Despite losing their season-opener to the Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan saw a lot of positives from the offensive unit when he went back and watched the game tape on Monday morning.
One of those positives? The play of Russell Gage.
Gage, 24, was targeted 12 times and caught nine passes for 114 yards in the 38-25 loss. Fellow wide receivers, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley also had big days. The Falcons made NFL history with the play of these three offensive weapons.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, this was the first time a team had three players with 9 catches and 100 yards in the same game.
Expect Gage to continue to be a player Ryan and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter rely on moving forward.
"He was always a guy that we thought had a lot of talent," Ryan said. "He had the opportunity to being behind Mohamed Sanu for a year and a half which to me I think really helped him develop and learn. Mohamed was a really good tutor for him at the slot position. You're always unsure when the guy gets his opportunity if he's going to be able to handle that role and do it week in and week out. He's certainly exceeded expectations; he's played extremely well for us. I thought he played one of his nest games for us this past week. That's going to serve us well moving forward because he's a great outlet for us in the middle of the field with two really exceptional players on the outside at wide receiver as well."
Falcons need a plan for the Cowboys pass rush
The strength of the Cowboys' defense for the last few years has been the play of their defensive line, led by Demarcus Lawrence. The unit also added former Falcon Dontari Poe this offseason to pair with Trysten Hill at defensive tackle. Defensive end Tyrone Crawford has recorded 23 sacks in eight-year career.
Dallas' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is known for his pressure packages and will likely blitz the Falcons often. Ryan has tons of familiarity with Nolan as he was Atlanta's defensive coordinator from 2012-14.
"They're excellent," Ryan said. "They have some talented players, some guys who have had a lot of sacks in their careers. We've definitely got to account for where they're at."
Nolan also tries to maximize the talent he has at linebacker with Aldon Smith, especially. Smith had the Cowboys' only sack against the Rams in his first game since 2015. His play against the Rams might be one of the biggest storylines to come out of the NFL's opening weekend. Smith finished with 11 tackles and two quarterback hits in the 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
"He played well last week and got better as the game went on," Ryan said. "I've played against him before, I know how disruptive he can be so we're going to have our work cut out for us. We've got to be on top of our plan and play really well to give ourselves a chance to be successful.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Sunday was the first time in NFL history a team had three players with nine catches and 100 yards in the same game. Julio Jones - 157 yards. Calvin Ridley - 130 yards. Russell Gage - 114 yards. Each had nine catches.