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Goober Pyle

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  1. by Josh Kendall TAMPA, Fla. — Eight minutes, 43 seconds left in the second quarter. Third-and-7 at the Atlanta 14-yard line. The Falcons coming off a three-play, Keystone Kops sequence that included two timeouts and a false-start penalty. Tight end-turned-TV announcer Greg Olsen tells Fox’s viewing audience that this is the moment when Atlanta’s best players have to make a play. Cue Kyle Pitts. The Falcons rookie tight end makes a one-handed grab in tight coverage on a ball thrown behind him and takes a slant route 24 yards. “Those are the plays they drafted him to make,” Olsen told The Athletic on Monday. “Not all catches are the same. Some catches have more meaning than others. When you catch them. How you catch them, so it was good to see him make some impactful plays. He wasn’t that open (on that play), and when he’s in the slot like that, the ball gets on you quick. For him to be able to just reach his right hand back and kind of snag that was critical.” After an uneventful NFL debut, Pitts led the Falcons with 73 receiving yards on five catches in Sunday’s 48-25 loss to Tampa Bay. “It’s definitely a confidence booster for me,” Pitts said. “It gets me going knowing I can make plays against the best of the best.” A closer look reveals that Pitts’ impact is extending beyond just his own numbers. The Falcons are averaging 5.3 yards per play with Pitts on the field and 2.61 with him off the field, according to TruMedia. Their longest completion without him in the formation is 8 yards. They have 26 plays of 9 or more yards with Pitts on the field. “I think what you are seeing is why we brought Kyle in here,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. Olsen’s praise is especially meaningful. In a 14-year career at the position, Olsen caught 742 passes for 8,683 yards and 60 touchdowns, the eighth most by a tight end in NFL history. “It was definitely progress from Week 1 just getting him more involved,” Olsen said of Pitts. “I thought the whole offense looked better.” Olsen heard a lot of praise for Pitts from veteran Atlanta tight ends Hayden Hurst and Lee Smith during his week of game prep, he said. “They just rave about him. They say he’s such a good kid, works his *** off,” Olsen said. “Of course, he checks all the boxes physically. As he continues to learn the NFL game, he’s going to be a really good player.” On Sunday, Pitts lined up at 11 distinct locations tracked by TruMedia, which tracks almost every conceivable alignment from tight end attached to the line, slot receiver on the right side, inside slot receiver on the left side. “It’s a challenge that I love to embrace and each day in practice when (Smith) throws in something new, I try to get it right the first time and, if not, get it right the second time so that he can trust me to do multiple things,” Pitts said. “It makes me more flexible being able to do a lot of things. It has put a challenge on me mentally to know everything and learn the whole offense.” Pitts did most of his damage from the left slot against the Bucs. That’s where he was lined up for three of his four first-half catches, and those three went for 62 yards combined. The Falcons also lined him up in the left slot on the first play of the game and sent him on a deep post, which looked open for a moment before Matt Ryan checked down to Mike Davis. “I think it’s a sign of his growth,” Smith said of Pitts’ positional flexibility. “We’ll continue to add every week. It’s a credit to him and obviously the comfort level of Matt and him. I think you are starting to see that pay off. It’s a hard position to play in the NFL. You’re asking them to go be a receiver, you’re asking them to block like a tackle at times. We move him all over the place. A lot of rookies can’t handle that. Kyle clearly can.” Pitts has lined up at 14 positions in the first two games. The Falcons will be measured in how quickly they ask Pitts to add even more to his repertoire, Smith and Ryan have said. Rookies “are all different,” Smith said. “As a coach, that’s why I don’t do comparisons because it’s not one size fits all. It’s what they can handle, and hopefully Kyle has a long productive career. I think his growth has accelerated. I’m pleased with that and hopefully looking to build off of it.” Pitts is the Falcons’ third-leading receiver after two games with nine catches for 104 yards and his 11.6 yards per catch average is the highest on the team. “He made a couple good, explosive plays for us (Sunday), caught contested balls. I thought his effort was awesome,” Ryan said. “I thought his route running was really good. I really think as he moves forward during the year, he’s going to continue getting better and better the more comfortable and more experienced he gets.”
  2. by Josh Kendall TAMPA, Fla. — The Arthur Smith era was injected with its first dose of hope. Matt Ryan made NFL history. Kyle Pitts introduced himself to the NFL with five catches to lead the Falcons with 73 yards. And then Tom Brady beat Atlanta again. This time, it was Tampa Bay 48-25 as Brady moved to 9-0 all time against the Falcons. Meanwhile, the Falcons fell to 0-2 in Smith’s first season as head coach. “I’m proud to coach this group,” Smith said. “We’re building something in there. These guys fight.” They’ll have to keep fighting to get out of this early hole. Since the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only 11.6 percent of teams to start 0-2 reached the playoffs (30 of 258). “We’re not concerned at all,” said Cordarrelle Patterson, who had two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. “We’ve got real men in that locker room. This is our job. This is what we signed up for. If you’re concerned, you’re in the wrong sport. Can’t get frustrated, it’s a long season. You have to pick yourself up and keep moving.” The stretch the Falcons are moving into gives them a chance at least to get into the win column. Atlanta plays the New York Giants, Washington Football Team and New York Jets — who are a combined 1-5 — in the next three weeks. “I’m not worried about three weeks from now,” Ryan said. “I’m worried about getting back to work tomorrow. Making sure our guys are focused on what needs to be corrected, making sure we have a really good week of practice to give ourselves a chance next week. If you look too far down the road, you are not focused on exactly what you need to be focused on.” Ryan was 35-for-46 for 300 yards against the Bucs, giving him 56,231 passing yards for his career, the most by any player in league history in his first 14 years. He passed Drew Brees for that mark in the second quarter. Ryan made a “pffffft” sound when the record came up in a postgame interview. “But it’s always nice to be mentioned with Drew,” he said. In the second half, Ryan almost pulled off a Brady-like comeback. After falling behind by 18, the Falcons scored 15 straight in the third quarter and trailed just 28-25 after Ryan found Patterson for a 7-yard touchdown and then ran a zone-read keeper for the two-point conversion with 1:45 left in the third quarter. “Yeah, it looks ugly in the box score, but understanding the context of the game, we had a chance in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. However, the good the Falcons did was undone by a sampling from the Bad Team Grab Bag — an illegal block called against Parker Hesse that negated a 45-yard kickoff return by Avery Williams to start the second half, two shanks by rookie punter Cameron Nizialek, a drive in the second quarter that featured the Falcons calling two timeouts to avoid offensive penalties and being called for a false start all within 1 minute, 7 seconds. “The effort has been good. We just need to be a little more detailed across the board,” Ryan said. “If we can do that, I think we can be a good football team. There’s fight. There’s guys that compete, give you everything they’ve got. When you’ve got guys like that, you’ve got a chance. We have to all collectively be more detailed, tighten things up. The margin of error in this league is very small. The teams that are consistent week to week are the teams that are very detailed.” Pitts, the rookie tight end taken with the fourth pick, averaged 14.6 yards per catch in his second NFL game. “It’s a sign of his growth,” Smith said. The final score got lopsided when Tampa’s Mike Edwards picked off two Ryan passes in the final eight minutes and returned both for touchdowns. The Buccaneers have now scored three or more touchdowns in 13 consecutive games — the longest active streak in the NFL. The Falcons outgained Tampa Bay 348-341 despite coming out of the first quarter with a 144-38 deficit in that category, but Brady again was the star of the show. The game’s most famous Falcon killer threw five touchdowns and had a passer rating of 129.2. He entered the game with a career passer rating of 115.8 against Atlanta, his highest against any team. “Proud of the defense; the game got out of hand because of the offense,” Smith said. The defense lost cornerback A.J. Terrell in the second half and perhaps longer after Terrell suffered a concussion making a diving breakup of a pass intended for Antonio Brown. “We don’t want to think about that much,” Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said. “It’s next man up. We trust the guy behind him (T.J. Green). It sucks that he went down like that, but T.J. stayed tough.” The challenge for all the Falcons now is to stay tough in the face of a winless start, Ryan said. “The mood is never good when you lose,” he said. “You plan all week to come down and get the job done, and when you don’t, it’s disappointing, but at the same time, the message is, it’s a long haul. We’re two games into a 17-game schedule. I thought Art did a good job of getting that message across to the guys.”
