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  1. Falcons - Eagles recap: The heart breaker that wasn’t The Falcons looked to be well on their way to another tough loss against the Eagles, but improbably if not impossibly, they pulled it off. By Dave Choate Sep 16, 2019, 8:00am EDT I don’t know what it is about the Falcons and Eagles in this current era of football that encourages slugfests that are low-scoring and brutal, but it’s a tradition unlike any other. Even the shaky defensive situations for both teams couldn’t change that, as this turned into exactly the kind of game you would have expected had you just watched highlights of the last two matchups. It also turned out exactly like those matchups, with the smallest twist: The Falcons won it. There was plenty to worry about—the Eagles were very banged up and the Falcons still made a ton of mistakes—but for a while there the Falcons actually played much better. If you’re looking at the team’s long-term outlook for hope, that’s at least a spot of it right there, as the Falcons took full advantage of Eagles injuries to turn in a strong defensive performance and gut out the kind of win they couldn’t get the last couple of times out. The gutsiness stands out. The Falcons absolutely made the physical plays they have not made in years past, whether it was Jake Matthews absolutely destroying a defender to spring Julio Jones, Isaiah Oliver making the tackle of his young career to preserve the win, or Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley fighting tooth and nail by a very good Eagles defensive line to make impactful plays. Those plays made the difference on a night where the offense was not at its best and the Eagles, despite their injuries, fought like ****. The problems were still myriad, though, and as always they doomed Atlanta until the very moment they didn’t. Matt Ryan threw multiple brutal picks, the Falcons were penalized frequently for the kinds of dumb things they are frequently penalized for, and they screwed up in exactly the wrong way at exactly the wrong time over and over again. A game that looked like it should have been a shootout on paper turned into a defensive struggle again, and as good as the Eagles are, Atlanta’s offense scuffling so badly here was a worrying sign once again. Thankfully, the defense was stellar. It got lost in last week’s game because the Vikings got such an early lead, but the defense has looked improved in both games, and they were a genuine nuisance in this one. It’s tough to get a read on just how good they are and can be, given the Eagles’ injuries and the Vikings barely having to pass, but there are glimmers of something promising here, with Isaiah Oliver’s excellent second game looming as perhaps the most encouraging sign. For one game, at least, they were certainly good enough. The end result was neither pretty nor totally satisfying for most fans, I’d suspect, but it got the Falcons into a tie for first place in the NFC South and showed that there is life and fire in this team yet. I’ll take that win with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, and hope that this is the start of something special, rather than a blip on the radar. The Good Watching Matt Bryant hit a 50 yarder with no drama is a reminder of what the Falcons almost lost. He can’t play forever, but I hope the Falcons are no longer thinking of replacing him until he‘s ready to hang ‘em up. Of course, other things happened, but he nailed all his extra pointers, too. In many ways, this was an ugly game for Matt Ryan, but Ryan never truly spirals for very long. He wound up making the throws he needed to despite the interceptions, including a beautiful read and a crisp pass on the game-winning ball to Julio Jones. He has much to iron out, but is still dealing when he needs to. Mohamed Sanu does the little things exceptionally well. That’s normally something you say in the case of a player who doesn’t do the big things well—and Sanu did fail to come down with one of Ryan’s ultimately picked passes—but Sanu’s a good player who also ahppens to care deeply about kicking *** elsewhere. His stellar effort on the Austin Hooper fumble in the third quarter saved the Falcons from big trouble after they allowed the Eagles to get within five points, and it’s the kind of play he makes because gets things done. Julio Jones has not been a god often here in the early going, but he was no mere mortal when the Falcons needed him most Sunday night. He caught the short pass in the fourth quarter and took it all the way to the house, thanks to one huge block and some of the hardest-charging legs in football. Jones has three touchdowns in just two games and hasn’t looked anywhere close to full strength to this point, which tells you good things ought to be ahead. For much of the game, though, Julio wasn’t the standout receiver. For the second week in a row, Calvin Ridley paced the group, reeling in eight catches for 105 yards (one less yard than Julio) and a touchdown. He’s not perfect, sure, but he’s been stellar in the early going and has room to grow yet. Jake Matthews threw an unbelievable pancake block on Julio Jones’ fourth quarter touchdown, the kind that will show up on highlight reels for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come. Without that block, it’s not clear Jones even gets the first down, but with it he was headed for paydirt. Another player who redeemed himself in a major way in this one. Jamon Brown did a nice job, I thought, as a fill-in at right guard. He blocked well throughout much of the game in a tough matchup against a strong Philadelphia defensive line. It’s one game, but it’s a nice sign. With Kaleb McGary coming back in (unbelievably) after getting hurt and Ty Sambrailo doing better than any of us had any right to expect, plus Matt Gono on his way back, the right side of this line may just not be a disaster after all. Grady Jarrett is an absolute monster. He got free of blocks over and over again to create pressure, make key run stops, and pick up a coverage sack in the second quarter. His deal is going to look like an absolute steal by the end of this season. Vic Beasley won’t get the credit he deserves, but he and Takk McKinley did good work in this one. Takk ate early and often and pressured Wentz, but Vic almost dropped Wentz for a game-sealing sack late and then actually brought him down for a sack on a key third down on that final Eagles drive of the game. Desmond Trufant looks all the way back. He was good last season and a little shaky in 2017, but through two games he’s been borderline stellar. He picked Carson Wentz twiceand was thriving in coverage, looking every bit like the elite player he was through the first few years of his career. Excited to see what this season looks like for him, and excited to see what happens when Takk starts closing out these pressures. Isaiah Oliver got hit with penalties, sure, but he looked much more confident and capable than he did in Week 1, both in run support and in coverage. His length and skill are going to be critically important if this defense is going to do anything in 2019, and he gave us a tantalizing glimpse of what he’s about with the big tackles and strong coverage against the Eagles. When Oliver made the game-saving tackle on fourth down with seconds left in the fourth quarter, he made it clear that his lousy first week was behind him, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. That said, did he get beat handily downfield, only for Agholor to drop the pass? Yes. Thank goodness that didn’t matter. A simply unbelievable play by Kendall Sheffield to force the fumble on a nice Corey Clement kick return to start the second half, and a heads up play by Sharrod Neasman to pick it up. That’s the value of quality special teams, and it swung the