(Note: I am a moron and don’t know anything. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’m sure I made some in this article as well. Feel free to let me know how I screwed up by tweeting me @JacksonKrueger. At the end of the day I’m not an expert, just a guy having fun by talking about sports. Hope you enjoy.)
Well, it’s that time of year, with referees throwing way too many flags, NBC trying some weird gimmick nobody cares about, and the Atlanta Falcons making questionable late game decisions, I think it’s fair to say football is officially back. The season opener was an odd one, after a 40 minute rain delay, Atlanta had opening possession and shot out of the gate. A large part of their early success was due to them using a fullback. It gave Ryan more protection on his opening throw which he threw for 10 yards, and helped run block on the subsequent play which went for 11. However after getting a second down and goal, they ran 3 straight plays from a jumbo set (3 tight ends, a running back and a full back), all going for 0 yards, and resulting in a turnover on downs. Atlanta only ran ran one other play from a jumbo set all game, which also went for 0 yards.
Despite coming away with no points, Atlanta marched right back down the field, again largely due to creativity with their personnel. 31/37 yards gained on that drive came from plays in non-singleback sets (the most common set with 3 receivers, a tight end and a halfback). The reason I bring that up is because despite early success by not running a ton of singleback sets, 36 of their 49 (73.4%) final plays were from singleback sets, in which they averaged just 2.72 yards per play. On the other side of things, the Eagles ran nothing but singleback sets to start the game. 33 out of 39 of their first plays (84.6%) were singleback sets. They weren’t much better than Atlanta in that category either, averaging just 2.96 yards per attempt throughout the game. However the Eagles made some adjustments, as only 17 of their last 31 plays (54.8%) were from traditional sets.
One interesting thing I have to criticize the Eagles for was that in all 9 plays when they ran 2 tight end sets, they passed the ball. It seemed like they didn’t do a very good job fooling Atlanta, as they only averaged 3.11 yards a play with those sets. However, it was a two tight end set that was a play that really jump-started the creativity for Philadelphia. It was from a two tight end set when they ran their “Philly Special” like play early in the third quarter. They also brought on an extra offensive linemen twice that drive, and eventually scored a touchdown. They didn’t run a single play with an additional offensive linemen in the first half, but had great success in the second half with an extra linemen. They put on a 6th linemen 5 times, and averaged 7.4 yards and got a touchdown out of it. However while Philly was giving their quarterback additional protection, Atlanta was doing the opposite.
I think once Philadelphia took the lead the Falcons went into panic mode. Despite having so much success with a fullback on the field, they only ran 3 plays with a fullback in the second half (in those plays they gained 25 yards and scored their only touchdown). There were just 2 drives in the second half where Atlanta ran multiple non-singleback sets. One was the touchdown drive where they ran just two plays, and the other was their final drive which I’ll talk about later. Both teams have great defensive lines, but while the Eagles made the adjustment to bring on more protection, the Falcons did the opposite.
Another questionable decision the Falcons made was the amount of times they had Matt Ryan throw the football. Despite Atlanta running a solid 4.13 yards per carry, 45 out of Atlanta’s 60 plays were passes. And the Eagles were clearly ready for it as Ryan only threw for 5.84 yards per pass. By far and away Atlanta’s biggest star was Julio Jones. When Ryan threw to someone other than Jones, he went just 11-24 with 82 yards (3.41 yards per attempt). When he threw to Jones, he went 10-19 with 169 yards (8.89 yards per attempt). Not to mention on their final drive, Jones picked up 60 of their total 74 yards gained, however getting into the endzone was another story.
While Atlanta probably ran too many singleback sets, I do understand their strategy of running nothing but singleback sets to start their final drive. While it did result in two sacks, Julio Jones was able to make some great plays, and Sanu had a big catch as well. Atlanta was finally able to make plays quickly and get down the field. However once Atlanta got to the 10 yard line, they doubled down on their lack of protection for Ryan. They took their halfback off the field, and ran an empty backfield set for their final four plays. This decisions was for obvious reasons, they can’t run the ball so they wanted as many receivers in play, however there’s not much space that close to the endzone, and getting a receiver open takes time. I saw Matt Ryan get a lot of criticism for his poor throws at the end of the game, and while some blame absolutely has to go his way, a factor of that was certainly the fact that he had very little time to throw the ball. At the end of the day, the Eagles held on. Philadelphia has to feel good about winning on kickoff week without Carson Wentz. And for Atlanta, there’s certainly a bright side, they played about as poorly of a game as they could have played, and they still had the defending champs on the ropes.