Wow, so that sucked. I woke up after 2 hours of sleep to watch that. The first half was admittedly fun, but that last 30 minutes of football was pretty disheartening. I just have to say though, that I don’t think things are as bad as the score indicated. I’m no scout by any means. I never played football in college or even high school, and I’ve never coached as much as a pop-warner team, but some things stuck out to me that have me feeling pretty good about the rest of the season. Maybe it's just the hopeless optimist in me, and maybe I'm letting my homer show, but these at least made me smile a little. Feel free to pick them apart if you like, but here’s my untrained-eye bright spots:
1. Justin Houston: I know the defense got manhandled, but Justin Houston still got a sack, and while he didn’t get much else on Matt Ryan, I remember a few other plays where he was in his face. He can’t do it alone, but I think this is GREAT news for next week when we have Hali back. If Hali is his normal self, and Houston can keep it up as well, the defense will look much better in a hurry. As an aside, does anyone even know who was on the other side opposite Houston? I didn’t hear a name all day. Studebaker, Jones, whoever it was, they did nothing worth a mention by the announcers, which is pretty bad.
2. The ACL Crew: All three of our surgically repaired ACL’s looked pretty strong. Moeaki obviously caught several passes, took some hits, and looked just like he left off in 2010. Eric Berry was up in the mix on several plays, had a nice pass defense, and also never once looked like he was even possibly favoring his knee. Jamaal Charles of course looked like his normal self. On a day when the Falcons obviously were keying in on the run, he was still able to average over 5 yards a carry. I would expect all three of these guys to only get better as the season progresses and they get more into the swing of football
3. Matt Cassel: Holy crap what happened here? Yes, he did have a rough second half, but let’s be honest, only 1 of those turnovers was really on him. The fumble was a result of John Abraham jumping offsides and beating Branden Albert around the corner and smacking Matt in the blindside. The first interception bounced off of the receivers hands (I couldn’t honestly even tell who it was, because it appeared he had an Atlanta linebacker for a backpack. PI anyone?) and William Moore had to make a nice play to grab it off the ground. Cassel made some sweet throws, didn’t ditch the pocket too early, and generally looked calm and relaxed. The TD throw to Boss was a thing of beauty, and he spread the ball around a fair amount as well. He had some good zip on his throws and almost all of his passes were right on the money. Now I know he's not Brady, Brees, Rodgers, or Manning, and probably never will be, but I’m crossing my fingers that he keeps this up all year, because if he does, and our defense straightens up like I think it will, we’re gonna be in pretty daggone good shape.
4. McCluster: Little man is getting involved. It’s nice to finally see him being used well. He’s so small and quick, it’s almost impossible to keep him covered without leaving someone else open, and when you’ve got Bowe, Moeaki, Breaston (who had a hell of a catch today as well) and Baldwin (at least I think he was out there today.), you can’t double team little DMC. He was the target on a number of our 3rd down conversions and I think it’s not a fluke. We’ve finally got the weapons to spread the defense out, and I think McCluster will be reaping a lot of those rewards.
5. Only 1 game: I know it’s been said a million times, and obviously we said the same thing after the Buffalo game last year, but when you’ve got obvious reasons for why things happened the way it did, it’s hard for me to get terribly upset over the future of this team. Yes, it sucked watching Matt Ryan march the Falcons up and down the field like he was playing against tackling dummies, but it will get better. Hali coming back will GREATLY improve our pass rush. Flowers coming back will be a gigantic improvement over Reeves (god did he suck or what?). Kendrick Lewis coming back, while not as big of a difference maker, will let the Chiefs cycle 3 safeties in and also open up several other options as far as personnel groups/formations go. The other important thing to remember about this point is that it will have an impact that is more than the sum of it’s parts. An improved pass rush means the DB’s don’t have to cover for quite as long. Conversely, an improved secondary means the pass rushers have just another second or two to get to the QB. I think getting these guys back will make a night-and-day difference for this defensive unit, and once that happens, you’ll start to see us really put it on some teams.
Obviously, there are things that are still concerning even after accounting for the obvious problems. Where was Baldwin? Why couldn’t our offense adjust to the Falcons defense (and for that matter, why were we running the ball so much down by that much that late?) What’s up with Succop adding more English to his kicks than a Brazilian soccer player all of a sudden? Why happened with the O-line late in the game? Why was special teams coverage and blocking so bad in general? These are all very legitimate concerns, but look at them. There is nothing in that list of problems that cannot either be fixed fairly easily, or isn’t really that big of a problem at all to begin with.
This is a good team. I believed it after the draft. I believed it through training camp and the preseason, and I believe it now. This was a rough game, but I feel very strongly by the time the season is over, we’ll be able to say it was a good season. I’m not gonna go crazy and say we’re winning the Super Bowl (BTW, 2012 Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs….mark it down right now and buy your tickets for New Orleans) , but I still think we’re the best team in the West, and will finally break our streak of playoff losses.
Don’t lose hope guys, it will get better.