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Atlanta Falcons: Mixed Emotions as Birds Down Dolphins
10:14 pm August 25, 2012, by Dawson Devitt (D3)
Fans Stuck Somewhere in the Middle
It was a win and when the real season hits, that’s all that will matter. It’s preseason though, so everything’s still fair game. Most fans seem to be stuck somewhere in the middle after three preseason games and the all-important 3rd “tune-up” contest. The scoreline doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story. This post is not meant to seem overly negative or critical, but there’s a big fear among many fans that problems from preseason can drag into the regular season, as it did when the Falcons had an absolute collapse in Chicago in their 2011 opening game. A look at the 3rd preseason game:
SmittyBall Appears Here to Stay
Although Mularkey still shares a lot of the blame in terms of the offensive construction, Mike Smith appears to drive this conservative ship and seemingly really enjoys it. Whether it be stubbornness or just his overly conservative nature, the apprehension is that changing coordinators may not change as much as some hoped. This will be said over and over throughout the post: yes, it is just preseason and the Falcons did win the game, but for a long time against the Dolphins, the 2012 squad looked no different whatsoever from the highly underachieving 2011 team. Points are points, but kicking 3 field goals in a preseason game (he did go for it once and that 4th down play call looked worse than the infamous Saints overtime call) doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.
Although Turner looked better in the pass game, he still just does not look like a feature back. It is true he didn’t have much blocking, but he can’t do much of anything on his own and this offensive line is far from a group of road graders. It appears as though Smith is “forcing” Turner into the gameplan. How else can we explain seeing less and less of Jacquizz Rodgers as the games have gone on? Then there’s the stubborn commitment of sticking with Garrett Reynolds evidently through every amount of awfulness possible. Even though Konz may not be an All-Pro as a rookie, he surely has way more upside. Sure, there’s always the chance that they are “saving” the real stuff for the season, but as longtime Cage member Paddy O said, at some point that excuse runs out and this team may have to actually overcome SmittyBall to win a playoff game.
Ryan Levels Off a Touch
Ryan’s had a great preseason overall and actually had a pretty decent night, as he went 18 for 26 for 220 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps it’s just a case of suffering from the high expectations he created over the first two games. There were a few throws that looked pretty bad. The major underthrow was saved by Julio Jones on the long pass. He couldn’t quite connect with him on two other long throws. One may have been caught by Jones, but the other was on Ryan. This is nitpicking a little bit and it wasn’t all Ryan’s fault, but bogging down to a screeching halt 3 times in a row in the red zone and kicking three field goals in a preseason game is more than a little concerning. A few other passes definitely could have been intercepted, but the Dolphins came up short. Overall, there’s a ton of hope and the former BC qb has had an overall great preseason, just a little leveling off, that’s all.
Biermann’s Looking Good
Some questioned when the Falcons gave Kroy Biermann a starter’s level contract (3 years / $9 million) and whether it was too much to give a supposed backup. That contract sure is looking good about right now. The Bier Truck has looked great this preseason both with his hand in the dirt and standing up as he’s done a lot of this preseason. He’s registered a sack and made some excellent plays in the backfield for a loss. He may not have taken over for Ray Edwards as a permanent starter, but he sure is playing better. As many fans thought, Nolan’s scheme and philosophy is playing right into Biermann’s wheelhouse.
Excellent Receiving Corps in Many Ways
The play on the field has been exemplar, as expected. Julio Jones is getting ready to take the NFL by storm, Roddy White is looking fit and on form, and Harry Douglas is finally getting in on the action. The final two spots will only add to a one of the best WR trios in the NFL. Not only is their play on the field looking up to par, but Julio and Roddy had an excellent interview during the pouring down rain talking about how much they enjoy playing with each other and how close the receivers are. There was some worry about Roddy potentially losing focus or getting disgruntled, but judging from the interview, there’s not any hint of that to come. Something that stuck out was the fact that all they cared for was “getting the W.” With so many teams filled with divas and locker room issues, TD, Smitty, and Co. should get major credit for their “black dot character” evaluation system. It appears to be working pretty well.
Red Zone Woes
Again, yes it’s still preseason, but one of the biggest areas for worry for fans is the continued red zone woes. This is something that reared it’s ugly head all the time in the Mularkey era and the hope is that it doesn’t continue. Whether it’s playcalling, personnel, or just unfortunate mistakes or errors, the red zone issues must be solved if the Falcons want to go far in 2012.
Can the Offensive Line Be Fixed?
The Falcons ultimate Achilles Heel is the constant and vomit-inducing discussion of the offensive line. This has been an issue in the past, but the bridge finally broke in 2011 when Matt Ryan was running for his life and they couldn’t open holes in the run game against elite opponents. To his credit, Dimitroff used his first two draft picks on offensive linemen, getting the best center in the draft in Peter Konz and potential-laden left tackle Lamar Holmes. It’s still preseason and seeing Sam Baker play better has been a nice highlight, but for every highlight it seems another hole in the boat pops. For example, Baker seems to improve and then Clabo starts getting torched. Right guard is the bane of Falcons fans existence at the moment. What is the obsession with Garrett Reynolds? If you like him so much, stick him at right tackle (the only position he ever played) and move Clabo inside as Seminole Warrior has said many times.
