Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are about to head out West to take on the Rams in the wild-card round of the playoffs and you've got questions. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
And we're off.
Adrian from Los Angeles, CA
Even though I live in Los Angeles I am a die-hard Atlanta Falcons fan since the Steve Bartkowski days. And I will be in the Coliseum this Saturday night wearing my Julio Jones jersey. But Beek come on, do we really expect this inconsistent team to go on the road and win in LA? The defense has been playing great but I just don't think they will score enough points. Beek, please enlighten me and tell me what makes you think that a Steve Sarkisian-led offense can win a road playoff game? I hope I am wrong, but I don't see that happening.
Matt: Hey, Adrian. I was asked about the Falcons being on the road during the playoffs earlier this week and, yes, I think they can go into Los Angeles and be successful. Why? Well, the Falcons were just as good on the road (5-3) as they were at home (5-3) this season. As far as playing outside goes, the Falcons were 4-2 this season. The won on the road against the Bears, Jets, Seahawks and Buccaneers. The lost outside on the road against the Patriots and Panthers. Obviously, it'll come down to how they play on the field against the Rams. The Falcons defense is a top-10 unit and they've been more consistent on offense in the second half of the season, finishing the last eight games with a 6-2 mark. As far as "scoring enough points" goes, this team doesn't have to score like it did last year because the defense is playing so well. And just in case they do, they still have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman – who are threats from anywhere on the field. I really think these two teams are evenly matched, as you'd expect in the playoffs. Should be a fun one to watch.
Courtney from Fayetteville, NC
Happy New Year Beek! We're back in the playoffs. I've just started reading your column a few months ago and I love it. I was able to go the game this past Sunday against the Panthers and had a blast. What do you feel that the defense needs to focus on to contain the high-powered offense of the Rams? Do you expect Matt Ryan to connect with Julio Jones more?
Matt: Hey, Courtney. Thanks, and happy new year to you as well! And glad you're enjoying Straight from the Beek – I'm here for you, the fans. I think the Rams are at their best when Todd Gurley is running up and down the field – something he's definitely capable of doing, taking a game over. That certainly makes life much easier for second-year quarterback Jared Goff and the passing game, too. So, in my opinion, shutting down Gurley and that running game will be key. He moves the chains and sustains drives – just like any good ground game does. Regarding your second question – Ryan connecting with Jones – there's no question the All-Pro receiver will be targeted plenty. Jones is a difference-maker who can score from anywhere on the field, so it would behoove the Falcons to get the ball into his hands as much as they can. And this really isn't a secret. I'd expect Jones to be targeted 10-12 times in this one, which wouldn't be unusual at all.
Devonte from Riverdale, GA
Do you think Julio Jones can have a game like he did last year in the playoffs?
Matt: Yes, I think Jones is capable of having a huge game any time he steps out on the field, Devonte.
Chris from Decatur, GA
Just sitting here thinking ... I know you don't like to look too far ahead, but can't blame me for wondering. What if we relived the '98 season and we play the Vikings and advance to the big game again? That would be dope!! Don't you think?
Matt: You're right, I don't like to look too far ahead, Chris. Would playing and beating the Vikings on the home field to advance to the Super Bowl be "dope"? Yes, it would. Beating anyone and advancing to the Super Bowl would be. But first up is the Rams, Chris. All that matters right now is beating the Rams. Survive and advance.
Alan from Athens, GA
They say that defense wins championships, so maybe having a good defense and problematic offense is better suited to a playoff run than last year's great offense and fair defense. But at this point, we should be thinking about the Rams. Where are you on our chances?
Matt: As I noted above, Alan, I think this is an evenly matched game. Anytime you've got a top-10 defense and offense loaded with playmakers, you've got as good a chance as anyone, right? The Falcons come into Los Angeles as the sixth seed. They are the supposed underdogs – and will be throughout the postseason. Let's see what happens.
Nicole from Atlanta, GA
Hi Matt, Happy New Year to you and the family. One of the major keys to this game is our special teams. They must step up and give us better field position! I love your work. go Falcons!
Matt: Thanks, Nicole! Happy new year to you and your family as well! I agree and think special teams and the field position battle is always critical. Starting in good field position always helps the offense because the field is shortened – plus it puts more pressure on the defense. It obviously increases a team's chances for coming away with some points, too. Consistently starting deep in your own territory can make for a long day. Long drives, especially playing on the road, is not ideal. So if the Falcons can pin the Rams back deep and, at the same time, generate some strong returns of their own, it'll definitely make a difference. It's a game within the game that I always enjoy watching unfold. Sounds like you do, too.
Derrick from Sikeston, MO
Hey Beek, do you see Steve Sarkisian utilizing both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman more in the passing game like they did the Panthers? Seemed like that's what worked for us offensively all of last year and the last game.
Matt: Boy, it's fun watching the Falcons offense when those two are involved in the passing game and catching the ball out in space, isn't it? They are both dangerous in the open field and it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the opposing defense. In the win over the Panthers, Freeman caught nine passes for 85 yards, including one for a touchdown on Atlanta's opening drive.
John from Fort Wayne, IN
Big fan of the segment, I think you do a great job with it. A couple questions regarding Matt LaFleur. Being our old QB coach, do you think he should have been offered the OC job for us? I would have like to see that but also think Steve Sarkisian had done well for his first year. Also, do you think he gives the Rams defense any advantage knowing our scheme. Thanks.
Matt: Hey, John. Thanks for the kind words. If you know me, I try not to get into the "what if" game too much. Obviously, things have worked out pretty well for LeFleur out in Los Angeles, and good for him. I've got a ton of respect for the Falcons' decision-makers here and I think they do a tremendous job on the football side of things, John. I think it's worked out for both sides because I think Steve Sarkisian has done a solid job in his first year here. And just look at the results – both teams are in the postseason. I'd say it's a win-win. Thanks for your question!