Straight from the Beek

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Questions about Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, offensive line, predictions

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Welcome to Straight from the Beek! This is your forum to ask anything Falcons-related – and get some answers from me, Matt Tabeek, a longtime NFL editor, reporter and columnist. The Falcons (1-1) are coming off a much-needed win over the Eagles on Sunday night and travel to Indianapolis this week to take on the Colts (1-1). In the meantime, you’ve got plenty of questions – so let’s get to them now. Just remember that all opinions here are mine unless otherwise noted.

And we’re off.

Marcus from Virginia Beach, VA
What’s up, Beek. I’ll get right to the point here. Happy the Falcons won and I’ll take 1-1. Not happy with Matt Ryan’s three interceptions though. That’s five in two games. I don’t even want to think about the pace he’s on over 16 games. What’s the problem? Thanks, Beek.

Matt: It is a surprising number through two games, Marcus. No doubt about it. And I think if you look at Matt Ryan’s career, the most he’s thrown over a 16-game season is 17 – and that was back in 2013. While I’m sure Ryan would like to have every single one of those five picks back right now, I don’t think he’s about to change his approach to the game anytime soon. And what I mean is, part of what makes Ryan so good is that he knows when to calculated risks – he trusts his arm and his receivers. Ryan also doesn’t get rattled too easily, either. So when he does throw an interception, it doesn’t appear to affect his play to the point where he dials it back. And, c’mon, he’s been an incredible franchise quarterback for the Falcons. Yes, he’s in his 12th year, but he’s taken very good care of himself and hasn’t shown any signs of dropping off performance-wise leading into 2019. Ryan has faced two very good defenses who’ve been able to affect throws with pressure and excellent coverage. Has he made a couple of bad throws thus far? For sure, and he’s been the first one to admit it and own them. If the pace continues, it would definitely be a major cause for concern. I don’t think it will though, Marcus.

Phil from Conyers, GA
Hey, Beek. With two tough games down and the Falcons at 1-1, how do you think the rest of the schedule shapes up for them? You predicted that the Falcons would finish 10-6. Still stand by that? Thanks for all you do.

Matt: Hey, Phil. As Falcons fans learned last season, a lot can change in the NFL on a week-to-week basis. Just look at all of the injuries teams have experienced in just two weeks of play so far – Drew Brees is reportedly out for at least six weeks. The Steelers just announced that Ben Roethlisberger will miss the rest of the season. Anything can happen, and that’s why I never put too much stock into predictions. To answer your question, sure, I’ll stand by my 10-6 prediction for now. I have no reason to think that the Falcons can’t win at least nine more games. I also predicted that they’ll go 4-2 in the division. I’ll stand by that one as well.

Rick from Atlanta, GA
Beek, I know you’ve said that Devonta Freeman has missed a lot of time over the last couple of year, but we’re two games in and he doesn’t look like his old self. Ito Smith has looked pretty good when they give him the ball. Why don’t they give the ball to Ito more? And where are the other running backs? The Falcons aren’t running the ball very good. Thoughts?

Matt: You’re right about the production of the Falcons running game, Rick. It’s not where the Falcons would like it to be. Right now the Falcons are averaging 65 rushing yards per game. That would barely eclipse the 1,000-yard mark over a 16-game season. There are a number of reasons why after two games that number is lower than they’d like it to be. Part of it has to do with the offensive line; there’s been changes and a lack of continuity. Kaleb McGary missed most of the preseason before settling in at right tackle. Chris Lindstrom worked all training camp and preseason with the first-team unit but was lost during Week 1 with a foot injury. Jamon Brown, who competed for the left guard spot all offseason, is now stepping in at right guard for Lindstrom. It takes time for the offensive line to gel, especially when guys are moving around. Another reason the run game has been quite as productive is because of who the Falcons have played. The Vikings and Eagles are two very good defensive fronts. Part of of it has been situational; when things change in a game and the Falcons are suddenly trailing by 28 (like in Week 1), the game plan changes. And, lastly, it’s because of the running backs themselves. Devonta Freeman finished with 19 yards against the Vikings and 22 against the Eagles. In the past he’s gained that much on a pair of runs. Ito Smith has continued to come in and provide a nice spark. But I’m with you; I think they need to ramp up the running game and commit to it. Part of the reason why the Falcons made changes up front was to protect Matt Ryan better and run the ball more efficiently. It’s been slow going on both fronts thus far, but I think it’ll improve as the season goes. It has to. I wrote back in that a healthy, hungry (and productive) Freeman will be key to the Falcons’ success in 2019. I believe that even more today.

Stephanie from Marietta, GA
Beek! Thanks for being here for us – and a sounding board at times. I have a question about Julio Jones. Good things seem to happen for the Falcons when they throw the ball to him, so why don’t they get it to him more? Even when he’s covered, he’s so good at going up and getting the ball. Get the ball to Julio more!

Matt: I think every Falcons fan loves it when Julio Jones has the ball in his hands, Stephanie. And you’re right; good things tend to happen whenever he touches the ball. That fourth-and-3 play to put the Falcons up for good is a play that Falcons fans everywhere will remember for a long time. And you’re also right about contested balls – Jones is so gifted athletically that he’s able to go up and win a lot of those 50-50 balls. To answer your question, the Falcons are indeed looking his way quite a bit during games. Even though Jones only had 31 yards on six catches against the Vikings, he was targeted (thrown to) 11 different times in that game. And against the Eagles, Jones was targeted 10 times. He caught five of the for 106 yards, including the 56-yard touchdown. The Falcons have targeted 21 times in two games, so they are trying, Stephanie. You have to give credit to the defense sometimes – sometimes the coverage is really good and sometimes the pressure affects the accuracy of the throw. Regardless, I’m sure the Falcons will continue to look his way. And not all of the defenses they’ll face in 2019 will be as good as the first two they’ve faced this far.

Jake from Buford, GA
What’s going on with this offensive line, Beek? I thought all of this was supposed to fixed. All we heard from you all offseason is that the Falcons are focused on fixing the offensive line. Matt Ryan has been sacked too much and we can’t run the ball. We’re lucky to be 1-1.

Matt: Hey Jake. There’s nothing lucky about winning games in the NFL, and let’s be honest – 1-1 is so much better than 0-2. But back to the line. You’re right, the retooling process has hit some bumps in recent weeks. It was good to get Kaleb McGary back, but then the Falcons lost Chris Lindstrom – who had been playing so well – to a foot injury. There’s been some shuffling around, and that isn’t always ideal. You’d like as much continuity as possible up there with those five guys. If you remember, the same five guys started all season long during the Falcons’ 2016 Super Bowl run. Oh, and I almost forgot – Matt Gono was coming on and playing well toward the end of preseason before hurting his back. Those aren’t all excuses, Jake, just facts. The Falcons surrendered four sacks against the Vikings and one to the Eagles. And they’re not running the ball as efficiently as they’d like – and that all starts up front, too. So, yes, there’s work to do – and plenty room for improvement.

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