Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones set a franchise record with 300 receiving yards receiving in the Falcons’ 48-33 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter reports from the Georgia Dome.
FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons’ offense continued to carry the team in the 48-33 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The defense came out strong, but the prevent defense was too soft and allowed the Panthers to hang around after the offense built a 34-10 lead.
It was time to stomp out the Panthers, but the young defense was not up to the task. They held the Panthers to a field goal on the first seven possessions of the game before giving up three straight touchdown drives.
The next time they are in that situation, defensive coordinator Richard Smith must tell the Falcons to keep their foot down on the back of the opponent’s neck. Don’t let them get up off the floor and try to make it a game. Once you have them down, keep them down.
“We’re not there yet, but some of it was a function of the coverage and some of it was a function of us not playing it exactly like we’d like to,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It was probably a mixture of both.”
The young defense which is learning how to close out games, did this against Oakland after going up by two scores late.
I think Quinn calls that, “finishing.”
Here are the grades:
Game Balls: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones for their record-setting showing.
Quarterbacks, A. Ryan continued to spread the ball around as he connected with nine different receivers. While passing for a franchise record 503 yards, Ryan also had season highs in touchdowns (4) and passer rating (142.0) – highest passer rating and completions (28) against Carolina in his career. Ryan was 28-of-37. All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones and Ryan became the first pair of teammates to have 500 passing yards and 300 receiving yards in NFL history in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Ryan’s career day saw him have a large amount of his success on something he often gets knocked for, the deep ball. Ryan led the NFL with 173 yards on 4 completions and 2 TD’s on throws that traveled 20 plus yards in the air. Much of Ryan’s work came at the intermediate level on throws between the numbers. Ryan had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 going 8 for 8 for 209 yards and a TD on throws traveling 10-19 yards in the air between the numbers, according to Profootballfocus.com
Running backs, C. The Falcons remained committed to the run and that opened up the passing attack. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman rushed 21 times for 76 yards for a sub-par 3.6 yards per carry average. Freeman had a nice touchdown run up the middle from 13-yards out. Ryan added 14 yards on four scrambles.
Wide receivers/tight ends, A. Jones had 12 catches for 300 yards and 1 touchdown. Jones’s big day saw him with 14 targets for a league leading 9.09 yards per route run. The mark is nearly 4 yards higher than any receiver this season, according to profootballfocus.com. Tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Austin Hooper and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had touchdown catches. The Falcons ran the same play and got an even better result from Hooper. Ryan rolled to his right and threw back to the left sideline to Hooper, who was wide open in the Panthers’ secondary. He caught the ball and easily scored his first career touchdown on the 43-yard play that put the Falcons ahead 24-10 in the third quarter. Hooper had a 42-yard catch against the Raiders on a play that looked similar. The WR’s for the Falcons had an absolute field day. As a combined unit, the group caught 28 of 36 targeted passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns. Also, 181 of their 503 yards came after the catch and not a single receiver dropped a pass, according to Profootballfocus.com.
Offensive line, B-minus. The offensive line gave up three sacks and four quarterback hits. The Falcons weren’t able to run the ball with any consistency and the running backs averaged under four yards per carry. Center Alex Mack, left tackle Jake Matthews and left guard Andy Levitre all had offensive holding penalties which keep the unit from receiving an A.
Defensive line, C-plus. Was that a flicker of a pass rush out there on the field at the Georgia Dome? Yes it was! Sackmaster Dwight Freeney had the only sack for the Falcons against the Panthers, but they registered eight QB hits and several other pressures. Freeney and Adrian Clayborn had two QB hits and four players had one each: Derrick Shelby, Ra’Shede Hageman, Brooks Reed and Vic Beasley. After generating little pass rush in their first two games, the Falcons harassed Saints QB Drew Brees last week and this time they got after Cam Newton and then backup QB Derek Anderson when he took over after Newton left the game with a concussion in the fourth quarter. Hageman was in on only six snaps against the run, but he made his presence known. During those six snaps, he managed to get a tackle, an assist and a defensive stop. As a result of this productivity, he earned his highest grade for the 2016 season from profootballfocus.com. “We thought it was better, in terms of the pressure,” Quinn said. “We (knocked) the quarterback off the spot a few times..We did see improvement from last week to this week in that area.”
Linebacker, C. The Panthers rushed 15 times for 49 yards for 3.3 yards per carry. Linebackers Deion Jones and Sean Weatherspoon led the charge defensively. Also, Beasley had a big stop of Newton on a third-down. Weatherspoon suffered a season-ending ruptured right Achilles, while Jones left the game with a calf injury. LaRoy Reynolds got some action at inside linebacker and had three tackles. Philip Wheeler also added three tackles.
Defensive back C-plus. Cornerback Robert Alford helped to salt the game way with an interception return for a touchdown and another interception. The Panthers completed 31 of 48 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Most of the yards came after the Falcons took a 34-10 lead and the Panthers tried to rally. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was held to three catches for 39 yards and tight end Greg Olsen didn’t get a catch until the fourth quarter.
Special teams, B. Justin Hardy and Brian Poole had special teams penalties. Returner Eric Weems let three balls bounce that were downed inside of the 2-yard line by the Panthers. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 47.3 net on three punts. The coverage teams also did a good job of containing Carolina’s Ted Ginn. Hardy was back deep on one of the kickoffs because Weems was up front on the hands teams as the Falcons were expecting an onsides kick.
Coaching. B-plus. Much like early last season, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has the offense working at a high level. The Falcons had touchdown drives of 98, 99 and 92 yards. Ryan continues to move the ball around to all of the receivers and the running game, while stymied, still produced a touchdown run. Shanahan must be ready this season with his adjustments in order to not have a repeat drop-off like in 2015. Defensively, the Falcons’ prevent defense needs some work. After going up 34-10, the Panthers were able to score too quickly. The special teams continued their solid, but not spectacular play.
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24