Audibles at the Line: 2018 Opening Night
compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
As is now tradition, we have a special Opening Night Audibles covering the regular season opener -- this year, a potential NFC playoff preview between the Falcons and Eagles.
Atlanta Falcons 12 at Philadelphia Eagles 18
Aaron Schatz: Let's play some real football!
Bryan Knowles: Well, maybe not yet. Severe thunderstorms in the area delaying kickoff -- not like the offseason is long enough, right?
There was a lightning delay before the 2013 opener, too -- a half-hour delay, followed by Peyton Manning dropping seven touchdowns on Baltimore. That means, clearly, Nick Foles will do the same tonight. After all, he has experience doing just that, right?
... Yes, I'm killing time during the rain delay, why do you ask?
Scott Kacsmar: Over/under nine mentions of "RPO" by Al Michaels and Cris Colllinsworth ... in the first quarter alone.
Vince Verhei: I just hope somebody taught Al the difference between an RPO and a play-action pass in the past seven months.
Somebody find me a pic of Cris Collinsworth's suit. The midnight blue with black pinstripes is striking.
— Steve(@theSCHURRicane) September 7, 2018
Atlanta's first drive ends on a failed fourth-and-goal run, but the only call I didn't like there was on third down. You come out in a jumbo set and split two tight ends out wide and put Devonta Freeman in the slot -- gee, I wonder where the ball is going to go?
Bryan Knowles: A big question in the Atlanta chapter this year was whether or not the Falcons could overcome their struggles in key situations -- the red zone, late and close, etc. The other big question was whether Steve Sarkisian's play calling would improve after an inauspicious first season.
Well, it's a sample size of one, but so far, not so good. Falcons drive down the field (just like last year), but stall out in the red zone (just like last year). And on fourth-and-goal, the Falcons take Julio Jones off the field, line up everyone tight, and run the most obvious running play in the history of running plays.
Not exactly what Falcons fans were hoping for.
Aaron Schatz: Julio wasn't out there for either third-and-goal or fourth-and-goal. I hope that the failure doesn't discourage the Falcons from going for it on fourth down more often this season.
Derrik Klassen: There are plenty of reasons to bag on Steve Sarkisian's red zone approach on that first series, but that third-down pass to Devonta Freeman should have been hit. Matt Ryan had him open and just missed; looked a little late and a foot wide.
Scott Kacsmar: Didn't NBC broadcast the playoff game between these two? So first there was the joke of a fourth-down call in the fog game on SNF against New England, then that red zone mess in January, and the one tonight. The Falcons really save their worst for Al and Cris. Glad they went for the fourth down there, but I don't know how we're still seeing teams go to goal-line formations in 2018. Put your best players on the field and create some space.
Carl Yedor: Didn't get a great look at the replay but I'm not a huge fan of the challenge on that 3-yard completion to Austin Hooper. It's not a huge difference in terms of yards to go, and it's really early in the game to potentially burn a challenge for a relatively marginal gain.
Vince Verhei: Well that sure was an ugly first quarter. Philly's offense looks to be in "first game of the preseason" mode. Fumbles, penalties, unblocked blitzers, ugh. And Atlanta's red zone strategy of "run into loaded boxes" isn't working, but they're sticking with it. Which is dumb.
Aaron Schatz: Atlanta's offensive line has pulled off some very nice blocks, but they can't do anything when the Eagles sniff out their screens. Or what looked like a play where Matt Ryan was supposed to read Brandon Graham and I guess read him wrong because Graham easily took the running back down unblocked.
Scott Kacsmar: If a defensive back erases a receiver by running the route for him, should it really be DPI? Desmond Trufant just got hit with a big one on third-and-7 on a route where Mike Wallace seemingly didn't even try to run. That could cost the Falcons four points.
Aaron Schatz: I was pissed about it too when they first threw it but on the replay it looked like Trufant did pull on Wallace's butt to hold him back.
Derrik Klassen: I will now take the next few minutes yelling at Twitter as to why that pass interference call on Desmond Trufant was abysmal. Felt like Trufant went with the pretty standard "use the receiver as balance, but don't destroy him" dive to get out in front of the play.
Aaron Schatz: Looks like I might be in for another year of screaming at kick returners to stop taking the ball out of the end zone. I guess the new rules might open things up for more returns, but I definitely think if you juggle the ball in the end zone like Shelton Gibson just did, you just take a damn knee and enjoy the touchback. Instead the Eagles got the ball out to the 10 and then got moved back to the 5 by a holding penalty. Yuck.