momentum coming out of the half sharply as the Falcons scored just three plays later. The Ugly The Falcons put together a pretty opening drive...that they ruined with poor execution and a poor play call on third down. Luke Stocker’s badly missed block and the team’s decision to throw to Calvin Ridley short and hope for excellent blocking was not, I would venture, the way things should have gone. It was a sign of too many things to come. Matt Ryan has not had the most inspiring start to the season, to say the least. He’s thrown pretty balls and escaped pressure well, but he’s also tossed a ton of picks, including one really ugly one in this one that he threw up in the vain hope that Julio Jones would get it. Ryan at his sharpest is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but Ryan at less than his best helps keep teams in the game. He did more than that in this one. The pick off Sanu’s hands wasn’t all that bad, but both the duck to Julio and the red zone pick he attempted into double coverage with Hooper were ghastly and costly the Falcons dearly. One of Ryan’s great successes in recent years was cutting down on the number of head-scratching throws we’d come to expect, so this is a most unwelcome return to an old form. If it involves winning and more downfield strikes, though? We’ll think about it. The offensive line was solid, especially considering the opponent, but the ground game still struggled to get going. Again, Devonta Freeman had a couple of nice runs and looked game but found few lanes, and was outplayed by Ito Smith. I don’t think there are going to be too many more weeks where Free scuffles behind the same line as Ito without the Falcons looking at a larger role for the latter, but I’m hopeful Free can break out a bit against Indy. With a fourth down and 14 yards to go on the final, pivotal Eagles drive of the game, the Falcons managed to let Nelson Agholor run by everyone and catch a 43 yard reception. It was quintessentially the most Falcons play of the evening, in that it was brutally bad, completely indefensible, and as poorly timed as it possibly could have been. I died more than a little bit inside when the Falcons allowed that play to happen, considering the stakes and considering how completely predictable it seemed the moment it happened. It’s beyond fortunate that it didn’t cost them the game. This team is still, despite the win, all too eager to give up leads. The Falcons should have salted this game against a banged-up Eagles squad away multiple times, but there was always a blown coverage or a Matt Ryan interception lurking to keep things close. I’ll never complain about the W, but we’re a long ways away from this team winning games comfortably and sparing us the medical bills. The officiating was (not stunningly) bad. The crew missed an obvious pass interference on Julio Jones in the first quarter and did not, unsurprisingly, elect to turn that call over on review. You can and should question the wisdom of Dan Quinn throwing the challenge flag there, given how infrequently those calls are overturned, but there’s little question they screwed that up. The Falcons got hit with a couple of other ticky-tack penalties but that happens in every game to every team, leaving me just a tad steamed at that first call. The Wrapup Game MVP I’d have a tough time giving this to one person, so let’s hand let Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Isaiah Oliver all put a hand on it for their efforts. Heck, give Jake Matthews one for that block alone. One Takeaway Atlanta suffered no ill effects from their sound beating at the hands of the Vikings, and they might just have a good defense, though it’s way too early to say more than just might. Next Week The Colts. The same Colts who have been tough defensively and have all the offensive firepower to make it difficult, and the same Colts who are at home. It’s gonna be another wild one. Check out Stampede Blue for more. Final Word Iamsorelieved. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2019/9/16/20867307/falcons-eagles-recap-the-heartbreaker-that-wasnt-matt-ryan-julio-jones-isaiah-oliver-carson-wentz
  2. Falcons - Vikings recap: A dispiriting season opener raises too many familiar questions Atlanta lost because of bad mistakes, a lack of discipline, and questionable defense and blocking. Where have we heard that before? By Dave Choate Sep 9, 2019, 8:00am EDT The Falcons lost. The Falcons were embarrassingly bad. This team is incredibly talented on paper, and while they’re often less than stellar in Week 1s—recall their ugly loss to the Buccaneers in the 2016 opener—there’s far too much talent here for the Falcons to be utterly embarrassed by that. I imagine we’ll look back at this one later in the year and realize how good Minnesota is and how fluky some of this was for Atlanta, but I imagine that because all we have to go on at the moment is that single game, and it was abysmal. Every question mark had its day in the sun in this one. There was Dirk Koetter’s play calling, which too often needed time to wind up and too often targeted guys like Luke Stocker (IN THE END ZONE) against a defense you can’t fool around with. There was the actual execution, which featured some cringe-worthy pass protection and run blocking, and some unforgivably bad throws from Matt Ryan. The defense was often dealt a bad hand with field position and did nothing with it, getting eaten up by Dalvin Cook early on and getting hit with too many penalties throughout the game. They dug a deep hole from very early on, so it’s not like they were simply outclassed, though of course they were. They were also plagued by the kind of sloppy mistakes and close calls on turnovers that have too often marked this era of Falcons football, squandering red zone shots and chances and letting the Vikings walk on them. To belabor the point, it was an awful game for them. The question on everyone’s mind now is whether this is a harbinger of things to come or just an awful game from a rusty team that did a lot of stupid things against the Vikings. With a game against the Eagles looming, it’s going to be an 0-2 start and a lot of misery if it’s the former. It’s only a single game—I would still urge everyone here not to doom this team based on a single game—but they can scarcely afford for the problems with discipline and execution to persist. There’s also the small matter that if they’re going to make a postseason push—hardly something I feel like discussing at length—they’re going to need to be able to beat teams as good and as physical as the Vikings. That’s the thing I feel worst about today. On to the full recap. If you skip this one, I don’t blame you. The Good Justin Hardy weathered an offseason where many, including us at times, wondered if he’d be back and whether he’d have any kind of a real role if he was. In this one, he was a vital player, springing open multiple times when no one else could do it and coming down with tough catches in traffic. He had 3 catches for 31 yards in the first quarter alone, and had the Falcons been able to do literally anything else, would’ve likely keyed at least one scoring drive. As the game ground on, Austin Hooper was one of the few Falcons who was consistently getting open and making something of his targets. He finished this one with 77 yards on nine grabs, and it’ll help the Falcons immeasurably in Week 2 if he can munch up yardage like that again. Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones touchdowns, woo. They both started to get some separation later in the game, which we hope will continue into Week 2. I don’t want to make too much of this given that Stefon Diggs was a bit limited, but Desmond Trufant stuck to him like glue and kept him from being a major factor in this one. He wound up with just two receptions for 37 yards, and I think the flashes of excellence we saw from Tru in his preseason action were a sign of things to come. Ito Smith’s work made you sit up in your chair. He showed nice vision and good acceleration on several of his runs and had more success than Devonta Freeman Sunday. He’s not going to bully his way into a larger role in the early going, but it’s something to watch for the long-term as he gains confidence and the coaching staff pays attention to his good work. Grady Jarrett remains a stud. He had a huge tackle for loss in the first half and got a strip sack on Kirk Cousins to start the second half, though sadly the Falcons couldn’t capitalize. Out of the many, many moves the Falcons made this offseason, locking up Jarrett might have been the single most critical. The defense was...not abysmal, past a certain point. After that brutal first quarter, they held the Vikings to 7, 7, and 0 points over the coming quarters. They were too easily gashed on the ground for a rebuilt run defense and there were plenty of struggles, but the Vikings didn’t exactly run roughshod over their D, despite the final score. The Ugly That opening drive was...not ideal. Matt Ryan sacked on the very first play of the game, a run on 2nd and 18, and Ryan forced to scramble for like 10 yards. Then Matt Bosher’s punt was decisively blocked, giving the Vikings ideal field position. To say the line looked overmatched would have been an understatement, and all our happy hopes and dreams evaporated in instants. The problem, of course, was that things did not immediately get better from there. The Falcons swiftly surrendered a touchdown to Adam Thielen, who handily beat Isaiah Oliver, and then Matt Ryan threw a pick on the next drive. The Falcons didn’t look like a team that had been hearing an urgent drumbeat all offseason, as they had assured us they were. They looked amateurish and unprepared, and frankly that was the most disappointing start imaginable. Forget the start, the overall effort level was baffling. Matt Ryan missing Julio on one of the easiest throws he’ll have all year downfield when he had time in the pocket. Dirk Koetter trying, repeatedly, to get Devonta Freeman outside on slow-developing runs when the run blocking was very obviously not there. The defense coming in hot down the middle and the Vikings tossing the ball outside with obvious results. It was fair to suggest coming into this game that the Falcons would struggle, and I predicted the win knowing that they might let me down. I just never in my wildest dreams thought they’d look so completely overmatched, and it was one of the grimmest possible starts for a team that desperately needs this season to be better than the last. Matt Ryan had his moments, but he was uncharacteristically stinky in this one, throwing one bobbled pick, a few errant throws, and one absolute gimme rainbow that was intercepted in the end zone, with Luke Stocker’s questionable route running certainly playing a role. Those misses had massive consequences, as Ryan missed on an easy touchdown to Julio Jones, a sideline bomb to Calvin Ridley, and a handful of others that might have actually kept them in this game. He’s the one guy I fully expect to bounce back a week from now. Isaiah Oliver had a lot of trouble in this one. He was beaten soundly by Adam Thielen on the first drive of the game, got called for a critical defensive penalty in the second quarter, and generally scuffled in a tough matchup. Don’t think the Eagles won’t be watching that film with interest. Jake Matthews and the tackle group in general also had a ton of trouble in this one, with Matthews getting Ryan killed on multiple plays and the Ty Sambrailo/Kaleb McGary rotation did him no favors, with McGary in particular looking overmatched early on. With all the investments the Falcons made in this offensive line, those kinds of hiccups can’t continue for long or there’s going to be severe and justified angst in the fanbase. I don’t need to hear Dan Quinn and company talk about discipline any more, because the same kinds of penalties plague this team. I don’t need to hear them talk about the importance of turnovers when this team squanders their opportunities to get them, however luck-based they may be, on a regular basis. It’s going to be Dan Quinn and his coaching staff on the line if these things don’t get cleaned up, because they continue to cost the Falcons football games and even when we see progress in other areas, we rarely see it there. The Wrapup Game MVP Already giving this one to you, the viewer at home, who had to deal with this impossible nonsense for absolutely no reason. It’s not fair to you, sir/ma’am. One Takeaway The Falcons are either not as good or not as prepared as we would have liked to believe, hopefully the latter. They have to get this thing turned around with extreme quickness to avoid ending up in a big hole and having to claw their way out of the basement of the NFC South. Next Week The Falcons at least get to be home! They’ll face the Eagles on Sunday Night Football next week, and you should check out Bleeding Green Nation for more on what unfortunately looks like one of the best teams in the NFC despite some early shakiness against Washington. Final Word Pleasenomoreofthat. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2019/9/9/20854978/falcons-vikings-recap-a-dispiriting-season-opener-raises-too-many-familiar-questions-matt-ryan
  3. One final Falcons 53 man roster prediction with cuts looming today Who is in and who is out in the very first 53 man roster for 2019? By Dave Choate Aug 31, 2019, 9:00am EDT Rosters evolve. A year ago, the Falcons surprisingly kept Richard Jarvis as one of their final players, but he didn’t get much of a chance to stick around. So it will go this year as well, but the first 53 man roster still have that glossy sheen because it comes after the team has determined at least the rough contours of its plan for 2019. Let’s get one more in before the rest of the cuts come crashing down on us. If you’re looking for Kevin Knight’s, given that he’s been our projector-in-chief this summer, he rounded them up in a tweet thread here. OFFENSE - 25 QB - 2 Matt Ryan Matt Schaub Easy. RB - 5 Devonta Freeman Ito Smith Brian Hill Qadree Ollison Kenjon Barner It’s a bit surprising to see the team keep five running backs in a league where it’s no longer the most valued position going. The Falcons view Free as their guy, and if he’s healthy he and Ito Smith figure to soak up most of the carries and targets in this offense. Hill and Ollison figure to mix in on special teams and potentially at fullback at time, with Hill likely taking on the scraps that Free and Smith leave behind and Ollison largely just developing unless injury strikes. Barner is here for the very ocasional carry and to serve as the team’s kickoff returner, if not kickoff and punt returner. TE - 3 Austin Hooper Luke Stocker Jaeden Graham Cheated a bit on this one, given that Paulse and Duarte are already gone, but this is what I would have projected based on the Falcons making it incredibly obvious. Hooper is the unquestioned starter and one of the 10-12 best tight ends in the NFL today, with Stocker serving as a versatile blocker with some fullback experience, and Graham the interesting young tight end with the athleticism to play a role as a receiver and the upside to mix in as a blocker and fullback himself. The Falcons will likely wind up rolling out 3-4 guys to serve as a nominal fullback this year, and Graham has a strong chance to push for the #2 tight end job next year. WR - 6 Julio Jones Calvin Ridley Mohamed Sanu Russell Gage Justin Hardy Olamide Zaccheaus The first five spots here are easy. There’s a slim possibility the Falcons could elect to move on from Hardy, but his value as a sticky-handed third down