The Atlanta Falcons traveled to San Diego Sunday and put on an offensive clinic. Much has been made about the weapons Matt Ryan has around him at the skill positions, and rightfully so.
Everyone knows how important tight end Tony Gonzalez is to the Falcons and their game plan, but Sunday showed just how vital the Hall of Famer really is.
The Falcons have great receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. Those three players alone can give a defensive coordinator fits, but having Gonzalez anchoring the middle of the field does wonders for Ryan and company. Sunday, Gonzalez finished the game with nine receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown.
He led the team not only in receptions, but yards as well. Gonzalez’s nine receptions Sunday tied his best performance as a Falcon, and were the most receptions he’s posted in a game since he caught nine passes last season against the Vikings.
What Gonzalez’s presence brings to the Falcons’ offense is stability and dependability. Having him in the rotation, along with White, Jones and Douglas, makes it even more difficult of an attack to stop. Defenses have a hard enough time stopping the three receivers but to have to stop Gonzalez too is a nightmare.
Jones and White are two receivers who can stretch the field vertically, Douglas is a receiver can hurt a defense out of the slot position with his speed, and Gonzalez makes it so that Ryan can attack the middle of the field, which is the heart of a defense and thats what he repeatedly did Sunday.
On many occasions in San Diego, Ryan targeted Gonzalez when he noticed the Chargers defense was playing both its safeties deep. When that happened Gonzalez was, at times, covered by a linebacker, a definite mismatch.
With Jones or White having to receive extra attention, that leaves Gonzalez with one defender on him. At 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, thats a matchup that Gonzalez should win the majority of the time.
Gonzalez’s size and experience places a legitmate threat in every part of the field for the Falcons. Jones and White can attack opposite sides of the field, Michael Turner or Jacquizz Rodgers can attack the flats and Gonzalez can attack the middle of the field.
In addition to that, when the Falcons group Jones, White, Douglas and Gonzalez on one side of the field, it puts the defense in even more of a conundrum.
Gonzalez is a force in the middle of the field that was brought in early in Ryan’s career as a safety valve for the young quarterback. With Ryan reaching a new level in his growth, Gonzalez is much more of a threat.
As defenses continue to focus on the trio of Falcons wide receivers, Gonzalez should continue to have a great season as he adds to what is already a legendary career.