Atlanta Falcons: 5 Potential Issues Exposed in Week 1
The Atlanta Falcons left pretty much everyone impressed with their 40-24 win at Arrowhead in Week 1.
Looking at the headline of this article one might wonder what is there to complain about after a rout like that on the road, no less.
However, this is not about nitpicking what was clearly an encouraging performance for the Falcons and their fans.
This is about the Falcons and their expectations that go far beyond notching an impressive opening win, since some already consider them odds-on favorites to be in the Super Bowl next February.
Atlanta’s head coach Mike Smith knows better than anybody that his team is far from being perfect and that there are some important issues to correct in order to succeed in the long run.
Fortunately for Smith, solving those problems is always easier after a satisfying win, and he has five important issues to address before facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos next Monday night.
1. An Unbalanced Attack
As formidable as Atlanta's offense was putting up 40 points against a Chiefs defense that allowed only 21.1 points per game last year, the lack of balance it displayed is not a recipe for sustained success.
Matt Ryan had as many completions, 23, as the Falcons had rushing attempts. Three of them were from Ryan himself.
The Falcons' QB had 25 rushing yards, seven less than Michael Turner, Atlanta’s featured running back and leader in that category last Sunday.
That doesn’t bode well for a team that never trailed in the entire game at Kansas City.
Looking ahead to next Monday night, the best recipe to beat the Broncos is to keep Manning off the field for as long as possible.
In order to do that, Turner and the Falcons’ offensive line will have to step up and make their opponent respect the run instead of putting one big bull’s eye on the quarterback.
That would be important not only for the Falcons to go 2-0, but for their long-term aspirations as well.
2. Depth in the Secondary
Every NFL team has to overcome crippling injuries during the season.
The Falcons just have to do it earlier than most.
Brent Grimes was one of the key pieces in their new defensive scheme with Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator. However, Grimes won’t be available for the rest of the season after he tore his Achilles tendon against the Chiefs.
Now, you could look at this in one of two ways.
The first is that replacing a Pro Bowl cornerback is never easy. They are precious commodities, especially in a league as pass-happy as the NFL is nowadays.
Grimes had six interceptions in the 2009 season alone. Chris Owens, his probable replacement, has had a grand total of three picks so far in his three-year career, including none in 2011.
The second option is that Grimes has been injury prone throughout his career and this gives the Falcons an opportunity to see what else they have in their roster to offset his absence.
3. Defense Must Improve
Grimes’ loss is big. There is no doubt about that. However, the Falcons also have to consider that their defense was sub-par at Kansas City even with their best corner on the field.
The Falcons allowed a team that was 29th in the NFL last season in points per game with 13.3 to score 17 points in the first half against them.
The Falcons took the lead twice in the second quarter of Sunday’s game, and Kansas City answered both times with nine and eight-play touchdown drives, respectively.
The second drive stood out more than any other for the Chiefs, since they went no-huddle in the shotgun for four straight plays and the Falcons had no answer for their attack.
They will see plenty of that against the Broncos.
Granted, Atlanta did eventually score 20 unanswered points and shut the Chiefs down, but the defense needs to be more consistent in order to ensure the team’s Super Bowl aspirations come true.
4. Converting Turnovers into Touchdowns
Chiefs’ quarterback Matt Cassel had two picks and a fumble against Atlanta, but all the Falcons could do with those three turnovers was get a total of 13 points, with two field goals and a touchdown.
We currently live in an era where touchbacks are not uncommon, and that makes scoring touchdowns after turnovers that much more important.
Settling for three points when you already had a short field to begin with is a wasted opportunity. That could come back to haunt the Falcons if they don’t improve in that area against better opponents.
5. The Screen Pass Must Not Become an Obsession
Mike Smith and his coaching staff seem to have found one in the simple but very effective screen pass.
This is a play that the Ravens use a lot with Ray Rice and one that Falcons’ center Todd McClure approves, calling the Matt Ryan screen pass to Julio Jones for a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter one of the key plays of the game.
This is a very effective play, one that will probably be used frequently with Jacquizz Rodgers being used in the Ray Rice role.
However, the Falcons cannot become a dink and dunk team.
In order to be a championship team in the NFL you need to stretch the field and throw deep, and it will be mostly up to Jones and Roddy White to create the opportunities for Atlanta to succeed in that area.