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All-22 Preview of the Falcon's Offense

An in depth preview using All-22 film of the Falcons offense as they are set to travel to Candlestick on Sunday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A year after hosting the NFC Championship against the 49ers, the Falcons have limped to a 4-10 record through 14 weeks. Their season changed due to a myriad of injuries and unfortunate breaks, the Falcons have attempts to stay true to their open passing attack that won them 13 games last year but simply lack the personnel to do so. Instead, their offense, which still lacks any running game, has morphed into Tony Gonzalez and a plethora of underneath passes.

After a furious comeback came up short against the Patriots, the Falcons record dropped to 1-3 but there was still hope in Atlanta because of their firepower on the outside. That all changed early the following week when it was announced that Julio Jones had re-broken his foot and was done for 2013.

With Roddy White hampered by a variety of injuries early in the year, the Falcons found themselves in the uncomfortable position of lacking receiving threats outside of a 37 year old Tony Gonzalez on a pass first team. Furthering the problem was their complete inability to run the ball, averaging under 80 yards a game good for 32nd in the NFL.

What the Falcons do well: Despite the bleak outlook following Jones's injury, the Falcons had no choice but to suit up on Sunday and hope that Matt Ryan could steal a few games throughout the year. Staying true to their spread attack, the Falcons have primarily used 3 and 4 wide receiver sets but have become reliant on Tony Gonzalez for their downfield passing game.

Let's look at how the Falcons managed to beat a very good Panthers defense with a seam route by Tony Gonzalez against Cover 2.

Game Situation: 2nd Quarter, 2:00, 2nd and 9 at the CAR 17, Panthers 14, Falcon 3

Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Harry Douglas, Darius Johnson and Drew Davis) 1 TE (Tony Gonzalez) 1 RB (Jaquizz Rodgers)

Formation: Trips Shotgun

Offensive Concept: Texas (Seam route with cross underneath)

Defensive Scheme: Cover 2


Pre-Snap: The Panthers walk SS Mikell forward and align over the 3 WRs and TE Gonzalez on the outside, showing a Cover 1 man coverage.


Post-Snap: SS Mikell drops rapidly to his left and S Mitchell drops slightly right into deep half zones of a Cover 2 defense. Expecting this drop into Cover 2, the Falcons run a variation of Mike Holgrim's Texas concept, with WR Johnson running an underneath route and TE Gonzalez running a seam route behind it. LB Kuechly drops with TE Gonzalez as he has a deep middle zone responsibility in a Cover 2 defense.


While the shallow hook of WR Johnson doesn't suck up LB Kuechly, he does peer back toward the line of scrimmage turning his hips and allowing TE Gonzalez to get behind him. QB Ryan anticipates this and delivers the ball into the open space, the deep middle of the field.


Ryan's pass sails over LB Kuechly's head and into Gonzalez's hand for an easy touchdown.


Summary: Without their dynamic weapon on the outside in Julio Jones the Falcons have reverted to attacking the middle of the field with their Hall of Fame tight end. On this play, Gonzalez is able to sneak behind a very good coverage linebacker in Luke Kuechly and present Ryan with an opening he rarely misses.

While the 49ers don't run a lot of Cover 2 defense, they have been struggling in covering opposing tight ends, particularly Patrick Willis. Whether it's a new injury or the lingering effects of his earlier groin strain, Willis has looked a step slow in coverage on multiple occasions, a worry trend for this week and going forward. With that said and the Falcons lack of weapons on the outside, expect consistent safety help on whomever is covering Gonzalez.

Screen Passes: Without any traditional running game to speak of, the Falcons have resorted to screen passes and quick throws as a substitute. Whether it's bubble screens or more traditional running back screens, the Falcons tend to throw 3 to 5 screen passes a game in an attempt to remain ‘balanced' on the offense.

Let's look at how the Falcons utilize their 3rd down back, Jaquizz Rodgers, by getting him the ball in open space with a swing/screen pass.

Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 1:01, 2nd and 8 at the ATL 19, Falcons 24, Washington 20

Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Harry Douglas, Darius Johnson and Drew Davis) 1 TE (Tony Gonzalez) 1 RB (Jaquizz Rodgers)

Formation: 4 Wide Shotgun

Offensive Concept: Double Screen

Defensive Scheme: Cover 2


Pre-Snap: The Falcons come to line of scrimmage with RB Rodgers out wide in a 5 empty set before motioning him into the backfield forming a 4 wide shotgun set. Washington is in their dime package showing Cover 2 with both OLB rushing forming a 5 man pass rush


Post-Snap: The entire offensive line except LT Holmes allows the defensive linemen into the backfield in order to get downfield on a double screen play, a WR bubble screen on the left and a swing/screen pass to RB Rodgers on the right. All 5 of the Washington defenders rushing continue up field creating a numerical advantage downfield on both sides. QB Ryan decides to swing the ball to RB Rodgers who has 4 blockers ahead of him for 3 defenders on the right side of the field.


WR White seemingly doesn't realize or care that he has to block CB Hall and lets him pass without any resistance. The other blockers either engage, TE Gonzalez on the MLB, or continue downfield in search of defenders to block.


Due to WR White's inexcusable failure to do anything on this play, CB Hall manages to trip up RB Rodgers before LB Kerrigan finishes the tackle limiting a promising play to a 5 yard gain.


Summary: The double screen play illustrates the Falcons reliance on the quick pass to generate easy yards. With Washington's outside blitz, the stage was set for a big gain but Roddy White's complete lack of effort doomed this play.

For the 49ers, the Falcons screen passes shouldn't be too much of a worry as Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are veteran defensive linemen that will sniff out the screen pass and disrupt the play before it starts. If they do manage to get the ball in Rogders or Douglas hands, the combination of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman should limit the damage. All in all, the 49ers should be able to limit the Falcons offense and expect Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks to pin their ears back and get after Matt Ryan early and often.

How Teams have Stopped the Falcons: Honestly, just show up. I kid, but the Falcons don't present defenses with many problems at all because they are so one dimensional and lack a true number vertical threat at wide receiver without Julio Jones. Additionally, their offensive line has struggled to provide adequate protection and is often over-powered leaving Matt Ryan on the run with few outlets.

Let's look at how Tampa Bay throttled the Falcons on a key 3rd down just outside of the red zone by playing man coverage and dominating the line of scrimmage.

Game Situation: 2nd Quarter, 12:51, 3rd and 8 at the TB 21, Buccaneers 3, Falcon 0

Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Harry Douglas, Darius Johnson and Drew Davis) 1 TE (Adam Nissely) 1 RB (Jaquizz Rodgers)

Formation: 4 Wide Shotgun

Offensive Concept: 4 Verticals

Defensive Scheme: Man 2


Pre-Snap: The Bucs have 5 defenders at the line of scrimmage and S Tandy walks up showing blitz. With S Barron playing as a LB in their dime package the Bucs are expecting a pass play and have the personnel to match up with the 4 Falcon wide receivers.


Post-Snap: All of the Falcon receivers release on vertical routes forming a 4 vertical route combination. Unluckily for QB Ryan, the Bucs are in Man 2 playing trail technique, where cornerbacks let receivers get past them to mirroring their movements from behind with safety help over the top. At the line of scrimmage, the offensive line picks up all of the rushers but are being beaten in their individual match ups.


With no options downfield and the pocket collapsing from seemingly every direction, QB Ryan shields the ball before being swarmed for a 6 yard loss.


Summary: While this play exaggerated the Falcons offensive issues because of Tampa Bay being in the perfect coverage for this play, it shows how limited the Falcons truly are. Without anyone to consistently beat man coverage outside of Tony Gonzalez, I realize both White and Douglas have played well of late but they aren't go to receivers, and a porous offensive line, Matt Ryan has been under the gun often this year.

Expect the 49ers to play very conservative on defense as they will challenge the Falcons to string together enough plays to score. Eric Reid and Donte Whitner will be in deep zones throughout the game as the 49ers should be able to stop the run with 7 defenders and generate a solid pass rush with only 4 rushers.

Overall this is setting up to be a perfect finale for Candlestick Park. The Falcons are over matched on both sides of the ball and should give the crowd plenty to cheer about while they reminisce over 60 years of memories. I only wish I could be there to send the ‘Stick off in style and will always remember the ‘Stick for what it was, a dump, our dump.

Prediction: 49ers 34 Falcons 13.