FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes how the Falcons are going about preparing for Lamar Jackson and seeking to fix the run game.
The Falcons could face one of the NFL’s more unique quarterbacks on Sunday if Lamar Jackson starts again in place of Joe Flacco. So, how does Atlanta go about preparing for Jackson’s dual-threat abilities?
According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, rookie receiver Russell Gage, who ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash prior to the draft, has been simulating Jackson’s ability for the scout team this week.
“He did a great job for us,” linebacker DeVondre Campbell told Ledbetter on Thursday. “He gave us some great looks and he is really just getting us prepared.”
There is a chance Jackson returns to his role as a backup if Flacco is able to play for the first time in two days, and he practiced in a limited capacity on Thursday. The Falcons are preparing for both possibilities, and they are sure to be getting a good scout look from Gage.
To read the rest of Ledbetter’s article, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: How fast is Lamar Jackson?
Sticking with the theme of Jackson, the Ravens rookie quarterback has drawn plenty of praise in his first NFL season. Much of that praise centers around his incredible speed. That continued this week, as Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr compared Jackson to an animal any Saturday-morning cartoon watcher should be very familiar with.
"He's like a roadrunner. His feet go so fast," Carr told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. "His vision and his feet are always on the same page. He’s out there just gliding. Some people are built like that. He has some different hamstrings or tendons down there."
To read the rest of Hensley’s report, click here.
AJC: Falcons are running down a nightmare
The Falcons have struggled to get much of any production in the run game over the last three weeks, and it’s an area of emphasis for the team down the final stretch. As they seek to address some of the problems, the Falcons are looking at every facet of their rushing offense. Matt Winkeljohn covered the subject in a piece for the AJC, detailing how Atlanta might go about that process.
“That’s a big question,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said when asked if they would scrap certain run plays that are less productive. “... There would certainly be some that you would say you know what, we’ve given this a shot and it’s not working at the level that we want so we would put that one on ice,” he said. “... To answer your question, yes there would be some that would be taken out ... Yes, we would get rid of some.”
To read the rest of Winkeljohn’s piece, click here.
Week 13 expert picks
What do the experts think of the Falcons’ chances this weekend as they return home to face the Baltimore Ravens? Well, they aren’t bailing on Atlanta like some might think after losing its last three contests. Three of the five expert pickers at CBS Sports who had their picks in at the time of the piece going up favor the Falcons, including Pete Prisco who gives Atlanta a 34-30 nod over Baltimore.
“The Ravens have won two straight with Lamar Jackson, who has done some good things,” Prisco writes. “I can't wait to watch him on the fast turf in this one. But he is still limited some as a passer. Matt Ryan is not and that will show up here. The Falcons are much better at home, and they will get a tight victory in this one.”
Bleacher report’s pickers give the Ravens a 2-1 nod over the Falcons, but they predict a tight 3-point outcome. The tight game, they say, could be due to rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson having to play well on the road.
FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model gives Atlanta a slight edge at home, assigning it a 53-percent win probability.
CBS Sports: How it went wrong for Jags, Pack, Falcons
It’s incredibly difficult to predict how the NFL season will turn out months before it even begins. Just look at the year-to-year postseason turnover for further proof. The extreme variance that can take place with injuries, new additions and lucky bounces each season often leads to some preseason favorites falling out of contention and afterthoughts jumping into prominence.
The Falcons were among those who were viewed as top-tier contenders entering the 2018 season, but injuries have wiped away a lot of talent. In Jason La Canfora’s opinion, the Falcons join the Jaguars and Packers as teams who had things go horribly wrong.
Read La Canfora’s explanation of how things went wrong, right here.
Week 13 power rankings
The Falcons have tumbled in the power rankings during their three-game losing streak, and they remain low after their loss on Thanksgiving night. Be sure to check out Matt Tabeek’s Wildly Important NFL Power Rankings.
“The Falcons did not look like a team playing for its playoff life against the Saints on Thanksgiving night. Never mind that they were facing a superior club and suffered a couple of weird turnovers (the Calvin Ridley fumble was the butter on the roll). The sense of urgency just wasn't there. With over half the fourth quarter gone and New Orleans up three touchdowns, Atlanta took its sweet time on offense. Rodney Harrison (no relation) pointed it out immediately. At 4-7, and with the Ravens, Packers and Panthers coming up, securing that wild-card spot will be awfully tough.”
“They are done now after losing to the Saints. Injuries crippled the defense all season long.”
“Week 14 at Green Bay. Beside the fact that the defense has to contend with Aaron Rodgers, being outdoors in the cold at Lambeau Field probably won't help Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense.”
“The Falcons are pretty much cooked now. They’ve been a team our poll has ranked well above what their record would indicate all season, but that appears to be crashing down to earth too.”
SI.com: Matt Ryan’s cause: Care and support for preterm babies
Matt Ryan learned first-hand last year how scary pregnancy complications can be. His wife, Sarah, was admitted to the hospital 24 weeks into her pregnancy, and it was possible she was going to give birth very prematurely. Thankfully, that did not happen. But their twin sons, Marshall and Johnny, were still premature, coming into the world nearly 31 weeks into Sarah’s pregnancy.
That experience will be reflected in Ryan’s choice to represent March of Dimes and Northside Hospital Miracle Babies for the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats initiative on Sunday. The Falcons’ quarterback will be wearing a pair of blue cleats, which will then be auctioned off after the game with the proceeds going to both organizations.
Jenny Vrentas helped capture Ryan’s story in an enlightening piece on SI.com, which I encourage all Falcons fans to read.
ESPN: Lamar Jackson, Calvin Ridley still rooting for each other
The Falcons will face one of the most intriguing rookies in the league on Sunday when they face Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, Atlanta has a pretty exciting offensive rookie of its own in Calvin Ridley. Turns out the two have a pretty strong history with one another.
As ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes, Ridley and Jackson grew up playing alongside of each other down in Florida, and that connection has carried on as the two rookies continue to make plays on Sundays.
"Just seeing him when we were younger, it was always hard to guard him because he's got moves, he's got speed," Jackson told McClure. "His acceleration, you can't catch him. I haven't seen anyone catch him from behind, like running him down. His explosiveness that he brings to the game is ridiculous. One man can't lock him down. I've never heard of it; not with Calvin."
Jackson has started the last two games for the Ravens, throwing for 328 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He’s also run the ball 65 times for 329 yards and two touchdowns this season. Meanwhile, Ridley has caught 47 passes for 625 yards and eight touchdowns.
To read the rest of McClure’s piece on the history between Jackson and Ridley, click here.