Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are preparing for their first NFC South foe this season – a showdown in Charlotte against the Panthers on Sunday. You've got plenty of questions, so let's get to them. Just remember that all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
And we're off.
Joel from Nashville, TN
Tell the OC to call more play-action on first down. It always works better! Got to be more aggressive. It worked last year. It will work now.
Matt: Of course – it worked last year, so it'll have to work again, right? Well … it doesn't really work that way, Joel. But the play-action will work – if the run game is clicking.
Travis from Kaiserslautern, Germany
I know Dan Quinn likes to play the players who were drafted – and no one can argue that philosophy on this team with Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell, Keanu Neal, Brian Poole, etc., last year. With that said and concerning the emphasis on stopping the run (and the success against the Jets), I think the unfortunate injury to Duke Riley – whom I like – gives Kemal Ishmael a chance to showcase that he is probably more prepared at this point to play the "WILL" linebacker position. What do you think, Beek?
Matt: I think Ishmael stepped up and filled in nicely (nine combined tackles) at weakside linebacker when Riley went down early during the Patriots game. But he was quiet against the Jets and was credited with one tackle. It's unclear at this point when Riley will return, but until then Ishmael and others, like recently signed Sean Weatherspoon, will have to step up.
Chris from Villa Rica, GA
Hello, Beek! Thanks for the reply. Question is … I'm not too pessimistic, but I am a realist. These turnovers are just mind-boggling. You said coaches love to coach. Why are we sloppy? (Poor) conditions or not, the turnover margin is getting unreal. Your thoughts?
Matt: Howdy, Chris. Totally agree that some turnovers and giving this offense more opportunities can only help. The lack of takeaways is evident and Falcons coach Dan Quinn even brought the topic up Monday during his press conference when asked about what he sees from the team at the halfway point of the season. He said it's "not a reflection of us not going after it" because, he says, they are trying to create more takeaways. Quinn added: "When those opportunities do come to take advantage, to make the interception, to make the play, we can do better at that spot for sure. You can't really get in the plus until you get some takeaways. … I know if we keep doing right like that offensively and taking care of it, defensively we're going to create these opportunities where we'll gain a few more possessions. It's an important part of what we do, but we're not where we want to be yet for sure. As we're sitting right there in the middle part, our inability to create them has had an effect on the game for sure."
Bobby from Columbus, GA
In your opinion what are three critical things that we have to do to leave Charlotte with a victory on Sunday?
Matt: Hey, Bobby. Thanks for the question. The first thing the Falcons need to do is pressure, hit and harass Cam Newton. A steady diet of that usually frustrates the Panthers quarterback – and when he's frustrated, it shows with his decision-making. Good things should happen for the Falcons defense (i.e., some turnovers) if they can do that. The second thing they need to do is stay committed to and establish the running game. If they can do that against that Panthers defense, it should help open things up downfield for some explosive plays. You know Julius Peppers is going to bring pressure. The backs can serve as quick outlets, too, in the passing game. With Greg Olsen out, the Panthers have targeted first-round pick Christian McCaffrey quite a bit coming out of the backfield – and he shifty and quick back has been quite effective. So, the third thing I'd like to see the Falcons do is neutralize McCaffrey – put on spy on him. Just don't let him get the ball in open space because he'll hurt you.
Chris from Milledgeville, GA
Hey Beek, enjoying the column! Great win on Sunday in those conditions more importantly the confidence they gained going forward. My question is, do you hear any rumblings on any trades here at the deadline? I know I'm dreaming but Geno Atkins would be awesome on that D-Line rotation. Keep up the great work!
Matt: Glad you're enjoying it, Chris! As far as any rumblings or rumors about trades involving the Falcons, it's been quiet. As you may (or may not) know, the trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. There are some live trade deadline trackers out there – as there usually is – and I haven't seen the Falcons mentioned in any of them. But that does not mean a thing. And for what it's worth, a lot of teams would love to have Geno Atkins on their defensive line. Great player. Regardless, stay tuned – and if anything does break, we'll have it covered here at AtlantaFalcons.com.
