Questions about Falcons' injuries, depth, offensive line, draft, pass rush, Vic Beasley, more

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Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are heading off to Green Bay to take on the Packers in a key NFC showdown on Sunday – and you've got plenty of questions. Just remember that all opinions here are mine unless otherwise noted.

And we're off.

Mark from Plains, PA
Hi, Mr. Beek. Thanks for your column. Life-long Falcons fan here, since '66. Two points/questions.
1. I get a little perturbed when I see all this conversation about Atlanta having "depth." If the Falcons had real "depth" they would not be 4-8 right now. Depth means that you have adequate replacement for the first line (string) players when/if they go down, right? I don't see that being the case with this team. The injuries to starting players have been devastating to the Falcons and there has been a huge fall-off in the quality of those replacements for the "first string" starters.
2. Would like to see the Falcons bite the bullet in the draft and make picks one and two for offensive linemen. I know those will not be "sexy" picks, but that's what I mean about "bite the bullet." Let's get the right side of the O-line fixed NOW so we can make skilled position draft picks in years to come???? Thanks for your work and your column.

Matt: The injuries – the number of starters hurt and the total number of games they've missed – have definitely affected this team, Mark. It's one thing to have two or three players hurt and have to call on their backups for an extended time. But the list for the Falcons is a long one. Keanu Neal (11 games missed), Deion Jones (10), Devonta Freeman (10), Andy Levitre (10), Ricardo Allen (nine), Brandon Fusco (five), Matt Bryant (three), Grady Jarrett (two), Takk McKinley (one) and Robert Alford (one). That's a lot of games (62) missed by opening-day starters. And when the backups miss time or there's a substitution, you have guys playing different roles or you're down to the third string. No matter how you slice it, there's going to be a major drop off in performance. While we're still a long way from the NFL Draft, I think there's a very good possibility that the Falcons are going to address their offensive line in the offseason. It could be through free agency, a trade or a draft pick or two. But I think you'll see some changes and additions to that position group for sure, Mark.

And speaking of drafting a lineman, here are the results from yesterday's #beekpoll:

Gerald from Fuquay Varina, NC
Hey Beek. Have to quote you on this one about replacing Vic Beasley. "… every single time someone tells me that, my immediate response is, 'Who are you going to replace them with?' If it's not an upgrade, then you shouldn't make the move." Well, with the season pretty much over you have to think about the future and at this point just about anyone would be an improvement. There are some serious contenders who will be available in free agency come this spring. DeMarcus Lawrence was already franchised, and it would cost Dallas some big bucks to keep him. A guy like this would give us an edge rusher we haven't seen since the likes of John Abraham. Ezekiel Ansah, Trey Flowers ... the list goes on and on. The team could, yet again, draft an edge rusher. There are solutions and it's not like we're replacing an All-Pro here. It's a business and if you don't produce, someone else will. It's time to admit he might do better under a different system and location. For his benefit and the Falcons, it might be time to end this experiment and move on. Love the column, keep up the great work!

Matt: There's no question that the Falcons' pass rush needs to improve, Gerald. The Falcons rank 28th in the league in total number of sacks right now with 23. The Raiders are last with 10 and the Steelers are tops with 41. What will the Falcons do? I don't have the answer right now – and we don't know which players will become available in free agency just yet, either. The good news for teams needing to bolster the defense is that this year's draft class is strong when it comes to defensive linemen and edge rushers. After offensive line, I think that's the Falcons' second biggest need at the moment.

Chazz from Tampa, FL
Hey, Beek! Love the content and all that you do for us on here! I was wondering if DQ and TD are gonna be looking for someone like a Quenton Nelson in the draft? I could confidently say that Indy's offensive production is due mostly to him literally throwing people over and stuffing gaps. I'd love to see a huge boost like that in our trenches! All the best and happy holidays!

Matt: Thanks, Chazz, and same to you. I don't know if a player as good as Quenton Nelson will be available when the Falcons end up picking in this year's draft, but I agree – that would be nice. Nelson was my favorite player in last year's draft class and he's certainly made an impact with Colts in his rookie year. The Falcons still have four games to go and then see where they land in regard to the playoffs. It doesn't look like they'll make it in at the moment. Once the season concludes, they'll have some major decisions to make with their current roster before looking ahead at free agency and the NFL Draft. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they add a lineman or two on offense.

Gary from Virginia Beach, VA
Hey Matt, I have one simple question that I do not believe has a simple answer. After watching the legs get broken on two of the Redskins quarterbacks, how in the world do we protect Matt Ryan the rest of the year? Also, how did we get to this point? I get it that two of our starters on the OL are injured but why didn't we know how thin the depth is on the OL? If Matt Ryan keeps getting hit like he is he will eventually get hurt. Then we will be in a real mess for a lot more than this season.

Matt: Protecting the franchise quarterback must be (and is) a priority. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he's not happy with the amount of hits Ryan has taken this season and I'm sure it'll be cleaned up over the next four games. At the very least, Ryan is going to have to get the ball out of his hands quicker and hand it off more if they can't protect him. But the Falcons will protect their investment. You're right, that would be a real mess – and one that no one wants to deal with.

Scott from Rancho Cordova, CA
Why didn't the Falcons go after Kliff Kingsbury for any coaching position?

Matt: Well, the short answer is because there are no openings right now on the Falcons staff right now – and they have an offensive coordinator in place. Also, Kliff Kingsbury reportedly had multiple offers on the table and apparently wanted to stay at the collegiate level, that's why he took the USC offer.

Jamar from Newport News, VA
Can we still make it to playoffs with an 8-8 record? Falcons for life, bad or good.

Matt: Believe it or not, there is a path to the playoffs for the Falcons at 8-8, so yes. Will things unfold that way? Who knows. A lot has to happen, including the Falcons winning their next four games. Keep in mind that they haven't won more than three in a row all season long and that three of their final four are on the road. They've won once on the road all season. So the odds are not in their favor right now.

Johnny from Winston-Salem, NC
Why is it always run first? Why not pass first and try not to be so obvious. I sit in my seat and I can call the run plays. Why pass on first and run second, and when you don't get it, everybody in the stadium knows you're going to pass on third? So instead of run to pass, pass to run. And it doesn't have to be long passes, just 5 yards to Hooper and Sanu across the middle. And stop throwing to Jones when he's doubled and tripled.

Matt: Johnny, I know it looks it, but it's really not that easy. There's so much to account for that the average fan doesn't even consider or think about sometimes. You have to assess the defensive alignment, the matchups and make sure the play you're calling at least looks like it's going to work. There's also field position, game clock and the number of available timeouts to consider, too (you know, situational football). I won't get into all of that, but keep in mind that if you call a pass play on first down and it doesn't work – if there's an incompletion, a tipped ball, a drop or a sack, that puts the offense in a second-and-long situation. Suddenly it gets a lot tougher to convert and pick up that first down – and you're somewhat limited in what you can call. There's a lot to consider – and a lot you're overlooking.

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