and red zone option and his superior blocking should keep him around. That leaves one open spot, and that competition truly has looked open this year. I know Christian Blake has earned all the buzz and Marcus Green was the draft pick, but I’m going with Olamide Zaccheaus in the end. He looked good on Thursday against the Jaguars, as he has most of the preseason, and he looms as a potential option at returner if Barner falters or goes down. He may be an inactive to start the year, but Zaccheaus should develop into someone the Falcons want to keep around. OL - 9 LT Jake Matthews LG Jamon Brown C Alex Mack RG Chris Lindstrom OT Kaleb McGary G James Carpenter C/G Wes Schweitzer OT Ty Sambrailo OT Matt Gono The only potential surprise here would be another lineman being kept, but that would require a surprise cut elsewhere. The reality is that this group has separated itself from everyone else consistently wit hthe exception of Sambrailo, who the team still likes and figures to keep around. Carpenter or Brown will back up left guard, Schweitzer will back up right guard and center, and Gono has done enough to at least back up one of the tackle spots. It’s a good, athletic group of guys. DEFENSE - 25 DE - 6 Vic Beasley Takkarist McKinley Adrian Clayborn Allen Bailey John Cominsky Austin Larkin Beasley and McKinley are locked in as the de facto starters. Clayborn will play a valuable reserve role, while Bailey should get plenty of snaps on early downs and figures to be one of the team’s moer effective defensive linemen when it comes to stopping the run. Cominsky is the hyper-athletic developmental option who figures to get time both inside and outside and Larkin pushed his way onto this roster with consistently terrific play this summer. This gives the Falcons real depth. DT - 4 Grady Jarrett Jack Crawford Tyeler Davison Deadrin Senat Clayborn, Allen and Cominsky will mix in here, giving the team better depth than this grouping would suggest. Jarrett is a stud, Crawford is a very useful pass rusher, Davison is a consistently stout run stopper, and Senat could still develop into something special. This defensive line genuinely looks stronger than it has in a while, whether or not the Falcons actually do keep Larkin. LB - 5 Deion Jones De’Vondre Campbell Foyesade Oluokun Jermaine Grace Duke Riley Many have been putting Bruce Carter here all summer, but as much as I like Carter, I don’t think he’s a lock to make it, much less a strong bet to beat out Grace and Riley. Both of those players are young, athletic, and have real special teams value, and this feels like a good group of linebackers who fit Dan Quinn’s preferred set of traits. Oluokun is the obvious third linebacker after a strong 2018, but Grace and Riley should find their way onto the field. CB - 5 Desmond Trufant Isaiah Oliver Damontae Kazee Kendall Sheffield Jordan Miller They should keep Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but I have a sneaking feeling they’ll prioritize adding a guy like Larkin who can be useful this year and step into a larger role next year when a lot of contracts are expiring. If they don’t keep BWW, Sheffield and Miller still provide intriguing young depth, and Chris Cooper at safety can play nickel in a pinch, giving them some flexibility. S - 5 SS Keanu Neal FS Ricardo Allen S Sharrod Neasman S Kemal Ishmael S/CB Chris Cooper This doesn’t feel difficult on paper. Neasman was good in starting action last year and plays teams, Ishmael is a force against the run and is perhaps the team’s most important non-specialist special teamer, and Cooper had a solid summer at safety and cornerback, making him a good de facto tenth defensive back. The Falcons could use three safeties with Neal and Allen coming off of injuries, too. SPECIAL TEAMS - 3 K Matt Bryant P Matt Bosher LS Josh Harris Tavecchio got his shot and unfortunately couldn’t make the most of it. The Falcons got itchy and appear set to go with their legendary kicker since 2009 again in 2019, with the team negotiating a contract by all indications as I write this. Any other result would be an upset. PRACTICE SQUAD - 10 QB Danny Etling RB Tony Brooks-James WR Christian Blake TE Alex Gray C Chandler Miller DE Durrant Miles DT Justin Zimmer LB Del’Shawn Phillips CB Jayson Stanley K Matthew Wright Etling did enough in that last preseason game to stick around, Brooks-James was legitimately impressive at times, Blake is a coaching staff favorite who did enough to earn another year to develop, and Gray is turning into a quality blocker and is a necessary hold with the Falcons only keeping three tight ends. Miller did enough to earn a look as a developmental center. Zimmer has shown flashes of real promise as a pass rusher and should push harder for a role next year, Phillips was good-to-great all summer, and Stanley has intriguing tools and potentially a lot of special teams value. Wright is a kicker with a good leg and pretty good results in Pittsburgh, and the Falcons’ skittishness about Matt Bryant’s injury potential makes a practice squad kicker a fairly strong bet. It just may not be Wright. As is custom, the Falcons may pull an outside player or two into the mix that I haven’t accounted for yet, but this feels like a strong projection based on what we’ve seen in August. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2019/8/31/20841997/one-final-falcons-53-man-roster-prediction-with-cuts-looming-today-olamide-zaccheaus-matt-bryant
  4. Falcons - Dolphins recap: Overreactions, lead changes, and a 10th straight preseason loss What can we learn from a preseason game where tempting conclusions abound? By Dave Choate Aug 9, 2019, 8:00am EDT When you’re starving for football and all you have is preseason, it’s hard not to draw big, sweeping conclusions based on a handful of plays. It’s especially hard when the Falcons do things you actually like, as they managed to do at times against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. The first half was replete with Matt Schaub passes that were surprisingly crisp, some nice plays by receivers vying for roles, and stellar burst from the likes of Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley. The second half was a boring sort of nightmare until late, as you might have expected it to be, but at least there was enough scoring to keep things lively. The Falcons also dropped their 10th straight preseason game, which is pretty meaningless (they went to the playoffs in ‘17 while going 0-4 in preseason and went 7-9 last year with the same record) but sure as **** isn’t fun to watch. The fact that they’ve been more competitive this year is, at least, a sign that their depth acquisition efforts are pointed in a better direction. I did it a little bit in realtime, but by the end of the game it was relatively easy (with another loss looming, these Falcons are almost deliberately terrible to watch in preseason) to settle into a fairly even keel. There may have been one or two Falcons who lost jobs based on tonight’s performance, but by and large the team will be evaluating the tape and moving guys around incrementally based on what they see. With three preseason games still to go, that’s only reasonable, especially since I got hot and bothered about Brian Hill early just to watch Qadree Ollison pop off late. Still, there are takes to be had and observations to share, so let’s get to it. The Good Hey, sometimes you need to eat a little crow. Matt Schaub had a garbage game against the Broncos last week and that plus his most recent NFL experience pre-Falcons and actual on-field performance with the Falcons has largely convinced me that the Falcons would be megadoomed if he had to get into a game for any length of time. Against the Dolphins, at least, Schaub made that notion look pretty dumb. While he took a timid sack and threw some