Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! It's draft week – and, as always, you've got lots of questions about the Falcons. So, let's get right to them. Just remember, all opinions here are mine unless noted otherwise.
And away we go.
Jimmy from Townsend, MD
Beek, what do you think about the Falcons' offensive line? By the end of the season how did they grade as a whole unit? For two guards that didn't have any starting experience, do you think drafting a guard is really a priority? I personally thought as the year progressed so did both guards. I also felt that we ran the football a lot tougher than we have in a long time. Please clarify if I am wrong, but I think that by season's end the guard play was pretty strong.
Matt: Hey, Jimmy. Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 offensive lines from the 2017 NFL season and the Falcons – who used six different lineup combinations – finished second, behind only the Philadelphia Eagles. You're right in your assessment that the Falcons were effective running the ball but struggled in pass protection. Here's what the folks at PFF had to say: "The Atlanta offensive line might be the complete opposite of the Tennessee unit in that the performances at the guard position did not come close to the level of play at offensive tackle and center, especially following the injury of left guard Andy Levitre. A lot of what the Falcons do on offense relies on their outside zone runs – a concept they used more times than any other team in the league – and once again they found success on these runs as they averaged 4.45 yards on outside zone, the eighth-highest in the NFL. However, Atlanta's pass protection was not close to perfect in 2017 as they ranked just 12th in pass-blocking efficiency rating (79.7) after the regular season and QB Matt Ryan was under pressure on 33.9 percent of his dropbacks, the 15th lowest rate in the NFL."
Jeremy from Newnan, GA
Hey Beek, I saw the Falcons' schedule for 2018 last night and was a little surprised. Should we be worried about the tough start? It concerns me a little bit that they start the season against the Eagles in Philadelphia, two home games against NFC South rivals, and playing on Thanksgiving night in New Orleans. They need to improve the offense and defense to help make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl in Atlanta.
Matt: There's no question that the Falcons will be tested early on, not to mention the opener on the road in Philly against the defending Super Bowl champs. While three of Atlanta's next four games are at home, three of those will be against playoff teams from a year ago – the Panthers, Saints and Steelers. Here are the Falcons' first five games:
- Thurs., Sept. 6 at Philadelphia, 8:15 pm ET
- Sun., Sept. 16 vs. Carolina, 1 pm ET
- Sun., Sept. 23 vs. New Orleans, 1 pm ET
- Sun., Sept. 30 vs. Cincinnati, 1 pm ET
- Sun., Oct. 10 at Pittsburgh, 1 pm ET
After the schedule came out on Thursday night I asked fans what portion of the schedule stood out the most. Here are the results:
Bjorn from Munich, Germany
Hey Beek! Thank you for keeping us awake in the long offseason. First of all, I have to say that Matt Ryan is the main reason why I've become a Falcons fan. Reading SFTB every day, I wonder how many fans criticize our QB though. As a fun part of my question, can you please give us a look "behind the scenes" at annoying comments you get every day? For example, how many messages you get per day which you cannot publish because they are too offensive? What was the meanest comment you got so far? Of course, you can blacken where ever necessary. ;-) Now getting more serious again: I like the depth-creating moves in free agency so far, which gives us a lot of flexibility in the draft, even for trading up. I do believe though that trading up in the first round could be too expensive to get someone like [former Washington defensive tackle] Vita Vea. Since we can still get another good DT (or WR or LB) at pick 26, what do you think about trading up in the second round to snag a top WR, DT or LB?
Matt: Oh, I definitely get my fair share of comments and questions I can't run on the site, Bjorn, but that's to be expected. Fans are passionate about their team and sometimes they just feel the need to blow some steam off, which is fine. I get it. And if someone wants to be critical of me, a player, coach or a play call – and can back it up with stats – that's one thing. I'll run those. But when it's just a blatant personal attack littered with nasty remarks, I just delete them and move on to the next question. I also try not to overlap topics too much, so I'll generally just pick the best of the bunch. As far as trading up or down in the draft goes, it depends on how much the Falcons covet a certain player. A guy might be a first-round talent, but he might not fit what the Falcons do or he might not fit into the culture they're building here. That's really important to this staff. They're looking for specific players and if trading up a few spots in the second round means landing one they covet, I can see them doing that.
