AtlantaFalcons.com’s Daniel Cox gives his five observations from Wednesday’s practice and media sessions from Flowery Branch.
1) Ryan Seeks Better Games: It hasn’t been his best stretch and it may be his worst, but Matt Ryan isn’t the kind of quarterback to dwell too much on the past. In the last two games, Ryan’s thrown seven interceptions after a two-game stretch with no interceptions. He began the season with just three in the first six games.
Ryan said Wednesday that the interceptions have mainly come from being a little impatient and trying to force a throw or two into coverage that he otherwise wouldn’t. He did note that he doesn’t think he’s seeing the field any differently than he has in prior games or seasons, but the aggressive play he’s tried to approach each game with has meant he’s taken some risks.
“I think I have tried to force in a couple of passes that I shouldn’t have,” Ryan said. “Obviously, that’s going to happen. When you’re trying to play aggressive, when you’re out there trying to make plays, you’re going to force them into spots that you shouldn’t. I’ve got to clean up my decision-making a little bit.”
In that two-game stretch, Ryan hasn’t been doing the kind of Ryan-like things that have so often helped the Falcons win in past seasons. Ultimately, he doesn’t see himself as any different from any other player in the locker room and he said Wednesday he knows he has to play better, as does the entire team.
“I’ve got to pull my weight,” he said. “That’s the way I see it. I’ve got to pull my weight within this locker room and within this team. I think I’m lucky to be surrounded by guys that feel the same way. I think everybody can take a good look in the mirror and figure out that we all need to play a little bit better. I’m certainly no different from that perspective.”
2) Bunches of Turnovers: A defense that has thrived on turnovers in past seasons hasn’t been getting many of them this season. Sunday’s two-interception game was the first of the season and the source of those two picks is encouraging. Both rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford came away with picks, Trufant’s first of the season. Last week was the first time Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw two interceptions in a single game this year. Trufant said he’s always heard turnovers come in groups so he hopes that’s a sign of things to come: ”They say turnovers come in bunches so hopefully they keep coming. We’ve just got to keep swarming, keep being aggressive and confident and they’ll keep coming.”
3) Seattle Secondary: They’re ranked third in points allowed this season. They’re ranked second in passing yards allowed this year. Their 13 interceptions are tied for tops in the league. They’re the Seattle secondary and they’re really good. They’re also a secondary the Falcons scored 30 points on last season and Ryan has three or more touchdown passes against in two of the last three games (Ryan’s 3-0 in his career against Seattle). Their safety tandem is among the best in the league and Ryan said Wednesday they play a lot of single-high safety coverage with Earl Thomas patrolling center field and Kam Chancellor up around the line. On the outside are two corners that stand six-foot-three or taller in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Ryan said employing two corners that size is a little rare and the Seahawks defense uses the strengths of Sherman and Browner exceptionally well within the defense. They can disrupt receivers off the line and interfere with timing between QB and receiver. Ryan said Sherman, who many think is the best corner in the game, has everything you want in a corner: ”He’s the complete package. He’s got great size, great strength, very good in terms of jamming guys off the line of scrimmage. He moves his hips really well for a big guy. He transitions really well and he has great ball skills. He can go make plays on the ball like a wide receiver.”
4) Massaquoi Learning Each Week: With more reps comes better play. Last week was a monumental day for defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi. As his snaps have increased this season, he’s shown improvement week to week. That’s typically been the case across the board with the young players on defense this year and Massaquoi achieved some firsts last week. He recorded his second shared sack of the season, giving him a total of one in his two-year career. He also knocked away his first pass against Carolina. Like many of the inexperienced players this year, Massaquoi feels his comfort growing with his confidence each time he’s on the field: “I feel a lot more comfortable. Game by game, you have to consciously build that confidence. For me, as a young player, I have to learn from the defensive situations that we’re put in in our prior losses and take that with me and execute it every Sunday after that.”
5) Back to Basics: It’s hard to understand how a team that was once one of the least-penalized teams in the league can become a team that is penalized at a high rate in just one season. That’s the case with the Falcons this season. While their 52 penalties is in the middle of the pack in the league rankings, it’s way down from the 60 they were flagged for all of last year. They’ve had 27 in the last three games combined and they’ve come at costly points in the game against both the defense and the offense. Safety William Moore said they’re returning to a fundamental approach to the game to try to get this corrected: ”The penalties are killing us. It comes down to just going back to fundamentals, because most of the penalties we’ve had are from stuff that we’ve learned from Day One. I think it comes down to guys anxious to make a play. Stuff like facemask penalties you can try to prevent, but it happens within the play. We’re just going out full speed and stuff happens.”