Falcons vs. Saints: Grading Every Unit in Atlanta's Week 16 Report Card
The Falcons could have helped their playoff chances by getting a win against the Saints and possibly getting their second straight NFC South crown, but those hopes were crushed by Drew Brees and the Saints on national television.
To make matters worse, the Saints and Brees broke Dan Marino's mark for passing yards in a season against the Falcons.
Atlanta was in this game in the first half, but allowed the Saints to run away with the lead. Matt Ryan had a great game for the most part, the defense showed great skill at times and the Falcons made good decisions for most of the night.
However, coming away with field goals in the red zone against a team like New Orleans is not good. The Falcons allowed over 150 rushing yards and over 300 passing yards. The Atlanta running game failed to show up whatsoever, and the coaches gave up on it much too early.
If the Falcons want to compete for a Super Bowl in 2011, then there are some changes that need to made. Some of Atlanta's units did well on Monday Night Football, but others were downright terrible.
Let's take a look at the grades for each of the Atlanta Falcons' units for Week 16 of the 2011 NFL season.
Quarterback Matt Ryan: A-
Matt Ryan did just about everything he could to will the Falcons to a victory on Monday Night Football.
He threw the ball 52 times for 373 yards and one touchdown. It is never a good sign when your quarterback throws the ball over 50 times, and on Monday night it represented the entire game.
The Falcons were playing catch-up for most of the game after getting off to a great start. Some people will say that Ryan had such a good passing game because he had no other choice than to throw the ball, but Ryan made good decisions all night. That bodes well for this Atlanta team that is headed to a wild-card game in the playoffs.
The Falcons need good decision-making from their quarterback in the postseason and Ryan showed against the Saints that he can handle the pressure and make throws with guys in his face.
Ryan was pressured for most the night, getting hit seven times, but he still managed to connect with his receivers over and over again.
There has been doubt about Ryan's play recently, but if the Falcons can take one positive thing away from Monday's embarrassing loss, it is that Ryan can lead them to a playoff victory.
Running Backs: C-
The running backs for Atlanta were downright awful on Monday Night Football.
The Falcons managed to run for 35 yards against the Saints. Yes, they only had 14 attempts, but there was much more that led to such a disappointing performance from such a talented group.
The Falcons running backs were not only unable to run the ball well, but they did not block well either. Jacquizz Rodgers was flagged for a holding penalty that hurt the Falcons early in the game. The Saints' defensive players were also able to get by the Falcon backs for most of the night.
Michael Turner was the only back that made a good block on the night, and I only remember one specific play where that happened.
The coaching was not great because they gave up on the running game so quickly, and the offensive line could have done better, but Turner is known for being a bruising running back who makes something out of nothing. He did not do that on Monday night.
The only reason that this group gets a passing grade is because of what they did catching the ball out of the backfield. Jason Snelling, Turner and Rodgers combined for 83 receiving yards and contributed in that area much more than in running the ball.
If the Falcons plan on winning any games in the postseason, then this group has to do a much better job in all aspects of the game.
Wide Receivers: B+
Julio Jones and Roddy White could have charged money for the performances they had on Monday Night Football.
This was a highlight for the Atlanta Falcons. Any time a team has two receivers go over the 100-yard mark, that is a great game. It obviously did not make a lot of difference since the Falcons still lost, but it was a bright spot in a very dim situation.
The Falcons are able to pass the ball very well; granted it was against the 28th-ranked New Orleans pass defense, but it was a good showing for Atlanta. This is the type of passing game that Atlanta will need if they want to compete in the NFC playoffs, but they have to be more balanced and play better defense.
The Falcon wide receivers are very talented, and they will contribute a lot to any sort of playoff run the Falcons make.
Tight Ends: B
Tony Gonzalez and Michael Palmer led the Atlanta tight ends to another solid performance.
Gonzalez showed again that he is still very reliable and can make the tough third-down catches. However, the game on Monday also showed that the Falcons need a lot more than good tight ends to win football games.
