Three positive takeaways through two weeks

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As a Packers fan, I could not be happier with the trajectory of Green Bay after two weeks. Being 2-0, with a happy marriage between my head coach and quarterback, has me in a wonderful mood. In fact, I feel so good that I will point out to the miserable Falcons fans a few positive things about their team to make them feel better. It is not hopeless; there is talent in Atlanta.

 

Calvin Ridley is a #1, Russell Gage is a #2

Calvin Ridley is proving exactly why he was selected in the first round in 2018. Focused on increasing his leg strength this offseason, it has benefitted Ridley’s already established route running and what he can do after the catch. 

The Alabama product is a multi-dimensional wide receiver that would be the #1 option on 90% of NFL rosters today. It just so happens he is behind one of the best in the league, Julio Jones, who should be credited in-part for Ridley’s development. Through two weeks, Ridley has caught 16 passes on 22 targets for 239 yards scoring four touchdowns. 

Projecting season stats are fun, and Ridley is on pace for 128 receptions, 1,912 yards, and 32 touchdowns. Aside from 136 catches in 2015 by Julio Jones, all of those would be franchise single-season records. Obviously, there will be some regression from the first two weeks, but how much? Can Calvin Ridley maintain this excellence and potentially dethrone Julio as Atlanta’s #1 by next season?

It could be taken as two separate positives, but they belong in the same conversation. Russell Gage was selected in the same draft as his teammate Calvin Ridley. However, the expectation for Gage coming out of LSU was to immediately impact special teams and potentially carve out a rotational role in the offense. Through two weeks in his third season, his job within this offense is ever-expanding. He has been targeted 21 times (second only to Calvin Ridley), catching 15 of those for 160 yards and a touchdown thus far. 

There were reports this offseason of Gage, along with fellow receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, traveling to California to work out with Matt Ryan. Soaking in all he could, Gage has grown to understand what Ryan expects on certain plays by observing Jones and Ryan’s relationship, specifically their communication.

“I just really got to talk to him and understand what he really wants out of me in this offense, what he expects my role to be,” Gage said, via the AJC. “From there, once I had that understanding, I was able to elevate my game from there. I talked earlier about how I was able to talk about how Julio and Matt Ryan talk, that alone puts an understanding in my head and that’s the kind of communication I want to have with my quarterback. I want to be on that same page. I want to understand this is the coverage and this is what we’re going to do without saying anything. Those things have really made me better.”

If Atlanta were to move on from Julio’s massive contract this offseason, there are two big reasons at wide receiver to advocate for his departure.

 

A.J. Terrell has shown signs of life

After giving up five receptions on five targets for 70 yards and a touchdown a week ago against Seattle, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris reaffirmed his confidence in Terrell. 

“I thought the guy played pretty well,” Morris said, via the team’s official site. “We’re talking about a rookie, we’re talking about a guy who was out there and he’s playing hard, he’s playing fast, he’s playing physical. He went out throughout the day and played some sticky coverage on some really good wideouts. He stood up in some really big moments.”

Against Dallas, Terrell was targeted three times and gave up only two catches for seven yards. He was the highest-graded defender on the Falcons in Week 2, according to PFF. Cornerback is one of the most challenging positions in the NFL to play as a rookie, and Terrell is doing so without a proper offseason and preseason. 

The former Clemson Tiger has shown an ability to identify mistakes and correct them without making the same one twice. The coaching staff raves about his competitiveness and seems happy with his work-in-progress product. Dallas has one of the best trios at wide receiver, and Terrell did not flinch after a less than stellar Week 1 performance. If he consistently improves his technique, the Falcons could have a true CB1 to replace Desmond Trufant.

 

Offensive Line Rotation

The offensive line has allowed only three sacks in two games and seems to be improving. Former first-rounder, Kaleb McGary is an ascending player but went down with a leg injury in the first quarter against Dallas. It has been reported that McGary avoided a major injury and might only miss one week, which is a positive in of itself, but looking to build continuity among the offensive line is essential. 

Matt Gono performed admirably in place of McGary, thus proving this line has newly founded depth. Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are consistent veterans who can both effectively run and pass block. Chris Lindstrom is one of the best young guards in the NFL, behind Green Bay’s Elgton Jenkins, and continues to develop his technique. 

James Carpenter seems to have won the left guard competition with Matt Hennessy, per the snap count against the Cowboys (Carpenter: 70, Hennessy: 5). Carpenter is still suspect in the running game, but his pass blocking is vastly improved from a season ago. Matthews, Lindstrom, Mack, Carpenter, and McGary are a well-above-average pass-blocking group and average run-blocking unit. With Gono and Hennessy as depth players, this offensive line is still a bright spot.

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