Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! Hope you're all having a great Thursday as the Falcons are busy preparing for a huge showdown against the rival Panthers on Sunday. You've got lots of questions, so let's get right to them. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
Gary from Salem, VA
Hi Beek, keep up the good work and engaging the masses. It seems that the teams that go deepest this time of year usually are the healthiest. What are our most serious injuries (I'm not thinking there's many) and what about the Panthers, anything of note on their side?
Matt: You're right about that, Gary. Obviously playing well, especially in November and December is huge, but being healthy is usually a big part of the equation. Just ask the Packers about that, even though they got Aaron Rodgers back for a game. When he went down, it derailed the Packers' season. The Falcons (knock on wood) have managed to be one of the healthier teams this season, especially when you consider some of the big names who have suffered season-ending injuries – Odell Beckham Jr., Eric Berry, Sam Bradford, Julian Edelman, David Johnson, Carson Palmer, Adrian Peterson, Richard Sherman, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Thomas, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz all come to mind. As far as the Falcons are concerned heading into Sunday's game, they're in fairly decent shape. Julio Jones and Levine Toilolo did not participate in Wednesday's practice. And three offensive linemen – Andy Levitre, Alex Mack and Wes Schweitzer – were each limited in practice. We'll know more about their status as we move closer to Friday. The Panthers had 10 players show up on their injury report following Wednesday's practice, including Cam Newton, Devin Funchess, Ryan Kalil and Shaq Thompson. You can read more about the injury report here and here. I'm not a doctor, but I'd expect many of the aforementioned names to participate Sunday, Gary. Again, we'll know more towards the end of the week. Thanks for reading and for your question.
Tom from Edmonton, Canada
Greetings and Happy Holidays, Matthew! I hope that you and your family had a wonderful Christmas! Two things come to mind with the Falcons facing the Panthers this Sunday. Stopping Cam Newton on defense and better third down efficiency on offense. Cam seems to have found his swagger and that makes me nervous. I really feel that the Falcons need to spy him more and discourage him from running. On offense, I was surprised to not see Dontari Poe in as a blocker in the critical short yardage situations. If anything, his presence alone in the backfield may make the Panthers overthink the play. What do you think?
Matt: Hey, Tom. Since an ugly 17-3 loss to the Bears back on Oct. 22, the Panthers have been on quite a roll winning seven of their last eight games, including a 20-17 win over the Falcons in Week 9. Cam Newton ran the ball nine times for 86 yards and a score against Atlanta in that game. Newton has rushed for 695 yards this season and is 46 yards away from surpassing his career high of 741 yards. So, yes, limiting Newton on the ground should be a huge priority for the Falcons come Sunday. As far as third down efficiency for the Falcons goes, they've actually been very good … but took a step back there against the Saints in Week 16, going 2 of 13 (15 percent) on third downs. I don't know about being "surprised" not seeing Poe in the backfield in goal-to-goal situations. I agree with you that it gives the defense something to think about, but I'll take my chances handing the ball off to Devonta Freeman. Yes, even after the fumble and being stopped on the 1-yard line. I have no problem with those play calls, either.
Alex from Atlanta, GA
Hey Beek! I feel the Falcons played well enough to beat the Saints this past weekend. If you take all the bad penalties/no calls and the fumble from Freeman away then we would have been in a good spot to win. I still think that if this team has some sort of consistency on offense then they can beat anyone. You can just see that this offense isn't comfortable. Do you think that Matt Ryan and company will figure it out? Or is this just a prelude of things to come?
Matt: I agree with you, Alex. The Falcons have a lot of talent on offense – enough to match any team and overpower most. And I'll agree with your other point, too, that they've been inconsistent throughout the season. As far as figuring it out goes, let's put it this way: The Falcons have one more game with a playoff berth on the line. They'll need to put it all together Sunday, that's for sure. There are other ways they can get into the playoffs, too.
