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Barely Guarded Optimism


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I missed a bit of the game before I got a friend to DVR it for me. A little bit of the game means that I didn't see Matt Ryan's first TD pass in context, but I've seen plenty of highlights of it. And now I'll go right into it.

The Good (in no particular order but I must start with-)

-Michael Turner. He comes out and sets a franchise record in one game, and basically he demonstrated the same qualities he exhibited as LT's back-up in San Diego. He's similar to MJD in a lot of ways, only taller. He's a bit of a bowling ball with a low center of gravity and just tough to hold on to, and he really does demonstrate his open field speed that lent him his nickname. It's not really fair that a guy should be able to break that many tackles and still outrun defensive backs down the sideline. I imagine this performance won't be his lone appearance in Falcons' record books

-The First Quarter. If any NFL team has EVER needed to make an early statement, it was the Falcons. Talk about coming through. We immediately demonstrated our offense's capacity to stretch the field with that deep strike. Matty did a great job of looking off the safety (and Roddy's enough of a deep threat to make the safety bite) and then he zips in the skinny post to Michael Jenkins, who flashed that he does have some speed. After the deep pass play opened the flood gates, we were able to just pound the ball for two rushing touchdowns on our two subsequent drives. And it didn't even look hard. And we managed to keep the Lions off the board while we toasted the Lions defense.

-Matt Ryan. While the 62 yard touchdown pass gets the most notice, it wasn't nearly the hardest pass he made. I was ECSTATIC about the pass he made to Roddy White in the third quarter. Just a great job there on recognizing that Leigh Bodden was completely outclassed by Roddy and he put the ball on the sideline and on the money for a 46 yard completion. And it was what I needed to see from him, a ball thrown deep (well over 50 yards in the air) that was on time and on the the money. I was worried that any deep passes he threw would be inaccurate and hang in the air for too long, leading to interceptions, but this was near perfect.

-Offensive Line. Had some huge holes opened up, and Michael Turner made them look good for it. More importantly, they kept Matt Ryan on his feet (not that hard since we only tried 14 passes, but still). A much maligned unit that really had something to prove, and came out today doing a good job. And most importantly, my biggest worry was assuaged (somewhat) because they were remarkably clean. We had one false start, one illegal block (both on Blalock). There was also a holding call, but it was against Roddy White.

-Michael Jenkins. Hey, he actually does have some nice speed. He beat the Lions secondary downfield to help make Matt Ryan an instant hit. Way to prove the doubters wrong in a limited capacity.

-The Falcons Running Game. You know, most days if a guy rushes 14 times for 93 yards and a touchdown, that would be the guy you'd talk about. It's easy to miss how effective we were with Jerious Norwood running ball because of the day that Michael Turner had. It was impressive to me to think about how ridiculously good our running game was in '04 and '05 (the DVD backfield) and realize that yesterday we set a single game rushing record. Remember when we thrashed St. Louis in that playoff game? We missed that mark by only 9 yards.

What we have in the backfield is what always wished we had with Duckett and Dunn-a guy who WILL bowl you over and keep going, and a flashy runner who'll make you miss and then blow past everyone else. It really could be messy for opposing defenses this year-the only way to slow down Turner is to get penetration and keep him from getting a full head of steam, but with Norwood in there you have to stick to your lanes and respect his ability to cut back-keep him from reaching the sideline. I'd love to see both guys used in the same backfield for this reason.

-Jason Elam. It gets overlooked, but seriously, when was the last time we had a 50 yard field goal attempt RIGHT. DOWN. THE. MIDDLE. ?

-John Abraham. He's as good as it gets when he's healthy.

-Grady Jackson. He did what we wanted him to, he took up space in the middle and helped stifle the Detroit running game. Of course, being down three touchdowns in the first half always helps.

-Curtis Lofton. I REALLY laid into this pick, but he really did have a nice first game. He doesn't show up in the box score but he was definitely a presence out there, and got involved in a lot of plays that he didn't always finish. I really can't complain about anything he did yesterday.

The Bad

-Not really all that bad, either, but the Falcons' pass defense. We're going to have a rough time defending big wideouts this year, and Calvin Johnson was plenty willing to demonstrate. All of our defensive backs are under 6 feet except for 6'0 Lawyer Milloy and 6'0 Thomas Decoup. Roy Williams was seemingly held in check fairly well with only three catches, but one was a TD and he was creating a lot of penalties as the Falcons' DBs couldn't really do much about him. The aforementioned Lawyer Milloy does get a gold star for his INT-that was quite a grab to not only catch the ball, but hold on to it as he hit the turf. Again, not that this was really bad, and it could have been much worse, but giving up nearly 8 yards per attempt puts this defense near the bottom for Week 1.

-The defensive line less John Abraham. We really need someone else to get pressure on the quarterback. I don't know how the numbers came out, but aside from the three sacks it didn't seem like we were really getting any pressures on Kitna. He had plenty of time on several plays and got the ball downfield really well. I didn't see any sign of Jamaal Anderson, after a solid preseason from him, and I was hoping to see Babineux become more of a pass rushing presence.

-Adam Jennings. Congrats on making the team. Now please make some manner of contribution.

The Ugly

-How about the Lions Franchise? After trading away Shaun Rogers, they absolutely get man-handled up front. They can't find any kind of balance on defense-they're always either giving up a ton through the air or a ton on the ground. And it took nearly no time at all to get them away from their stated goal of going to a more run heavy, grind it out offense. For a team that was supposed to be favored on the road in the opener, they came out entirely flat. Maybe they didn't respect the Falcons, but what kind of defense can't get pumped up for opening day? Fans in Detroit still have a lot of anguish ahead of them, after signs of the franchise turning around early last year.

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Great post. Here's the stuff I added to Richard's post.

I'll add that overall, I was very pleased with the defense. The second TD we gave up at the end of the first half I lay entirely at the feet of the coaching staff. Mike Smith will learn that if the first handoff to Norwood doesn't pick up big yards, just keep on handing off and eating clock.

But the D was big when we needed it most, in the first quarter when we were trying to build a lead, and in the 4th quarter when we were trying to protect a lead.

Also, it was nice to see Norwood pick up a couple of Special Teams tackles.

To the ugly list, I'll add both of Chris Houston's pass interference plays. Not because of the penalty itself, but because both could have been avoided if Houston just got his head turned around. This was a problem for him last year, and I'm hoping he corrects it soon. Got to find the ball.

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