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Falcons Fall To Chiefs In Heartbreaking Fashion – Week 13 Recap

Falcons offense against Chiefs defense N_Blair via


The Atlanta Falcons fell to 7-5 on Sunday after a wild 29-28 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that saw the team’s bad luck with injuries continue.

While the result wasn’t unjust, head coach Dan Quinn and his staff will be bitterly disappointed at the manner of the loss, with the Chiefs returning an interception for a touchdown and finding the end zone on a fake punt trick play. Having taken the lead and, within seconds of taking the lead, Matt Ryan was left stunned after Eric Berry returned an attempted 2-point conversion the distance to send the game back in Kansas City’s favor.


The offense was able to move the ball well against a good Chiefs defense but stumbled too often in the red zone when the field became more compact. The loss of tight end Jacob Tamme for the season robbed Ryan of one of his top targets in the red zone and has left the Falcons becoming predictable as they look for either Tevin Coleman or Devonta Freeman out of the backfield too often. While both are excellent pass catchers, good defenses such as the Chiefs will be happy to see the ball in front of them and are capable of swarming the pass catcher and restricting the yards after catch.

After tearing apart the Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and the Chiefs secondary for 113 yards on 7 catches, Julio Jones sat out large parts of the 4th quarter with an injury. Head Coach Dan Quinn announced on Monday that Jones is suffering from turf toe, but he’s optimistic that it shouldn’t hold him out for long. Entering the final stretch of the season, the Falcons will need Jones if they are to make a playoff run but they will be looking for the player who leads all others in receiving by almost 200 yards. If he is going to be limited and only used as a decoy then the team may decide to let him rest.

With Jones down, it looked as if it would be up to Mohamed Sanu to step up in the passing game, but a groin injury meant that he also found himself on the sideline. While Sanu is making a lot of money for the number two wide receiver on an offense, he has proven to be a capable possession receiver and uses his physicality to move the chains in a way that Roddy White struggled to do last year. Dan Quinn announced that he would miss practice on Wednesday but could return on Thursday, although the team may opt to take it easy with him before Sunday’s game.

In the absence of the team’s top two wide receivers, the responsibility fell to Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson and Justin Hardy. Gabriel has seen his role increase as the season has gone on and has become far more than just a gadget player for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. His reliable hands and quickness to find space appears to have given Matt Ryan confidence in him and his run of  four touchdowns in the previous four games would have become 5 in 5 had it not been for a tackle on the 1 yard line.

On a bad day for the Falcons, the injury to left tackle Jake Matthews could be the worst moment. While he may not be the superstar that Julio Jones is, he’s just as important to the offense. Matthews has been quietly getting on with his job and has taken the next step this year to become the player that the Falcons were hoping to get when they used the 6th overall pick on him in 2014. The offense looked a lot shakier once Matthews left the game and it’s no coincidence that Tamba Hali started to generate considerably more pressure once Matthews’ replacement, Tom Compton, entered the game.

Compton’s run blocking was impressive, opening up holes for Devonta Freeman on a few occasions, and he performed well enough to earn more snaps at tight end as part of the Falcons’ jumbo package on short yardage situations. The issues with Compton came in pass protection with Pro Football Focus recording him as allowing 5 pressures on just 26 snaps in pass protection. Jake Matthews performed excellently in week 12, with Pro Football Focus crediting him for not allowing a single sack, hit or even hurry and Matt Ryan will be hoping that he can return to protect his blindside sooner rather than later.


For the third week in a row the Falcons can look at the middle of the field as the vulnerability that was exploited. After being put to the sword by Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews in the Eagles game, they were unable to contain David Johnson against the Cardinals and Sunday provided more of the same with tight end Travis Kelce consistently getting the better of the team’s linebackers and safeties.

Much of the blame lies with with the Falcons’ soft zone scheme that they operate. Having arrived from Seattle, it is no secret that Quinn is looking to emulate the cover 3 scheme that has brought the Seahawks so much success. While general manager Thomas Dimitroff and his team have added key pieces in order to achieve his vision, the Falcons still lack the personnel to defend teams in the way that the Seahawks do.

In rookie 1st round pick Keanu Neal they look to have found their strong safety in the mold of Kam Chancellor, but in a scheme that relies so heavily on the free safety being able to prevent the deep plays and cover the middle of the field, Ricardo Allen can find himself overmatched at times.

Allen, a converted cornerback, plays with intensity and is a true student of the game, watching film with his wife while they critique his performances. The issue is that he’s playing in a position that looks as if it was crafted specifically for Earl Thomas and he doesn’t have the speed, length or range that allows Thomas to break on the ball so well and dissuades quarterbacks from throwing down the seam.

Similarly, while the young linebacker corps has performed well in run defense, they find themselves struggling in pass coverage. Whether it’s confusion over their assignments or breakdowns in communication, there have been too many occasions when receivers have been able to catch the ball uncontested and run for extra yards. De’Vondre Campbell never looked comfortable covering Chiefs running back Spencer Ware, completely losing him on Ware’s short touchdown reception and narrowly avoiding a long touchdown pass when Alex Smith overthrew Ware on a wheel route down the sideline.

The scheme requires the weakside linebacker to be able to cover running backs out of the backfield. KJ Wright for the Seahawks is one of the best in the league at doing this and, when asked to, can be trusted to line up in man coverage and eliminate these plays. While Campbell certainly has the athleticism to do this, he struggles to diagnose plays and lacks the instincts that Wright has.

Campbell is a 4th round rookie, so the team certainly shouldn’t be giving up on him, but it might be time to give more playing time to Kemal Ishmael, who is naturally a safety but excelled playing linebacker in the victory over the Denver Broncos. Campbell is a capable run defender, bursting in to the backfield to make an excellent tackle for loss on Sunday, but at this stage in his career he lacks the ability to play every down.


The Falcons shouldn’t be too disheartened by the loss. The Chiefs are 19-3 in their last 22 regular season games and, despite a lack of media interest, are one of the better teams in the NFL. The nature of the defeat will obviously upset fans but it was another game that showed that the Falcons shouldn’t be afraid of any team.

The points that the Chiefs scored were preventable and it could so easily have been a different story, but the result was probably fair. 41 year old Matt Bryant continued to add fuel to the rumors that he’s not human as he tied a franchise record with a huge 59 yard field goal to end the first half and the kick looked to motivate the team for a while, but the Chiefs made the plays when they counted.

The Falcons are now tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers atop the NFC South following their rival’s 28-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers took their winning streak to 4 games. Next up, the team travels to Los Angeles to face a Rams team who are 4-8 and look in complete disarray having lost 7 of their last 8 games following a 3-1 start.