Questions about the Falcons’ defense, fallout from loss, possible changes, regrouping for Steelers

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Welcome to Straight from the ’Beek! The Falcons dropped another high-scoring heartbreaker on Sunday and will turn their attention toward the Steelers this week. In the meantime, you have plenty of questions – and just as many as comments (some not fit for print). Just remember that all opinions here are mine unless otherwise noted.

And away we go.

Jim from Townsend, TN
Beek, thanks for keeping a stiff upper lip as our season crumbles. Having followed the Falcons since 1966, I have seen the movie many, many times where the other team gets the ball with very little time left on the clock and then marches down the field to beat us at the end. I almost expect it. Our offense is so impressive but the defense, save a spirited pass rush here and there, is sadly hapless. I really love the Falcons, but it is hard to put lipstick on that pig. Our division is weak, but we can’t afford many more losses and still be in a position to make a playoff run. I am a huge Dan Quinn fan, but the issue with the defensive backfield doesn’t seem to be fixed internally. Can we be a .500 team? Wise to hold out Deion Jones for the year if we are still sitting with one win when he is medically cleared? Thanks for your coverage of our Falcons!

Matt: Hey, Jim. You call it a stiff upper lip and I’ll call it just sticking to logic – and not going off the deep end. I still appreciate the kind words though. Look, 1-3 isn’t a great start to the season and I’m not going to sit here trying to convince you guys otherwise. The Falcons are currently sitting in the basement of the NFC South, too. But the season is hardly over. There are 12 games left and the Falcons will also be getting some players back from injury along the way. I’d look at this team much differently if they were struggling to move the ball or had no life on offense. That’s hardly the case – they have one of the most potent offenses in the league – and in the last three games they’ve converted 85 percent of their red zone opportunities, which is impressive. If they make just one play against the Eagles, Saints and Bengals they very well could be 4-0 right now (with the same issues to fix on defense, mind you). But they didn’t, and the NFL is a bottom-line business. It’s all about wins and losses. Some readers will get mad at me for writing that – and say I’m too positive, but those are just facts. I’m not glossing anything over. The defense has surrendered 80 points in the last two games. You can’t win games in the NFL giving up 40 points per game. To answer your question, yes, this team can turn things around and they’ll have to hang their hats on the offense right now. They’ll have a chance because of that unit. And, no, I don’t think they’ll sit Deion Jones if he’s medically cleared to play. If he can play, he’s going to play.

Matt from Greenville, WI
Well Beek, two weeks in a row. Kinda makes me wish I never sent the question in a while back about the doomsday defense and what a good name for ours should be. I have been a huge fan since 1980 and I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, but this is just embarrassing. Offensively we are rebounding but still have a few items to work on. The defense on the other hand, I'm not sure. To me coaching is the start and yes, we lost key players and I mean "key players." Still they were signed to play in the NFL and getting paid to do so, we should not have to give up those easy yards and receptions. Do you think Desmond Trufant has what he used to, and is Marquand Manuel able to compensate for aggressive play calling and develop the talent needed to compete? Consistency is what is needed, and I don't see it on our defense.

Matt: If you remember my response, I said nicknames have to be earned on the field – and teams have to consistently win for them to stick. That’s not the case. The Falcons are going to have to make some changes and there’s also a lot of on-the-job-training going on right now for these young players like Isaiah Oliver, Foye Oluokun, Deadrin Senat and Damontae Kazee. They are also sorely missing Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen – no doubt about it. Desmond Trufant had a chance to seal a victory but instead made a nice defensive play. They’re going to need more from him and guys like Grady Jarrett, Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley. Those three are going to need to wreak havoc up front regardless of what other changes might be made defensively. I think Marquand Manuel is a very smart coach and will do what he can with the pieces he has to work with.

Jerry from Statesboro, GA
Hey, Beek. Yes, that one hurt, but we’re not dead yet. Beekers, listen to Matt Ryan’s postgame interview. He is right, let’s focus on the next 12 games. As for all the what if’s … The only what if we need to think about is what if we get it together and make a run. A man’s character is not obvious when he triumphs but when he’s in the midst of adversity. There’s still hope. Look on the bright side, at least we fixed our red zone woes. Our first-round pick is now a rookie of the year candidate, our offense is clicking, and we are 1-1 in our division. A lot of teams wish they only had the problems we have. Stand up, Beekers, and stay behind our team because we’re not out of it. Have we been blown out? No. We were in every game that we lost, and we could very easily be 4-0 right now. Tell ’em Beek!

