IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, SC — When it comes to my notebook, I tend to write a lot. There are so many notes that never make it to this published edition of my notebook.
But in Charlotte, I didn't write as much as I normally do. I don't really know the reason exactly, but my theory is that my subconscious was already putting its narrative together. And it was a narrative that only highlighted two main ideas: a balanced offensive attack, and the importance of turnovers in Sunday's win.
So, those are the two notes that I ran with in this notebook. It's pretty straight forward, but sometimes that's all it needs to be, especially in a win.
"ERMAHGERD. Is this balance?"
OK I am going to be really honest here: I am currently in the car on the way back to Atlanta from Charlotte. Therefore, I do not have the WiFi capabilities at the current moment to really break this down as fully as I want to. But I have a feeling that for the first time in… years (?)... the Falcons ran more run plays than they did pass plays.
In the win over the Panthers the Falcons threw the ball 28 times. They ran the ball 36 times.
For the last few games, the Falcons have felt as balanced offensively as they have in years. Covering the team in 2020, I never felt like they were. It was something former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was asked about time and time again: What will it take for this offense to become balanced in its attack?
Have they found that balance in 2021? It feels like they have, or - at the very least - are trending that way.
Now, before I get too far in the weeds within the scope of this topic I feel the need to say that sometimes there is too much put on the whole notion of an offensive being "balanced." Sometimes, the game doesn't call for it. Sometimes, you get behind and the clock is working against you. So, you can't run the ball because you don't have time. Sometimes, you're trying to burn the clock so you go run heavy. Variations of both happens all the time.
However, for too long and in too many games, the Falcons have had to undergo the attack of the former. They're either working from behind, or they're fending off a surging opponent. In very few instances over the course of the last couple years, the Falcons haven't been in the position to run the ball late. Or they've tried, and failed to do so.
Against Carolina, they didn't. It worked. The run game worked. In the final minutes of the game, the Falcons handed the ball off to Mike Davis five times. They allowed Matt Ryan to sneak it a few yards to earn the final first down of the game.
With a little help from a third down pick-me-up via Kyle Pitts, the Falcons were in the position to allow the run to finish the game off. It's a position I feel as though they haven't been in in a long time. But perhaps I am wrong. I am sitting in the back seat of a moving vehicle in the middle of South Carolina... so, that's definitely a possibility.
*looks at stats* "OK, and who won?"
As we were waiting for players' postgame press conferences to start, I was taking notes on any trends I was seeing in the stats I was looking at. Then I started to laugh to myself, because truly, the stats don't tell the story of the game. Like… at all.
If you're just looking at the numbers and nothing else, you probably have no idea who won. The numbers are so similar. In fact, some stat lines lean more towards the Panthers side of things than the Falcons.
Carolina had more total yards. They averaged about half a yard more per play. They were 3-for-3 in the red zone. Atlanta was 2-for-4. The Panthers were penalized for less yardage. So, what happened?
Turnovers. That's what.
Sunday's game was a true tale of why winning the turnover battle is so important. Though Carolina did score following Qadree Ollison's fumble in the fourth quarter, that was pretty much it in terms of points the Falcons "gave" to Carolina. Meanwhile, the same couldn't be said for the Panthers.
There was Mykal Walker's pick-six. There was Grady Jarrett's fumble recovery. Both yielded points. And though Dante Fowler's fourth down sack wasn't technically a turnover that yielded points, it was a turnover on downs and Younghoe Koo nailed a 48-yard field goal a few plays later. So, it's as good as an actual turnover.
AJ Terrell's interception didn't bring forth points by the offense when they got the ball back, but the timeliness of the interception was as good as the Falcons could ask for. It came in the final minutes of the first half. It kept the Falcons 17-7 lead in tact. That interception mattered a great deal. As - it turned out - all of the turnovers did.
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