Monday, December 21, 2009

Five Thoughts on the 7-7 Falcons

1. It wouldn't be a trip to the Meadowlands in December without...

2. Frankly, it's a miracle that the Falcons have a chance to finish with a winning record. They've played a reasonably tough schedule by virtue of drawing the NFC and AFC East. The star quarterback has been alternatively mediocre and hurt. The star running back has been out for weeks. The draft picks who were supposed to fortify the defense are all injured, as are a number of corners and offensive linemen. The kicker who couldn't miss last year had to be cut because he forgot how to kick straight. I have to say that I'm very happy with Mike Smith for potentially coaxing nine wins out of this bunch. (I really shouldn't be penciling in two more wins in light of the fact that the Falcons have to visit the Bucs, a team that was seconds from winning at the Georgia Dome.)

3. The term in soccer is a smash-and-grab: a game in which a team is badly outplayed, but sneaks a goal against the run of play and wins. Yesterday was a classic American football version. It seemed as if the Jets spent the entire second and third quarters with the ball on the Atlanta side of midfield. It was only through the Jets' charity, which was expressed in the form of being unable to kick an oblong ball through the uprights, that the Falcons had a chance to win the game in the final minutes. At the end, all I could say to myself was that the Falcons had won a game that they did not deserve to win. Yay!

3a. The Jets' roster is such that they should be better than they are. They have a solid running game built around a quality offensive line and an above-average running back. Their receiving corps is quite decent now that they have added Braylon Edwards. Their linebacking corps is excellent. They have the best cover corner in football. Their coach is a master at dialing up crazy blitzes. So why are they only 7-7? The answer has to be the rookie under center, which leads to this point: Mark Sanchez is going to be under an inordinate amount of pressure over the next two years. Start with the fact that he was a high draft pick and the Jets mortgaged some of their future to acquire him. He plays in the largest media market in the country. His team moves into a new stadium next September. He is surrounded by a talented roster, which makes Sanchez a true missing link. (Contrast the early expectations on Sanchez with those on Matt Stafford, who has very little surrounding talent and therefore is not the difference between the Lions winning and losing.) His franchise hasn't played in a Super Bowl since 1969. In sum, things could go very well or very badly for Sanchez in short order.

4. It's really trite to bitch about playcalls that don't work, but I can't end this post without a little venting about Mike Mularkey. He's good for at least a couple WTF moments each week. Against the Saints, the reverse from the Wildcat formation on the Falcons' penultimate drive was a head-scratcher, especially coming on the heels of two straight touchdown drives when the Falcons came down the field running their basic offense. The final call on fourth and three was also frustrating; a throw underneath to Jason Snelling is not the best idea in the world when you know that the linebackers are going to be sitting in short zones because of the down and distance. Yesterday, the second and third down calls right before the winning touchdown were annoying. Consecutive rollouts to the short side of the field? I know you're worried about Rex Ryan's blitzes and you want to move the pocket, but you're in a part of the field in which there is already significant compression and you're compressing your players (and thus the defenders) even more. What worked against the Giants in a similar situation? Throwing the ball up to Tony Gonzalez to use his size. What ended up working against the Jets? The same thing. So why did you wait until fourth down to use your best option?

5. Other than Matt Ryan not playing well, one of the big disappointments this season has been Jerious Norwood. With Michael Turner alternating injuries and ineffectiveness (most likely as the result of carrying the ball 3,453 times in 2008), this was Norwood's big chance. I've always liked Norwood and wanted to see him get more touches. Sadly, Jerious has blown his big chance. Jason Snelling, who is no one's idea of a star, has outplayed him. Is Jerious banged up? I certainly hope that that's the explanation.

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