Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Five Thoughts on the 4-3 Falcons

1. Is something wrong with Matt Ryan? At times this season, he has looked mortal, but I was willing to blame his issues on a running game that was failing to take pressure off of him. Last night, with the running game humming and playing against a defense that is certainly exploitable, Ryan did not have a very good game. In his defense, the pass blocking was not very good last night. Ryan was rushed right down to the last play, when he had to heave a hail mary off his back foot before his receivers were downfield. Will Smith basically set up shop in the Falcons' backfield. The line should be better when the teams play in Atlanta because they'll be able to hear the signals and they won't concede the first step to the pass rushers on every down.

Speaking of home/road issues, I recommend Football Outsiders' analysis of the large gap between Ryan's performances at the Georgia Dome and elsewhere.

Most NFL quarterbacks play a bit better at their home venues. The NFL average quarterback rating is 86.3 for home games and 83.0 for away games. Ryan's career quarterback rating at home is 94.7 -- which is excellent -- but it drops all the way down to 83.3 on the road. The difference of minus-11.4 is third-worst in the NFL, behind Marc Bulger and Matt Schaub.

It's not an accident that the quarterbacks with bigger splits are also Dome quarterbacks. (A retractable roof stadium counts as a dome, right?) Playing at home in a dome is a major advantage because the home offensive line is better able to protect its charge. Ryan's splits illustrate that the Falcons' offensive line is good when they can hear the cadence and not good when they can't.

2. A related note: the race between Minnesota and New Orleans for homefield takes on massive importance because they are both dome teams. To me, each team has one factor that might limit its success as the season progresses. Minnesota has Brett Favre's old-ass body wearing down. New Orleans has the likelihood that opposing offensive coordinators will start to figure out Gregg Williams' blitzes.

[An aside on Favre: there is a tradition in soccer that a player who scores a goal against his former club shows respect and appreciation for his former teammates and the fans who supported him by not celebrating. Brett Favre is on the other end of the spectrum.]

3. Far be it from me to point out that NFL refs can be intimidated by a home crowd, but did anyone else notice that Roddy White was interfered with on Jabari Greer's interception? I'm not sure that he would have been able to catch the errant pass that Ryan unleashed, but he was clearly manhandled while the ball was in the air. It's odd that NFL refs, who are normally very aggressive in policing contact by defenders on receivers, missed what looked like an obvious call. The refs sure didn't miss contact when they called a marginal holding penalty on Mike Peterson to keep the Saints' last touchdown drive alive.

4. The Falcons' issues in the red zone killed them last night. The yardage was even and the Falcons won the turnover battle, even before the interception on the ultimate play. Atlanta lost because they scored one touchdown in four red zone trips. If you assume that yardage is a better indicator of future success than success inside the 20, then that's encouraging.

5. John Abraham got a big goose egg last night. No tackles, no sacks. (He did draw an obvious holding call.) He has a grand total of five tackles and no sacks in the past three games. In light of the Falcons' dependence on him for a pass rush, his lack of impact is a discouraging sign.


Jesse said...

1. Only if it's closed I would assume.

3. Clearly a PI call on the pick-6.

4. I'm not sure if you are implying that the Falcons had issues scoring in the redzone before last night's game or simply stating that last night they had issues. Regardless, heading into the Saints game the Falcons had a ~95% success rate with scoring in the redzone with I believe only 3 FG's, so there were no previous issues. The only issue was getting into the redzone. Last night was a bad night in the redzone though.

5. While the lack of production is a concern, I'm not putting it all on Abraham. A good bit of it is because of scheme. BVG relies too heavily on the zone blitz where he drops lineman into coverage to help disguise the corner or safety coming in. We are getting burned on it lately, and got absolutely toasted because of it last night. Having our best pash rusher dropping back into coverage to me is a bad idea to begin with, but the amount that it occurs is detrimental.

Here's an example. In the Dallas game there were 12 ZB calls on 34 pass plays. Of those Abraham was the lineman who dropped into coverage on 10 of them. This isn't even counting run plays where a ZB was called, so you could expect more plays where Abraham is already taken out of position and has no chance to make a play. That's a very high percentage of plays where the best pass rusher isn't pass rushing.

You combine that with dropping an even inferior lineman such as Anderson and the results get even worse. Last night provided plenty of examples of this where Anderson was the lineman who dropped into coverage and was immediately burnt by Shockley or another Saints TE. Anderson has little pass rushing ability to begin (which might also have something to do with Abraham's limited production - double teams, etc) with so I'm not exactly sure what makes BVG think that he can play efficient coverage.

Our secondary is getting torched because the ZB scheme isn't working. While there will be the occasional big play such as DeCoud's hit on Brees last night, it isn't getting pressure often enough to help out the secondary. Seven games in and teams see it coming from a mile away. BVG needs to change it up or disguise it better.

George Greer said...

Watching BVG call a defense is to me a pleasure, but I am stuck with Willy Martinez the day before every Falcons game.

Jesse said...

Haha, proving that everything is relative to one's perspective.

And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying BVG is horribly wrong, just that A) I think he relies too much on the zone blitz and has become somewhat predictable and B) the zone blitz might not be putting our players and their respective strengths in the best possible position to succeed. The DeCoud hit on Brees was still awesome though!

Hobnail_Boot said...

Observations from a non-Falcon fan:

1) The Atlanta OL is not very good at pass protection. This means they often have to keep extra help to max-protect, meaning there are only a few guys out running routes. When faced with good, tight coverage (like the Saints played), Ryan struggles putting it into tight spaces. Given that his arm strength is NFL-average, that's a problem.

2) Sam Baker is not a very good LT. He'd be better served at LG if they could swing a better LT.

3) Thomas DeCoud is going to be an All-Pro soon.