Good morning and welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are off, resting and healing – and while you've got plenty of questions, many more of you seem to be feeling optimistic this bye-week Friday. Just remember that all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
So, let's do this.
Don from Hilton Head Island, SC
Hey Matt! An observation more than a question. Would like your take. I remember a game in Philly last season where the Eagles were all over us. They ran the ball and shut our offense down. Fans panicked, but we came back when it counted. I think Matty Ice will be fine. I am much more concerned about the rash of injuries at key positions and the imbalance between takeaways and turnovers.
Matt: Right on, Don, and it's worth pointing out that the game you're referring to – a 24-15 loss to the Eagles in Week 10 – was also right before the Falcons' bye week as well. The won five of their final six games to close out the 2016 regular season. As far as your point about the injuries and lack of turnovers – I agree. That is the biggest concern for this team right now. A bye in Week 5 seemed a bit early back in August, but the reality is it could not have come at a better time for this team. Several players need time to mend and heal while others are still in the concussion protocol. The extra week can only help on all fronts. The lack of takeaways can be corrected, so that's a positive as well.
Leroy from Lilburn, GA
First and foremost, appreciate what you're doing here by involving Dirty Bird fans with some good talks about the team. Second, it seems like we'll be seeing plenty of key players back after the bye, aside from Jack Crawford. I haven't heard anything on Courtney Upshaw's health since the game he was injured. Are you aware of the duration of his injury, the team will need him more with Crawford out for the season?
Matt: Thanks, Leroy. All we know right now is what Falcons coach Dan Quinn told us prior to the bye week in his last press conference – that Upshaw (ankle/knee) was "making progress" and there was still no definite timetable on his return. I think we should know more heading into Week 6.
James from Columbus, GA
Beek, sorry I came off as a second-guesser and someone down on the Birds. I actually think we have nowhere to go but up. Considering we are 3-1, that is remarkable. We have played about as bad as possible and are still winning, and could have won the last game. The only thing that will hold back our progress is injuries (knock on wood). Having said that, do you have any injury updates, or maybe even some free agent signing news?
Matt: No worries, James! The Falcons had five starters – and seven players total – dealing with injuries heading into the bye week. Julio Jones (hip flexor), Mohamed Sanu (hamstring strain), Ryan Schraeder (concussion), Ricardo Allen (concussion), Vic Beasley (hamstring), Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee) and Terron Ward (neck/shoulder). Falcons coach Dan Quinn would not put a timetable on anyone's return, but did note that Beasley, Ward and Upshaw are "making process." Once we know how they responded to treatment during the bye week we'll have a better idea on who will return and when.
Mike from Syracuse, NY
Hey Matt, big fan from upstate New York like you, been a fan of the Falcons since 2004 (I'm 22 years old). I know it's early in the season and we still got some figuring out to do, but it seems like teams are starting to figure out our offense. Do you think we will regain that dominant type of offense once we're back healthy? And would you say it's fair to think we could've easily ended up 1-3 if it wasn't for our defense? I feel like our offense only really dominated against Green Bay – also with the help of the defense, of course.
Matt: Hey, Mike! How did you end up a Falcons fan growing up in Giants-Bills-Jets country? And yep, I grew up about an hour south down I-81 in Binghamton. Love Upstate New York, especially during this time of year. Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! After what the Falcons did on offense last season – setting records left and right – it's only natural to expect every defensive coordinator on their schedule to look for ways to stop (or, at least, slow) them. And as you probably know, the NFL is a copycat league – when one team has success, others follow. To answer your question, I do think teams are playing the Falcons a little different and are definitely trying to take away their explosive plays on offense. But schemes will only take you so far – you have to have players (talent). The Falcons (when healthy, ahem), still have a ton of weapons on offense and do so much with different personnel groups, motion, etc., that it puts a ton of stress on defenses. If they're patient, can get the running game going and play mistake-free football (something they haven't always done through four games), they can open up that offense and hurt teams. It's happened a few times this season, including the Green Bay game (which you noted). Thanks for reading.
Al from Cedartown, GA
Hey, Beek! I'm a long-time Falcons fan and I love your column. I have a statement rather than a question. In reference to Matt from Reston, Va., I believe the empty seats are in response to the kneeling of NFL players during the national anthem. Not necessarily in Atlanta, but league wide. Most people want to watch football as an escape to all of the political crap going on in this country.
Matt: Thanks for reading and for your comment, Al. You could be right – that could be a contributor, and it would not surprise me at all. Look, I never said I knew exactly why the seats were empty or where all the people were – if they were still at home or walking around the stadium concourse or sitting in one of the stadium restaurants watching the game. Have no idea. But I do know there's been a noticeable amount of empty seats for a team that's 3-1 and arguably one of the best teams in the NFL. For someone who has never been to a Falcons home game before this season, you could say I found it a tad surprising. I've gotten a ton of emails over it, so I responded. I grew up in New York, attended Giants games as a kid, Syracuse games (during the Dick MacPherson era) growing up and went to school at West Virginia and Marshall – when those schools were ripping off 11-0 seasons and winning I-AA national championships. We also lived in Ann Arbor when I was little – my first-ever game was at the Big House. My point is that I've been lucky enough to see some great teams – and tickets were always hard to come by. Hopefully the fans will sit in their seats and we can all stop talking about it.
