Re-Focused – Falcons @ Bears, Week 1

| September 12, 2011

It seems as if the Green Bay Packers might have permanently broken the Atlanta Falcons in last season’s playoffs – Atlanta is winless since (albeit through the preseason), and never really looked like they were a threat to win this one.
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Chicago spent most of the off-season trying to figure out ways of repairing their offensive line to try and keep some of the pressure off Jay Cutler, who at his best, is capable of some genuinely special play. But how successful were they? They coughed up five sacks, but they weren’t all on the O-line and in traditional pocket-passing situations, and while they had problems, it was far from the disaster of 2010.
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As for Atlanta, things weren’t as ugly as the score line would suggest and there really are positives to be taken from the game, albeit not many on offense.
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In the end the game came down to turnovers and when the ball hit the deck, the Bears came up with it. Turnovers will always swing the outcome of a game, but they don’t necessarily tell you the story of what happened, but let’s try and do that a bit more with our things of note.
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Atlanta – Three Things of Note
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1)   Account for Abraham

If you’re going to run the ball in the vicinity of John Abraham, it’s probably a good idea to actually get a body on him and make sure he can’t knife through the line and blow it up before it’s begun. The Bears didn’t get that memo on Sunday and Abraham tore through the line on more than one occasion to wreck things in the run game. Oh, and in case you’d forgotten during a long summer of lockout, he’s a pretty special pass-rusher too. He recorded a pair of sacks, a pressure and a batted pass and made life difficult for J’Marcus Webb on the edge. The Falcons also kept him to just 35 snaps in the game, ensuring he was fresh enough to be a constant thorn in the Bears’ side.
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2)   Dunta Robinson didn’t hold up

Brent Grimes didn’t have the best game in the world, and Chris Owens certainly had his struggles too, but when bad things were happening in coverage, it was likely Dunta Robinson in the middle of it in this game. Robinson was thrown at six times, and allowed five receptions, for 119 yards. That’s 19.8 a clip. This number gets skewed a bit by Devin Hester’s bubble screen where Robinson wasn’t able to get anywhere near the play, but he was beaten by Johnny Knox, Roy Williams and Matt Forte too, ending with Cutler having a rating of 118.8 when throwing at Robinson. The Falcons need him to come a little closer to justifying his salary for them to be able to slow teams down through the air.
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3)   The O-line woes

Last season the O-line was a strength for the Falcons. It was always likely to deteriorate heading into 2011 when they found themselves looking at the off-season with three starters heading for unrestricted free agency. They retained two of them, but Todd McClure’s stand in for this game, Joe Hawley, was an issue. Garett Reynolds didn’t have a great game himself, coughing up a sack and a pair of hits, but he was much more effective in the run game than Hawley, who was constantly abused at the point of attack. In this game the line was an issue, but with McClure back at C it shouldn’t be an issue for the season over the long-haul. Whether this was a schematic problem or a symptom of new members of the line needing to gel, the Falcons were beaten all day by simple stunts by the Bears, seemingly unable to orchestrate passing off linemen between blockers. That needs fixing. Soon.
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Chicago – Three Things of Note
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1)   The Offensive Tackles

I was curious to see how these two players would do in this game and despite giving up a pair of sacks and earning a -1.9 PFF grade overall, I think J’Marcus Webb can hold his head up high. It doesn’t come much tougher than trying to contain Abraham, especially when the Falcons are keeping a pitch count on him and making sure he is always at the peak of his powers. Webb was downright awful for much of last season on the right side, but this was a big step up and if he can continue this way in 2011, he just might be viable as a blindside protector. Gabe Carimi had a bit of a rookie day, allowing a sack and a pair of pressures, and holding his own for much of the day. When he was beaten though, it tended to be ugly. The performance of these two will be interesting to watch this season and they likely hold the key to the Bears’ season in many ways.
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2)   Running is his Forte

Matt Forte has quietly moved up the PFF gradings over the past couple of seasons, and he finished this game with a +5.0 grade. He has always been an accomplished receiver and his grade is nearly evenly split between rushing and receiving for the game. He hit the hole well and confidently and he was able to make people miss on more than one occasion. The Bears actually looked capable of opening up some holes in front of him too, which will always help. If the Bears can get Forte going and protect Cutler too this season, things become immeasurably easier on offense.
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3)   The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on D

Henry Melton had a very good game. The stats will tell you that, but he graded well also, and was a constant irritant to the Falcons’ offense in rushing the passer. Perhaps the best news is that despite playing just a dozen snaps against the run, he wasn’t grading poorly there either. Nick Roach ended the game with a -2.6 PFF grade, and that is thanks largely to the multiple occasions where he, realizing he mis-read the play initially, turned and simply ran at top speed away from the line of scrimmage. He did this seemingly without any real course in mind, but as if he had to get as far downfield as possible before a bomb went off. It certainly didn’t seem to pay dividends on the plays in question, and this was both the bad, and the ugly on D!
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Game Notes

●  Pressuring Matt Ryan with just four rushers was big. When blitzed, Ryan had a QB rating of 118.8, but when pressured it tumbled to just 37.5. Get pressure, but don’t give him an easy out.

