Falcons vs Redskins: Atlanta Far from Perfect, Even with 5-0 Record

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterOctober 7, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 07: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons walks off the field after defeating the Washington Redskins at FedExField on October 7, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It’s a good thing Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons are good at coming from behind in the fourth quarter to win.

Atlanta scored 17 points in Sunday’s final quarter, and Ryan led the team to its 18th come-from-behind, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime since he took over under center in 2008.

The bad news is that for the second week in a row, Atlanta needed to come from behind late to win.

Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning field goal in Week 4 over the Carolina Panthers with 10 seconds left in the game. Michael Turner ran for a 13-yard, go-ahead score Sunday to lead the Falcons over the Washington Redskins, 24-17.

The Falcons are now 5-0 and are unbeaten through five games of the season for the first time in the franchise’s 47-year history.

Ryan threw for 345 yards, his second-straight 300-yard performance, the 12th in his career, which tied a Falcons franchise record.

Tony Gonzalez caught 13 passes—the second-highest total of his career—for 123 yards and a score. The touchdown was the 99th of his career.

But even with the win and record-setting performances, Atlanta’s close call raised some alarms.

Atlanta’s rush defense ranked No. 28 in the league entering Week 5 and hasn’t held an opposing offense under 100 yards on the ground this season. That trend continued Sunday.

The Redskins rushed for 129 yards, with rookie Alfred Morris getting 115. He carried the ball 18 times and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Scarier still was the big-play ability of Morris, who had six rushes of 10 yards or more.

Morris ran with a bruising style and caused more missed tackles than the Falcons would have liked. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will likely spend extra time moving forward on Atlanta’s run defense—a unit that finished the 2011 season ranked sixth in the league and was a top-10 unit for all but three weeks last year.

Nolan won’t be the only coordinator to answer questions about his unit. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will need to address a few hiccups on offense too.

Forget about offensive lineman Joe Hawley being targeted twice on passing routes Sunday. The Falcons use eligible linemen quite frequently, but when Ryan makes it all the way through his progressions and has to consider one of the eligible linemen, it’s likely a good coverage situation and not a Koetter issue.

But Koetter will have to answer about the way he has used Jacquizz Rodgers lately.

Rodgers has carried the ball nine times over the last two weeks—he notched three carries for four yards Sunday—after rushing it 10 times in Week 3. While the run frequency also might be a game situation and not play-calling by Koetter, there was one perplexing moment Sunday in Washington.

With just over three minutes to play in the third quarter, Koetter called a Rodgers run play on third down needing three yards. Not only is this typically a Michael Turner situation, but instead of taking advantage of the speed of Rodgers, the second-year back tried to power his way to a first down. The Falcons were forced to punt.

After clicking during the first three weeks on offense, Atlanta has struggled at times to move the ball effectively and score. Even with a perfect record, it’s not all rainbows and kittens for the Falcons, and Atlanta will be pushed hard to improve in the coming weeks.

And with a head coach like Mike Smith, who constantly demands perfection in all three phases of the game, pushing for improvement is a good thing.