Having driven the length of the field in the final minutes, along the way converting one fourth down near midfield that would have had most coaches punting, (the Falcons were justly rewarded for accurate situational awareness), Atlanta was in position steal a late win.
But inside the 10, the Falcons bogged down; a completion just short of the goal line on third down was reviewed after an Eagles timeout, giving Atlanta time to set up the play they wanted.
The Falcons went with this:
That’s the worst kind of goal-line call, checking just about all the boxes on that particular bingo card. It started with the fullback split out wide to the left, eliminating one wide option the defense had to realistically worry about. That’s exacerbated when tight end Levine Toilolo motions to the right.
At the snap, things get worse, as Tevin Coleman is tasked with cut blocking, while Toilolo stays in to block as well, in an apparent effort to seal the edge while Matt Ryan rolls out to the right:
The defense has few advantages on the goal line, but one of them is the shrunken field.
With the back of the end zone serving as the ultimate extra defender, the secondary doesn’t have to worry about depth, which allows the defense to play wider than it would otherwise be able to. The Eagles appeared to rush just four men at the snap, but after Coleman and Toilolo telegraphed they weren’t going out on routes, their assigned defenders had license to essentially run what amounted to a delayed blitz.
Blocking with seven and with a fullback out wide, the Falcons effectively sent just Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu out on routes against the remaining Eagles, and the rollout locked them in to one sideline. Here’s what Ryan had to work with: Julio Jones is on the ground, Tevin Coleman is sitting down, Toilolo was blown up throwing a block, Sanu is bracketed, and Derrick Coleman was still running an eternal crossing route and had just two receptions this season:
Ryan has literally nowhere to go here, on Atlanta’s biggest play of the year. He buys time and then, under duress, is forced to throw what amounts to a delayed, covered fade route to Julio Jones, who’s been scrambling to get up and open. Predictably, it didn’t go well, and that was the game.
Coordinators love the idea of rollouts on the goal line, and with big, mobile quarterbacks like Cam Newton, they make sense. A quarterback that can reasonably be expected to run through a defender on his way to the end zone is a threat that has to be respected. Matt Ryan is not that player, though, and a rollout call simply shrinks the field to an impossible degree.
It’s somehow even more impossible when you essentially send just two pass catchers out on routes and have them stand in place, within yards of each other. Atlanta did everything possible to make it easy on the Eagles, and despite Julio Jones’s best efforts, the Eagles handled it comfortably.
Design and call better plays on the goal line, guys. It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as some coaches make it look.