Falcons already entering a season-defining stretch

Mike Smith didn't like a lot of what he saw against New England, other than the effort. (AP photo).

Mike Smith didn't like a lot of what he saw against New England, other than the effort. (AP photo).

FLOWERY BRANCH – NFL teams generally are defined in December. That’s when the stakes tend to be the highest, the injuries tend to be the most debilitating and the coaches either look like nuclear physicists or are completely dumbfounded as to why the New England defense in Week 13 didn’t bite on the same play-action as the Oakland defense did in Week 2.

That said, we are about to find out something about the Falcons.

It’s not December. But if this football team doesn’t come through this upcoming stretch of games relatively unscathed, December may not matter so much.

The Falcons are coming off a road loss and a bye. Having the bye week so early means they’ll now play 13 straight games without a rest. They travel to San Francisco Sunday and are in a stretch that finds them playing six out of eight games on the road.

How does it get worse? Like this: Four of the next seven opponents (Chicago, Dallas, Washington, New York Giants) will be coming off bye weeks. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams coming off bye weeks in the past three seasons won nearly 60 percent of the time (57-38-1, .599).

“It’s going to be a test for this football team, especially with a lot of games on the road,” Michael Turner said. “I guess we’ll see what we’re made of.”

It’s never easy to get a feel for these things. The Falcons are 2-1 and coming off a loss to New England. That’s about where most of us figured they would be. The lack of clarity has to do with the fact those two victories — over Miami and Carolina — don’t look nearly as impressive today as they did at the time. The Dolphins and Panthers are a combined 1-6.

In short, the Patriots have been the Falcons’ biggest test and the team was fairly run over (26-10).

Tight end Tony Gonzalez senses fans and media already are doubting the team. “It seems like people are all of sudden poking holes in us,” he said.

It’s at least safe to say assumptions are in short supply. The Falcons are young, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Inexperience and the potential “awe-factor” tend to come into play more in stressful situations. Like road games.

Defensive end John Abraham looked at game tape and came away convinced, “I think a couple of people got blinded by the lights. It was New England, a championship team. They really wanted to have a great game against them. But if we’d played our game, we’d have been all right.

“I was disappointed when I was at the game. Then when you watch the film, you feel worse because you feel like you could’ve played better. We didn’t give New England our best effort. We played terrible. It wasn’t like they were killing us. It was just stuff we did or we let them do to us.”

This is when a team either grows up or struggles. The Falcons have enough talent, certainly on the offensive side of the ball, to win games. But intangibles like resolve and effort decide the rest. Last season, this team grew up quickly. After losing games at Tampa Bay and Carolina by lopsided scores of 24-9, they won four of their final six on the road, before dropping the playoff game in Arizona.

As you would expect, Mike Smith spent much of the off week looking at tape. “You want to evaluate your team from top to bottom,” he said. “But with the bye week coming so early, you’re not able to do in the analytical [statistical] analysis that you normally would do. There’s not enough statistics to see any trends.”

So what stands out?

“Guys are playing hard,” he said.

The rest, we’re about to find out.

97 comments Add your comment

robert

October 6th, 2009
3:03 pm

Sarcastic Blogger

October 6th, 2009
3:12 pm

I spell fickle – “S – C – H – U – L – T – Z”

No one ever corrects me.

The Real f

October 6th, 2009
3:14 pm

Make or break week on the road of a long season.

Marcus

October 6th, 2009
3:18 pm

time to get back to work. Up next, SF. I think we have somethin to prove the next 4 weeks. All of the teams are basically even with us or better in the standings. so by Nov. 8th, we will know something.

