Earlier this week we looked at the Falcons and how they fared on third down in the season opening loss to the Saints. Spoiler Alert: it wasn't pretty. Another thing that I noticed as the game unfolded was that the Falcons were quite unbalanced on first down plays.
Let's break it down into quarters and see how the Falcons were at mixing it up on the all important first down.
The Falcons were very balanced on first down in the first quarter mixing in a steady early diet of Steven Jackson with a passing game that also mixed in a little shotgun. At the end of the first half, the Falcons led 10-0. Coincidence?
So we went from being completely balanced to being about as far from that as you can. These numbers are slightly skewed by the two minute drill at the end of the first half that saw the Falcons throw three times on first down with under two minutes left in the half. Still, if you take that out of the equation the Falcons still passed 4 times and didn't run a single time on first down. The score at the end of the second quarter was Saints 13 Falcons 10 so the Saints outscored the Falcons 13-0 in the second stanza.
In the third quarter, the Falcons still heavily favored the pass even though they didn't have the football as much. On the combined three first down pass plays for the quarter, the Falcons gained a total of -4 yards and on the run play they gained just one yard. The only real reason the Falcons scored in the third quarter was because of the long Steven Jackson run, which came after a four yard completion to Julio Jones on first down.
These stats are again a little skewed by the Falcons attempted comeback late in the fourth which started with 3:12 on the clock. The Falcons started the drive with three straight first down passes. All of them made positive yardage with the least impressive still going for seven yards.
Overall, the Falcons had 26 first down plays in the game and they passed on 73% of those opportunities. The stage of the game did dictate that the Falcons lean on the pass late in the second and fourth quarter but it still seems way too pass heavy especially when our key offensive acquisition this off-season was Steven Jackson and we were playing against a defense that was historically bad in 2012 without one of our go-to receivers at 100%.
Maybe the reason for the shift by the Falcons was that in the first quarter the Falcons were simply more successful on first down through the air then they were on the ground. In the air they completed passes of 11, 5, 50 and 15 and on the ground they ran four times and gained 3 yards every time except for one run where they gained one yard. In the second quarter, the results were far less successful as the first four passes resulted in the biggest play being a 16 yarder and the other three resulted in a fumble, three yards and an incompletion. The Falcons did have success later in the quarter in the two minute drill with gains of 12 and 21 before an incompletion. The Falcons had just seven rushes on first down for a total of 16 yards in the game. I wasn't a math major but that's not good.
Were the Falcons right to abandon the run in the second and third quarter? Sometimes, even when you aren't gaining good yardage it's important to keep a semblance of a run game to keep your opponent off balance so they don't pin their ears back and go after the QB on every play.
What do you think?
I may look at different trends like this for the Falcons this year, if you enjoy reading this type of "analysis" let me know.