Atlanta Falcons: The good, bad and ugly from Week 15


For the first time in a month, the Atlanta Falcons woke up on Monday and found themselves out of the playoff picture. Their week 15 match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers concluded their 0-4 stint versus the AFC North and, again, left us wondering if they are as bad as their 5-9 record. Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger had a field day with the Falcons secondary and Le’Veon Bell found the end-zone twice in a 27-20 win over the enigmatic Atlanta Falcons.

There were definitely some bright spots for the Falcons, but not enough to overcome the mistakes as the Falcons are now forced to win their final two games to win the NFC South. Without further adieu, let’s get into what the Falcons did right and what they missed in their week 15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Good – Devin Hester and Harry Douglas

There is no replacing Julio Jones, but Devin Hester and Harry Douglas did their best to make up for his lost production. Matt Ryan found the two slot speedsters 15 times for 216 yards and a touchdown. They accounted for over half of Ryan’s targets (20/37) and you can tell there was a conscious effort to get them the ball in space to maximize their strengths.

Obviously, the team is better with Julio Jones in the lineup but Atlanta has shown they can be just as dynamic with number 17 and number 83 catching passes as they are with number 11 on the field.

The Bad – Matt Ryan’s Weekly Mistake

I want to preface this segment by saying that I have unabashed love for Matt Ryan and love that he is the leader for my team. There is a strong argument to be made that he is one of the top 6-7 QB’s in the NFL. He has more passing yards than QB’s named Brady and Rodgers and less INT’s than QB’s named Luck. He is a top-tier QB, but it seems that every week he makes a single mistake and it comes at the worst time possible.

The mistake on Sunday came in the first half and cost the Falcons dearly, as it ended up being a pick-6 to William Gay. It’s not quite clear whether it was an awful throw by Ryan, bad route by Harry Douglas or a combination of both, but it can’t happen if you want to win against the best in the NFL. Other than that interception, Ryan had a great game, completing 26 of 37 passes for 310 yards and 2 TD’s, but the only image I manage to see is William Gay dancing his way into the end-zone.

To me, it’s those throws that keep Matt Ryan out of the conversation for top 5 quarterbacks in the league. He simply can’t make those mistakes if he wants to stay in the elite QB conversation and keep his team in the playoff picture.

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The Ugly – Ability to Get off the Field Defensively

For the second straight week, the Atlanta Falcons failed to cause a turnover and they have only forced one punt in 9 total first half drives the last two games. Heading into the Monday night game against the Packers, I had considered the defenses ability to cause turnovers one of their assets and it’s really no surprise that they would lose two straight close games when they failed to cause a turnover.

The Falcons have one of the worst third down defenses in the league, and generally rely heavily on their ability to ball-hawk to get the ball back to the offense. In each of their five wins this season, the Falcons have a positive turnover margin which is a pretty typical formula for winning in the NFL.  Atlanta has two more games left this season and need to win both to win the NFC South.

They first take on their biggest rival in the New Orleans Saints, who do a poor job at protecting the football. The Saints are -7 for the season (Falcons are +4) in the turnover battle, and Atlanta will need to take advantage of that if they want to bury the Saints in the 2014 season. The final week will be tougher, as they will face the Panthers who are also positive in the turnover category (+1). If the Falcons win the turnover battle in the final two weeks of the season, I believe you will see the Atlanta Falcons hosting a playoff game in the opening weekend of the NFL Playoffs.