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  • Falcons vs Panthers: Who was the defensive player of the game?
    by David J Walker on November 18, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports Don’t look now, but this defense has been very, very good. The Falcons defense started with 7 sacks in 8 games. Over the past 2 games, they have racked up 11 sacks and 4 interceptions. This is one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent memory and is a big reason Atlanta has won two in a row. There are only four names in our poll, but numerous guys showed up on Sunday. Adrian Clayborn Out of the 5 sacks on the day, Clayborn was responsible for 2 of them. He was the leader of a unit that was abusing the Panthers offensive line all afternoon, continues to play well, and put up maybe the most physically impressive sack of the day. Let’s hope his injury to close out the game isn’t too serious. Takkarist McKinley While Takk only had the one sack on the day, he was clearly generating pressure throughout the game. In fact, he’s been one of the better defensive linemen over the last several games, even if the stats don’t always back it up. It’s good to see the third year player starting to make an impact. Ricardo Allen This is the Rico we know and love. This guy was flying all over the field on Sunday. He had one of the four interceptions but also tacked on 3 pass defenses. He hasn’t had a great season, but he’s been very good the past two games and was special on Sunday against the Panthers. Vic Beasley Yup. He’s on the list again. With a sack and several pressures and a pass defense, Beasley has looked far better recently. Vote in our poll below:

  • Falcons vs. Panthers: Who was the offensive player of the game?
    by David J Walker on November 18, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports After thrashing Carolina on the road, there are some great choices today. Don’t look now, but the Falcons have won two in a row with both games being in the NFC South and on the road. The offense hasn’t been incredible, but after scoring 25 or more points for the second week in a row, they have improved. Thankfully, they didn’t even need all those points this week. Here are some of the offensive players who stood out the most. Matt Ryan The franchise QB was accurate all game long. He finished 21 of 31 for 311 yards and 1 touchdown, but those stats don’t tell the whole story. His deep ball accuracy was insanely good in this game even with pressure in his face. His passes to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley both set up scoring drives and reminded us that the talk about his “weak arm” is utterly misguided. Calvin Ridley The second year wide out has had an up and down season, but today was definitely a great one. He finished with 8 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown. He looked explosive and far steadier than he has in a while. Mohamed Sanu who? Julio Jones While he only had 6 receptions for 91 yards, Julio continued to do what great players do. He drew double coverage, allowing guys like Ridley to beat single coverage. He also was responsible for several blocks to help with extending plays. The offensive line Ryan wasn’t kept perfectly clean all game, but against the top pass rushing defense in the league this unit did a good job overall, especially when you consider the fact that the running game could not get going. If the Falcons are going to keep this run going, this unit has to be at their best. Vote in our poll below:

  • Falcons vs. Panthers: 3 Falcons up, 3 Falcons down after second win in two weeks
    by James Rael on November 18, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports Fact: Ricardo Allen toes get very cold when he sleeps The Falcons went into yesterday’s game a 2-7 team. By the end of the game, the Falcons were 3-7 and on paper, that doesn’t mean much. (They still aren’t going to the playoffs and 2019 is still a lost season.) But in practice, and in real time, it meant a lot. The Falcons appear revitalized after a much-needed bye week. Notwithstanding their plummeting draft position, the fan base is hyped, because the Falcons are winning football games. It’s a good feeling. Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst individual performances from yesterday’s win. 3 Falcons Up Ricardo Allen Allen played like a man possessed yesterday. He was all over the field, swatting and intercepting passes like his achilles injury never happened. Allen’s trademark shimmy was out in full force yesterday, and for good reason. Takk McKinley Takk getting hurt while playing his best game of the season is the functional equivalent of having ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. McKinley was injured while sacking Kyle Allen. Earlier in the game, his pressure set up the De’Vondre Campbell interception. It’s Week 11, but Takk has arrived, y’all. Calvin Ridley Good grief, Calvin. The departure of Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper’s injury certainly opened the door for Ridley, but he burst right through that doorway yesterday. Ridley racked up 143 receiving yards on 8 receptions and scored once. Honorable mention: Kenjon Barner, De’Vondre Campbell Barner scored the first Falcons special teams touchdown since the dawn of time and Campbell played a solid football game, including an interception that ended the Panthers’ first offensive series. 