Redskins vs. Falcons: Takeaways from Atlanta's 27-26 Win over Redskins
It was a game that went back and forth, helped quite a bit by seven Redskins turnovers. The Falcons managed to take advantage with most of their points coming off those changes of possession.
The Falcons ultimately pulled out the victory despite giving up a late scoring drive by Kirk Cousins in the final minutes thanks to Mike Shanahan's bold, yet questionable decision at the end of the game. Instead of opting for an extra point that could have tied the game and sent it into overtime, Shanahan went for the two-point conversion and the win, which failed due to a timely deflection by Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant.
The Falcons will hope this win can add some much needed momentum heading into the offseason if they can build off it with another win next week against the San Francisco 49ers. In order to take down an opponent as tough as the 49ers, they will need to build off the positives shown on Sunday and eliminate the negatives.
Turnovers Make the Difference in Falcons Win
The Falcons managed to score 20 of their 27 points off the seven turnovers committed by the Redskins, as their offense struggled to move the ball otherwise. The Redskins gave up the ball in their territory four times, each of which resulted in points for the Falcons.
The first came on Osi Umenyiora's sack-strip of Kirk Cousins, which set up a quick 23-yard scoring drive that pushed the Falcons lead to 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Santana Moss muffed a punt, but the Falcons failed to get a touchdown despite starting their drive at the Redskins 12-yard line. They settled for a 20-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to push their lead to 17-7.
In the second half, William Moore picked off Cousins and returned the ball to the 2-yard line to set up a touchdown run by Steven Jackson on the next play. Then with less than six minutes to go in the game, Desmond Trufant picked off Cousins again, which led to a 51-yard field goal from Bryant that pushed Atlanta's lead to 27-20 with 3:25 left to go in the game.
Despite the heavily skewed turnover margin in their favor, Atlanta did not have a great game. The Falcons themselves had a pair of turnovers, but the Redskins only capitalized for three points off those mistakes.
The turnover fest included a bizarre series in the second quarter where on three consecutive plays, each team coughed it up. It began with an Alfred Morris fumble being recovered by Malliciah Goodman. That was followed by Ryan Kerrigan stripping Matt Ryan on a sack on the ensuing play, which was followed by Santana Moss fumbling and the ball being recovered by William Moore.
The multiple miscues led to an ugly win by the Falcons, but those count just the same as the pretty ones.
Offense Struggles to Move the Ball
Despite facing the league's bottom-ranked scoring defense in the Redskins, the Falcons offense really struggled to move the ball and score points.
They only had two series which saw them finding much of any success moving the ball without the benefit of a turnover. Those drives were the Falcons opening drives in the first and third quarters.
The Falcons started strong with a 14-play, 83-yard drive to open the game, resulting in their only points of the day not thanks to a turnover. That drive was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Steven Jackson.
To start the second half, the Falcons had a 10-play, 54-yard drive that was stalled at the 1-yard line when Redskins linebacker Perry Riley stuffed Jackson on fourth down.
On those two drives, the Falcons were able to convert five of their six third-down attempts. Outside those two series, they failed to convert any of their other eight third-down tries.
The Falcons will have to correct those offensive inconsistencies next week when they face a much more formidable defense in San Francisco.
Shanahan's Decision Gets Smith off the Hook
There's little doubt that much of the post-game discussion will center around Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's gutsy decision to go for the win in the final moments with a two-point conversion rather than settling for overtime with an extra point try.
It was an aggressive call, one that will overshadow a similarly aggressive decision by Falcons head coach Mike Smith earlier in the game.
That decision came in the third quarter when Smith opted to go for it on fourth down when the Falcons were at the Redskins' 1-yard line. The Falcons have struggled to finish drives in the red zone throughout the season, and thus settling for a field goal a second time on their fourth red zone trip up until that point Sunday wasn't something Smith was willing to do.
But Steven Jackson was stuffed by Perry Riley at the goal line and the Redskins took over on downs. But on the very next play, Kirk Cousins was picked off by William Moore, who returned the ball down to the 2-yard line. On the very next play, Steven Jackson scored, making it so that the Falcons failed conversion on fourth down didn't ultimately hurt them.
The same won't be said for Shanahan's bold decision, and it won't help quiet the storm surrounding the franchise and Shanahan's job security.
Gonzalez Sets Another Career Benchmark
Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez added another achievement to his mantle and record by becoming the fifth player and first tight end to pass the 15,000 yards receiving mark against the Redskins.
It was one of the few shining moments of the Falcons offensive performance, as Gonzalez needed 54 yards to cross the 15,000-yard threshold. He finished the day with 62 yards and also scored his 110th touchdown of his NFL career.
With a disappointing 2013-14 season where expectations were exceedingly high, one of the few positives for Falcons fans will be watching Gonzalez in the final games of his prolific NFL career.
Falcons Go Young Up Front
Undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder logged his first career start at right tackle against the Redskins, solidifying a move that has been in the making the past few weeks as his playing time has increased.
