The Falcons did not look like themselves
The first thing that comes to mind for me is, sloppy game for Atlanta. You had some special teams penalties that cost them, obviously the turnovers are sloppiness, not catching the ball, maybe taking a shot that wasn't there.
I thought that Buffalo controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the game. I thought the Falcons had some moments when they got the run game going, and the numbers would indicate that Atlanta ran the ball fairly well, but they were spurt runs. There were too many plays on first down, especially early in the game, where the Falcons didn't put any stress on Buffalo because the Bills were able to control the line of scrimmage. And then, attention to detail. They had a ball that pops up into the air and gets picked off, Justin Hardy had a chance to catch a ball and get a first down and lost it. Fortunately that one was called an incompletion, but it easily could have become a fumble. I just didn't think Atlanta's attention to detail against the Bills was as sharp as it normally is.
The strip-sack of Ryan was a game-changing play that could have gone the other way
It was a really close call, and I can see why they allowed the call on the field to stand. Certainly, Matt Ryan was stripped and the ball began to come loose. I thought that he re-established his hand on the ball with his index finger and the middle finger, and then as his hand was coming forward it came loose again. I think it could have easily been called a forward pass. His arm was clearly coming forward. The ball was dislodged initially, but I thought if you looked at it close enough he squeezed it with his index finger, his thumb and his middle finger, and re-established a grip on the ball and then pushed the ball forward.
It didn't go Atlanta's way, and you're talking about a huge play in the game. You're talking about a Bills team who had 281 yards of offense, and was forced to kick three field goals in the final quarter of the game. When you get three turnovers, and one of them is a defensive touchdown, you're going to win a lot of those games.
Falcons turnovers the past two games are becoming troubling
Turnovers can sometimes go in spurts. But what is becoming disturbing on the interceptions is the Falcons are volleyballing the ball in the air. The ball is going off guys' hands and getting picked off. Part of this, Ryan is going to have to take stock in, 'What kind of throws am I making, am I making them too difficult where they're getting a hand in and popping them into the air?'. And as a receiver, if I can't make the catch, I certainly can't push it up into the air. I've got to pull it down, knock it to the ground, whatever I've got to do. Now, the interception to Gabriel, that's a play that you usually see thrown to Sanu or to Jones. And Gabriel is in a tough spot there. He's got a six-foot corner trying to climb the ladder. Gabriel's got great athleticism, but at that point he was the defender, he was just trying to knock the ball down. So that may be one decision that Matt would like to have back.
Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu absence affected Falcons in 3 ways:
Those two not being in had a profound effect on the game. Number one, you're talking about two big time, big receivers. Both of them 6-foot 2-inch, 6-foot 3-inch receivers. So, 1-on-1 they are a match up problem.
Number two is their ability to squeeze the ball because of their body size and catch the football in contested moment where a guy is hanging all over them. You saw it play out in the first half where both of them made catches with someone draped all over them. You're just not going to see smaller receivers make those plays very often. And number three, they affect everybody else. If, as a quarterback, I've got Julio and Mohamed on the field for that last play of the game, I'm not sure Buffalo doesn't have to play a different defense. They're not going to sell out on the line of scrimmage because you're not going to want to leave those two guys 1-on-1 on the outside. So it might have been a different look on that entire drive with Julio and Mohamed on the field.
No disrespect to the guys that Atlanta had on the field, I thought Taylor Gabriel, Nick Williams and Justin Hardy all made catches, I thought Hooper stepped up big-time when you needed him, and the backs caught balls out of the backfield. But you're talking about the elite player at his position, and another guy right near the top of what he does. There's no question their absence affected the game, and it affected it in those three areas.
Buffalo's front seven created problems for Atlanta
I thought Buffalo was rough and tumble like we thought they would be up front. Coach Dan Quinn talked about how big and strong they are all week, and they played that way. I thought Atlanta had a tough time 1-on-1 blocking them. And their ability to rush the passer with only four, and drop seven into coverage was important in this game because Buffalo really wanted to play zone. They didn't want to give up the big play to Julio or Sanu or one of those guys.
They played deep and let Atlanta throw underneath, and then came up and tackled. They did a good job up front of creating problems with penetration. There were a number of plays where they made a tackle in the backfield, or made the running backs stop their feet and caused them only get a yard or two on the play. When you control the line of scrimmage you are going to dictate to the other team's offense, and I thought Buffalo's defense did that, especially in the first half.
Falcons young defense can learn a lot from this game:
Atlanta's young defense is a fighting group. I think that this game will be a really good tape for them to watch, because as much as it felt like they weren't getting what they wanted done defensively, you look at the numbers and Buffalo only had 281 yards of offense, and when Atlanta really needed to, they stopped Buffalo and forced field goals.
