The smoke has cleared, the lines were drawn and the Atlanta Falcons came out victorious. After receiving much critique in the preseason the Falcons defense stepped it up and had a perfomance to remember.
The first Falcons 2009 Free Agent aquisition, Mike Peterson, put his stamp on a defense that hasn't had a true WLB (Weakside Linebacker) since Cornelius Bennett. He had a key forced fumble on TE Anthony Fasano in the 2nd quarter that halted a Miami drive that was moving into Falcons territory.
He followed that by reading QB Chad Pennington and picking off a pass in stride which ultimately led to an Atlanta touchdown. In total, he posted 2 forced fumbles (Lofton was given one of them), 1 INT and 7 tackles. He should be up for Defensive Player of the Week after that performance.
"I was just playing my responsibility," Peterson said of the forced fumble play. "Coaches draw it up and expect us to make the play and that was what I was able to do."
Welcome words to a team that needed that extra spark from the defensive unit. But the story doesn't end there. After a field goal miss by kicker Jason Elam on the first drive of the day, the defense took the field and immediately set the tone.
After linebackers Curtis Lofton and Stephen Nicholas forced a 3rd and 5 on Miami 37 yard line, 2nd year defensive end Kroy Biermann led the charge. Biermann came around Penningtons blind side and forced a fumble recovered by DT Jonathan Babineaux.
“I wanted to fly around, make some plays, I wanted to help the team win." said Biermann after the game. "I felt like I did an okay job out there today.”
You had a great game kid. Keep it up.
For the first time in ages, the Falcons linebackers led the team in tackles. Lofton (11), Peterson (7) and Nicholas (7). In contrast, the Dolphins secondary led their team in tackles.
WHAT ABOUT THE OFFENSE
The Miami Dolphins stacked the line of scrimmage to stop running back Michael Turner. Their game plan was obvious. So, the Falcons had to rely on the arm of quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan came out flat. I'm not sure if it was a little rust or perhaps the flu bug he had earlier in the week, but he was just not looking his typical form. By the 2nd quarter he appeared to shake off the jitters and connected on 4 passes of 10 yards or longer in route to a TD pass to Ovie Mughelli. One was a fingertip grab by Tony Gonzalez that left everyone scratching their heads as to how he does it.
It wasn't until the end of the 3rd quarter that Matt Ryan found his new favorite toy Tony Gonzalez for their first TD of many to come. Following a Mike Peterson interception returned to the Miami 20 yard line, Ryan audibled and found Gonzalez in the flat.
"I saw it coming, and Matt saw it coming because he yelled `Cover Zero.'' Gonzalez said of the touchdown. "I just broke it outside like I'm supposed to.'"
Humble words from a 33-year-old man that juked cornerback Will Allen for a 20 yard score. He was the Falcons leading receiver with 73 yards and that hard earned touchdown. Expect this 'bromance' to continue as the weeks go by.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Dolphins 2nd year standout OT Jake Long was abused all day. Not only by All-Pro defensive end John Abraham (2 sacks) but 2nd year Montana native Kroy Biermann (2 sacks). On one play Abraham timed the snap count perfect and ran completely over Long. All Long could do was grab the jersey of Abraham as he ran over him but it wasn't enough. The sack was made and the holding call was declined.
“I just kind of got into him good,” Abraham said. “I was able to hit him right in the middle, where we really want to hit people. I didn’t know I was going to hit him like that but it ended up looking good on tape.”
Indeed it did John. I have re-watched it many times now.
HIT OF THE WEEK
As beautiful as Abrahams sack was on Sunday the real hit of the game came courtesy of veteran DT Jonathan Babineaux. No disrespect to Mike Petersons fierce hit on Anthony Fasano to cause the fumble but on the 2nd play of the 3rd quarter RB Lousaka (Louis) Polite wasn't treated politely. Babineaux came in unblocked and hit him for a 4 yard loss with a hit that echoed throughout the Georgia Dome. It set the tone for a dominating second half by the Falcons.
Mike Peterson and the entire Falcons defense. Anytime your linebackers lead the team in tackles they are doing their jobs.
Tony Gonzalez debut in red and black. He led the team in catches and scored his first TD as a Falcon.
Eric Weems started the OTAs on the bubble with so much talent in the Falcons receiving corps. After the injury to Harry Douglas he stepped up his game and is now a solid starter at the return position. He had a couple of nice returns Sunday.
The Falcons running game. Michael Turner actually got free a couple of times in the 4th quarter, but overall he was shut down by the Dolphins 8 and 9 man fronts.
Matt Ryan had some real issues making accurate throws downfield. The short to intermediate stuff wasn't bad but on the rare occasions that he went downfield he either overthrew the ball (he missed a wide open Norwood in the end zone) or underthrew it (missed a wide open White who beat double coverage).
Right Guard Justin Blalock. He was abused by No. 97 Phillip Merling. Overall the offensive line has been dominant but Miami exposed the gap between center Todd McClure and guard Juston Blalock. I see a lot of film time for the left side of the Falcons offensive line. That does include 2nd year player Sam Baker. He held up pretty well in pass protection but could not manage to open holes for the running game.
The Carolina Panthers will be coming to the Dome this Sunday. Look for my Pre-Game writeup coming soon!