Questions about Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Falcons defense, draft, backup QB, playing in London

SFTB_Julio-1031

Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! Three of the Falcons' next four games are on the road, beginning with the Redskins this week – and you've got lots of questions. So, let's get to them. Just remember that all opinions here are mine unless otherwise noted.

And we're off.

Scott from Cartersville, GA
You are what the numbers say you are. Great offense, poor defense. Draft defensive players until the late rounds, then draft Nick Fitzgerald as a backup (developmental).

Matt: Ah, a Bill Parcells quote to begin the day. "You are what you are," Parcells likes to say. And, really, it's true, Scott. To be more specific, the Falcons defense is ranked 30th in total yards allowed per game (419.4) and also rank 30th in points allowed per game (30.3). A big reason for that, though, is because some of their best players on that side of the ball are injured. As I noted in Tuesday's SFTB, two Pro Bowlers are out – safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones. Safety Ricardo Allen, a player who many refer to as the quarterback of the defense because he's so good at getting people line up in the right spots and communicating back there, has also been lost for the season. Grady Jarrett, Derrick Shelby and even Takk McKinley have also missed games during the first half of the season. Could they end up doing what you're suggesting and go heavy on defense in the draft? Sure. The Falcons obviously didn't anticipate having so many key players go down with injuries – no team does. Regardless, they still went defense in the second (cornerback Isaiah Oliver), third (defensive tackle Deadrin Senat) and sixth (linebacker Foyesade Oluokun) rounds last April. As far as drafting a quarterback to develop behind Matt Ryan, that will likely depend on who's available and whether the Falcons have addressed what they perceive are more pressing needs before pulling the trigger. Matt Schaub, 37, is currently the backup but he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Nick Fitzgerald, the Mississippi State quarterback you mentioned, is an interesting prospect. His coach, Dan Mullen, also developed Alex Smith, Dak Prescott and Tim Tebow. Fitzgerald is big (6-4, 230) and can certainly tuck it and run, but I'm not sold on him as a starting-caliber quarterback on the next level yet, Scott. I'm sure we'll have lots of discussions here on what the Falcons will do in the draft in the coming months, but it is still pretty early to be talking specifics on the backup quarterback plan moving forward.

Daniel from Bucharest, Romania
Hey Matt! Great to have you answer to us! NFL just announced there will be four games in London in 2019. Do you think the Falcons will come to Europe in the close future? I know the fans in Atlanta just got the new stadium and want to cheer the team as much as possible on home games, but it would be awesome to see my Birds here in Europe! Thanks, Matt! Keep up the good work!

Matt: Hey, Daniel. You are correct. The NFL announced that four games will indeed be played in London during the 2019 season. Two of those games will be played at Wembley Stadium and the other two will take place at the Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium. The four games will push the total number of games played in London to 28 since 2007. Will the Falcons be one of the teams playing there next year? I couldn't tell you, Daniel. The league hasn't announced when the games will be played or which teams will travel over there yet. Stay tuned.

Danny from Upatoi, GA
Beek, I must say I love SFTB!!! I really enjoy and appreciate all of the insight and answers!! With what I would think of as an equal to or perhaps a little better offense than the 2016 squad, do you think that Steve Sarkisian has reached a point to utilize their talents? Are you expecting a legitimate run for the playoffs during the second half of the season? Thanks!

Matt: Hey, Danny. Glad you're enjoying SFTB! I always appreciate the feedback. Steve Sarkisian is doing a fantastic job right now. My advice to you is to give this story about Sarkisian in Year 2 with the Falcons a read. That should give you some decent perspective on Sark. As far as your question about the Falcons making "a legitimate run for the playoffs," the offense is certainly playing well enough (despite some inconsistent play in the running game) but it will come down to how fast and how much the defense can improve over these next nine games. They're expecting to get Deion Jones back in Week 10, so that'll be a nice shot in the arm for this unit. Do I think it will happen? It's going to be tough to catch Carolina and New Orleans, but it's possible. I've said it several times, but the Falcons are in must-win territory right now. They have three winnable games coming up, and it starts with the Redskins this weekend. Let's see what happens.

Ronald from Chattanooga, TN
My friend, I've been a Falcons fan since 1979 and I love your Q&A forum. So, two questions: 1) Robert Alford has been horrible this year. He has a big contract, but do you see Isaiah Oliver possibly replacing him, if not this year, then next year? 2) We love Devonta Freeman, and paid him well. But he's seldom on the field due to concussions and injuries. What do you think his future with ATL is? We definitely are not getting our money's worth! Thanks!

Matt: Hey there, Ronald. Wow, horrible is an awful strong word. Considering everything that this defensive unit has endured through seven games, in general I think it's unfair to put the blame on one or two players, especially the regular starters. The injuries have had a trickle-down effect on the entire defense. Regarding your question about Isaiah Oliver, I don't think he's ready to replace either starting cornerback right now. Could he continue to improve over these next nine games, have a fantastic offseason and challenge for a starting job next summer? Absolutely. I think when a team drafts a player in the first or second round, the expectations are always high. Oliver has definitely had some up-and-down moments thus far and has the tools to be very good. He just needs more experience. As far as Devonta Freeman goes, man, it's hard not to feel bad for him because of the injuries he's had to endure over the past two seasons. He's one of the best running back in the league when healthy and the Falcons believe in him. There's always the chance that he could return this season and while anything can happen in the NFL, the expectation is that No. 24 will be here for years to come. Freeman signed a five-year contract extension at the beginning of last year.

Flavius from Hephzibah, GA
Good morning, Beek. Quick question: Is Julio Jones covered differently than other top receivers? Other teams seem to get their receivers into the end zone. We can't seem to get Julio in to score. I know we have other pass catchers, but with his salary and skills, I don't understand. Glad to see everyone scoring and spreading it around. Glad he seems to play unselfishly. I just think there is a disconnect between salary and points scored that is seemingly a non-issue to management. What am I missing? I enjoy your thoughts and thanks for entertaining our questions.

Matt: Hi, Flavius. It's all about matchups in the NFL, but Julio Jones definitely receives a lot more attention than most other receivers. That's what happens when you're capable of scoring from anywhere on the field at any time, like Jones. You're right, Jones hasn't found the end zone, but his teammates have – and a lot of that is because of No. 11. The Falcons are certainly getting the Jones the ball, too. Jones is second in the league right now with 812 receiving yards on 53 catches. He's averaging 116 receiving yards per game – that's impressive. I wouldn't worry too much about it right now; the Falcons are scoring points and have improved in the red zone as well. Jones will get his scores in time.

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