Takeaways from Week 3

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan and the running game give Atlanta hope

I have become increasingly aware of the fact that over the years part of my duties as a Falcons blogger is being able to talk my fellow fans down from the ledge.

Under Mike Smith, losses by the Falcons are relatively rare and thus it seems that the negativity is magnified during the weeks following a loss. People have to get all the negativity that they are used to getting out over a 12-loss Falcon season in less than half as many games. Also it seems like after every single loss that Falcon fans want to take a referendum on the season and use that individual game to determine whether the Falcons are going to or capable of winning a Super Bowl.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But the only game that determines whether a team is able to win a Super Bowl is the Super Bowl itself. And that game is a long ways off. Thus nobody should be trying to figure out February in September.

Look, I’ll admit the stats aren’t that promising since teams that start the season 1-2 aren’t exactly known for making deep playoff runs. But here’s something that should provide you a bit of solace. Five of the twelve playoff teams last year did start the season 1-2. That might be the most ever, although I only checked back to about 1990 or so before my eyes glazed over. In 2010, none of the playoffs teams got off to worse than a 2-1 start. What does that mean? I don’t know. It could be a one-year aberration or a sign that parity is rising in the NFL. But more importantly, it’s supposed to illustrate to you that a 1-2 start doesn’t end your season just as it did not for Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, and Washington a year ago.

Also, the 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants both started the year 1-2 and ultimately won the title. Sure, two out of twelve doesn’t exactly fill you with an abundance of confidence but it should illustrate to you that an NFL season is not defined by what happens in Week 3.

If I’m making the argument for why the Falcons are going to turn around their season then that argument is going to be based off the fact that both losses came in the final minute. A play or two here and there, and the Falcons could easily be 3-0. The fact that the Falcons’ are pretty beat up at this point in the year also could play into their favor later on. It’s getting a lot of younger players reps to the point that several of them might wind up stepping up. It is noteworthy that without contributions from rookies like Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Michael Johnson, the Giants may not have made it to the Super Bowl back in 2007.

Roddy White and Steven Jackson have yet to really impact for the Falcons, and if they come back strong there is little doubt the Falcons will be a much stronger team with them than they have been without them.

Another hope is that the Falcons’ offensive line gels over the course of the year and is playing better down the stretch than they are at the outset of the year. I have been harsh on Lamar Holmes thus far this year, but let’s note that a player like Bobby Massie got off to an abysmal start last year as a rookie in Arizona, and over the second half of the season was arguably Arizona’s best offensive linemen.

Look at another recent Super Bowl team in the 2010 Green Bay Packers who overcame early season injuries to Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Mark Tauscher, Atari Bigby, Nick Barnett, and Aaron Kampman. Thanks in large part to players like James Starks, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Bryan Bulaga, Charlie Peprah, Sam Shields, Desmond Bishop, and Frank Zombo, respectively, stepping up.

The Falcons could find themselves in a similar scenario. If players like Joplo Bartu, Robert Alford, Jason Snelling, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Harry Douglas take advantage of these early-season reps thanks to injuries elsewhere, that could benefit the Falcons down the stretch if players like Sean Weatherspoon, Asante Samuel, Steven Jackson, and Roddy White play like themselves later on.

It’s encouraging that Corey Peters and Peria Jerry appear to be having their best seasons thus far. The liability that was supposed to be Garrett Reynolds doesn’t seem to be coming to fruition. That is also promising.

And most of all, the Falcons still have Matt Ryan. As long as Matt Ryan is healthy and playing, the Falcons are going to have a chance to win every game. Now if Ryan continues to get beat up and gets injured, then your panic and pessimism is more than warranted. But until that day happens, and there’s no need to take that kitchen knife with you into the bathtub or open that 32nd floor window.

And obviously the number of hits Matt Ryan has incurred this season is discouraging when it comes to him making it through the entire season. But what is encouraging is that the Falcons were able to run the ball effectively against the Dolphins and Ryan wasn’t sacked yesterday. Sacks are somewhat overrated when it comes to assessing a pass rush and/or pass protection, but in the case of the Falcons it’s a step in the right direction. If the Falcons can build off that and get some balance back to their offense, then things are looking up. By being able to run the ball, that opens up the play-action pass and now the Falcons can take more shots down the field. They can get back to generating big plays, which is going to be pivotal in their ability to elevate their play over the course of the season. The Falcons have never had an offense that has really been explosive, although Julio Jones is playing his best football. And the potential is there that if that continues, he’ll be able to make the Falcons into a legitimately explosive offense. But it starts with establishing a ground attack, and continues when Roddy is healthy.

