FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Etc. Etc. Etc.
I am currently in the middle of opening gifts with my family, so let's make this quick, shall we?
If you're reading this on Christmas Day, I assume you, too, are trying to get through this read in between gift-giving sessions? Or perhaps between bites of cookies? Whatever the case may be, the Falcons play the Detroit Lions on Sunday, and there's a lot to go over. So, let's not waste any time.
1. Updating the game day status of Tajae Sharpe
Outside of Sharpe's foot injury and Marlon Davidson heading to the reserve/COVID-19 list, the Falcons are entering into Sunday's game with a relatively clean bill of health.
Sharpe suffered a foot injury last week against San Francisco and has not practiced throughout this week. He was listed as doubtful in Friday's injury report.
If Sharpe can't get the green light on Sunday, the Falcons will continue to rely heavily on Russell Gage as the primary contributor of the receiver corp. Olamide Zaccheaus could see extended playing time without Sharpe, as could - potentially - Christian Blake and Frank Darby. However, if Sharpe is absent from Sunday's lineup, the Falcons won't be hurting too much to replace him as Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst and Cordarrelle Patterson all play more significant roles in the passing game anyways.
All things considered, the Falcons are not in a bad place health-wise heading into this matchup with the Lions.
2. Winning at the line of scrimmage
This is a common theme amongst games the Falcons win vs. the ones they lose. A lot of times the difference in the two for the Falcons lies in their ability to win at the line of scrimmage. This falls to both the offensive and defensive lines.
Offensively, the Falcons have to do a better job protecting Matt Ryan. They have to find ways to give him more time in the pocket than what they were able to do last week against the 49ers.
Defensively, the Falcons have to affect the quarterback. They did so against Cam Newton and Carolina two weeks ago, and it was one of the keys of actually winning that game. However, the opposite could be said for their performance last week.
In all, the Falcons cannot lose the line of scrimmage on Sunday in the same way they did last week in San Francisco.
3. Getting back to what they know defensively
Dean Pees was very honest in his evaluation of the Falcons loss to the 49ers. He said the defensive unit played in a way that he felt was "uncharacteristic" of 1) who they are and 2) how they've been playing as of late.
Pees said the Falcons were making checks they weren't supposed to, trying things they didn't even practice. They were giving up too many explosive plays which is something they previously took a lot of pride in not giving up in hardly any games before last week. Then, they started pressing, trying to do too much. Pees said he, too, started pressing.
For the Falcons defensive unit, this Sunday will be about getting back to the basics and settling into the game after an uneasy performance seven days ago.
4. Continuing to see Russell Gage's trajectory trend upwards
It took a little longer than maybe some wanted, but Gage's production has only continued to be more impactful as the month of December has gone on.
Taking a look back at his season stats so far, you can see the moment things started clicking for Gage. The receiver had to miss a few weeks early in the season with a pesky high ankle sprain. So, before Week 10, Gage only played in six games. His stat line through those six games was 16 receptions for 159 yards.
In the five games after Week 10, Gage's numbers popped.
Through the most recent five games, Gage has 34 receptions for a total of 396 yards. His numbers have more than doubled, and this is an important development for Gage from an individual standpoint as well as from the standpoint of the Falcons offense as a whole, too.
Seeing this trend continue through the end of the season will to be important for both.
5. Can the Falcons get a win at home?
OK. I get it. If Arthur Smith were reading this I guarantee you he would call this a "surface narrative." But I can't help but bring it up before I get back to all of the Christmas festivities I am undergoing with my family (festivities that I hope you, too, are able to partake in with loved ones if you celebrate).
The Falcons haven't won at home this season. They've played at home five times. They've lost all five games. And not just lost, but haven't particularly played well at home either. The Falcons have been outscored 140-66 at home in 2021. It's less about a narrative now, and more about needing to gt a semblance of hometown pride back at this point.
The Falcons want a win at home. They need a win at home. They have a chance to break the cycle on Sunday.
"These are the easy narratives, but the reality is we're 0-5 this season at home," Smith said. "In a couple of games, we had a chance and didn't close it out, didn't do a good enough job. Those things can snowball on you, and we've got to do something to change that narrative."
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