Daryl from Johns Creek, GA
Hey Matt, I've been reading your awesome posts this entire season and am a long-time Falcons fan! We've attended every game this season and see a lot of good things happening with the Falcons. However, I just have one issue with the play calling when we are at the 1-yard line or half-yard line going for a touchdown. We have never seen Matt Ryan do a jump over or quarterback sneak like so many other QBs! But I have seen Matt run the ball more often this year for large gains. Just wanted to get your opinion on this!
Matt: You're right, Matt Ryan has opted to tuck the ball in and take off more as of late. A couple come to mind, including one against the Saints and during the Monday night win over the Bucs.
He has run it before, Daryl, around the goal line – maybe not just this year. Last season he called his own number on a QB draw on a big road win over the Raiders.
I still think Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are better options, but that's just my opinion.
Devoria from Kennesaw, GA
Hi, Matt, I love the way you handle the thoughts, opinions, and questions here. I, personally, am a DIE-HARD female fan, season ticket holder and all. I KNOW THAT THE ATLANTA FALCONS WILL WIN on Sunday. When this happens, we will move forward and get to the SUPER BOWL! I am RIDE-OR-DIE when it comes to my team. I have been since 1973.
Matt: Love your enthusiasm, Devoria, and thanks for writing in. The Falcons need more fans like you! I'm sure the Dirty Bird Nation hopes you're right about your prediction, too.
Clint from Evans, GA
Beek, I hear everyone talking about our defense being good, I disagree. It's just average! The Falcons have never been able to pick top-caliber defensive players, for example, skipping over Clay Matthews for one. I see all these other defenses with leaders, we have none on our defense. That's why we play so VANILLA. And poor Beasley. They can't decide where to play him, maybe the bench would help him! Your thoughts on our defense.
Matt: I think I disagree with every sentence in this submission, Clint. The Falcons' defense might be the best story of their season. They're 11th in points allowed per game and 10th in yards allowed per game – and they've gotten better as the season has progressed. It's also full of young playmakers, including Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. Adrian Clayborn is enjoying one of his best seasons as a pro and the addition of Dontari Poe is proving to be another solid move. And in case you forgot, the defense carried this team to a huge win over the Saints in Week 14 on "Thursday Night Football."
Adrian from Los Angeles, CA
Hi Beek. Love your column. I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas. Beek I don't want to sound like a downer but be honest, even if the Falcons win this week, do we really expect this inconsistent team to do anything in the playoffs? I know anything can happen but I see this team being one and done in the playoffs. They are just not playing good football. Happy New Year, Beek. God bless you!
Matt: Hey, Adrian! Yes, anything can happen – and it does not matter how you get into the postseason. Do yourself a big favor and go back and study some NFL postseason history. And look at one team in particular – the 2007 Giants. That team finished second in the NFC East with a 10-6 mark and got into the playoffs as a wild-card team. They ended up knocking off the 9-7 Buccaneers, the 13-3 Cowboys and the 13-3 Packers. They topped it all off by taking down the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl. Chew on that for a minute.
Matt from Auken, SC
Hi Beek, I'm a died hard Falcons fan and PSL holder. I really appreciate reading the posts on SFTB! The comments offer some good insight into the NFL and, more importantly, the Falcons. My question is, why don't some of the receivers attack the ball when it is thrown to them? There have been way too many deflections and interceptions because of this. The Marvin Hall interception was awful and the replay seems to show Hall not finishing the play and not aggressively going after the ball. Is it a coaching issue, do the other teams have better players than the Falcons? If we are to have any success in the postseason then it must get corrected quickly. Thanks again for SFTB!
Matt: I'll say this much, Matt. Receivers are taught to high-point balls and to put themselves in the best position possible to go and get the ball. Deflected and dropped passes plagued this team early on in the season. Deflected passes not only stall drives at times but, as we've seen this season, they can result in turnovers. Part of it is placement by the quarterback, but it's mostly up to the receiver to bring it in and secure the catch.