Falcons show why expectations should be tempered

I'm sure you recognize the face on the current cover of Sports Illustrated, which tells you something about the sudden expectation level of the Falcons.

I'm sure you recognize the face on the cover of Sports Illustrated's NFL preview issue, which says something about expectation level.

It was easy to forget, amid the defensive ruin and Charles Dimry flashbacks, that the Falcons actually won an exhibition game the other night against San Diego.

Thomas Dimitroff barely noticed.

“The third preseason game is very important in terms of setting a tone,” the Falcons’ general manager said. “That’s what was unfortunate about that game.”

Game 4 wasn’t much better. The Falcons lost to Baltimore on Thursday night, 20-3. The preseason reaffirmed what we already knew: This team will go as far as Matt Ryan and the offense carry them, because it won’t be the defense.

It’s easy to get drunk off one great season. The Falcons went 11-5 last season. Unexpected 11-win seasons lead to meteoric expectation levels. Some now believe 11 wins is the standard, rather than partly the residue of overachievement and a soft schedule.

But there was a lesson learned the other night. Several players didn’t perform to the levels that Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith had hoped. And by perform, we’re not referring to talent, but focus and effort. Those are two things the Falcons never lacked last season.

Want to see how quickly 11-5 turns into 5-11? This is the NFL. Start to think you’re better than you really are and watch how quickly the bottom falls out. That won’t play with Smith, who coached tough and physical defenses in Jacksonville. It certainly won’t play with Dimitroff, who came from an organization, New England, where the sum almost always exceeded the seeming value of the parts.

(Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Baltimore fullback Jason Cook burns Chris Houston for a touchdown catch, another bad sign for the defense. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Asked what he was looking for in the team’s final dress rehearsal, Dimitroff didn’t hesitate: “I really want to see the second- and third-team players rise up. I want them to go into this with an element of poise. I want them to show that no matter where they are on the depth chart, they need to produce and they need to play with a sense of urgency. I’m speaking more of the defense.”

He also could have been speaking of the No. 1 defense. There are problems. Ten of the 11 starters were on the field in the first quarter — John Abraham being the notable exception — when the defense was schooled by the Ravens’ third-string quarterback, John Beck. Five days after San Diego backup Billy Volek (7-for-9, 102 yards, one touchdown) had a 150.9 quarterback rating against them, Beck engineered a 14-play, eight-minute, 91-yard touchdown drive on the Ravens’ first possession. That set the tone for the night.

Beck went 5-for-5 for 50 yards and a touchdown. (Rating: 147.9) I’m sure it was a very proud moment for Mr. and Mrs. Beck.

Dimitroff wants what he saw in New England — tough, physical, smart defensive players. The Falcons may get there eventually, but that’s not the team they have now.

Drawing conclusions from exhibitions always is risky. Certainly, two national publications look at the Falcons’ offense and expect that to translate to wins. Sporting News, the same outlet that projected a 1-15 record last season, this year predicts a run to the NFC title game. Sports Illustrated just put Ryan on the cover of its NFL preview issue, and picks Atlanta to win the NFC  South (but lose in the first round to Green Bay).

A year ago at this time, most tabbed Atlanta to finish any where from last place to possibly having a chance to win six games (only if everything went right and Smith didn’t suddenly decide in Week 3 that he wanted to coach Arkansas). We got so much more than that.

Now expectations might be out of balance in the other direction. But if things go terribly wrong, at least we’ll know why.

208 comments Add your comment

Rocky flop

September 3rd, 2009
9:38 pm

MOT

September 3rd, 2009
9:38 pm

Positives were Wilson, Biermann and a Thomas Brown moment.
Need to make some MAJOR changes on D. DB’s and LB’s are huge suspects. One acquistion (Hill) isn’t near enough.

Jamaaliver

September 3rd, 2009
9:47 pm

The sky is officially falling.

atlshirt.org

September 3rd, 2009
9:49 pm

NRBQ

September 3rd, 2009
9:51 pm

Congrats, Rocky. Your life’s ambition accomplished.

