To say the Falcons week one performance was underwhelming is a grave understatement. An offense, loaded with weapons at every turn, completely wet the bed, scoring twelve points in twelve possessions. It was a night to forget for a team that looked to turn the page against the same team that sent them packing in the Divisional round. However, looking around the league, it is easy to be reminded why you never hit the panic button after the opening weekend.
The Saints allowed nearly fifty points against a backup quarterback. The Packers needed a miraculous Willis Reed-like performance from Aaron Rodgers to top the lowly Bears by one at home. The Cowboys might not have been able to score on Alabama yesterday. Kirk Cousins did not exactly light it up in his debut with the Vikings, and the 130 million dollar man, Jimmy G, played to the tune of a 10.6 QBR.
All of these teams have Super Bowl aspirations for this season, and all looked nothing of the sort yesterday. There is no need for panic, just improvements. For the Falcons, that process begins next Sunday in their home opener versus the Panthers.
Is it time to start asking what is wrong with Matt Ryan? The 2016 MVP’s numbers fell hard in 2017 and opening night was a disaster for the Philadelphia native. To put it simply, Ryan never looked comfortable in the pocket and spent more time looking for pressure than downfield at his receivers. That is something usually seen out of a first or second-year quarterback. Ryan is a seasoned vet that was out there looking like a scared puppy against the Eagles.
It is easy to put all the blame of the offense’s struggles on Sarkisian, and believe me, he bears a heavy burden, but Ryan has to be much better than this going forward. The circumstances were not ideal. Philadelphia is one of the most hostile environments to play in. The Eagles defense is the best at getting after the passer, and the players have had minimal live action together over the last eight months. However, once MVP is placed by your name, you are held to a higher standard. Let’s just say Ryan did not come anywhere near reaching that standard last week. I expect him to be much better at home on Sunday and the rest of the regular season.
It is reasonable to put a lot of Ryan’s problems on the shoulders of the offensive line. Philadelphia has an absolutely loaded defensive front with seven to eight guys that can rotate in and get after the passer. They showcased that ability early and often Thursday night, sacking Ryan four times and pressuring him the entire night, a primary reason as to why Ryan was never able to look comfortable.
The task does not get any easier next Sunday. The Panthers defensive line showed off this weekend against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. Carolina came up with six sacks and held the Cowboys to a measly eight points. The Dallas offensive line has a pretty good reputation as well, and it is not for giving up sacks. The Atlanta offensive line was also one of the best on paper coming into the season. They will need to play like it if they want to put up more than twelve points on Sunday.
On the flip side, the Atlanta pass rush remains a question mark on the defensive side. Vic Beasley Jr. is now back to his more natural position as a strict pass rusher. The hope is he records another season with double-digit sacks; however, he did not have much of an impact on Thursday night. Takkarist McKinley performed well in his season debut, as the Falcons expect him to be an integral part of the pass rush all season. Grady Jarrett is a beast on the inside, but beyond that, the Falcons do not have a lot of guys who consistently provide pressure.
The Panthers have the worst offensive line in the NFC South. Protecting Cam is something they have done a very poor job of over the past few seasons. Even with a lackluster group of pass rushers, The Falcons should be able to pressure Newton. If not, it could be a sign of things to come for the Atlanta pass rush, which will severely hinder the defense’s productivity.
Utilizing the offensive weapons
Listen, it is hard to argue with any play that incorporates Julio Jones. The Jet was an absolute monster on Thursday, catching 10 balls on 19 targets for 169 yards. The problem: every other offensive player seemed non-existent. The reason Kyle Shanahan was so successful in Atlanta was his ability to create mismatches in one-on-one opportunities. The Falcons have a host of weapons available that can create a bevy of tough situations for defenses. There is absolutely no reason Jones should have had as many targets as Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman did combined touches. Steve Sarkisian has to be much better at finding ways to get all of his athletes the ball, or he will not be the offensive coordinator for long.