Skip to main content

Falcons coordinators break down what went wrong against 49ers, how to find a remedy against Lions 

Dean Pees said the defense was pressing. Dave Ragone said the offense wasn't executing on a fundamental level. So, where do the Falcons go from here? 

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan talk after their game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on Sunday, December 19, 2021. (Photo by Michael Urakami/Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan talk after their game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on Sunday, December 19, 2021. (Photo by Michael Urakami/Atlanta Falcons)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Directly following the Falcons 31-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Duron Harmon inferred the reason for the loss was simple.

"The 49ers out-executed us," Harmon said. "... They played the game the way they wanted to play the game, and that is why they won."


The word "execution" came up in just about every postgame interview, and everyone essentially said the same thing: The 49ers executed their game plan. The Falcons did not. That was all the detail given, though, and it wouldn't be until coordinators took the press conference podium on Thursday to give more of the details as to why.

Broken down into offensive and defensive responses, let's take a look at what Dave Ragone and Dean Pees had to say about their respected units' play on Sunday, and what needs to change before the Lions get to Atlanta to face the Falcons this Sunday.

The offense's break down in fundamentals

We don't need to rehash the Falcons inability to score in the red zone, nor do we need to go into too much detail on their short yardage woes. We've done quite enough of that already. What we haven't done yet is explain why it happened.

According to Ragone, it all came back to fundamentals. Ragone noted it could be something as simple as a player's eyes not being in the right spot, or a lineman not taking the right first step. If those small things happen too often, "more than likely there are going to be inconsistencies" in the level of play and execution. That's what the Falcons saw happening last Sunday, particularly in short yardage situations.

Ragone said execution needs to be at a much higher level. He added the coaching staff needs to do a better job, too, designing plays to get players in better physical positions to make plays.

At the end of the day, though, the Falcons know what they have to do more than anything: Score. You can't beat anybody until you do.

"When you score touchdowns (in the red zone)," Ragone said, "the outcome, the outlook feels different as the game progresses"

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Christian Blake #13 attempts to catch a pass during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on Sunday, December 19, 2021. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta Falcons)

The defense's "uncharacteristic" press

Pees was incredibly honest about his evaluation of the Falcons loss to the 49ers. He said to give the 49ers credit. They came into Sunday's game ready to run a few things the Falcons hadn't prepared for. But more than anything, Pees said the Falcons defense was pressing.

"We did some things so uncharacteristic and nothing that we had done in practice," Pees said. "... We made some checks that we never make, where there wasn't even a check to be made. I think guys were pressing a little bit, trying to do too much."

As he thought back on the game, Pees realized he was, too.

The 49ers threw the Falcons defense off by running a few plays Pees didn't expect them to. Once they did, Pees said as a coach you usually try to call something nice, easy and simple to act almost as a reset for the unit. They're basic formations, something you install on Day 1.

"You go back to something really fundamental. See if that works," Pees said.

"That was the problem, though: That didn't work on Sunday."

And as the 49ers' explosive plays accumulated, so did the Falcons' defensive unease.

"Something we have taken a lot of pride in is that we haven't given up very many big plays. We did in that first half," Pees explained. "Then, everybody kind of gets in a panic mode."

Pees would put himself in that "everybody" category, too. As the Falcons gave up big chunk plays, taking "terrible angles" and making checks that weren't even there, that's when defenders started to press.

"It's when I pressed," Pees said. "… I should've know better."

At the half, Pees spent less time talking about the Xs and Os of what he was seeing unfold before him, and more time trying to get his unit out of the funk it found itself in. He saw players "overdo" it when it came to trying to execute the play call. Pees' message at halftime is the same one he has going into the matchup with the Lions on Sunday: Just do your job. No one else's. Yours.

The Atlanta defense looked better in the second half, but the unit will have to continue to work to get back to the basics this coming Sunday, hoping to redeem itself after an uneasy and - at times - flustering performance against San Francisco.


Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast

Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Terrin Waack. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.

Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.

Related Content