Falcons vs. Cardinals: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Atlanta
The first faction pointed to last week's victory as sign that this depleted Falcons team was still capable of turning its season around by putting together a three-game win streak and getting to .500 by the time it returned to the Georgia Dome to face the Seahawks two weeks from today.
Alternatively, the second faction took the win for what it was. The Falcons beat a winless team with an embattled head coach and a rookie quarterback who was making his first start on the road. That kind of win said more about the state of the Bucs than it said about the Falcons' prospects.
In the aftermath of Atlanta's 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, it appears as though the fans who count themselves among the second faction were correct.
The Falcons fell to 2-5 after being done in by a stingy Cardinals defense that overwhelmed Atlanta's offensive line and an Arizona offense that took advantage of costly breakdowns by Atlanta's defense.
Let's review the Falcons' performance by dishing out our full roster report card for Atlanta.
Matt Ryan's four interceptions certainly didn't help the Falcons' cause, but Atlanta did not lose this game because of Matt Ryan. Ryan looked as frustrated as he's ever looked in a Falcons uniform.
Ryan was forced to attempt 61 passes because of a nonexistent running game and the deficit that Atlanta faced.
Harassed by the Cardinals front all afternoon, he was sacked four times and hit 11 times. While he probably unnecessarily forced his interception to Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and the first pick he threw to Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson, his other two interceptions were the direct result of Ryan getting pressured and having to throw the ball up instead of taking a sack.
Ryan looked like he came to play on Sunday, but he simply didn't get enough help from his offensive line or his running game.
Steven Jackson's return didn't help the Falcons much. In fact, ex-Falcons running back Michael Turner may have enjoyed Sunday's game as much as John Abraham did.
After rushing for 18 yards on 18 carries against the Bucs, the Falcons managed just 27 yards on 14 carries against the Cardinals.
Neither Jackson nor Jacquizz Rodgers could get anything going on the ground, and most of Atlanta's runs were stopped at or around the line of scrimmage.
While Atlanta's offensive line deserves part of the blame, the Falcons needed Jackson and Rodgers to do more with less, like Matt Ryan has been forced to do with Atlanta's passing game.
Harry Douglas, Drew Davis and Darius Johnson have played well for the Falcons the last two weeks while Roddy White has been sidelined.
Douglas went over 100 yards for the second straight week, while Davis and Johnson each had key receptions.
Nevertheless, when the Falcons really needed plays in the red zone from their wideouts, the Cardinals were able to man up these receivers on the outside and keep Atlanta out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons needed one of these guys to beat his defender one-on-one in the red zone, and that didn't happen.
Tony Gonzalez wasn't able to do much versus the Cards because he battled aggressive double coverage once again.
You can't help but wonder whether the Falcons' position regarding trading him may change if a team makes them a knockout offer before the trade deadline.
Gonzalez has given Atlanta all he's got this year, and with Atlanta sitting at 2-5 in a year when 9-7 might not even be good enough for a wild-card berth, perhaps Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff would be justified in moving Gonzalez to an AFC contender for the right price.
Levine Toilolo hauled in a couple of passes for short gains.
There aren't too many more excuses that can be made for this group. While it had taken some small steps in the right direction over the last couple of weeks, the entire unit took a giant step back against Arizona.
Run blocking and pass blocking weren't the only issues for Atlanta's offensive line on Sunday. The unit was responsible for multiple penalties, including a false-start penalty on Lamar Holmes and Justin Blalock that put the Falcons behind the sticks at the start of their last-ditch drive following Matt Bosher's well-executed onside kick.
Both Holmes and Jeremy Trueblood struggled in pass protection, while Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds were manhandled in the run game worse than they were against the Jets.
That was simply an embarrassing performance by the Falcons offensive line.
The Falcons were actually able to get some pressure on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer with Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, but Arizona didn't have to throw the ball much because rookie running back Andre Ellington was so effective on the ground.
Ellington's 80-yard touchdown run in the second quarter broke the Falcons' backs. While the defensive line wasn't solely at fault for that play, Atlanta did give up another 121 yards to the Cardinals on the ground.
That's too much yardage to give to up to an Arizona team that has about as much talent as the Falcons on the offensive line.
None of Atlanta's young defensive ends did much to stand out.
Paul Worrilow had a good shot at Andre Ellington in the hole on Ellington's 80-yard touchdown sprint, and Joplo Bartu missed his share of plays in the first half.
Both players rebounded in the second half when Arizona only scored six points, but the heavy damage was already done.
The Falcons may be better in the long run because of the experience that Worrilow and Bartu are getting this year, but in the short run, they're going to continue to have growing pains.
The secondary's grade suffers a bit because it was a part of both of Arizona's big plays of over 40 yards.
Cornerback Robert Alford helped open a lane for Andre Ellington when he got pushed inside on Ellington's touchdown run, while Asante Samuel and William Moore blew a coverage on Cardinals receiver Teddy Williams' 51-yard reception that set up the Cardinals' first touchdown.
Other than those two plays, the play in the secondary was respectable save for a couple of penalties on Desmond Trufant and red-zone touchdown catches by Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd that looked too easy.
The Cardinals' relatively low passing stats may have been more of a result of their success in the run game and their big lead than Atlanta's defense.
The Falcons didn't fully capitalize on Asante Samuel's interception.
The Falcons' special teams units played well enough to win this game. Antone Smith led a coverage unit that kept Patrick Peterson in check, while both of Atlanta's kickers took care of business.
It's too bad that the Falcons couldn't take advantage of Matt Bosher's terrific onside kick. There probably aren't too many punters who would have been able to hold onto that football at the bottom of a pile.
In his postgame press conference, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said that this game was won last Monday when his team had a training camp-like practice in full pads. The Cardinals' physicality was evident on Sunday.
The Falcons used to be up for physical games like this under Mike Smith, but that hasn't been the case this season. The game plan wasn't the issue on Sunday; Atlanta got out-manned in the trenches.
Atlanta can't do much on the personnel front at this point in the season. The Falcons just have to play with who they have.
Mike Smith has to get this team to play with an attitude up front, or else it's headed for four to six wins with this schedule.