The tight ends also did a good job of blocking for Matt Ryan and the passing game, but that area could use some improving.
The Falcons will be playing very aggressive NFC defenses in the playoffs and it will be key for the tight ends to contribute in the pass-blocking game. Gonzalez is still one of the best in the business and he will be important to the Falcons in the postseason.
Gonzalez's performance on Monday night was good, but needs to improve as the Falcons enter the playoffs.
Offensive Line: C+
The Atlanta Falcons offensive line had a very lopsided showing on Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints.
The offensive line did well in pass blocking. They did not allow a sack, but did let Matt Ryan get hit seven times. However, if a quarterback drops back 52 times, he is more than likely going to take a couple of hits.
The Falcons offensive line has been giving up hits all year, and they had an average showing in that area against the Saints.
The run blocking was a totally different story. The Falcons did not block well for Michael Turner and the running backs. Atlanta was only able to accumulate 35 yards on 14 carries against the Saints.
Part of that is a testament to the Saints defensive line and how well they have been playing lately, but a 2.5-yards-per-carry average is pathetic. Turner and the Falcons offensive line are better than that, but they were unable to show it on Monday night.
The Falcons cannot afford too many more showings like this or they will be watching most of the postseason from their couches.
Defensive Line: C-
The Atlanta defensive line did not do very well against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football.
They allowed 164 rushing yards on only 23 attempts, and Drew Brees was able to throw for 307 yards. The Falcons were only able to sack Brees once and hit him only two times throughout the game.
For the most part, the Falcons defensive line was manhandled by the Saints offensive line. If you do not believe me, then ask John Abraham how it felt to be thrown down by Saints guard Carl Nicks.
Atlanta was unable to pressure Brees and they paid for it. They also could not stop the Saints rushing attack all night.
This unit definitely needs to improve if the Falcons want to make a Super Bowl run.
This unit did relatively well in the game against New Orleans.
They were able to make a good amount of plays against Brees and the passing game. Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon and Company made numerous pass breakups, and also stuffed the Saints running backs on a couple important downs. They made a few big hits and played solid against the pass for most of the night.
However, the linebackers were a big reason that the Saints were able to run for over 150 yards. There were many plays where the linebacker responsible for a gap got sucked up to the line or missed an open-field tackle on a Saints running back.
This unit has been very good against the run in 2011, but they need to get play better than they have of late if they want to win a playoff game.
William Moore may have made more plays for the Falcons on Monday Night Football than the rest of the team combined.
The entire secondary played well against the best offense in all of football. Moore broke up numerous pass plays, and made a great tip on a ball that allowed it to be intercepted. Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes also showed up to play against the Saints.
Robinson was able to tip a ball and get an interception as well. The Atlanta secondary did give up over 300 passing yards, but they played better against Brees and Company than teams have recently.
Brees has been averaging close to 340 yards a game in 2011, and the Falcons were able to keep him under that average on Monday night.
It is difficult to stop the Saints passing attack, and any defense can only be expected to do so much. The defense of the Falcons gave up 35 points, and four touchdowns came through the air, but there simply is not a whole lot that a secondary can do against Brees, especially when there is not pressure on the All-Pro quarterback.
The Falcons secondary performed well against the Saints, but the entire team needs to step up their game if the want to challenge for the NFC title.
Special Teams: B-
The Atlanta special teams did well against the Saints.
Matt Bryant made all three of his field-goal attempts and Matt Bosher averaged 50 yards on his two punts. The only reason this unit gets a minus is because they did not do well covering Darren Sproles on kickoff returns.
Sproles averaged 36.8 yards a return, and, yes, that was boosted by his 98-yard return, but the Falcons still need to do a better job on their return coverage. The Saints, 49ers and Packers all have very good return men, and these are the teams the Falcons will have to beat to get to the Super Bowl.
The special teams unit of Atlanta did well on Monday Night Football, but they can definitely improve.