Gather 'round and lend me your ears, countrymen, for the greatest story ever told.
Once upon a time a man was born. But he was no ordinary man! No, this man arrived at our unlikely story in the unlikeliest of ways: the product, perhaps, of Fortune's smiling favor, the manifestation of an ancient prophecy, the miraculous gift of God Himself. Against all odds, and against the grit teeth and clench-jawed fury of kings and tyrants and foes on the field of battle, this man only ascended in power and reputation. His growth was marked by awe and wonder, his miracles excitedly penned by every scribe, his praises sung in every tongue across every nation. He, and those he led, were perfect. He was unblemished, unstained, untarnished by the black stains of defeat and decay that marred the broken world around him.
But man is a jealous creature, and men hate few things more than the bright light perfection in another. And thus did the wicked conspire, demanding amongst themselves the demise of he whose record was perfect. They demanded the end of his reign, the cessation of his miracles, the mockery of a Christmas child.
I am not talking about Cam Newton. I am talking about Jesus Christ.
That's right, the Jesus Christ. The Jesus Christ who was perfect in every way, the Jesus Christ whose records are immortalized in two millennia of canon, the Jesus Christ of sweet salvation and blessed rebirth for whom Creation groans. That Jesus Christ, his record perfect, nevertheless found hanging derelict on a cross, bloodied, conquered; his followers in tearful grief, trudging home to their boats and their farms and the mundane banalities of the everyday life they'd known before they'd followed Perfection. Identities stripped, morale weakened, faith shaken.
"The Cardinals will destroy us in the slot!" cried the Apostle Peter.
"Seriously, Jesus, your swim move would be fire at defensive end."
Let's be honest. The Falcons played the best game of their life. They executed their gameplan flawlessly, and although they were held to 17 points as a result of several red-zone miscues, they were astonishingly successful on third down. Let's take a look at what they did.
In the screen below, the Falcons are backed up against the goal line and assemble in a single-wing formation with Julio Jones kicked out wide. Josh Norman is covering him.
Josh Norman's body is angled inside. That means he's playing an inside technique. When corners play inside technique, they are essentially - you guessed it - attempting to route the receiver inside. In other words, they're trying to keep the receiver from getting leverage outside, cutting past them, up the sideline behind them. Teams who are worried about getting beat deep or lost in coverage will often employ this, preferring to chase a guy down on a post, slant, or crossing route and utilize linebackers in zone to take care of the stuff underneath.
But you can disguise it. Corners do it all the time. If this coverage were disguised, Norman might square off with the receiver, giving no indication which way he's going to try to jam the route. He might even play mind games, cheating towards the sideline with his body and telegraphing an intention to route the receiver outside, but then quickly coming back in at the snap. A lot of teams' number ones can signal to the quarterback that they're changing the route, so conceivably Norman could end up surprising an offense by being inside a quick timing route. It's happened before, and in fact it happens all the time in the NFL. It's part of playing defense in the modern era.
Josh Norman doesn't disguise his intentions, though.
He angles his body inside.
He routes the receiver inside.
The receiver runs his route inside.
The receiver catches the ball inside for a critical first down.
It wasn't just on this play. The Falcons ran inside and away from corners like this all day long. They were content not throwing deep; that's not Matt Ryan's game anyway. They took the underneath stuff, tossed to holes in zones, and took advantage of cornerbacks trailing speedy receivers on lateral patterns by throwing precision strikes on short and intermediate routes.
The result? Well...
Those numbers speak for themselves. Not all of Julio Jones's yards came against Norman, but a huge chunk of them did. It's not the kind of performance we're used to seeing out of this squad and it's hard to imagine Rivera sticking with it. With an anemic pass rush and clear weaknesses at nickel back, the zone defense is much too easy to exploit, and the results looked frighteningly similar to 2012's play-not-to-lose game plans.
It's much easier to give the offense a pass. In the five games prior to this one they averaged 39 points, which is damn near historical. It isn't difficult to imagine a fired-up Cam Newton and a young, eager stable of running backs carrying the load to dominate the field against the Buccaneers on Sunday. But there's concern. Right tackle Mike Remmers has looked shaky in pass protection for two straight games. Third-string rookie Cameron Artis-Payne is the current starter at running back. Magic is real and Cam Newton is 0-1 with a baby.
Cause to panic?
Hell no! Did Jesus panic when the Romans savagely killed him for being the freaking Son of God?
Hell no! Jesus gutted up and did the manliest, most unselfish thing possible: he laid down his life for his friends. He spent three days in sheol, a Hebrew word that approximates as "Metairie, Louisiana" in English, and then managed to come back from it just in time to crash a house party and teach a bunch of fishermen how it's done, right out there on the Bay. He rallied everyone, saved the universe, sealed Satan's fate, locked his followers in to the ultimate ride to the ultimate destination, and then ascended like a Superb Owl to the right hand of God, where now he sits, smiling down on you and me, waiting for you to accept his invitation to believe.
And that, my friends, is the greatest story ever told. So hark! and be of good cheer: we're no longer perfect, but Jesus Christ has vanquished death itself. Whom then shall we fear? Certainly not Jameis Winston.
And all God's people said Amen.
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