaching staff has performed well, lacking all the glitz and glamour of some teams’, but getting wins and avoiding big mistakes.  The Falcons have been ready to play each and every week, focused on getting a win and improving.

As the season progresses, each game will be more important, challenging the character and poise of this young team.  All any team can ask for in the NFL is to stay relatively healthy and be in a position to make a run at the playoffs.  Right now, Atlanta is in position to make that improbable run.


Atlanta Falcons – Some Statistical Trends – Week 10 – 2008

Atlanta is 6-0 when Matt Ryan’s completes more than 53% of his passes in a game.

Atlanta is 3-1 when Matt Ryan throws for 200+ yards in a game.

Atlanta is 5-0 when Michael Turner rushes for 60+ yards in a game.

Atlanta is only 2-2 when Roddy White has 7+ catches in a game.

Atlanta is 5-1 when John Abraham has at least one sack.

Atlanta is 4-0 at home in 2008.

Atlanta is 6-0 when scoring more than 14 points.

Atlanta is 6-0 when allowing 21 or less points.


Falcons Get Huge Win Against New Orleans

Atlanta began the second half of the 2008 season on a high-note, beating their rival New Orleans soundly in the Georgia Dome.  The Falcons had shocked analysts with their 5-3 mark in the 1st half and continued the great season in week 10.

Matt Ryan had his best statistical day in his brief NFL career, but more importantly, the Atlanta defense stepped up and shutdown the New Orleans attack.  Over the past couple weeks, Drew Brees had drawn a lot of attention for his assault on Dan Marino’s NFL-record for passing yards in a season.  Brees did rack up the yards against Atlanta, but many were meaningless in the 4th quarter after the game was decided.  John Abraham got steady pressure on Brees and Dominique Foxworth (a late addition to the roster for Atlanta) broke up many passes while covering Marques Colston and Devery Henderson most plays.  Chris Lofton and Jonathon Babineaux defended the run well, which was far easier with Reggie Bush still recovering from an injury.

Atlanta moves to 6-3, tied with Tampa Bay in the packed NFC South.  Atlanta has lost to Carolina and Tampa Bay already this season, but will play each at the Georgia Dome for a chance at revenge.  Carolina comes to town in two weeks after Atlanta tries for 7-3 against the Denver Broncos.


Victory!

I realize that this is the same headline I used for the Falcons’ first victory, but as I have no indication that the Falcons will win often enough for it to become cliche, I’m fine with that.  If they prove me wrong, I’m more than happy to come up with something more creative for future victories. 

I apologize for my extended absence.  After the Falcons’ loss on MNF a couple of weeks ago, the team had an off week last week.  I saw that as an opportunity to take a few days off from posting, and the day job got busy and ended up turning those few days into a couple of weeks.  It also didn’t help that the Falcons’ play has been so bad that nobody wants to go to the games anymore, resulting in no sellout yesterday and thus no television coverage.

I was pleased, however, to see the Falcons leading pretty much from start to finish as I watched a very good Packers-Chiefs game.  From what I gathered from various sources of articles and commentary, it appears that the Falcons held it close to the vest with Harrington and garnered the win over one of the other worst teams in the league with a good running game and solid defense.  This should have been the formula all along, but against better teams the youth on the o-line and Harrington’s ability to get easily rattled have rendered it a futile plan.

During my hiatus, it was announced that Leftwich will only be out for 3-4 weeks.  It will interesting to see what happens at the QB position when he is again available.

I also missed posting on all of the drama with Deangelo Hall calling out the Falcons organization, and specifically Petrino, over the firing of Grady Jackson.  I agree with Hall in substance; I don’t really understand the release of Jackson, a leader on defense who has already signed with the Jaguars since his release.  I don’t approve of Hall’s public denouncement of a sitting head coach, though.  A coach is in a position of leadership and must be respected.  Petrino, for his part, needs to assert that leadership.  He also needs to communicate better with the team regarding these kind of decisions so that players are not caught unawares by these type of moves.  Hall is the only one being a douche about it, but other players are hurt by it, including not insignificantly veteran and team leader Alge Crumpler (who has incidentally been hurt and will be out for several more weeks).

We should be back on a regular posting schedule from now on, so stick with us to see whether we decide to follow the draft pick race or the playoff race.  Next week’s game with Carolina will be crucial in making that decision.


Draftwatch 2008

It’s become cliche to complain about Sunday’s game on Monday.  So I’m just gonna move straight to my new feature.

Yeah, that’s right.  After yesterday’s display, including Leftwich’s injury (looks like he’s out for the year, by the way; the return to the Harrington era will be the subject of a future post) and another late-game Falcons choke, I am at least following the draft race (even if not quite yet actually rooting for the #1 spot; the Dolphins are after all still winless).

Here’s where we stand now:

Miami Dolphins 0-7
St. Louis Rams 0-7
Atlanta Falcons 1-6
New York Jets 1-6

Looking pretty good for that Brohm pick now.


Week 7: Atlanta Falcons v. New Orleans Saints

Falcons Helmetsaintshelmet2.jpgThe Falcons return to the scene of last year’s crime the Superdome for a crucial divisional battle an epic struggle for the #2 draft pick with the Saints. 

Stick with me to see if Leftwich is our savior.

First Quarter Update: Falcons hanging; Leftwich looks ok; not magnificent, but not sucking either.  Atlanta 3, New Orleans 7.

Second Quarter Update: Leftwich has led the Falcons on three long, impressive drives that have chewed up most of the first half clock.  The first two ended in field goals, but Leftwich caps this last one off with his first TD pass of the year to Roddy White.  Atlanta 13, New Orleans 7.

Third Quarter Update: And just like that, Leftwich is hurt and Harrington is back in.  Meanwhile the Saints have taken the lead.  Oy.  Atlanta 13, New Orleans 14.

Fourth Quarter Update: A resilient drive by Harrington, overcoming several penalties and hitting Roddy White on a beautiful pass down to the 7, setting up a field goal to give the Falcons the lead.  Now it’s time for the defense to step up (like they’ve already done a few times this game) and hold it.  Atlanta 16, New Orleans 14. Note: Leftwich left the field in a cart and Harrington has the team in his hands again for the foreseeable future.

Bush should have been kept out of the end zone, but wasn’t.  And for some reason the Saints go for two and convert.  Oy.  Atlanta 16, New Orleans 22. 

2:00 Warning: Harrington has done a good job of avoiding pressure and keeping this drive alive, but now the Falcons face a long 4th down near midfield to keep the game alive.

1:44 After a five yard penalty for delay of game on Dunn for spiking the ball, the Falcons punt instead of going for it.  A first down for the Saints and it’s over.  Falcons take their first time out.  And the Saints pick up a first.  Likely over.