Tag Archives: Matt Ryan

The Nerdy Approach to Super Bowl LI

Anyone who knows me knows that if I’d spent 1/3 the time studying in school that I do studying sports, who knows what I could have accomplished in life. But the past is the past, and what’s present and future is this pretty big football game on Sunday night.

So of course I decided to delve deeper into the numbers. I don’t just wanna know who scored the most points and who allowed the fewest, and vice versa. I want to know how. More specifically I want to know how what we do matches up with what they do. I don’t want to just look at blanket rushing yards and yards allowed, I want to know what is likely to happen if we run over the right tackle, based on our success doing it, and their success stopping opponents. So I’ve done the homework, probably much to my boss’ chagrin, and have put this together for you.

For those unfamiliar with DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) it takes into consideration things like an opponent, down and distance, field position, and score. For a more complete and accurate explanation, check the guys out at Football Outsiders where they explain it all here. It’s a far better way of looking at a team than raw counting stats. Is it perfect? No, but it paints a lot more realistic of a picture than say, the stats that tell you the Patriots defense has been the league’s top unit. Psssssst, it hasn’t, and it’s not even close.

So I’ve taken the numbers and matched them up so you can get an idea of what to expect when we have the ball, when they have it, and how the special teams might shake out. If you see red lettering, it means it’s something that’s a Falcons advantage. If it’s blue, then that particular stat and trend would favor the Patriots. If both are colored, then it’s one of those pivotal swing match-ups that will likely determine this game. And if they’re both still the standard text color, then it’s not something either team excels at, or is bad at, but, if one team does get an edge there, it could be vital.

Obviously this is no guarantee of what will happen, or even close. They still gotta strap em up on Saturday night, but I think it can give you a good idea of what to expect. Take these and do what you may, closer to game time I’ll break it down in to what I expect to see Sunday night, and where the Pats will exploit us, but also where we can return the favor.

 

Overall

Atlanta – DVOA 19.6% (3rd), Weighted DVOA 19.8% (4th), Schedule 0.1% (16th)

New England – DVOA 25.3% (1st), Weighted DVOA 34.0% (1st), Schedule -8.0% (32nd)

 

Atlanta Offense – DVOA 25.3% (1st), Weighted DVOA 24.8% (2nd), Schedule -2.5% (2nd)

N.E. Defense – DVOA -1.5% (16th), Weighted DVOA -6.0% (11th), Schedule -7.1% (32nd)

Difference – 23.8%

 

Atlanta Defense – DVOA 8.1% (27th), Weighted DVOA 5.6% (22nd), Schedule -2.0% (24th)

N.E. Offense – DVOA 21.1% (2nd), Weighted DVOA 25.0% (1st), Schedule -0.7% (10th)

Difference – -29.2%

 

Atlanta Net Yards Per Drive – 6.02 (2nd)

New England Net Yards Per Drive – 6.66 (1st)

 

Atlanta Net Points Per Drive – 0.77 (2nd)

New England Net Points Per Drive – 1.11 (1st)

 

Atlanta Net Drive Success Rate – .037 (4th)

New England Net Drive Success Rate – .080 (1st)

When we have the ball:

Running Game –

Atlanta Run Offense – 1.7 % (7th)

New England Run Defense – -23.7% (4th)

 

Devonta Freeman – DYAR 147 (12th), DVOA 6.3% (14th), Success Rate 50% (12th)

Tevin Coleman – DYAR 86 (18th), DVOA 9.7% (12th), Success Rate 45% (25th)

 

Atlanta Adjusted Line Yards – 4.09 (10th)

New England Opponent Adjust Line Yards – 3.69 (11th)

 

Atlanta Power Success – 61% (17th)

New England Opponent Power Success – 63% (14th)

 

Atlanta Stuffed – 22% (23rd)

New England Opponent Stuffed – 17% (21st)

 

Atlanta 2nd Level Yards – 1.3 (7th)

New England Opponent 2nd Level Yards – 1.03 (7th)

 

Atlanta Open Field Yards – 1.2 (3rd)

New England Opponent Open Field Yards – 0.27 (1st)

 

Atlanta Left End ALY – 3.77 (22nd), 16% of 379 runs

New England Opponent Left End ALY – 3.00 (5th), 8% of 323 runs

 

Atlanta Left Tackle ALY – 4.41 (10th), 12% of runs

New England Opponent Left Tackle ALY – 4.09 (17th), 14% of runs

 

Atlanta Mid/Guard ALY – 4.26 (4th), 42 % of runs

New England Opponent Mid/Guard ALY – 3.76 (13th), 57% of runs

 

Atlanta Right Tackle ALY – 4.78 (4th), 13% of runs

New England Opponent Right Tackle ALY – 3.08 (6th), 7% of runs

 

Atlanta Right End ALY – 3.15 (21st), 16 % of runs

New England Opponent Right End ALY – 3.73 (20th), 13% of runs

 

Passing Game-

Atlanta Pass Offense – 53.0% (1st)

New England Pass Defense – 13.9% (23rd)

 

Matt Ryan – DYAR 1918 (1st), DVOA 40.2% (1st), 83.4 (1st)

 

Julio Jones – DYAR 458 (1st), DVOA 31.8% (2nd), Catch Rate 64.3%, DPI 6/132

Mohamed Sanu – DYAR 124 (43rd), DVOA 6.7% (34th), Catch Rate 73%, DPI 1/1

Taylor Gabriel – DYAR 189 (24th), DVOA 36.6 % (1st), Catch Rate 70%, DPI 1/25

Aldrick Robinson – DYAR 90 (55th), DVOA 24.1% (NA), Catch Rate 63%, DPI 0/0

Justin Hardy – DYAR 70 (59th), DVOA 14.8% (NA), Catch Rate 68%, DPI 0/0

 

Austin Hooper – DYAR 107 (11th), 47.1% (2nd), Catch Rate 70%, DPI 1/11

Levine Toilolo – DYAR 84 (16th), 56.8% (NA), Catch Rate 68%, DPI 0/0

 

Devonta Freeman – DYAR 140 (5th), 24.5% (6th), Catch Rate 83%

Tevin Coleman – DYAR 135 (6th), 48.5% (1st), Catch Rate 78%

 

N.E. vs #1 WR – DVOA 3.8% (20th), PA/G 8.4, YPG 73.1 (League Avg 8.4 & 69.8)

