Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are preparing for a Monday night showdown with the Buccaneers in Tampa – and you've got plenty of questions. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
And we're off.
Gus from Gaithersburg, MD
Hello Beek. First off, thank you for your patience in answering all our questions, especially mine which have at times been not so relevant. I try not to ask questions about the Falcons games that I don't watch from beginning to end as I need to watch the entire game before I open my mouth and complain or claim pride. With that being said: Do you think some of the Friday morning complaints from New Orleans about playing Thursday games was somewhat a way of sore loser attitude? I sure think so, it seemed to me that they took us for a guaranteed win and the body language of Sean Payton along with Drew Brees' postgame commentary about playing on Thursdays solidified my observation. I know my opinion is biased as a die-hard Falcons fan but, I don't see the Falcons pressing on the Thursday game issue after a Thursday loss. Us, the fans, on the other hand, we're a different story. Happy holidays Beek.
Matt: Hey, Gus. Thanks! If it were just the Saints complaining about playing on Thursdays, then I might lean toward agreeing with you on that one, Gus. But it's not just the Saints. A number of players have come out and complained about the short turnaround and lack of time to heal properly for those Thursday night games, including Drew Brees. In the Saints' case, I'm sure losing the game and having so many players injured during the game also added fuel to the fire, so to speak. Unless you're actually playing and knows what it feels like, it's tough to judge or say they're wrong. I have a lot of respect for Brees – and for all the things he's done for his community off the field, too. That all said, two teams have to play and there weren't a lot of complaints from Falcons players (at least publicly) about the turnaround. I think the way teams approach Thursdays with their preparation and practice schedule can have a big effect, too. Maybe some teams do a better job than others there. It's something that should be looked at and discussed during the offseason, I think. Thanks for the question, Gus. And happy holidays to you and yours as well.
Doug from Concord, Ontario, Canada
Enjoy your diplomatic manner of dealing with Falcons fans of all ages and experience. My question is, why the Falcons don't use that wide spread formation more frequently and simply let Matt sit back and have a number of receivers to choose from? Unlike the Matt Ryan I have come to respect and admire for his accuracy, he seems to be throwing to Julio Jones even at times when he is in double coverage. It almost appears like he is forcing some of the balls and the defense is just waiting for it. I think there should be more use of the tight ends and backs as receivers. Go Falcons from an admiring fan north of the border.
Matt: Hey, Doug. The Falcons use a number of different formations and personnel groups throughout the course of a game to keep defenses off balance. It's another luxury of having a veteran quarterback like Matt Ryan in place, too. And they do employ a number of multi-receiver sets, which you referenced. As far as forcing the ball to Jones more this year … I think you should subscribe to NFL Game Pass and go back and watch some of the games from last year – and beyond. Ryan has been throwing to Jones in double coverage for some time. Jones is a special receiver because of his size and skill set – and even when he looks covered, he can make catches in traffic that many receivers cannot.
Joshua from Destin, FL
Sooooo ... DISCLAIMER: I am an absolute die-hard Falcons fan. My parents told me that I owed my life to the Falcons due to my conception when they improved to a whopping 2-2 by beating the 49ers in the fourth game of the 1975 season. I have endured the ups and many downs in my 41 years of fandom. Last season broke my heart. So much so, that to date I simply cannot watch a game with family and friends, as my blood pressure can't take it. All that is background to lay the foundation for my question: What's the missing link in this season?! We have a fast, young, and sometimes dominant D. We have as many or more weapons on O as any team in the league. We have a rock star (IMO) HC that has put a great team on the field. Is it Sark? I understand it takes time for an OC and QB to gel. I get it. But week to week, the team, MY team, that shows up seems different. What's missing? Who/what do we need to be consistent? (Okay, this is a great deal of context and more than one question ... sorry!)
Matt: Hey, Joshua. Well this Falcons teams is certainly a lot better than that 1975 team. Look, my answer might surprise you, but you know what's missing right now: Nothing. This team is relatively healthy for December and everything is on the table for them with three games left. The opportunity to finish 11-5 (the same record as last year), a chance at that the division crown and a chance to host a playoff game. What more could you realistically ask for? My advice is to relax and enjoy the ride. As a Falcons fan, you should recognize that you're in the midst of a nice run for the franchise – and while a lot plays into that, one of the most important pieces is that franchise quarterback. They're tough to find, and then you've got to have the right parts surrounding them. The Falcons have a lot of those parts. So sit back and enjoy it, Joshua. Thanks for reading!
Kelvin from Goodyear, AZ
Beek, again thanks for taking the time to chat about our dirty birds and, yes, I am aware that these are your "opinions." Fun, nevertheless. Question. Given the fact that the Falcons are a relatively young team, what are your thoughts about keeping the core group together as some these players get into the bigger contract years. I hope we can continue to build via the draft and protect and pay the keepers.
Matt: Hey, Kelvin. I remember going out to Goodyear for the Reds spring training when I was working the Cincinnati Enquirer a few years ago. Like it a lot out there. To your question, I think you have to feel good about the job Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has done in building this team and keeping its core together. The Falcons have locked up a number of key young players – most recently Devonta Freeman and Desmond Trufant – and also continue do a nice job through the draft and free agency. This team is young in some areas, but a lot of those players – like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Vic Beasley – are big-time contributors. If you get a minute, check out this piece I wrote on Dimitroff and the team of scouts he's assembled.
