The Falcons turned up the defensive pressure and made life miserable for rookie Paxton Lynch. The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Justin Horowitz discuss the Falcons' 23-16 win over the Broncos.
SEATTLE – Here are the grades from the Falcons’ 23-16 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who played with rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch making his first NFL start, on Sunday:
Game balls: Running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, who combined to amass 286 yards of offense.
Quarterbacks, A. Matt Ryan masterfully completed passes to seven different receivers against the Broncos. Ryan targeted nine. He completed 15 of 28 passes for 267 yards and one touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 98.4. Ryan continued to give this offense timely deep shots. He completed 3 for 5 for 102 yards on throws traveling 20 plus yards in the air, according to profootballfocus.com. Ryan currently ranks second in the NFL with 482 yards coming on 20-plus yard throws and third in accuracy at 63.2 percent.
Running backs, A-plus. Running back Tevin Coleman had four catches for career-high 132 yards receiving as the Falcons liked the mismatch with the Denver linebackers trying to cover him. Coleman had a 48-yard reception in the first quarter to help set up the Falcons’ first touchdown and later added a 49-yard catchup up the right sideline in fourth quarter. He also had a 31-yard touchdown catch. Freeman and Coleman rushed 29 times for 119 yards for a strong 4.1 yards per carry average. Freeman had nice touchdown run when the Falcons didn’t hesitate to go for it on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. Freeman and Coleman were both close to breaking several big runs. The Falcons attacked the interior part of the defense. According to profootballfocus.com, 46% of their 121 rush yards came in between the tackles.
Wide receivers/tight ends, C-plus. Julio Jones was held to two catches for 28 yards. He was targeted six times. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu caught three of six targets for 43 yards, but had a ball snatched from him by Broncos safety T.J. Ward. Aldrick Robinson has one target.
Offensive line, B-plus. There was a lot of pressure on the offensive line and right tackle Ryan Schraeder. Both the unit and Schaeder came through. Because the Falcons were able to run the ball and average 4.1 yards per carry, Denver’s pass rush wasn’t able to pin their ears back and go after Ryan. They Broncos had two sacks, but the seven quarterback hits kept the unit from getting an A. Schraeder gave up four QB hurries to go along with a sack, according to profootballfocus.com. His pass protection grade was 36, the lowest on the team. Prior to facing Miller, Schraeder only gave up two hurries on the season. Left tackle Jack Matthews didn’t allow a sack, hit of pressure on 34 pass drop backs.
Defensive line, A-plus. Falcons defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley turned in his best game as a NFL player against the Denver Broncos. Beasley finished with 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two quarterback hits to lead the Falcons’ much maligned pass rush. “It felt great,” Beasley said. “I was due for it. I was just continuously working hard at practice. I put my team first. Today, I reaped what I sowed.” The Falcons had six sacks and eight quarterback hits. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn finished with an 83.6 pass rushing grade after tallying 4 total pressures -- including a sack and a hit -- on 35 pass rush attempts, according to profootballfocus.com.
Linebacker, B-plus. With the Falcons thin at the linebacker position, the Falcons started backup strong safety Kemal Ishmael at weakside linebacker against the Broncos. He led the team with 10 tackles and had a pass break-up. “It was kind of familiar,” Ishmael said. “Last year, we had some packages when I played it. This week I had a whole bunch of it. I was prepared. The coaches got me ready. I just went out there and played.” With De’Vondre Campbell (ankle), Sean Weatherspon (Achilles, out for season), Paul Worrilow (groin) and Deion Jones (ankle) all out because of injuries, the Falcons were thin at linebacker. Ishmael started for Weatherspoon/Campbell and LaRoy Reynolds started at middle linebacker. Philip Wheeler had seven tackles and Reynolds added five tackles. The Broncos rushed for 74 yards on 24 carries for a strong 3.1 yards per carry. Denver’s longest run from scrimmage was a 10-yard gain by Anderson. The Falcons missed eight tackles -- four by Wheeler. The Falcons have missed 46 tackles this season, according to profootballfocus.com.
Defensive backs A. The secondary held up in coverage against Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas caught five passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. Sanders caught seven for 80 yards. Free safety Ricardo Allen had an interception. Keanu Neal had the best game. He particularly excelled in pass coverage, earning a 92.1 coverage grade from profootballfocus.com.. On eight targets, he allowed just four receptions for 36 yards.
Special teams, B. The special teams were solid as punter Matt Bosher boomed a 68-yard punt in the high altitude and Matt Bryant made three field goals. Recently signed A.J. Hawk played 19 plays on special teams.
Coaching. A-plus. Falcons coach Dan Quinn aggressively went for it in two key fourth-down situations. The analytic folks believe more teams should take this approach. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan masterfully found and exploited the voids in Denver’s vaunted defense. He moved his running backs outside of the tight ends and found desirable matchups against Denver linebackers Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall. He had the running backs take stutter steps before flowing into their routes. The Denver linebackers had to commit or go chase another route and that left the running backs open. Coleman roasted Marshall on his 31-yard touchdown catch. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith got creative and moved Ishmael to weakside linebacker. The Falcons also played offensive guard Ben Garland at defensive tackle. He was a defensive tackle in college. The 23 points were the most scored on Denver’s defense this season.
GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Panthers 16
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24