N.E. vs #2 WR – DVOA 6.6% (8th), PA/G 6.3, YPG 45.6 (League Avg 6.4 & 49.4)

N.E. vs Other WR – DVOA 5.4% (19th), PA/G 7.0, YPG 50.6 (League Avg 6.8 & 50.6)

N.E. vs TE – DVOA 3.1% (14th), PA/G 8.6, YPG 49.6 (League Avg 7.4 & 54.3)

N.E. vs RB – DVOA 5.7% (20th), PA/G 7.8, YPG 50.3 (League Avg 6.7 & 40.2)

 

N.E. vs Left – DVOA -21.2% (3rd) (Avg -1.3%)

N.E. vs Middle – DVOA 19.3% (17th) (Avg 12.8%)

N.E. vs Right – DVOA 9.8% (29th) (Avg -6.8%)

Deep – DVOA 20.8% (16th); Left -44.5%, Mid 97.6%, Right 39.8% (Avg, 13.0%, 48.3%, 15.1%)

Short – DVOA -4.7% (15th); Left -14.3%, Mid 2.8%, Right -1.2% (Avg, -5.1%, 5.7%, -11.9%)

 

Atlanta Opponents Adjusted Sack Rate – 6.5% (23rd), Sacks Allowed 37

Patriots Adjusted Sack Rate – 5.1% (26th), Sacks 34

Drive Stats-

Atlanta Yards Per Drive – 40.53 (1st)

New England Yards Allowed Per Drive – 28.82 (8th)

 

Atlanta Points Per Drive – 3.06 (1st)

New England Points Allowed Per Drive – 1.42 (1st)

 

Atlanta Drive Success Rate – .778 (1st)

New England Opponent Drive Success Rate – .662 (5th)

 

Atlanta Turnovers Per Drive – .066 (2nd)

New England Forced Turnovers Per Drive – .119 (17th)

 

Atlanta Interceptions Per Drive – .042 (6th)

New England Opponent Interceptions Per Drive – 0.73 (17th)

 

Atlanta Fumbles Per Drive – .024 (3rd)

New England Opponent Fumbles Per Drive – .045 (17th)

 

Atlanta Avg LOS – 28.52 (13th)

New England Opponent Avg LOS – 24.87 (1st)

 

Atlanta Plays Per Drive – 6.15 (13th)

New England Opponent Plays Per Drive – 5.79 (11th)

 

Atlanta Punts Per Drive – .289 (1st)

New England Opponent Punts Per Drive – .452 (6th)

 

Atlanta 3 & Outs Per Drive – .145 (1st)

New England Opponent 3 & Outs Per Drive – .249 (7th)

 

Atlanta Pts/Red Zone – 5.24 (6th)

New England Opponent Pts/Red Zone – 4.55 (6th)

 

Atlanta Avg Score Differential – 4.92 (2nd)

New England Opponents Avg Score Differential – -9.76 (1st)
When they have the ball:

Running Game –

Atlanta Run Defense – 2.5% (29th)

New England Run Offense – -3.4% (17th)

Difference – 0.9%

 

Legarette Blount – DYAR 132 (14th), DVOA 1.5% (18th), Success Rate 44% (28th)

Dion Lewis – DYAR 74 (19th), DVOA 21.1% (NA), Success Rate NA

 

Atlanta Opponent Adjusted Line Yards – 4.16 (25th)

New England Adjust Line Yards – 4.15 (9th)

 

Atlanta Opponent Power Success – 63% (16th)

New England Power Success – 59% (22nd)

 

Atlanta Opponent Stuffed – 19% (18th)

New England Stuffed – 20% (16th)

 

Atlanta Opponent 2nd Level Yards – 1.29 (26th)

New England 2nd Level Yards – 1.10 (21st)

 

Atlanta Opponent Open Field Yards – 0.64 (13th)

New England Open Field Yards – 0.60 (21st)

 

Atlanta Opponent Left End ALY – 3.56 (12th), 13% of 303 runs

New England Left End ALY – 4.88 (7th), 10% of 409 runs

 

Atlanta Opponent Left Tackle ALY – 3.66 (13th), 14% of runs

New England Left Tackle ALY – 3.53 (23rd), 13% of runs

 

Atlanta Opponent Mid/Guard ALY – 4.24 (27th), 50% of runs

New England Mid/Guard ALY – 4.12 (7th), 59% of runs

 

Atlanta Opponent Right Tackle ALY – 4.99 (32nd), 15% of runs

New England Right Tackle ALY – 4.01 (12th), 13% of runs

 

Atlanta Opponent Right End ALY – 3.99 (24th), 9% of runs

New England Right End ALY – 5.48 (3rd), 4% of runs

 

Passing Game-

Atlanta Pass Defense – 11.6% (19th)

New England Pass Offense – 50.5% (2nd)

Difference – -62.1%

 

Tom Brady – DYAR 1295 (5th), DVOA 33.8% (2nd), 83.1 (2nd)

 

Julian Edelman – DYAR 48 (65th), DVOA -8.7% (69th), Catch Rate 62.0%, DPI 1/12

Chris Hogan – DYAR 145 (35th), DVOA 18.1% (11th), Catch Rate 66%, DPI 1/8

Malcom Mitchell – DYAR 131 (39th), DVOA 19.5% (7th), Catch Rate 67%, DPI 2/78

Danny Amendola – DYAR 84 (57th), DVOA 26.8% (NA), Catch Rate 79%, DPI 0/0

 

Martellus Bennett – DYAR 200 (3rd), 34.6% (3rd), Catch Rate 75%, DPI 2/7

 

James White – DYAR 161 (3rd), 19.8% (10th), Catch Rate 70%

Dion Lewis – DYAR -25 (49th), -31.1% (NA), Catch Rate 71%

 

Atlanta Vs #1 WR – DVOA -4.0% (9th), PA/G 8.4, YPG 61.3 (League Avg 8.4 & 69.8)

Atlanta Vs #2 WR – DVOA 6.6% (8th), PA/G 7.6, YPG 58.8 (League Avg 6.4 & 49.4)

Atlanta Vs Other WR – DVOA 5.4% (19th), PA/G 7.2, YPG 55.1 (League Avg 6.8 & 50.6)

Atlanta Vs TE – DVOA 3.1% (14th), PA/G 8.9, YPG 61.4 (League Avg 7.4 & 54.3)