Schraeder did not have a great day, as for the second week in a row he allowed a sack that led to a turnover. Last week against the Green Bay Packers, Mike Neal beat him and got a sack-strip on Matt Ryan. This week, Ryan Kerrigan achieved the same feat. Fortunately for Schraeder, Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss fumbled on the very next play, which prevented them from taking advantage of the favorable field position deep in Falcons territory.
The Falcons even inserted Harland Gunn into the game at right guard for a series to give him a look. Gunn has spent the entire season on the inactive list after an impressive preseason. Gunn was signed by the Falcons off the New Orleans Saints' practice squad late last season but had yet to suit up for a game until Sunday.
The struggles of Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds in recent weeks have led to multiple benchings for each player. It's smart of the Falcons to give Gunn a look in case he could be in the mix next season, given the likelihood the team revamps the right guard spot in the offseason.
The youth movement hasn't led to immediate success for the Falcons, but it could benefit down the line if either Schraeder or Gunn develops into a viable starting candidate.
Falcons Come Up Short in Short Yardage
It has become all too common an occurrence in recent seasons to see the Falcons struggle to convert in short yardage. Things appeared to be changing with the hard-running of Steven Jackson in recent weeks, who has been successful converting on several short-yardage and goal-to-go runs over the past month since his return from injury.
But that wasn't the case on Sunday, as the team got stuffed on a notable fourth-and-one try in the third quarter. The Falcons offensive line got no push, and Redskins linebacker Perry Riley was there to stuff Jackson at the goal line.
The Falcons were also denied from scoring on a second quarter possession following Santana Moss' muffed punt. Jackson had two rushing attempts inside the Redskins' 3-yard line and was stopped twice. That ultimately led to the Falcons settling for three points instead a touchdown that could've stretched their then 14-7 lead even further.
Jackson did score on another goal-to-go situation, shortly following his failed fourth down run thanks to a William Moore interception on the ensuing Redskins series.
Despite the overall struggles of the Falcons offensive line this season, the recent success of Jackson made it appear that the arrow was pointing up in regards of their ability to get the tough yards in critical situations. Sunday's efforts against the Redskins places new doubts about such improvement. It's doubts the Falcons will need to work to erase next week against the San Francisco 49ers.
Lack of Pressure Leads to Big Day for Cousins
Despite the controversy surrounding the Redskins switch of quarterbacks this week, it did not seem to have much of a negative effect on their offense.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a career day in only his second career NFL start, completing 29 of 45 passes for 381 yards, three touchdowns, and a pair of interception.
Cousins could attribute some of his success to the lack of pressure from the Falcons front. The Falcons were able to dial up blitzes early that did apply some heat to the second-year passer, but it quickly evaporated after the first few series.
That lack of pressure, exposed the weakness of the Falcons secondary which was featuring three rookies in prominent roles. The Redskins gashed the Falcons with four passes of 20 or more yards, including passes to Aldrick Robinson and Pierre Garcon for 62 and 53 yards, respectively.
If the Falcons want to apply any heat to Colin Kaepernick in next week's matchup against the 49ers, they will likely have to rely on blitzing to be effective since the front four alone have been underwhelming this season.
Motta's Start Is Not Overly Promising
Along with Ryan Schraeder, safety Zeke Motta was another Falcons rookie that was getting his first career start against the Redskins.
Motta replaced Thomas DeCoud, who suffered a concussion in last week's loss to the Green Bay Packers. DeCoud was knocked out of that game early, and Motta filled in for his most extensive action of the season. But Motta followed that up this week against the Redskins with a less than stellar performance.
Motta looked miscast at the free safety position, finding himself out of position a few too many times in coverage. He was frozen by play action in the backfield on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Fred Davis. He then misplayed the ball in the air on the 53-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon.
He also missed a couple of tackles, but managed to finish with five tackles, including a hard hit on Santana Moss that caused him to get flipped. He also broke up a pass to Davis late in the fourth quarter for a mixed performance at best.
There are questions about whether Thomas DeCoud will be brought back next season thanks to a disappointing performance in 2013 following his 2012 Pro Bowl bid. But Motta did not quite show enough against the Redskins to suggest that he's a viable candidate to replace him. It's still too early to know if DeCoud will be recovered enough to return next week against the 49ers. But regardless of who lines up at free safety, the Falcons will need to get better play from the position.
Desmond Trufant Emerges as a Difference Maker
Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant has put together an excellent rookie season, and his performance against the Redskins might put him into the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Trufant finished with seven tackles, an interception and a pair of pass deflections. His interception helped give the Falcons their final score of the game off a 51-yard field goal from Matt Bryant, which proved to be the points needed to win the game.
He in fact had three pass deflections, but his third one won't be officially counted on the stat sheet. It came on the failed Redskins' two-point conversion, essentially sealing the win for Atlanta.
It was a strong performance which has buoyed a strong rookie campaign for the first-round cornerback. Opposing quarterbacks have tested the rookie throughout the season, but he's made them pay as he's among the league leaders in pass breakups. He has been one of the few bright spots throughout the year on a disappointing Falcons defense, and the Falcons hope that momentum will carry over into next season.