Early Bird Report: What the Falcons would do if Alex Mack can't play

The Falcons went through great lengths to add quality talent and depth to their offensive line this offseason, and those efforts have been tested early in the 2019 season.

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First-round pick Chris Lindstrom went on injured reserve after Week 1, and starters Jamon Brown and Alex Mack were held out of practice due to injury on Wednesday. Mack has been as durable as they come during his Pro Bowl seasons with the Falcons, but if he’s unable to go it will be a familiar face snapping the ball to Matt Ryan.

Wes Schweitzer, who has been a reserve guard and center with the Falcons for several seasons, would get the call if Mack is unable to play on Sunday.

“He’s a pro’s pro,” Ryan said of Schweitzer. “He’s a guy that we’ve asked to play right guard, left guard and center at different points throughout his career. He’s always on top of his game plan. He knows his assignments. Goes out there and does a nice job for us.”

D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote more on Schweitzer as the team’s backup plan for Mack, which you can read here.

ESPN: How Deshaun Watson's 'NFL experience' began as ball boy for the Falcons

Deshaun Watson is a name many football fans are familiar with, especially those in the state of Georgia. Watson attended Gainesville High School and became one of the most highly recruited quarterbacks in the country before eventually signing with the Clemson Tigers. At Clemson, Watson became one of the best quarterbacks in college football while leading the Tigers to a national title in 2016.

Yet before he did any of that. Long before he became a first-round pick for the Houston Texans, Watson got a taste of the NFL life with the Atlanta Falcons, a journey Sarah Barshop wrote about for ESPN.

“He would throw to Eric Weems, Harry Douglas, Andrew Davis, and when he would throw to my ‘no-name guys,’ and he would hit them all in the chest, throw the ball right in their face,” former Falcons receivers coach Terry Robiskie told Barshop. “Just perfect balls, you know what I mean? And then all of a sudden, Roddy White would step up, or Julio Jones would step up, and he’d throw it in the ground.”

Watson, who the Falcons will face Sunday, started as a ball boy with the team but quickly began throwing to Atlanta’s receivers. As he grew as a high school player, he continued to work with the Falcons and develop a friendship with some of the very players he will face Sunday.

To read the rest of Barshop’s well-written piece, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

ESPN: Best rituals, superstitions for all 32 NFL teams

Regardless of how long a player has been in the NFL, pregame rituals can remain part of his routine. That’s the case with Falcons kicker Matt Bryant who is 44 years old, in his 18th NFL season and still needs a chocolate milkshake the night before every game, a practice he started as a rookie in 2002.

"First of all, I love chocolate shakes,'' Bryant told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. "I went into this little dining hall [as a Giant] and saw a sundae station. I asked, 'Is that for us?' And they were like, 'Yeah.' Then I was like, 'Is that free?' And they said, 'Yeah.' So I made me a chocolate shake. For the last 17 years, I've had a chocolate shake before every game.''

To read more about Bryant’s ritual and other superstitions across the league, click here.

Pro Football Focus: Team of the week

For their performances in Sunday’s game against the Titans, two Falcons players earned spots on Pro Football Focus’ team of the week. Left tackle Jake Matthews earned a grade of 84.8 from PFF against the Titans, his best grade of the season from the site.

“After some struggles over the first three weeks of the season, Matthews delivered his best performance of 2019 on Sunday,” PFF’s Gordon McGuinness writes. “From 63 pass-blocking snaps, he allowed just one hurry, with no sacks or hits against his name.”

The other Falcons player to make the team was linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Campbell led all players in the game with 17 combined tackles and two forced fumbles, and he earned a 91.5 grade for the performance.

“Despite being on the losing end of the scoreline, Campbell’s performance on the field on Sunday was definitely worthy of praise,” McGuinness writes. “Of his 10 solo tackles, four resulted in a defensive stop, and he forced two fumbles on the day. He was thrown at three times in coverage, but the two receptions he allowed went for just one yard.”

To see the rest of PFF’s team of the week from Week 4, click here.

NFL.com: What we learned from Week 4 games

A 24-10 loss at home to the Tennessee Titans was not what the Falcons expected in Week 4. But, after the loss, Atlanta sits at 1-3 and searching for solutions. The loss to the Titans unveiled some strengths and weaknesses for the Falcons, but there were more negatives throughout the game.

One issue for the Falcons on Sunday was the offensive line, which allowed five sacks and 11 hits on Matt Ryan. That was one of the focus points for Jelani Scott, who wrote about the Falcons-Titans game for NFL.com.

“Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees' unit turned Matt Ryan (35-of-53, 397 yards, 0 TDs) into a human pinball machine, sacking him five times and hitting him a total of 11 times,” Scott writes. “The Titans batted down several balls and were also all over the run, holding Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith to a combined 39 yards on 14 carries. The group even snuffed out an attempt to get Jones going on a reverse. Their most impressive stop came late in the second quarter on fourth-and-1 on their own 39. Freeman built up a head of steam out of the backfield but was stuffed by safety Kenny Vaccaro, who led the effort, and DE Jurrell Casey for a two-yard loss. To that point, Atlanta (1-3) was 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions this season.”

To read the rest of Scott’s takeaways from Sunday’s game, click here.

ESPN: Week 4 NFL takeaways

The Falcons managed to score a touchdown in the first quarter for the first time on Sunday, but that was the only time the team punched it into the end zone against the Titans. After erupting in the second half against the Colts, the Falcons’ offense lay dormant against Tennessee, adding volume to the concerns of a slow-starting unit.

“Whatever message the Falcons' coaching staff is sending to the players is not getting through,” ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes. “It's the same story every week as the Falcons get off to a slow start and aren't able to recover. This time, it was a 24-7 hole in the second quarter against the Titans. They've been outscored 38-10 in first quarters and 71-20 in first halves this season, a major factor in their 1-3 start. Asked why these slow starts keep mounting, especially for an offense that's supposed to be extremely explosive, quarterback Matt Ryan responded, ‘Usually it comes down to all 11 of us executing and finishing our plays, and winning our one-on-one matchups ... across the board, we haven't done a good enough job of that.' Recovering from their latest loss won't be easy -- the Falcons have to travel to Houston.”

To read the rest of ESPN’s takeaways from Week 4, click here.

AJC: Falcons losses mount, as do bad memories

In his column after Sunday’s game, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Steve Hummer invoked the past. While watching a disappointing Falcons game, he began to think of others, and he didn’t seem to have much trouble recalling them.

“I heard the voice of Jerry Glanville, somewhere, who toward the end of his Falcons reign would proudly proclaim, ‘Not a single man quit; not a single man surrendered.’ Because when nothing else is working, the life vest of a floundering team is its pride,” Hummer writes. “You knew then that this quality, admirable as it is, wouldn’t be enough when the losses mount. Just as you know it now.

“I recalled one of the best men to ever coach in the NFL, Dan Reeves, fired with three games to go in 2003, five years after doing the Dirty Bird on the way to a Super Bowl. Past performance is no guarantee of future employment. And there are no excuses big enough to hide behind. Even, if as in Reeves’ case, his great, as-yet unsullied star quarterback Mike Vick was lost to a preseason broken leg that year.”

To read the rest of Hummer’s column, click here.

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