Atlanta VS RB – DVOA 16.7% (26th), PA/G 9.1, YPG 53.5 (League Avg 6.7 & 40.2)

 

Atlanta vs Left – DVOA -8.6% (25th) (Avg -1.3%)

Atlanta vs Middle – DVOA 12.0% (14th) (Avg 12.8%)

Atlanta vs Right – DVOA -6.5% (18th) (Avg -6.8%)

Deep – DVOA 15.2% (12th); Left 19.5%, Mid 69.8%, Right -11.3% (Avg, 13.0%, 48.3%, 15.1%)

Short – DVOA 0.3% (26th); Left 5.5%, Mid 3.8%, Right -5.5% (Avg, -5.1%, 5.7%, -11.9%)

 

Atlanta Adjusted Sack Rate – 5.4% (24th), Sacks 34

Patriots Opponents Adjusted Sack Rate – 4.7% (6th), Sacks Allowed 24

Drive Stats-

Atlanta Yards Allowed Per Drive – 34.51 (26th)

New England Yards Per Drive – 35.48 (7th)

 

Atlanta Points Allowed Per Drive – 2.29 (27th)

New England Points Per Drive – 2.53 (5th)

 

Atlanta Opponents Drive Success Rate – .741 (28th)

New England Drive Success Rate – .742 (5th)

 

Atlanta Opponents Turnovers Per Drive – .117 (18th)

New England Turnovers Per Drive – .046 (1st)

 

Atlanta Opponents Interceptions Per Drive – .070 (19th)

New England Interceptions Per Drive – 0.012 (1st)

 

Atlanta Opponents Fumbles Per Drive – .047 (14th)

New England Fumbles Per Drive – .035 (8th)

 

Atlanta Opponents Avg LOS – 26.08 (3rd)

New England Avg LOS – 30.66 (2nd)

 

Atlanta Opponents Plays Per Drive – 6.29 (29th)

New England Plays Per Drive – 6.23 (7th)

 

Atlanta Opponents Punts Per Drive – .386 (25th)

New England Punts Per Drive – .416 (18th)

 

Atlanta Opponents 3 & Outs Per Drive – .205 (21st)

New England 3 & Outs Per Drive – .238 (27th)

 

Atlanta Opponents Pts/Red Zone – 5.69 (31st)

New England Pts/Red Zone – 5.23 (7th)

 

Atlanta Opponents Avg Score Differential – -8.23 (2nd)

New England Avg Score Differential – 7.41 (1st)
Special Teams

Atlanta – 2.4% (8th)

New England – 2.7% (7th)

 

Atlanta Kickoff – -3.0

New England Kick Return – -2.8

 

Atlanta Kick Return – -1.5

New England Kickoff – 11.8

 

Atlanta Avg LOS after Kickoff – 25.6 (8th)

New England Opponent Avg LOS after Kickoff – 23.46 (3rd)

 

Atlanta Opponent Avg LOS after Kickoff – 24.49 (11th)

New England Avg LOS after Kickoff – 27.10 (1st)

 

Atlanta Punt – 2.2

New England Punt Return – -7.7

 

Atlanta Punt Return – 3.5

New England Punt – 12.2

 

Atlanta Field Goal/XP – 10.9

New England Field Goal/XP – 0.1

 

Atlanta Hidden ST Yards – -4.3 (23rd)

New England Hidden St Yards – 11.2 (4th)

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Setting the Record Straight With Matt Ryan’s Playoff Record

We’ve heard it before the year, and sure enough, we’ve heard it this season after our 6-0 start. The Atlanta Falcons are garbage. Why? Because they can’t win in the playoffs. Matt Ryan’s lost three straight playoff games, he stinks in the playoffs.

So, okay, yes, he has indeed lost three straight playoff games. But have we taken into any context those losses, or considered how difficult it is to even make the playoffs three times in your first four seasons?

Consider these facts:

Rookie year: Went from the number three pick in the draft, and not because we traded for it, because we were that bad, and lost a one possession game to the eventual NFC Champion, on the road.

Year three: Led his team to the best record in the NFC. Unfortunately the eventual Super Bowl champions defeated the Falcons in the second round of the playoffs.

Year four: Led his team back to the playoffs, a fourth straight winning season, lost again to, you guessed it, the eventual Super Bowl champions, on the road.

That’s three losses to NFC champions, with two of them coming on the road and one road loss being against a Super Bowl champion.

Yeah, clearly Matt Ryan has choked in his first four years, just choked…… As a rookie he lost on the road to a quarterback on the way to his third Super Bowl appearance in eight years. So sue him. Oh, he lost on the road to a quarterback on his way to his second Super Bowl victory in five years. Yeah, run him out of town. He obviously will never succeed.

And of course, Matt Ryan is the only one.

Not Brett Favre….Wait, you mean he only even made the playoffs twice in his first four seasons in the NFL? And they never got out of the second round either? You’re kidding me. *the fact that his two wins also came against the Lions…..c’mon….*

I can’t imagine Phil Simms did it either. Oh, he didn’t make the playoffs at all in his first four seasons? Interesting.

Well Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls, so it certainly couldn’t be him then, could it? Okay, he did win ONE playoff game in his first four years, while only reaching them twice.

Then it definitely wasn’t Steve Young. Well, you’re right. He only saw significant playing time in one playoff game during his first four years, and of course, it was a loss. It wasn’t until his eighth season in the NFL before he started and won a playoff game.

So, surely not the legendary Peyton Manning. Hold on, he didn’t win a playoff game in his first four years either? Only one appearance in the second round? And they didn’t even MAKE the playoffs more than twice?

Sure, John Elway and Eli Manning both reached a Super Bowl in their fourth year, along with Troy Aikman. But in all three cases, neither had won a playoff game in either of their first two three years either. And never mind the case that if not for Steve DeBerg going 4-1 as a starter, Elway likely wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all. In fact, Elway, Manning and Aikman all did something in their rookie year that Matt Ryan is still yet to do, lose more than they win as a starting quarterback. Yet, because this trio were in Super Bowls in year four, and Ryan wasn’t, we now know that Matt Ryan never will, right? I see that’s how this works.

It’s funny too, Matt Ryan won’t ever win a Super Bowl after the start he’s had, yet there was the one guy from Fresno State who won all of one playoff game and all had of one winning season in his first six seasons. Somehow though, in year seven, he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

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Late Night Drive, NFL Edition: Falcons Exorcise a Demon, Peyton is Back, Saints & Packers Disappoint, Reid’s Mishandling of Vick….

