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Takeaways from Week 1

September 9th, 2013

When I was fresh out of college and trying to enter the job market, I was told a very poignant piece of advice after one job interview.

I was told by prospective employers that my resume indicated I was very much qualified for the position I was interviewing for, but that I did a poor job of promoting myself. So when they were reviewing whether or not to hire me, they weren’t quite sure what they were getting.

This is still a weakness of mine. So in the efforts of changing that, I will be promoting two articles that I wrote on Sunday for Bleacher Report which included several takeaways on the Falcons-Saints game, as well as one grading Steven Jackson’s debut with the Falcons.

They are fairly quick reads, so I recommend you taking a few minutes to peruse them. That’s because many of the things that I would have written in this space are including within them. So I’m not going to do too much re-hashing.

If you’re late to the party the Falcons lost their season opener to the New Orleans Saints. It was not a surprise to me, because I picked the Saints to win the game multiple times last week. Thus my reaction to the game is probably not as negative as many of the folks that expected the Falcons to win. My pessimism over the Falcons’ chances softened the blow.

Another reason why I’m not overly negative is that the Falcons had a chance to win it in the end. It’s one thing if the Falcons had been thoroughly outplayed by the Saints from start to finish. But that was not the case. They had their opportunity to win the game at the end, but unfortunately they could not punch it in in the final moments. When you get within an inch of something, it’s hard to act like that single inch is the Grand Canyon.

A third reason why I can’t get too distraught over this game is that it’s the first game of the season. I was sick after the Falcons lost to the San Francisco 49ers last year in similar fashion because it was the end of their season. Everything that had occurred over the previous twelve months have build to that single moment, and it fell through the Falcons’ fingers. But this is just the first game of the season. The Falcons have fifteen more games to improve and get better.

People probably forget that the Falcons did not have a dominant performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in the season opener last year. Through the first three and a half quarters, the Falcons and Chiefs had been relatively evenly matched. In fact, five minutes into the second half, Ryan Succop missed a 40-yard field goal which would have tied the game 20-20. From there the Falcons drove down the field, scored a touchdown on a Matt Ryan scramble. Then on the next Chiefs’ series, John Abraham sack-stripped Matt Cassel, which then led to a Tony Gonzalez touchdown catch. Suddenly, the Falcons had a 17-point lead within the span of five minutes from Succop’s missed kick.

The point I’m trying to make is that based off that game, if you knew the Falcons would eventually play in the NFC Championship game, you would have expected the Chiefs to have been in the playoff hunt given how tough they had played the Falcons for a half of football. And on the flip-side if you knew the Chiefs were going to have the worst record in football, then you would have thought the Falcons would have been lucky to be a .500 team based off that first half performance.

It’s one game. It’s not an entire season. Don’t try and extrapolate one performance to be more than that. This game could be very meaningful in how the Falcons’ 2013 season plays. Or it may not. We won’t know until the entire season actually plays out.

Now there is a multitude of issues the Falcons are going to face this year, as there always are.

The pass protection is first and foremost. The Falcons have made their bed with this offensive line, and more than likely they are going to have to lie in it. Next week, they face the St. Louis Rams, whose ends (Chris Long and Robert Quinn) are much better than the edge rushers the Saints have. So that could spell trouble. But the Falcons are going to have to deal with this all year long. So it’s going to be on Dirk Koetter’s shoulders to adjust the protections and play-calling to make it so the Falcons porous protection doesn’t become a major liability.

But besides that, I don’t think there are any major issues with the Falcons. At least not anything that we need to overreact to. I thought the rest of the team had a fairly solid game. The defense was stout, albeit with a pass rush that was sporadic. The running game wasn’t spectacular, but effective at times.

I’ll give some more detailed insights on Tuesday or Wednesday when I publish my review of the game after looking at the All-22.