Lamar Holmes looked pretty darn good for his first NFL experience and is the case with the Smitty development program, he may not see the field for years. Peter Konz may have had his lumps in the first half, but he looked good in the second half. If nothing else, Konz has infinitely more upside than Reynolds, so what are they waiting for? Then of course there’s the issue at center. Todd McClure seems to be doing OK for the moment, but can his body take an entire 16 game season? Then we’re back to square one once again, this time having to break in yet another offensive lineman, this time a center. So the question goes, can the Falcons offensive line even be fixed or is it destined for crappiness?
Defense Better, but Growing Pains Remain
Overall, the defense does look better. They are more aggressive and are getting constant pressure in the backfield. Players are excited about Nolan and the new scheme and this may be the most talented group on defense in quite awhile. As mentioned before, though, there will be some growing pains as we’re seeing. They did clean up their tackling from a week ago, but there’s still issues in giving up third downs (especially to a rookie QB) and even though they’re getting pressure in the backfield and on the QB, they aren’t getting sacks. Those are hallmarks of the Van Gorder Era. Again, nothing to panic about and much of it is nitpicking considering Nolan’s immensely successful resume. Just something to clean up a little.
The Debate is Over
This is the most direct way to say it: Dominique Davis should be the #2 quarterback and if he’s not, it’s an outright travesty. Fans can safely assume that Davis won’t be put at risk of losing after his excellence this preseason, particularly after his performance against the Dolphins. Considering Smith’s tendencies, the Falcons will keep all on the 53 man roster and allow Davis to develop a year under Redman. As long as they keep him, it’s not that big of a deal, but based on pure performance, Davis should be the #2 quarterback. It’s a no-brainer in fact. Whatever Redman offers in experience, Davis more than quadruples that gap in talent. In fact, some fans are starting to think that Davis may be a long-term option after Matt Ryan instead of just developing a quarterback. This kid is for real and the longer that Smith keeps him buried on the depth is simply delaying the inevitable. If TJ Yates can lead the Texans to their first ever playoff win, than Dominique Davis is more than capable of being the #2 to Matt Ryan. Stop the charade and give the guy the nod.
There’s a natural tendency to believe that “it’s just preseason and everything will be worked out.” While that has some truth to it and this team definitely looks better than last year’s squad, the idea of sweeping everything under the rug in the name of “not showing your cards” gets lost in the shuffle. Just last year many fans were complaining about things in preseason that very well bled into the regular season, in painful fashion. It’s another away game to start the season on the road (3 years in a row by the way) and the hope is that 2012 is not a repeat of 2011, where the Falcons not only got beat but kind of got embarrassed.
Time for Good
Those ready to pounce on the idea that “you do nothing but spew negative garbage,” here’s the fix. This team looks good overall. The offense has a pep in it’s step, the defense is definitely going to be much better, and this team has a feel of hard work and something special. It was always going to be an adjustment to new coordinators and in general the play has matched the hype. As passionate fans we all get caught up in perfection, but to say that this team doesn’t look better than last year’s is to deny reality. As long as the Falcons start giving Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith some more carries, everyone will be happier.
Final Wide Receiver Spots are a Jumbled Mess
Kevin Cone had it locked up back when the Falcons started training camp. Well, the cards have turned and the battle for the final spot is as muddied as ever. Although Cone and Drew Davis were the lead candidates, the position appears to be a confusing guess to make. Recently picked up Tim Toone had a fantastic night and gives glimpses of a Wes Welker or Brandon Stokely type of receiver. Many fans feel that Kerry Meier shouldn’t have a lock on the #4 wide receiver spot since he can seemingly never play more than 2 consecutive quarters without getting injured. This one will be fun to watch.
Thanks to Blank
Even though it probably went on too long and the audio was all messed up, this is a time to acknowledge, appreciate, and respect the magnificent job that Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has done not only for our Birds but also for the City of Atlanta. Blank has presided over a top class franchise that employs great people who give of themselves outside of football. Blank’s commitment to the City of Atlanta
and his effort to improve the lives in this city and state are unmatched. You literally can’t ask for a better owner
. He cares for people, works to help improve their lives, and is committed to winning. The Falcons and their franchise may not have had success in the postseason, but he’s already been the ultimate champion
for the City of Atlanta, it’s citizens, and anyone who cares about humanity.
Fun Gus note: Ted Turner gave ONE BILLION DOLLARS to Unicef, Arthur Blank wants the City to give HIM 300 million. This is where we need that patented Pudge 'wankgif'...