By Matthew Asher
The Atlanta Falcons are now in uncharted water. For the first time in the franchise’s history, Atlanta has started out a season 5-0. While the 24-17 win against the Washington Redskins may not look impressive, the statistics tell the true story about the total domination Atlanta had during the game.
Offensively, the Falcons looked very impressive. Running 81 total plays, Atlanta was in control of nearly every aspect of the game. The Falcons held the ball more than 37 minutes and had 421 yards of offense while piling up 28 first downs. Defensively, Atlanta held the Redskins in check for the majority of the game, limiting Robert Griffin III to just 98 yards of total offense before knocking him out of the game in the second half.
This week the good, bad and ugly will be a little different because of the way Washington scored the majority of its points.
Atlanta’s receiving corps get an A
The Falcons big three receivers, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones combined for 27 receptions, 285 yards and two touchdowns, catching 77% of the passes thrown to them by Matt Ryan.
Tony Gonzalez was the big man for Atlanta today. He caught 13 of the 14 passes thrown at him for 123 yards and a touchdown. This was the 29th time in Tony’s career he has gone over 100 receiving yards in a game. The touchdown catch was the 99th of his career, His next touchdown catch will make him just the eighth member of the 100 TD reception club and the first as a tight end.
For the game, Ryan tied his career highs for both completions and pass attempts going 34-52 for 345 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Atlanta’s pass-blocking gets an A. Unlike last week where Ryan was sacked seven times, the O-Line did a great job of protecting their quarterback. Giving up just one sack with Ryan dropping back to throw 50-plus times is a great feat.
Atlanta’s defense gets a B-
Overall the defense did a great job of limiting Washington but there were some issues the defense needs to improve upon. First, credit needs to go to Mike Shannahan’s drafting ability. If anybody knows how to find a running back in the sixth round to constantly get 100+ rushing yards a game, it’s Mike (see Davis, Terrell). Alfred Morris gained 115 yards on just 18 rushing attempts for an impressive 6.4 yards per attempt. As mentioned earlier, the Falcons defense knocked RG3 out of the game when Sean Weatherspoon hit Griffin with a huge, legal tackle that appeared to knock RG3 silly. Griffin was taken out of the game and would not return.
The other issue for Atlanta’s defense was how they defended Griffin’s backup, Kirk Cousins. In his first NFL game, Cousins went 5-9 for 111 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown came off a blown coverage where Santana Moss was able to take the pass 77 yards for Washington’s only offensive touchdown. The defense was able to redeem itself in the fourth quarter by intercepting two passes by Cousins which put the game on ice.
Atlanta’s run blocking get a C
The Carolina game may be an aberration for the season, Atlanta’s rushing attack, along with Michael Turner, were back to being a pedestrian running game. Racking up just 83 yards on 28 attempts for only 3 yards per attempt is not a great average. Turner himself ran for 67 yards on 18 attempts with a long of just 13 yards. Since Atlanta’s passing game was in control the Falcons were able to get away with it. But they can’t continue to play like this because one game the Falcons passing game will break down and they will have to rely on their ground game.
Matt Ryan gets a C-
You may be wondering how a man who throws for 345 yards and two touchdowns would be considered one of the low points of the game. There are two reasons, both turnovers and both were because of Ryan.
With points coming at a premium in the first half, the first points didn’t come until the second quarter. Ryan backed up to throw and delivered a pass right into the arms of defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan who returned the interception 28 yards for the easiest touchdown Washington will get all year.
Ryan’s second turnover also game in the second quarter. Starting out the drive at their own 20, the Falcons moved the ball all the way to Washington’s 30. Ryan’s fumble put an end to a nice drive and Washington drove the ball to Atlanta’s 13 before setting for a field goal attempt. Atlanta was lucky that Billy Cundiff missed the 31-yard kick, which would have put Atlanta in a 10-0 hole.
Atlanta will head back home to face the Oakland Raiders, thereby essentially becoming the fifth team in that division as they try to sweep the AFC West.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.