Atlanta Falcons

Changing Winds

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When it was announced the Atlanta Falcons had hired Arthur Smith as their new head coach I immediately thought “‘the guy who wrote Dueling Banjos is still alive…and he’s going to coach the Falcons?”

Ok, so maybe the latter part is a bit of an embellishment, but that is the first Arthur Smith that came to mind.

Even with my knowledge of Smith’s football career limited to his last two years as Tennessee’s Offensive Coordinator, the hire shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise.

Atlanta has a history, particular in recent years, of hiring first time head coaches. While some organizations seemed determined to only hire former head coaches, Smith’s hire will be the fourth consecutive time the Falcons have handed the reigns of their team over to someone with no NFL head coaching experience.

Even when they have gone the “recycled” route, the last two coaches to fall under that category were Jim Mora and Dan Reeves- neither of which were considered bad hires at the time.

Whether that is the best is way for them to proceed or not is completely subjective, but I do give them credit for not falling in to the relationship trap of “oh, I know who they were beforehand, but they’ll be different with me.”

What intrigues me more about the hire is what it might say about the direction the franchise is heading and what exactly the expectations are for Smith.

Typically, when you see a young head coach join a team that has several high-profile players on the backside of their career, you automatically think it’s time to tear down and rebuild.

In Atlanta’s case, bringing in a highly regarded offensive coordinator, combined with an aging quarterback and the fourth overall pick in the draft, is the ideal situation to start moving onto the next phase of the franchise’s future.

However, with Matt Ryan hopefully still having another 2-3 productive years left, and Smith’s record of success in Tennessee, however limited it may be, it wouldn’t shock me if those plans are simmering on the back burner for at least another season.

If the Falcons are trying to make one last push before their franchise quarterback rides off into the sunset, bringing in someone who revived a lesser quarterback’s career isn’t a bad place to start.

If I had to guess, how the Falcons choose to use that fourth pick will give us a pretty good indication of what their plans are, and how much leeway their new head coach is going to received.

Trevor Lawrence won’t be available, and I imagine Justin Fields will be off the board as well, so is Atlanta enamored enough with either Zach Wilson or Trey Lance to draft them that high, knowing they probably won’t see the field for a year or two?

Obviously, there are other aspects to take into consideration when you’re trying to figure out the direction of a football franchise, but none will speak louder than Atlanta drafting a quarterback that early.

Like with any hire there will always be questions- are two years enough to judge how Smith will run a team? Were there better options out there?

Regardless of how you answer you those questions, the hire falls right in line with who the Atlanta Falcons have been. Now it’s just figuring out exactly what that means.

Shot Caller

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL regular season is over, and the Atlanta Falcons finished 4 – 12.

Atlanta has the No. 4 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft. They fired Dan Quinn earlier in the season and they need to hire a new coach (and GM).

Let’s take a look at some of the candidates and see who the best fit is.

I’m going to say one thing before I start. I’m not a big fan of hiring coordinators for their first head coaching position. The reason is players make them look much better than what they actually are.

For instance, Brian Billick was labeled an offensive genius as the Vikings offensive coordinator. When he coached the Baltimore Ravens, they were never good on offense.

We can also say the same thing about Quinn coaching the top defense in Seattle and coming to Atlanta.

Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator in New England also before becoming a head coach.

Eric Bienemy is the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator and he’s the hottest candidate. He has the benefit of coaching Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.

This is another case of the talent he coaches that makes him seem like a great play caller. If the roster stays the same there will be talent at the skill positions for the Falcons, except at running back. This might be a decent fit for both.

Josh McDaniels is back in New England in his second stint as OC from 2012 to now. He was also there from 2005-08 as the play caller. He was the head coach for Denver from 2009-10 and his record was 11 – 17.

In 2018 he was announced as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and the same day he withdrew from the position to stay with the Patriots.

I think this would be a very bad fit. McDaniels coached Tom Brady, who is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. That has helped to bolster his status, but it hides the fact he’s not an elite coach. The Patriots were 27th in total offense this season after Brady left town.

Lincoln Riley is the Oklahoma head coach. He’s had that position since 2017 and he’s led the Sooners to a 45 – 8 record.

His offense is explosive and continues to have success with whoever plays quarterback.

He has coached NFL starters like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts.

This season with Spencer Rattler as the signal caller they were still one of the best offenses in the country.

