Many had opined that it had to happen at some point, but the Falcons evaded that first loss of the season against the Redskins in the nation’s capital. They overcame a fourth-quarter deficit brought about by a busted coverage that gifted rookie signal-caller Kirk Cousins his first career touchdown pass in relief of an injured Robert Griffin III. The Falcons showed signs of the team that many people refuse to put faith in, but at the end of the day they overcame a slow day (if 345 passing yards can be characterized as slow) from the offense to get the win.
For Washington, this game was also a case of many people’s worst fears coming true as the Redskins were finally made to pay for Griffin running and getting into space against an NFL defense. A ferocious hit, which he didn’t need to take, knocked him out of the game in the third quarter. The Redskins may have scored a touchdown without him, but there is no doubt that a dimension of their offense was missing after he went out. The Redskins must find a way to maintain that dimension while reducing the number of hits that he takes. This game showed their ability to stick with the best teams in the league, but can they maintain this level of play if Griffin is lost to further big hits?
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Keeping up with the Jones
More than half of the Falcons’ passing game this week came courtesy of two players. In terms of targets, receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns both Tony Gonzalez (+3.8) and Julio Jones (+2.2) carried the load for the Falcons. Between them the two receivers went 23/29 for 217 yards and two scores, with the Redskins getting only a pair of pass defenses on passes targeted to Jones to get close to either receiver. Even after the catch the Redskins struggled to stay with Gonzalez and Jones as the Falcons’ dynamic duo for the day racked up a total of six missed tackles from Redskins’ coverage defenders on their combined 79 yards after the catch. That a player like Roddy White was relegated to a supporting role shows not only the development of Jones from last season, but also the scary depth of the Falcons. There probably isn’t a team in the league that can match-up with all of the Falcons’ receiving options if their pass rush fails to get to the quarterback, as the Redskins’ did in this game.
Sam Baker no Longer Quarterback Breaker?
The Falcons’ offensive line did a fine job in pass protection this week with only Todd McClure struggling in the passing game — he allowed four total pressures, including a sack and hurry, to Barry Cofield. Perhaps the most improved player on their offensive line, however, is left tackle Sam Baker. We worried in preseason that the loss of Will Svitek would hurt the Falcons if Baker didn’t improve on prior performances. That would have been the case but for the improvement that Baker has shown. He continued a solid start to the season with his best game of pass protection this season, as he yielded only a pair of hurries this week. Through five weeks of the 2012 season, Baker has allowed only 14 pressures and only three knockdowns (combined hits and sacks) of his quarterback on 230 pass block snaps. Those are far from All-Pro numbers, but as a comparison he allowed as many knockdowns and only two fewer pressures in his Week 2 start against the Eagles last season. There has been much talk of Baker struggling with injuries last season and his return to health, along with the associated upturn in performance, is a pleasure to see for Falcon fans.
Babineaux Bouncing Back?
Another Falcon who showed signs of a ‘bounce back’ this week was Jonathan Babineaux (+2.4), who has not had his best start to a season in Mike Nolan’s new hybrid defense. Babineaux may have recorded a sack in both Weeks 1 and 2 but had done little else on a positive note. He has particularly struggled in run defense, and was sporting a -4.7 overall grade entering Week 4. This week however, we saw the more impactful Babineaux that we are used to seeing. His run defense was more solid for the second week in a row — including a holding penalty against Trent Williams — but it was in the passing game where he was most active as Babineaux doubled his season sack count. He beat Kory Lichtensteiger to the inside for his first, and also collected a hurry in pursuit and another hit off of Lichtensteiger on a play where he smartly used John Abraham as a pick to get free to the outside. That hit came in a crucial situation as it forced a sailed pass from Redskins’ backup QB Kirk Cousins which was intercepted to end the game as a contest late in the fourth quarter. Atlanta will be keen to see more impact plays like this from Babineaux in the coming weeks.
Washington – Three Performances of Note
Mixed Bag in Passing Game
The Redskins’ passing game got a spark from an unexpected source in this game — few would have predicted before this game that a single pass from Kirk Cousins to Santana Moss would have accounted for nearly half of the Redskins’ passing yards and their only passing touchdown. Prior to his injury, Robert Griffin (+0.7) was as efficient as ever, with three drops robbing him of going 13/14 on his targeted passes. However, Pierre Garcon’s (-1.9 receiving) home debut did not yield the positive impact that would have been hoped for. Garcon was a factor in the running game and set a number of good blocks to help his running backs on outside rushes, but his work catching the football was poor.He dropped two of six passes aimed in his direction and accounted for only 24 receiving yards. He also added only 7 yards after the catch, and five of those were on a pass to get him back to the line of scrimmage for no gain. Outside of his 88-yard screen pass at the start of the season Garcon has missed two games and has failed to make a significant impact. Garcon will get time to feel his way back to full health, but questions over his consistency that were raised in Indianapolis will be raised fast, and loud, in Washington if things do not start to take an upturn in the next few weeks.
Jenkins Shows his Potential
There were some fears from Redskins fans that they would suffer from the loss of Adam Carriker to a seaso- ending injury, partly because former second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins may not be ready to contribute on his return from his own injury last season. Well, all he’s done since he entered the starting lineup in Week 3 is record an overall grade of +3.5 and register four stops and four hurries. Jenkins (+1.0) ensured a difficult game for Garrett Reynolds and Tyson Clabo on the right side of the Falcons’ offensive line in this game; He collected a stop for no gain to the outside of Clabo late in the third quarter to bring up a third down, and registered a pressure on Reynolds a couple of plays later to force a dumpoff that was dropped. He struggled off of the bench in the first two weeks, but the Redskins may have received an upgrade by losing Carriker to injury, as, at this stage, Jenkins looks like a better player to move forwards with at the left end spot in Jim Haslett’s defense.
Doing the dirty work for Morris
There is little doubt that the two stars for the Redskins’ offense this season have been Griffin and Mike Shanahan’s latest find in the late rounds at tailback, Alfred Morris (+2.9). Once again Morris was the beating-heart of the Redskins’ offense . He poated his second 100-yard game of the season and once again did a lot of work after contact (70 yards after contact on 18 carries). As ever in a Shanahan offense though, the running back isn’t the only star, as those around him do a lot of work to help him pick up those yards. Both guards had solid ground games (both earned +1.6 grades for run blocking) and there was some excellent blocking as well at the skill positions. We have already mentioned Garcon’s efforts (+1.5 run blocking) to balance his subpar work as a receiver, but there was also help from a pair of tight ends as Logan Paulsen (+1.5 run blocking) and Fred Davis (+1.1 run blocking) both chipped in as well. Davis in particular caught the eye with a first-quarter block that put Stephen Nicholas on the ground to spring a 16-yard carry for Morris. The Redskins have found their hot hand at running back and everybody else is putting in the hard graft to ensure the running game continues to drive this offense.
— This was the first week Ryan Kerrigan has struggled to lead the Redskins’ pass rush in Brian Orakpo’s absence. His pick-six was exceptional, but he recorded only one hurry outside of that play.
— How much did the Redskins’ pass rush struggle in this game? They only pressured Matt Ryan on 12 of his 54 drop-backs; only slightly more than one in five.
— The Falcons will want to re-consider making Joe Hawley a receiver in their offense. He dropped both passes targeted his way in this game.
PFF Game Ball
Notching up the 99th receiving touchdown of his career, Tony Gonzalez was seemingly invisible to the Redskins’ coverage unit. With only one incompletion on 14 passes targeted his way Gonzalez was the metronomic beat that kept the Falcons’ offense ticking.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben