Today’s Early Bird Report includes praise for Austin Hooper’s steady growth and development as well as what the Falcons need to do to start fast Sunday.
Austin Hooper’s ascent as Atlanta’s tight end has been something to watch. A third-round draft pick in 2016, Hooper has improved his on-field statistics with each consecutive season he’s been a member of the Falcons.
He’s once again off to a great start. Coming off of a performance in which he caught six passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts, Hooper already has 19 catches – tied for the third-most among NFL tight ends – for 177 yards and the two scores.
“It’s a very mental position because you have to be in both worlds – the receiver/route-running world and understanding how to read coverages on the run, and manipulate defenders vs. man and zone,” Hooper told Matt Winkeljohn of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “At the same time you’ve got to be able to block a 300-pounder and move them in the run game, so there’s a lot on your plate.”
Still just 24, Hooper has already become a staple of the Falcons’ offense. With another fast start so far in 2019, more big things may be in store.
To read the rest of Winkeljohn’s piece about Hooper’s growth, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Falcons’ offense searching for fixes to slow starts
The Falcons have scored just three points in the first quarter this season. That inability to score points early was most notable in the team’s two road losses, and with the Falcons returning home this weekend for a matchup with the Titans there’s another chance to get things going early. That’s been part of the team’s focus this week, and quarterback Matt Ryan shared what he believe it will take to get a fast start.
"Just execution, solid execution across the board," Ryan said. "It really is simple as that. It’s about all 11 guys doing their jobs and finishing the play. When we do that, and everybody is on the same page, we’re a unit that can be very successful."
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure spoke with a few other coaches and players about the Falcons’ slow starts thus far, and you can read that piece here.
AJC: Falcons discussing fines to clean up penalties
After committing 35 penalties through the first three weeks of the season, the Falcons know they need to get things buttoned up. Atlanta’s 16 penalties played a large role in the team’s 27-24 road loss to the Colts, and the Falcons have begun to search for ways to improve discipline.
There are a couple of approaches it appears the team will pursue in the effort to draw fewer yellow flags. One such way the Falcons are adding an emphasis on penalties is by using a seven-man officiating crew instead of the typical three-man crew they’ve used in the past.
“That’s really the emphasis of having the extra officials here, another set of eyes just on that from the coaching side,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Whether I’m looking at the scheme or the technique, I want to make sure there’s another set of eyes only watching the player if there’s a foul or not. For me, it’s more of a teaching emphasis.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote about the added officials in a piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which you can read here. Ledbetter also reported that fines had been discussed as a possible deterrent for the fouls, but defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn felt greater accountability might do the trick better.
“Nobody wants to be called out by their teammates,” Clayborn told Ledbetter. “On the other end, nobody wants to cause a 5-yard penalty or turn a third down into a first down, that hurts more than a fine to me.”
ESPN: Falcons need discipline, not Superman
Atlanta’s defense had a few issues during the team’s loss to the Colts, but many of those issues were self-imposed. The Falcons committed nine penalties on defense, four of which came on a third down and resulted in a first down for the Colts.
That’s not way to win in the NFL, and safety Ricardo Allen agrees. The defensive captain doesn’t believe it will take much outside of the Falcons’ defenders doing their job to get things corrected moving forward.
"My message to the defense? Do your job. That’s all,” Allen told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. "Whatever your job entitles, do that. Do it as hard as you can for your brothers. That’s it. We’re not asking nobody to be Superman. Just be who you are and what you’re supposed to be for this team.
"Yeah, we understand it’s going to be 'mess-ups' here and there, but you’ve got to do it for everybody around you. If you do your job and they beat us doing your job, they deserve it. But if they beat us and we’re not doing what we’re supposed to, that’s on us."
McClure wrote in greater detail about Atlanta’s defense moving forward, which you can read here.
ESPN: Takeaways from Week 3
The Atlanta Falcons dropped their second game of the 2019 season and are now 1-2 for the year. Both losses have come on the road, and although the Falcons scored touchdowns on all three of their second-half possessions against the Colts, it just wasn’t enough in the 27-24 defeat.
There were plenty of reactions to the game, including one from ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, whose primary takeaway was the high number of penalties the Falcons committed.
“The Falcons have to play with more discipline,” McClure writes. “They were penalized 16 times for 128 yards on Sunday, including a defensive holding call on Damontae Kazee at the 10:33 mark of the fourth quarter when the Colts faced third-and-10 from their own 47 and Brissett threw an incomplete pass. It kept the Indianapolis drive alive with a first down and eventually resulted in Marlon Mack's 4-yard touchdown that proved to be the difference. ‘You just can't hold. That's it,' Kazee said. Coach Dan Quinn, now coordinating defense, expects more, particularly with procedural penalties. In three games, the Falcons have accumulated 35 penalties for 264 yards. The lack of discipline needs to end, starting with the Titans next week.”
NFL.com: What we learned from Sunday’s NFL games
NFL.com writer Lakisha Wesseling also had some reactions to Atlanta’s three-point loss. While she notes that a slow start in the first half really hurt the Falcons, the second half showed a remarkable turnaround and possible path forward to a victory. Unfortunately, the penalties proved too much to overcome in the end.
“The first half was brutal for the Falcons (1-2) but the second half was the exact opposite,” Wesseling writes. “If it wasn't for penalties and missed tackles, the Falcons could have won this game. Matt Ryan's 13-yard touchdown to Austin Hooper was the drive they needed to start the second half. The Falcons controlled the ball from there. Ryan found Hooper again in the fourth quarter to cut the Colts' lead by one score. But then the penalties took over again and the Falcons kept missing opportunities to get the Colts offense off the field. A touchdown by Julio Jones in double coverage wasn't enough to win the game. The Falcons finished the game with 16 penalties for 128 yards.”
To read the rest of Wesseling’s reactions to the game, click here.
CBS Sports: Week 3 insider notes
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora was also tuned into the Falcons-Colts game, and he was not a fan of what he saw. In his piece recapping some of Sunday’s action, he noted that in both of their road games this season the Falcons started slow and couldn’t manage to catch back up.
“Yes, they had two pristine second-half drives to make a game of it in Indianapolis Sunday, but that was only after Matt Ryan threw his sixth pick of the season and the Colts marched up and down the field and led, 20-3, at halftime,” La Canfora writes. “The Falcons couldn't come all the way back, cutting things to three at one point, and the Colts could have scored again late but chose to run out the clock – yet again, with the Falcons needing a stop, none came.”
To read the rest of La Canfora’s notes from the Falcons’ loss, click here.