Thank God November is over. That’s what the Atlanta Falcons and their dwindling fan base are saying after the once mighty Birds were 6-1 going into the month. The Falcons lost their fourth straight game Sunday falling to the visiting Minnesota Vikings 20-10 in a game whose score was much closer than the game really was.
Once against the once powerful Atlanta offense was pretty much shut out until just inside of two minutes to play. And the “new and improved” defense… well, what the heck happened?
Coming into the game somehow the Falcons defense was ranked tenth overall in the league and third against the run. That has all changed now. Adrian Peterson had a field day against Atlanta’s defense as they allowed their first 100-yard rusher of the season. Peterson managed to run roughshod over Falcons for 158 yards on the ground running for two scores. The second iced it for Minnesota making the score 20-3 with 4:23 to play. Ryan led a no huddle series taking the ball 80 yards in under three minutes to make the score somewhat respectable as he hit Nick Williams from one yard out.
And something that hasn’t happened since Kyle Shanahan took over as offensive coordinator Roddy White led all receivers with six catches for 60 yards. Julio Jones by comparison only had five receptions for 57 yards.
I hate the name Shanahan. Kyle’s dad was the coach of the Denver Broncos when they won two Super Bowls. I hate the Broncos. The reason I hate the Broncos is because of John Elway. I still remember plain as day when it came to the draft the Colts had the number one overall pick. Elway told them not to draft him. He said he refused to play for them and if they drafted him he would switch to baseball since the New York Yankees had drafted him as well. The Colts traded draft picks with the Broncos and that was that.
I think Elway is an overrated quarterback. Sure, he had an arm like a rifle, he didn’t know how to use it. Receivers kept dropping passes because they were throw too hard. There’s no need to put so much mustard on a throw for a five-yard slant route.
Coach Dan Reeves was able to work with Elway and the defense as they went to three Super Bowls, yet they were routed each time. Elway conspired with then offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan making a power play that saw Reeves getting dismissed and replaced with Wade Phillips after the 1992 season. They replaced Phillips with Shanahan beginning in 1996. In ’97 and ’98 the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls.
Truth be told Shanahan won those Super Bowls with Reeves’ players. After winning their second Super Bowl ironically defeating the Dan Reeves coached Falcons 34-19 they won only one more playoff game before he was fired after the 2008 season. I always felt he conspired with the hated Elway (my opinion) to oust Reeves. There is no love lost for the Shanahan name.
And now his kid is Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. Well, this great offensive mind’s offense has averaged 15.4 point a game since October 25. The season started great with the Falcons averaging the third most points a game but just like when he was the coordinator in Washington his play calling became predictable and the fact he had Robert Griffin III run so much was the cause of his injuries that saw him get bounced out as the starter there. Shanahan and his dad, who was the Redskins’ head coach got run out of town after just two seasons.
People are blaming Matt Ryan for the team’s losing streak. He threw another two interceptions Sunday but I can’t blame him. I’m not calling for his head like every other talking head on sports radio. Ryan is literally running for his life and the routes called by Shanahan are predictable and easily defensed.
To prove this look at Atlanta’s only score Sunday. Running the no-huddle Ryan was in change of calling the plays. What did they do? Score in under three minutes – and a touchdown to boot. Ryan seems to be going through what Peyton Manning is in Denver this year with Gary Kubiak. When Manning is running his offense things run smoothly. Running Kubiak’s, Manning looks relatively incompetent.
Sure, Shanahan has been able to re-establish the running game. But who cares if you don’t score. Case in point when Tevin Coleman took the pitch from Ryan Sunday and turned the corner and sprinted 46 yards. He then lost the ball and Minnesota recovered on their 21. Coleman ran for 110 yards but who cares? Coleman had a fumble last week against the Colts that thwarted a drive deep in Indianapolis territory. Unless the runs equate touchdowns it doesn’t matter. I sure do miss Dirk Koetter.
Koetter, who is Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator this year after three seasons in Atlanta has Jameis Winston looking good and their offense taking off. The Bucs are now only one game behind Atlanta in the standings.
While a balanced offense is ideal, the two have to be able to play off of each other. Shanahan’s aren’t. And fact most throws go to Julio Jones is another problem. I like Jones as much as the next guy but with the offensive weapons the Falcons have at their disposal Jones shouldn’t get the majority of looks. That’s another reason why the offense has stalled. After a public outcry by Roddy White wanting more touches, they seem to be begrudgingly trying to appease him. White is the greatest receiver in Atlanta history and despite just turning 34 he still has better hands than Jones and doesn’t turn the ball over unlike number 11 has done a couple of times.
And despite being slowed down by injury half of last season and part of this season White is more durable than Jones who has missed chunks of three seasons for nagging injuries since being drafted in 2011. Not to knock Julio, as I enjoy watching him do his thing – and doing it impressively, the Falcons shouldn’t dismiss their franchise leader in receptions and touchdowns. I’ve seen him make too many game winning catches since he was drafted out of UAB in 2005.
The outlook for the rest of the season doesn’t look well for the Falcons unless they make some changes on offense and maybe giving Ryan more leeway with the play calling. That and the defense still needs to improve the pass rush. They only have 12 sacks on the season and none Sunday as they could not reach the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater. Do the math – that’s just barely better than one a game. There are a number of defensive ends with as many sacks as the Falcons as a team. And first pick Vic Beasley still hasn’t really showed up in the stats. Drafted as the savior of the defensive line and anemic rush, he may prove people that former coach Mike Smith wasn’t the only one to draft a defensive bust.
The Falcons will be on the road the next three weeks before returning home at the end of the calendar year. They travel to take on Tampa Bay next week and follow that with a trip to undefeated division rival Carolina the face the much improved Jacksonville Jaguars before returning home to take on the Panthers and finishing out the season against the Saints.
November is mercifully over as I call it 0-vember for the Falcons as they try to change their fortune and hopefully get back on track and repair their dwindling playoff hopes.
Kickoff for Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers will be 1pm and will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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