Let’s not hop on the Steve Sarkisian train just yet
Where are all the Steve Sarkisian haters at now?
Well, right here, kind of. I’ve never completely shredded Sarkisian, but no Falcons fan can say they were impressed by Sarkisian’s first 19 games as offensive coordinator. The last two, however, have been spectacular.
Last week, Atlanta’s offense pounded Carolina’s defense on the ground on the way to 31 points and four touchdowns in four red zone trips. This week, they continued that success with 37 points, and once again, four touchdowns on four appearances in the red zone. That will temporarily silence all of Sarkisian’s critics, but I am not going give him too much praise just yet.
The Saints defense is constantly out of position allowing for big plays in the passing game. Particularly the secondary, that allowed four TD passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick in week 1 and now five from Matt Ryan in week three. If the Falcons did not put up at least 35 points, it should have been viewed as a failure.
With that being said, Sarkisian’s play-calling has now led to nine straight touchdowns in the red zone. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t keeping an eye-out for Kyle Shanahan somewhere on the Falcons sideline. It has looked that fluid the last couple of weeks, but let’s see if Sarkisian can keep that rhythm going as the season progresses.
Atlanta needs to find answers on defense, fast
Coming into this game, I knew it was going to take a monumental effort from the defense to slow down Drew Brees and his treasure chest of weapons. There are several quarterbacks on the same level as Brees, but I am not sure there is anyone as smart and quick with the ball in his hands.
Effortlessly, Brees came up to the line, analyzed the defense and threw an intermediate pass where a defender was rarely within a couple of yards. It was like clockwork and it led to the Saints hanging 43 on an Atlanta defense that turned back the clock a little bit themselves.
This is nowhere near the same defense the Falcons began the year with, when they were believed to be one of the best defensive teams in football. No, this was a defense missing it’s two best players and four starters overall, looking a whole lot like the team that existed before Dan Quinn arrived.
With several fresh faces forced to play key roles on defense, Quinn had to keep his coverages pretty basic. It’s easy for offenses to be successful when the quarterback knows what is coming pre-snap. Not every QB will be able to take advantage of it like Brees, but the Falcons need to find some answers fast, or they can forget about a third consecutive postseason appearance.
The Falcons found themselves a star in Calvin Ridley
The Falcons first-round pick welcomed himself to the league with his first NFL touchdown last week. That pales in comparison to show he put on yesterday in his first game playing the hated Saints. Ryan hit the rookie three times for touchdowns as Ridley racked up 146 yards receiving on 7 catches. Those numbers do not even include the 45-yard pass interference penalty that set up the Falcons with a 1st and goal at the five-yard line.
It boggled my mind that Ridley slid all the way to the 26th pick in the draft and was available for Atlanta. It was pretty clear throughout his collegiate career he was the best receiver coming into the NFL. But to each their own, and the Falcons are going to end up thanking the 25 teams that picked in front of them for years to come.
Ridley can do it all. His elusiveness with the ball allows him to make something out of nothing. He can line up in the slot and has the quickness to create space and convert key third downs. And as we saw yesterday, he can beat corners deep for a game breaker. There is simply not a route on the route-tree that he has not perfected, and he’s only a rookie.