Pardon the potential for this post to be seen as less than rosy, but the stars are all lining up for fans to feel very nervous about the upcoming game on Sunday night. Coming off an embarrassing performance up in Chicago, the Falcons play host to the Philadelphia Eagles who had a convincing win in St. Louis, not to mention the firepower they’ve added on both sides of the ball. Nothing would please Falcons fans more and restore some shaky confidence than a huge win over Michael Vick and the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, but the prospects aren’t looking particularly bright at the moment. Some searing questions as fans get ready for a huge game….
Funny to think about the Falcons being in a funk after going 13-3 and winning the #1 NFC seed, but that’s exactly what the Birds appear to be in at the moment. If you include preseason, the Falcons are 1-7 since the New Orleans game a few days after Christmas. They lost a tough game to the Saints, beat the 1-14 Panthers, were destroyed by the Packers in the “Debacle in the Dome,” lost all 4 preseason games, and were smashed to pieces by the Bears in Chicago. Sure, preseason doesn’t count, but the “judging talent vs. winning” only goes so far when you show up and get completely manhandled in the season opener.
The Birds obviously did some wonderful things in 2010, and probably were peaking when they defeated the Ravens and Packers in a matter of 3 weeks. A loss to drop to 0-2 wouldn’t be devastating, but it would add yet another notch to the belt of having an inability to beat elite teams, which may be another omen for a potential postseason.
Sometimes coaches’ postgame comments can be overanalyzed or misinterpreted, especially after a loss. Fans look for any morsel to help explain away big losses like the ones the Falcons were witness to in Chicago. Most times, postgame comments are meant to soothe worried fans confidence. Coach Mike Smith, Mike Mularkey, and Brain Van Gorder’s comments may be doing the opposite.
Smith was quoted as saying that “we’re only going to take what the defense gives us” (paraphrasing). Mularkey said “we’re not going to force the deep ball if it’s not there.” And Van Gorder said that they were “behind in tackling” because “we just haven’t had that many opportunities to tackle.” So let’s see if we can get this straight, you talk all offseason about being “explosive,” which by association means being aggressive, and this is what you give after being steamrolled 30-12 in the season opener?
May seem like a silly question on the surface, particularly since Rodgers had a negligible impact in his debut, but the idea of having a complementary backfield really comes into play. Michael Turner and Jason Snelling were just too much alike in Chicago to be an effective tandem. Turner is the undisputed starter and the fact is that hardly any teams have been able to make a three man rotation.
Given the penchant for Matt Ryan’s checkdowns and the coaching staffs extremely conservative offensive philosophy, wouldn’t it make more sense to get the attempted screens and dump-offs to the back best suited for them? Perhaps this is only a reaction to the very limited amount of offensive snaps the Falcons got against the Bears, but can a 3 back rotation really work?
What a bad time for the Falcons to get the injury bug. Jonathan Babineaux, one of the most underrated players on the entire team, is out for 3 – 5 weeks. Ovie Mughelli looks doubtful for the game as well after going out very early on Chicago. As the leader of the offensive line, Todd McClure was severely missed in the Chicago beatdown. News also came out that Harry Douglas may have suffered a concussion. The Falcons were going to have their hands full with a completely healthy lineup and now it will be an even tougher fight.
Can Snelling step in for Ovie? Can Vance Walker, Peria Jerry, and Carlton Powell fill the huge gap left by Babs? Can Kerry Meier and Eric Weems make an impact in the slot? Was it just rookie game jitters for Joe Hawley at center? Let’s hope the answer is yes to all the questions above or it may be a long night.
The Eagles were already one of the best offensive teams in football and then they went out added even more firepower to their arsenal. Michael Vick, Lesean McCoy, Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Steve Smith, Ronnie Brown, and the list goes on and on. Very few teams have outright stopped the Eagles and their offense, so maybe the best the Falcons can hope for is to limit them as much as possible.
