Posted: Tuesday January 10, 2012 2:54PM ; Updated: Tuesday January 10, 2012 3:53PM
Kerry J. Byrne
Kerry J. Byrne>COLD HARD FOOTBALL FACTS

Costly Jones trade came back to bite Falcons in playoffs

Story Highlights

Falcons reverted in major categories offensively despite trade for Julio Jones

The Falcons' pass-catchers made no impact on the team's loss to the Giants

Matt Ryan hasn't proven that he's capable of making his receivers better

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Julio Jones
The Falcons traded up in the 2011 draft for Julio Jones to take their offense to the next level, but all they got from the move was another quick playoff exit and no first-round pick this year.
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The Giants pounded the testosterone out of the Falcons Sunday, with a dominant 24-2 victory that left no doubt about who were the men and who were the boys in this NFC battle.

Atlanta's only points were a safety generated by the defense. That's right, folks: Here in a season when passing records are being shredded like old Enron balance sheets, Matt Ryan and his galaxy of so-called star receivers were shut out, blanked, zip-o-fied.

The entire punch-less offensive (in both senses of the word) effort was an indictment of the team's disastrous decision to mortgage its future to move up the board to grab Julio Jones in the first round of the 2011 draft. General manager Thomas Dimitroff should be forced to walk the pigskin plank for orchestrating this foul-sounding yet predictable disaster.

So the game was not just a win for the Giants. It was also a win for the only force in football since the 1972 Dolphins to go undefeated and untied: the Cold, Hard Football Facts Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law.

If you're new to the Mighty CHFF, this Man Law tells us that wide receivers are nothing more than Shiny Hood Ornaments decorating the engine of NFL teams. They look all nice and flashy and they cause fans to "ooh" and "ahh." But they don't make the engine run any better.

The Cold, Hard Football Fact, proven through all of NFL history, is that the impact of wide receivers is wildly overvalued by fans, analysts and, most damningly, by teams, coaches and executives, like Dimitroff, who should know better ... but don't.

The Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law proved so powerful in the 2010 season that we elevated it from the Shiny Hood Ornament Theory to its present status. It is no longer an idea or a concept. It is an irrefutable state of nature and exists all around us. Call it gravity for the gridiron.

The 2011 Falcons are the latest team to challenge the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law, then hurt itself plummeting back to Earth in the process.

Atlanta torched badly chasing a Shiny Hood Ornament

The Falcons failed to study the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law back in the 2011 draft. So they not only drafted wide receiver Jones in the first round, which is almost always a mistake, but also did the unthinkable to make it happen. They mortgaged their future, trading five draft picks to move up the draft board to grab Jones with the No. 6 overall pick. In other words, the Falcons made other parts of the team worse in the belief that a Shiny Hood Ornament would make the entire Atlanta vehicle run better.

We knew it was a bad move the moment it happened, especially for a team that went 13-3 the year before but failed to win a single playoff game because of problems that were exposed so badly by the Packers. In fact, we issued Atlanta a D- in our Sports Illustrated draft grades. So we're not engaging in a little revisionist history. The Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law told us it was an impending disaster the second the deal unfolded.

The mistake on draft day proved to be a mistake all year, as Atlanta took a step back by every meaningful measure.

The Atlanta Falcons' decline
  2010 2011
Record 13-3 10-6
Playoff seed No. 1 No. 5
Points scored 414 402
Points allowed 288 350

So here's what the Falcons got for their five draft picks: they won fewer games, scored fewer points, surrendered more points and tumbled from the No. 1 seed to the No. 5 seed -- all because they believed placing a bright Shiny Hood Ornament on the offense would make the team run faster.

Oh, and just for good measure, they have no No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft to help fix the obvious problems, like an offensive line that can't get a push when needed and a defense that fell off badly. Other than that, it was a great decision to mortgage the future to pick up a Shiny Hood Ornament.

The disaster unfolds Sunday in front of Football Nation

The stupidity of the decision came crashing down on the Falcons for all of Football Nation to see on Sunday: the Atlanta passing game was a disaster, the Falcons were shut out, the offensive line was overmatched and its receivers were no-shows. Here's what we said Sunday in our Falcons-Giants grades on SI.com:

"Atlanta's star-studded pass-catching corps of Jones, Roddy White and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez were non-factors, unable to get separation. They combined for 16 ineffective catches for 160 yards. Decent numbers, but zero game-changing plays for such a high-profile trio."

And that statement, in a nutshell, is a very good explanation of why receivers are Shiny Hood Ornaments. They can't make game-changing plays if the QB can't get them the ball. A lot of things have to be working right for Shiny Hood Ornaments to, first, get the ball and, second, do something meaningful with it.

Even the best Shiny Hood Ornaments touch the ball only four or five times a game -- a fact that seems lost on analysts and executives who habitually over-value their impact. (By the way, Gonzalez is another example of the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law in action. He's the all-time leader in everything by a tight end. What's he got for it? He has 16 catches, 157 yards, two TDs and zero wins in five career playoff games, including a quiet four catches for 44 yards on Sunday.)

So here's what the Falcons got Sunday for those five draft picks in the biggest game of the year:

1. They got an offense that scored zero points against a team that surrendered 400 points during the regular season, the most by any playoff team.

2. They got seven ineffective catches for 64 yards -- just 9.1 YPC -- from Jones, a guy who's supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime game-changer.

3. They got zero movement from their offensive line in one key short-yardage situation after another -- a nail-spitting animal at right guard would have been a lot more valuable to the Falcons in the biggest game of the year than an over-valued Shiny Hood Ornament.

There was also a certain irony to the fact the Falcons and their Shiny Hood Ornament were overwhelmed by the Giants. New York's leading receiver this year was Victor Cruz, who set a franchise record with 1,536 receiving yards, including a signature record-tying 99-yard touchdown reception in a must-win game over the Jets on Christmas Eve.

The record-setting Cruz was an undrafted free agent out of UMass. Yes, he's a Shiny Hood Ornament, too. He still only touches the ball four or five times per game. But the Giants found him with their morning coffee one day in 2010. They didn't make their team worse in the effort to land him. He's productive because he's paired with a great quarterback.

QBs make WRS; WRs do not make QBs

All of which brings us to the elephant in the room in Atlanta's 2011 post-mortem of pigskin: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan simply can't get it done.

He's consistently had trouble getting the ball downfield throughout his career, and has now played poorly in three straight playoff games. In fact, Ryan has statistically stagnated somewhere well below mediocre in his three postseason games, all losses: 72.8 rating in the 2008 playoffs; 69.0 rating in the 2010 playoffs; and 71.1 rating here in the 2011 playoffs.

t doesn't matter how many so-called "weapons" you put around a quarterback. The Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law tells us that quarterbacks make wide receivers, not the other way around. And right now we have four years of evidence saying that Ryan is not good enough to make his receivers better.

In either case, executives and coaches who are unaware of the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law are like physicists are unaware of Newton's Laws of Motion. They have no business being in the field and need to find another line of work.

ColdHardFootballFacts.com is dedicated to cutting-edge analysis and to the "gridiron lifestyle" of beer, food and football. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Email comments to siwriters@simail.com.

 
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