An amazing thing happens when you let Matt Ryan run the offense – yards and points. The Atlanta Falcons won their first game winning a shootout with the favored Oakland Raiders 35-28 Sunday.
While the offense started off again on shaky ground after three possessions that resulted in two field goals and an interception in the red zone, they ended up with three touchdown passes and a TD run by Tevin Campbell as they surprised critics everywhere to even up their record at 1-1 on the young season.
Ryan is off to perhaps his best career start as he leads the league in passing yards as he’s averaged 355 yards a game so far and so far cutting way back on red zone turnovers. But a lot of that has to do with Ryan running the offense at a pace he feels comfortable. And that is the no huddle, not the West Coast offense that Kyle Shanahan has tried to use since he got to Atlanta.
Ryan was able to spread the ball out to eight different receivers and saw Julio Jones have a productive game leading the team with 106 receiving yards on five catches and one touchdown. Jones’ first quarter grab gave Atlanta an early 10-7 lead. Three Atlanta tight ends got into the action as Jacob Tamme, Austin Hooper and even Levine Toilolo caught Ryan passes. Both Tamme and Hooper caught touchdown passes.
The Atlanta offense that caught grief for their performance the second half of 2015 are only masking what is truly wrong with the Falcons – defense. Ever since the Falcons decided not to resign John Abraham after the 2012 the team has been unable to put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Last season with a new regime dedicated to defense they only managed a paltry 19 sacks and so far this season they’ve managed only one after two games. Both games this season became shootouts and Atlanta was able to win one and lose the other. Despite personnel changes, high draft choices QBs like Derek Carr have had all day to find an open receiver. And while the Falcons have an inordinate number of secondary defenders on roster the front line is giving little help to the effort and causing the team to rely on their secondary not to blink in key situations.
The Falcons were the benefactors of a key call going their way late in the game protecting their seven-point lead. Carr looked to have completed a long touchdown pass to Amari Copper to tie the game but the play was called back because Copper had gone out of bounds prior to touching the ball and was the first to touch the ball afterwards that elicited a flag and loss of down.
The Falcons were also aided by special teams as Matt Bryant seems to have returned to form after a lingering leg injury that saw his accuracy drop last season, but now looks like his old self. Eric Weems continues to add excitement to the return game and at a fraction of the cost of Devin Hester. Weems’ 75 yard kick return helped keep the Atlanta momentum going.
Despite winning a shoot out – Derek Carr threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns as well, the only way the Falcons can be taken seriously again is for defense to step up (same old story) because there are games the offense won’t always fire on all cylinders and defense will have to quite being a liability.
The Falcons travel to New Orleans to take on Brew Brees and the Saints on Monday Night Football. The Saints’ defense has been as suspect as Atlanta’s so we are looking at yet another shoot out. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:20pm and will be aired on ESPN.
– Dave Weinthal
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