And then a roughing the passer penalty against Grady Jarrett for daring to be subject to the laws of physics. This "body weight on the quarterback" roughing the passer stuff is awful. How on earth is the pass-rusher supposed to stop his body when he's hitting the quarterback? Do we need to practice levitation?
Scott Kacsmar: Quarterbacks should feel embarrassed that there's a rule like that for roughing. With some of these safety rules over the years, I'm skeptical how much it's actually done to prevent players from making "illegal" hits. Flag and fine a player all you want, but the hit still happened. With this particular rule, you're not likely to eliminate ANY of the hits because it's physically impossible for a defender to stop his forward momentum when he's going in on a quarterback releasing the ball like that. Flag late hits, flag low hits under the knee, but calling roughing on routine hits and sacks is pure nonsense.
Vince Verhei: That first half was atrocious. A complete chore to sit through. Philly calling timeout to make sure they could punt before the end of the half, only to get their punter roughed, was their best offensive play. Just thirty minutes of runs for no gain and dropped passes and catches short of the sticks and perplexing ref calls. I'm not cheering for either team but that was so hard to watch I'm angry about it.
Derrik Klassen: Watching this Falcons offense under Sark is such a pain. Toss plays for no reason, consistently too heavy in the red zone, play calls being in isolation rather than a coordinated string of calls, etc. Feels like he is still just leaning on Julio Jones and the sheer talent in the offense to win out, rather than actually taking steps to maximize that talent. In Year 1 that was maybe a bit more understandable, but in Year 2, that's concerning. Hopefully something changes here in the second half.
Bryan Knowles: Philly's offense woke up a little bit there in the second quarter -- at least, compared to the goose egg they put up in the first quarter -- but penalties and sloppiness made that an awful quarter to watch.
At least the second half can't be much worse!
Tom Gower: Halftime, Falcons up 6-3. The first quarter was a hot mess except for Julio Jones. The second quarter was a little bit better, but overall that was two quarters of an argument that NFL teams should try harder and play their starters more in the preseason, because players need game preparation, not just practices, to be ready for precise execution. Matt Ryan made some questionable decisions and missed some throws -- most notably Devonta Freeman on third down before that fourth-down "what are you doing, Sark, running toss against a fast defense from a tight formation at the goal line?" -- but not just that one. Meanwhile this looks more like the Nick Foles who's maybe the 40th-best quarterback in the NFL than the Super Bowl MVP. The play where his hard count and Lane Johnson pointed out a blitzer and he still got sacked was a particular lowlight, along with the second-and-goal from the 19 run. Add in the penalties (and I'm with Terry McAulay, there wasn't enough restriction on Wallace to throw a flag there), and the preseason-y feel increased even more.
Scott Kacsmar: When a roughing the punter penalty is your longest gain of the half, that about sums it up. At least the Falcons have hit a few nice plays to Julio, but there's little to be happy about here. Sixteen combined penalties in a half is pretty bad.
Bryan Knowles: All that being said, the Philly fans booing the Eagles at halftime felt a little ... harsh. You just raised a banner! At least let the good vibes last a full game!
Vince Verhei: At halftime, the running backs in this game have one carry for 20 yards and 24 yards on their other 17 carries.
Carl Yedor: Now this deep pass to Julio Jones is a challenge I can get behind. Would be a huge play in what has been an ugly rock fight to this point.
Vince Verhei: No idea how that deep ball to Julio Jones wasn't called a catch on replay review. That ball never hit the ground and wasn't moving as he slid out of bounds. If we're not going to reverse that let's just cancel instant replay.
Scott Kacsmar: "Catch isn't catch."
Bryan Knowles: I will say one thing -- the Green Zone, which has (rightfully) been universally panned, is actually not so bad when they go to the SkyCam angle; it feels like it helps with some of the lack of depth perception you get there.
When used with the normal angle, though, it's just as bad as everyone has been saying.
Aaron Schatz: And Jay Ajayi scores the first touchdown on the next play, with an unbalanced line no less. 10-6 Philadelphia.
Vince Verhei: Philly's best play was to punt and get a roughing penalty. Atlanta's was to punt and let a random guy from Philly's return team toe-tap it back to them.
Seriously though, Matt Ryan has been stinky tonight.
Rivers McCown: Ryan has definitely not had a good second half underneath. Kinda expect his deep arm to be hit-or-miss at this point in his career.