So week one of the NFL season is almost complete, so it’s time for the late night wrap up of the week that was. Unlike college football with a nationwide ranking system, and of course about 50 games a week, or more, the layout has to be a little bit different, so for week one, we’ll just go game by game.

Atlanta 40, Kansas City 24- In all fairness, this game was really 40-17, that was a garbage touchdown scored by Kansas City, which , fortunately with advancement in football statistics, won’t hardly count for anything at all in the grand scheme of things.

The Falcons were previously 0-3 in games against Kansas City in Arrowhead, having been outscored an absurd 108-23. Their 40 points posted Sunday afternoon nearly doubled what they’d scored in their previous three trips to Kansas City. Matt Ryan accounted for four touchdowns, including two to Julio Jones. The Ryan to Jones combination has the potential to rank among the most, if not THE most, lethal quarterback/receiver duos in the NFL.

The Falcons started slowly, but completely dominated the game in the second half. While the offense clicked all throughout the game, not even punting until just over 3:00 left in the game, the defense sputtered at the outset. However, adjustments were made at the half, and until the garbage time score with under :10 to go in the game, the defense threw a shutout in the second half, including the forcing of a couple of turnovers.

Of some concern for Falcons fans is the continued lack of production in the running game, especially Michael Turner. Only 32 yards coming on 11 carries, with 11 coming on one run. Yeah, your math tells you that’s 10 carries for 21 yards. That’s not good. I think however this coaching staff is smart enough to realize this team no longer goes as Michael Turner goes, it goes as Matt Ryan goes.

Despite that though, no question about it, Atlanta has to feel really, really good about itself right now, as Matt Ryan finally won a season opener on the road. It was also the second most road points scored (45 vs San Francisco in 2009) by the Falcons in the Matt Ryan era. Next Monday night’s home opener for Atlanta against the Broncos just became very, very interesting.

For Kansas City, injuries and suspension hurt their defense, but giving up 40 points at home, in your home opener, and season opener, just shouldn’t be happening. They’ll get a chance to get back on track in Buffalo next week, another team who gave up over 40 points to being the season. The offense moved the ball quite effectively in the first half, but three turnovers were just too much to overcome for Kansas City who saw Sunday night that taking the division from Denver will not be easy.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 19- What a huge win it was for Denver. And really, it had little to do even with who the opponent was, or what the final score was, what mattered was how Peyton Manning played. Well, I don’t think quarterback is going to be any worry whatsoever in Denver as the season rolls forward.

Manning seemed to have a solid connection already with his new toys, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas, as well as old friend Brandon Stokely. Manning, once allowed complete control and command of the offense in the no huddle, looked every bit like the Peyton Manning we last saw in Indianapolis. The difference he brings to this offense as opposed to Tim Tebow is staggering. Any Tebow fan who argues this team isn’t light years better with Manning seriously needs to consider therapy. Manning went 19 of 26 for 256 yards a couple of scores, and you figure he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.

However, if there is a reason to temper the excitement, it is that the Steelers were banged up on defense, and it is that the Steelers season ended last year, to Denver, with Tim Tebow at quarterback even.

The Steelers just aren’t quite what they were. They cannot protect the passer, and they can’t just line up and run right at you. They have weapons on offense, but without a decent offensive line, it’s hard to consistently use them. Defensively, I’m sorry, when James Harrison and Ryan Clark aren’t suiting up for your defense, against a Peyton Manning led offense, it’s going to make a huge difference.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this game was presence of Georgia Tech and Georgia. Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas each scored touchdowns, while Jonathan Dwyer had one called back on replay. Dwyer throughout the game exhibited toughness and an ability to finish runs with authority. Behind that offensive line, the Steelers will need that. Furthermore, former Yellow Jacket Keith Brooking saw the field for the Broncos, and Drew Butler, a product of Georgia was the Steelers punter.

Washington 40, New Orleans 32– Kansas City wasn’t the only team who allowed someone to come into their building and put 40 points on them on opening day. But at least they allowed a veteran team who has been to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons to do it. The Saints allowed a team with just three playoff appearances in the last 19 seasons to come in and do it.

Since 2008, the Redskins have ranked 28th, 26th, 25th, and 26th in the NFL in scoring. So what do they do in week one against the Saints? Explode for 464 yards and 40 points in knocking off the Saints in the Superdome, which is absolutely no small task.

Obviously Robert Griffin III took the early lead in the, Griffin vs Luck, battle, but this was about more than just outperforming the only player drafted ahead of Griffin in the 2012 draft. This was about Robert Griffin looking like he’d been doing this at this level for years. He got off to a blistering start, cooled for a stretch, and then picked up his play again to ice the win late as the Saints attempted to mount a comeback. Griffin went 19 of 26 for 320 yards with a couple scores, as well as 42 yards on the ground. Perhaps even more importantly? No interceptions and he was only sacked once.

A nice surprise for the Redskins though was the emergence of Alfred Morris. Coming out of camp and the pre-season, nobody seemed to have any idea what Mike Shannahan’s plan of attack would be at the running back positions. Morris got 28 carries and came up just shy of the century mark, as his debut was overshadowed by Griffins.

The Redskins defense played well too, though you might think allowing 32 points says otherwise. Then you remember it was the New Orleans Saints, at home, so really, as long as the defense allows less than the offense scored, they played well.

For the Saints, you wonder how quickly this will squelch the talk of how the Saints will be just fine without their coaches and that the still looming Bounty Gate won’t affect them. Perhaps the defense needs those extra incentives to go out and actually stop people.

New Orleans got down early and basically had to become one dimensional, but still, ten total rushing attempts? I don’t care that Drew Brees is at quarterback, that’s not going to get it done, ever, against anyone in the NFL.

And while the Panthers did not look good in their opener, the way Griffin carved up the Saints defense, New Orleans can’t exactly sleep well knowing that Cam Newton awaits them next week in Charlotte.

San Francisco 30, Green Bay 22- Alex Smith has heard all off-season that last year was a fluke, that the 49ers won in spite of him, that the team needed to add a quarterback to take that next step, yada yada yada. So what did Smith do? Go up to Lambeau field and take on the majority favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and walk away with a 30-22 victory over the Packers. Not only that, he did so by playing a key role, and playing brilliantly.

