COMMENTARY | It's never easy for me to come in and see the listless remains of a team with so much potential on my stainless steel operating table. The Atlanta Falcons were wheeled in after losing a heartbreaker to the Miami Dolphins 27-23 in the final seconds. Suddenly, the team many picked to contend for a Super Bowl title finds itself 1-2 and searching for answers.
Despite falling to 1-2, Atlanta has been in position to win all three of their games to start the 2013 season. The Falcons have been unable to hold second-half leads in each of their two losses, and in their Week 2 win against the St. Louis Rams, Atlanta let a 24-3 halftime lead evaporate before barely being able to hold on for a seven-point win.
This season, the Falcons have been outscored 48-24 in the second half of games, while being outdueled 24-10 in fourth quarters.
This trend continued Sunday as Atlanta went up 20-10 in the third quarter but then got outscored 17-3 the rest of the way. Until the Falcons learn how to play a full 60 minutes of football, it will be tough to consistently beat anyone.
The Falcons Desperately Need a Healthy Roddy White
Julio Jones may have officially jumped over Roddy White on Atlanta's depth chart, but it may still be the shoulders of No. 84 on which the entire season will rest.
White has battled an ankle injury to start the season which has resulted in him being a shell of what he has been for Atlanta over the past eight seasons. He was healthy enough to start and tie the franchise record with his 103rd consecutive game recording at least one catch. However, all White could offer the Falcons was a total of two catches for 16 yards.
Without White contributing, Jones' stats have risen, but the receiving corps as a unit has suffered. Jones is leading the NFL in receiving with 373 yards through the first three weeks. He added 115 yards receiving against the Dolphins, but the Falcons' passing attack is becoming somewhat one dimensional.
Jones was given 12 targets on Sunday against just six for the next closest receiver. His 35 targets lead the team, but Harry Douglas' 17 looks are second among wide receivers for a team which used to be lauded for their ability to spread the ball around to a variety of weapons all over the field.
The Falcons will have to look no further than the first 20 yards of the field to find the cause of their Week 3 defeat. Atlanta was a staggeringly inept 2-for-5 at converting zed-zone opportunities into touchdowns on Sunday.
For the season, the Falcons have only punched the ball across the goal line on six of their 12 red zone visits. As they lost the game by only four points, just one of the touchdown opportunities that became a field goal try turned out to be the difference in the game.
Routinely, the red zone has been Tony Gonzalez territory, but Matt Ryan targeted Gonzalez only one time in the red zone, and only five times total on Sunday which resulted in a meager four catches for 24 yards.
Defense Is a Major Concern
After Kory Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon were placed on the IR following the Falcons' Week 2 win, many fans assumed the defense would suffer. Weatherspoon was second on the team with 95 tackles in 2012 while Biermann has become the unquestioned leader of the defensive line.
In Week 3, the defense was great at times and downright awful at others. The porous run defense allowed 6 yards per carry to Miami in the rushing game, including getting gashed for a 49-yard run by Lamar Miller in the second quarter.
The passing D was not without its own issues. They let Ryan Tannehill complete 69 percent of his passes and allowed the second-year QB to man a 75-yard game-winning drive, culminating in a one-yard TD toss to Dion Sims with 0:38 left in the game.
Atlanta Continues to Win on Paper but Lose on the Field
By all indications, the Falcons were the better team on Sunday. Atlanta had more total yards (377 to 285), more rushing yards (146 to 90), picked up more first downs (24 to 16) and had a significantly higher time of possession ( 37:09 to 22:51). On top of that, the Atlanta pass rush sacked Tannehill five times while the Falcons' O-line did not allow their quarterback to be sacked even once.
Judging those stats in a vacuum, most would assume Atlanta ran away with this victory. But somehow, Atlanta was still able to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Falcons since they first started playing games inside the Georgia Dome. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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