By Matthew Asher
If Atlanta thinks they can simply phone in a victory against a “weaker” team, they better think again. In the immortal words of the Miracle on Ice head coach Herb Brooks, the Falcons “don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”
Narrowly defeating the Oakland Raiders 23-20, the Falcons should consider this game their wake-up call that parity in the NFL is present in every game. Oakland clearly showed they made the most of their bye week last week by giving Atlanta everything it could handle. Going on statistics alone, Oakland should have crushed Atlanta. Therefore get ready for lots of criticism over Atlanta’s victory.
Kicker Matt Bryant gets an A-. Yes, Bryant did miss his first field goal of the season in the first quarter. He however made up for that miss by scoring 11 of Atlanta’s 23 points including the game-winning 55 yard field goal with 1 second remaining in the game. This is the second time in three weeks Bryant has kicked a game-winner for Atlanta.
Defensive back Asante Samuel gets a B+. There’s a very good chance if Samuel didn’t pick off Carson Palmer late in the fourth quarter, Oakland would have won the game. Oakland started their second to last drive at their own 10 but gained 62 yards on just five plays. With Oakland on Atlanta’s 28 Asante stepped in front of a pass intended for Denarius Moore and returned it 79 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Samuel also recorded four additional tackles throughout the game.
The reason he gets a B+? Along with the rest of the defense, Samuel and company gave up nearly 500 yards of offense. Yes he had that great play but the rest of the game was a pedestrian effort at best.
Atlanta’s defense gets a C-. The reason the defense even gets a C is because Atlanta won the game. Otherwise, they were flat-out bad. Oakland averages slightly more than 300 yards a game. Oakland racked up 474 yards of total offense, averaging seven yards per play to a team that averages .
Before this game Atlanta’s passing defense was one of the best in the league. In the first five games, the Falcons gave up an average of 203 yards through the air while the Raiders averaged 258 yards passing in their first four games. This game Carson Palmer threw for 353 yards, averaging nine yards per throw.
Atlanta’s run defense is typically the weak link allowing 142.8 yards each game is the sixth worst in the league. Oakland averaged 61 yards on the ground in their first four games, statistically the worst in the NFL. Against Atlanta they picked up 149 yards averaging almost five yards each carry.
Matt Ryan gets a D+. Matt Ryan may have ended the first half of the game with just three incomplete passes, but each one was costly. All three were interceptions by the Raiders. Ryan has only thrown three interceptions in a single game one other time in his career which was against New Orleans early in Ryan’s career.
Even with Atlanta’s three-headed monster of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, Ryan had trouble. The trio caught just 14 of Ryan’s 37 pass attempts for 177 of Ryan’s 249 yards. Roddy was the top receiver for Atlanta with just 72 yards receiving.
Atlanta’s running game gets a D+. Proving again that the Carolina game was an aberration from the norm, Michael Turner was terrible. On 11 carries, Turner amassed just 33 yards for a paltry three yards a carry. If you take Matt Ryan’s 15 yard scramble out of the rushing statistics, Atlanta picked up just 30 yards on fourteen attempts for a pitiful 2.1 yards per carry.
Overall the Falcons offense was just terrible. Averaging almost 400 yards of total offense through the first five games, Oakland had Atlanta’s number. Atlanta amassed just 286 yards, nearly 100 yards fewer than they normally get for a less than spectacular 5.4 yards per play.
Atlanta now gets the much needed bye week to figure out how to retool their offense and defense and get them back to looking like the team that steamrolled their first few opponents. Atlanta will travel to Philly on October 28th to take on the Eagles and former Falcon Quarterback Mike Vick. Kickoff is 1pm EST.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.