I think this would be the best fit because offense wins championships now.

He’s also an experienced head coach. A few years ago, college coaches had a tough time transitioning to the NFL. Now the NFL has adopted so much from college football that it is not as difficult.

We have also seen former college coaches have success in the NFL with Pete Carroll being the most successful.

Brian Daboll is the Buffalo Bills OC. Before getting hired for that position in 2018 he spent one season as the co-offensive coordinator and QB coach at Alabama.

He also served as OC for Cleveland (2009-10), Miami (2011) and Kansas City (2012).

I think this would be an average fit with the Falcons. He helped develop a young quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen has improved in each of his three seasons and he is drastically better this year.

Tampa Bay Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich is also a possible candidate.

Hopefully Atlanta can hire a good general manager and head coach. The franchise needs a turnaround badly.

Making The Grade?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Going into the season many experts thought the NFC South would be the toughest division. Now that we’re a little more than halfway through the season let’s take a look at how each team is doing and grade them on their midseason report card.

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers (6-3) have a lot of hype surrounding them.

As you know they signed the greatest quarterback of all time Tom Brady in the off-season. They also traded to get his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski. They already had Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

They also signed running back Leonard Fournette and recently acquired future Hall of Fame receiver Antonio Brown.

They are stacked with talent, but the Saints are their kryptonite. They were swept by New Orleans and they did not play well in those games.

This past week they were pummeled 38 – 3 by them. The week before they barely beat the 1-7 New York Giants 25 – 23.

The defense is pretty good, ranked fourth in the league in total defense.

The Bucs are a playoff team but not as good as we expected. Grade: B-.

New Orleans: The Saints (6-2) are flying high. Their tied for the best record in the NFC.

They have the potential to be the top seed and have home field advantage in the playoffs. I will admit that with limited crowd sizes this season due to the pandemic it might not mean as much as it has previously.

Star wide receiver Michael Thomas has missed several games due to a suspension for a fight in practice and a hamstring injury.

In the two games he’s played in he has 8 catches and 68 yards. On the bright side he should be well rested.

The defense is 3rd in the league in total defense, allowing 312 yards and 25 points per game.

New Orleans is the total package. Grade: A.

Atlanta: The Falcons (3-6) got off to another slow start, losing the first five games of the season.

Head Coach Dan Quinn was fired, and Raheem Morris was named the interim head coach.

In those four games they are 3-1. I look at it as too little, too late. Quarterback Matt Ryan is leading the league in passing yards and he’s on his way to another Pro Bowl.

Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are both on pace to have over a thousand yards and they both have missed games.

Running back Todd Gurley was signed as a free agent and he’s having a decent season.

Gurley is fifth in rushing yards (584) and second in rushing touchdowns (9). The defense is 28th in total defense, allowing 410 YPG and 27.9 PPG.

Grade: D-.

Carolina: The Panthers (3-6) got rid of Cam Newton and signed Teddy Bridgewater to replace him.

The best running back in the NFL, Christian McCaffrey is their only real threat on offense.

McCaffrey injured his ankle Week 2 and missed 6 games before returning Week 9.

They signed former Jets receiver Robby Anderson as a free agent and that was a great move. Anderson is fourth in the league in receiving yards with 751. DJ Moore is also having a good season with 640 receiving yards and 3 TD’s.

The defense is average, ranking 17th in total defense. They give up 362 YPG and 25 PPG.

Grade: D.

Lift Off

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Falcons finally won a game.

Dan Quinn was finally put out of his misery after starting the season 0 – 5. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has taken over as interim head coach. You may remember when he was head coach for Tampa Bay from 2009 – 2011.

Julio Jones returned after missing the last game and a half with a hamstring injury. His return helped spark the offense.

Jones finished with 8 catches for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 40-yarder off a broken play that helped put the game out of reach. The Falcons won 40 – 23 on the road at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

It was Jones’ 57th career game with at least 100 receiving yards, which is the most among active players and the fourth-most in NFL history. Jerry Rice (76), Randy Moss (64) and Marvin Harrison (59) are the only players ahead of him. They are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so he’s in great company.

“At the end of the day, I felt great coming into this game,” Jones said. “No complaints. No hamstring injury issues. No tightness and things like that to prevent me from bring who I want to be on game day.”

The Falcons scored on 8 of 12 possessions, with one kneel down at the end of the game.

Matt Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns, with an average yards per attempt of 9.3.

