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Don't Sleep On The Falcons Offense, Sleep With Them


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http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2014/12/5/7328693/matt-ryan-falcons-playoffs-saints-nfc-south

Per NFL rules, the NFC South is required to send a team to the playoffs. We can -- and probably should -- laugh at how the division-leading Saints and Falcons are both 5-7, but they're also both coming off of huge Week 13 wins. New Orleans beat Pittsburgh on the road and Atlanta won against the Cardinals at home. These respective wins signal the start of the race down the homestretch, where each side hopes to get its act together just enough to eek out a division title. Look, maybe it's embarrassing, but let's be clear: the NFC South winner gets the chance to host that home playoff game -- no small matter for two historically good home teams -- so the stakes are high.

Atlanta's defeat of the previously 9-2 Cardinals was especially impressive when you look at the team's offense. Matt Ryan and the Falcons put up 29 points and 500 yards of offense on an Arizona defense that had been dominating opponents for most of the year. You can point to the fact that the Cardinals are now relying on a second-string quarterback to run their offense, and that's fair, but to do that to a team that was previously leading the NFL in defensive scoring -- well, that makes you sit up and take notice.

I'm going to try not to overstate things in breaking down Atlanta's chances for the playoffs. According to a multitude of stats, both rate and advanced, the Falcons have the league's worst defense. That makes things rough, bottom line. But a great offense can help hide some of those warts on the defensive side of the ball. Ryan is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He's got a patchwork offensive line, but a veritable arsenal of weapons at his disposal.

They say that "defense wins championships," but they also say, "the best defense is a strong offense." Atlanta's going to try to put the latter cliché to the test.

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The Falcons won't get the likes of Drew Stanton during the final four games -- they'll face Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton -- but if Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter can do what he did against arguably the league's best defense in Arizona with some consistency the rest of the way, all bets are off. Koetter's gameplan was intelligent and creative, and the Falcons executed it with aplomb.

The tenets, as far as I could tell, were as follows:

Feed your No. 1

I will say this forever, and I know it's a trite, tired cliché, but to win in the NFL, you need your big-time players to make big-time plays. Julio Jones had maybe his best game as a pro and smoked Patrick Peterson repeatedly to the tune of 10 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. This was huge in particular against a blitz-happy Cardinals defense that is extremely aggressive and not afraid to take some chances on defense. It did take some chances, and Ryan made Arizona pay by feeding Jones down the field.

With Arizona's Cover-1 blitz, the deep middle safety has no shot at getting outside on a back-shoulder throw. Ryan has always been a fearless downfield thrower and here he trusted Jones to beat one of the best corners in the game right now in Peterson. Having a receiver (or two) that can win the ball down the field even with tight coverage -- that's an extremely valuable commodity, especially in the playoffs when games are tight and defenses are generally stronger. In this game, Ryan was 7-for-7 for 167 yards on throws of 15 yards or more, a cool 23.9 yards per attempt.

Big time players make big time plays.

Utilize the special talents of your skill players

TE Levine Toilolo is 6'8 with 34" arms and great leaping ability -- he's still learning the ropes of how to be a pro, but there's one thing that comes naturally to him -- elevating for a jump ball. Ryan spent years throwing to Tony Gonzalez, so this is no new thing for him, but on this play, Koetter dials up a play-action pass to Toilolo in the back of the end zone.

Cardinals' LB Kevin Minter actually reads the route pretty well and gets into a position to cut it off, but this is like an alley-oop to Dwight Howard over your point guard. There are times where physics just do not work in your favor. Ryan throws the ball on a rope probably about nine feet high -- and just from the perspective of a quarterback, it's a rare opportunity to not have to worry about touch or velocity on a pass like this to the back of the end zone. Zip it in there in a spot that only your guy can get it.

Somewhat relatedly, I liked to see how Koetter used rookie Devonta Freeman in a counterpunch role to what Steven Jackson is called on to provide. The Falcons haven't been a strong running team this season -- 25th in yards per game, 19th in yards per rush, and 27th in attempts -- but they put up 142 yards on the NFL's best, most stingiest rush defense. Part of it was mixing inside power and lead runs with outside pitches, tosses, and sweeps.

