FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes a piece on the NFL's 50 most fascinating people for the upcoming season and each team's hidden strength.
There are plenty of strengths and weaknesses for each NFL team that become obvious to fans throughout a season. Things like red-zone success and pass-rush ability are identifiable to even the most casual fan.
But sometimes there are strengths that aren't as easy to understand, and Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders identified those strengths for each NFL team in a piece for ESPN.
When it comes to the Falcons, the hidden strength on offense is Matt Ryan's ability to throw the ball when a team blitzes a defensive back.
"Despite all his success in 2016, Matt Ryan averaged only 4.9 yards when opponents blitzed a defensive back that season, according to ESPN Stats & Info," Schatz writes. "In 2017, that changed dramatically, as Ryan averaged 9.4 yards per pass against DB blitzes, the second-best mark in the league."
Defensively, the Falcons' sneaky strength is their ability to lock teams down inside the red zone, embodying a bend-don't-break mentality.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: The NFL's 50 most fascinating people
With the season set to begin in just over a week, ESPN's Bill Barnwell wrote about the 50 players, coaches and general managers to watch in 2018. Two Falcons make the list: offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who is in the "now-or-nevers" category, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who is in the "breakout stars" group.
"I'm not convinced Sarkisian deserves anywhere near as much of the blame for what happened with the Falcons' offense last season," Barnwell writes. "For one, the Falcons were always going to decline from the record marks they put up in 2016, regardless of whether former coordinator Kyle Shanahan stuck around. The Falcons produced the best first-down offense in league history in 2016, and in 2017, they fell all the way to third in yards per play and third in conversion rate on first downs. Their offensive line also stayed healthy for 80 starts in 2016, which is virtually impossible to repeat (and out of any coordinator's control)."
To read the rest of Barnwell's piece, click here.
The Times-Picayune: Saints still unsure of Marcus Davenport's role this season
The Saints shocked some people when they traded up to select pass-rusher Marcus Davenport in April's draft, and it appears they are still figuring out the right role for him on their defense. According to Josh Katzenstein of The Times-Picayune, the Saints aren't yet sure of how they will deploy their rookie this season.
"I think that's still to be determined," defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said, according to Katzenstein. "Certainly, we didn't draft him just to be a situational pass rusher. We drafted this guy to be an every-down player, so that's what we're working to do, to try to get him ready to do that. We'll continue to put him in those situations, and hopefully he'll be ready to answer the challenge."
To read more about the Saints and their first-round pick, click here.
CBS Sports: 10 NFL uniforms that need to make a permanent comeback
Throwback uniforms often hold a special place in fan's hearts, and they are a fun part of each NFL season. Not all throwback uniforms are created equal, however, and some are frequently mentioned as ones that should make a comeback on a regular basis. CBS Sports' Pete Blackburn wrote a piece naming 10 uniforms that could come back permanently, and the Falcons' black-jersey-red-helmet combo was first on his list.
"The Falcons uniforms aren't terrible right now, but I've always preferred the retro style look -- primarily because the red helmet is so great, especially when contrasted against the black jersey," Blackburn writes. "(It also looks good with red-on-red.) The jersey itself is really simple and could use a little bit of sleeve striping, but overall I think this classic ensemble would be an upgrade over the busier modern version."