“I think that’s always the mindset I’ve had, to go out there and play my best every week,” Ryan said. “We have to earn everything we get in this profession. I don’t think it really changed my approach or anything. I believe I have a really good process and a way to get ready week in and week out. I trust that process.”

Atlanta jumped on the Vikings early and went into halftime with a 20 – 0 lead. As you know they crumbled in the second half and dropped second half leads under Quinn. I thought they were doomed because the Falcons have shown us, they don’t play well with a lead. I give Morris credit because they played well in the second half.

They recovered two onside kicks. It was the opposite of the debacle in Dallas when the kickoff team sat back and waited for the ball to roll 10 yards. On both onside kicks they attacked the ball and caught it as it came to them.

The defense had 3 interceptions on the season coming into this game. They forced Kirk Cousins to throw 3 picks in this game. They did allow rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson 9 receptions, 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. I have him on my fantasy team but for some reason I had him on the bench.

The New York Giants also got their first win of the season yesterday. That leaves the Jets as the only winless team in the league. I bring that up because they have the work record and they are front runners to pick Trevor Lawrence first in the 2021 draft.

Atlanta is not a good team, but I think they are on track to get a few more meaningless wins that will make them pick lower in the draft.

The next two games are home against Detroit then at Carolina for Thursday Night Football. Those are games that are winnable.

Who knows, they might be in the playoff hunt if they can win those games then beat Denver.

Out Of The Nest

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

“And like that…he is gone.”

It’s been 25 years since Kevin Spacey uttered that line at the end of “The Usual Suspects”, unveiling one of the biggest plot twists in cinematic history.

Yet, I can’t help but think how those six simple words may apply to the Atlanta Falcons personnel at the end of the season.

It was a foregone conclusion Dan Quinn would be dismissed at the end of the season. He did not make it that far.

The decision the Falcons front office, specifically Arthur Blank, will now have to make on the direction of the franchise- do they continue and try to make it with the roster they currently have constructed, or take a step back and begin to build for the future?

Atlanta has some big-name talent at some of the more prestigious positions, but they are more than a new coach away from being a playoff team.

That’s not to say the organization needs to dismantle everything from the ground up, but their focus needs to shift from trying to make one last run to making decisions based on what’s best for the team in the long term.

How that translation will look could go a few different ways. Does Atlanta take the Bill Belichick approach and start getting rid of productive players a year early as opposed to a year too late?

This way of making decisions certainly has proven to work in New England, but can prove to be a difficult sell to fan bases that haven’t experienced that type of success.

Do they bring in young, future starters through the draft and free agency, allowing them to learn from the veterans?

It’s an ideal way to go about things since it keeps fans happy and allows the younger players to grow.

The downside, of course, being most top tier players don’t want to spend their remaining years grooming their replacement; in most cases they’d rather be traded or released.

And let’s be honest, when I’m talking about the positions those choices will revolve around, I’m talking about Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Both of those guys have one, maybe two years left, before we start to see a precipitous drop in their level of play.

I completely understand if Atlanta chooses to go with whatever option suits Ryan and Jones best, they just need to make sure it’s not to the detriment of the franchise, moving forward.

Look, Atlanta’s in that unfortunate situation where they’re going to have to sacrifice the end of the careers for some of their most important players for the good of the franchise.

Again, that doesn’t mean they can’t be competitive, but it’s not easy to admit making the Super Bowl isn’t the main focus.

The NFL is full of teams that have made surprise runs to the playoffs and exceeded expectations. And I realize it’s a bit premature to start talking about next year when we’re not even halfway through this season.

It’s almost a guarantee things will look very different in Atlanta, beginning with a new coach.

Collapsible

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Some things in life are guarantees. For instance, death and taxes are something we all know is inevitable. Well in the sports world we can add a new guarantee; the Atlanta Falcons blowing a second half lead.

Dan Quinn took over as head coach before the 2015 season and he had his most successful season early on. In his second season the Falcons were 11 – 5 and advanced to Super Bowl LI.

As you all know they held a 28 – 3 lead over New England with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.

They collapsed and lost the game. I believe all of the momentum was sucked out of the team at that moment. They were 10 – 6 the following year and made a playoff appearance. The last two seasons, they were 7 – 9.