Hollywould

October 6th, 2009
3:25 pm

You are dead on Jeff. Does not even include 2 games with Saints. Have to take care of 49ers. I have to think the 49er offense will make our D look better. If not, these 4 games could be killers. By the way if you need a blogger from Dallas I will be at the game. ROAD TRIP/ Go Falcons

Ed-Covington

October 6th, 2009
3:27 pm

After an amazingly successful first year, TD’s second draft can now be confirmed as a complete bust. The reason Jerry & Moore were available was because of their histories of injury. Owens cannot beat out Grimes for nickle, Middleton was released. Sidbury & Walker, “the steals of the draft”, do not play for a team desperate for a pass rush & run defense. The lower round draftees are what they are: subs & ST players.
The “process” cannot continue if the team receives little or no contribution from the draft each year. If KC hadn’t given up on Gonzales, and Jax on Mike Peterson & Brian Williams; where would the Falcons be?

STL Falcon

October 6th, 2009
3:27 pm

What a difference a game makes. Where are the fans! Fans, short for fanatics, defined as “a person motivated by irrational enthusiasm.”

We need to get a little irrational. We can break down every iota of possibility for negativity, and you know what, we’ll always find it.

When is it our turn?

When do we decide that other teams need to look out for us?

When do we let it known that the Falcons coming to your town isn’t just another home game, it’s going to be a battle.

Quit rooting scared.

San Fran should be scared. Who has annoited them? Why are we the “up and comer in this equation?”

This weekend there will be a plane flight and a walk through and then a game – we’re going to punch them in the mouth, they’re going to punch us in the mouth, and if you’re a 49ers fan in St. Louis and voice something stupid where I’m watching the game, I’m punching you in the mouth.

This is football – and I don’t care how irrational it might be,

GO FALCONS!

Hollywould

October 6th, 2009
3:32 pm

Ed, Come on ( a complete bust) after 3 games. Try some positive pills.

Paul H

October 6th, 2009
3:33 pm

With this schedule, we have to beat teams like the 49ers. Even the 49ers aren’t bad, we can’t afford not win this one.

cajdawg

October 6th, 2009
3:42 pm

We don’t have a physical defensive line, I am so sick of this franchise’s love affair with 290lb defensive tackles. I thought that Smith and Dimitrov were going to fix this, but they go out and draft 6′1″ 290lb Peria Jerry and look at Babineaux- Vince Wilfork’s left leg weighs more than Babineaux.

wxwax

October 6th, 2009
3:44 pm

In evaluating the team, the best that can be said right now is that it’s a good thing they lost going into the bye week.

The loss gives the coaches concrete things to fix. And it gets the players’ attention. If anyone on the Falcons was feeling comfy before, I doubt they are now.

As for calling the defensive draft a complete bust…. well, I should think it’s obvious that that’s being a little hysterical, not to mention premature.

Growing Pains

October 6th, 2009
3:45 pm

Just like we had 2 make adjustments last tear, we have a young defense and an offense trying to figure out where gonzales stands in our offense. The experiment is over after that loss and the unleashing starts now. Wake-up call, 49ers are the unproven team here and we lost to superbowl favorites in a game we could’ve, should’ve, would’ve won! So all you partial falcon fans get off the wagon because you guys are a jinx! This is going to be a terrific season. None of the teams we have to play for the rest of the season can beat the patriots on a consistent basis! Falcons win sunday 37-14 and the season ends at 12-4 at the worst. Our defense will grow up just like Matt Ryan grew up last season!

Hillbilly Deluxe

October 6th, 2009
3:48 pm

I’m so old I remember when the biggest defensive tackles in the league were about 270.

Heath

October 6th, 2009
3:49 pm

This week’s game is huge. If we can go into the last 6 games 6-4, we’re probably in as a wild card at least. Lose this one and confidence goes down the tube with that monster stretch ahead.

Having said that, SF doesn’t have anyone like Brady that you will get a flag for breathing on, so I expect the defense will have a better game.

Jeff, any insight as to why the Falcons are not using the no huddle much this year? If was devastating last year, and you’d think it would be more effective this year as Ryan progresses, but it seems to be out of the playbook.

Coop

October 6th, 2009
3:51 pm

Ed – I’m as negative as they come. Me from the Fire Mark Richt camp, but even I think you’re a bit overboard. You may be completely right. But let’s give it at least two years to call an entire draft a bust. I thought Nicholas was a bust, but he looks decent with potential this year. Jerry got hurt. It sucks, but it doesn’t mean he’ll always be hurt. They used to say that JA55 couldn’t stay healthy.

