Well, if you go by preseason records, then the Falcons are in serious trouble at 0-3 as they await their final exhibition game against the Ravens in the Georgia Dome. There have been some bright spots and the Birds have been in the lead in two of the games when Matt Ryan headed for the bench. On the flipside, there have been a few head-scratchers and causes for concern. A few final questions as the Falcons get ready to wrap up preseason.
Maybe it was always in Thomas Dimitroff’s grand scheme or maybe it was a reaction from the vapor trails left by Antonio Brown on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, but Falcons fans have to be feeling a whole lot better right now than they did Sunday morning. Dimitroff picked up one of his former players he scouted in New England in safety James Sanders on Tuesday and then added veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden, formerly of the Colts, on Wednesday. Combined, the two have started 96 games (Sanders – 50, Hayden – 46) for two of the best two teams in the NFL. Sanders started 15 games for the 18-0 Patriots in 2007. Sanders had lost his starting job in New England and Hayden has battled serious injury issues and they still have to fit in and learn Van Gorder’s complex, yet vanilla defensive scheme, but it sure feels so much better now. Best thing of all is that Sanders is 27 and Hayden just turned 28 if they want to make them long-term options.
The Hayden signing adds a much more intriguing element as cut-down day looms. Obviously, Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Kelvin Hayden, and Dominique Franks are basically locks in 4 out of the 5 CB spots. Is Chris Owens the odd man out this year and will he be Chevis Jackson Part 2? Like Owens, Jackson’s star seemed to have a bright future with a very good rookie season only to regress and wipe away any reason to keep him. On the one hand, Owens gives you your best 5th cornerback and only two years ago was showing that he could start at cornerback in the NFL. But on the other hand, guys like Rafael Bush or Darrin Walls are young and show immense talent. If preseason is the tie-breaker, than Owens is a goner because he has not looked like a player who has found a rebirth, but rather someone who appears lost in the secondary at times. Also consider he was a 3rd round draft pick and we’re even having this conversation now.
Another one of the more interesting late-stage battles is for one of the backup defensive end spots. Four of the five spots are as good as locked in. Abraham and Ray Edwards are locked in as starters. Biermann is a key rotational player and Cliff Matthews has had a great camp as a 7th round draft pick rookie. That leaves two, maybe three, defensive ends competing for one spot. The big battles appears to be between veteran Chauncey Davis and unrealized potential Lawrence Sidbury. On the surface, you’d think they go with the experience and versatility of Davis. But after looking at his salary of 3+ million a year as a backup, its not so clear cut. There’s an outside chance that the Birds could keep practice squad stalwart Emmanuel Stephens and cut both, but that doesn’t seem very likely.
News that Todd McClure will miss the Chicago opener and break his long starting streak is worrisome news to Falcons fans. The anchor and captain of the offensive line is one of the more underrated centers in the league. Hawley was selected to be the heir to McClure at center, but is he ready to take over against the Bears in Chicago on opening day?
There’s not a ton to add here since this topic has been beat to pulp. The facts are that Turner has made 2 out of the last 3 Pro Bowls and was the second leading rusher only two years ago. He’s also looked like a running back who has lost a serious step since his debut in Atlanta in 2008 where he was nicknamed “the burner.” Much of it is not his fault since he has had almost 1,000 carries in only 3 years. A final point is this: we were having these same conversations on Turner this time last year and he followed that up with a 1,371 yard, 12 TD, Pro Bowl effort.
A terrible question to pose, but one that must be asked. Even the best ones can’t last forever and Gonzalez seems to losing his ability to separate from defenders the way he used to. Since 2007, Gonzo’s yards and receptions have been on the decline. Make no mistake, he will go down as the best tight end to ever play the game and his role will be allowed to be reduced with the advent of Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. But the question still remains, how much gas does Gonzo have left in the tank?
This one is simple: what are your expectations for Ray Edwards as an Atlanta Falcon? Will you be happy with another 8 sack effort as he’s done the last two years? Will you be OK with less than 8 sacks if he helps increase the overall pressure from the defensive line? Is he the missing piece on this defense?
This is such a ridiculous question since not one meaningful snap has been taken, but does this linebacker corps have the potential of being, collectively, one of the best in a long time for the Atlanta Falcons? Stephen Nicholas, Curtis Lofton, and Sean Weatherspoon, arguably, give the Birds the most athletic and fast LB corps they’ve had in quite some time. Your thoughts?
This is a silly question on the surface because if any team has to go with their backups, especially at QB, than it’s natural to take a huge hit. However, the few glimpses of Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson gave fans a few jitters in the case of an emergency. Redman has come on and won before against Tampa Bay, but he looked pretty bad himself in the preseason. But again, it is just preseason.
Hamstring injuries are one of the worst ones to get because they can linger and linger and linger. Does Dunta Robinson’s hamstring injury worry you or do you feel pretty good about the start in Chicago? Was the Kelvin Hayden signing a signaling of the seriousness of the injury.
Even though the schedule isn’t one of the worst in history, the start of the season for the Birds surely isn’t desirable in the least. The Falcons open at Chicago, where the NFC Championship was held. While the Bears aren’t the Steelers, you know that place will be crazy on opening day. Then the Falcons return home to host the Eagles on Sunday Night Football with the circus that will follow that. Not to mention the fact that the Falcons coaching staff probably couldn’t match the Eagles staff with 22 players starting vs. their 11.
Then the Falcons travel to everyone’s darling team Tampa Bay Bucs where they may have revenge on their mind for the one they stole last year. Then it’s a trip out west to Seattle, where the Seahawks will be feeling good in season 2 after their surprising playoff jaunt last year. Finally, the Falcons come back home to host the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football, where just the mention of the game sends chills and gag reflexes to Falcons fans of what happened in the “Debacle in the Dome.”
It’s a tired cliché to say how important the first games are, but even if the Falcons come out at 2-3, it wouldn’t kill the rest of the season. Anything over 3-2 would be fantastic, but less than 2 would be devastating. This stretch is reminiscent of the brutal 2009 stretch that put a damper on that season.
Neither would play much of a role in the actual offense, but the question is one worth pondering. Would you want to hang onto Brandyn Harvey as a 6th wide receiver, with a receiving corps has two players that had previous knee injuries? Or would it be better to keep a running back like Antone Smith or Gartrell Johnson, who’ve proven very little when given chances? Ultimately, it won’t matter too much, but Dmitri Nance has a Super Bowl ring now.
Although heated conversations get thrown around a lot, do you really think that any of the coaches, specifically OC Mike Mularkey or DC Brian Van Gorder are truly on the hot seat? Both the offense and defense finished top 5 in scoring last year. But both of them also played a major part in one of the worst playoff beatdowns in NFL history as well. If either are on the hot seat, which one’s seat is blazing more?