The Birds had a hard time with Chicago’s “high-power offense” and if they replicate that effort, a new NFL offensive record for points scored may be set. Van Gorder and the defense better dig very, very deep or it could get really ugly.
With the advent of another complete blowout, at the hands of the Chicago Bears this time, an interesting question keeps coming up over and over: why can’t last year’s offensive gameplan against the Baltimore Ravens be the permanent offense? In that game, Matt Ryan looked at his absolute best, completing 32 of 50 passes, for 319 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, and a 101.6 QB Rating.
Fans realize that opponents will gameplan and strategize ways to take away a teams strength, but the best teams always dictate their offense to the defense and not wait for the defense to be nice. There weren’t 70 yard bombs, but Ryan looked the most comfortable he’s ever looked all the while picking a part a pretty good defense in the Ravens. Why not throw the conservative playbook out the window and let Ryan do what Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Phillip Rivers are allowed to do on a weekly basis?
Eric Weems had a fantastic season last year as the Falcons kickoff and punt returner. He took two kickoffs all the way to the house for a touchdown (one a potentially game saving return in Tampa Bay) and did extremely well in punts as well. Not only was he a very good returner, he never dropped or bobbled punts and was a sure handed fair catcher.
So what happened? Stunningly, he simply watched punt after punt hit down near the Falcons own red zone and roll inside the 10 and 5 yard line. Many times the offense took the field, they had 95+ yards in front of them against one of the NFL’s best defenses. He surely will get it corrected, but if he doesn’t than Dominique Franks showed in preseason that he can return as well.
Recent news that Harry Douglas came back to practice is welcome news to coaches and fans alike. However, reports initially came out that HD received a concussion in the Bears game and, with the new NFL rules, you would think that perhaps he may not be ready to go. If that’s the case will Kerry Meier and/or Eric Weems be ready to step up in one of the biggest games of the Falcons season against the best cornerback corps in the NFL?
Meier looked surprisingly good after only being a year removed from ACL surgery, but possibly facing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot is a little different than matching up against a 2nd or 3rd stringer in preseason. Meier would be more of a possession receiver anyway. Eric Weems has a similar style to Douglas, but he’s been up and down in the pass game as well, but has shown some promise when he’s gotten balls thrown his way.
Fans are sick to death of hearing about how new defensive additions to the team “aren’t ready because they haven’t learned the defensive system.” What’s so difficult about Van Gorder’s defensive system? Drop your All-Pro defensive end 15 yards down the field to cover receivers on 3rd down: check. Give 10 yard soft cheese zones that receivers can run circles around: check. Never send creative blitz schemes and stunts: check. When you do blitz, run the most telling and obvious blitz in the world (telegraphed nickel blitz) that never works: check. Allow offenses to convert their 3rd downs, regardless of how far they have to go: check. Seems pretty easy to most of us.
In all seriousness, hard to believe we won’t see James Sanders and Kelvin Hayden in this game with all the Eagles speed and offensive talent in the pass game. Sanders experience would be much appreciated and Hayden’s potential as a desperately needed, legit nickel back would surely be welcome. Just get them in the game and stop with the “difficult defensive system” stuff.
Where do you stand with your current Atlanta Falcons right now? Do you chalk up the Bears smashing as just a really bad game (usually averaging only one per year under Coach Smith) and your confidence is unwavering in this coaching staffs ability to fix their mistakes and right the ship? Or do you feel a deep sense of worry about the future of the Falcons under this coaching staff?
As several authors have noted, including the AJC’s own Mark Bradley and ESPN South writer Pat Yasinkas, the Falcons are in a serious funk right now with a winless preseason being sandwiched in between the “Debacle in the Dome” in the playoffs and the absolute smashing by Chicago last Sunday. If you look at the whole picture, than it’s simply a small blip on the radar. But if you look at the last 8 games the Falcons have played, they have been downright bad.
Time to give your best go at analyzing, deducing, and prognosticating what will happen on Sunday Night Football.