But most importantly, you don’t expose your quarterback to hits if he doesn’t have to drop back to throw. The more the Falcons run it, the safer Ryan is.

There is plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the rest of the Falcons’ 2013 season, you just have to open your eyes a bit rather than bang your head against the wall.

Elsewhere in the NFL…

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Trent Richardson joins Andrew Luck in Indianapolis

Not a lot of surprises this weekend, although Cleveland’s resilient win over Minnesota, and Indianapolis taking it to San Francisco are two of the notable exceptions.

I call Cleveland’s win resilient not only because they had a fourth quarter comeback but because I like many others, expected the Browns’ players to sort of quit on the season after the Trent Richardson trade earlier this week. But on a team that many didn’t think had any weapons on offense, several players showed up Sunday. Josh Gordon was magnificent in his first back from a two-game suspension while Jordan Cameron also had a big game. The pair combined for 16 catches, 212 yards, and 4 touchdowns. And most of all, Brian Hoyer made throws and despite throwing three picks, he managed to throw for 321 yards and 3 touchdowns in only his second career start. Together, Cameron and Gordon caught 5 of Hoyer’s 6 completions on their final game-winning drive. With Adrian Peterson effectively contained (88 yards rushing and his longest run being 9 yards) and Christian Ponder turning the ball over twice and getting sacked six times, it might be time to declare the Browns’ defense as being for real.

The final score of the Colts-49ers game is a bit deceiving. It was a 13-7 ballgame until the last five minutes, where the Colts scored a pair of touchdowns. But the 49ers’ offense looked out of sync. While they were finally able to estbalish the run somewhat with 115 yards on the ground, Colin Kaepernick looked off all game. He didn’t have Vernon Davis, coupled with the preseason loss of Michael Crabtree, exposed San Fran’s lack of weapons. But you can’t simply blame the receivers because the Colts got after Kaepernick, sacking him three times and shutting down his running. He only had 20 yards rushing after Terrelle Pryor went for 112 against Indy in Week 1. Kaepernick missed throws and just didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. The 49ers are 1-2 coming off two consecutive games where their offense was kept in single digits. And now they have a short week to get ready to head to St. Louis to face a Rams team that did an excellent job bottling up Kaepernick last season.

Speaking of the Trent Richardson trade, I’ll add my two cents. It probably won’t be much different from what you’ve heard elsewhere on the trade. It was initially a head-scratcher simply because it is so much like an NBA trade, which never occur in the NFL.

By that I mean the Browns traded an immediate asset in Richardson to acquire a future asset with that No. 1 draft pick. Those types of trades are rare in the NFL, particularly during the season. And you don’t see teams “giving up” so early on young talent like that. Richardson has struggled thus far in his short NFL career to produce consistently at a high level, but there is no doubting his talent. And given the lack of options that appeared to be on the Browns’ roster (prior to Sunday), it seemed like the Browns were essentially trading the face of their franchise before he really had a chance to come into his own.

But after a bit more thought, it started to make more sense.

This trade could work out for both parties. For Cleveland, this move was clearly made with the intention of getting themselves into better position to get a franchise quarterback next April. And if they find that player, then it will go down as a great trade for them. They missed out on moving up to get Robert Griffin III a year ago, and don’t want to be caught out in the cold once more. The likely mid-to-late round pick from the Colts could give them ammo coupled with what is expected to be a Top 10 pick to move up higher at the top of the draft. If they’re lucky, a good quarterback will fall to them when they pick at the top of the draft, and that second pick could be used to help a variety of positions that they need (probably another offensive player).

For the Colts, this gives Andrew Luck a complementary piece in their offense. The Colts want to be a balanced team under head coach Chuck Pagano, similar to the Falcons in the early days of Matt Ryan with Michael Turner toting the rock. Richardson immediately gives them a much better chance of being that team than an aging Ahmad Bradshaw and an injured Vick Ballard. But if he continues to grow into the player that everyone believed him capable of being coming out of Alabama, Richardson also gives the Colts a potential solid 1-2 punch for years to come. They can ride Richardson for the next few years just like Atlanta did with Turner through 2010. And within three or so years, I firmly believe Luck is going to be knocking on the door as a Top 5 quarterback similar to Matt Ryan a few years back. I think he’s already knocking on the door as a Top 10 guy. And like Atlanta, Indianapolis could now become a perennial playoff team with Luck and Richardson headlining their offense.

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Aaron Freeman
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