  3. by Greg Auman and Josh Kendall Bucs and Falcons, yet again. The two teams meet up Sunday for the third time in five regular-season games, having squared off in Weeks 15 and 17 last season. Bucs reporter Greg Auman and Falcons reporter Josh Kendall discuss the matchup. Auman: As we preview the game, I want to welcome Josh Kendall to the NFC South as our new Falcons writer. Josh did a great job covering the University of South Carolina for us and has true Falcons roots, including a childhood parrot named William Andrews. The closest thing I can pull off is one of my early piano teachers had also taught erstwhile Falcons kicker Mick Luckhurst, so I still have an autographed photo somewhere. A back-and-forth preview like this allows us to touch on a bunch of different storylines likely to come up in Sunday’s game in Tampa. One of the stories I wrote this week is on the switch flipped at halftime of last year’s first Bucs-Falcons game — Tampa Bay, down 17-0, rallied behind Tom Brady to win and set up a dominating finish to its season, culminating in a Super Bowl win on its home field. It’s another reminder that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is fully capable of scoring on this defense. Josh, do you think he’ll bounce back this week against a Bucs defense that gave up 403 passing yards to Dak Prescott? Kendall: In the Falcons’ 32-6 loss to the Eagles in Week 1, Philadelphia rushed four and played zone all day (more than 90 percent of the snaps) and Ryan had his third-worst passing game of the last nine seasons (159 yards), so facing a different defensive style may not be a bad thing. The Bucs played zone 79 percent of the time in Week 1, but defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is going to bring pressure, which at least gives Atlanta the opportunity to make the type of big plays this offense was lacking last week. Tampa blitzed Prescott on 50 percent of his dropbacks last week, whereas the Eagles blitzed Ryan on just 7.7 percent of his dropbacks. Some Atlanta fans, which of course means the most vocal part of Falcons Twitter, were dismayed this week when the 36-year-old Ryan suggested he would love to play as long as the 44-year-old Tom Brady. I don’t get that. Atlanta has significant issues at the moment, but Ryan’s performance is nowhere near the top of that list. Auman: The Bucs have won three of the last four against Atlanta, but you can’t put that on Ryan; in the two matchups last year, he racked up 621 passing yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions. He has gone 14 straight games against the Bucs with one or zero interceptions, and if he can do that again Sunday, it would be a first step toward keeping Atlanta in the game. As for the team as a whole, I had higher expectations for the Falcons than what they showed in Week 1. Why do you think they had such an uninspired opener? Kendall: Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said it was all about the team not “staying on schedule,” which is football coach speak for mucking up first and second down. This offense is going to go only as far as its running game, which looked good in the first two drives. Atlanta totaled 144 yards and six points on its first two drives. Then it totaled 77 yards and no points on its last 10 drives. The difference was its inability to get into any kind of rhythm. For now, Falcons fans can look at it as an aberration. However, two weeks in a row would be the beginning of a trend. Auman: Speaking of Smith, what’s your initial impression of him? He hasn’t had some of the “out-there” soundbites that new head coach Dan Campbell has had in Detroit or the buzz of Brandon Staley with the Chargers, but he’s certainly a promising young head coach (he’s 39). Kendall: I’m glad you brought up Campbell here because I have an early working theory that Smith is just a more publicly refined version of Campbell. He’s not going to talk about biting people’s knees, but I think they have the same baseline belief about the game — that tough, physical football wins. If Smith is around long enough, I think people around the league will start to appreciate his dry approach at the podium more. Auman: I’m a Florida grad, so I’ve followed Kyle Pitts longer than most have, and I think he’s going to be an amazing NFL tight end. I know he had a quiet debut (four catches, 31 yards), but I’m sure there’s an excitement around him in Atlanta this season. What have you seen? Kendall: Chargers cornerback Mark Webb, a friend of Pitts’, told the Falcons team reporter that he calls Pitts “Moose,” and that feels perfect in one sense because Pitts is big and angular and powerful. However, Pitts doesn’t move like a moose. He glides on the field. It doesn’t take long to see why this team drafted him at No. 4 overall. This week, Atlanta fans are mad that he wasn’t on the field in this red-zone formation highlighted by NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger. That clip doesn’t mention the fact that Pitts was flagged for a costly formation penalty in the red zone last week. Overall, I agree with you, though. Pitts is going to be great, but he’s still a rookie. Auman: Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees is really high on my list of coaches whose names are also complete sentences, much like the Bucs’ Todd Bowles. His defenses have had success against Tom Brady in the past. Where would you say the biggest differences might be between what Raheem Morris had last year and what Pees will show this season? Kendall: Pees has said he wants an “attacking” defense this season, which makes sense considering this team is not going to beat anybody with just its defensive personnel. There were plenty of issues assignment-wise last week trying to handle Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, and those will have to be cleaned up very quickly against Brady. “The way I have always looked at Tom Brady, him and Peyton Manning and those guys, is he’s got the chalk last,” Pees said. “I’m just going to assume that they are going to see (whatever the defense is trying to do), they are going to know. It’s better to assume that they know what we are doing than assume that we don’t. When we structure pressures or whatever we’re doing, we have to make sure we’re in the right positions to get our job done. A couple years ago, we were playing against him and our safety decided he was going to fool him, and he was kind of leaning one way and giving him a look. Didn’t happen. (Brady) ran a seam route on the other side for about 40. He’s got the chalk last.” Pees preached pre-snap alignment to his defense all week. “I don’t care who you are, if you’re not where you’re supposed to be, he’s going to take advantage of it,” Pees said. “He has tremendous vision and tremendous feel for the game. If he’s not the greatest of all time, I don’t know who he is.” Auman: