If you’re new to football and the Falcons, you learned a valuable lesson this week. If you turn over the ball on offense, you’ll make it extremely difficult to win games in the NFL. The Falcons, traditionally a strong ball-protection team, have turned the ball over eight times in the past two games, including seven interceptions from quarterback Matt Ryan.
Atlanta ended last season tied for fifth in the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-13, but this season the Falcons are forcing far fewer turnovers on defense and the two-game stretch of late on offense has the team placed 26th in the league with a differential of minus-7. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said earlier this week that turnovers are an easy way to lose and each one sets up unique challenges to come back from within a game.
“We had way too many turnovers, and each one has a different set of circumstances in terms of how the play was played out,” Smith said. “We can’t turn the ball over, obviously. Eight times in the last two games, doesn’t matter what level of football you’re playing. You’re not going to win games when you do that.”
Ryan said earlier in the week that he was probably guilty of forcing some throws in the last two weeks that he shouldn’t have, but it was all in the name of being aggressive. Moving forward, he said, his decision-making needs to be more on par with his career level.
“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.”
Against this week’s opponent, the Seahawks, taking care of the ball will be at a premium. At 8-1, the Seahawks are steamrolling and while their offense is putting up enough points to win games, it’s their defense that is dominating on the field. They’re currently ranked No. 3 in the league in points allowed (16.6), No. 2 in passing yards allowed (179.8) and they are tied for the league lead with 13 interceptions.
Seattle’s defense is led by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, two of the best at their respective positions in the league. Sherman and Thomas each have four interceptions, a figure that puts them tied for the league lead.
“Statistically right now they are the best,” Smith said of the secondary pair. “They are doing a very good job of taking the ball away. When opportunities arise, they’ve been able to make their plays. Sherman is a big, strong, athletic corner that likes to get up and press. Thomas is a very athletic safety that has a very good nose for the football.”
The duo specializes in producing turnovers and Thomas was one of the recipients of Ryan’s two interceptions against the Seahawks in the playoffs last season. Since entering the league in 2011, Sherman leads the NFL with 16 interceptions and Thomas is the only player in the league with 60 or more tackles (69), four or more interceptions and two or more forced fumbles (2).
Staying successful on offense will require the offense to execute at all positions at a level more in line with past levels. That success will depend on minimizing Sherman and Thomas’ impact on the game. Without turnovers, the Falcons have a legitimate shot to win their third game of the season.
“It is the responsibility of everyone on the offensive side, including the coaches, in terms of making sure we take care of the ball,” Smith said. “We’re going out there every time we play the game, to win the game; we need to play within the scheme of the game. Our guys need to make sure they understand the game plan and how we are going to do it in terms of routes, protections and reads. We all have to be singing out of the same hymnal, so to speak, for us to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.