Smith went 20 for 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, but perhaps most encouraging was that four completions a piece went to new receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The addition of those two weapons to complement Michael Crabtree and what is still a solid running game makes the 49ers offense go from one that simply isn’t going to lose a game, to one that might be able to win a few when called upon.

The feeling now is that last year’s playoff game against the Saints where Alex Smith made play after play to take the victory may have been him taking that proverbial next step.

On the other side, much like the Saints, the Packers couldn’t establish anything resembling a running game. They only ran the ball 14 times, but of perhaps more worry is that Cedric Benson was the only person besides quarterback Aaron Rodgers to run the ball. Worse? He ran it 9 times for only 18 yards.

I know the league is indeed a passing league, and the Saints and Packers are two of the very best when it comes to throwing the ball around and scoring a lot of points. But football is still football, and you cannot be that one dimensional, and that incapable of running the football, and expect to win.

Green Bay will be traveling to Chicago next for a Sunday night game with a healthy, and improved Bears team. Chicago mimics the 49ers in a lot of ways, with perhaps a defense just a notch below, but an offense that’s arguably a couple notches higher with the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.

Chicago 41, Indianapolis 21- Speaking of Chicago, their debut really couldn’t have gone any better from their standpoint. The defense harassed Andrew Luck into four turnovers and just 2 for 10 on 3rd downs. While the offense reeled of 428 yards, all the while making excellent use of some new toys (Marshall, Jeffrey and Michael Bush) and the return of some injured ones (Jay Cutler and Matt Forte) as the Bears were able to run the ball and throw it effectively.

Chicago may have been behind the Lions and Packers a year ago, but they served notice that this team is going to be in the mix, and a win next week over Green Bay would give the Bears a gigantic early edge. You talk about a big time football game……

Philadelphia 17, Cleveland 16- Seriously Michael Vick, four interceptions? Wait, I’m sorry, the blame there is going to the wrong person. Seriously Andy Reid, 56 pass attempts from Michael Vick? You do know you have LeSean McCoy in your backfield, correct? It’s great that Vick was able to lead the team back down the field late for the winning touchdown. But it’s not great that Vick had to lead the team down the field late for a winning touchdown against the Browns.

Reid’s handling of Vick is mind boggling, to say the least. Vick has never been, and never will be, a pocket passer. You’re going to have a lot of drives stall when you throw 27 incomplete passes, it’s as simple as that. Further more, the majority of Vick’s injuries in his career have not occurred when he’s running around doing his thing with his legs, but rather when he’s asked to stand in the pocket and abuse the punishment of guys being able to line up their hits on Vick. Barry Sanders rarely got hurt, despite the massive work load he shouldered. Why? Because nobody ever got a clean shot on Sanders because of his elusiveness and quickness. The same holds true for Vick. When he’s standing stationary in the pocket, that’s when he’s most vulnerable. If Reid doesn’t realize this soon, this season may be over soon for the Eagles, and so might Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia

Detroit 27, St. Louis 23- Don’t worry Matt Stafford, I see you too. I won’t let Vick take in all the accolades for throwing the ball to the wrong team too many times and being forced to engineer a late comeback against a vastly inferior opponent. Stafford threw three interceptions but got things together just enough at the end to avoid what would have been an ugly, ugly loss to the Rams.

I heard Tom Jackson say tonight that as a quarterback, what matters most is being able to lead a team to victory regardless of how bad you’ve played all game. Well, if they didn’t play so bad all game, they wouldn’t have to lead a team from behind for a victory, now would they?

New England 34, Tennessee 13- Pay attention Green Bay. Pay attention New Orleans. This is how you win with an elite quarterback and a team that likes to throw the football around. You still establish a running game. Steven Ridley got 21 carries, more than Saints and Packers running backs combined, and ran for 125 yards as New England cruised past the Titans.

Bad news for the Titans was Jake Locker leaving the game with an injury, though, I don’t think at this point it really makes that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Tennessee was just clearly overmatched by a good football team.

Minnesota 26, Jacksonville 23- In what was perhaps the one game that most featured two teams who are mirror images of each other, it ended as it should have, in overtime.

Both teams have been linked to Los Angeles, both teams had a question about how much playing time their elite running back would play, and both have second year quarterbacks who struggled as rookies at the helm.

For today, Christian Ponder outplayed Blaine Gabbert, and Adrian Peterson outplayed Maurice Jones-Drew as the Vikings got off to a 1-0 start while the Jaguars joined the Colts and Titans at 0-1 in the AFC South in what is already promising to be the worst division in football.

Houston 30, Miami 10- Speaking of that worst division in football, there is absolutely no reason for the Houston Texans not to repeat as division champs, and they quietly went out and took care of business against the Dolphins. The formula was simple, play really good defense, let Matt Schaub be effective, ride Arian Foster and let Andre Johnson do his thing. As mentioned, a division title should be an absolute breeze for the Texans.

New York Jets 48, Buffalo 28- In the game that reminds us again that pre-season doesn’t mean anything, the team that couldn’t score all exhibition season, suddenly couldn’t not score. Rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech hauled in two touchdown passes from Mark Sanchez as the Jets made a loud, and emphatic statement.

C.J. Spiller will likely take the award as player fantasy players most wish they had started. The Clemson product took over when Fred Jackson left with an injury and ran for 169 yards, including a 56 yard touchdown scamper. For a Bills team that seriously believed they were ready to jump to the next level of playoff contender, the blowout loss is a serious blow to the confidence. Chan Gailey better get things turned around quickly as next week Gailey gets to face another another wide receiver he recruited while at Georgia Tech as Calvin Johnson and the Lions are next on the schedule.

Arizona 20, Seattle 16- If you wanted to watch good offense, you probably would have had more luck watching the first half of the Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech game last week. No, seriously. The two teams combined to barely top 500 yards of offense. However, the Arizona Cardinals may have finally found a quarterback, though not at all in the manner I’m sure they expected. When John Skelton went out with a bad ankle sprain, former starter, then banished to a backup Kevin Kolb entered the game. Kolb went 6 of 8 and engineered the go ahead drive for the Cardinals. Arizona played solidly down the stretch a year ago, and if they can get remotely solid quarterback play, they might be able to sneak into wildcard contention considering the weakness of Seattle and St. Louis and the potential for four division wins right there.