Sonny Clusters

September 3rd, 2009
9:59 pm

They don’t look bad tempered to us. We was thinking they look like they won’t be able to cover all that much with those little DB’s.

lawton

September 3rd, 2009
10:10 pm

this debacle is on dimitroff this time. he SHOULDVE kept milloy to tutor moore ( and be insurance at safety), kept foxworth which is obvious, and grady jackson. the falcons have NOTHING up the middle of the defense. peterson gets pushed around at middlelinebacker. its gonna be a mess and im predicting a 6 or 7 win season.

Anton Chagura

September 3rd, 2009
10:13 pm

preson is over. Let the beatings brgin.

SGTBILKO

September 3rd, 2009
10:14 pm

Did we really waste a 3rd round pick on Chris Owens? Somebody find Milloys phone number Quick!

Anton Chagura

September 3rd, 2009
10:14 pm

sorry too many margs. let the beatings offically begin hic up!

BugKiller

September 3rd, 2009
10:16 pm

lawton… Peterson is playing WILL.

Lofton, on the other hand, is one of the lone brightspots on the defense at Mike. Notice the Falcons’ run defense is STOUT.

But because they’re having issues pressuring the QB (because of lame-@$$ guys like Anderson) their very average (that’s putting it nicely) is getting torched.

Anton Chagura

September 3rd, 2009
10:16 pm

That my friends was very VERY ugly.

GREGNORTON

September 3rd, 2009
10:16 pm

Time for me to swing and miss yet? Oops, wrong blog. I’m SO confused!

Glitchy

September 3rd, 2009
10:18 pm

Chris Houston is just awful. I have been incredibly optimistic, but with the schedule we have and the defense we have, it doesn’t look good.

D-Line will be OK, but LBs and DBs are not up to NFL standards. Hey Brooking haters, like our new LBs? Peterson is quite the upgrade. He may be small, but he’s slow…..

willie

September 3rd, 2009
10:21 pm

Wow, I wasn’t too concerned when S. Diego chewed us up with their great offense, but this was ugly. The Ravens 2nd string offense (and 3rd string QB) marching straight down the field for a TD. Now I am officially worried. At least Abe (clearly our best defensive player) wasn’t in, but still very ugly.

MOT

September 3rd, 2009
10:22 pm

Shockley gets let go tommorrow and Falcon’s make two major trades over weekend on D.

mudcat

September 3rd, 2009
10:22 pm

Owens sux, Houston sux, our whole secondary sux. The offense better score a LOT of points or we’re going 8-8 this year!

Jeff Schultz

September 3rd, 2009
10:24 pm

Just checking in. Obviously this doesn’t carry leave a great feeling going into the season opener. But I’m sticking to what I’ve said before: 10 wins, which this season might win the NFC South.

nhe

September 3rd, 2009
10:24 pm

Wow, the grammar around here is (dare I say) worse than the Falcons 3rd down defense. The pass rush will be fine. We’ll get the requisite 16 sacks from Abraham, and if Biermann and Sidbury are on the field as often as they should be, we’ll get another 10+ sacks from them.

The run defense looks good, though it drops off severely with the 2nd unit.

People keep saying we should have kept Foxworth. Wake up. He’s from Maryland, and he was an unrestricted FA – he was willing to take less to play for Baltimore – that’s his home. We weren’t going to sign him. You can’t blame TD for that.

It looks bad, but I think we’ll get the pass coverage worked out. I’m actually much more concerned about our inability to create turnovers – none from the first unit in 4 preseason games.

Henry D.

September 3rd, 2009
10:25 pm

Dimitrof got a little to fired up over his “genius”. He either got somewhat lucky last year or is has turned into a dufus this year. He has too many players who are back-up’s at best trying to start because he thought he couldn’t be wrong on a player.

And I am still disapointed with Van Gorder. He needs to get in some players faces and kick some butts.

Monster

September 3rd, 2009
10:30 pm

Wow.
Petersen sux. We need another LB. Boley will be missed. Wire will be playing.
Jerry is disappointing.
Houston, we have a problem.
Speed? Does not look like it.
Lofton: stud!
Bierman: could be….
Bring McMaster and Milloy in here.
Put Middleton and Owens on the practice squad for a year.
Hope William Moore was a good pick, b/c the remainder are dubious.

