Team Grades: Turnovers Cause Mediocre Marks For Offense, While Pick-Six In OT Saves The Day For Defense
By Cedric Williams
After four straight weeks of sky high grade marks for its performances against Philadelphia, New York, Dallas and Houston, the Atlanta Falcons had what could be categorized as its first mediocre performance of 2015, Sunday at the Georgia Dome against the Washington Redskins.
Some might say it doesn't make sense to find fault with a team that is now 5-0 for only the second time in its history. But even though Atlanta's overall record is sparkling and the stats from Sunday weren't terrible, the truth is, the Falcons didn't play all that well against the Redskins.
The Falcon offense sputtered most of the day, and when they did seem to get moving, some type of very uncharacteristic turnover made an appearance to kill several promising drives. Quarterback Matt Ryan was the main culprit there with two interceptions and a lost fumble, but he wasn't the only one.
Standout receiver Julio Jones had a fumble that the Falcons managed to maintain possession on and so did running back Devonta Freeman. Those plays could've been disastrous if lady luck wasn't on Atlanta's side Sunday afternoon. The three quarterback sacks given up by the offensive line didn't help the Falcon cause either.
On the positive side, Freeman had another big day carrying the ball, with 153 yards and a touchdown that gave Atlanta the lead late in regulation. But he also was responsible for the dropped pass at the goal line, a couple of plays before that eventual touchdown, that put the Falcons in the position of having to convert a 4th and 2 with the clock running out to keep their hopes of winning alive.
All in all, Sunday wasn't a terrible day for the Falcons. But it definitely did not live up to the standard the club had set for itself over the first four weeks of the season.
Other than forcing turnovers (which it did) Washington's best shot at upsetting Atlanta was to run the ball right down the Falcon's throats. But Atlanta wasn't having any of that.
The Falcons held the Redskins to just 51 yards on 24 carries (a 2.1 yards per carry average) and didn't allow a single run longer than 9 yards all day. The defense did allow 13 first downs on pass plays though, and only sacked Washington QB Kirk Cousins one time.
Cornerback Robert Alford was the hero of the day, with two interceptions — including the one he made in overtime and returned 59 yards for the game-winning touchdown. But he was almost the goat, as it was the pass interference called on him that set up Washington's go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Fortunately, the third-year man out of Southeastern Louisiana didn't sulk. Instead, he kept his head in the game and capitalized when the chance to make the play of the game presented itself.
Special Teams: C
Punter Matt Bosher was splendid again, booming a 51-yarder on his only punt of the day. But the rest of Atlanta's specialists weren't particularly special at all.
Kicker Matt Bryant missed two field goals for the first time this season and return man Eric Weems averaged just 7.0 yards on two punt returns. Again, not a terrible day for the Falcons on special teams, but not exactly up to the standards it had reached earlier. Except for Bosher, whose gotten himself off to a Pro Bowl start this season.
The game plan seemed sound, with the Falcons ready to attack the talent advantage they seemed to have over the Redskins. But the execution was only ok most of the time on Sunday, and mediocre the rest of the time.
That's not exactly coach Dan Quinn's fault, but he is ultimately responsible for how his team plays on Sunday. And despite winning again, the Falcons weren't great.
To the coach's credit though, when it was time to bear down and put some critical plays together, his Falcons were able to do it -- the 10-play, 80-yard gem by the offense to take the lead late in regulation and Alford's quick thinking-turned pick-six to win the game in particular.
Atlanta won't have much time to dwell on Sunday's win/near loss, as they'll be back on the field in just four days for a key NFC South showdown against the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are 1-4 after suffering an embarrassing loss in Philadelphia on Sunday, and they might be staring down the barrel of being one of those teams who are so far behind everyone else that their season is basically already over. The one thing that could resurrect it though, is a Thursday Night Football win over the unbeaten rival Falcons.
That makes the next game a big game for both clubs, with only a matter of hours to get ready for it. Win or lose, the Falcons get a 10-day off bye week after that to recover.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at email@example.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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