Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Five Belated Falcons Thoughts

1. I was wrong; Matt Ryan is very good. He made about five throws on Sunday against a very good defense that I haven't seen a Falcons quarterback make since Steve Bartkowski was under center. Ryan's last throw to Michael Jenkins was especially pretty, but it was not the first time in the game that he made a great throw to the sidelines with a defender in his face. Right now, I have no complaints about Ryan whatsoever. His decision-making is excellent for a rookie, his arm strength and accuracy are good, his teammates seem to like him, and he's stepped up in pressure situations. The only knock on him is consistency. He's been very good in some games and poor in two others.

2. I was also wrong about the effect that a good quarterback can have on a team. I like to act like a sophisticated fan who is far more interested in line play than quarterbacks. Let the cretins who don't understand football think that the quarterbacks decide everything; I'm a savvy fan who knows that the lines are far more important. While I still cling to that self-image, I'm willing to admit that Ryan is showing that that thinking has limits. The entire offense looks better now that it has a quarterback who knows what he's doing. The receivers look better because they are getting the ball on time and in the right spots. The offensive line looks better because the quarterback has proper drops and doesn't hold onto the ball all day. If not for our former starter's predilection for animal cruelty, we would not be able to say these things, so yay federal prosecutors!

3. If I had one criticism of the coaching on Sunday, it would be that the distribution of carries was totally out of whack. Michael Turner is an excellent runner, but Jerious Norwood deserves more than three carries when the Falcons are calling 28 running plays. Norwood brings a different dynamic because he's a little quicker than Turner. Personally, I'd like to see the Falcons work the Wildcat formation into the playbook with Turner taking the snaps, a la Darren McFadden, and Norwood coming in motion, a la Felix Jones.

4. OK, I have another criticism. The Falcons' defensive approach on the Bears' final drive was very passive. This defensive line simply isn't good enough to get pressure when the team rushes only three or four, mainly because opponents can isolate the one pass rushing threat - John Abraham - and take their chances with everyone else. (But Jamaal Anderson got a sack!) I guess the counter is that the secondary isn't good enough to cover in man coverage with the game on the line, so Mike Smith and Brian VanGorder have to pick their poison. The team's weaknesses on the defensive line and in the secondary are the major reason why we don't need to be getting ahead of ourselves by thinking that a 4-2 start means that the playoffs are a realistic possibility.

5. After six games, the Falcons are #1 in the NFL off of both left and right tackles. I'm not sure where to dole out the credit for this stat. Are the Falcons doing so well because Michael Turner runs well off-tackle? Do we credit the tackles for dominating their defensive ends? Do we credit the scheme? Whatever the case may be, the offensive line is much, much better this year. Kudos to Paul Boudreau. Thomas Dimitroff also deserves credit for acquiring Sam Baker and Harvey Dahl. Let's hope he can work the same magic with the defense this off-season.

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