Goober Pyle

Falcons spend full week on road seeking answers to disappointing start

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https://theathletic.com/1283902/2019/10/10/falcons-spend-full-week-on-road-seeking-answers-to-disappointing-start/

 

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Dan Quinn decided the Falcons would practice this week in Arizona, which came not long after the NFL schedule was released, he certainly couldn’t have predicted his team would be 1-4 and desperately needing a win.

Yet here we are.

This team’s struggles have been well documented to this point. A slow start turned bloodbath against Minnesota. Nearly letting Philadelphia win due to two late busted coverages. Being unable to stop Indianapolis in an attempted rally. Letting Tennessee dictate the tone defensively.

And then last week, Atlanta had zero answers for a Houston team that hit chunk plays repeatedly in a 53-32 Texans win.

It can be argued that the best thing for these players at this point is to break up the monotony back home in Georgia.

“If there was a week to do it, this would have been it,” Quinn said. “Like if I had a crystal ball and said, ‘You know what, it could look real ugly for a while, let’s make sure the guys go there.’ I was happy that it happened this week, but the decision was made way back in the spring.”

The Falcons flew from Houston to Phoenix after Sunday’s loss and have been preparing for their upcoming game against the Arizona Cardinals since. Monday felt similar to the players, in terms of the processes the team regularly goes through. Atlanta is practicing at Arizona State, with the players using the visiting team’s locker room at Sun Devil Stadium. The on-field work, at least Wednesday, took place inside the Verde-Dickey Dome, a giant bubble encapsulating an indoor practice field. With the temperature reaching over 90 degrees, albeit with little humidity, the Falcons were able to practice in air conditioning.

While some players have family members in town, it’s a bit different since they can’t go home after work. That has allowed for some of these players to spend a little extra time with one another to go over what exactly has gone wrong for this team.

“We get to bond; we get to see each other a lot more,” running back Devonta Freeman said. “It’s what we need. We need to continue to build our chemistry. Right now, it’s a tough time for us. We’re down; we’re 1-4. We needed that, just to be away from everybody, come in and put in the work and just have one goal in mind — to win.”

With the way Atlanta has played, it only can hope that the extra hours spent with one another can translate into improved communication and confidence for Sunday’s game. The Cardinals are 1-3-1 but are probably feeling better about themselves after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals last week.

“That bonding is big when it comes to this sport,” Freeman said. “We need all 11 on both sides of the ball to be on the same page and fight for each other. To have that chemistry, I think it’s important. It’s definitely going to help out, being here for a week together.”

Turning running backs into receivers

One reason the Falcons haven’t been able to run the ball that well has been due to a lack of carries. In five games, Atlanta has only 91 total carries. To put this number in context, both the Detroit Lions (123) and the San Francisco 49ers (154) have more carries in four games.

But in four of the Falcons’ five games, they have been forced into catch-up mode.

That stated, the Falcons have also been unable to find much space with the ground attack when it does attempt to run the ball. For the season, Atlanta ranks 28th in the NFL at 3.7 yards per rush. Against the Texans, the Falcons were only able to manage 2.9 yards per carry.

Breaking this down further, Freeman is averaging only 3.58 yards per rush on first down, which ranks 30th in the NFL among players with at least 20 carries, according to Radar360. When Atlanta is in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end), Freeman is averaging 1.78 yards per carry. Interestingly enough, when Atlanta is in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), his average jumps to 5.17 yards per carry. That stated, Freeman has gotten only 12 carries in 12 personnel compared to 23 rushes in 11 personnel.

With only seven carries on first down, Ito Smith has posted only 2.86 yards per rush. But Smith’s total number is better as he is averaging 5.2 yards per rush, although that’s only on 18 total carries with a long of 28. Take away the long rush, and Smith’s average drops to 3.8 yards per attempt.

As Texans safety Tashaun Gipson said following Sunday’s game, the goal was to take away Atlanta’s rushing attack and force quarterback Matt Ryan into a position where he has to rally the team with his arm.

