ReFo: ATL @ NO, Week 1
Seven and a half months after his fourth-down pass fell incomplete to end the Falcons’ bid to take the NFC Championship Game, Matt Ryan found himself with another last-minute opportunity. Again deep in the opponent’s territory and again a final fourth-down shot, this attempt, too, came up short as Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro got a hand on the pass to Tony Gonzalez and Roman Harper secured the game-sealing interception.
That’s how the season began for the two expected contenders in the NFC South … now to play out the remaining 15 games and see if they’re both looking at playoffs bids.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a minute to review some of Week 1’s notable performances. Here are three for each side that caught the eye:
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
The Right Not Solved
Much has been made of Atlanta’s decision to let right tackle Tyson Clabo (PFF’s fifth-ranked in 2012) go this past offseason when the team had no suitable replacement lined up. Second-year man Lamar Holmes (-4.6) took over and started in Week 1, but his performance only served to strengthen the needt for more help. Giving up a total of eight pressures (a sack, three hits, and a hurry), perhaps recently-signed Jeremy Trueblood will get a look sooner than later.
Tackle troubles weren’t Holmes’ alone, though, as the Falcon on the left side, Sam Baker, matched the poor overall grade in an effort that reminded more of his years before 2012 than the improved campaign he posted last year.
With the majority of Week 1 games analyzed, the Baker-Holmes combo sits solidly in the Bottom 5 of our Pass Blocking Efficiency ratings after helping the depleted Saints edge rush look dangerous.
Ryan Harassed but Hits Sweet Spot
The disappointing end to it capped a day that matched Ryan’s low grade of 2012 (also coming against the Saints, Week 13), this one largely a result of his work when under pressure. As noted above, Atlanta had issues controlling the New Orleans edge rush and the bottom-line effect of it showed in Ryan’s numbers. On 42 drop-backs, he saw pressure 20 times and his grade when pressured (-2.4) nearly wiped out his efficient play when throwing from a clean pocket (+2.5)… with no pressure: 17-of-21 and two touchdowns; with pressure: 8-of-17 with an interception and three sacks.
Pressured performance aside, a look at Ryan’s ‘Passing by Direction’ grid reveals a sweet spot trend that continues from last season. Throwing to the middle of the field and into the 10-19-yard range, Ryan was 8-for-8, 162 yards, a touchdown, and a +3.6 passing grade. On all other passes targeted past the line of scrimmage he was 13-of-22 for just 107 yards and a -2.6 grade. That sweet spot mirrored the best of his looks from 2012 as, on the season, he posted a +33.9 grade in that zone.
Peters and Babineaux
The interior D-line pairing of Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters effectively shut down the middle of the line for any keep-‘em-honest run attempts the Saints had in mind. With the two highest run defense grades produced in the game (+2.6 for Peters and +2.5 for Babineaux), the disruptive duo’s day included six stops (five belonged to Peters) and four QB pressures for good measure.
Their work wasn’t being done against slouches, either, as they matched up with our No. 2 ranked center in 2012, Brian De la Puente, and our No. 5 right guard, Jahri Evans. Humbling the high-ranked blockers, a display on back-to-back plays in the second quarter (Peters vs. De La Puente Q2 4:19, and Babineaux vs. Evans Q2 3:40) is a good place to start to get a feel for their impact.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Jordan Fits the Bill
As we wrote in the Three to Focus On post for this game, New Orleans was going to need to generate pressure from the outside to rattle Ryan. With less than a full stable of outside linebackers on hand to contribute, Junior Galette got good work in (a sack and four hurries) and Parys Haralson contributed after a short week of practice (a sack and a hurry), but defensive end Cameron Jordan (+5.7) wound up providing enough punch for all.
Jordan’s eight QB pressures (two hits and six hurries) on 43 pass rushes came primarily at the hands of the aforementioned Lamar Holmes. Jordan, the now-3-4 DE previously known for his run defense, proved too fast to the outside and too strong on bull rushes for Holmes to handle – a slippery inside-out move at 5:04 of the third quarter combined elements and left Homes chasing as Jordan took Ryan to the turf.
Jahri Evans has had better games. In fact, he’s never had a game graded to this depth (-4.5) in the years we’ve been around and this one was held down entirely by his run blocking – an aspect of his game (see 2008-2009) that was once on a league-best level. One rough outing does not a season make, of course, but coming off a season in which his run blocking was a middling asset, a showing like this is reason for further inspection. There were times in this game where Evans simply whiffed (Q4 7:18) and others where he was out hustled and caught scrambling to keep up (see the play vs. Babineaux mentioned earlier).
As long as Drew Brees and the passing game weapons are in New Orleans, pass blocking will be of first importance, but flat performances like this can doom hopes of a pass-game-enhancing ground game.
Key Targets Making Good
Drew Brees has made a living by working to his seam and dump-off guys — namely Marques Colston (+1.0 receiving), Jimmy Graham (+1.5), and Darren Sproles (+3.1) – and that continued as expected to open 2013. Targeting the three a total of 19 times, they connected on 15 and marched with nine first downs and a pair of touchdowns.
The trio worked a variety of routes and each got the chance to show off with dramatic efforts: Colston on his diving second-quarter touchdown, Graham on his twisting reach for the pylon that got him home, and Sproles twice getting loose up the sideline.
With a defense showing signs of life and offensive weapons in addition to these, Saints fans have to be feeling good about their hopes in this recovery season.
– When throwing to Julio Jones in this game, Matt Ryan’s passer rating landed at 145.8.
– Roman Harper and Kenny Vaccaro rushed the passer a combined 10 times. Only Kansas City’s tandem of Eric Berry and Hussain Abdullah saw more pass rush opportunities (13).
PFF Game Ball
Looks like he’s feeling at home in the 3-4 — Cameron Jordan gets the game ball for his all-around top performance.