Pees has history with Brady; he was a Patriots assistant from 2004-09, and his defenses have twice eliminated Brady from the playoffs: with the Ravens in 2012 and the Titans in 2019, which was Brady’s last playoff loss. Ignoring Sunday’s opener for a minute, what would you say is the biggest area where the Falcons must improve to be a relevant team, getting back to, say, 7-9, as they were in 2019, or even a wild-card contender this season? Kendall: Offensive line. The Falcons added two interior linemen to the practice squad Wednesday, and that says a lot about Sunday. Atlanta entered the season thinking rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield and second-year center Matt Hennessy could work, with rookie Drew Dalman backing up both spots. It didn’t against the Eagles. Upon further review, Mayfield wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t great either. Projecting how they’re going to do against Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh is not pleasant for Falcons fans. Auman: The Bucs are 12-point favorites on Sunday, and our own Sheil Kapadia is picking the Falcons to get a backdoor cover, thinking the spread is a little high for a division game. I think the Bucs can score in the 30s pretty easy here and will win with ease, but what does Atlanta need to do to make this a close ballgame down the stretch? Kendall: Just hoping for a backdoor cover in Week 2 is not a great place to be as a franchise, but that’s probably about right. The Falcons are going to have to slow the game down and limit Brady’s opportunities, and that fits with Smith’s mindset anyway. Atlanta will try to establish the run, and I’d expect a lot of max protect in the passing game, along with a few deep shots. Ryan’s yards per attempt (4.69) were the lowest in the NFL last week, so Calvin Ridley or Kyle Pitts will need to have a big day.
  4. Hey @PeytonMannings Forehead. Saw this on Twitter. Is this you or did someone steal your handle?
  5. by Josh Kendall FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — After a dud of an NFL debut, first-year Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has talked to plenty of friends around the team and the league. Fortunately, none of them called to give him a pep talk. “I don’t need consolation. ‘Oh, console me.’ Get the **** out of here,” Smith said Wednesday. “We’re big boys, it’s professional football. This is what I signed up for, and the players, it’s the same thing. That’s how we look at it. No soft souls here.” The cerebral Smith is not looking for pity after a 32-6 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, and he’s not pulling out any fire-and-brimstone speeches either. He’s just going back to work to prepare for Sunday’s 4:05 p.m. game at Tampa Bay. “You have to understand the business you stepped into,” Smith said. “I tell the team all the time, ‘None of us are victims.’ I do get bothered by people who step in here and act like they’re victims. We’re well compensated. We have a job to do. That’s the fun of it; that’s the challenge; that’s what you want.” The challenge is steep this week, facing the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, who have won nine straight games. Still, Smith doesn’t believe anything about the team’s preparation process needs to change after his offense produced two field goals and his defense gave up 434 yards to a team led not by seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady but by second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. “People use that buzzword of ‘process,’” Smith said. “Who started it? I don’t know if it was Alabama or not, but there are beliefs that are your foundation. Is our process messed up? I don’t feel that.” Smith’s faith in his process has been noticed inside the team’s Flowery Branch facility, quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I have been lucky — all three coaches I have played for, in their own ways, were extremely consistent,” Ryan said. “As a player, it’s nice when you have that. There’s a level of dependability and consistency that you show up to every day in the building. You know what’s expected from you, and Art has done a great job of that. The buy-in has been strong to what he has asked us to do, and I think it will continue to be that way because of his belief.” Smith’s approach fits well with Ryan’s one-day-at-a-time style. The 14-year veteran still remembers former Falcons quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave explaining the way the league works in 2008 when he suffered his first professional loss. “He said, ‘Listen, they all count one,’” Ryan said. “You put it away, you learn from it and you move forward. It’s disappointing. You’d like to start fast, come out and play your best right away, but the good teams I have been on are the ones that got better as the year went on and improved. That’s what we have to focus on, daily improvement.” “We’ve got 16 more to go, plus playoffs,” cornerback Fabian Moreau added optimistically. Smith, a self-described “terrible golfer” but a golf fan, compared Atlanta’s start to a bogey on the first hole of a major championship. “Yeah, we didn’t like what happened on Hole 1, we’ve got 71 left,” he said. “That’s got to be our mentality.” He pointed to last season’s Tampa Bay team as the validation for that approach. The Buccaneers started 7-5 before going on an eight-game winning streak that included two wins over Atlanta to finish the season as Super Bowl champions. “They drew a line in the sand and continued to improve and everybody saw what they did,” Smith said. “I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve seen where you start 2-4 and go on a run to the AFC championship. I’ve seen where you go 6-2 and finish 8-8.” Smith said he tries to keep his mind “neutral” while evaluating everything from players to scheme. For instance, he’s not going to make any knee-jerk reaction to the struggles of rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield, he said, although the Falcons signed two guards to the practice squad Wednesday — 20-game starter Bryan Witzmann and six-game starter Danny Isidora. Both Mayfield and fellow rookie Drew Dalman have taken left guard snaps at practice this week. “It goes back with me to being objective,” Smith said. “To me, that’s part of your job to try to be as neutral as you can. We all have biases, it’s human nature, you try to be objective about the truth as you see it. What needs to get fixed? Where can I do better? That’s where I start every day. That’s not me being a martyr, that’s the **** truth.” So the Falcons aren’t going to feel sorry for themselves and aren’t going to blow anything up. Yet. “Something has to change if you’re not getting any kind of improvement and progress (isn’t) being made, but I’m not going to suddenly change who I am personality-wise,” Smith said.