off-kilter balls, Schaub was also much more accurate and found a particularly fruitful rapport with Russell Gage in the early going. What can you say about Brian Hill? This wasn’t his most impressive effort, sure, but he ran hard, showed some small value as a receiver, and clearly has been the most impressive back on the team this summer. If he keeps this up he’s absolutely going to make this roster and have a role, and the Falcons are going to have to make a tough decision about Ollison, a player I think has promise but wouldn’t appear to have a roster spot if Hill makes it. This is all a little surprising, but as a more sober me would remind you, it’s just a couple of games and nothing is set in stone just yet. Especially since Ollison put together a **** good game of his own. After a relatively quiet first effort against the Broncos and a slow start in this one behind an offensive line that could charitably be described as “struggling,” Ollison reeled off runs of 11 and 15 yards on the same drive in the fourth quarter and punched in a touchdown on the latter. He’s potent if he gets a block, and if he can get an opportunity with the “starters” and do something with it, the battle between him and Hill will likely go down to the wire. For the sake of the drama and the sake of his football team’s depth, I hope it does. Russell Gage has looked better than I dared hope. His speed was intriguing from the moment he was drafted and his value as a gunner on special teams ensures he’ll have a role here, but Schaub found a connection with him and Gage continued to show off savvy that belies his year. Justin Hardy’s well-rounded game should still make him the de facto WR4 in this offense, but Gage is nipping at his heels at minimum. Chris Lindstrom continues to look good, as does Matt Gono when he’s not being penalized. The big difference is that Lindstrom is a slam dunk rookie starter and Gono is fighting to make it as a reserve, so he’ll need to clean up the penalties. Still, despite the shakiness across the broader line, the team appears to have assembled some legitimate talent here for a change. Takk McKinley in particular and Vic Beasley to a lesser extent looked really explosive standing up and moving around during their limited snaps to start the game. Takk is primed for a breakout and Beasley has looked legitimately improved, and if that carries over into the season it’s going to go a very long way. The reserves looked pretty solid, too. Durrant Miles and Austin Larkin each picked up at least one nice tackle and a sack, with Larkin looking particularly strong and Miles adding a forced fumble for the coaching staff to consider. Both are far from locks to make it, but these kinds of efforts help a great deal, especially when there are question marks about depth at defensive end. Oh, and John Cominsky had another tackle for a loss, for those counting John Cominsky tackles for loss at home. He’s one player we don’t have to worry about overreacting about, because he’s both making this time and finding his way into a small but real role in 2019. Bank on it. Del’Shawn Phillips and Jermaine Grace both had nice games. Grace’s special teams value increases his chances of making the roster to begin with, but he also had a pretty pick of an otherwise effective Josh Rosen and looks fast and seasoned out there. Phillips is a work in progress but is always around the ball, picking up a forced fumble and drilling whoever Gaskins was for a loss in the fourth quarter. The Falcons love their athletes across the board, and it’s not out of the question that they’ll drop Duke Riley for a Phillips or a Grace if this keeps up. If this keeps up. Giorgio Tavecchio did not miss any field goals this week. We can save our panic for the moment. The Ugly Despite a couple of solid scrambles, Matt Simms does not even have a prayer of competing against Matt Schaub this year, and nothing we saw last night changes that. Schaub put together a strong game and Simms put together a mediocre one at best, and it’s possible the Falcons shuffle out their third-string quarterback again soon to ensure that Schaub doesn’t get hurt in meaningless preseason action. Simms did throw a pretty pass or two very late in the game, at least. C.J. Worton in particular and Shawn Bane and Devin Gray to a lesser extent dealt with drops, which are the kind of glaring mistakes that draw the ire of fans, if not the coaching staff. There’s not a ton of room for young receivers on this roster but the team has shown a consistent willingness to keep a couple on the practice squad, so mistakes really do hurt here. Christian Blake and Olamide Zacchaeus continue to look like they have a leg up in the early going. Jordan Miller and Kendall Sheffield had their moments in the exhibition game and had looked good all summer, so we were probably due for some bumps in the road. Both struggled in coverage against the Dolphins, with Josh Rosen noticeably victimizing Sheffield in the third quarter en route to a couple of nice passes. Both have bright futures, but it’s a reminder of why they’re not anywhere close to starting for this Falcons team, particularly Sheffield. Many of the players who had nice games against the Broncos had a tougher time this week, including Tre’ Crawford at linebacker (a call I thought was borderline) and Jasyon Stanley Sheffield at cornerback, with Stanley getting targeted late and being called for unnecessary roughness. The NFL might not need four preseason games, but it helps teams from making kneejerk reactions based off a single game, which is a good thing. The deep reserves did what the deep reserves are wont to do. Hamp Cheevers, Stanley, and Ryan Neal all had rough efforts against the Dolphins’ backup backups, and that’s going to impact their chances of making it deep into August with this football team. There are three games to go, but Neal in particular probably needs some fine games ahead to hold on, given how things have gone to this point and given how deep the Falcons figure to be in the secondary. The Wrapup Game MVP I do this at least once per year, but it was you, the viewer. You put up with preseason football thanks to your love for this team and you deserve to be recognized for it. One Takeaway There really is young talent here among the reserves, though we’re not quite sure A) who’s going to make the roster and practice squad and how they’d look if they were thrown up against starters for any length of time. Still, the cupboard feels less bare in that regard than it did a season ago. Next Week The Jets, with all the Adam Gase eye-popping and general dysfunction that implies. Check out Gang Green Nation for more before next Thursday. Final Word Don’tputtoomuchstockinanyonepreseasongame. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2019/8/9/20762171/falcons-dolphins-recap-preseason-loss-matt-schaub-del-shawn-phillips-qadree-ollison