3 Falcons Down Dirk Koetter Oh, Dirk. Do you think your ill-conceived screens will ever work on an NFL defense? Have you thought about teaching the offensive line how to run block? Why are you afraid of the red zone? More questions than answers, folks. More questions than answers. Dan Quinn If the Falcons just needed Quinn to get in the backseat and let his assistants drive for a while to right the ship, one has to wonder how much faith the front office should have in him going forward. Sure, he’s a locker room favorite. And sure, his track record gets him some leeway. But this appears to be an entirely different defense and other than relinquishing control, what did Quinn do to make that happen? Brian Hill Today wasn’t Hill’s last opportunity to make an impression on a team, be it the Falcons or another franchise, that he’s worthy of a long-term investment. But he looked completely inept behind an offensive line that, to be fair, was struggling to run block yesterday. With Ito Smith out for the year and Devonta Freeman sidelined, Hill had an opening. He didn’t need to replicate his 115 rushing yards from the last game against the Panthers, but he needed to do ... something. Hill accumulated just 30 yards rushing on 15 carries. In short, he didn’t do much.

  • Dominant defensive display keeps the Falcons astonishing midseason resurgence going
    by Allen Strk on November 18, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images A defense most known for being a weekly punchline is now shutting down opposing offenses entirely. There are countless statistics that showcase how incredible the Falcons have played over the past eight quarters. You can start with how they’ve produced double the amount of interceptions against the Panthers (four) as they did in the first nine games of the season (two). It goes on with their defense recording more sacks in the last two games combined (eleven) than they did in the first eight games of the season (seven). How about not allowing a touchdown in eight straight quarters? Emphasizing shutting down two divisional opponents, let alone doing it on the road, needs to be pointed out as well. For the first time since 2010, the Falcons won two consecutive road games by double-digit points. They have done it in the most unexpected circumstances, against two teams with winning records (previously in Carolina’s case). How Dan Quinn’s team has responded following the bye week is simply remarkable. What looked like a hapless defense is now generating consistent pressure, frequently challenging passes, and getting off the field on third down. They’ve also started to create turnovers, which has been a long time coming. The decision to put Jeff Ulbrich and Raheem Morris in featured defensive coaching roles has worked wonders. It’s proven Quinn is not only capable of making adjustments, but also willing to be adaptable and admit his faults. Defensive destruction The tone of the game was set on Carolina’s first drive. It only took three plays for the defense to make their mark. As Takkarist McKinley ripped past Taylor Moton, Kyle Allen panicked and tried to avoid the sack. His attempted throw landed into the hands of De’Vondre Campbell. That was the start of a four interception, five sack, and ten hit masterpiece. Allen’s ball security issues are well documented. His tendency of taking chances in tight areas, along with an overall lack of awareness gives defenses opportunities to make big plays. Those opportunities came often for a secondary that hasn’t produced many takeaways this season. Desmond Trufant, Ricardo Allen, and Damontae Kazee capitalized on those opportunities. While both starting safeties had early Christmas gifts delivered to them by Kyle Allen’s horrendous decision making, Trufant made an astute play in baiting the scrutinized quarterback into throwing an errant pass. The former Pro Bowler made his return and didn’t waste time making a major impact. By reclaiming his spot on the left, it allowed Kendall Sheffield to gain much-needed experience in the slot. His impressive play made the decision to shift Kazee back to free safety smoother. The versatile defender is at his best in a deep safety role, where he can read the opposing quarterback’s eyes and make plays across the field with his range. It became evident that he wasn’t comfortable covering slot receivers. Putting him back where he excelled last season is proving to be one of the most wisest personnel moves. Kazee isn’t the only young player elevating his game in recent weeks. After a dreadful start to his career as a full-time starter, Isaiah Oliver has started to establish himself as a capable corner. The every week tradition of him blowing a zone coverage assignment or committing a careless penalty isn’t transpiring anymore. Instead, Oliver is playing with better awareness and using his long arms in an efficient manner. His pass breakup on a deep ball to D.J. Moore showcased how much he’s coming along in recent weeks. Remaining patient with him has been another smart decision, especially when it would have been easy to bench him. The young players Quinn showed faith in are starting to play at a high level. McKinley