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Who to Blame For Falcons loss to Cardinals?

Matt Ryan takes one of the four sacks in yesterday's loss to Arizona. Ryan took 11 hits, to go along with the four sacks. (Credit: USA Today)
Who do you criticize first? Who do you not blame for the Falcons’ worst performance, since arguably the loss against the Giants in the infamous wild card game? It has been that long since the Falcons have taken such a one-sided beating. You could bring up the loss to Carolina last December, but they had the division already clinched and made it competitive in the fourth quarter.

Despite recovering the onside kick late in the fourth quarter, Atlanta was pretty much finished. This was another game, where the Falcons were soundly outplayed on both sides of the ball. The big difference was that they didn’t have Ryan to bail them out. Arizona’s defense was too much for Atlanta’s anemic offense to handle and swarmed Ryan into making uncharacteristic mistakes.

This was a game where Atlanta essentially had to win to stay relevant. This was one of the easier games left on the schedule. Arizona’s offense has played terrible for almost the entire season and the defense has shown some leaks in the secondary. Based on today’s game, you wouldn’t have recognized it.

It seemed like there was some optimism from the victory last week. Now it seems that the season is once again over. Who’s to blame for the debacle in Arizona? The list may be never ending, but the first culprit couldn’t have been more obvious.

Offensive line gets manhandled once again

Everyone always wonders what is the most overrated stat in football? I’ve always felt sacks were because it can be inflated in judging a player’s numbers. When you are analyzing a game, you can realize that a pressure forcing a turnover is more valuable than a sack. It may not show on the stat sheet, but it still proves to be an even bigger play. Sacks are still an important stat, but it can be inflated in a major way.

Atlanta is a prime example of that. They were tied for least amount of sacks allowed. It seems insane to believe that, considering how poor the offensive line has played all season. Other than Justin Blalock, you can consider every lineman below average at this point. Peter Konz came into this season with high expectations playing his more natural position at center, but he’s been a disappointment so far.

The tackles were the main culprits today. After improving over the past few weeks, Lamar Holmes couldn’t have been more exposed. He fatigued once again and was allowed more pressure, as the game went on. John Abraham made him look like a child, which didn't really surprise me. People can take shots at Abraham's age, but he can still produce when not being overused. You have to wonder how did Holmes pass his conditioning test in training camp? The more you watch the Falcons late in games, the more you watch him cave in. It’s a shame because I thought he was turning the corner and possibly becoming a serviceable tackle. Instead he proved to be every bit as bad as Jeremy Trueblood against Arizona.

The blame can be directed towards all parties. Many people were questioning the offensive line depth going into the season. Even though Tyson Clabo has looked terrible in Miami, the right tackle spot has been a disaster all season long. The Garrett Reynolds experiment at right guard has been going on for three years now. There needs to be an upgrade at right guard replacing Reynolds. Konz and Blalock are probably the only lineman locked in right now for long term. Sam Baker should be coming back soon, but he’s another player that has been injury prone throughout his career. The front office has handled the situation poorly and have relied on too many young players rather than look for actual upgrades in the off season. Speaking of youth that leads to our next topic.

Growing pains defensively

The scary thing about the Falcons’ defense is that the corners once again played well. Despite Carson Palmer actually looking like an NFL-caliber quarterback for the first time possibly all season, the cornerbacks once again played well. Desmond Trufant had some issues with Larry Fitzgerald on one drive, but once again we are talking about an elite receiver. It’s the growing pains of a rookie cornerback. Still he played hard and made some plays. The same can be said for Robert Alford, who continues to shine.

The defense failed in spurts, which still isn’t good enough against an offense that has abysmal for weeks now. They knew that the offense wasn’t going to have a tough time scoring points against Arizona's defense. This was a game, where they needed to force multiple turnovers and make Arizona throw the ball. Instead they let Arizona establish the run and forced Atlanta to throw the ball for most of the second half.