Aaron Schatz: The decision-making hasn't been great either, on that pass to the corner that Rasul Douglas just picked off near the goal line. Denies the Falcons a field goal try.
Rivers McCown: That's FO Top 25 Prospect Rasul Douglas!
Bryan Knowles: One of the questions asked during our SB Nation questions was whether Matt Ryan was going to bounce back in 2018. "He doesn't need to bounce back," we said. "He was just unlucky; he'll be fine," we said.
He'll have to rebound now. Just threw a pretty ugly INT in the red zone -- can't blame that one on the play calling.
Bryan Knowles: Falcons run the ball in to take the lead back ... but the extra point bounces off the upright. Two-point game.
When neither offense is setting the world on fire, that's big.
Aaron Schatz: Both Douglas and Kazee are going to be featured in the first run of FO players for Madden Ultimate Team, which is nice timing after this game.
NBC just showed a graphic that this is the most penalties in a game for Atlanta since something like 1999 ... and then they just got another one, face mask on an Eagles punt return. And sure enough, the guy grabbed the face mask. Hard to criticize the refs for throwing so many flags when the teams are going to play so sloppy and actually committing so many penalties.
Bryan Knowles: Five shots at the end zone at the end of the game, and the Falcons still can't score. Game over, Eagles win.
The play calls were better here than they were in the divisional round, but what killed Atlanta last season killed them again tonight. That has to hurt if you're a Falcons fan; you spend the entire offseason thinking about the way the season ended and the flaws all season long in the red zone, you hear the entire offseason how the Falcons were spending so much time and effort trying to improve their results in the red zone, you get down to the red zone with a chance to exorcise some of the demons of last year ... and it all ends the same way. Oof.
It wasn't a pretty game, but at least the fourth quarter was exciting. I think the Eagles can mostly shrug off their sluggish performance here; they're getting a quarterback upgrade sooner rather than later. If I'm Atlanta, I'm really concerned about the offensive performance tonight; Julio Jones was basically a one-man show bailing out Matt Ryan, and other than that, it was really ugly.
Rivers McCown: The only reason the Falcons even got that close was that they had to hurry-up and call their own plays rather than listening to the coordinator who wanted to throw a screen to Tevin Coleman in the two-minute drill.
Sheesh. As soon as they took that last timeout on the goal line, this game was over.
Tom Gower: Jumping to conclusions after Julio Jones can't come in down in bounds on the final play of the game...
- Steve Sarkisian play calling and Atlanta's red zone execution: still an issue.
- Falcons WR2: still an issue.
- Matt Ryan has always had an arm a cut below the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Typically, you see that manifested in his reluctance to throw downfield unless he has a good pocket and platform, which is why he often hasn't been a good or prolific bomb passer (2016 the exception to this, obviously). But he has compensated for that. Tonight, he looked like some level of Chad Pennington. I hope it's just some injury and not something he'll have to face all year, because I like watching good football and that was not good football.
- Like I noted at halftime, I think that was mostly more bad offense than very good defense creating problems for offenses.
- Nick Foles is a backup. A good backup, but a backup.
- Jay Ajayi gives the Eagles an element they needed, especially against Atlanta's defense.
- Dang, Darren Sproles. Winning a one-on-one battle to get that third-down conversion on the drive with what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
- I hope Keanu Neal's injury, or any of the others suffered tonight, isn't serious. Injuries suck.
Aaron Schatz: The fact that Ryan couldn't hit guys in bounds on that final goal-line stand was a problem too. He did not play a good game.
Rivers McCown: I don't know how much of that was Ryan and how much of that was nobody was open. But yes, not one for the Ryan highlight reel.
Bryan Knowles: It's worth remembering that the Falcons just barely made the playoffs last season. A goal-line stand in Detroit, a weird field goal decision in Seattle. Either of those go the other way, and they were sitting at home. They're in a tough division in a tough conference, and they can't afford to let winnable games slip away.
The Eagles did not have a good night, offensively. The Falcons had the ball in scoring range at the end of the game. We think the NFC is going to be super-competitive, and it's situations like this that are going to decide playoff slots. I know that's crazy to talk about after game 1 of 256, but this might be one Atlanta fans are looking back on in December, a game out of playoff range, and cursing one that slipped away.
End of the third quarter, we've got 8 penalties on one team and 13 on the other. That only happened five times all last year; one of those was in overtime. https://t.co/3JK0M08tUe
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) September 7, 2018
Final numbers: 11 and 15. First time since November of 2016. https://t.co/sd0nyAQRe3
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) September 7, 2018