  6. by Michael Rothstein FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Cordarrelle Patterson stood at the podium two weeks ago, he said he’d be open to almost anything within the Atlanta Falcons' offense. He has been used as a returner, a receiver and, lately, a running back in his nine-year NFL career. It's probable he'll do all three of those things in Atlanta. But unlike other stops, he showed in the Falcons' 32-6 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday he might be more of a running back than at any time before. “We got one of the best running backs in the league in my opinion, in Mike Davis,” Patterson said a couple of weeks ago. “See the things he did last year running the ball, catching the ball. Whenever Mike need a break or anything, I’m right behind him.” Patterson was more than behind him Sunday. Patterson lined up multiple times in the same set as Davis -- sometimes in front of him, sometimes in different spots in the formation. Nine times, Atlanta ran plays with Davis and Patterson on the field at the same time -- three runs, five passes and a penalty -- and four went for 10 yards or more. It’s an advantage for an offense because a versatile player such as Patterson can create confusion. “It gives us a look as, I guess, how teams will play if I’m in the backfield, if [Patterson] is in the backfield,” Davis said. “If he’s in the slot, if I’m in the slot, it just gives us information on how teams will play us.” A week ago, before anyone saw what Patterson looked like as a back in Atlanta, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said they looked at Patterson as a running back first. It was an interesting admission at the time considering his role as a multi-faceted offensive option in the past, but then Sunday showed how it could fit in the future. Patterson was a running back first in Arthur Smith’s offense. He had seven carries -- all in the first half. Patterson ran to the left three times and the right four times. He ran off the right tackle on four of his runs, the left end twice and the left guard once. An eighth attempted carry -- the only potential one in the second half for Patterson -- became a botched handoff as Patterson fell, resulting in no yards. Four of his runs went for 10 or more yards and five of his seven runs came on second down. Patterson also had two receptions during his 24 total snaps. “A lot of people were just looking at him as a receiver,” Davis said. “But, no, Cordarrelle is a running back.” There was reason to be skeptical. Patterson said it seems even to him he has been used in different ways every year he has been in the league. He has bounced around, too, from Minnesota to Oakland, New England, Chicago and now Atlanta. The way the Falcons used Patterson is what makes him dangerous. He’s getting enough steps in before he gets the ball -- and the Falcons did a good enough job blocking for him up front s0 that in four of his runs, he had more than 5 yards before first contact. If teams allow that, it could lead to big plays from Patterson, who is used to figuring out creases and accelerating through them due to his elite kick returning ability -- a skill Patterson believes has kept him in the league for nine seasons with four first-team All-Pro nods. Being a running back, though, has been a process. When asked about the transition a couple of weeks ago, Patterson began to laugh. Then he explained why. “Running back, I feel like, is one of the hardest things to do out there besides quarterback,” Patterson said. “You got to know a lot, protection, routes, running the ball, but I got a great coaching staff.” It’s a move that had been teased for years -- he had 167 carries prior to this season -- but one never fully committed to. Now that might change, and based on one week there’s reason to believe it’ll be a positive for a player continuing to have alterations to his role.
  7. by Josh Kendall Atlanta’s rookie head coach was hesitant Sunday to criticize his rookie left guard until he’d had a chance to watch the tape of the Falcons’ 32-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. After another look, Arthur Smith still wasn’t ready to lay too much blame at Jalen Mayfield’s feet for one of the most disappointing openers by a team in the NFL’s first week. “He’s a rookie in his first start against a really good front,” Smith said Monday. “He didn’t back down. I wouldn’t say it got too big with him. He’s not going to be pleased with his performance. He knows what the issues are. He’s a tough-minded guy.” A closer look at a replay of Sunday’s game by The Athletic showed that Mayfield in fact wasn’t terrible, and he was far from the only issue on the offensive line. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was pressured on 7.9 percent of his dropbacks, which was the fifth-highest rate in the league in Week 1 (through Sunday), according to TruMedia data. What makes that number so troubling is that Philadelphia blitzed on only 7.7 percent of Ryan’s dropbacks, the second-lowest percentage by any team in Week 1. (By comparison, 21 teams blitzed on more than 20 percent of their opponent’s dropbacks.) Taken together, these two numbers prove Smith’s initial diagnosis correct — Philadelphia’s defensive front four handled Atlanta’s offensive front five without any outside help. In fact, only two teams gave up a higher percentage of quarterback pressures than they faced blitzes — Buffalo, 5.6 percent vs. 3.6 percent and Atlanta, 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent. Both teams lost. “Teams who are getting home and affecting the quarterback, it’s usually going to be a pretty decent day defensively and vice versa on offense,” Smith said Monday. Mayfield acknowledged Sunday his NFL career didn’t start like he wanted, but a review of the film showed some bright spots. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder from Michigan won six one-on-ones on the Falcons’ first drive of the game, three against Philly’s Fletcher Cox. The second series went OK, too, although he shared snaps with fellow rookie Drew Dalman on that series. “I thought I did some good things, but there’s a lot I need to improve on,” Mayfield said. Things got shaky on the third series. Mayfield was flagged for a false start trying to get a head start on Cox on third-and-4 and then got beat by Derek Barnett on an athletic sidestep that resulted in pressure on Ryan and led to an intentional grounding call that ended whatever momentum the Falcons had. Throughout the game, Mayfield handled bull rushes well and worked most of his combination blocks effectively, moving to the second level and finding the linebacker on most snaps. He struggled most with speed moves. The notable exception came with 6:39 left in the game when Hassan Ridgeway buried him and forced another intentional grounding from Ryan. Javon Hargrave then beat him with a sidestep on fourth-and-10 on that drive. “I have to do everything better,” Mayfield said. “There’s not one thing in my game that’s fully complete. I have to improve on everything that I do.” Ryan, who finished the day with third-lowest passer rating of Week 1 (76.1), didn’t pile on his new left guard. “You tell him, ‘We’ve all been there.’ I remember my second game in the league, we went down to Tampa and in the first half I think I was 3 of 22,” Ryan said Sunday. “It might have been uglier than that. It happens. It’s hard when you put yourself out there and you are going against good guys on the interior. It’s a really good opportunity for him to learn from this game where he’s at in terms of his technique. We’ve all been in that spot, keep pushing forward, concentrate on technique and what you’re doing in practice.” Mayfield also had two false starts on back-to-back drives in the first half. While defending Mayfield on Monday, Smith also did not rule out the possibility of starting Dalman at left guard against Tampa Bay on Sunday or even making a signing from the waiver wire. “You’re in the solution business,” Smith said. “You give the guy an opportunity to fix it, and if they can’t fix it, we have to do something. At every position, we are going to look to upgrade the team. If there are guys out there, we are certainly going to look, and that’ll be at every position.” The Falcons spent most of the preseason thinking fifth-year veteran Josh Andrews was going to start at left guard, but Andrews was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago after breaking his hand in practice. Under the league’s new IR rules, he could be eligible to return after the Week 3 game against the Giants. “It wasn’t the plan to play (Mayfield) early,” Smith said. “I’ve got all the faith in the world that he’ll be just fine eventually. There was a plan to bring him along, but you have to adapt when a guy goes down who is a veteran. We knew he was going to go through some growing pains. There are a lot of rookies who have had a lot worse starts than him. It’ll get cleaned up, I have faith in him.” Dalman played nine snaps Sunday, but some of those came at center, where second-year player Matt Hennessy started and also struggled at times. “I thought Drew competed in there, and we have to keep that up,” Smith said. “We have to play the best five to give us a chance to win on Sunday.” A few more thoughts after rewatching the game: • Why did the Falcons get called for two offensive-pass-interference penalties (on pick plays) in the third quarter when Philadelphia didn’t get called on DeVonta Smith’s first touchdown of the game? Watch how deftly Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz pulls this off. Ertz blocks Fabian Moreau’s path but pirouettes to avoid any real contact. Atlanta’s Hayden Hurst and Calvin Ridley weren’t nearly so sly when they were called for offensive pass interference on the same drive in the third quarter. What makes those plays more frustrating from Atlanta’s perspective is they came against zone defense so it’s not as if the Falcons called the pick play, which is generally used only against man coverage. “The optics of the transition are what hurt them. I understand why they called them,” Smith said. “It’s unfortunate. Those were critical mistakes in a tight ballgame in the third quarter with plenty of possessions left.” • Speaking of Moreau, he bounced back and had a nice game, finishing with three tackles and one pass defended. • Russell Gage was nowhere to be seen. The Falcons’ No. 2 wide receiver was targeted only twice and didn’t have a catch. “I can’t say enough about Russell Gage. It says a lot about your character when the ball doesn’t go your way and you’re battling,” Smith said. “You have plans, but the defense does have a say. My challenge is to get everybody involved earlier. I feel historically when guys get in the games early, it certainly usually benefits them.”