●  Kroy Biermann was thrown at once in coverage. He allowed one reception, for one yard, for one touchdown, but also recorded himself one interception and one touchdown of his own. The game of one.

●  Michael Turner rushed 10 times for 100 yards at 10.0 per rush.
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PFF Game Ball:

Falcons DE – John Abraham

Playing just 35 snaps, the Falcons got the best out of Abraham, who used his speed to torment the Bears’ offense versus both the run and the pass.
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Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamMonson … and give our main Twitter feed a follow too: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • radical

    “Atlanta are winless since…”

    That’s some D. Orlando Ledbetter caliber stuff right there Sam. :p

    • radical

      As always though, great analysis, and I really hope the Falcons can turn it around next week. Dunta and Owens better step up against the Eagles in a serious way. By the way, did Dunta come out with a negative grade for his run support? It seemed like he missed out badly on a few tackles.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Sam Monson

    Winless in pre-season too was what I was getting at, it wasn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounded! ;)

  • visible

    Is this the year that you guys come down to earth and realize that Matt Ryan is NOT underrated, he is actually overrated. Since you watch every snap, I would think you would mention that in his last 76 passes (GB and CHI) he has 1 TD pass…yes, that’s correct, ONE TD pass. That is pathetic, especially considering all of his weapons. Let’s look at his last 4 games against teams with winning records, here is what you will see:

    CHI: 0TD / 1 INT / 76 rating / LOSS
    GB: 1TD / 2 INT / 69 rating / LOSS
    NO: 1TD / 0 INT / 77 rating / LOSS
    TB: 2TD / 2 INT / 62 rating / WIN

    The difference between Ryan and the elite QB’s is that Ryan needs the WR to be open. Brees, Manning, Brady, Rodgers, and even Stafford can pin point the ball into the smallest opening even when under pressure. Ryan simply cannot do it. Your own stats even prove that he is not good against pressure, he is only good at quickly finding the open man against the blitz. The only stats that are relevant are stats against good teams and he clearly cannot even crack an 80 qb rating against good teams in big games.

    • sunnym

      What about his wins aganst the Saints at their place, the Bucs again, Ravens, Packers and he beat the Seahawks, a playoff team at their ground. He lost 3 games last year in the regular season, all to winning teams with two of them coming away. He lost to the Saints at home but as I mentioned before, he beat them away.

      Against winning and playoff teams last year, he was 6-3 which isn’t that bad. 6-4, if you count the Packers’ demolition.

  • dirtybirds

    Pretty good review of the game.

    I also thought that Abraham was outstanding. However, even as a Falcons fan, I find it hard to believe that you didn’t bring up neither Peppers nor Urlacher — I thought both were on the to of their games and outstanding overall. I think that Peppers made life a living hell for Sam Baker (who should be playing RT, he’s just not that good), and Urlacher was literally all over the place, making plays everywhere.

    As far as the Falcons defense goes, I thought that Dunta Robinson had his worst game as a Falcon. He was beaten on basically every play, and kept falling down for some reason while getting ready to pursuit. And I never want to see Chris Owens unless it’s Special Teams … NEVER. He should have been cut during the Bengals game last season.

    Furthermore, it seemed as if when Ryan wanted to go deeper than 10 yards, either nobody was open, or he didn’t have enough time in the pocket. I’m not worried about him as I think that the O-Line couldn’t have played any worse and I’m certain that White and Jones will find ways to get open.

    Lastly, I still think it’s a miracle that the Falcons won 13 games last season with two horrible coordinators. I’ve never seen a coordinator be more conservative than Mike Mularkey. The guy flat out refuses to call for big plays. And on the defensive side of the ball, Brian VanGorder uses the same conservative philosophy … the guy is afraid to blitz or play man-coverage. He would rather his D-Line rush 4 and have the rest of the defense drop back in a zone. This has been killing the Falcons ever since the guy took over as the DC. When your safeties are at their best at tackling – not coverage – and you have two great cover corners (though like I said, I know that Dunta struggled badly during this game), you should be playing man-coverage and trying to somehow get one of your safeties involved in some blitzes to help put more pressure on the QB.