Jonathan from Spokane, WA
Okay Beek, that was a scary win but it's a win. Lot of ball mishaps due to the weather. Question is, what do you think about the Falcons moving forward? Do you think we have a chance against Carolina? We all know they're not the team from last year, but I still got faith. I believe that they will pull through at the end of the season it's still a close race. It says we're third but like I said, still a close race. How do you think they will progress towards the end of the season?
Matt: Hey, Jonathan. There's plenty of football to be played this season – the Falcons still have nine regular-season games to go, including all six of their divisional games. And as you noted, they'll play their first one on Sunday – against the Panthers. All teams, including the Falcons, are establishing their identities in the early portion of the season. Most teams (you'd think/hope) come out of the preseason knowing what they do and don't do well, but it's still a process working in new free agents, coaches and rookies – especially once opposing teams start scheming against you (unlike preseason games). That all said, the Falcons are still evolving and progressing – coach Dan Quinn said as much, and noted that he's excited about where he thinks this team can eventually be. Carolina is an important game – a divisional game. The Falcons are lucky to be relatively healthy (unlike a lot of teams) as they enter the second half of the season. The final stretch of the season – when they play five NFC South opponents in their final six games – will be huge for this team. And yes, they have more than a good chance against Carolina, Jonathan.
Malachi from Carollton, GA
I know we got a win on Sunday, and that's the important thing, but I'm still not satisfied. I like the fact that we won, and it was a much-needed win, but what matters is the NFC games and we have a hard stretch of NFC games left. What do you think we (the Falcons) can do to win games along the rest of the season?
Matt: Hopefully you just read the response above, Malachi. The Falcons have the talent – they just have to go out and execute. If they can do that, stay healthy and even get a little lucky (every now and then it helps), they should be fine. But those three "ifs" will be key.
David from Riverdale, GA
When are we gonna get a hard-nosed tight end that can catch and block?
Matt: You didn't like the show Austin Hooper put on against the Jets, David? He helped jump-start this team early on with three big catches on the Falcons second possession – culminating with a touchdown catch to tie the game at 7 apiece. He finished with four catches for 47 yards. Levine Toilolo is a little bigger and is more of a blocker than Hooper – and between the two of them, I think it works.
Nicholas from Augusta, GA
You keep ducking me Beek, lol! Do you think the ground game is getting better as the weeks go by?
Matt: I swear I'm not ducking you, Nicholas. But if you read this space often, you'd know I'm a big believer in running the ball. I'll say this much, I like what I'm hearing from Falcons coach Dan Quinn about getting carries "in the high twenties" and I like what we all saw against the Jets – the commitment to the run paid off. So, yes, I think it's getting better.
Chris from Fresno, CA
Great team win! Let's get ready for our first division game against Carolina! So, about Sark and our offense ... Still believe he was a great hire and he looks well-adjusted in the NFL now. I could see his potential "coming soon." Our offense is balanced because our run/pass ratio is consistent which makes defenses second guess us and pick their poison. My only concern is our play-action because we don't use it enough! Why is that? We're running the ball effectively and a lot so why not do more play-action so we can get a big play? Look at Julio's 53-yard catch. I mean, couldn't really play-action a lot yesterday since Matt was fumbling but even before, we hardly play-action because Matt's always in shotgun when we pass it. I know that we will get it right though.
Matt: Hey, Chris. It's so easy for fans to second-guess everything. The Falcons like to be aggressive on offense – they can be with those weapons – but they'll also attack what the defense is giving them, too. Don't you think that if the coaches saw something they could expose they'd do it? And perhaps they were setting up the play-action but couldn't run because of the way the game played out. My point is, we just don't know everything – so don't assume something is necessarily wrong. These coaches eat, breathe and sleep football – they know what they're doing. And I thought Steve Sarkisian called a good game, too. You just can't anticipate fumbled quarterback-center exchanges or dropped passes – likely due to the heavy rain. Those are all lost downs and/or turnovers, which affects the plays called.
Carlos from Los Angeles, CA
BEEK! I TOLD YOU! Use our tight ends and we will move the ball! We got away from it in the second half though. We pulled off a much-needed win in tough conditions. Hopefully this is the start of a good win streak.
Matt: The tight ends certainly came up big against the Jets. So, yeah, good call, Carlos! It would be nice to see them string some wins together, for sure. The Saints are 5-2 and the Panthers are 5-3.