Now, they missed a lot of tackles. If it was an older defense, I think they'd look at the film and walk away from it pretty quickly. But this is a young defense that is still trying to gel together. By no stretch of the imagination are they who they're going to be when we get to Week 10 or 11 of 12 of the year. They're going to take something away from that film. They didn't tackle well, and maybe they got fatigued or worn down, but they didn't quit and they made plays when they needed to because of their athleticism. They got the tackle at the goal line to force the field goal, and Grady Jarrett made two tackles for a loss or no gain when they needed to get them off of the field. Those are moments that you hang your hat on later in the year and you know that you can make those plays to win a game.
It wasn't pretty, but Atlanta's defense gave the Falcons a shot to win:
Because the Falcons were having trouble scoring early, Buffalo's offense was never put in a position by Atlanta's offense to have to get out of their style. And their style is that sleepy, methodical attack. And even the crowd was affected by it. It was like the crowd was lulled to sleep because there's three yards, there's four yards, then Tyrod scrambles for a first down. They just kind of kept drives alive.
But the long drive in the third quarter was one of those where the defense bowed their back and made them kick a field goal. And that is what the Falcons defense ultimately contributed to the game, they kept Atlanta in the game. The couldn't really stop them from moving the ball and eating clock, but they forced three field goals in a row, which essentially kept giving the ball back to the offense and kept Atlanta within striking distance. It was not a clean game by the defense by any stretch of the imagination. I thought they got pushed around up front quite a bit, but when they needed some plays, they would find them. Great example, Grady Jarrett had two tackles for a loss or no gain on the last series to get the ball for you with a chance to win the game.
So it was a rough game, and Atlanta did not tackle well, there were a number of plays where LeSean McCoy or Tyrod Taylor made somebody miss. The Falcons would have them dead to rights, and they would make them miss. But ultimately the Falcons defense did enough. They only allowed 281 yards of total offense to Buffalo, and they had a chance to win the game at the end.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman provided a spark, and toughness:
I think to a degree, when you start talking about the toughness of the offense, those two guys might be the epitome of that toughness. They are two different styles, but both of them contribute in their own ways. They're both tough guys, they run angry. This was a game that was probably a little more designed for Tevin. This was a big, tough defensive line that was coming at you, it was linebackers coming downhill. You needed a one-cut back, and Tevin was coming downhill and running hard. He accounted for 144 yards of offense, and 9.6 yards per touch. The big catch down the sideline was huge, and I thought he was really locked in. And when Devonta got his opportunities, he made them count.
If you look at the tape, watch how many times these two backs pick guys up coming off the edge. And I'm talking about cutting people in half. I mean Coleman chops Lorenzo Alexander down like a tree on one of the blitzes. Devonta did a great job of that as well. I think the toughness you're looking for from your offense, as much as you think offensive line, it might stem from those two offensive backs.
Steve Sarkisian got inventive without Jones and Sanu in the 4th quarter
As much as it was a struggle, and as tough as it was for Atlanta to get a rhythm on offense, I thought Steve Sarkisian did a good job in the fourth quarter to find a way to move the ball down the field. The run game clicked and they had a couple of opportunities in the run game. He didn't give up on the run and I think that's important. You have to stay with the run game because you have to make them defend it.
Then there was the shovel pass call where Devonta and Tevin were in the backfield at the same time. It was a neat little set because they had Devonta in an offset 'I' as the fullback to the left side and Devonta went to the flat and Matt Ryan gave him a hard look like it was a quick throw to Devonta, and Tevin slid in front of Matt for the shovel pass, and Tevin gets that 10-yard play. I thought that was a brilliant call, and he saved it for that moment.
And then in the screen game, he realized what they were doing in their zone coverages, and so in the second half he said 'Ok, I'm going to get the ball to Tevin and Devonta, I'm going to run it, I'm going to shovel it and I'm going to screen it.' When they threw the screen to the outside, Buffalo was playing off in zone, he got Tevin the ball in space, a couple of blockers out in front and boom, he hits it up inside for 10 or 12 yards.
On Atlanta's 4th and 1 play that essentially ended the game
I thought that Matt Ryan's vision was blurred some. It was a sellout play by Buffalo's defense on fourth down, and Atlanta had just two receivers in the formation. You had Hardy running a slant, and Gabriel starts on a slant then retraces his steps and goes back outside. And I don't think Matt could see Gabriel. I think had that been Sanu or Jones, you've got a six-foot two or six-foot three receiver, you probably see him and you like their catch radius. Matt put it in an area where he knew Gabriel was supposed to be, Gabriel got a little tangled up, in fact he even said 'Hey, I got held on the play'. They're not going to call that, but he got a little tangled up and couldn't retrace to get out where the ball was. But I thought Sarkisian did a nice job of trying to find some stuff the Bills hadn't seen in the game to go to on that final drive to give Atlanta a chance to win it.