Bat Masterson

October 6th, 2009
4:02 pm

I’m looking forward to the game. The Niner’s have a good looking defense,so far, it should be a good test of the Falcon’s offense. I would like to see what L. Sidbury can do.

Ryno

October 6th, 2009
4:03 pm

The Falcons can assume an additional 4 wins on the season (two against Tampa, on the road against Carolina and home against Washington). That’s 6. Need three more and where are they coming from?

@San Fran? Buffalo? Philly? Chicago? @Dallas? I don’t think I’m reaching to assume a loss @ NYG and NYJ and NoLa hasn’t been slowed down yet.

Jeff Schultz

October 6th, 2009
4:19 pm

Hollywould – Agree. Niners are playing hard for Singletary but I think the Falcons win this game.

Ed Covington – Kinda early to declare a draft a bust, isn’t it?

Paul H – Agreed, this is one of those games you put down in the “W” column before the season. Lose this and you a dig a hole.

Hillbilly – I’m right there with you. I remember when 300 pound offensive linemen were viewed as circus freaks. Try to find one under 300 now.

Heath – I’m sure you’ll see it. I think at this point they’re still trying to figure out how/when to use all of their pieces and, more importantly, get their running game untracked. But I doubt it’s going to be a major part of the offense, just something to keep defenses off guard.

Ryno — I’d assume loss at Giants but not Jets. NYJ still has a lot to prove (as they showed last week.)

midnite

October 6th, 2009
4:27 pm

@Ed-C [After an amazingly successful first year, TD’s second draft can now be confirmed as a complete bust].
You are kidding right? Complete bust after 3 games. Try Viagra.

ray

October 6th, 2009
4:43 pm

I am trying to keep my spirits up after the loss to new england but as all long suffering falcons fans know we have been let down a lot with this team.Hopefully we get the running game on track at the 49ers and have a big win.A little confidence will go a long way for the young guys on the defense during this stretch.GO FALCONS.

SimpleDawg

October 6th, 2009
4:47 pm

The Falcon DBs need to improve radiply or we’ll be in deep doo-doo against the good passing teams.

The easiest way to make the DBs job easier is to put pressure on the opponent’s QB. Move Jamaal ( I forget where that extra A goes ) to DT, rotate Sidbury & Davis at one end, and Bierman & Abraham at the other end. Blitz a LB once in a while and put the opposing QB on his @ss.

The offense needs to move the chains.

Has anyone seen Money Bags White lately?

Derek Griffin

October 6th, 2009
4:49 pm

Enter your comments here The running game will be the key this weekend. If Turner and Norwood get 25 to 30 carries combined for 100+ yards we should be ok. Keep our “D” off the field and shorten the game, the way the Pats did to us. Running the ball takes the crowd out of the game and hopefully opens up the deep pass that we have been sorely missing. I think we need to throw a few deep balls just to keep them honest and you never know, we might catch one.

Arno

October 6th, 2009
4:51 pm

Last year, the very first game the Falcons played made the “statement” for the year. This year, we are still waiting and wondering…. I think they’ll put it together against the 49ers.

Coop

October 6th, 2009
4:52 pm

Ryno – I’ll agree with assuming loss at NYG and 2 at NoLa. that’s 4 losses we can count on.

I think Buffalo, SF, 2 x TB, Car, NYJ, and WAS are must wins which would bring us to 9 wins.

So 9-4 with 3 left means we need one out of the Dal, Chi, Phil to get to 10 wins. I’m not sure 9 will get the wild card.

I think we can beat any of those 3 (Dal, Phil, or Chi). The disturbing part to me is that SF, NYJ, and sweeping TB and Car are MUST WINS.

Ted Striker

October 6th, 2009
5:03 pm

Jeffie: Was unaware — till I read your commentary — of the sheer number of upcoming opponents who play the Birds after a bye week. Brutal. Thanks for saving me a kneecap with my bookie, cause I prolly would’ve made some different investment decisions without that info.