finally got his well-deserved sack following weeks of nearly getting one. For all the work he put into becoming technically more proficient, his sack came off a pure bull rush. McKinley is starting to apply more tools to his arsenal. By becoming better with his hands and not depending on his raw strength, it has resulted in generating more pressure. The sacks haven’t necessarily came in bunches for him. What the pressure has done is help the defense get off the field on third down, create turnover opportunities, and open space for players like Vic Beasley to exploit. It’s been a frustrating season for the enigmatic defensive lineman. These past few weeks have been encouraging steps in his development. What makes this blowout even more significant is that Grady Jarrett didn’t have a big impact on the game. The outstanding interior tackle had a relatively quiet game by his high standards. McKinley, Beasley, and Adrian Clayborn were the players rattling Allen on every drive. Clayborn had another strong performance with two sacks and three hits. Increasing his snap count is another shrewd decision made on the coaching staff’s part. His relentless motor, sheer explosiveness, and frightening power makes him a threat at all times. Rookie left tackle Greg Little learned the hard way when trying to block him. The defense’s success isn’t solely predicated on how young players develop. Veterans like Clayborn must continue causing havoc to assure their recent success becomes the new standard. Coaching staff shows growth With the exception of Adam Gase, no head coach has received more criticism this season than Quinn. Analysts, journalists, and fans were claiming he should have been fired in October. A “state of the union” type of press conference had to be made by Arthur Blank to address the speculation about Quinn’s future. That’s how low things had become in Atlanta. Opposing players were labeling his scheme as basic and predictable. Opposing coaching staffs were scheming open explosive plays at will. One of the league’s more respectable head coaches was becoming a laughing stock across the league. The idea that Quinn doesn’t know what he is doing has quickly changed. He accepted that being the defensive play caller was proving to be too overwhelming for him. His willingness to use multiple respected coaches to facilitate change across the defense was needed. For someone who is widely considered for being too stubborn for his own good, the fiery head coach made the necessary alterations to help improve an underachieving defense. It’s translated into two outstanding victories where the defense has made significant strides in several areas. The communication and pre-snap organization is noticeably better. There haven’t been many explosive plays allowed nor complete coverage busts. Defenders are making open-field tackles, which has been vital in containing dynamic playmakers like Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. The constant penalties that plagued them earlier in the season didn’t occur in their recent victories. Forcing the Panthers to go two for 14 on third down is another notable statistic, especially when considering the Falcons were allowing more than 50 percent of third downs to be converted. Quinn had to do something coming off the bye to keep his job for the rest of the season. The adjustments that were made have translated onto the field in securing his job status for the remainder of the season. Matt Ryan stands tall Lost in the defense’s sensational performance was Ryan having arguably his best game of the season. After struggling to find his rhythm against New Orleans, the franchise quarterback looked as composed as ever. He was more willing to take shots downfield. Instead of overly pressing, Ryan surveyed the field and remained patient. His lone touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley was a prime example of it. Carolina’s defense is known for rattling quarterbacks with their various blitzes and coverage looks. They never took Ryan off his game. When the Panthers managed to hit Ryan, they couldn’t prevent him from hitting a receiver in stride. Ridley and Julio Jones were on the receiving end of throws that went for 30 yards or more. How Ryan stood tall in the pocket and lofted picture-perfect throws downfield was a sight to behold. It was his first outdoors game of the season, which raised some concern coming into the game due to the narrative of him struggling outdoors. There was nothing stopping the former MVP from connecting with his two star wide receivers time and time again. For all the excitement about the defense’s dominance, it can’t be discounted how well Ryan played against an above-average unit. Looking Ahead After a memorable two-game road trip, the Falcons are playing at home for the first time in nearly a month. It comes at an opportune time facing a Tampa Bay team in complete disarray. The NFC South matchups are coming fast with a Thanksgiving rematch against New Orleans on the horizon. For a team out of the playoff picture, there is genuine excitement about Quinn’s team. Can they continue to maintain this level of play for the remainder of the season? That’ll be something for a team that has gone from struggling to stay competitive in games to blowing out the opposition.