The rookie Freeman is elusive in the open field and his talent at making defenders miss is apparent, like when he took a pitch 19 yards after getting the corner. He ran a stretch play to Freeman on the very next snap and got seven more yards.

It's cool to see Koetter design schemes meant to highlight this.

Similarly, the way that Devin Hester has been used in the construct of the offense suits his skillset. The prolific return man is averaging 6.8 yards after the catch per reception according to Pro Football Focus, meaning he's getting the ball in space with room to operate, somewhat like he's on a return.

One example:

This play is called a "swap boot." When used in conjunction with a strong run game a a deep play-action passing attack, it can be infuriatingly difficult to stop, particularly when you have a very strong open field runner in Hester.

Soften up the middle

You never want to be one-dimensional in terms of the run vs. the pass. The Falcons had their most impressive day on offense against the Cardinals in a large part because they were able to get things done in the ground game. Jackson ran like a man possessed, racking up 101 yards on 18 carries. Keep in mind, the Cardinals hadn't allowed any player to rush for 100+ yards going back to Week 6 of last season prior to this game. That's pretty insane, actually.

If Atlanta is going to threaten for the playoffs in the NFC South, a balanced offensive attack will help immensely. Not only does it augment your play-pass game, it burns time off the clock and keeps your crappy (sorry) defense off the field.

Tailor your schemes to exploit specific teams

The mark of a good playcaller is the ability to design schemes that beat propensities shown by an opponent. The Cardinals are probably one of the hardest teams to game-plan for because of the multitudes of things they do on defense, whether it's man defense, zone, or all out blitzes, but Koetter seemed to have an answer for Arizona's multiple defense.

One thing he employed on several occasions was the "pick" play. Hey look, it's not just Denver that does this.

Constraint

Using your entire complement of weapons within the construct of your offense can be devastatingly demoralizing to a defense. Sick and tired of getting beat deep by Jones? Back your defense up, double team him. Get beat on the other side by Harry Douglas. Sick of getting run on by Jackson? Inch up closer to the line, overplay the run ... and get beat by Douglas. That **** swap boot play again!

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Bottom line: Nobody is crowning the Falcons at this point in the year, obviously. But the team's game plan and execution on offense against the Cardinals helped allow it to control the ball for 37+ minutes of that game. If Ryan catches fire and starts playing the way we know he can play, Atlanta just becomes an interesting team to watch over the final four games.

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Aaron Rodgers is not unstoppable. I fully believe that if the defense steps up we can give him headaches. I think we're capable of beating this team.

I agree he's not unstoppable. EVERY player can be slowed down. But as for giving him headaches, I don't think that's as easy as you think with real elite quarterbacks with an offense as good as they have. Sure you will bring up Peyton and drew brees but that was 2 years ago. And even in those games, both teams had a chance to actually defeat the falcons had the clock played in their favor. How a team gets so many turnovers and still manage to win by a touchdown or less is beyond me. But anywho back to present. Rodgers is on top of his game right now. Belichek and company couldn't even slow him down or give headaches. The falcons defense can't afford any slip ups because the offense isn't guaranteed to play the same as they did last week
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Aaron Rodgers is not unstoppable. I fully believe that if the defense steps up we can give him headaches. I think we're capable of beating this team.

Coulda fooled me the last month.

Business end of the season cometh the man cometh the hour.

I hope like **** I'm wrong.The issue I have is we don't really get pressure and we don't cover backs out of the backfield well hence why i can see Rodgers absolutely murdering us.Cobb lined up in the backfield we saw a glimpse last week.

I'm actually quite confident in Tru on Nelson but given the play of the GB o-line that I saw last week it could be a long day for the defense.

Even more impressive about GB was there coaching liked what I saw in that chess match with NE.

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OP, are you serious? Really?...I see that winning an NFL game makes many fans delirious. Is it impossible for the Falcons to go to Green Bay and win? No it isn't impossible. Is it improbable? Very much so....

As Bill Parcels once said, you are what your record says you are. This is a 4-7 team soon to be a 4-8 team.

I am just as much a fan as the next guy, but I also know when the team I root for isn't so good. The 2014 version of the Atlanta Falcons are not good enough to go into Lambeau field and defeat the 2014 version of the Green Bay Packers.