  5. There are 10 days until Falcons training camp, so here are ten players who need to improve in 2018 Through injury and disappointing performance, these players will need to bounce back. By Dave Choate Jul 16, 2018, 12:00pm EDT With training camp just ten days away (!), it’s time to talk about the hopeful future that lies ahead. Part of that is discussing players who need to improve and hopefully will improve so that this team can reach new heights, hoist a Lombardi Trophy, and allow us all to die in peace at some indeterminate time in the future. Here are ten of them. QB Matt Ryan While Ryan was chiefly unlucky last year, there’s no point in denying that he had some lousy throws, especially early in the year. You also can’t pin the complete lack of red zone success with Julio Jones just on #11, and Ryan himself would tell you he needs to improve. If he does, even slightly, the offense ought to be considerably better and more consistent in 2018. RB Devonta Freeman Free’s issues were almost entirely injury-related, but they led to his worst season since he landed the starting job in 2015. Freeman’s multiple concussions and late season leg injury wound up eating into his production and ensured a lousy game against the Eagles. Now (hopefully) fully healthy, he needs to bounce back to ensure the Falcons have balance on offense. WR Julio Jones No one’s going to deny that Julio, who is currently angling for a new deal, is coming off a year that was a bit disappointing by his standards. He had one of the highest drop totals in the NFL, including a wide open touchdown against Carolina, and managed a meager three scores in 2017 altogether. He still was productive and impressive most of the year, but cutting down on the drops and improving his red zone performance will leave no doubt about his eliteness, especially among the fanbase. TE Austin Hooper For all intents and purposes, Hooper was a league-average starting tight end a year ago, which is perfectly fine. He has the talent to be more than that, as he showed in glimpses last season, and he’ll certainly want to have a big year if he wants to be a big part of this team’s future plans at the position. RT Ryan Schraeder The Falcons got a strong performance out of their offensive line in 2017, by and large, and weirdly the always great Schraeder was one of the weaker options. Wes Schweitzer was the weaker link and Andy Levitre’s late season injury was most costly, but Schraeder can and should return to form in 2018 as part of the offense’s renaissance. DE Vic Beasley Beasley’s 2017 was a tale of regression to the mean, mostly, but it was also a gifted player coming close and just missing. Mix in some reps at linebacker and Beasley’s year was a relatively quiet one, one that he’d like to put in the rear view and follow up with a double digit sack season as he rolls through the fourth year of his contract. It’s a pivotal year for him. DE Derrick Shelby The Falcons cut and then re-signed Shelby, a solid run stopper who hasn’t come close to being a major contributor for Atlanta through two seasons. With a tight four man rotation at defensive end at the moment, the Falcons need Shelby to be rock solid on early downs, especially if he wants a long-term deal. LB Duke Riley This is perhaps the most obvious choice on the whole list. Riley disappointed in his rookie year, but has more than enough ability and athleticism to turn this thing around in his second year. If he does, a great two man corps of linebackers will be stronger and deeper. CB Desmond Trufant Tru was typically good a year ago, but there were times you could tell he was coming back from a major injury. With that firmly in the rear view mirror, and with even more talent in the cornerback corps to help him out, I’d be stunned if Trufant didn’t punch a Pro Bowl ticket this season. P Matt Bosher It was a semi-quiet year for Bosher, who had his worst yards per punt average since his rookie season. The hard-tackling punter would surely like to remedy that as the entire special teams unit looks tor rebound for Atlanta in 2018. Who are you hoping will improve in 2018? https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/7/16/17574068/there-are-10-days-until-falcons-training-camp-so-here-are-ten-players-who-need-to-improve-in-2018
  6. The Falcons were top ten in total pressures generated by front seven in 2017 4 comments Another reason a defensive front in flux is worrisome. By Dave Choate Mar 10, 2018, 10:00am EST Here’s something that deserves to be called out often this offseason, because of how remarkable it is: The Falcons were one of the better teams in the NFL at generating pressure last year. If you’re thinking it has been a very long time since we could say that, you’re right, because the Falcons have traditionally been an average-to-bad pass rushing team. As they’ve slowly upgraded their talent base, those results have improved under Dan Quinn, culminating in a great performance by the front seven in an otherwise frustrating year. Twitter In case you don’t want to squint too hard at that chart, the Falcons were seventh in total pressures last year. That’s impressive enough on its own, and it shatters the weird argument that the Falcons weren’t really all that great up front in 2017. It also underscores how critical this offseason is for the defensive line, however. The Falcons have Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and a hopefully improved Duke Riley at linebacker, which is awesome, and they’ll be able to bring three great players to bear along the line in Vic Beasley, Takkarist McKinley, and Grady Jarrett. But there are nothing but question marks beyond those guys at the moment—okay, Jack Crawford should be solid—and the Falcons really can’t afford to be complacent. I expect improvement from Takk and Vic as much as the next guy, but that’s not enough on its own. With the strength of their core and another good offseason, however, the Falcons should be comfortably inside the top ten again in 2018. That plus some offensive improvement will get you a long way, even in a battle-scarred NFC. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/3/10/17098964/the-falcons-were-top-ten-in-total-pressures-generated-by-front-seven-in-2017
  7. Projecting the Atlanta Falcons individual and team sack totals for 2017 We’ll be bold and say the totals will rise. by Dave Choate Jul 3, 2017, 8:00am EDT Good morning, everyone! Many of you hopefully have the day off, but you’re not getting out of doing some math. This morning, I sat down and tried to guess where the Falcons will arrive at for a team sack total. A year ago, they snagged 34, but 15.5 of those were due to Vic Beasley alone, and the defense should be better this season. I think a jump all the way to 40 is within reason (really!), and I think while Beasley’s share of that decreases, other players will step up in a major way to make up the slack. Here’s my projections. 2017 Sack Projections Team total: 40 (34) Vic Beasley: 11 (15.5) Takkarist McKinley: 5 (N/A) Derrick Shelby: 3.5 (0) Adrian Clayborn: 3 (5) Grady Jarrett: 4 (3) Dontari Poe: 2.5 (1.5) Ra’Shede Hageman: 1 (2) Jack Crawford: 2 (3.5) Deion Jones: 1 (0) De’Vondre Campbell: 2 (0) Duke Riley: 1 (0) Brooks Reed: 1.5 (2) Desmond Trufant: 1 (2) Brian Poole: 1.5 (1) Keanu Neal: 1 (0) Will this translate into a better pass rush overall? I think so, mostly because McKinley figures to be an impactful addition after he warms up, Poe will help the defensive line, and the front seven overall looks deep, balanced, and talented. For what it’s worth, the last time the Falcons had 40 sacks in a season came back in 2004, when that excellent squad put up 48. The Falcons are in a long drought, and hopefully this is the year they get out of it. What say you? https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2017/7/3/15911112/projecting-the-atlanta-falcons-individual-and-team-sack-totals-for-2017
