The Falcons played miserably on Sunday in a loss to Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers. CineSport's Courtey Fallon and The AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter discuss the defeat and Devonta Freeman's bad day.
FLOWERY BRANCH -- With the Falcons off this week, it’s a great time to look back at the first nine games and hand out some mid-term grades.
The question to ask at the break is “Who are these Falcons under first-year coach Dan Quinn?”
Are they the team that started the season 5-0 and appeared primed for elite status in the NFC?
Or, are they the team that’s averaged just 16.7 points over the past four games and have dropped three games to teams with losing records?
Here are the much awaited and highly anticipated mid-term grades:
Game balls: Offense – Devonta Freeman. Defense – Desmond Trufant. Special teams – Matt Bosher.
Quarterbacks, C-plus. Matt Ryan is on pace to pass for 4,803 yards, which would be a career high. He’s completed 239 of 357 passes (66.9 percent) for 2,702 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a passer rating of 92.4. Ryan appears headed for his fifth straight season of passing for more than 4,000 yards. Ryan’s rash of five turnovers over the past five games can’t be overlooked and certainly are a factor in this grade. He’s clearly had to adjust to the additional ball-handling responsibilities in the new system while breaking in a new center in Mike Person.
Running backs, A. Tevin Coleman opened the season as the starter and got off to a respectable start with 29
carries and 112 yards before suffering a fractured rib against the New York Giants in the second game of the season. Devonta Freeman took over the position and has put up some amazing numbers. Before being held to 12 yards by the 49ers in Game 9, he was leading the league in rushing. He’s second in the league with 721 yards trailing only Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (758). Freeman’s 11 touchdowns – nine rushing, two receiving -- leads the NFL. Freeman leads all running backs with 48 catches while his 420 receiving yards rank second in the NFL. Freeman also leads the league with 1,141 total scrimmage yards. Terron Ward has also seen some action. Fullback Pat DiMarco contributed early.
Wide receivers/tight ends, B-plus. Wide receiver Julio Jones is the focal point of the passing attack, but the under-utilization of former Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White over the first nine games has been a great football mystery. Jones is on pace to catch 142 passes for 1,829 yards. Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison set the league record with 143 catches in 2002. The yardage total would the third-highest in league history behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, who had 1,964 yards in 2012 and Jerry Rice’s 1,848 yards in 1995. The Falcons tried to feature the oft-injured Leonard Hankerson early in the season before he went down with a
hamstring injury. His targets then shifted to tight end Jacob Tamme, who has 38 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns. White has been left out of the new scheme and has just 17 catches for 230 yards and one touchdown. Hankerson had 22 catches for 291 yards and two touchdowns. Nick Williams and Justin Hardy have also played, while Levine Toilolo has been used as a blocking tight end.
Offensive line, B. Left tackle Jack Matthews, left guard Andy Levitre, center Mike Person, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schrader have had a solid first half of the season. They have been good fits in the outside zone blocking scheme and have allowed 17 sacks. The line ranks third in adjusted line yards, according to analytics site footballoutsiders.com. They are rated first in second level yards and ninth in pass protection and adjusted sack percentage.
Defensive line, C. The Falcons have been stout against the run, giving up just 88.9 yards per game which is second in the league. Ra’Shede Hageman, Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai have been stout up front. The pass rush has been lacking as Vic Beasley, O’Brien Schofield and Adrian Clayborn are tied for the team lead with two. The team’s 10 sacks rank 31st in the league, just one ahead of the New York Giants.
Linebackers, C-plus: Linebackers Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant have benefitted from the great penetration of the front line on running plays. Veteran Phillip Wheeler has moved ahead of reserves Joplo Bartu and Nate Stupar. Allen Bradford was released. The oft-injured Durant has missed time with an elbow injury and a calf injury. Worrilow leads the team with 56 tackles according to NFL.com stats. The group has been solid, but the teams needs them to make more dynamic plays and create more turnovers.
Defensive backs, B-plus. Despite not having much of a pass rush, the secondary has generally held up against a string of backup quarterbacks. The Falcons give up 253.4 yards passing a game, which ranks 19th in the league. Cornerback Desmond Trufant has played at a high level. Converted free safety Ricardo Allen has been solid. Second-round pick Jalen Collins has taken over at right cornerback for Robert Alford, who's out with a groin injury. Nickel back Phillip Adams has struggled in coverage at times and was replaced by Alford, before he suffered the groin injury in Game 8. Rookie Robenson Therezie was helping out at free safety before going down with a hamstring injury against the 49ers. Strong safety William Moore has missed time with a hamstring injury and Kemal Ishmael has filled in admirably. The secondary faced Sam Bradford, Eli Manning, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Mallett, Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, Zach Mettenberger, Jameis Winston and Blaine Gabbert over the first nine games.
Special teams, B-minus. Punter Matt Bosher had a strong first half to the season. He’s averaged 48.5 yards on 34 punts with a net of 41 yard average. The punt team did have a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown.
Returner Eric Weems has been solid. Kicker Matt Bryant had a mild slump, but appears to have recovered. The coverage units have been aided by Bosher's hang-time on his punts and by his deep kickoffs. The units could receive a boost from the return of Devin Hester in Week 13. He's been on short-term injured reserve with a turf toe injury.
Coaching, C-plus. The Falcons came out strong and raced out to a 5-0 mark. After teams got their new
schemes on film and countered, the Falcons haven't had many answers. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has inexplicably delegated three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Roddy White to the fourth option in the offense. The coaching staff failed to immediately correct the issues with penalties and redzone turnovers. The staff is over its initial reluctance to blitz to aid the anemic pass rush. They blitzed on 21 of 63 plays against San Francisco. The Coach Dan Quinn era is at an early crossroad. We’ll see if the team can rebound over the second half of the season or if they continue this low level of football that they’ve been playing since losing to the Saints.
Here's how the Falcons achieved their 6-3 start
Here's a look back at the game stories, news and notes from the Falcons'17-16 loss to San Francisco, the 23-20 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, win over the Titans (10-7), loss to the Saints (31-21) and their victories over the Redskins (25-19 in OT), Texans (48-21), Cowboys (39-28), Giants (24-20) and Eagles (26-24).
SAN FRANCISCO GAME COVERAGE -- 49ERS 17, Falcons 16
TAMPA BAY GAME COVERAGE -- Bucs 23, Falcons 20 in OT
TENNESSEE GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 10, Titans 7
NEW ORLEANS GAME COVERAGE -- Saints 31, Falcons 21
WASHINGTON GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 25, Redskins 19 in OT
TEXANS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 48, Texans 21
COWBOYS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 39, Cowboys 28
GIANTS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 24, Giants 20
EAGLES GAME COVERAGE -- FALCONS 26, EAGLES 24