Once again, the linebackers failed to make much of an impact. Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu haven't been difference makers to say the least. It’s hard to criticize undrafted rookies, but they simply haven’t made enough plays in both the running and passing game. The same can be said for young pass rushers like Malliciah Goodman and Jonathan Massaquoi. They have been put in a major role to be productive, due to various injuries. We’ve only seen spurts of impact plays from all four players. That isn’t good enough to succeed. I expected much more going up against an offense as poor as Arizona.

The young players will obviously garner criticism, but how about some of the veterans? Osi Umenyiora was once again a non-factor. It’s hard to criticize Osi because he shouldn’t be the focal guy for the pass rush. The front office did a poor job of not truly addressing that need, which has been a need for years. After playing his best game last week, William Moore played his worst game of the season. He missed a few tackles and blew his coverage, which led to a 51-yard completion to Teddy Williams.

Other Notes

It’s really hard to criticize Matt Ryan in these circumstances. No quarterback in the NFL can succeed with the personnel in Atlanta right now. The running game has been non-existent for about four weeks in a row. Ryan is being forced to throw a ridiculous amount of passes, which played right into Arizona’s hands. You knew that Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and John Abraham were going to be all matchup problems for the Falcons’ offensive line.

His interceptions thrown to Daryl Washington and Tyrann Mathieu were poor decisions. The other two interceptions were simply trying to make a play in a difficult situation. It was third and long on both occasions, along with Ryan getting hit (shocker) on each throw. He’s always proven to be tough and he’s doing all he can to lead the offense. It’s a shame now he’s going to get heavily criticized, due to the numbers on the stat sheet. Ryan is one of the top quarterbacks in the league, but this is almost an impossible situation to succeed in playing against top defenses.

Steven Jackson’s return was nothing more than a dud. There was some inkling that he looked slow, which is extremely harsh. How can you judge a player’s speed when he has no room to run? It was his first game back from injury. There are some football purists that analyze every movement and decide that's good enough to formulate a true opinion. I’m not buying into that. The offensive’s struggles are entirely on the offensive line. Anyone doesn’t believe that didn’t watch the game yesterday.

I’ve brought up the rookie corners before as bright spots. The other bright spots were Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. I’m expecting the Falcons to release some veterans in the off-season to look for some potential upgrades. That may include Asante Samuel, even though he’s still someone I’d keep.

Babineaux is another player that is still playing at a high level and constantly causes havoc in the backfield. Peters continues to have a fine year and should be getting paid this off-season. Even though Andre Ellington had a big day, it’s hard to blame the defensive line when most of Ellington’s successful runs were from counters or tosses.

Future outlook

A trip to Carolina is on the horizon and that is another difficult matchup. They are playing against Cam Newton, who always gives the Falcons’ fits. Not to mention, the Carolina pass rush is one of the top units in the league. It looks to be another long day for the Falcons.

Even if Roddy White manages to come back, Atlanta simply doesn’t have the all-around talent to beat decent teams at this point. The defense is struggling to stop teams and the offensive line is allowing Matt Ryan to take too many hits. This could get ugly against a much-improved Carolina team. While Carolina’s record is a bit inflated, they always play well against Atlanta and have proven to be a bad matchup in the past.

You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk


Anthony Rizzuti
Oct 28 2013 03:20 PM

Yeah, not liking Atlanta's chances against a Carolina team that's ripping it right now. Arizona's front seven is very good, so I wasn't surprised on how much Ryan hit the ground. Bad news for him-- Carolina's front seven is even better.

Seth Keysor
Oct 28 2013 04:17 PM

Talk about a terrible time to play a Carolina defense that is looking crazy legit...

It's gonna get ugly next week, unless Newton has an off game which I highly doubt. Even if White comes back, I don't see him  being much of a game changer. A bad offensive line eventually comes back to haunt you. The Steelers are a prime example of that from last year. 

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