Tampa Bay 16, Carolina 10- So this is the Panthers team people were talking about possibly being the spoiler of the Falcons/Saints rivalry and displacing the two of them atop the division? Yeah, okay. Carolina ran the ball 13 times, and got just 10 yards. No, they did not have Jonathan Stewart, but they did have DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, and that was all they could muster against Tampa Bay? Not a good sign, at all.

Tampa displayed the toughness that is expected from a Greg Schiano coached team and found a way to a gritty win. If Carolina is going to challenge for the division, they’re going to need to go win some surprise road games, and Tampa seemed one of the most winnable on the schedule. Now they get to come home to New Orleans, where it’s assured that one of the two will be 0-2, and you know how likely it is an 0-2 makes the playoffs.

So yes, it’s only been one week, and even this week isn’t done, as we get two games on Monday night. For some teams, there were some major disappointments, while others excelled, as is to be expected. What will be key is how those faced with adversity or major questions respond in week two, and how those who looked the part of a contender handle that success.

MNF picks:

Ravens over Bengals

Chargers over Raiders

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Perhaps We’ve All Been Fooled

Trying to put a positive spin on what took place at Soldier Field last Sunday afternoon has proven to be a task too daunting to accomplish. In fact, it’s just downright impossible. The simple fact of the matter is that the Atlanta Falcons were a terrible football team on Sunday, and that is not a good thing considering the Philadelphia Eagles are heading to town.

I don’t know if you remember this or not, but the last two times the Falcons have been on national television at home, things have not gone well. Tony Gonzalez can talk all he wants about how people shouldn’t be writing this team off after one game, but the fact of the matter is this, when the lights are on, and it’s a good opponent on the other side of the line of scrimmage, this team has wilted in big moments against big time opposition.

People harp about the lack of national respect given to the Falcons. Well, when you lose at home on national television twice to close out your season, once in embarrassing fashion, and then open the following campaign with perhaps the worst performance in the Matt Ryan/Mike Smith era (omitting the Eagles game in 2009 in which Chris Redman started at quarterback), you don’t get respect. You don’t deserve it.

Just how bad were they on Sunday? Well, let’s take a closer look.

For starters, no team in the NFL averaged fewer points per drive than the Falcons did. Thirteen drives resulted in ZERO offensive touchdowns, and just two field goals. That’s bad.

Remember, this is a team that over those two games against New Orleans and Green Bay on national television to end the 2010 season, Atlanta averaged a meager 204.5 yards per game in those two, amassing just three offensive touchdowns. One of those, it should be noted, came in garbage time against Green Bay after the team already trailed 42-14.

Three games against three contenders in the NFC and just three touchdowns have been scored. Yes, that’s a problem, a big problem.

The Falcons, with all the talk of being more explosive, were the only team on opening weekend to not score an offensive touchdown.

Mike Smith would have you believe that poor field position contributed greatly to his teams undoing. Well, Lovie Smith might want to argue that point, the Falcons averaged a better starting field position than the Bears did. They managed to score a few points.

Matt Ryan dropped back to pass 52 times on Sunday, yes, 52. The Falcons averaged a whopping 5.3 yards per drop back. That is an unacceptable number for a team who has boasted all off-season of how much more explosive they are going to be.

Sure, Ryan completed 66% of his passes. But when they’re two yards down the field to a running back standing still in the flat with no chance to make a play with the ball, it really doesn’t matter.

If you give me a .300 hitter who does nothing but hit singles, or give me a guy who hits .260 but puts up 40 doubles and 30 home runs, you can keep the guy batting .300.

The same thing with a quarterback. I’ll take a dip in completion percentage if it comes with more plays made down the field.

John Harbaugh told Joe Flacco before Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh that sometimes he needed to try to squeeze the ball in there, trust his receivers to make a play.

In other words, it’s the NFL, your wide receivers aren’t going to be running around wide open, unless of course you’re being covered by Falcons defensive backs. You’re going to have to fit the ball into some tight spaces and small windows. If you aren’t willing to try, you’re not going to be an explosive offense.

With great risk comes great reward. Matt Ryan needs to take more risks.

Perhaps it is actually the fault of the Falcons defense that Ryan doesn’t make big plays. In practice, against the Falcons secondary, Ryan is probably used to having his receivers run around with nobody near them. Perhaps when he takes the field on Sundays, he expects more of the same, and when it doesn’t happen, he takes too many sacks and checks down way too often.

Sure, the offensive line, particular Sam Baker, struggled to protect Ryan, but Ryan doesn’t do himself any favors in the pocket. He has a tendency to hold the ball too long, waiting too long for someone to get open, or not trusting himself to cut it lose. Not all sacks are the responsibility of the offensive line.

Of course, it wasn’t like the offensive was doing anything to warrant anyone rushing to their defense. Yes, Michael Turner hit the century mark, but that was courtesy of 53 yards coming on one carry.

Oh, who is Michael Turner, you ask? Yeah, it would be understandable if you’d forgotten a bit about him. It seems the Falcons have too.

Against Green Bay and against Chicago, Turner carried the ball for a TOTAL of 20 times. Since joining the Falcons, Turner, when healthy, only had one game in a Falcons uniform where he didn’t total at least 15 carries.

Until the last two games that is. For Turner, he’s had 23 games where he’s carried the ball 20 times or more, and yet, has only been handed the ball 20 times total in his last two.

In their last five games, dating back to last year, playoffs included, Turner has found the endzone just twice, carried the ball more than 17 times only once, and has failed to top the 100 yard mark.

I thought the running game was this team’s calling card and bread and butter. If so, there’s not a lot of evidence to support that’s working, or it’s even the case anymore.

One would think that if a team is abandoning the run they’re slinging the ball over the field and attacking down the field. It’s what Green Bay, and New England and New Orleans and Philadelphia do. And it stands to reason, if you’re not pounding other teams with the run, then you’re drying to beat them with the home run, right?

Not Atlanta.

And therein lies the really concerning part. Who is this football team? What is their identity? Do they know? You could easily argue that they don’t.

People were quick to point out that the Falcons offense isn’t really the big problem, that it’s the defense. These are people who are trying to hard not to say anything negative about the franchise quarterback.

I don’t have the access to the film the coaches see, nor do I know what the plays called in the huddle are, nor do I have the ability to see down the field what Matt Ryan sees. So I can’t say if it’s the play calling, Ryan being gun-shy, or the coaches discouraging balls being thrown down the field, or a combination of them all. What I can see though is an offense that’s becoming increasingly anemic, and instills little confidence that it’s truly the offense of a Super Bowl contender.