Your loyal constituent,

Theodore “Thornton Melon” Striker

Bullish-on-the-Falcons

October 6th, 2009
5:10 pm

Biggest matchup to watch –

Patrick Willis vs. Michael Turner – With no power run game our season will be long. I hope Turner runs Willis over. Again and again.

Roddy, pay like you’re getting paid. Please. It looks like you robbed the Falcons in the offseason based on the mediocrity you’ve shown thus far.

Defense needs to pony up, especially vs. the run. Glen Coffee is a great stand-in for Gore.

Must-win game!

Alan

October 6th, 2009
5:13 pm

I wish all of you naysayers would crawl in a hole and not come up for air , better yet I’d like to slap you upside your head but I’m sure my hand would hurt for weeks recovering from with contact with idiot rocks.

I wish that you had the capacity to appreciate last year and look forward to another good year as a winner and quit casting stones at a good team, good coaching staff and good ownership with a quality GM.

You really are getting to sound like others in this country, all you want to do is bailouts and not appreciate good hard work, for gods sake go to Oakland and stay there.

LJ

October 6th, 2009
5:15 pm

@Ryno (and all):
In my non-scientific approach to predicting the season, I go based on the notion that the NFL is all about the QB. Therefore, I look at the games under 3 scenarios: 1) Where Matt Ryan is clearly the better QB; 2) Where the opposing QB is clearly better than Ryan; and 3) where it’s a toss-up (it’s not clear either way):

Where Ryan is Better:
vs. Miami (Pennington) — won game
vs. Carolina (twice) (Delhomme) — won first game
vs. SF (Shaun Hill)
vs. TB (twice)(Josh J or Josh F)
vs. WASH (Campbell)
vs. BUF (Edwards)
vs. NYJ (Sanchez)

Where Opposing QB is clearly better than Ryan
vs. NE (Brady) — lost game
vs. NO (twice) (Brees) –
vs. PHI (McNabb if healthy), if Kolb then move to first scenario
vs. NYG (E. Manning)

Where there is no clear difference:
vs. DAL (Romo)
vs. CHI (Cutler)

Based on this non-scientific, clearly opinion-only analysis, there are 9 games the Falcons SHOULD win if you subscribe to the notion that it’s all about the QB. There are also 5 games they SHOULD lose, and 2 toss-ups.

I doubt it will all go according to plan, but so far I’m batting 1.000 (smile). But will say this…I think ATL will sneak up and win a couple of those games where Ryan is not the better QB, they’ll win at least one of the games where the QBs are about equal, but I suspect there will be a loss to a team with an inferior QB. With that, my prediction is 10-6 for this team.

What do you think, Mr. Schultz? Everyone else?

Alan

October 6th, 2009
5:21 pm

LJ, good sound reasoning, hopefully some of the naysayers will get your drift. GO FALCONS-GO SOUTHERN RUSH

Cutty

October 6th, 2009
5:22 pm

GO BEARS!!! I’ll be in the Dome that Sunday night to watch your playoff hopes dwindle the that of UGA’s National Championship aspirations this year.

Growing Pains

October 6th, 2009
5:24 pm

Yay, we do have some real falcons fans in here somewhere! We haven’t had big plays on offense and not enough on defense. If decoud and lofton make those three interceptions, we look a whole lot better on defense. If Mike Turner stops killing drives with his woeful fumbles, we look a whole lot better. If New England games ever are called fairly, we are 3-0 most likely! The 49ers will be like carolina and miami for us, don’t let the record confuse you. After all, they are in a division where an 8-8 is playoff bound! They have yet to beat a contender!

Ed-Covington

October 6th, 2009
5:30 pm

midnite:

Viagra? Sorry, never needed it. Obviously you do.

