Our dear Birds joined the ranks of going winless after one week and blowing a huge chance in Pittsburgh. The 50 yard jaunt that made every top play across the nation and NFL put a dart in many fans high hopes on the year. Mostly, the first week was a sad continuation of what we saw in preseason (1 touchdown from 1st string in 16 quarters including preseason). Yes, its only one loss to one of the best teams of the last decade, and the history of the NFL, but perturbing doubts have manifested themselves into enormous concerns regarding the offense. For the most part all logical Falcons fans still realize the franchise is on an excellent upward trajectory, but some serious fault lines have developed over the direction of the offense. The Arizona Cardinals come in with a 1-0 record in a barn-burner against St. Louis in week 1. The Falcons are a heavy favorite (-6.5 at last check) against the Cards with no Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby, or Antrel Rolle. Anyone who puts the Falcons as a lock after witnessing the disgustingly weak display of offense should quickly reconsider. Can the Falcons quell some of the growing anxiety of the 2010 season with a win against Arizona? Six Searing Questions to look at………
Yes, half the teams in the NFL are 0 and 1 and the panic coupled with overreaction has set in. The Jets, Cowboys, Eagles, and even the Colts joined the Falcons in hitting the Big O’fer in Week 1. However, its hard to imagine a team’s offense with so many wide and deep doubts. A common theme was to blame quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw a terrible interception to one of the best safeties of all time when he had a chance to drive the field and win the game. Upon further review, especially after watching Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez, Ryan didn’t fair that terrible against the Steelers completing over 60% of his passes. Although Ryan may not be solely to blame, he didn’t get it done plain and simple. Michael Turner looked like the best 2009 version with pennies in his cleats and looking in slow-motion. The offensive line did extremely poorly in run blocking and the offense became one dimensional. A common theme keeps coming back to offensive Mike Mularkey. The offense has completely regressed since 2008. After adding Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and having Matt Ryan gain more experience, the offense is stale, predictable, and overall pretty pathetic. In fact, the offense has gotten worse by the minute. Not many teams have a defense on the level of the Steelers, but a serious question remains: has the Falcons offense peaked under Mularkey?
Erik Coleman is the epitome of consistency in terms of tackling and leadership, but as fans saw on Sunday against the Steelers, his pass coverage is still suspect. Mike Wallace torched Coleman for a long post-corner route that resulted in one of the longest pass plays of the day. He tweaked his knee in the game, but was able to come back finish. If Coleman’s knee doesn’t hold up to treatment than fans will get their long awaited look at William Moore, the oft-injured 2nd round draft pick out of Missouri. Moore showed excellent flashes in preseason with his bone-crushing hits, but is he finally ready for primetime? If he gets the nod, then this is what fans have been waiting for in terms of youth, speed, and agility. If he dominates on Sunday, then he may not come off the field again. But if he sells it short, than Coleman may become too invaluable as long as he’s a Falcons. Is this Moore’s time?
Who knows if it’s the play-calling, the offensive line, or Turner himself but the Falcons running game has gone from total domination in 2008 to weak whimper in 2010. Was it the Birds really weak schedule or Turner’s fresh legs that burst to the Pro Bowl in 2008? Who knows, but Falcons fans are again starting to seriously be concerned about #33. The step down in 2009 was supposed to be due to the injury and the weight gain, but all fans heard in preseason and camp was how in shape and how good Turner looked. Outside of a few runs, Turner has inched closer to the 2009 version while making the 2008 model look much more distant. No one will confuse the Falcons offensive line with that of the Ravens, Vikings, or Jets, but there were holes that were there on Sunday and Turner simply looked slow in the backfield. Again, maybe all the blame can’t be put on Turner, but the more time that goes by, the more #33 looks like he’s peaked. Which Turner is the true running back?
A great question: has the Falcons defense finally taken the next step or was it more of a product of the 3rd string QB and a fairly flat offense? Tough call, but the athleticism was present throughout the game in Pittsburgh. Curtis Lofton looks to have possibly taken the leap from tackling machine to play-making linebacker. There was decent pressure most of the day from the front four, especially considering Babineaux was out of the lineup. Abraham and Biermann both had a sack. Mike Peterson had an amazing interception and rookie Sean Weatherspoon looked great in space. Dunta Robinson had some rust but his speed and physical nature was evident. Some good rotation got in at D-Tackle with Corey Peters, Peria Jerry, Trey Lewis, and Vance Walker. Christopher Owens and Brent Grimes had their good moments and the defense generally looked good. But two things still remain: what about the overtime breakdown and was it a product of a 3rd string quarterback play? We’ll soon see.
No one’s given Eric Weems a harder time than this author, but he’ll happily eat the biggest crow in the world to say that #14 is for real and legit part of this offense. He caught everything thrown his way and even was ready to score a touchdown after having his helmet ripped off. Harry Douglas looked like his old self with some great catches over the middle. The offense finally looked to get unclogged when the two speedster slots were in the mix and then……they stopped getting the ball. It might be Mularkey’s fault, but Matt Ryan might also be locking in on his old favorites Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Even though Ryan got the ball to 7-8 different receivers, they were mostly afterthoughts. The long maligned receiving corps actually doesn’t hurt for talent as many (mostly myself) originally thought. Roddy White is a perennial Pro Bowler and Tony Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer, but Ryan has got to get Weems, Douglas, and Norwood involved to advance the offense. Can #2 get the ball around?
Yes, there’s no Anquan Boldin to pair with the best wide receiver in the NFL, but to mistake this receiving corps for a bunch of lackeys is to make a major mistake. Dunta Robinson showed some rust in his first action of the 2010 campaign, but he did show some nice athleticism and speed. Brent Grimes got on the bad end of a “misfit,” but generally had a good day. Christopher Owens had a nice day in the nickel on Sunday and is ready to go. Not saying that Hines Ward and Mike Wallace aren’t excellent receivers, but adding in Larry Fitzgerald will demand new challenges. Steve Breaston showed on Sunday he can take advantage of single coverage. Early Doucet may be hurt, but if he’s in than the Cardinals may quietly have one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL without Anquan Boldin. If rookie Andre Roberts gets in the mix, than it may be a long day for the Falcons DBs if they’re not on top of their game. Can Falcons DBs man-up?