First and foremost, let’s all repeat it together: it’s just preseason. The games don’t count and there’s no trophy for blasting opponents and going undefeated. Preseason is a time for players to get into playing shape and mentality. It’s a time for coaches to get a good glimpse of players in real game situation and decide who stays, who goes, and who starts. That being said, it was more than a little worrisome to see the Falcons look completely disinterested to be there against one of the best teams of the 21st century, on national television, and at home in The Dome. Yes it is preseason, but the Falcons were pushed around, manhandled, and pretty much embarrassed by the Patriots. With the Birds supposedly having one of the deepest rosters in recent memory and a several spots open, fans would hope to see a better showing. Although the big test awaits in the coveted “third game” in Miami, is there reason for concern as the regular season awaits right around the corner?
We know, we know, we know. It’s preseason and it means nothing, but……its hard to argue that simply putting in a game-plan, getting a few players healthy, and turning on the “real game” mentality will automatically solve some issues that have plagued the Falcons for the past two years. One of the biggest problems last year was their inability to get off the field on 3rd down. Guess what popped up again? Offensive coordinator may get more criticism that he deserves sometimes, but the Falcons had serious issues converting on third down as they neared the red zone and unable to put up any points on otherwise good and long drives. Guess what popped up again (and has all preseason)? The Birds may well have lost several games with field goals that could have easily been made by Jason Elam. Guess what popped up again…..and again……and again? Once again it’s only preseason, but some of the issues that were supposedly addressed in the off-season have reared their ugly head again in preseason. Thinking the pass defense woes in preseason last year would evaporate when the regular season started ended up with the Birds finishing near dead last in the NFL in that very category. So……are you concerned?
The wide receiver bad luck continues in 2010 with Michael Jenkins being out 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury and the heart breaking news of Kerry Meier being lost for the year. Even though Meier would have only been the fourth wide receiver at best and likely come along slowly, he was having a great camp and some thought he would eventually push his way up the depth chart as the season rolled along. There already was a major fight brewing for the final receiver spot involving Eric Weems, Brian Finneran, Brandon Harvey, Ryan Wolfe, Troy Bergeron, and several others. The Falcons could possibly even carry 6 receivers now that Jenkins will likely miss a few games. Even though he’s done little as a receiver, Weems seems to have a lead due to his special teams duties and Finneran seemingly will take another spot with his veteran experience and sure hands. Brandyn Harvey and Ryan Wolfe will have to make some huge strides in the next two weeks to claim one of those spots. Even though Weems and Finneran will add some security, does it upgrade last year’s receiving corps at all? Troy Bergeron has certainly put in his duties on and off the practice squad and looked good in action the other night, but can he finally make the leap? Many will say that Weems and Finneran will add a sense of safety to the roster, but will it infuse the much needed talent at receiver? Decisions await.
Most fans rarely ever question Coach Mike Smith and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff’s decisions about the roster and team overall. Their ability to stock the Falcons roster up and down with talent at almost every position has been pretty unbelievable. They always get the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. That being said, its hard to understand what they’re thinking at kicker. Dimitroff made a strong statement when he signed possible Hall of Famer Jason Elam to a four year, $9 million dollar contract when he was 38. The Falcons GM obviously knew how important the kicking game was. The plan went wonderful in 2008 with Elam being a major part of the playoff. Run. That same plan quickly unraveled when Elam started to struggle mightily. Its hard to say that the Falcons would have necessarily won a few games due to missed field goals, including New Orleans, Carolina, and New York Giants, but those field goals could have easily changed the complexion of the game and potentially led to a win or two. The front office gave him plenty of time to correct his mistake, but after going 8-15 in field goals over 30 yards the Falcons had to make a change. They picked up Matt Bryant at 34 year old and was a little more consistent, but still missed 3 field goals in 10 attempts. Seemingly, the Falcons wanted a serious competition between Bryant, Steve Hauschka, and undrafted rookied Garrett Lindholm. Most fans expected the battle to go all the way to final cut down day with the best man winning. Inexplicably, the front office cut Lindholm without even giving him a chance (Colts have since picked him up) and cut Steve Hauschka after missing one field goal, thus handing the keys over to Matt Bryant, who has already missed 2 out of 4 field goals in preseason. Can anyone explain how the Birds are in any better situation than last year? Hard to imagine this was what they had planned and the question remains: how bad will it get at kicker?
The beloved former University of Georgia defensive coordinator (you know the one that actually had his defenses prepared?) has had mixed success as the Falcons defensive coordinator under Coach Mike Smith. The first year under Van Gorder saw the Falcons overachieving with less talent, but more veteran leadership and experience. The surprising defense was a main reason for the Falcons resurgence in 2008. Thomas Dimitroff oversaw a complete overhaul in 2009, releasing 5 starters on defense (Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy, Michael Boley, Grady Jackson, and Dominique Foxworth) and the youth movement was sure to see some growing pains. It surely did. The pass defense was atrocious, failed to put any pressure on opposing QBs, and absolutely could not get off the field on 3rd down to save their life. After multiple injuries and a very poor performance for most of the year, the Falcons D started to gel somewhat towards the end of the year. Curtis Lofton continued his ascension and the Falcons started to see great glimpses of young guns Thomas DeCoud, Christopher Owens, Brent Grimes, Stephen Nicholas, and Kroy Biermann. They also got good play out of journeyman Thomas Johnson and 7th round draft pick Vance Walker at defensive tackle. Dimitroff then added one of the best cornerbacks on the free agent market and used the first round pick on arguably the best linebacker in the draft in Sean Weatherspoon. Unquestionably, the Falcons have gotten more talented on defense and that’s not even including Peria Jerry and William Moore’s potential. So when the same old problem reappeared on Thursday night (little pressure and terrible on 3rd down again), many may start pushing a little blame towards Van Gorder, who’s definitely gotten more of a pass than his counterpart Mike Mularkey. Yes, it’s preseason and you never want to give away too much, but should Brian Van Gorder start feeling the heat a little more if the Falcons defense doesn’t improve? How can he not?
-Take your shot at the four questions
-Time for a little concern or it’s just preseason, who cares?
-Please sort out this mess of a receiver position
-Should Falcons go veteran or youth?
-Should Falcons look outside for receiver help
-How much of a nightmare is the kicking situation?
-Will Van Gorder start to feel the heat if defense doesn’t improve?