Beer Man

September 3rd, 2009
10:30 pm

Bierman should have won the starting job opposite Big Abe tonight. He’s played well this preseason and Jerry has looked good 2 weeks in a row. We definitely have issues, but we also have building blocks on Def starting with Lofton, Jerry, Babs, Predator, Bierman with Nichols and Peterson being decent pieces as well. I think I have officially given up on Houston. He gives up play after play and you can see he has lost all of his confidence. We haven’t seen Moore yet (really need him to be good) and the other guys are going to have to step up and play within the system….they have no choice.

Falcon 8211

September 3rd, 2009
10:31 pm

I hope TD and Smitty make some major D. trades because this D. sucks. On the other hand Chris McAllister is still a free agent maybe they will sign him but doubt it because he actually will cover receivers.

WHAT UP!!!

September 3rd, 2009
10:31 pm

Our defense holds them to 7 points through 3 qrts and then the scrubbs come in (many of them wont even come close to being starters) and blows the game. OH SH** THE SKY IS FALLING!! GIVE ME A FREAK”N BRAKE.

JEFF……….exit stage left. Go write somewhere else!!!

Bad News

September 3rd, 2009
10:33 pm

TOLD YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

Enjoy :)

fanfan

September 3rd, 2009
10:34 pm

Has Shockley learned anything? Why do they keep him?

Joe Flacco

September 3rd, 2009
10:35 pm

You suckers couldn’t even score a touchdown or beat our 4th unit. Damn you people really suck!

nhe

September 3rd, 2009
10:36 pm

Folks – Biermann hasn’t played anywhere but right DE for the Falcons, and that’s Abraham’s primary spot (because its the right handed QB’s blindside). We will see Abe move over to left end to get Biermann on the field, but don’t expect Biermann to start in a position he hasn’t played, and don’t expect Abraham to suddenly move primarily to left DE.

Please dear God in heaven, find a way to keep Jamaal Anderson off my football field.

Reid Adair

September 3rd, 2009
10:37 pm

There are a lot of new faces on the defensive side. It is going to be interesting to see how long it takes them to come together – if they are able to do so at all.

Wozzeck

September 3rd, 2009
10:37 pm

It should be noted that ESPN generally tailors the cover to the market the magazine is appearing in. In other words, I just saw the same cover except with Aaron Rodgers in that helmet. But yes – expectations are high. Ryan just doesnt’ strike me though as someone who’s going to have us wondering “gee what happened to him” at the end of the season. I think he has “it” whatever the heck “it” is.

Wesley Wallace

September 3rd, 2009
10:39 pm

Foxworth and Prime Time are the only two great secondary players we have ever had. DeAngelo Hall is probably a better player now that he has his head on straight. They should have paid Foxworth. What were they thinking? Very tough schedule. I will be happy with .500 season. Maybe Dimitrof can pull a Foxworth out of his butt. That is a magic trick I will never get tired of seeing.

BugKiller

September 3rd, 2009
10:42 pm

How can ANYONE say Jerry is disappointing?

The Falcons run defense is STOUT.

It all begins up front with Jerry. He also has a couple of sacks this preseason.

Some of y’all need to get off the crazy train and come back to reality.

SickandTired

September 3rd, 2009
10:46 pm

The D will be fine people. Some of you are obviously Georgia fans on here and only know how to gripe. Trust this staff and this management team. We will get to where we want to go. BTW, DJ Shockley is done as a Falcon.

curtis

September 3rd, 2009
10:46 pm

we will be fine…..the d will gel, and the o will keep us in it till they do. ja98 actually got a sack too. still hope they don’t keep him around though.

Keith

September 3rd, 2009
10:49 pm

The defense is a downer. Of course, REMEMBER that Cincy beat the Colts 38-7 tonight. You think that’s actually going to happen during the regular season? Just keeping the preseason in perspective…..

poppa falcon

September 3rd, 2009
10:53 pm

I agree with “What Up”……..but our secondary is doing us NO FAVORS!!

nhe

September 3rd, 2009
10:54 pm

I hate that for DJ, but its true, he’s probably done. He throws a very accurate but very uncatchable ball – that’s why we see so many drops when he’s in there. He desperately needs to develop touch as a passer (he currently has less than Vick ever did).