  • Falcons - Panthers recap: The wheels keep on turning, and they grind Carolina to dust
    by Dave Choate on November 18, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images The Falcons are suddenly, improbably on fire, and they’ve won two in a row. The Falcons may as well have spun themselves a chrysalis and emerged as a glorious butterfly, because this has been nothing short of a miraculous transformation. They’re now 2-0 in their last two games, having outscored their opponents 55-12 and putting the rest of their division on notice that they’re not just going to sink quietly into the basement and stay there. As they were busily beating Carolina all over the field, you couldn’t help but simultaneously marvel and get angry at what you were seeing. This is the football team I expected to see all year, a tough defense and a capable offense combining to absolutely give teams hell. Instead, we got eight largely forgettable games before they actually got going, which makes this lost season feel more keenly lost than if they had just kept stinking. For all that bitterness, the Falcons are playing so well right now it’s virtually impossible not to enjoy it. The defense was once again stellar, snagging multiple interceptions and sacking Kyle Allen over and over again, with the defensive backs making plays they just didn’t make earlier in the year. Despite barely being able to run at all yet again, the Falcons stomped Carolina into pieces, not allowing a score until the fourth quarter and putting up 26 points in the interim. Will the Falcons keep the good times rolling? Honestly, it’s hard to bet against them after the last two dominant weeks, because the changes to the coaching staff appear to have made a massive difference. This team is simply better (if not worlds better) on defense, and still good enough on offense to cause problems for teams of all stripes. When they are firing on all cylinders, they are this good, and I just wish they could have figured this out much, much sooner, before they playoff chances had dwindled to virtually nothing. Dominant defense and quality offense is, however, welcome at any time. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the recap this week. The Good Younghoe Koo kept the good times rolling, hitting a 38 yarder on the team’s first drive to put them on the board early. Unfortunately the good times didn’t continue, but it was a strong start the Falcons built on capably. Koo would redeem himself for the wind-assisted miss just fine by nailing two more tries later in the game, and he’s now 7/8 on field goals so far in his Falcons career. Matt Ryan looked much sharper in this one, with a couple of off-target throws early yielding to sharp balls the rest of the day. Ryan’s deep throw to Julio Jones in the second quarter was an absolute thing of beauty, as it was thrown right into Julio’s hand and over the assorted defenders trying desperately to keep up with him. He continued to drill deep throws all day and cruised to victory over the Panthers, putting up his eighth career 300-plus yard game against Carolina. Calvin Ridley had the breakout game we’ve been waiting for. He just couldn’t be stopped Sunday, making catches all over the field and looking especially deadly on deep balls as he got open seemingly at will. We know how good he is and can be, and it was nice to see it all come together against the Panthers. Russell Gage figured to have a big day, and while he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, he did good things throughout the day. He had the game’s first catch and picked up a nice falling touchdown in the second quarter that was ultimately overturned, and should be a crucial (if not necessarily oft-targeted) part of the offense going forward. The defense looked game early, with Takk McKinley taking down Kyle Allen, whose desperation throw was picked off by De’Vondre Campbell on an excellent play. It’s unfortunate the Falcons weren’t able to take advantage of that, but that’s not atypical. What was atypical was how they followed it. The Falcons were nothing short of dominant on defense, have now strung together 10 quarters without a touchdown allowed, and picked up five sacks and four interceptions on the day. That sack total is more than a third of their season total coming into the game, while the turnover total matched what they had coming in. The team built a little momentum coming into the bye, made smart changes during it, and completely turned their fortunes around. The timing is problematic, yes, but the performance is beyond welcome. Vic Beasley has really come alive post-deadline. His first quarter sack of Kyle