Falcons Shock Super Bowl Favorites
By Cage Writer Anthony Scott Cooper (Coop)
It’s true! Just ask Mike Greenberg of Mickey’s Mike & Mike in the Morning. He like several in the media (those know-it-alls) picked the Saints to represent the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl. Your Atlanta Falcons were not given a chance to do much of anything this year. Some optimistically predicted 10-6; others were more realistic at 8-8. However, very few thought the birds had a chance against Drew Brees and Sean Payton… even in our house. In fact, one gentleman predicted they would lose the game on a missed last second field goal attempt (what was his name??? Hmm??? I don’t remember… handsome fella as I recall…). So, in case you missed it, the Atlanta Falcons did indeed SHOCK the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday. What was more shocking? They started off down 13-0. Thanks to a record setting day by Matt Ryan (arguably the single greatest performance by an Atlanta QB in franchise history – 448 yards, 72.1% completion, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) and two long field goals by Matt Bryant, the birds completed the shocking upset in come-from-behind (twice actually) fashion.
Matt Ryan’s Career Day:
I listed his stats above, but there’s more to be told. He passed Steve Bartkowski as the all-time leader in TD tosses when he threw his second on the day (a 1-yard pass to the TE eclipse Levine Toilolo). Matt now sits atop the heap with 156 career TD passes. He also leads in all time yards and all time attempts at the QB position. Debate elite or not all day long if you want, but let’s close the book finally on greatest QB in the history of the franchise. It’s not even close and the debate is no longer worthy of our time.
More stats, Ryan completed passes to a total of 9 teammates (4 WRs, 4 RBs, 1 TE). 5 of these targets hauled in over 50 yards. Stop for a minute… Ryan found 5 receivers all for a minimum of 50 yards. Friends, I have never heard of a stat line like that in my life. THAT is spreading the ball around. He also ran for 15 yards on 3 carries. No records to break here, though he did have a better average than Steven Jackson…
Best Receiving Corps in the NFL?
Many of us think that Julio Jones and Roddy White are the best combination in the NFL. There are certainly those that would disagree and make valid arguments. But I challenge anyone to find a team with more depth than the Falcons. I was not a Devin Hester fan, but I am now. He adds a very scary dimension that I had always though Harry Douglas could provide. But seeing them on the field at the same time, I know get it. Hester is ridiculously quick and shifty. Harry looks more like a short Brian Finneran now (and frankly, that’s ok). Add to the WRs the speed of Antoine Davis and Devonta Freeman, the size of Toilolo, and the grit and experience of Jackson and Quiz and you have a very special group of targets for Matt Ryan to throw to. I think OC Dirk Koetter will have his hands full keeping them all fed, but there is plenty in the cupboard for the Master Chef to work with.
Running Back by Committee:
Many have stated that Jackson shouldn’t start. I must say, I find myself in that camp. It seems that every time Antoine Smith touches the ball, electricity strikes. He is elusive and quick to be certain, but mainly he is blazing fast. The second he broke the first tackle on the pass into the flat, I jumped from my seat yelling, “He’s gone! He’s gone!” You can just feel it with this guy, get him in space and watch out.
Devonta Freeman was equally impressive in his determination. I love the way this kid runs. We need a back who will not be denied. His 13 yard run where he broke a tackle and bulled through the final tackle for the yards needed to keep the drive alive would have made Vince Lombardi proud. When I was a kid, I used to hear that running is an attitude. It is where you exert your will on your opponent. He runs with an attitude. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact that has on the defense.
I’m not suggesting we dump Jackson or Quiz… but they don’t have to start just because they’re older.
In the Trenches:
The O Line was a major upgrade over the play from last year. Even after the loss of Matthews at LT, the line played well giving Ryan the time many pleaded for in the off season. And look at the results. With a second or two more, Ryan is lethal. Specifically, this fan wants to highlight the center of the line. Hawley, Blalock, and Asamoah were stout in pass blocking and grew in success opening holes for the run game. The tackles get all the pub, but I still say you build the lines from the inside out. Perhaps these 3 can finally lock down this line.
On the D Line… eh… about the same right? Listen, it is early, but that looked an awful lot like last year… and the year before… No pass rush. This is where we transition to coaching. What the hell is the 4-2-5 and why are we running it anyway? Further, I hear the calls for Massaquoi and Maponga over Osi and Biermann. I can’t object. It certainly couldn’t get any worse in terms of pressure. Right? Can you be worse than nothing?
The debate has been on in the Cage. Did Smitty show signs of releasing the reigns? Has he learned to change? Can he be aggressive? I submit we saw a mixed bag. I certainly can’t remember coming out and having a 14-0 3rd quarter. That suggests halftime adjustments. Then again, once we finally took the lead, we played a softer D and let the Saints come all the way down the field to take it back. And what of the drive to end regulation and the Overtime offensive regression to dark ages of football (seriously, did we have 1 WR play a single snap in OT)?
Smitty gets credit for the win. I praise him for calling time outs at the end of regulation to give Matt Ryan 1:20 to move into FG range. But there is no way you will convince me he didn’t take over in OT with an ultra-conservative approach that could have led to a missed 52 yard FG and a VERY short field for the Saints. SO I will give him his due for improving, but I still see too much control in crucial moments. Matt Ryan just threw for 448 yards to some of the most talented receivers in the world. Surely they could muster 5 to 7 yards… right?
Favorite Moment of the Game?
Did you Throw in the Towel or Keep the Faith?
What About the Secondary? Still Worried About Safety?
How Loud Was the Dome?
Was This an Aberration or the Norm for 2014?