  8. I knew it wasn’t, bud, and I didn’t take it that way. ****, he played a d@mn good game. If takes waving a towel and throwing crazy hands to get 5 td’s and a W, I’ll look like the old ladies at the Primitive Baptist church during a revival….
  9. All right. I’ll take the hit. After all, I’m the Goober that started this thread. I will say that it’s Week One and that if he goes through the whole season this strong, then I’ll be the first one to eat crow……..after I grill the mf’er first.
  10. By William McFadden Atlanta’s head coach responds to Monday’s pressing questions and big problems. The first showing for Arthur Smith as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons was certainly not what many expected or wanted. A 32-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, one in which Atlanta’s offense scored nary a touchdown, does not inspire much confidence for the remainder of the season. Still, it’s incredibly early yet and the NFL is all about adjustments. So, what will the Falcons do to bound back from a poor initial showing with the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers next up on the schedule? Here are the initial takeaways from Smith’s Monday press conference. How will the Falcons judge Jalen Mayfield’s first start? Jalen Mayfield’s first NFL appearance went about as poorly as one could imagine. He allowed five pressures and gave up two sacks throughout the afternoon, and Mayfield was also charged with two untimely penalties. The coaching staff has to walk a hard line between keeping Mayfield’s self-confidence intact and ensuring he does not repeat Sunday’s mistakes. “Certainly, he’s not going to be pleased with his performance, and he knows what the issues are,” Smith said Monday. “He’s a tough-minded guy, with the situation, it is what it is, when Josh (Andrews) gets hurt, and then we’ll evaluate this week, whether we play Drew (Dalman) in there, or somebody else out there. When you’re bringing along rookie linemen in the interior, it wasn’t the plan to play him early. We got him reps in the preseason. There are things he’s got to work on. I got all the faith in the world that he’ll be just fine eventually. You’re going against that kind of front, and when it got obvious and we’d become one dimensional, it’s certainly an advantage to them, especially when you’re playing that kind of front.” Dalman, another Falcons rookie, saw some time with the offense on Sunday and fared better outside of his penalty. Once Josh Andrews is healthy, it’s expected the veteran will assume the starting role. That still might not fully answer that position for Atlanta, but after the start to the season, all options are presumably once again on the table. “At every position we’re going to look to upgrade the team,” Smith responded when asked about upgrading the left guard spot. “So, if there’s guys out there that we feel like can help this team. We’re certainly going to look and that’ll be every week, regardless of the position.” The flow of Sunday’s game got away from the Falcons in clear ways Despite running the ball fairly effectively against the Eagles, the Falcons still really couldn’t find much offensive efficiency or cohesion. There are two complementary reasons for that: Penalties and obvious offensive situations. The Falcons committed 12 penalties, and many of those were of the pre-snap variety. Those penalties, especially on offense, really impacted what the Falcons wanted to do. “I think we had about 40 snaps, the first three drives with six points to show,” Smith said. “You’re balanced. I thought we’re running the ball pretty well. Then we had the situation backed up, and I did play conservatively, you know we tried to get the ball out of there, milk little time off the clock, knowing they got the ball start the second half. Just get into that drive and let’s go down and score some points. Then we had the false start, I got in there to pop a run, so you know that’s a fair criticism there, why I didn’t pick it up because we were backed up and I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to go pin their ears back. But those are the ones, the discussions you have, the postmortem after action report, whatever term you want to use when we’re talking as a staff, and I put that on myself in a 7-6 game that’s where I felt we were, and I didn’t want to go lose it backed up. So, hindsight. Sure, I wish I had called something maybe different on third down. “So, in the second half we get the ball back. We get behind the sticks, with penalties, and you’re in a lot of second and longs and third and longs and they add up on you. You have a chance to overcome one, we had a 1st-and-20. Hit Pitts up the seam, then 2nd-and-2, we have a miscommunication. Again, put that on me. We’re trying to jam a run in there to get going on the drive and we **** near lost it on a fumble. Then you’ve got to make a decision at some point, you’ve got to speed up and go. Give yourself a chance to win the game. When we got behind, credit to Philly, they made us kick field goals. We got down and we did nothing to capitalize really from that backed up situation the rest of the game.” That’s a lot to digest, but every word there is worth internalizing. On the surface, it’s a coach taking the blame in hindsight for decisions that made sense in the moment had they worked out. They didn’t, though, and Smith would perhaps do them over. That sounds a lot like a coach working with new players and making the big decisions for the first time. No problem, that’s understandable. This is a great breakdown of how coaches think about games. At 7-6, the Falcons were 100 percent in that game. With the ball backed up to their own goal line just before halftime, the Falcons weren’t trying to take shots, they were trying to end the half or perhaps spark something that allows them to reconsider. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative. But this is one way to understand what happened, and it’s coming from the man making the calls. Might as well listen. “I think somebody asked me the question yesterday, what did they do in the second half? Well, they got ahead and they really didn’t change anything,” Smith said. “They felt they could get home with four. They sat back and played zone. You get penalties. You’re in obvious situations. We’re off track. You don’t run the ball, and we’re out of rhythm, so I have to find a better way to get us jump started when you get into those lulls in the game because they’re going to happen. You wish it was every possession you get right down there, but that’s not life in the NFL. Matt executed the plan. Obviously, would have loved to have gotten into more of it, but like I said, we got down and we became one-dimensional.” The Kyle Pitts debut and the need to get more receivers involved early The world-destroying performance people are hoping to see from Kyle Pitts will have to wait one more week, and perhaps expectations for the rookie should be reevaluated after Week 2. His best play was a fourth-down conversion in which Pitts barely picked up the needed yardage. Still, it was a moment of trust for the rookie, which will go a long way with Matt Ryan. Philadelphia clearly wanted to limit Pitts, and the level of information tight ends at the NFL level have to process on any given play is vastly and regularly understated. Still, Pitts was the fourth pick in the draft for a reason, and the team needs to get him going. But that’s not the only player Atlanta needs to get involved. “Certainly, try to get [Pitts] going early,” Smith said. “Didn’t do it, but he stayed with it. Made a pretty tough catch on fourth down when we went for it on fourth down. It wasn’t pretty, but he executed it. Matt was under duress there. They had a pretty good call there, but again, that’s what a veteran quarterback does. He knows your issues. He knows where you’re hot and what you’re doing. Give Kyle credit. Again, that’s not a flashy play in the stat sheet, but that was a conversion when we needed to when you take the risk and go for it on fourth down. Got into the game – multiple times – I mean all of those guys, I have to do a better job of getting him and Russ [Gage] into the game early. Russell Gage, there were some opportunities. The thing I can’t say enough about Russell Gage, like a lot of guys, it’s like basketball, people want to touch the ball. I have to do a better job of getting them the ball early, but Russell is a real pro because he battled. He battled. I told him this morning. It says a lot about your character when the ball doesn’t go your way in how he competed. I have to do a better job there.”
