The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game, and it’s no mystery why: whether a strip-sack on a well-designed blitz, a giveaway that shifts momentum, or a pick-six in overtime, few plays make more of a difference in winning and losing. Dave Archibald looks at how Indianapolis Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson walks in for the game-tying touchdown in an eventual win against the Atlanta Falcons.
The meeting between the 6-3 Atlanta Falcons and 3-5 Indianapolis Colts Sunday was a big one for both teams, with each team in line for a playoff spot but struggling of late. Those struggles continued, as they combined for seven turnovers in a sloppy game. The second-to-last turnover ultimately proved the key play in the game.
Atlanta had a seven-point lead at home and its defense made a third-down stop, but superstar punter Pat McAfee uncorked a beautiful 50-yard kick that the coverage team downed at the 1-yard line. In the shadow of their own goal line, the Falcons deploy 22 personnel ‒ a run-heavy look ‒ with receiver Julio Jones (#11) split wide left and tight end Jacob Tamme (#83) in the slot left:
The Falcons initially show run, but quarterback Matt Ryan (#2) quickly pulls down the fake to pass. Offenses often use run action to set up a deep shot, but this is bang play action – Atlanta is just looking for a modest gain to get itself some breathing room. The run action sucks up inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman (#50) and Jackson (#52), opening room over the middle for Tamme working against safety Clayton Geathers (#42) on a slant.
That’s the plan, anyway – but Jackson reads the pass play and drops into coverage rather than selling out on the run fake. He plucks Ryan’s pass out of the air, and then he walks into the end zone for the touchdown. An extra point later, and the score is tied.
Atlanta’s linemen initially fire out like on a typical run play, but they don’t press the action and switch to pass blocking. Jackson, perhaps keying off the offensive line, hesitates on filling the gap before the mesh point even occurs, already anticipating the pass. He stops and gets depth in his drop, shuffling right into the passing lane. Perhaps if Ryan had waited a moment longer – and he had time – Jackson would have been drawn by running back Tevin Coleman’s (#26) cut to the right, but he never sees the linebacker and throws the pass right to him.
A month ago, the Falcons looked like a strong contender, with a 6-1 record, but Sunday’s loss extended their losing streak and pushed their record to 6-4, four games behind the 10-0 NFC South-leading Carolina Panthers. Worse yet, this skid has come against what looked like the soft part of the schedule on paper, as they’ve lost at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Colts minus Andrew Luck, as well as dropping a road contest versus the turmoil-ridden San Francisco 49ers.
Things are going to get tougher, as they host the Minnesota Vikings (7-3) next week and then face a three-game road stretch at Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Jacksonville. Ryan and the Falcons will need to avoid these kind of costly mistakes to finish the season strong and earn a playoff spot.
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Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.