To clarify, I am a huge Birds fan; have been since 1966. I cheered through all the “geniuses” from Van Brocklin to LeBaron & Bennett to Glanville & Jones to McKay & Mora to TD & Mike Smith. I hope the Falcons win every game. I simply tire of the media crowning “genius” after one year of success.
Many have stated that TD drafted only for depth this year. If so, he was wrong in doing so. This team needed immediate help on defense and got none from the draft; while we were able to get Ryan, Baker, Lofton, Douglas, Jackson et al last year.
Yes, we are 2-1; but the W over the Panthers doesn’t look as meaningful as it once did; and we didn’t exactly run over them.
I thought the offense would be able to carry the defense until it was able to gel, but the NE game showed that the offense can be stopped. I think we all thought that this team would improve simply from another year’s experience for the coaching staff and young players. The addition of Gonzales was a gift from KC that I thought would solidify the offense. But the previous strengths of the running game and long passing game have disappeared. This is what bothers me, despite the record.
I would be happy to be wrong and that Jerry and Moore become perrenial All-Pros. What concerns any fan is that if we concentrate on defense in the 2010 draft, which we did THIS year, how will the results be any different?

Growing Pains

October 6th, 2009
5:32 pm

Watch that falcon defense grow right before your eyes! The additions of Tye Hill and Brian Williams will prove to be just what we needed. And yes, we do need to send a linebacker in to blitz because those weak corner blitzes send corners in who can’t tackle, that is not good! Mix it up a little!

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

October 6th, 2009
5:39 pm

LJ…I like the way you broke that down..good post…but the intangible that scares me is the 4 games that the Falcons have against teams coming off bye weeks….that sux…the stats don’t lie…I like to take games 1 at a time…we NEED to beat San Fran…last year we swept Oakland and SD out there…hopefully that trend continues…I’m glad Aikman and Buck aren’t calling the game….(bad karma there…) but they’ll be back when we play New Orleans…

Growing Pains

October 6th, 2009
5:39 pm

Ed Covington: I feel what you are saying. I believe it was all just an experiment those first 3 games and when that experiment failed against New England, that we will go back to last year’s formula except with a younger defense and better offense will start to show the rest of the season. I hope after that loss Mike Smith unleashes all the falcons weapons!

Growing Pains

October 6th, 2009
5:45 pm

Good comments LJ! I think the deeper the season gets, the better the falcons get. I mean, we did lose to the superbowl and referee favorites. As did the ravens.

Growing Pains

October 6th, 2009
5:47 pm

I see an explosion coming soon! Hopefully, it’s on Sunday against the niners.

Growing Pains

October 6th, 2009
5:50 pm

I also so saw last night, the vikings aren’t that good, the packers offensive line is just that bad!

LJ

October 6th, 2009
5:50 pm

@Ed-Covington,

You’ll have to show me some clippings of where “many” have stated that “TD drafted only for depth” I don’t even see how you could argue that given that they released half (okay, exaggerating) of the defense. How was Jerry in first round a “depth” move? William Moore was also drafted to become a starter. Look at how Dallas drafted this year — now THOSE picks were purely for depth.

Also, I think your initial disappointment about this year’s picks is largely due to you being spoiled by last year’s picks…but keep in mind, that’s a very biased perspective because you witnessed 17 games worth of evidence (season + 1 playoff game). At the very least, give these guys the same lenght of time before they are considered busts.
I can assure you that William (Willie-Mo) Moore is gonna be a spark to the defense. He probably could have played sooner, but I think it was prudent for the team to let him heal up fully after the bye.

As for Jerry, let’s give him an incomplete. But at the same time, you see how there was a clear drop-off in the defense vs. NE when he was not there, so what does that tell you?

Look, I’m not trying to start an argument here (blogs tend to get nasty), but I don’t think you are giving this draft a fair shake.

As for the other picks, Sidbury was a speed rusher in college, so he needs to develop some other skills to be an every-down lineman. If they rush him out there, every team will know to run the ball right at him. If you need evidence on what he can be like, did you see how Jared Allen lit it up vs. the Packers last night? He too, was a mid-round pick out of a small program. He had time to develop, now he’s a beast.

