Coming in to Sunday's match up between the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons and the 1-3 Oakland Raiders, most people analyzing the game across the country figured it might be a lopsided affair with the Falcons easily getting past the Raiders.
Oakland played well, well enough to give themselves a chance on the road at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, but in the end; could not muster enough pressure on defense to stop the Falcons from driving to a game winning field goal by kicker Matt Bryant.
The Hero of the game, and game ball, goes to Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham for his relentless pressure and harassment all day of Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer.
Abraham's motor was on full throttle Sunday in Atlanta, propelling the Falcons to another victory and improving their best start ever to begin a season; they now stand at 6-0 entering their bye week.
John Abraham abused the Oakland Raiders offensive linemen, in particular left tackle Jared Veldheer whom Abraham blew by in the third quarter on his way to hitting Carson Palmer and stripping him of the ball and causing a fumble which Atlanta recovered.
In addition, Abraham sacked Carson Palmer three times, and his constant pressure all game had the Raiders frustrated and beaten as they tried to pull off the upset in the Peach State.
The Zero of the game was not so obvious, nor not so easy to pick. Sure I could have gone with the aforementioned Raiders offensive tackle Jared Veldheer for his performance against John Abraham, but I am not going to. Abraham is a beast for anyone to handle and the Raiders could have helped more by using a running back or tight end to 'chip' Abraham on pass plays to give help to the offensive line. I could go with Carson Palmer for throwing the crushing pick-six that hurt Oakland bad, but Palmer still threw for good yardage overall in the game, and made some nice throws to hit receivers in good positions.
My Zero of the game goes to the defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, with an assist to Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen. The reason for this? On the last drive with the game tied at 20, the Raiders opted to only rush three linemen against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Even with the Raiders dropping back 8 defenders in the passing lanes, Ryan was still able to move down the field and lead his team to a game winning field goal.
The Raiders did a decent job of pressuring, hitting, and disrupting Ryan's timing on Sunday. In fact, Oakland picked off three passes from Matt Ryan, and they were definitely doing a good enough job that it would have been better to keep pressure on Ryan down the stretch.
I don't know if the call to switch to a three man rush was Jason Tarver's call, with an 'ok' from Dennis Allen, but since Tarver is the defensive coordinator and he is the supposed play caller on defense- he gets the blame here.
It is difficult to cover receivers for a prolonged period of time in the NFL, even with eight defenders playing the pass. With too much time, quarterbacks will find a receiver open at some point; and it really is asking too much for defensive backs and linebackers to cover a receiver for more than a few seconds.
So, all in all, an entertaining NFL game. The Atlanta Falcons showed that even when they don't play their best, they can win the close games. As for the Oakland Raiders, it's pretty simple; they are just not good enough to make mistakes and overcome questionable play-calling to win consistently.