While the score looked close, the game was basically dominated by the Falcons who had a 13:58 time of possession edge. The Atlanta offense scored on their first three drives of the game, as well as the first two drives of the second half, showing how strong the coaching staff had game-planned here. On defense, the Falcons completely shut down the run game and only half the passes that were thrown by the Tennessee offense were caught.
The only reason the margin of victory wasn’t larger is that Atlanta had to settle for field goals while the Titans offense had a few big plays that led to points. Prior to the Titans’ final drive the Falcons had a 400-214 yard edge when Michael Turner fumbled on the Titans’ 8-yard-line. It wasn’t the most exciting game you’ll ever see since the winning team rarely made a huge play. They just consistently made the plays they needed to as they kept the momentum the entire game. The Falcons are now a step closer to the playoffs while the Titans are a step further away.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Starting in the Trenches
In 2009 when Chris Johnson led the NFL in rushing, he had an offensive line that helped open up holes for him. Two years later, the run blocking hasn’t been as good as before, but they were ranked as the best pass-blocking team in the league. In this game, they couldn’t run block or pass block which is a surprise as head coach Mike Munchak was the offensive line coach last year and has a Hall of Fame bust in Canton. In the passing game, starting right tackle David Stewart (+0.3) sustained a calf injury late in the second quarter. This led to Mike Otto (-3.7) coming in to replace him and he gave up a sack, a hit and four pressures. On the other side, left tackle Michael Roos (-2.9) had his worst game of the year allowing a hit and five pressures as he struggled to contain John Abraham in particular. Matt Hasselbeck (+0.6) hasn’t been as good as he was in September and he struggled even more than usual against additional pressure. He completed just five of 13 passes for 40 yards and an interception when the Falcons came after him.
They were equally bad in the run game. All five starters ended up with negative run block grades contributing to Chris Johnson running for just 13 yards on 12 carries. The runs for losses and short gains helped kill the first two drives. As a result the Titans were down 10-0 and were forced to start airing it out. The Titans simply don’t have the players in place to be a one dimensional passing offense and were ill-equipped to make a comeback.
Why You Just Never Give a Quarterback Time to Throw…
If you’re a believer that games are won and lost at the line, then this game was a great example to back up that opinion. Possibly the biggest key to stopping Matt Ryan is putting pressure on him. This season he had a +33.5 PFF rating when receiving no pressure, and a -1.0 rating when facing pressure. The Titans’ four starting defensive linemen combined for just one hit and five pressures all day. Only once did a blitz bring pressure, and the backup defensive linemen were rendered non-factors.
Giving Matt Ryan that much time to throw will of course lead to the secondary having a rough day. Cornerback Jason McCourty (-2.3) was targeted the most with ten balls thrown his way. He allowed six catches for 104 yards and those numbers could’ve been worse had it not been for a dropped pass and overthrown ball. While we don’t know if McCourty would have performed so poorly if the pass rush played better it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
Why Depth is Important
The Titans saw four players go down with injuries throughout the game. While you would think injuries would hurt a team like it did at right tackle, it wasn’t all bad for Titans fans. At quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (+0.6) going down meant we got our first serious look at rookie Jake Locker (+0.5). Neither made a lot of throws that were hugely impressive and each had his problems overthrowing the ball. Locker did flash some ability in his snaps as shown on his 48 yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington. At middle linebacker, Barrett Ruud (-2.6) missed three tackles on just 27 snaps. His replacement, rookie Colin McCarthy (-0.3), had a better performance in the run game than we’ve ever seen out of Ruud. McCarthy had three tackles for losses and a forced fumble on just 25 run plays. The problem is McCarthy also allowed four catches for 54 yards, and had two missed tackles on pass plays. In reviewing this game, it seems like it’s time for the Titans to turn to some of their younger players. This would help them out in the future they may have just as good of a team, or possibly even better, at the moment.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Matty Ice Is Back
After a rough set of games, Matt Ryan (+7.7) has produced back to back great performances. On the first drive he had three straight passes to Tony Gonzalez (+1.7 pass) which culminated in a touchdown, and the Falcons never looked back. Time after time he picked up first downs which led directly to points. They didn’t need him to make the big plays, but that didn’t stop him from throwing a bomb to Roddy White for 43 yards during the first drive of the second half. He found the right place to throw it so White could get the ball instead of the cornerback or safety, which led to a touchdown soon after. He rarely was off target on his throws, and when he was, it just ended up as an incompletion and nothing worse.
The Winning Babineaux
As an older brother myself, it was good to see the elder of the Babineaux brothers have an excellent game. Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (+7.2) had two amazing stops in the first quarter, where he was able to make a move past the offensive linemen and stop Chris Johnson deep in the backfield. In the second quarter he would have had a third tackle for a big loss as he again forced his way past Jake Scott. Babineaux was held on the play which prevented him from finishing it off. In the pass game he also had his best game of the season, with five overall pressures which led to four incompletions as well as a batted pass. For the most part, the entire defense played well, but no star shined as bright as Babineaux.
The One Exploited Weakness
The nickel cornerback to start the game was Kelvin Hayden (-2.8 coverage). He allowed three catches in the first half which led to two first downs. To make it more embarrassing, he missed tackles on two of the three plays. In the second quarter he was injured and replaced by Chris Owens (-3.6 coverage) who didn’t play any better. Owens also missed two tackles in the pass game, as well as allowing both of the touchdowns the Titans scored. While they survived this game despite the poor nickel cornerback play, there are several teams in the NFC that are capable of taking advantage of the weakness.
– The Falcons used a 3WR-1TE-1RB set on every play in the first half except for their goal line play and the kneel down to end the half. 52 of their 76 total plays came from this formation.
– Matt Ryan had 17 attempts in the middle of the field, 12 to the right, but just 2 to the left (one pass was thrown away).
– Receiver Nate Washington accounted for 38.6% of the Titans’ offense.
Winning the battle of the Babineaux was Falcons defensive end Jonathan on this occasion. The penetration he created killed the Titans attempts to successfully execute their offense in the run game or through the air all day.