The Atlanta Falcons did something they had never done before in week one of the 2013 NFL season, and that was lose to the New Orleans Saints in an opening week match-up. The nastiest rivalry in the south lived up to it’s reputation, as there were plenty of hits and bad blood, but the Falcons came up on the short end of a 23-17 score.
Coming out of the preseason, Falcons fans weren’t exactly sure what they were going to get out of their team, and a game against the Saints to open up the season was certainly going to bring out the best in both teams. Atlanta showed both some good and bad things on both sides of the ball, and really had every opportunity to win the game. The Saints capitalized on their chances, while the Falcons faltered.
Here are six things, both positive and negative, that the Falcons showed us in week one:
Positive: Steven Jackson is completely as advertised.
Jackson has plenty of tread left on the tires, and proved to be the multiple threat out of the backfield that Atlanta was hoping to get. He ran for 77 yards on just 11 carries, and caught five passes for another 45 yards. His only mistake in the game was a costly one, as he dropped a probable game-winning touchdown pass as time was winding down in the game. Although it was a big mistake, fans shouldn’t make too much of it. Chances are that Jackson will do much more to win games for the Falcons this season that will make up for that dropped pass. It’s scary to think how far Atlanta could have gone last season had they picked up Jackson at the trade deadline when they had the opportunity.
Negative: The right tackle position is going to be a problem.
This isn’t any big news for folks who have been watching the Falcons throughout the preseason, but it is something that the team is going to have to address if this offense is going to stop sputtering. Lamar Holmes started off the game well enough, but was gassed in the third quarter and turned into a swinging gate, allowing defensive linemen a free shot at quarterback Matt Ryan. Holmes was drafted as someone the Falcons thought could come in and really fill that right tackle spot in a big way. So far, he’s disappointed. Unfortunately right now he’s the best option the Falcons have, and it may be that way for the rest of the season. Unless GM Thomas Dimitroff is able to strike a deal for someone, Holmes is going to have to be coached up, and OC Dirk Koetter is going to have to figure out ways to use the tight ends and running backs to help out on that right side.
Positive: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will be better than expected as rookies.
It was a given that the Falcons two young cornerbacks were going to learn on the job in their rookie season, but it would appear that the learning curve isn’t as steep as many thought. The two youngsters, along with Robert McClain, did an excellent job of taking the Saints speedy receivers out of the game, and not letting Drew Brees have his way with them. There were a couple of miscues that turned into 3rd down conversions for the Saints, but overall both rookies looked solid. Brees is one of the many elite quarterbacks this duo will face this year, and if they come up just as big against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, the Falcons will be in good shape on pass defense.
Negative: The short yardage and red zone offense is still a work in progress.
The Falcons have struggled mightily the last few years in red zone and on short yardage. The end of the game against the Saints was an indication that a lot of those struggles still exist. Koetter is going to have to trust in Steven Jackson to be able to get those short gains and to bust into the end zone against defensive bunch formations. That’s one of the reasons Atlanta went out and got him, so they may as well utilize him. Atlanta was 3-for-11 on third down conversions and 0-for-1 on fourth down, and all three of those first downs were gained on the ground. Had Jackson been fed the ball more than one time on the final possession, the Falcons may very well have come away with a win.
Positive: The defensive line can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks
This was a welcome sight, seeing Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, Corey Peters and the rest of the defensive line playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The Falcons sacked Brees twice, and caused him to hurry passes several other times. Not only does this look good on their own stat sheet, but it limits the amount of big plays that the young secondary will give up. As this group plays and learns together, they should become one of the more formidable pass rush groups in the league. Even Peria Jerry managed to tally a sack against the Saints, so something must be working right.
Negative: The linebackers are still having trouble against good tight ends.
In last years two playoff games, the Falcons linebackers were exposed against two very good tight ends–Seattle’s Zach Miller and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis–both of whom led their team in receptions against Atlanta. Against the Saints it was practically the same story. Anytime Brees saw tight end Jimmy Graham in a potential match-up against a linebacker, he exploited it. Both Akeem Dent and Kroy Biermann got caught in bad match-ups against receivers, and looked bad in coverage. Sean Weatherspoon is going to have to do a better job or recognizing these mismatches and shift the defense into a better coverage. Atlanta’s next game is against the St. Louis Rams, where they’ll be faced with some of the same problems they did against the Saints. Tight end Jared Cook had a field day against a pretty good Arizona Cardinals defense.
Not time for panic yet, as there were some good things happening on the field against New Orleans, but the negatives that are pointed out here need to have some serious correction for this team to flow the way it needs to on both sides of the ball.
Oh, one other thing we learned…the Saints still play dirty, they’re just not getting paid extra for it now.
Michael Collins is an Atlanta sports humorist, columnist, radio host and owner of Georgia Sports Craze. He is a member of the FWAA and eats peanut butter straight from the jar. Follow on Twitter @GaSportsCraze on Facebook here or on Google here