  11. Sorry bud. Nothing I can find yet online and I don't have All 22 access. I do remember the play you're talking about, though. If I find it, I'll post it up...
  12. by Schulztie ATLANTA — Sometimes new beginnings come with immediate promise. In 2008, Matt Ryan threw a 62-yard touchdown on his first NFL pass and the Falcons’ rookie head coach (Mike Smith) and rookie general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) went 11-5 in their first season together. The freshness date of the new regime was extended indefinitely. Sometimes new beginnings come with residual hangovers. That would be what happened Sunday. The Falcons, coming off three straight losing seasons, looked like the worst parts of all three of those years Sunday. They couldn’t convert in the red zone early. They committed penalties. Offensive line play was shaky, the secondary erratic. Atlanta looked like a team with question marks on the first level and significant holes on the second. The Falcons allowed a young quarterback to pick them apart, and maybe that should’ve been expected because the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts is not the first quarterback from Alabama to make a local team look bad in Atlanta. New season. New coaching staff. New general manager. Same rerun. Season opener: buzzkill. Freshness date: expired. “I did a really poor getting us ready to go,” said the Falcons’ new head coach, Arthur Smith. He fell on the sword. Line them up, there could’ve been 50 or 60 swords. The Falcons’ opening 32-6 loss to Philadelphia at Mercedes Benz Stadium is “not going to define us,” Smith said. That’s comforting because this was the Falcons’ worst season-opening performance in 34 years. After an offseason of talk about a new offense, a new edge and a new way of doing things, the Falcons had their most lopsided loss since a 48-10 loss at Tampa Bay in 1987, and that was an Atlanta team that was coached by Marion Campbell (the second time) and finished 3-12. Let’s not project things out for this team, yet. The problems are undeniable. But Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot just got here. They inherited a really bad in-box — as most new regimes do — with a roster that needs work and a salary-cap situation that is going to make a quick fix impossible. It’s going to take some time. There is reason to believe the offense will improve during the season simply because of Smith’s creative offensive mind that earned him this job. But the question right now isn’t whether this is a bad team — it is — but rather how long it will take to get better. So many mistakes, starting with 12 penalties, including nine on offense, including three false starts, a holding, two offensive pass interference (poorly executed pick plays) and an illegal formation on first-and-goal from the Eagles’ 2-yard-line. Smith had the NFL’s second-best red-zone offense in Tennessee last season so being forced to kick field goals in goal-to-go situations on consecutive possessions didn’t go over well. On first-and-goal from the 2, tight ends Kyle Pitts and Lee Smith lined up on the line next to each other. Then came a false on Drew Dalman, making it first-and-goal from the 12, followed by a short run and two incompletions. “Where I’m frustrated is I have to evaluate what I’m doing, whether it’s coaching, messaging, whether it’s let’s get lined up (correctly) when we’re on the 2-yard line and not get an illegal formation,” Smith said. “That’s the stuff that really concerns me. That’s just the truth. I’m not trying to be a martyr here. That’s my job as the head coach. I’m responsible for the entire team. When you have self-inflicted wounds, that’s a problem.” Smith took the blame. The players appreciated that. But there are many problems, and no matter how skilled Smith and Fontenot are at what they do, they have their work cut out for them, and they’re learning on the job. In 2008, Mike Smith and Dimitroff started fresh with a new quarterback (Ryan) and running back (Michael Turner) and didn’t have to deal with a bad cap situation. They built well early. Ryan will get blame because Ryan always gets blame. No, he wasn’t great, throwing for only 164 yards (21 for 35). The better quarterback was Jalen Hurts (264 yards on 27-of-35 passing and three touchdowns). But Ryan was harassed by the Eagles’ four-man defensive front, which pounded the Falcons’ offensive line. He was sacked three times and officially hit nine times. Philadelphia’s zone defense took away anything deep. Rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield had an especially painful first game (two false starts, two sacks allowed). The problems on defense were as forecasted. Not much of a pass rush combined with too many coverage mistakes. It’s only one game. It is only one game, isn’t it? Philadelphia is not expected to be one of the NFL’s better teams in 2021. It is actually one of the few teams to have a lower over-under win projection (6 1/2) than the Falcons (7 1/2). The Eagles also have a rookie head coach. A win Sunday certainly seemed more promising than next week against Tom Brady and defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay, which opened with a win Thursday and will have a few extra days of rest and preparation. Every game is different, but if the Eagles did this to the Falcons, what are the Buccaneers going to do? “I don’t come to work to prepare to lose,” Grady Jarrett said. “I don’t come to work to prepare to get beat. I come to work to put my best foot forward and push other guys to put their best football forward. … When it gets tough, that’s when you have to go hard. Success is just over that mountain top. And if you quit, that’s just a reflection on yourself.” This is a major early test for Smith. His team has veterans but also several young players. Teams can be fragile when there’s no resume of success to fall back on. “Whether you win or lose, you always worry about guys not believing because it’s such a hard journey,” Smith said. “If we don’t come in tomorrow and correct what needs to be corrected and we don’t get ready for Tampa, then we’ve got issues.”
