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Questions about keys to beating the Ravens, Deion Jones, Falcons playoff chances, Matt Ryan, draft

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Welcome to Straight from the ’Beek! The Falcons are getting ready to play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday and many of you have questions about the Falcons, who are still in the hunt for a wild-card spot. So, let’s get right to them. Just remember that all opinions here are mine unless otherwise noted.

And away we go.

Mark from Marietta, GA
Hey, Beek. Some of us get where you’re coming from and what you’re trying to do – that you’re simply pointing out the facts and not drinking the Kool-Aid. Now to my questions. What do you think will be the key (or keys) to beating the Ravens on Sunday? And do you think the Falcons have any chance at all of making the playoffs? Thanks for giving us a voice, for listening, reading and responding to us.

Matt: Hey, I appreciate that that Mark. Yes, I get accused of being a lot of things here sometimes – and it goes with the territory when you’re dealing with fans who are naturally (and rightfully) full of emotions. OK, to your questions. In order to beat the Ravens, the Falcons’ offense needs to run the ball effectively (enough to make Baltimore respect it), protect Matt Ryan and eliminate the turnovers (protect the football). The Ravens have a very good defense, so that’s no easy task. On defense, the Falcons must shut down the Ravens ground game – which has taken off the last two games with Lamar Jackson under center. Jackson is averaging better than 5 yards a carry and has rushed 65 times for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Coupled with running back Gus Edwards, the Ravens have rushed for 507 total yards in their past two wins over the Bengals and Raiders. If Deion Jones gets the green light and is able to return, that would go a long way in helping to accomplish that. If the Falcons can force Jackson into third-and-long situations, that bodes well for the defense. Again, it won’t be an easy task, but that’s what I believe it will take for the Falcons to come out with a win and keep their playoff hopes alive. And, yes, they do have a shot at making the playoffs, Mark. But you can forget about it if they don’t beat Baltimore. If the Falcons can run the table and finish 9-7, they’ll have a shot. But there’s no guarantee; things would have to fall into place. With five weeks left to play there are too many scenarios to explain here. The only thing that matters right now for this team is beating the Ravens. Call it a must-win game, an elimination game – whatever you want. Thanks for writing in.

John from Columbia, SC
Hi, Beek. What’s the deal with Deion Jones? Is he going to play or is there something wrong with him?

Matt: Hi, John. Deion Jones has been practicing with the team and continues to make progress. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Jones has “had the full complement of reps that he would normally have and did really well,” that he’s “making progress” and has done “an excellent job” in practice. I can’t say for sure, but Jones is really close to returning. It would not surprise me at all to see him out there against the Ravens, but we still need an official word from Quinn.

John from Cumming, GA
Hey, Beekster. So who is going to start at quarterback for the Ravens, Lamar Jackson or Joe Flacco? Sure sounds like it’s going to be Jackson and that concerns me. He’s seems faster than Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson or any quarterback out there who can run it. Are the Falcons concerned about Jackson’s scrambling ability?

Matt: I asked Ravens coach John Harbaugh about that this week and he said that Joe Flacco needs to show that he can make it through an entire practice and protect himself the right way before he’d consider playing him. Harbaugh also said that he’d actually consider playing both quarterbacks, too, if that was a viable option. In short, Harbaugh is not going to tip his hand. Regardless, all signs point to Jackson playing a substantial portion of the game, if not all of it. Jackson has completed 34 of 56 passes for 415 yards and a pair of scores. He’s also thrown three interceptions in the games he’s started. While he’s young and inexperienced, he’s also very capable of making something out of nothing – and that can be very dangerous to opposing defenses. Falcons coach Dan Quinn is very aware of what both Flacco and Jackson bring to the table and he said he’s preparing the team to face both quarterbacks. Quinn said Flacco and Jackson are very different, so it’s not like they can prepare for one style of offense. I hope that answers your question.

Hiram from Atlanta, GA
What’s the mood around the Falcons practice facilities these days, Beek? Does the team still have fight in them? Do you sense that they believe they can beat the Ravens and make a playoff run?

Matt: It all starts from the top, Hiram, and the head coach – Dan Quinn – is definitely positive and “ready to rock.” The vibe is a positive one, but I think – scratch that, I know – everyone around these parts would love to string some wins together and make a serious run at the postseason. When you lose three games in a row, it’s never easy. But teams fight through it. Not too long ago the Cowboys were sitting at 3-5 and everyone in the national media was calling for coach Jason Garrett’s head. To their credit, they fought through it, made some changes and have now won four straight – including an impressive win over the Saints on Thursday night. The Falcons have the talent to win their next five games. But you can only win one at a time and the expectation is to beat the Ravens on Sunday. We’ll see how things shake out and where it goes from there. But no one has thrown in the towel around here.

Tom from Bedford, TX
Hi. Lifelong Falcons fan here. We have our best team of all the teams I've seen, going back to the 1970s. That said, my biggest problem is Matt Ryan's panicky response when the pocket collapses. I used to watch that over and over in the Chris Miller days and I'm getting flashbacks. We need poise in an unstable pocket (see Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, even first-year players like Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield). Ryan is said by analysts to be an elite QB "as long as he has a clean pocket." That's not good enough and we'll lose our talented players if mediocrity becomes the new normal. I think it's time to draft a QB in the first round, get him ready to play, and phase him in by the end of next year. Agree?

Matt: I disagree, Tom, and hear me out before respond or roll your eyes. Go back and watch the Falcons game against the Cowboys. While Ryan was sacked three times, he was so close to being sacked several more times during that 22-19 loss. There were a number of occasions where Ryan either kept plays alive with his legs, scrambled, or stood in the pocket until the last second before delivering the ball. And that wasn’t the only game when he’s done that, just a recent example. Against the Saints, the line play was worse – so bad that Ryan was actually the Falcons’ leading rusher. To answer your question, no, I don’t think it’s time to draft Ryan’s successor. He’s playing at a high level and just signed a lucrative contract extension, for starters. The Falcons have more pressing needs than the quarterback and shouldn’t waste a pick on a quarterback who is going to sit on the sidelines for the next three to four years (and, honestly, I could see Ryan playing longer with all of the passer-friendly rule changes) – especially in the first round, as you suggested. How about drafting a dominant offensive or defensive lineman? That would get my vote.

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