The end of “scrubs fortnight” has ended with the Atlanta Falcons notching up their 9th win of the season, and securing their first winning season since 2012. In a similar fashion to the Los Angeles Rams a week ago, Atlanta welcomed Colin Kaepernick and…his group of friends, I guess, and soundly destroyed their hopes and dreams. Yes, it was a lot of fun.
Granted, when you’re as dangerous as these Falcons, it’s easy to beat the worst team in the league. And I say that without hyperbole, knowing full well there is a team on the brink of going 0-16. The Falcons hosted the 49ers, a side barely playing at a professional level, and made them look every bit as bad as their 1-13 record suggests.
The thing is, however, this is exactly what you expect. Or what you’ve come to expect. This time last year, playing out this sort of game wasn’t a given. What a difference a year makes, because, after one drive, the game was pretty much done. Electing to defer kick off has become a Dan Quinn hallmark, which is paying off handsomely of late. Last week it was a recovered muffed kick-off return, this week it was a quick three-and-out.
Freeman controls the ground
The weeks build up, from Falcons writers at least, emphasized the running game as a way to beat the 49ers. With no Julio again, and a just recovered Sanu in, it’s fair to argue Atlanta didn’t necessarily want to pass the ball if they could help it. Injuries plague this team, and it can’t be too many more before it starts to affect Matt Ryan’s play. Atlanta elected to run the ball often, putting the ball into the hands of Devonta Freeman as often as possible, and it worked a treat.
Freeman was awesome. Aside from a fumble in the second quarter, Devonta put together a game reminiscent of what made him fantasy football’s hottest prospect in 2015. 139 yards on the ground, three touchdowns, an all round excellent day for number 24; more than making up for his “6 carries for 6 yards” effort vs LA.
Something that is often debated among Falcons fans is whether Freeman or Coleman is the better back. While Freeman has the engine, and the power, to pick up tough yardage, Coleman has an explosive turn of pace that very few defenders can keep up with. As a duo, they’re likely the best combination of running backs in the league, but it cannot be denied that Freeman is the better runner of the two.
MattVP continues to impress
With no Julio Jones to rifle bullets at for the second consecutive week, Matt Ryan’s receiving options looked somewhat healthier with Mohamed Sanu recovering from injury. Sanu is carving himself a nice little niche in the offense, becoming the possession receiver Shanahan wanted Leonard Hankerson and Roddy White to be last season. With Sanu over the middle of the field, Taylor Gabriel continued his rise to prominence on the outside, hauling in his 6th touchdown of the season.
This is likely the most dynamic receiving corp Ryan has ever played alongside. Credit has to be lain at the doorsteps of both Thomas Dimitroff and Kyle Shanahan here. Dimitroff has done a really nice job creating a “next man up” system that actually works because of quality in depth. Last season, if Julio was double teamed or injured, Ryan’s options were the aforementioned stone hands of Hankerson, the decaying corpse of Roddy White, or, now practice squad graduate, Nick Williams. Nick Williams isn’t even the sixth choice receiver in this team.
And credit to Shanahan for seeing the qualities of these pass catchers, and getting the best out of them. Very early on it became apparent the Sanu wasn’t likely to stretch the field, and so he became Matt primary possession option. Gabriel takes the top off the defence with his blistering speed, and, one man who has flown under the radar, Aldrick Robinson, takes on a best of both role. He is quick, and he can catch. He’s a good player. Against San Francisco, he recorded his first ever 100+ yard game.
Defence continues to be “not terrible”
Defensively wasn’t much different, to be honest. A side from two touchdowns conceded in the second quarter, the 49ers offense put up little to no threat to, what is clearly, a bad Falcons defence. The 49ers most dangerous offensive player, Carlos Hyde, widely expected to have a big day, was limited to under 70 yards. He even gave up a fumble early on, which helped set the tempo.
Impressing this week was rookie Safety Keanu Neal, who is proving himself to be a mean, mean defender in this league. He hits hard, and he hits fast. He’s exactly the sort of player that Dan Quinn is talking about when he drops his “fast and physical” soundbyte.
Speaking of fast and physical, I’m growing evermore impressed by Deion Jones at Middle Linebacker. He showed his talent forcing the Hyde fumble, and continues to grow into his role. Given a few more games experience, he might well become a top player in the league.
Strangely enough, Vic Beastley had a quiet day vs a sponge-like offensive line. While he did contribute with one sack on the day, bringing his season total up to 14.5 (he leads the league…yes even ahead of Von Miller), he didn’t do much else of note. I’ll have to go back and watch it again, but even the best (I’m calling him that, shut up) have quiet days.
The 49ers are bad, guys. I can’t stress that enough. I don’t want to rip them too hard, because I kind of have a soft spot for them…but it was incredibly satisfying watching the Falcons bully a team they should soundly beat. The only negatives to take from such a victory is the injuries, of which there are two of note.
De’Vondre Campbell was taken out of the game with a concussion, meaning Paul Worrilow played most of the game in an outside linebacker role. We hope this isn’t a permanent fixture moving forward.
Most disappointingly is that Austin Hooper, the talented pass catching Tight End, went out of the game with a knee injury. We wish both rookies a speedy recovery.
With only two games to go, and Atlanta’s hold on the NFC South throne tightening, this past fortnight has been just what I, a nervous-by-nature fan, needed; an easy ride through two games before two divisional ties to end the season.
Game MVP: Devonta Freeman