Allen was tremendous, as he used his speed and good hand usage to work his way by the right tackle and bring down the quarterback, ending the drive. Adrian Clayborn was a welcome addition to this defense in the offseason, but it took a while for the team to get him going. Now he’s unstoppable. That’s three sacks in the last two weeks for Clayborn, who picked up two against Kyle Allen. His second one was a masterclass, as he simply drove Greg Little backwards and took down Allen with his spare arm. I’ve said it a couple of times already but I’d love to see him back as a veteran presence for what should be a young defensive line in 2020. Ricardo Allen and Desmond Trufant were balling like yesteryear in this one. Both had picks in this game and both had excellent coverage, with Allen putting together a particularly impressive sequence where he broke up a goal line pass and then got his interception on the next play. That did my heart some good, because both of those guys have been underrated throughout much of their careers and deserve to be recognized on days like this. Kenjon Barner has been a nice addition for this Falcons team, but he went from nice to legendary with that first quarter punt return. He caught it spinning, worked his way to the middle of the field and then took off on the sideline, with Qadree Ollison providing the final block to get him into the end zone for the team’s first return touchdown since Devin Hester in 2014. That was a hell of a play. The Ugly Dirk Koetter’s obsession with up the middle or off tackle runs on first down is beyond parody at this point, and is equivalent to just setting a down on fire. On the team’s first two drives of the game, those runs picked up a combined...four yards? Maybe? I don’t understand why the Falcons continue to go back to something that doesn’t work, but that’s been the story of the season. The offense is just not well-run at times. Dirk Koetter being this team offensive coordinator was not my preferred outcome, but I figured he couldn’t actively screw things up for a unit this talented, and I was mistaken. The Falcons left gobs of points on the field, and while that’s not a big deal for a team that won 29-3, it will be a big deal in the near future when the score is tighter and Brian Hill is taking two steps up the middle and getting creamed. Speaking of Hill, he and Ollison had the kind of success behind this line that you would’ve expected from guys backing up Devonta Freeman. I like both backs a great deal, but they didn’t averaged under three yards a carry by accident. Koetter’s lack of creative play calling on the ground and the continuing run blocking woes of the line are huge limiting factors, and as a result neither one got going. Free is not heading for the bench when he gets back, to put it mildly. Dan Quinn’s timeout near the end of the first half was a masterclass in making the wrong call. The Falcons had been rolling and wanted a shot at more points, which I understand, but that gave the Panthers enough time to get an improbable first down, then another one, then fortunately a pick to end the drive. The most fascinating subplot of the final six or so games, especially with the Falcons heating up in a major way, is what will happen to Quinn. I continue to think that as beloved as he is by the players and staff at Flowery Branch, his teams and his decision making have been far too inconsistent to award him another year unless he essentially wins out. Even then, I’d be tempted to move on, because they never would’ve been in such a deep hole to begin with if the first half of the year hadn’t been so badly bungled. For the moment, though, it probably makes the most sense to just sit back and enjoy some quality Falcons football. The Wrapup Game MVP If you want to pick one guy, it’s probably either Desmond Trufant or Ricardo Allen, given that both were brilliant and helped ensure the Falcons clamped down hard on Carolina. It’s tempting to give it to the entire defense, though, because they played perhaps their most complete, consistently excellent game since the 2017 season. Major kudos to them, full stop. One Takeaway The Falcons really should have timed this better, but they are absolutely a Good Football Team right now and will be scary as long as they can keep this up. Next Week After two straight impressive road wins against division rivals, the Falcons get the struggling Buccaneers and pick six machine Jameis Winston at home. I’m not going to jinx anything, but that certainly looks promising on paper. Check out Bucs Nation for more. Final Word Unexpectedbutimpressive.

 

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