Malachi from Carollton, GA
Beek, it was a good win for us on Thursday, but I'm worried about Matt Ryan's play and the inconsistency of this offense. Matt Ryan cannot be throwing three interceptions in the playoffs! Tell me, Beek, what has led to the downfall of the former MVP! Also, do you think Deion Jones is the next best thing? And I'm not saying this cause of the interception he had, but he always plays well.
Matt: I wouldn't worry a bit about Matt Ryan's play and we are hardly witnessing his downfall. C'mon, guys. Look, turnovers will hurt any team, that's for sure. I'm not defending the interceptions against the Saints, either. The three picks in four pass attempts was bizarre, and something you don't see often – and two of those you can put on Ryan. I went over them extensively here, check it out. He said that he should've thrown the ball away on one, and didn't. And the other, well, he thought the receiver was going to draw call, but it didn't materialize. Mistakes happen, and the good teams can recover from them – which the Falcons did. As far as Deion Jones goes, he's only going to get better – and that's a little scary for opposing offenses. He's got great speed and instincts at linebacker.
Jerry from Statesboro, GA
Hey Beek. We really need this Tampa win. If we beat Tampa and the Rams knock of the Seahawks, all we have to do is split with New Orleans and Carolina. I know we want the division title and all, but I will be happy with getting to the dance. I feel like if we get in, we are the most dangerous team in the NFC. Oh yeah don't think I forgot about our picks at the beginning of the season (I said 10-6, you said 12-4). Looks like I'm right. Doesn't matter though, we're on the same team. Question 1, how does Carson Wentz's injury and Minnesota looking mortal again affect the NFC playoff picture? Question 2, is Gerald McCoy out of the Tampa game with a shoulder/bicep injury?
Matt: Hey, Jerry. If the Falcons win two of the final three games, they should be in decent shape and, considering the head-to-head tiebreakers and conference record. Obviously winning all three games would be the ideal scenario. As far as the record prediction goes, the Falcons could still finish 11-5, so tap the brakes. To your questions, yes, Wentz's injury changes things quite a bit for the Eagles. They're still very good, but Nick Foles is not Carson Wentz. Keep in mind that the Vikings had to play three straight road games, which is never easy. They nearly won all three, too. And they're still very good. As far as McCoy goes, there is no definitive answer yet regarding his status. We should know more as the week goes on, but I'd be surprised if he plays. If the Bucs should be without him, that's big – he's such a good player and a difference-maker when he's on the field.
Kevin from Q-West, Iraq
Beek, your column contains solid comments and observations and is a great addition to the fan base discussion. Question: Since defense wins championships, would you agree that we are better positioned this year than last year for us to make a run? Do you think that our offense will do more than enough and the defense will carry the day, as with great teams in the past?
Matt: Hey, Kevin. Appreciate that. First, I'll agree with you about the Falcons defense. I do like this unit. This group is young and getting better – and that was the hope coming into the season, right? They invested in free agency and through the draft to make this unit stronger and it's showing. The defense is a big reason why the Falcons won on Thursday night, too. Now, anything can happen on a week-to-week basis in the NFL, so you're not going to draw me into making some crazy prediction about winning a championship right now. It's way too soon. This team has some tough tests ahead with the Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers.
A. Murphy from Killeen, TX
Hi Beek, been a fan for a long time. Also been a fan of your work with these blogs. I submitted something a few weeks ago, but I don't think it got published. Back to the reason I'm posting today. I read the previous post about drafting and wanted to say I agree about the quarterback position, but I would love to them to draft a player close to home – the Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. He should be a high draft pick, and I wouldn't be opposed to us making some trades and move up in the draft to ensure that we get him so that nobody else does.
Matt: Thanks for reading. When it comes to the draft, it depends on draft position and who's available. It's too early to know where the Falcons will be picking from at this point. With those first-round picks you want to get as much value as possible (best available) and, certainly, a guy like Roquan Smith should be a high pick. There are some who believe he deserved serious Heisman Trophy consideration, which says a lot.
Byron from London, England
Hey Beek! Thanks for coming back to me previously bud, it is appreciated. What a win over the Saints first of all, great to see defense turning up on a crucial play in the final moments of the game. As you say, we control our own fate right now, which I personally believe is a great position to be in heading into the back end of the season. With three tough divisional games coming up, how is the morale in the organization right now after that big time play from Deion Jones? With a long week to prepare for the Bucs ahead of Monday night football, what are the key focus areas moving into this week and the remaining part of the regular season? I personally believe we will run the table and clinch the NFC South division again, defensive is really playing well right now however offence isn't firing on all cylinders yet. Give my regards to Coach Quinn – I love what that man stands for and everything he is achieving with this organization, it's clear to see how much respect each and every player has for him, which I think is such an important factor in any successful sports team. It's time to stack them up and run this table. Rise UP Atlanta.
Matt: Hey, Byron. Thanks for writing in and for your remarks. Anytime you can beat your biggest rival at home in prime time, life is good. That said, the focus is on the Buccaneers right now. Based on what Falcons coach Dan Quinn says on a weekly basis, they don't look too far down the road – the focus is always on winning the day. And I'm sure that will continue. One game at a time. If they take care of business, everything will sort itself out and things should fall into place nicely.
Shivam from McDonough, GA
Hi Beek. After doing some playoff scenario simulations on the ESPN Playoff Machine, it seems like the Week 17 game against the Panthers is going to be a big one that could decide if the Falcons make it into the playoffs. What are your takes on that game?
Matt: I think that game could mean a lot less if the Falcons don't take care of business against the Buccaneers on Monday night and the Saints in New Orleans. That Panthers game is too far down the road, to be honest. A lot can change between now and then.