Cedrick (Arlington, TX)

September 3rd, 2009
10:54 pm

Now, we should be worried about this team especially the defense. Our cornerbacks are all below 5′10″ and we do not have Grady jackson to clog the middle. Our defensive “STARTERS” in the first quarter but were unable to knock around the third string back-up QB of Baltimore. Instead this 3rd string back-up drove the team full of back-ups right down or throats to score a TD on our “1ST” team defense. No does anybody not feel scared after hearing this??

Monster

September 3rd, 2009
10:55 pm

Stout? Bugkiller, you and I are watching different games. But I’ve seen 4 preseason games. And Peria Jerry can not get off a block. I wish it were different. I thought he was a stud when we picked him. And I so hope I am wrong. But Warren Sapp never looked like this. Jerry is an average (at best) defensive lineman. And our run defense is not stout. If Lofton can not make the tackle, it is a 7 yard gain.

Bad News

September 3rd, 2009
10:58 pm

HA HA – Keep on dreaming Dorothy’s. Maybe Toto will fall out your butts :)

A Realist

September 3rd, 2009
11:01 pm

Again…the vertically challenged CBs got burned tonight against the Ravens. Hopefully when the regular season begins the pass rush will be there to help them out. Otherwise we’ll have to hope that the acquisition of Tye Hill will help the secondary real soon or that TD can find some help via the players being cut within the next couple of weeks.

Mr. Optomistic

September 3rd, 2009
11:03 pm

4 – 12 in ‘09?

Sure looking like it. :(

Bad News

September 3rd, 2009
11:08 pm

Mr. Optomistic

I say 3-13 but what the heck – it’s almost Christmas :)

Monsterisanidiot

September 3rd, 2009
11:16 pm

Jerry average? Are you crazy? He hasn’t played in an official NFL game yet and you call him average? What I saw out of Jerry was a ROOKIE making improvements in EVERY preseason game.

Some of you people are bat s*** insane. I’ll be happy with a 9 win season this year but don’t expect it with the schedule and inexperience on D. I still believe 2010 is our year.

Michael

September 3rd, 2009
11:19 pm

you know, I really really hate when people dip their chip so deep in a preseason game.

a lot of times preseason games are really not indicitive. its a combination of not scheming, not having the same intensity or feel, etc.

players admit that. they may not when they go on air interviews…but it is true. Cincy beat Indy tonight 38-7.

Detroit went 4-0 in preseason last year.

Let the game next week happen, then start bashing the teams expectations.

Cabbagetown Brown

September 3rd, 2009
11:21 pm

4 – 12 at best!

DrJ

September 3rd, 2009
11:22 pm

Defensive secondary really ugly. I still think Dimitroff will pull a good veteran DB out of the ranks of the unemployed after the final cut. But after watching our play so far, and looking at our schedule, it looks more like an 8 & 8 season.

PMC

September 3rd, 2009
11:22 pm

9-7 or 10- 6 is not a bad record.

They are doing a few things well on defense but they look like a young team. This happens. New Orleans is just as porous and Tampa is an absolute grease fire. We’re ok. I’m not expecting much by way of playoff victories this year, they are still building after all. Patience. The best part is that it looks like they will find ways to be in games and that’s really what you want, a chance to win it at the end and an offense that’s capable of getting it done. We are far from a complete team but they are being whipped into shape… it just takes time. They look better against the run this preseason than they did last year no question. Passing might be spray and pray for a while.

I think they might be a year or even two from competing for championships…. but they’ve got a nice shot at the division this year.

M45

September 3rd, 2009
11:23 pm

You cant jump to conclusions in this Gm.Mostly the Backups played.But there still a little to worry about on the defencive side .

Big Ray

September 3rd, 2009
11:27 pm

This team is not going 4-12, so some people may as well just get over it.

Yes, the defense looks awful, mostly against the pass. It will get better, but these are growing pains. This is the second year of a complete team rebuild. Why can’t people get that through their skulls? Last year was a pleasant surprise, and a percursor of what happens when you change the culture of a team in the right way.

Right now, this team has to prove that they won’t go from winners to losers. 8-8 keeps you from being a loser (though you’re not a winner). 9-7 makes you a winner. 10-6 makes you a team that must be reckoned with at all times.

Hold your horses. And by not overspending, Dimitroff assured the possibility of in-season signings or trades that will cost money.

Sorry, but holding onto Foxworth does just one thing for you: make sure that one receiver is covered for the most part in each game. And even that’s no guarantee.