Last night, we watched the opening game of the 2018 NFL season.
It may as well have been the NFC Divisional Round game between Atlanta and Philadelphia all over again. For one team, that’s perfectly adequate, for the other – it spells big, big trouble.
The Eagles were limited on offence and they heavily relied on Nelson Agholor for their separation in the passing game. They rode the bell cow that is Jay Ajayi all the way to 1-0 until Atlanta tapped in submission, but that’s only one side of the ball.
If your defence gives up only 18 points, you expect to win the game. So, with one of the best running back tandems in the game and a wide variety of pass-catchers at your disposal, it should be very straightforward to scheme 19 points, even against one of the best defences in the league.
But this is Steve Sarkisian and these are the Atlanta Falcons of 2017. That’s not a typo.
Philadelphia sold out to stop the run, and they can do that with six in the box between linemen and linebackers, leaving five defenders facing the ball on the backend. Sometimes a good defensive lineman produces a good defensive back.
Of course, the way to counter that is by making the defence react to your formations.
Had Atlanta fielded five wide receivers, the Eagles would have a decision to make: matchup with defensive backs or get shredded. Test their depth at a premium position – and after losing Patrick Robinson – exploit them there.
But it was one-dimensional, even when they went down this path.
— NFL (@NFL) September 7, 2018
There were 37 targets last night on offence for Matt Ryan, eighteen of them were for Julio Jones. 48.6% of your entire passing offence is based on one player. This goes completely against the trend that the NFL is going and Sarkisian is yet to move on with the times, it appears.
Atlanta drafted a receiver in the first round, for God’s sake.
The Falcons attempted just sixteen rushes and still tried to run play-action passes off the back of it. Folks, the idea of a play-action pass is to get defenders to overcommit to the run and leave space in behind. If you can’t run the ball, that doesn’t work.
But hey, Steve – you do your thing.
There were two plays that perfectly summed up both the feelings of the Atlanta fanbase as well as the on-field success rate.
The two plays are as follows:
Philadelphia are playing close to the line of scrimmage (yellow) to stop the run. That leaves man coverage (red) on the weak side, including Julio Jones. They complete this pass to Jones on a routine comeback route as the cornerback is playing off-coverage to ensure he’s not beaten deep. He has only single high safety help (off-screen) behind him.
By the game’s end, when Philadelphia double-teamed Jones after stuffing all notions of a run game for sixty minutes, Matt Ryan realised that neither he nor his offensive coordinator had any form of plan B.
The only pass that is conceivably not open here is to Julio Jones as he’s double-teamed. The spare man on defence is the linebacker (yellow) would follow Ryan’s eyes and double up on his intended target.
But if he looks off the spy, he has a one-on-one throw to make with the possibility of pass interference in man coverage.
He throws to Jones for no apparent reason other than it’s the only thing he’s been instructed to do – and the game ends – along with any hope that Atlanta wins a championship.
At the game’s beginning, it was a new season and Atlanta could beat anyone once they take what they’re given.
They started by doing that and Philadelphia were happy to feel them out.
By the end of the game, Falcons faithful were fairly much resigned to the same old story that saw them get out of their division, but subsequently nowhere in the playoffs.