  8. Big Falcons question of the week: Is Austin Hooper ready already? 24 comments The rookie tight end has made a bigger impact than anticipated. By Dave Choate @TheFalcoholic Sep 20, 2016, It’s only two games, as you’re telling yourself this very moment as you move past the headline of this piece. It’s probably too early to start talking about Austin Hooper. In case you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t have your local CBS affiliate, Austin Hooper has four catches for 98 yards in his first two games. He’s been pretty open for those catches, but the fact that Matt Ryan trusts him enough to go deep (which he did twice against the Raiders) would seem to speak volumes. Is Hooper ready to step into a big role? Why Hooper is probably not ready Well, it’s only two games. Hooper looked wholly unprepared throughout training camp and preseason, showing little as a blocker, running some weird routes, and dropping a couple of passes along the way. As a third round rookie receiver at a tough position to pick up at the NFL level, he probably simply isn’t ready to be a major contributor just yet. You do have to add in Jacob Tamme, as well. The veteran tight end had five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown Sunday against the Raiders and has looked very good as a pass catcher in this young season, and even Levine Toilolo got in on the action. Since Hooper isn’t the blocker that Toilolo is and doesn’t yet enjoy the same rapport with Ryan that Tamme does, it’s not like he can and will push either guy off the field. What if Hooper is ready? The Falcons have been missing a genuine playmaking tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired, and make no mistake: The offense functioned better when Ryan had that guy. Hooper is no Tony Gonzalez, but he’s got a legitimate chance to be the best tight end to come through Atlanta since #88. What you’ve seen from Hooper thus far is quality hands (as advertised), the best speed on the team at tight end (also as advertised), and an ability to get open (which we hoped for but hadn’t yet seen until the season started). He’ll need to refine his blocking and route running to really carve out that role, but he belongs on the field, and quality play is only going to help him push for more. Conclusion Hooper’s not going to magically leap up the depth chart to be the starter, but after saying he wasn’t ready to make an impact in 2016 earlier this year, I’m already ready to eat those words a bit. Hooper should continue to be involved in the passing attack and could wind up getting five targets a game going forward. If he’s as productive as he was against Oakland, the Falcons will be only too glad to hand him a starting job in 2017, when Jacob Tamme’s contract is up. http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2016/9/20/12965504/falcons-question-austin-hooper-jacob-tamme-levine-toilolo-atlanta-offense
  9. Does Matt Ryan have to improve for the Falcons to improve? By Dave Choate @TheFalcoholic on Jul 13, 2016, No, but he will have to be better if the Falcons want to improve in a big way. The question you see in the headline above is the one recently posited by Yahoo! Sports, and it’s worth more consideration than we’ve given it thus far. Basically, the argument here is that while you can’t pin all of the Falcons’ woes on Ryan, he has to be better than he was in a career-worst 2015 season for the Falcons to avoid mediocrity this year. While I’m sympathetic to that argument, I think Atlanta can be better even if Ryan “enjoys” another mediocre season. Why? Because I fully expect both the run game and defense to grow, chiefly. Devonta Freeman slowed down a bit at the end of last year and Tevin Coleman wasn’t quite ready for primetime, and with Freeman’s touches being a little more limited in the year ahead and Coleman hopefully showing improvement, the Falcons can afford to lean more heavily on the ground game. The defense, meanwhile, added young, athletic linebackers, an intriguing rookie safety in Keanu Neal, and help up front with Derrick Shelby joining the team and some shuffling of personnel. The unit should be better than it was in 2015, especially at the basic things like tackling and not falling down, and that should mean improvement. Naturally, though, the number of back-breaking turnovers Ryan committed will still represent a pretty significant limitation for the offense if he can’t clean them up, because those stop drives, put the defense back on the field, and are just generally very discouraging. The team can be better, but they won’t be much better, in other words. For the record, I do expect Ryan to improve, and I do expect that to lift the offense and by extension the team. I just think an improved defense and ground game could mean better days for the Falcons even if Ryan turns in a second straight mediocre season. It is worth remembering, though, that the difficulty of the schedule and some of the lingering questions about the team’s talent and/or readiness at key positions like linebacker and wide receiver probably means they’re not a playoff team with a mediocre Matt Ryan. How about you? http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2016/7/13/12161244/does-matt-ryan-have-to-improve-for-the-falcons-to-improve
  10. Is Robenson Therezie really competing with Ricardo Allen for a starting job? By Dave Choate @TheFalcoholic The Falcons may not have free safety settled just yet. There have been more than a few suggestions that Robenson Therezie may be in the running for the starting free safety gig, including suggestions from The Falcoholic. The question is, how seriously should we be taking that possibility? It’s an interesting question for a couple of reasons. The first is that Ricardo Allen is a young starter who played pretty well last year, and has the physicality and aggressive nature Quinn likes in his safeties. The second is that Therezie is an intriguing player himself, having shown impressive instincts in his limited playing time and packing plenty of skill and athleticism, if not ideal size. I think this is more than just lip service. Allen could’ve sealed up the job if he had been truly excellent in 2015, instead of “just” quite good, but the Falcons showed a willingness to get Therezie involved that was a little surprising for a rookie undrafted free agent. Quinn has been willing to get rookies like De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones in the starting mix at linebacker immediately, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t take a long look at Therezie (and perhaps interesting rookie UDFAs like Sharod Neasman and Brian Poole) at one of the safety spots. It’s obvious that Keanu Neal will start at the other. Ultimately, I think Therezie will be in the running but won’t win the gig, with a 2017 starting spot potentially in the offing unless the Falcons prioritize safety in the next draft. Having two players who can genuinely compete for a starting job at free safety on this team is a positive, no matter how this battle ends up. http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2016/7/8/12094586/is-robenson-therezie-really-competing-with-ricardo-allen-for-a-starting-job
  11. If Dan Quinn is on the hot seat, the Falcons are in more trouble than we thought By Dave Choate @TheFalcoholic on Mar 20, 2016, When you hire a coach and give him two years or less to succeed, you are probably not a great franchise. Yet there are some who believe that Dan Quinn is on the hot seat heading into 2017, when the Falcons will open a new stadium. The latest salvo comes from MSN Sports' Mike Batista, who I'm singling out solely because his four day old article was brought to my attention this morning, not because he's on an island with this thought process. Here's the relevant portion: Dan Quinn is only entering his second season as Falcons head coach, but he might be on a short leash after overseeing a collapse that left the Falcons at 8-8 after a 6-1 start. I have a major problem with this line of thought, even if shackling Quinn to Thomas Dimitroff makes sense after the former went to bat for the latter this offseason. The problem is that it takes a deeply dysfunctional organization to handpick a coach, with the help of an expensive search firm, and fire him after two seasons unless he is truly abysmal both those seasons. Considering Dan Quinn began his Falcons career at 8-8 with a team most of us now agree was not up to snuff, talent-wise, you're not going to set him up to be canned on the basis of that year. The greatest threat to Quinn, of course, is the specter of Thomas Dimitroff being fired after 2016 (a very real