Christopher Owens needs time to develop as well. You can’t expect 3rd and 4th round picks to provide “immediate” help. If William Moore is a flop, then I’ll give it to you, but give him some games first.

That’s my $0.02 on the matter! But it’s all good!

LJ

October 6th, 2009
5:54 pm

@Bob Horner,

You and I must be on the same wave-length. I hate when Aikman/Buck call the Falcons! But at the same time, I complain when we get Fox’s C or D team with Brian Billick or some other no-name LOL!!

Krafty

October 6th, 2009
5:58 pm

I finally spotted Michael Turner move with a purpose. They had just put out fresh biscuits and gravy at Piccadilly. I was hoping he would show up last week but he didnt. I agree with you Ryno we need pressure on the QB. Without that it makes the job a lot tougher on our young/ borderline pigmy secondary. I did like how Brent Grimes outjumped Finneran on the Hail Mary to end the play against the Panthers.

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

October 6th, 2009
6:04 pm

Krafty…as a Piccadily fan I know it’s not “all you can eat”…he had to pay for each biscuit….I love their food…but I never leave full…..LOL

RealityandFrank

October 6th, 2009
6:23 pm

All of last year, Matt Ryan was better than Joe Flacco. At this time, Joe Flacco is the better quarterback and is progressing faster. The offense is not playing at the level it did last year. The coaching staff must do what is necessary to let the offense play at a higher level. Let Matt Ryan loose!!!!!

Grady Jackson Fan Club (Atlanta Chapter)

October 6th, 2009
6:26 pm

The Atlanta defensive line really misses Big Grady taking up all that space.—– We miss ya Grady.

jeff shultz is still mighty smart

October 6th, 2009
6:38 pm

What the hell,Jeff, you’re talking Falcons here, remember 8-8 will continue the 43 (44?) year tradition of not having back to back winning seasons. I’m waiting for Ryan and Turner to be injured and out for the season. I mean we’re talking Falcons footbal, right? The faithful waiting for the disaster to happen, again

You guys are crazy

October 6th, 2009
7:11 pm

Enter your comments here You’re jumping to too many conclusions way too quickly….we have a top 5 offense, which has been kept conservative to date. We have missed a number of scoring opportunities so far, but that’s about to change….Jerious is back, so new dimension there, and I think with 2 weeks to review, you’ll see us stretch the field now, which will set Turner up nicely…we have too many weapns to be held down much longer. The D is young, but upside is great. Just stay patient…by week 10 you’ll see what I mean…

Reality Check

October 6th, 2009
7:11 pm

They are done, take the bread out of the oven and bring on the eggs!!!

If you only score 10 points against the Patriots pathetic defense, just what chances do you have against a defense like San Francisco that is ranked number 4 against the run and number 12 against the pass.

NOODLE ARM can’t stretch the field and Turner will get shut down – you do the math.

There is no way NOODLE ARM can win without Turner bailing him out. With 6 “QUALITY” opponents coming up on the road and New Orleans kicking butt, 2010 draft watch is going to start early.

Dimitroff is an idiot and that’s why New England didn’t care when he left. He thought he could do what Belichick did – give me a break.

MAYBE NEXT YEAR GUYS :)

Reality Check

October 6th, 2009
7:13 pm

COOP

You are high! There is no way this sorry team beats San Fran. They will be lucky to score 7 points.

Reality Check

October 6th, 2009
7:19 pm

Mike (niners)Singletary==========interviewed………DENIED

Lovey (Bears) Smith———interviewed………DENIED

The next two weeks, Artie will get it stuck to him for not hiring the “MOST QUALIFIED” head coaches, instead of hiring one that looks like him.

Let the beatings continue :)

You guys are crazy

October 6th, 2009
7:19 pm

Reality check is the guy who is high….they’ll have 7 points 5 minutes into this game…Shaun Hill is about to get his butt kicked by Mr. Abraham, and just because SF beat a pitiful team this weekend does not make them great…you should really stop ingesting those funny mushrooms Reality, it’s clouding your vision terribly