It might be time for the Falcons to vary how they get the backs involved. While Freeman and Smith couldn’t find much running room against Houston, the two backs did make some plays in space as receivers. Freeman finished the game with five catches for 40 yards, and Smith posted six grabs for 45 yards. Freeman scored a touchdown on a screen pass, too.

If the Falcons aren’t able to threaten teams with the run, turning the backs loose underneath and in the screen game could be what Atlanta turns to in complementing the traditional passing attack.

“It is an extension of the run game for us,” Ryan said. “We put them in space and try to make people miss. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do in the run game, is get those guys into space on the second level so they can create explosive plays. We don’t care how we do it. Obviously you want to be balanced, but some weeks dictate that you get it out faster and get those guys in space. We’ll do whatever we have to do to find a way to get a win.”

At least through five games, the numbers suggest this is a route the Falcons may want to take. Freeman is nearly even when it comes to rushing and receiving yards — 187 on the ground and 173 as a receiver. His lone touchdown of the season came on Sunday’s reception.

“We just do whatever we’re called upon to do,” Freeman said. “Every single day, we come to work, come to practice and make plays. We just want to affect (the team), whether it’s in the passing game, blocking or running. Whatever the game plan is, we just go about it and execute it as much as we could.”

Falcons still need pass rush improvements with another mobile QB up next

A glaring issue from Sunday’s loss at Houston was the lack of pressure Atlanta put on Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, who seemingly had all day to throw en route to 426 yards and five touchdowns. The Falcons recorded zero sacks and only came away with one quarterback hit.

For the year, Atlanta has only five sacks, which ranks tied for last with the Dolphins and Denver Broncos. Breaking it down further, the Falcons have zero sacks on first down (last in the NFL), two on second down (tied for 21st) and three on third down (tied for 24th), according to Radar360. Four of the sacks have come out of the nickel formation and one occurred with four defensive backs on the field. In addition, four of the sacks came with Atlanta declining to blitz.

While Watson is electric as a runner — evidenced by the fumble he picked up an ran for a first down — he would rather sit in the pocket and go through his reads. Conversely, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is using looking to run the ball when the opportunity presents itself. Already, Murray has recorded 206 rushing yards, with 133 of those yards coming when the Cardinals are in 10 personnel — one running back and zero tight ends.

While Murray has been sacked 21 times, eight were in one game against the Carolina Panthers. In last week’s win over Cincinnati, Murray took only one sack. Considering the lack of pressure the Falcons put on Watson, and the end result that followed, making Murray uncomfortable will be important.

“Quarterback ratings go down when you hit him, when you get him off the spot and you make him uncomfortable,” linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. “It’s something we’ve got to do. Our lack of it at times is a combination of all the things that we’re doing. We have to tighten up our coverage, which will help with the pass rush. The pass rush has to improve — the way we coach it, the way we refine it, the way we drill it. All of that will improve. I look forward to our guys having an opportunity to show who we really are.”

 

 

Edited by Goober Pyle
ATLskinjob likes this

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I'm still a little hopeful they will find something but I'm not interested in anything but results.  Brotherhood, fight for one another and all that stuff is just words.  I just want a win... a good win.  I'd actually like to come back to the boards too as I have largely avoided hanging around here with all the bad mood threads the past two weeks.  I feel the same way but do not want to live in the negativity bubble.   Another loss and I'm probably done caring for the season and will expect new leadership by end of season if not sooner.  

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8 minutes ago, Monolith2001 said:

I'm still a little hopeful they will find something but I'm not interested in anything but results.  Brotherhood, fight for one another and all that stuff is just words.  I just want a win... a good win.  I'd actually like to come back to the boards too as I have largely avoided hanging around here with all the bad mood threads the past two weeks.  I feel the same way but do not want to live in the negativity bubble.   Another loss and I'm probably done caring for the season and will expect new leadership by end of season if not sooner.  

Man I hope they do make playoffs and do some damage some how. It doesn’t look good but hey one can hope.

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Honestly, I wouldn't mind if the Atlanta media stopped interviewing anyone from the Falcons, because in reality, I don't want to hear ****.  Get out on the field and stop embarrassing us. 

octoslash and Big_Dog like this

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