Ajay from Alpharetta, GA
Hi, Beek. With Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant available, would it be a good addition to add either of them to our offense? This will take some heat off Julio Jones. I understand that given the draft prospects we might add one of the top available rookie WR, but I am not sure if they'll be around when we get to pick our draft at No. 26. I think we could get Marshall or Bryant and still get the best DT with our first pick.
Matt: Do you really think adding one of those older receivers will really take heat off Julio Jones, Ajay? There's a reason why those both of those guys are on the street right now. Marshall failed a physical and Bryant's production has steadily decreased over the last few seasons. Do I think those guys could still be productive in the right offense? Sure. The Falcons could go in a number of directions with their picks, but I think they'll address defensive tackle and receiver early on in this draft – and come away pleased with their draft haul. There's value and depth at both of those positions. I think the Falcons would love to add a lot more speed on the outside, too, something Marshall and Bryant don't have.
Frederich from Vienna, VA
Hey, Matt. Thanks for doing these, really enjoy reading them. Anyway, to the question: I've been seeing a lot of predictions about next season's record. I feel like a lot of fans are way overestimating, but a couple opponents are pretty harshly underestimating too. What is your guess as to next season's record? Also, Matt Bryant is the man!
Matt: Seriously? It's waaaay too early for that, Frederich. I'm not big on predicting records but even so, it would be crazy to do so before the end of training camp, folks. I mean, we haven't even hit the draft yet. These rosters are going to change quite a bit between now and the end of August. Anyone making those sort of predictions right now is just filling space and wasting time.
Gary from Salem, VA
Hey Matt, would like to share some thoughts and get your opinion on them. When the team playing the toughest schedule is identified, is that just based on the prior year's win/loss record? If so, that just doesn't seem like enough variables are considered. Take the Falcons schedule into consideration. They play away games against the Eagles, Steelers and Packers and the game against the Packers is in Wisconsin in December. Does that get any consideration when evaluating strength of schedule? There are so many other factors like what players left in free agency, who was acquired, who retired, are the coaches the same, etc. It just seems like there should be a bit more effort put into most-least schedules that could make those statements more valid. It gets kinda complicated but what are your thoughts?
Matt: Yes, strength of schedule is based on the combined 2017 record of all 16 opponents and combined winning percentage. That's it. The Falcons rank 13th on that list, by the way, and all of their NFC South foes rank even higher. It's something to consider when the schedules first come out, but I don't put a whole lot of stock into it, if that's what you're asking, Gary. There's so much parity in this league and there are whole lot of other factors to consider – like free agency, the draft, game locations, coaching changes, etc. And by the time the games are actually played, you can pretty much toss what happened last year out the window.
Tony from Jackson, MS
Hello Beek! First time here. As I have read various questions and comments on this blog, I see a lot of inquiries about just about every position except for QB. I believe this to be one of the greatest concerns for our Dirty Birds. Yes, we have Matty Cold as Ice, but we are one injury away from continued success if we lose our star QB. I say we try and get a steal at QB first, second, or third round. Lamar Jackson sure we be a nice add considering his IQ and athleticism. He could also be great when Sark wants to mix it up a bit with plays like the wildcat, etc. Comments?
Matt: I'm going to disagree, Tony. I don't think now is the time to start grooming the next quarterback. The Falcons have some needs to address in the draft, and quarterback is not one of them. Matt Ryan is playing at a very high level still and is showing no signs of slowing down. Besides, he's missed two games in 10 years, so it's not like he's even had health concerns. I can't understand why some Falcons fans constantly ask me about the quarterback position. That position should be the least of your concerns! I mean, do you want to create competition at the backup spot? Do you want a proven veteran who can help Ryan see things on the field or an unproven rookie back there? That's a different debate. HAVE A QUESTION?