ATLANTA — Ryan Schraeder probably said it best in defeat.
As he moped by his locker following Sunday’s 43-37 overtime loss to the rival New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons right tackle pondered what needs to be the next step for a team rocked by injuries, particularly on defense.
“Anytime you score 30 points, you give yourself a good shot to win,” Schraeder said. “Our defense is a little banged up. We’ve got to pull the extra weight. We have to step up in certain spots.”
One would think the Falcons would have come out victorious after having put up 407 total yards; seeing quarterback Matt Ryan pass for a career-high five touchdowns without an interception; witnessing first-round pick Calvin Ridley enjoy a breakout performance with a rookie-record three touchdown receptions and 146 receiving yards; and going 4-for-4 in the red zone.
But when Drew Brees guides his team to 534 total yards, connects with running back Alvin Kamara on 15 of 20 targets and finishes you off with two touchdowns of his own — rushing touchdowns, no less — there’s only so much you can do.
What the 1-2 Falcons, who are last in the NFC South standings, can do in the immediate future is revert to their old offensive ways from 2016, when they led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game and rode that high-scoring attack all the way to Super Bowl LI. Not every opponent remaining on the schedule is going to be as potent offensively as Brees and the 2-1 Saints were — and certainly will be on Thanksgiving in New Orleans.
Scoring at such a high clip could help offset the Falcons’ defensive issues. Remember, they entered Week 3 without arguably their two best defenders, as Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal suffered a season-ending ACL tear and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones was placed on injured reserved following foot surgery. The earliest Jones can return is the Nov. 18 game against the Dallas Cowboys.
To top it off, free safety Ricardo Allen, one of the designated “chiefs” as a team leader, went down Sunday with what appeared to be a significant leg injury. Allen missing significant time would leave the Falcons without maybe their smartest defender, as well as without their hardest hitter in Neal and arguably the league’s best coverage linebacker in Jones.
Even if the Falcons were bold enough to pull off a trade for a player such as Seattle’s Earl Thomas or bring in a player who has caught grief for kneeling in protest in Eric Reid, such a move wouldn’t automatically guarantee a defensive resurgence. Being more sure with tackling and more successful with pressuring opposing quarterbacks has to be a part of the defensive equation, as well.
Especially the tackling. Nickelback Brian Poole allowed Brees to break loose for a 7-yard touchdown run to help send the game into overtime. Poole’s bad angle and inability to wrap up knocked teammate Robert Alford out of the play as well.
“And I thought coming into the half that was one of things that we talked about that we’ve got to improve for us,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of the tackling. “Certainly had some errors and technique things that I know are correctable, but it doesn’t take the sting away from owning it. Some of the men have been in this system long enough to totally nail it, and we missed that mark on some plays today.”
But in terms of the offense, the Falcons know they have everything it takes to score and score often, with the Cincinnati Bengals coming up next and a road trip to the Pittsburgh Steelers sandwiched between their next NFC South game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6.
In 2016, the Falcons were 12-1 when they scored 30 or more points, including the playoffs.
“You never know how games are going to shake out, but your mentality offensively or as a quarterback has to be whatever we have to do,” Ryan said. “If it’s going to be like today, we’ve got to go out there and make the plays and score the points when we need to. And we had chances offensively to finish the ball game today, and we didn’t do that.”
Most of the Falcons’ offensive players said they were disappointed with the inability to establish the run game against the Saints, which will be an emphasis moving forward to help keep the defense off the field. But there’s no denying the red zone plays being called by offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, as the Falcons are 8-for-8 in the red zone over the past two games.
And yes, Ridley is the real deal. A 75-yard touchdown reception on which he coasted into the end zone showed just how difficult a matchup he is for opposing defenses and how much easier he makes things for top target Julio Jones.
“Yeah, I thought Calvin did a great job for us today, played extremely well, took advantage of the one-on-one opportunities when he got them and made them pay for keeping him isolated,” Ryan said.
We’ll see if the Falcons continue to make opposing defenses pay with so many weapons at Ryan’s disposal.
Source : ESPN