On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s much to analyze with the Falcons’ game-winning touchdown on Sunday night. The Eagles brought the house, didn’t get there, and Atlanta’s recognition resulted in perfectly executed screen pass for 54 yards and a score.
The Birds took a risk and it ended up biting them in the butt. That’s the nature of blitzing. That’s “life in the NFL,” as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would say.
We do, however, have some new material to parse, namely the all-22 film from Sunday’s loss and media availability with Schwartz, who said this Tuesday afternoon about the Julio Jones game winner:
They made a good play. I don’t know how many times I can say today that it comes with the territory in the NFL, whether it’s injuries, whether it’s dealing with different situations during the game. But that’s part of the risk/reward of blitzing. You want to blitz, you can make some plays, you can sack — but if they do get a guy blocked, there’s nobody behind him.
We took an aggressive approach. Tried to win the game right there. We weren’t just going to — I mean it was fourth and three. We could have sat back and said, ‘Okay, let’s be safe here. Let’s hold them to a field goal.’ I think part of it was knowing that even if we gave up a play right there, we could win the game right there, or go a long way to winning the game.
Or even if we gave up a play, we had confidence our offense was going to get the ball back and have a chance to play, too, so that goes into it. We didn’t get it done in this game, but it’s a long season, and we have confidence that in the long term we’ll be fine.
I can’t argue with any of that. I think people would have been annoyed if the Birds played some soft zone there and the Falcons picked up three yards on a cheap slant or out route. Schwartz found success blitzing early in the game, so why not do it again?
One thing I noticed when watching the coaches film of this play specifically is that I don’t think they did a great job disguising the pressure, which was really well done on some of their earlier blitzes in this game. Watch this first wide-angle shot of the play and tell me if you think the Birds are showing their hand:
Not a ton of pre-snap movement, is there? The Falcons are going five-wide here, and the Eagles are in cover zero, so they match Atlanta’s receivers in man-to-man and bring Malcolm Jenkins and Nigel Bradham through the B gaps with Rodney McLeod taking Austin Hooper in the strong-side slot.
So Matt Ryan knows he has a 2v2 on the short side of the field and Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox are sitting ducks if he can release that ball quickly to his Pro Bowl wide receiver while the left tackle kicks out.
Here’s the straight-on angle of the play, which shows you Ryan’s viewpoint as the Eagles crowd the line of scrimmage:
Couple things here:
- Some people noted that Mohamed Sanu got his hands on Douglas’ back, but the contact looked very light to me. Jones was pretty much gone by that point anyway.
- Rodney McLeod makes a good read from the other side of the field, but his angle is not great.
- Andrew Sendejo’s angle isn’t great either, but he’s so far away to start the play that I don’t think he’s getting there anyway.
- No issue with left tackle Jake Matthews kicking out or pancaking Maddox there. The ball is snapped on the 46 yard line, and when the ball is released, he’s still on the 46, so there’s no illegal man downfield or anything like that. His block is perfectly timed and the contact is made about a split second after Jones catches the ball. Anything earlier and he would have been flagged, but that is just a brilliant pay on his part.
One final piece of media here, referring to bullet point number two –
If I freeze the play at the time of the Jones catch, here’s what McLeod’s angle looks like. I drew a blue arrow to indicate the path he took, and the yellow angle is the more direct route that may have saved a touchdown:
Of course, when your momentum is taking you in a certain direction, it’s always gonna be hard to plant and change that direction, which is why guys typically make an arc while trying to steer their bodies. Still, you never know what may have happened if he was able to stay behind the 50 yard line there. It looked to me like he got a decent jump on the play, but just couldn’t get there in time.