Jon from Sparks, NV
More of a comment but, why do so many fans always get so negative towards the team after a loss? It's very hard to win in the NFL, especially with so many injuries. In my opinion, the Falcons can learn more from a loss than a win and will motivate them even more. Fans need to get behind our team and support them not criticize them every time something bad happens. Thanks. Love my Falcons!
Matt: Everyone's got an opinion, Jon. Plain and simple. And this space is for you, the fans. Thanks for the comment – and thanks for reading Straight from the 'Beek.
Roger from Decatur, GA
Why no mention that the refs missed 10 men on the field for Bills on the Falcons fourth-down play?
Matt: Hi, Roger. It has been discussed here and there have been stories about it as well. It's not a penalty. A team will be penalized for more than 11 players on the field. Worth noting, on offense, a team must have seven players on the line of scrimmage or they will be penalized for an illegal formation.
Pam from Fayetteville, GA
More of an observation. I'm proud of the Falcons. It wasn't their best played game but we had a chance at winning despite not having Julio or Sanu and all the other injuries. Matt Ryan will do fine. Those were two good defenses. We're not going to keep turning the ball over.
Matt: Hi, Pam! You mean it's not all doom and gloom? Thanks for the comment and for reading.
Carl from Charleston, SC
Beek, you're doing a heck of a job here deflecting all this negative Matt Ryan dialogue, mine included. We are all frustrated and want that Super Bowl! Let's give ole Matty Ice a break and see how he performs vs. the Dolphins following the bye week. Let's rise up together and support our Dirty Birds. 3-1 is way better than 1-3. We're going to crush the Dolphins. Can you get behind that, Beek?
Matt: Thanks, Carl. Appreciate the kind words. I'm really not trying to deflect – just trying to point out the facts and cut through the emotions. I get it that fans are upset following a loss, but some throw logic out the window (and then call me a homer, which I find kind of funny). But you're spot on regarding the record: a lot of teams would love to be 3-1 right now. I can get behind that.
Sonny from Cordele, GA
Love Straight from the Beek. I'm worried that the Falcons are making too many bad decisions on offense and putting our defense in tough spots. Do you agree or disagree?
Matt: Thanks, Sonny! The mistakes – specifically, the turnovers – definitely put the defense in some tough spots, for sure.
David from Atlanta, GA
Beek, I enjoy reading your column, and appreciate your "take" on most issues. And I will not presume to second-guess the play calling or split-second decisions made by the coaches, or Matt Ryan and other players during games. I have been a huge Matt Ryan fan since his first pass went for a touchdown against Detroit 10 years ago. What does concern me is Matt's recently developed inaccuracy on deep balls. He's had Julio Jones wide open on a couple of occasions and either underthrown the ball or flung it way out of bounds. I can't remember a single completion on deep throws this year. In fact, on those plays, the ball looks as if it were fired from a scatter gun. What's up with that?
Matt: If we're talking about just this year, all I can go by is what I've seen in person all offseason – minicamps and training camp included – and the first four games of the regular season. First, let's just get it out there: Ryan can still throw the deep ball. Has it happened a whole lot through the first quarter of the season? No, plus fans still have the most recent image of the jump ball he threw to Taylor Gabriel against the Bills. Have the Falcons missed some down-field opportunities? Yes, even Falcons coach Dan Quinn has pointed that out during his press conferences. But there haven't been a ton of opportunities (and open receivers) through the first four games and I think a lot of it has to do with how teams are defending the Falcons – they're trying to take away or limit the big chunk plays. I'm no Matt Ryan apologist. Trust me, I've pointed plenty of his mistakes here, but he's a very good NFL quarterback, one a lot of teams would love to have behind center. I haven't seen the ducks and scatter-gun passes, but I've seen a lot of dropped, tipped and deflected balls by his receivers.
Clint from Douglasville, GA
Ay Beek! Love reading what you put out man. Just got one question for you. With injury after injury piling up on our defensive line, what are the chances we sign Jacquies Smith? He was cut recently from the Bucs, and look at the film, dude can play. I know he is coming off of an injury, but so was Clayborn, and we see how that worked out.
Matt: Thanks, Clint. That 'Ay!' reminds me of the Fonz! ("Happy Days" reference; not sure if you remember that show or not.) Anyway, that's one name – Jacquies Smith – I have not heard yet. I know he was hurt in the season-opener against the Falcons last year, but I can't say I've watched him a lot or know a ton about him. As far as any personnel moves by the Falcons, it's been quiet on that front. I think they'd like to see how guys have responded to treatment throughout the bye week first before making any decisions – for the immediate or long-term future. Stay tuned.
Matt from Atlanta, GA
Why does the Falcons logo face the visitors side of the field? The officials also stand, speak and motion to that side of the field. What gives?
Matt: Take one guess, Matt. One word and I'll even spot you a "T" and a "V."
Jonathan from Calhoun, GA
Is Julio Jones OK?
Matt: Looks like he's going to be fine, Jonathan. According to one report he is expected to return for the Oct. 15 game against the Dolphins, although no one has officially said he will return yet. HAVE A QUESTION?