  13. by Josh Kendall ATLANTA — Arthur Smith came into his first game as the Falcons’ head coach stressing the importance of viewing Game 1 as a starting point — the baseline for the improvement that must take place over a 17-game NFL season. The Falcons have left themselves and their first-year head coach plenty of room to grow after a 32-6 loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles, who entered Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a first-year head coach of their own and expectations no higher than Atlanta’s for the 2021 season. “I feel awful for our fans, everybody that showed up today,” Smith said. “We’ll do a better job. That game is not going to define us.” It was the fewest points scored by the Falcons since a 38-0 loss to Carolina on Dec. 13, 2015, and their most lopsided loss in a season opener since 1987, when they fell 48-10 to Tampa Bay. The 1987 Atlanta team won only three games. This year’s group believes it will do better than that despite Sunday’s bleak outcome. “There’s still a lot of optimism,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We feel good about this team. We feel good about the guys we have. We feel good about the leadership. There’s a lot of football out there.” They hope not much of it looks like Sunday, which ended with the indignity of backup quarterback Josh Rosen taking the final snaps, in theory just to preserve Matt Ryan’s health behind an offensive line that was put through its paces by Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and the Eagles’ defensive front. “That’s a **** good front,” Smith said. “When you get (into) obvious (passing downs), it’s hard. We knew exactly what they were going to do, rely on their front and play zone coverage. When you get behind the sticks, you’re playing right into their hands, and that’s what happened.” Smith was hired to fix the Falcons offense, and for 15 minutes it looked like he had. Atlanta’s first two possessions were crisp and racked up 144 yards, 13 first downs and six points. However, Younghoe Koo’s 27-yard field goal with 14:56 left in the second quarter would be the Falcons’ final points. Atlanta’s final 10 possessions produced 77 yards and seven first downs. Those same possessions resulted in 58 yards lost to penalties. Overall, the Falcons were flagged 12 times for 99 yards. Six of those were either illegal formations or pre-snap flags on the offensive line. “I have to evaluate what I’m doing, whether it’s coaching or messaging about, ‘Let’s get lined up and not get an illegal formation when you’re on the 2-yard line,’” Smith said. “That’s the stuff that really concerns me.” The quarterback stat lines in the game: • Starter 1: 27 of 35 for 264 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 126.4. • Starter 2: 21 of 35 for 164 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 71.6. Problematically for the Falcons, the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts is Starter 1. The second-year quarterback (and career 52 percent passer), making his fifth career start, frustrated the Falcons all day with basic zone-read runs and by spinning out of any pressure Atlanta applied. The Eagles rolled up 434 yards to Atlanta’s 260. “We did prepare. It might not look that way,” Falcons safety Duron Harmon said. “We have a certain way we pressure to keep the quarterback in the pocket, and we just weren’t successful doing that today.” Starter 2 is Ryan, the 14-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowl selection who holds every significant passing record in Falcons history. “I thought they came in and played a lot of zone coverage and kept everything in front and trusted their four-man rush to get home,” Ryan said. “Obviously, their defensive line played well. I don’t think it was anything we weren’t prepared for coming in. We knew we had to play well up front and stay on schedule. We did a good job of that early, but we were not able to sustain that.” It was Ryan’s third-lowest passing output in the past nine seasons and the worst since he threw for 159 yards against the Rams in 2019. “We were kind of choppy in the passing game,” said Ryan, whose longest completion was an 18-yarder to rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. The running game, paced by Cordarrelle Patterson’s 54 yards on seven carries, totaled 86 yards in the first quarter, more than Atlanta had in seven games last season. But it, like the rest of the offense, dried up in the final three quarters. The Falcons finished with 124 rushing yards. “I thought our backs ran hard,” Ryan said. “We just needed to do a better job later into the game of getting into the drives. Early in the game, we did that and you started to see them finish runs and runs come out the back end for big gains.” Pitts had four catches on eight targets for 31 yards in his NFL debut. “He had a really good catch on a seam route, showed that he can catch the ball through contact, which is what you want,” Ryan said. “I think he’s only going to continue to get better for us.” There’s a lot of needing to get better to go around after Sunday, said Smith, who put himself at the top of that list. “We have to be a lot better,” said rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield, who struggled in his NFL debut. “I personally have to be a lot better.” The road doesn’t get any easier. Atlanta travels to Tampa Bay on Sunday to play Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. “It’s the first game. We’ve got 16 more,” Harmon said. “This is not the time to hit the panic button. The best teams in football are the ones that improve as the season goes on. We can’t get anything but better.”
  14. So does this mean that Senat and Ollison are finally active? DQ didn’t know ****!
  15. by Zach Berman and Bo Wulf The Philadelphia Eagles’ season gets underway at 1 p.m. Sunday in Atlanta as a pair of first-time head coaches debut against each other. Here’s what you need to know. Injuries and lineup decisions The Eagles enter their season opener as healthy as a team could hope to be after six weeks of practice. Rodney McLeod (knee) and Landon Dickerson (knee) are out with injuries that occurred last season. Davion Taylor (calf) is questionable; he’s the lone player whose status is in question entering the game. Brandon Brooks does not have an injury designation despite being limited in practice this week; he’ll start at right guard. With McLeod out, the Eagles will start either Marcus Epps or K’Von Wallace at safety. The top interior offensive line reserve will be Nate Herbig until Dickerson returns. The Falcons are even healthier. They don’t have a single player from the 53-man roster with an injury designation. Eagles offense vs. Falcons defense Projected lineups PHI O ATL D QB Jalen Hurts DE Jonathan Bullard RB Miles Sanders DT Tyeler Davison WR DeVonta Smith DE Grady Jarrett TE Dallas Goedert OLB Steven Means LT Jordan Mailata ILB Deion Jones LG Isaac Seumalo ILB Foyesade Oluokun C Jason Kelce OLB Dante Fowler Jr. RG Brandon Brooks CB A.J. Terrell RT Lane Johnson S Duron Harmon WR Quez Watkins S Erik Harris WR Jalen Reagor CB Fabian Moreau Tale of the tape 2020 RANKS PHI O ATL D DVOA 28th 14th PASS DVOA 29th 19th RUN DVOA 18th 6th RZ % 15th (60.9%) 25th (64.3%) 3RD D. % 28th (37.3%) 18th (41.0%) Sack rate 32nd (10.9%) 26th (4.6%) What’s new: Almost everything. The Eagles have a new offensive scheme, a new quarterback, a new left tackle and mostly new receivers. The Falcons have a new defensive scheme with 72-year-old Dean Pees coming out of retirement to coordinate a defense for his 13th season. What’s