Matt: Thanks, Jerry. And Matt Ryan is right – “the margin of error for a win and a loss is very close.” I have pointed out that the Falcons could easily be 4-0 right now, but – as Bill Parcells always says – you are what you are. The Falcons are 1-3 overall and 1-1 in the NFC South. It’s a long season with a lot of football to be played. Some fans get that, and some overreact – and call for heads. And as you’ll read below, some are so unhappy that they’re even calling for mine.

Cliff from Urbanna, VA
Matt, you should find another job. I like you and you make everybody feel comfortable about things that are going on with the Falcons, but you fail to tell the truth about a lot of things. I've been a Falcons fan longer than you've been alive and this year is a very much disappointment –and it happens every year like this. You probably won't publish this, but you have no idea what's going on in this game only because they pay you to do it. I hope everybody has a great season. Everybody stay safe and healthy. Maybe we might win next week, maybe we won't. Who knows. Maybe, Matt, you can tell us who's going to win the next week. I pay your salary. Thank you very much, Cliff. Spoke my peace.

Matt: Well, Cliff, I’d ask you what things you disagree with you but it sounds as though you’re signing off. If siding with logic and history makes “everybody feel comfortable about things that are going on with the Falcons,” then I’m guilty as charged! I ran your comment, so I hope you’re at peace, Cliff. Just wondering … If the Falcons win next week can we expect to hear from you again?

John from Vermillion, SD
Hi, Beek! There was a lot to like and a lot not to like following the Bengals game. But I come away from it feeling somewhat positive. For starters, I feel that our young defense has what it takes to gel as the season progresses. The youth is only going to improve for starters. I could see a group of four to five players becoming much better as the season rolls on. Damontae Kazee and Isaiah Oliver leading the way in that regard. The only problem I see is getting past the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Maybe we pull an underdog victory but if we do lose, how do we react at 1-4? It will test the brotherhood. If we get through that game win or loss, I could see us rolling off as much as five in a row. What do you think, Beek? Do you concur and do you see us having a better chance against Pittsburgh than I do?

Matt: First of all, you’re way too positive and probably making “everybody feel comfortable about things that are going on with the Falcons,” John. You really should rethink what you’re doing with your life. I kid, I kid. Seriously, the added playing time will only benefit guys like Damontae Kazee, Foye Oluokun and Isaiah Oliver. The Steelers lost to the Ravens on Sunday night and are sitting at 1-2-1 right now. They’re not exactly unbeatable, but Pittsburgh is a tough place to win at and they’re coming off that division loss. The Falcons are not thinking about 1-4 and neither should the fans, in my opinion. It’s wasted energy at this point. The offense is rolling and they need to be more consistent on defense. If they can do that, I like their chances moving forward, but it won’t be easy.

Chris from Brooks, GA
I read your what if article and you kept mentioning the what if for the offense and the missed pick by Trufant. I am not sure that is the point. I understand the injury issues on defense, but come on, man. Next man up. Problem is the next men are not getting it done. They made Andy Dalton look like Joe Montana in the first half. These games are closer than they should be because the defense can’t stop anything right now. Teams are scoring at will. What is the fix for the defense, because we need one and we need it quickly. #RiseupD

Matt: This is not a personal attack, Chris, but I seriously wonder if football fans in general watch other games and read the box scores from around the league on a regular basis. And I wonder if Falcons have watched this team closely the last three or four years – and wrapped their heads around the parity in this league. If you’ve never played the game, that’s fine – but do yourself a favor and, like Jerry said above, listen to Matt Ryan’s presser (go to the 0:45 second mark). The difference between winning and losing every week is so small. The Falcons had chances to close out each one of those losses and come away with wins. Secondly, every player at this level is good, Chris. Andy Dalton is a very good quarterback – and he’s better when he has capable weapons around him. A.J. Green is one of the best receivers in this league – and he beat a rookie on the winning catch. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. At the same time, Isiah Oliver will learn from that -- and know that he needs to get deeper in his drop, for instance. It is next man, and some guys have made plays. But some of the mistakes, missed tackles, dropped balls and missed opportunities can't be pinned on just the rookies, Chris. Teams might have been “scoring at will” against the Falcons, but the Falcons have been scoring at will on their defenses, too. The possible fixes on defense could include more of what we saw in the second half against the Bengals when they played a lot less zone and more man-to-man defense. When you play tighter coverage like that, it forces the quarterback to sit back, read and deliver the ball to the open receiver – if one is indeed open. The advantage, defensively, is that the quarterback sometimes will sit in the pocket longer – and the pass rush must disrupt or get to the passer. The obvious disadvantage is when the defender is beat on a play. Will the Falcons start playing more man to man coverage? I don’t know, so stay tuned.

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