Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened, and why it's notable. Inside Tori's Notebook is sponsored by Microsoft Surface.
STILL DECOMPRESSING -- I don't even know where to start. Truly I don't.
Am I left speechless by what we witnessed in the Falcons 37-34 overtime win over the Carolina Panthers? Or am I left with too much to say? That's the predicament I found myself in as I sat down to write this week's notebook on this rainy and somewhat gloomy Monday morning.
The good news for you, Dear Reader, is that I have decided I have too much to say, indeed. But fear not. I won't bog you down with endless ramblings of my own subconscious about one of the weirdest games I've seen played.
I'll try my best to keep this to the notes I found in review were the most important. You're welcome.
It took a while, but they got there
I wrote this when Marcus Mariota found Kyle Pitts in the endzone in the early minutes of the second quarter. Of the Falcons first four possessions, this was the one where you saw the Falcons get back on track offensively. I'll go even further to say this was the only possession the Falcons had in the entire half that felt productive.
The Falcons had five possessions in the first half. If you take away the scoring drive of which I am referring to above, the Falcons only had about 50 net yards of total offense in the first half. Granted Carolina wasn't doing much better, but still, the sentiment stands: The Falcons have to start better offensively moving forward.
This isn't the first time this has come up, either. It came up after the loss to the Rams in Week 2. Sure it was a game that the Falcons fought back to almost win, but if they start faster? They're in a more manageable situation towards the end.
The same thought held true when the Falcons traveled to Tampa Bay not too long ago. Even in the frustration of the Grady Jarrett roughing the passer call that - one could argue - changed the game, every player open to speaking in the locker room afterwards said the same thing: If we start better, we're not in the position where one call stands in the way of an outcome.
If the Falcons lose to the Panthers on Sunday, could the same have been said? I tend to think so.
The first two offensive series for the Falcons ended with an interception on the second play from scrimmage and a sack for a loss of 13 yards. After the game, Mariota put the slow start on his shoulders.
"I've gotta be better," Mariota said. "The slow start? I wasn't executing... I've gotta be cleaner."
In the end, Mariota and the Falcons offense made up for the slow start by putting together a final drive that set up Younghoe Koo's game-winning field goal. Perhaps that game-winning field goal isn't needed, though, if the Falcons start quicker. Perhaps the Falcons don't need Carolina to miss their own set of would-have-been-game-winning extra points or field goals. Perhaps they wouldn't have needed overtime to win.
Perhaps... perhaps... perhaps...
Whatever the case may or may not have been, this is an area in which the Falcons need to improve as an offensive unit as the 2022 season moves forward. If they do, they'll be more competitive than not.
For the love of all things good, plz oh plz get off the field
All right. I've written a significant amount of words breaking down the area in which I believe the offense needs to most improve. It's the defense's turn now.
In essence, the Falcons gave up way too many third and medium conversions. How many you may be asking? Four by my count. And I know what you're thinking: Tori, that doesn't seem too bad. It is when I tell you how many yards those four plays accumulated, which is 104 total yards for Carolina on third and medium conversions.
I'll preface this by saying that I consider third and medium to be between four yards and six yards to gain. I will also say that the first third and medium conversion came on a face mask call, which is a 15-yard penalty. I did count said 15 yards in the above total as I felt it was relevant. OK, great, now that we have that settled...
On the Falcons Final Whistle podcast after the game, I said I felt like the defense should have been better on third and long. I stand corrected upon my review. The Falcons needed to be better on third and medium.
If we do expand the criteria to include second and long and third and long explosives, that 104-yard total increases to 164 total yards. In the fourth quarter, there was a third-and-13 that Carolina converted for a 21-yard pick up and a second-and-18 following a false start that resulted in a 39-yard gain for the Panthers.
So, what does all of this tell us? If the offense needs to start better, the defense needs to finish drives better.
Geez. How many times is Cornell Armstrong going to be targeted?
I don't know what everyone else thought, but for me, it really felt like the Panthers' passing strategy was fairly obvious: When throwing the ball, attack Cornell Armstrong.
We all know how beat up the Falcons secondary is right now what with Casey Hayward on injured reserve for who knows how long, Jaylinn Hawkins in concussion protocol and A.J. Terrell working through a hamstring injury. If we all know that, so do opponents, and it was blatantly obvious that Carolina did with the amount of times P.J. Walker went after Armstrong, specifically.
By the game's end, Walker was 19-of-36 through the air for 317 yards with one 62-yard touchdown. Of those 36 attempts, nine went Armstrong's way.
It's not unlike what happened a week ago, with Joe Burrow doing something similar. According to PFF, Armstrong was targeted eight times against the Bengals. Against the Panthers, that number rose to nine targets with four catches for 79 yards. I made a note in my notebook after the game that Armstrong's targets could have been in the double-digits. I ended up not being too fair off.
"I don't give a crap what the stats say," Arthur Smith said after the game. "I am proud of Cornell Armstrong and (Darren) Hall. Those guys kept swinging."
What's interesting, though, is that if we're going by PFF's numbers, Hall was only targeted two times in comparison to Armstrong's nine on Sunday.
So, yeah, I'm in full belief there was a plan by the Panthers from the start. I am curious to see how plans morph for other opponents as the weeks go on, and if/when Terrell makes his return.
Drake London's subtly solid game
The Falcons first-round pick only had four catches for 31 yards but make no mistake about it: His presence was felt on Sunday.
Don't believe me? Let's go through his catches first.
London had a seven-yard pick up on third down that set up a Tyler Allgeier touchdown at the end of the third quarter. He had a 17-yard catch-and-run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. That catch came a down before Mariota connected with Damiere Byrd for a 47-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Oh, and speaking of that touchdown: Watch London on the far sideline. Blocking for Byrd, London did a good job coming off his block as Byrd ran past him as to avoid a penalty while also giving Byrd a chance to turn on the jets.
And while we're on the topic of his blocking, the moment above was one of a few moments when I thought London helped the Falcons with his downfield blocking. Go back and watch the Falcons best offensive plays from Sunday and you'll see London's impact whether he's catching the ball or not.
On top of the Byrd touchdown above, there were other moments I felt London's physical presence. There was a first down run by Allgeier at the beginning of the first quarter where London got a solid block off. On Kyle Pitts' touchdown catch to start the second quarter, London split his defenders and was open in the back corner of the endzone if Mariota didn't see Pitts first. On Caleb Huntley's 30-yard breakaway run in the fourth quarter, you can see London sustain his block downfield on that play, too. Pitts' 33-yard catch-and-run in the fourth? Yep, there's London blocking for him, allowing him to split two defenders as London blocks one to the sideline.
Even on Mariota's 30-yard scramble to set up Koo's game-winning field goal, you can see London running alongside him. If London is a step faster and can get to the inside of Mariota, I don't think I'm over-exaggerating when I say it could have gone for a touchdown. I think London felt that way, too, as he jumped and looked up to the sky as Mariota ran out of bounds. From my vantage point, it looked like the body language of frustration for not getting a block on the Carolina defenders for Mariota.
I'm going to be honest, I asked some tough questions to London during the week leading up to Sunday's game. Mainly: If this is an offense that is not going to throw the ball upwards of 35 or 40 times a game, as a pass-catcher is that something you can be content in? I thought London handled that line of questioning well, essentially saying he's still a rookie working to get his feet wet in the league.
"I'm not worried about that," he said.
Sunday's performance absolutely made a believer out of me.
We take a monochrome look at the win over the Carolina Panthers during Week 8.