the same: Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are back together, much to everyone’s surprise. The Falcons still have an exciting pair of young linebackers in Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun and one of the league’s most slippery interior defensive linemen in Grady Jarrett. From The Playbook Sheil Kapadia writes: “When Pees has had the talent, his defenses have been very good. But perhaps more impressive is that when he hasn’t had talent, he’s still been able to lift his defenses to mediocrity. The Titans, for example, dropped all the way to 29th in defensive DVOA without him last season. … The Falcons, surprisingly, ranked fourth in pass rush win rate. But … at least part of that was due to their willingness to blitz. Jones, playing off-ball linebacker, had a team-high 4.5 sacks. Jarrett had four sacks and a team-high 21 quarterback hits. Atlanta either needs (Dante) Fowler (three sacks, eight QB hits) or another pass rusher to step up and help Jarrett, or Pees will have to find ways to scheme up pressure.” What to watch: In no particular order, these are some of the many things to be curious about when watching the Eagles offense debut under Nick Sirianni on Sunday: • How much will Jalen Hurts’ running ability be implemented into the offense? • Does DeVonta Smith look like the No. 1 option right away? • Is Miles Sanders a three-down back to start the season? • With everyone healthy, does the offensive line dominate as it should in theory? • Is Hurts indeed more willing to throw the ball over the middle of the field than he was last season? Falcons offense vs. Eagles defense Projected lineups ATL O PHI D QB Matt Ryan DE Brandon Graham RB Mike Davis DT Fletcher Cox WR Calvin Ridley DT Javon Hargrave TE Kyle Pitts DE Josh Sweat LT Jake Matthews LB Eric Wilson LG Jalen Mayfield LB Alex Singleton C Matt Hennessy CB Darius Slay RG Chris Lindstrom S Anthony Harris RT Kaleb McGary S Marcus Epps/K'Von Wallace WR Olamide Zaccheaus Nickel Avonte Maddox WR Russell Gage CB Steven Nelson Tale of the tape 2020 RANKS ATL O PHI D DVOA 21st 15th PASS DVOA 16th 24th RUN DVOA 13th 13th RZ % 26th (53.5%) 26th (64.7%) 3RD D. % 10th (43.9%) 7th (37.9%) Sack rate 17th (6.5%) 3rd (9.3%) What’s new: Almost everything. The Eagles have a completely new scheme under Jonathan Gannon that promises to vary much more week to week than things did under Jim Schwartz. There will be three new starters in the back seven: free-agent signings Eric Wilson, Anthony Harris and Steven Nelson. Meanwhile, Arthur Smith brings to Atlanta his offense that turned Tennessee into a world-beating unit built around a whole lot of Derrick Henry and extremely efficient play-action. Not only does he not have Henry, but there’s also no more Julio Jones to worry about. What’s the same: Matt Ryan will play the Eagles for the 10th time, including the playoffs. He has a 4-5 record against his hometown Eagles. From The Playbook Sheil Kapadia writes: “Smith did an incredible job maximizing the talent he had on the Tennessee Titans’ roster. They ranked fourth in EPA per play over the last two seasons. There was no mistaking what Smith wanted to do. On early downs in score-neutral situations, the Titans passed the ball a league-low 42 percent of the time. … (Kyle) Pitts coming in and replacing Jones’ production is possible but unlikely. He would pretty much have to have the second-best receiving season for a rookie tight end in the last 20 years just to match what Jones did in nine games last year.” What to watch: Keep an eye on a Falcons offensive line that has been largely mediocre recently despite the level of draft capital they’ve infused into the group. Rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield will have his hands full with Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave and the Eagles defensive line stands a chance to wreck the game up front. With Jones gone, Calvin Ridley will be the top priority for Gannon. We’ll see if that means Ridley is shadowed by Darius Slay. Most of all, it will be exciting to finally see what Gannon has in store in terms of mixing up coverages, formations and blitz tendencies. Bird lines for Week 1 Jalen Hurts total TDs vs. Nick Sirianni fourth-down attempts Zach Berman: Sirianni gets the nod here — not because I expect him to be an aggressive decision-maker, but because there’s a better chance the Eagles are in a come-from-behind or a hurry-up situation than Hurts has a prolific performance. Bo Wulf: Going to call it for three Hurts touchdowns and two fourth-down attempts. DeVonta Smith receiving yards vs. Kyle Pitts receiving yards Berman: In a matchup with two heralded first-round pass catchers, Pitts will have a bigger game. I’m fascinated to see what the Eagles’ plan is for Pitts. Wulf: I’m also curious to see what the Eagles’ plan will be for Pitts. Both offenses are likely to funnel the ball as much as possible to their first-round picks, but I think the Eagles have more options outside their top two than the Falcons do, so I’ll say Pitts. Eagles sacks vs. Jalen Reagor catches Berman: The Eagles’ defensive line should get after Matt Ryan; Reagor’s volume will be limited by where he falls in the pecking order. Give me sacks. Wulf: Reagor catches. I have a feeling the Eagles’ pressure up front is more likely to end up in quick Ryan passes than a barrage of sacks. Matt Ryan total pass attempts vs. Eagles’ third-down defense (percentage of conversion by Falcons offense) Berman: This one will be close because the Eagles’ third-down defense should be better in Week 1 than in the preseason, but the Falcons will convert a higher percentage of third downs than Ryan will have pass attempts. Wulf: Falcons’ third-down percentage, especially if Smith plays to type run tendency-wise. Arryn Siposs’ punting average (not net) vs. total points scored Berman: Unless Siposs averages more than 50 yards, take the points in this bet (and the over in this game). Wulf: Give me the Australian. Predictions Berman: There’s so much mystery about both teams, but more so the Eagles because they have a first-time play caller and a quarterback with only four career starts. There’s a part of me that looks at the advantage the Eagles have on both lines of scrimmage and says that will be the difference. However, the Falcons have the more established quarterback and home-field advantage. Arthur Smith has developed a strong reputation as a play caller for a reason; he’ll likely scheme play action and quick passes to try to neutralize the Eagles pass rush. And the Eagles have their own questions on the back end of the defense. My guess is this is a close game. If I was betting on it with the points, I would take the Eagles. If I’m picking the winner outright, I’d go with the team with the better quarterback and home-field advantage. The Eagles fall to 0-1. Falcons 26, Eagles 24 Wulf: Sirianni has leaned heavily into the idea that the Eagles have an advantage early in the season because of the unknown surrounding what their offensive and defensive schemes will look like. I think that’s probably overstated, but our interest should be piqued heading into Sunday. I expect Jalen Hurts to look like he’s taken a step forward from last season as a decision-maker and in the way he protects the ball. The Eagles should have an advantage at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, though the Falcons will have the better quarterback and the most explosive playmaker on either side. Which matters more? Give me the big uglies. Eagles 26, Falcons 23
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