Atlanta’s defense won’t be confused with Baltimore’s any time soon. However, it’s a good enough unit for this team to win the Super Bowl with an offense that can score some points. The problem is, right now, the offense is not Super Bowl caliber.

All this time Falcons fans, and NFL pundits, experts and analysts all thought the defense was what was keeping this team from taking that next to step to championship caliber.

Maybe, just maybe we’ve all been fooled. Perhaps it’s not. Perhaps it’s the offense after all that’s keeping a Lombardi Trophy from resting up at Flowery Branch.

Perhaps we’ve all been trying to put a band-aid on the wrong wound, and unfortunately, the other one is festering to a point we might not be able to heal it in time.

Sunday night would be a good time for it to start healing, but I just can’t see any reason to actually expect anything to change. If we aren’t going to throw the ball down the field and let guys like Roddy White and Julio Jones go make plays, then Michael Turner needs to be getting the ball 25 times.

Because whatever it is they’re doing right now doesn’t do the number one job of an offense, it doesn’t put the ball in the endzone, at all.

People say you can’t panic after week one, and they’re right. It is just one game. However, the offensive woes of these Falcons are not just a one game blip. These shortcomings have been present for longer than that, its only recently though that they’ve come to light in the manner that they are now.

So no, the panic button isn’t being pushed because of the loss to Chicago. But the finger is on the button because of a recurring theme with this offense that’s beginning to advance from trend, to being the cold hard truth of what this team is.

As fans, we’d be well served to recognize this, and perhaps temper expectations a bit. Does this team have the talent and pieces to be special? It absolutely does. But it’s getting more and more difficult to believe that it will.

They can go a long way to re-instilling that belief on Sunday night. However, if it’s more of the same against the Eagles on national television this weekend, Peter King might really be wishing he could have that Super Bowl pick back. This will be a team who will be lucky to make it a fourth straight winning season.

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How the Falcons Can Take Next Step

I’ll break this into two categories, personnel and system.

1. Interior offensive line help. We didn’t run up the middle much, and for good reason. Our running game is exactly why you don’t look at raw yardage to gauge how effective a team is at something. Michael Turner really wasn’t that good this year, but he was the “leading rusher”. He had some big days against weak opponents. Way too many of our runs weren’t what you’d call successful runs, too often our running plays got us behind. We faced way too many 3rd down and longs, and against good defenses it killed us.

2. We’ve got to find another pass rusher. I was hoping Kroy Biermann could provide a spark on one end, but no, not enough. He made some nice plays, but overall, his impact on the game was minimal. You’d think with all the attention John Abraham commanded, someone else could take advantage of it, nobody did. The fact that Lawrence Sidbury rarely saw the field down the stretch has me worried he’s not going to work out like we’d hoped. This is year two of his experiment, next year is make or break for him. I would love him to step up, but I don’t want to enter 2011 with Biermann and Sidbury still the other pass rusher. Not to mention, Abraham is up there in years.

3. We need more speed at our skill positions. I think the loss of Jerius Norwood is underestimated. I think partially it’s underestimated because he’s always hurt so we never really saw just what he could fully do on the football field, but he’s the only real big play threat we’ve got on offense. Michael Jenkins is a solid receiver, but he’s a solid number two if you’ve got a slot receiver who can help stretch the field. Jenkins doesn’t stretch the field, doesn’t require any safety help, and teams can in turn use their safeties either to crowd the line of scrimmage, or help over the top with Roddy and Tony Gonzalez. Harry Douglass was a huge disappointment this year, his impact was also pretty minimal. We absolutely need a guy who can go down the field and stretch things out. I think getting Kerry Meier back next year is a good thing, but he doesn’t solve our problem of a dearth of big plays.

4. We might need a nickel back. Chris Owens was just abused on Saturday night, and I just haven’t seen enough from him to make me want to rely on him for anything. I understand Brent Grimes had a lot of interceptions, and defended a ton of passes. However, this is also a product of being targeted a lot. This is not to say we need to replace Grimes, not in the least, he’s a heckuva football player who I want out there. However, if we can improve ourselves at the nickel corner position, I’d like to see us move Grimes around more to keep him from getting matched up against some of the league’s bigger receivers. Have him play in the slot at times, he doesn’t need to always be a boundary corner. Brian Williams was solid, and his size is a plus, but age and injury are creeping up. I know people are throwing out names like Champ Bailey and Nnamdi Asomugha, but people need to get in touch with reality, that ain’t happening. With the deal we gave Dunta Robinson last year, we aren’t spending that much money on the secondary. Thomas Dmitrof needs to be shrewd in finding a little help for the secondary.

System

1. Throw the ball deep more. I don’t know if it’s because we can’t throw it deep, or don’t, but we need tot try it more often, just a few shots here and there. Part of me thinks it’s we aren’t sure we can protect Ryan enough to throw the ball down the field, at least not against good defenses. I understand where we ranked in sacks allowed, but that comes in large part to running the ball so often, and the fact that Ryan gets rid of the ball quickly, but unfortunately, his getting rid of the ball quickly coincides with getting very few big plays with the passing game.

2. We need to use the screen game more. I am a huge fan of screens, and we need to use them more. If we aren’t going to throw the ball down the field, screen plays at least give you a better chance at making a big play than a lot of what we run. Granted, not having Norwood, or a true speed back may have impacted that, but what about slot screens to Douglass? Or even to White?

3. Our defenders need work on taking better angles after quarterbacks. Getting pressure, really, wasn’t the huge problem. The problem came when we got there. You’ve got to get these guys on the ground. We whiffed against Drew Brees all day, and then against Aaron Rodgers. If we make half the sacks we had chances to in either game, we might still be playing. I think some of this might be the youth with guys like Weatherspoon and Moore blitzing has an impact on that, and I hope they can improve. I like it when we blitz, and we should do it more often. Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson aren’t bad in the secondary. However, if we have to count on Chris Owens for anything, we are in trouble.

4. Don’t make major, major changes, clearly. We are on the right track. I still liken this team to the Patriots of the early 2000s. The 2001 Patriots received some very fortunate bounces to reach, and win, the Super Bowl that year. They took a step back the following year, and then proceeded to go on their run. The 2003-2004 bunch were the really good teams. While in our 3rd year, we obviously won’t reach the heights the Patriots did, 13-3 is 13-3, we’re a good team that needs a few tweaks. We can still get where we want to go, we’re on the way, and considering the steps we’ve been making, you have to think we’re going to keep moving in the proper direction.

