The Atlanta Falcons found themselves in a familiar place, playing in a similar game and ending up with similar results, losing to the Eagles 12-18
Atlanta were mostly plagued by the same issues, that they experienced in last year’s playoff defeat. Penalties, dropped passes, off target throws, red zone inefficiency, and blocking were the author of the Atlanta Falcons demise.
This loss was very reminiscent of last season’s Divisional Round playoff game in which the Falcons lost 10-15 in Philadelphia. The Falcons moved the ball right up the field and into red zone on their first drive. This gave them an early chance to test if they had fixed their previous issues inside the 20 yard line.
The Falcons faced third down and one inside the five yard line. Rather than run it behind newly signed guard Brandon Fusco, Atlanta chose to shift from a three tight end power set into a shotgun formation. Ryan failed to connect with Devonta Freeman.
Dan Quinn elected to go for it on fourth down inside the five, rather than start the game off with three points. This time the call by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was a Freeman, outside run to the left behind Jake Matthews. Freeman was stuffed for no gain, turning the ball over on downs.
When Philly got the ball, The Atlanta Falcons defense stepped up and forced a three and out. Atlanta’s offense responded with a nine play 41 yard drive, capped by a 27 yard Matt Bryant field goal. The key play in the drive was a 26 yard screen pass to Tevin Coleman.
The two teams exchanged punts until about midway through the second quarter, when the Eagles tied the game at three. The Dirty Birds responded right away with a drive of their own, marching 41 yards in eight plays, ending in a 52 yard field goal, for the ageless wonder Matt Bryant. The Birds went into halftime leading 6-3.
The Eagles and then Falcons both had five plays and out drives, to start half number two. The Falcons appeared to hit on an explosive 54 yard pass to Julio Jones on their drive, but the play was called incomplete. Dan Quinn challenged the play, but the call stayed, despite the commentators all feeling like it was a catch.
The Eagles connected on two big third downs on their next drive. The key third down play was an 18 yard pass to Zach Ertz The biggest play was a trick play in which wide receiver Nelson Aguilar took a pitch on a reverse, and threw a pass to QB Nick Foles for 15 yards. The dive resulted in a one yard shotgun TD run, by tailback Jay Ajayi.
The touchdown Jay Ajayi scored, was the first of the NFL season. It gave the Eagles the lead 10-6.
The Atlanta Falcons got another golden opportunity when an Eagles safety Tre Sullivan touched a bouncing punt, allowing Falcons LB Kamal Ishmael to recover the fumble.
Unfortunately Atlanta failed to capitalize once again. Ryan and Julio had a miscommunication in which Julio ran a totally different route, than Matt Ryan threw. The result was an interception inside of the five yard line, resulting in a another squandered red zone opportunity for Atlanta.
The Falcons defense came through again, as it did all night, to keep them in the game. Demonte Kazee broke up a pass intended for rookie tight end Dallas Gobert. Linebacker Deion Jones was able to snag the ball as it dislodged, racing 20 yards and into Eagles’ territory for an interception.
The Atlanta Falcons quickly took advantage of the D Jones interceptions. Matt Ryan first hit Julio Jones on an 18 yard pass, then Tevin Colman shot into the end zone for a nine yard touchdown run. Matt Bryant‘s extra point clanked off of the right upright for a miss, giving the Falcons an uncomfortable 12-6 lead.
The two squads swapped three and outs once again. When the Eagles did get the ball back the went on a clutch drive.
The Falcons seemed to be in position to stop the drive yet again, as Philadelphia was down to third and nine. Vic Beasley appeared to have stopped Daren Sproles short of the line of gain but missed the tackle allowing a critical 1st down.
The Eagles then proceeded to run the ball down the Atlanta Falcons throats for three consecutive plays. They took advantage of having one of the biggest and most talented offensive lines as the Falcons defense seemed to tire.
The product was an 11 yard Jay Ajayi TD run, as well as a two point conversation run by Ajayi with just over two minutes left in the game.
The Atlanta Falcons were left with with just over two minutes to try and steal victory from the Jaws of defeat. A touchdown was the only thing that would get it done. They Falcons proceeded to drive the ball 70 yards in 12 plays. Julio Jones had receptions of 18 and of 36 yards on the drive.
An illegal contact penalty with one second on the clock, gave the Falcons one last play. Matt Ryan threw a jump ball to Julio on the left side, end zone. Ryan threw the ball a little too close to the sideline. Julio was unable to gather correctly and time his jump to keep himself in bounds.
The end result was a loss in a similar fashion to the 2017 playoffs. OC Steve Sarkisian chose to go with an empty backfield to spread Philadelphia out on three of the last four plays. That’s always dangerous against a team with a great defensive line, as there is no running back to slow down a defender that beat his man clean.
Matt Ryan had rough game completing less than 50% (23-41) of his passes for 251 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception. Ten of those completions for 169 yards went to Julio Jones. Ryan was also sacked four times and pressured on numerous occasions.
ESPN stats and info tweeted out this telling stat that sums up the Atlanta Falcons red zone woes:
The Falcons offensive line had a difficult time opening holes against the stout eagles defensive line. The toss play was particularly ineffective for the Atlanta Falcons. Red zone woes were a major Achilles Heel, with the Falcons scoring just nine points in five trips.
The Falcons defense once again looked like a top ten unit holding the Eagles just 232 total yards. The stout defense gave up 113 yards on the ground and a meager 119 yards through the air.
The Falcons did have several defensive players limp off the field, including strong safety Keanu Neal, who didn’t return. Running Back Devonta Freeman also left the game with a sore knee, and did not re-enter the game.
Penalties were a major factor. There were 26 accepted penalties for the game. The Falcons had the greater share of those penalties. They committed 15 infractions for a total of 135 yards. That was the most penalties the Falcons have had, since having 14 in 1999.
Moving forward, the Atlanta Falcons must find a way to convert short yardage, and score touchdowns in the red zone. They also must clean up the penalties, as to not be behind the chains all game.
OC Steve Sarkisian needs to call the games, in a way that Matt Ryan distributes the ball around evenly. The team always gets in trouble when Ryan forces the ball to Julio too much. In fact, the Falcons went just 8-8 in 2015, Jones’ best statistical season.
Steve Sarkisian will find himself on the hot seat very shortly, if the Atlanta Falcons don’t improve at the offensive end. The Falcons finally have a defense that is championship caliber.
While it would be hard to duplicate the historic pace of 2016, the Falcons have too much talent on offense to be struggling to score 20 points. The woes aren’t all Sarkisian’s fault, but he will be the first to go should the Falcons not get it together.
Falcons fans, that was a tough game against a tough opponent. While loosing in the same fashion as last year, is extremely frustrating, now is not the time to panic. The Falcons return home for their first NFC South division game against the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.
A win in that first home game, would go a long way towards calming the fans fears and righting the ship. Let’s all pull together and cheer this team to victory next week!
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