ATLANTA -- The goal every single weekend is to come out 1-0. It's one of the main cliches of this sport. Treat every week like the fresh start it can be. But, if you're the Falcons going up against the reigning Super Bowl champions after losing to the Eagles 32-6 the week before... Is that goal too lofty? Would it be enough to just show obvious improvements in certain areas?
Sure, that first goal is there. But if we're being realistic, the Falcons have a lot to clean up from Week 1 to Week 2. Players know it. Coaches know it. This isn't a secret. So, what areas are the most important areas to improve upon in Week 2? Here are five to think about heading into Sunday's game.
1. Limiting penalties
The Falcons need to run a cleaner operation. Arthur Smith said he can accept break downs in technique and fundamentals at times, but it's the pre-snap penalties that keep him up at night. And that was a problem for Atlanta last week, with too many penalties coming from false starts and an illegal formation.
"If you make the mistakes we made," Smith said, "you deserve to lose."
There is something to be said about the timeliness of these penalties, too. There were many that cost the Falcons a few much-needed first downs. It's imperative that Atlanta moves past Sunday's loss by leaving these penalties behind.
2. Offensive line upgrade
Smith said early in the week that he isn't the type to "jerk the wheel" when something doesn't work the first time. He said he's always been someone who tries to give guys an opportunity to correct their mistakes. That's why Jalen Mayfield will still be the Falcons starting left guard against Tampa.
"He did enough this week to justify getting another opportunity," Smith said of Mayfield on Friday.
The Falcons did bring in a couple veteran guards this week, but for the time being, it's still Mayfield's spot with Josh Andrews on IR. And though there are many who will be watching the rookie lineman, the entire group needs to be kept in check, too. Perhaps Matt Hennessy and Kaleb McGary do not need as significant of an improvement in Week 2 as Mayfield, but they need to limit mistakes just as much.
If the Week 1 problems of the Falcons offensive line carry over into Week 2 against Tampa, it'll be a long day for Matt Ryan. This is a better defensive front than what the Eagles had. The challenge for this offensive line doesn't go away. It intensifies.
3. Dante Fowler, defensive ends need to contain the pocket
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees made an interesting point following the opening day loss. From his perspective, he felt as thought the Falcons had good pressure at times, getting Jalen Hurts off his spot. But where the Falcons missed the mark was on the opposite side of the rush.
"(The quarterback is) not going to escape from the side the pressure is coming from," Pees said. "... We got what we wanted. We got the escape, but the (defensive end) didn't keep the edge on the other side as much as he needed."
A lot of this is on Fowler, Steven Means and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner to hold their designated edge.
Now, this specific point probably won't be as big of a factor this week as it was last week. Tom Brady and Jalen Hurts are two completely different quarterbacks after all. But that doesn't mean this development isn't important. It will be vital down the road as the Falcons face more quarterbacks who can change the game with their legs. Perhaps Brady isn't going to take off on a 15- to 20-yard run on Sunday, but someone will down the road. So, the Falcons need to meet this improvement head on sooner rather than later.
4. More targets for Kyle Pitts and Russell Gage
Two of the main questions fans had after Sunday was: 1) Where was Russell Gage? and 2) Where was Kyle Pitts in the red zone?
Smith addressed both questions throughout the week. For starters, he said he needed to do a better job getting playmakers (i.e. Gage and Pitts) more involved early. Smith particularly felt that Gage - who had two targets and zero catches - could benefit from targets early.
As for Pitts in the red zone, Smith said the intent is always to get the best player the ball, "but if something happens, the next guy has to do it." Perhaps the Eagles weren't giving the Falcons the look they wanted to throw Pitts out there inside the 10-yard line, but regardless, this is one of the reasons the Falcons took Pitts as the No. 4 pick in the draft, because he's a threat in the red zone. Something to watch will be how the Falcons capitalize more in that area moving forward, with both Pitts and Gage.
5. Speaking of the red zone...
The Falcons didn't score a touchdown on Sunday. You probably didn't need that reminder but here it is anyways.
The excuse for the Falcons limited success in the red zone in the preseason could have been that we weren't seeing the starting offense. Surely the starting offense would get into the endzone with more ease. But they didn't when the regular season arrived. The entire unit - and Smith, too - knows this needs to change and change quickly.
The was a major narrative of the 2020 Falcons that has to be squashed in 2021. A team cannot be fed living off field goals alone. And if the Falcons want to be competitive against the reigning Super Bowl champions this Sunday, field goals won't cut it. Brady is going to get his touchdowns no matter how well the defense plays. A defense can only take a team so far. Georgia beating Clemson without an offensive touchdown two weekends ago was the exception to the rule.
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