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Falcons Gettin’ Ready in Hotlanta

The Atlanta heat is bad, we all know it. This summer it seems particularly bad. So excuse some of the Falcons if they want to rumble during these nearly unbearable days of training camp in the summer heat.

Also, excuse them because that fire, energy, and intensity on defense is going to help this team reach new heights.

Wednesday afternoon I made it to Flowery Branch for my first visit to training camp. I try to go at least once or twice every year, and hopefully will make it back for the duel practices with the Patriots.

Obviously, I have some thoughts from the day on the Falcons practice facility.

The first is that Sean Weathersoon is going to be a player, and a very good one at that, and probably sooner rather than later. He brings it in every drill, and every play, sometimes to the chagrin of his teammates. He explodes into his opponents, whether it is making a tackle, or taking on a blocker. Yet, while he demonstrates this type of explosion, he’s also quick and instinctive in pass coverage. This is a guy who warrants watching very closely, he and Curtis Lofton are going to be a very, very, good linebacking duo in very short time.

Mike Peterson can no longer play sideline to sideline like he could in his prime, nor be as effective in pass coverage, but he can still lay the wood, and still provide leadership on defense. He’s an intense player who can get into the heads of opponents, as evidenced by starting a mini-scuffle during one on one blocking drills.

Jamaal Anderson may be closer to becoming a useful piece of the Falcons defensive line. There were a couple of times he could be found in the offensive backfield, which is a good sign. From a pure physical standpoint, the 6’6 Anderson is pretty imposing and certainly looks the part of an impact defensive lineman.

Unfortunately production hasn’t followed. After all, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

However, the Falcons plan to use him more at defensive tackle on passing downs, trying to use his athleticism to create mis-matches inside. To prepare for this role, he’s added a little bulk to be stronger inside. Early returns are it’s an improvement.

While Anderson will still likely see time at end, Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury will steal some snaps, most certainly in passing situations. Anderson has the size and strength to be a good run stopping end, and help with the run defense (the Falcons run defense improved down the stretch a year ago), so don’t be surprised if he, as the Falcons have stated earlier in camp, plays several plays at defensive end in the base defense.

Granted, you don’t use a top ten pick on a defensive end with the expectations that he’ll become a solid player in run support, but you make the best with what you have. While Anderson will likely never play well enough to warrant the pick that was used on him, he may yet be a solid defensive lineman in this league, and could be valuable this season.

In the secondary, William Moore ran with the second team, but was clearly the leader of that unit, barking out the calls on defense, in a role he seemed relatively comfortable in. The problem will be him breaking into the starting lineup. Thomas DeCoud is bordering on being a potential pro-bowler, and Coleman provides veteran leadership. I would not be surprised though, if by the end of the year, it’s the two youngsters roaming the secondary for Atlanta.

Brett Grimes has among the best ball skills of any corner I’ve seen play. The problem is that he has no size. In practice, Grimes was the only corner who seemed to be able to stay with Roddy White in any capacity.

Rookie Dominique Franks got a nice welcome to the show moment by Roddy White, himself. Trying to jam White on a quick slant, White easily dislodged Franks, and within two seconds was five steps clear of the rookie for an easy throw by Matt Ryan. I don’t think people realize just how strong Roddy White has gotten, he’s no longer the frail string bean that entered the league a few years ago.

Tony Gonzalez is probably still the best all around tight end in the game. His route running skills and ability to catch the football in traffic are second to none. When he catches the ball he always makes the proper first move with the ball in his hand as well. What separates Gonzalez though is his blocking skills. Gonzalez man handled people in the one on one blocking drills, looking like an offensive lineman in both strength and technique.

Antoine Smith, the former ballyhooed recruit for Florida State that never quite became the star he was supposed to blossom into, had his moments. He’s quick and shifty, and seemed okay as a blocker.

If Jerius Norwood can’t get healthy, or can garner a draft pick via a trade, he could be expendable. Jason Snelling’s place in the backfield rotation is set in stone, but Norwood’s injury history leave him as a wild card.

Clearly, a healthy Norwood would be the best thing for the Falcons, he’s capable of explosive plays and changing games with long runs, or catching the ball out of the backfield. But if he’s not healthy, Smith might provide a capable replacement.

Speaking of catching balls out of the backfield, Falcons coaches say they want Michael Turner to be more involved. Well, from what I saw Wednesday, there’s a reason he hasn’t been all that involved to begin with.

Matt Ryan looks much like he looked last year at this time, in control of the offense, accurate, and with the ability to make whatever throw needed. He made several nice touch throws on fade type routes along the sidelines. The bigger thing for Ryan though was that he looked healthy, planting and moving around with ease.

Alcorn State product, Tim Buckley, and undrafted free agent who impressed coaches in OTAs showed me why. Buckley is a little thicker, at least to the eye, than Weems, and quicker, again, to the eye. Buckley showed really good quickness, and his hands certainly didn’t seem to be a weakness.

With Harry Douglass back to return punts, and Dominique Franks drafted to return kicks, Weems’ value as a return man is greatly diminished, as such might be his chances to make the 53 man roster. If Buckley doesn’t make the team, the practice squad is definitely a possibility.

Speaking of Douglass, he showed no ill effects from the knee injury suffered early in camp last year. The good news is that it happened early in camp, so he’s a full year recovered from the injury. On one slant play, he caught the ball and quickly exploded up field, looking the speedy, dynamic, big play threat the Falcons offense lacked last year (no offense Marty Booker).

Another guy to watch in the passing game is Kerry Meier. The guy catches everything you throw to him, and he does a great job of getting position against defensive backs. He’s also quicker than one might assume.

The list of weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal seems to have grown.

The kicking game, which doomed the Falcons last year, still isn’t settled, but I will say this, both kickers have strong legs, but the edge has to go to the more consistent Matt Bryant at this point.

In any event, the 2010 Falcons look like a team practicing with a purpose. Mike Smith says they don’t make their team goals public, but everyone knows what their goal is this year, to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

If there’s one thing clearly evident with these Falcons it’s that they are deep, very deep, especially on both lines. There is competition galore, and not just for starting spots, but for those final spots on the roster too. It’s a talented roster, and a well coached roster. What the 2010 season holds can’t be known for months, but it definitely holds lots of promise.

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