Some of the things I’ll be looking for:

  • Jackson was successful on 4 of 11 runs in the game. I want to pay attention to whether his 7 “failures” were due to poor blocking or his own ability.
  • Roddy White looked like he was playing close to 85-percent in this game. Getting a gander at the All-22 will help determine if that is accurate. Apparently my belief that losing White wasn’t a huge deal was wrong.
  • Take a closer look at the protections and any and all the breakdowns.
  • Looking at the coverage and seeing what adjustments (if any) Nolan made to having a pair of green rookies at cornerback.

Elsewhere in the NFL…

I went 9-5 in my picks from last week going against the spread. Straight-up I fared much better: 12-2. But I always have felt that picking games straight up was relatively easy. But the two games I did not correctly pick the winner for were the Titans-Steelers and Bucs-Jets.

On the former game, it appeared to be a very ugly game. First, Darius Reynaud got a safety on the opening kick on a play that I recall learning about when I was eight years old. You can’t get the ball in the field of play and then go back in the endzone, or it’s a safety. Maurkice Pouncey injured his leg (and is out for the season) on a play where Steelers guard David DeCastro tried to perform an illegal chop block on the defender (Pouncey was engaged up high), but completely whiffed on cutting the legs of the defender and hit Pouncey instead. That play illustrates the complete ineptitude of the Steelers on the day, as Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times. Apparently the Titans pass rush wasn’t just showing out against a weak Falcons line in the preseason, and is legit. Although the Steelers offensive line isn’t known for being a great unit either.

The Bucs-Jets game had a huge mistake made by linebacker LaVonte David at the end of the game. The Bucs had just kicked a 37-yard field goal with 38 seconds left to seemingly win the game. I just automatically assumed the game was over. But Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith hit Kellen Winslow on a 25-yard pass to get the ball to midfield. After spiking the ball with 15 seconds left, Smith scrambled to the sideline for a 10-yard gain to the Bucs’ 45-yard line. But David got flagged for a late hit, which tacked on another 15 yards, putting the Jets in field goal range. Nick Folk hit the 48-yarder and the game was over.

That is probably the first really flukey win of the regular season. But it certainly won’t be the last.

Speaking of Geno Smith, he along with two other young mobile quarterbacks really had breakout performances in Week 1: Terrelle Pryor (Oakland) and E.J. Manuel (Buffalo) each almost pulled out their first career victories. Unfortunately, Pryor was playing Andrew Luck at home, and he is unbeatable when it comes to fourth quarter magic in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Manuel almost outdueled Tom Brady at home, but never doubt Danny Amendola! He’s the cosmic embodiment of the underdog. Like I notedwhen making my picks, Belichick would find a way to use him, and he did to help drive the Pats down the field at the end to get into a range of a game-winning Stephen Gostkowski kick.

One mobile quarterback who had a bit of a rough day was Russell Wilson. The Panthers defense bottled up Wilson and the Seahawks offense. I figured the travel and early kickoff time might lead to the Seahawks getting off to a slow start. But they really never got going. It would seem that the much ballyhooed Panthers front seven is potentially better than we thought, to bottle up the Seahawks all game long. That doesn’t make for a recipe for success when the Falcons face them later in the year.

The Giants performance in their Sunday Night loss to the Dallas Cowboys probably had many Giants fans pulling their hair out. But I probably wouldn’t fret too much. The Cowboys were +5 on the turnover ratio, and yet they still could not deal a knockout blow to New York. How many games is a team going to be that behind on turnovers and still have a chance to win it in the final two minutes? Not very many. So I think it indicates that the Giants are a lot better than they looked, and the Cowboys might be not as good as they looked. I had higher expectations for that defense. Sure, most of Eli Manning’s 450 passing yards were empty because they had to play catch-up in the end. But the Cowboys defense gave up five 20-plus yard passing plays in that game. I’d still be worried about my ability to defend multiple wide receivers with a weak nickel corner (Orlando Scandrick) and starting safeties (Will Allen and Barry Church).

Onto Week Two…

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