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We will lose because its on the road in the snow and historically we havent performed well in the elements on offense which we would need to do here.

That being said, we have a couple things going for us.

1. We know our defense is bad statistically, therefore we wont be headed in to this game with the naive mindset

that we will be able to stop them. So far in the Nolan era it is in these games where he shines the brightest. Games where we KNOW we are over matched defensively and he is left to scheme up something that nobody has thought of. I believe the Packers will still get theirs but it will be in the range of 24 to 35 points. They will gain yards but they wont pass 40 points on us.

Which brings me to my next point

2. Our offense is poised to bounce back after settling for 5 field goals last week. Make no mistake, as impressive as it was to put 29 points on one of the leagues best defenses, we left several touchdowns on the field. If we converted at least 2 more of those failed redzone trips youre talking blow out for real. I believe the offense is going to focus extra hard this week on converting in the RZ, and IF we are able to move the ball down the field we will finish with 6's instead of 3's. This is the key to the game imo. We will need at least 4 touchdowns and 30+ points to win. I say this because finishing drives keeps ARod off the field longer and our defense rested and the clock moving. If we get turnovers we have to make them pay for it with TDs. This puts the pressure back on them.

Again I doubt we win, but we CAN if we do these things.

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OP, are you serious? Really?...I see that winning an NFL game makes many fans delirious. Is it impossible for the Falcons to go to Green Bay and win? No it isn't impossible. Is it improbable? Very much so....

As Bill Parcels once said, you are what your record says you are. This is a 4-7 team soon to be a 4-8 team.

I am just as much a fan as the next guy, but I also know when the team I root for isn't so good. The 2014 version of the Atlanta Falcons are not good enough to go into Lambeau field and defeat the 2014 version of the Green Bay Packers.

5-7 Bro, and technically our coach pissed away 2 wins almost single handedly so we have the makings of at least. a 7-5 team.

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OP, are you serious? Really?...I see that winning an NFL game makes many fans delirious. Is it impossible for the Falcons to go to Green Bay and win? No it isn't impossible. Is it improbable? Very much so....

As Bill Parcels once said, you are what your record says you are. This is a 4-7 team soon to be a 4-8 team.

I am just as much a fan as the next guy, but I also know when the team I root for isn't so good. The 2014 version of the Atlanta Falcons are not good enough to go into Lambeau field and defeat the 2014 version of the Green Bay Packers.

Well in defense of the OP they were probably saying the same thing when Vick and the team went up to Lambeau and handed the Pack there first ever home play-off loss on the tundra.

Yes it is improbable but I give us about a 30% chance.

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Well in defense of the OP they were probably saying the same thing when Vick and the team went up to Lambeau and handed the Pack there first ever home play-off loss on the tundra.

Yes it is improbable but I give us about a 30% chance.

the same ones saying they have no chance now are probably the same one who chose them to make the Super bowl for 3-4 years straight. And yes, there were several analysts and experts that had the falcons picked to make the Super Bowl multiple years throughout this regimes tenure

Why some people aren't accepting the fact that the falcons have done nothing to earn respect or support outside of the Homers is humorous. It is what it is, nothing can be done about it except the team going out and proving them wrong

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368 yards, 2 tds and no interceptions against a creative defensive team. Atlanta doesn't play the same style of Defense as the rest of these teams. Stanton made them look great. They need to do the same this week

I take it a little further. By the team numbers we really matchup well with them. We actually right behind them in yards/gm at 9 with 374. They are 8th with 377.9. Passing we are 6th to their 8th. Rushing we are 25th to their 19th so if I'm Nolan I'm slowing their running game.

Defensively both defenses are bottom dwellers so the game is actually a great matchup. The advantage is them being at home. The difference is the mental mistakes we make. Matt has more yards than Aaron but far more int's and td's. In other words Aaron gets chunk plays from Nelson. Take nelson away and we have a huge shot. The game winner for GB vs NE was the one chunk play on Revis to Nelson for a TD. Stop the chunk plays from Nelson and we win.

My solution. Put Tru on Cobb and lock him down. Double and bracket Nelson all day. Not worried about wilson because we have a former starter handling the 3rd best wr on every team. A good game plan and mistake free football can handle these guys.

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