Week 2 at Dallas looked promising. The Falcons were flying high and jumped out to a 20 – 0 lead over the Cowboys. They went to halftime up 29 – 10. With 5 minutes left in the game they were up by 15. I’m sure it didn’t cross anyone’s mind that the game was in jeopardy.

Well, the Atlanta defense can make just about anybody look good. When they face a player with talent it only gets magnified.

Dak Prescott became the first quarterback in the NFL’s 101-year history to pass for over 400 yards and rush for 3 touchdowns.

The Cowboys recovered an onside kick where the Falcons players looked at the ball and inexplicably just waited for it to roll at least 10 yards. The Cowboys recovered it and scored to give Dallas a 40 – 39 win.

Surely that kind of debacle can’t take place again under Quinn’s watch.

Enter Week 3, a home game against Chicago. Atlanta has a 16-point fourth quarter lead with 6 minutes remaining in the game.

Chicago replaced a struggling Mitch Trubisky with Nick Foles. Like something out of a movie Foles threw for 3 touchdowns and the Bears won, 30 -26.

What did Dan Quinn have to say after the loss? “Obviously really two disappointing endings over the last two weeks. I told you earlier we’ve got to find our way to finish. We’ll hit the road a week from tomorrow and make sure that result has to be different at the end of the game. That’s where we’re at.”

Now the team is 0 – 3 and Quinn’s overall record is 43 – 40. That seems very mediocre to me.

Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks before coming to Atlanta.

The Falcons defense has never been good with him as the coach.

Currently their 27th in total defense, giving up an average of 419 yards per game. The next game will be a Monday night showdown with 3 – 0 Green Bay.

It would be a major upset for Atlanta to win this game.

On the bright side Atlanta won’t get an opportunity to blow a fourth quarter lead in this game.

The Packers will win convincingly. Then we all have to wonder when will Arthur Blank remove Quinn as the coach. Right now, it looks like that will never happen.

Down South

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Week 1 of the NFL season is in the books. Let’s take a look at what happened around the NFC South after the first week of games.

Seattle 38, Atlanta 25: The Falcons defense looked just as bad as they have the last few seasons. Russell Wilson completed 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and 4 touchdowns.

He also had three runs for a team-high 29 yards rushing. Atlanta sacked Wilson 3 times but that did not slow him down.

Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.

Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage each had 9 receptions for over 100 yards.

In Todd Gurley’s first game as a Falcon he rushed 14 times for 56 yards and a TD.

Atlanta outgained Seattle 506 yards to 383 but came up short all four times they tried to convert on fourth down.

The one good thing for the Falcons is Ryan surpassed John Elway for ninth on the NFL career passing yardage list.

Las Vegas 34, Carolina 30: Matt Rhule made his coaching debut as the Panthers head coach.

They had the best defense in the NFL just a few seasons ago, now they need all the help they can get.

The Raiders offense did whatever they wanted.

Second year running back Josh Jacobs rushed for 93 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Derek Carr threw for 239 yards and a score.

This was the first game for the Raiders since moving from Oakland to Las Vegas. Gruden didn’t hold back on praising Jacobs.

“That was a little bit like Walter Payton used to play,” Gruden said. “It was hot as hell. He got beat up early. He insisted on coming back and he insisted on getting the ball as a runner and receiver. He is special. He deserves some national attention — and I hope you give it to him.”

This was Teddy Bridgewater’s first game as the Panthers QB.

He had a solid game, completing 22 of 34 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown.

Former New York Jets receiver Robby Anderson also made his Carolina debut and played well. He had 6 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Of course, Christian McCaffrey had another great game. He ran for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns and he had 38 yards receiving.

New Orleans 34. Tampa Bay 23: This was the most anticipated game of the day. We all know Tom Brady left New England this offseason to become a Buccaneer.

He has a ton of offensive weapons. The Saints also feature a geriatric quarterback surrounded by playmakers.

This was the first game featuring two starting quarterbacks in their forties and they played like it.

The game started good for Brady. He rushed for a touchdown to give Tampa an early 7-0 lead.

It was downhill from there. He threw two picks and one of them was returned for a touchdown. Jameis Winston had to see himself in Brady as he watched from the Saints sideline.

“I made some just bad, terrible turnovers,” Brady said. “I obviously have got to do a lot better job.”

Drew Brees only threw for 160 yards and 2 TD’s. Alvin Kamara had a rushing and receiving score.

Surprisingly Michael Thomas only had 3 catches for 17 yards.