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Falcons close win highlights necessary changes

The narrative may be broken, but the Atlanta Falcons have plenty of work to do heading into next week.

Streeter Lecka

Silencing their critics, or getting a monkey off their back -- whatever way you characterize Sunday's victory over the Seattle Seahawks, it was iconic. The first time in the Matt Ryan era the Falcons have gotten over the hump, and more importantly the first playoff win of Tony Gonzalez's career. Their second half may be sloppy, but Atlanta prevailed due to their strong first half. They managed to avoid defeat, but there's plenty to improve from moving forward.

Matt Ryan has been often maligned for faltering in the playoffs, and that almost came to pass again. While he did lead the game winning drive, he also showed very questionable decision making. In only his third multi-interception of the season, Ryan threw two passes that made no sense -- both lofting, easily intercepted passes that fell woefully short of their targets. Luckily for Ryan and the Falcons this didn't cost them, but it could have.

Defensively the biggest issue was playing a soft zone, leaving the center of the field open. Seahawks' tight end Zach Miller carved up the field, and 49ers' tight end Vernon Davis has a far greater big-play ability. While he's fallen shy of 600 receiving yards this year -- so did Miller, and he made them pay. The safeties have to play tighter, and Russell Wilson's 10.7 yards per attempt is proof positive of how much space was allowed in the open field.

Sunday's game should also give the Falcons a lesson in spying the quarterback. There were times they did well in rushing Russell Wilson, but far too many times they left the center of the field open -- allowing him to escape. Next week Colin Kaepernick represents a far larger rushing threat as a more mobile quarterback who takes off sooner. If the Atlanta Falcons make the same mistake, and leave the field open they're in trouble.

Atlanta won, that's something -- but next week represents a similarly skilled team who can press the Falcons' weaknesses a little further. They have one week to tighten things up before hosting Jim Harbaugh's team.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.