Enemy Intelligence: Last week’s Atlanta Falcons game

The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a 26-23 home loss to the New Orleans Saints in overtime. As you may or may not have heard, in the extra session, head coach Mike Smith went for it on fourth down-and-one at his own 29-yard line. The called run failed, and the Saints then took advantage of the great field position for the game-winning score. Before overtime, the Falcons had recovered from a ten-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game.

What I saw from the Falcons that game, and the others of theirs I’ve seen, after the jump.

  • The game against the Saints is not the first one I’ve seen the Falcons play, far from it. Rather, I’ve seen the majority of their games, because it took me a while to figure out what they were doing offensively.
  • Rookie wideout Julio Jones is questionable to play this week with a hamstring injury. I didn’t like him as much as a prospect as I did A.J. Green, but he’s been a solid NFL player. He’ll make some rookie mistakes, but when he’s been in the lineup, they’ve throwing him the ball with decent volume. If he doesn’t play, the starter will be Harry Douglas. I like him best as a slot receiver, but that’s a little-used position in their offense. Douglas had good numbers against the Saints (8-133) after Jones went out, but that’s a product of volume (14 targets to lead the team) and some bad coverage by New Orleans.
  • Roddy White is the other starting wideout. He’s having a down year by his standards, committing more penalties than the norm and dropping passes. I think he’s also still among the ten best wide receivers in the NFL, and really should be the focus of the Titans’ pass coverage if Jones is out.
  • Michael Turner earlier in the year looked like Eddie George c. 2003 or 2004-a big back who was painfully slow and whose sole NFL attribute was the ability to eat up 25 carries a game without losing effectiveness because he never had any to begin with. I’m not sure if he had an undisclosed injury or what, but he hasn’t looked quite so glacial the last few weeks. He’s a decent straight-ahead runner who can power through arm tackles but doesn’t have the deep speed to ran away from anybody.
  • Matt Ryan… I don’t think, and I don’t think the Falcons think, he’s an above-average NFL quarterback. His game is primarily making a presnap read based on the playcall and defensive formation, and then executing off that presnap read. I don’t think he does a good job of adapting to late or post-snap defensive movement or confusing coverages, but he doesn’t really seem to be reading the entire defense. His skill is in making that execution, where I think he’s more consistent both game-in and game-out and play-to-play than a guy like Joe Flacco. That said, Ryan has been inaccurate throwing down the field this year. I also don’t think he has a great arm-it’s roughly comparable to Hasselbeck’s, maybe a little better.
  • Tony Gonzalez is too slow to run away from most defenders. He’s still savvy, and has the size to post up against defenders and sit down in holes in zone coverage, but I’m not particularly worried about him in man coverage.
  • I stand by what I said after the Green Bay playoff game last year, that the Falcons don’t have enough good defensive players. You don’t see the same incompetence you see with the Panthers, but overall I don’t think they’re anything special. They do have a couple good players, though.
  • Brent Grimes had a great year last year and is having a good one this year. He reminds me of Cortland Finnegan in that he’s small and physical for his size, but he doesn’t spend as much time playing at or beyond the edge of the whistle. The second corner is Dunta Robinson, who’s been a disappointment for the size of his (obviously ridiculous) contract, but is a decent number two corner.
  • The safeties are not great and rarely do anything interesting in coverage. I don’t expect Matt Hasselbeck to have problems reading them and finding places in the middle of the field to throw the ball.
  • Last year’s first-round pick, outside linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon is really having a terrific season after a meh rookie year. He’s active, fast to the ball, pretty decent pass rusher, and not bad in coverage. MLB Curtis Lofton reminds me of Stephen Tulloch-active and not bad against the run, but neither versatile nor exceptional when you throw.

Frankly, while I think the Falcons are in some ways a limited team, I think they’re also a better, more talented, more consistent team. With the game in Atlanta, I’d have the Falcons as 6-6.5 point favorites, and the line is apparently ATL -6. I don’t think Atlanta is that close to an elite team, so it wouldn’t shock me to see the Titans come away with a win. I’m certainly not expecting one, though.

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