possibility, based on how the season goes), and a new personnel man wanting a different coach. Considering that Blank decided not to fire Dimitroff based on Quinn's preference this year, though, I have to think he's got a lot of confidence in his new coach, and would make a personnel decision with Quinn's input in mind. Again, there's no point in hiring a coach, especially one with final say over the makeup of the roster, if you're just going to turn him out after a couple of seasons. The Browns, the Dolphins, and the Titans are excellent examples of why that approach rarely works out. There are scenarios in which Quinn is fired in 2016, like a winless season or Matt Ryan stabbing Kyle Shanahan to death mid-game, but they're so remote that they're not worth considering. Quinn is going to get a chance to implement his vision, the team is putting time and energy into building a roster he likes (even if we're not all tremendously fond of it yet), and the team's best chance to become a sustained winner is to execute that vision effectively and give him a little time. If Blank is at the point where he's willing to spin the coaching carousel to earn a little fan goodwill, this franchise is in a ton of trouble, regardless of who is ultimately at the helm. http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2016/3/20/11271686/if-dan-quinn-is-on-the-hot-seat-the-falcons-are-in-more-trouble-than
  12. How The Falcons Offense Can Succeed Against The Bengals By Dave Choate @TheFalcoholic on Sep 9 2014, 7:00p Is it possible that the Falcons are better on offense than they were in 2012? After taking a couple of days to celebrate, we now turn our attention to this weekend's opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. I'll tackle the offense and defense over the next two days as we try to get a handle on what, exactly, the Falcons can expect when they travel out to the Midwest on Sunday. We'll begin with the offense, which put on an eye-popping performance against the Saints. The team rolled up 568 yards, 28 first downs, and 37 points against New Orleans on Sunday, totals that even the most optimistic amongst us would not have projected coming into the game. The Falcons gave carries to four different backs and Matt Ryan completed passes to nine different receivers, with the offense looking as multi-dimensional as it has in a long time. The Bronze Age, maybe. I want to take a look at how spreading the ball around can help the Falcons defeat the Bengals, and weigh whether the Week 1 offensive performance will prove to be an outlier or a harbinger of awesomeness ahead. How A Varied Offense Helps The Bengals are better equipped to take on the receivers in the Falcons' attack than the Saints, because Leon Hall is an excellent cornerback and Terence Newman is still pretty effective at the age of 36. Move down the depth chart and you have Dre Kirkpatrick, who is a useful, athletic young corner with upside still left to be untapped, a perfectly useful Adam Jones and promising rookie Darqueze Dennard. Certainly this isn't a team that is going to need as much safety help in coverage as the Saints did. Fortunately, the Falcons have enough weapons to account for that someone's probably going to get a favorable matchup. Levine Toilolo is lurking as a short-yardage and red zone target, the entire running back depth charts features backs who can catch passes and Devin Hester's probably getting a reasonably favorable matchup against Adam Jones for chunks of the game. So long as Roddy's healthy and effective, he can handle Newman in a one-on-one, and the Bengals are already likely to cheat some safety help toward Julio Jones as a matter of course. In years past the Falcons might have struggled to get things going if their top three options were covered, but this year Ryan should be able to dink and dunk it. Having those short routes will be helpful because the Bengals are likely to fare better than the Saints in getting after Ryan, too. The Falcons can help their cause by putting an effective ground game out there, and with four active backs with varying strengths, they can experiment a little and see what works best against a pretty daunting Bengals front seven. This will unquestionably be a stiffer test than the Saints. If the Falcons are willing to spread targets around, get the running backs and Toilolo involved and not abandon the run, they've got a shot to put together another nice offensive performance, however. Reasons To Believe The Saints were doubling up Julio for long stretches of the game, and he still found his way to 7 receptions for 116 yards. Jones makes life easier for the offense just by existing, and inevitably giving safety help to the corner on Jones gives someone a chance against, say, S George Iloka or a linebacker. Jones can still win against double teams, even so. Harry Douglas and Devin Hester were able to make plays on the sidelines and over the middle of the field, respectively. The Bengals have a superior cornerback depth chart, but beyond Hall, there's no world beaters on the field. Hester's speed can create matchup problems if he draws a 30-year-old Pacman Jones. Only five of Ryan's 31 completions went to running backs, but Steven Jackson can allegedly catch, Devonta Freeman has shown soft hands thus far and Jacquizz Rodgers is quietly one of the best pass catching backs operating in the NFL today. The Bengals have hard hitters across the board at linebacker and on the defensive front, but you don't necessarily want any of them trying to cover the Falcons' shiftier backs. Antone Smith is used sparingly, but remains a nightmare matchup because of his ability to turn a short catch into a long touchdown. The Falcons can and should attempt to exploit that. Matt Ryan seems to have taken a step forward in terms of his comfort level outside of the pocket, which is what made several plays work last Sunday. There's no question that if he can buy an extra second or two by rolling out, the Falcons have enough ability on the field to ensure someone will be open. Reasons To Doubt The pass rush has a better chance of getting home because the Bengals have a deeper, more solid secondary than the Saints, New Orleans' safety cluster notwithstanding. They also have the dominant Geno Atkins upfront alongside Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry, who are tough matchups for any line. I wouldn't bet on the Falcons limiting Cincinnati to one sack, which means Ryan's going to be facing more sustained pressure. He'll have to continue to display that quick release and ability to escape. The Bengals are simply better equipped to cover the Falcons' weapons, and even if some of the matchups should favor the Falcons, they won't be matching up Patrick Robinson on Julio Jones or Roddy White. The Bengals' cornerbacks are all solid tacklers, as well. The ground game can't count on having the same success against the Bengals, who have living nightmare Vontaze Burfict at linebacker and better run-stoppers up front. Steven Jackson surviving a hit or two and powering ahead for tough yardage seems less likely against this defensive front, so the Falcons need to be willing to use their other, speedier backs and dial up runs to the outside to make this work. Levine Toilolo is a red zone factor, but it's tough to say whether he can be even a reliable short-yardage threat just yet. If Toilolo can't win his one-on-one matchups on a semi-consistent basis, one guy who should be Ryan's outlet in the 5-to-10 yard range is off the table. Again, given the likelihood that the pass rush comes home with greater frequency this week, that's a concern. I'll turn it over to you, Falcons fans. How do you believe the offense will perform against the Bengals? http://www.thefalcoh...nst-the-bengals
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