Before we delve into today’s adventure with the Atlanta Falcons, a couple updates on our last conversation. On July 25th, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt retired from the Minnesota Vikings, rendering a trade of Matt Kalil somewhere between “highly unlikely” and “HAHAHAHA…oh you were serious? No.”
Atlanta Falcons Preseason Primer
The second update is a little more pertinent to today’s dalliance: On July 19th, the Atlanta Falcons reached an injury settlement with center James Stone, making him a free agent. While technically not a trade, Stone will be playing on a new team this season (which naturally is evidence of my haphazard psychic powers). Let’s talk about them Dirty Birds!
Playing Time on the Defensive Line
The Falcons began training camp at their Flowery Branch facility, and several pungent ideas have wafted through my nostrils already. The smelly idea alluded to in the previous article is the playing time of Ra’Shede Hageman (more specifically his lack of it).
Hageman is the one of the best young defensive tackles in the NFL. He has uncanny power and strength, as evidenced by his ability to make professional athletes look like rag dolls on the football field. He has long arms and confounding quickness rarely seen in 318 pound human beings that endows him with effective pass rush abilities in addition to his dominance as a run defender.
He’s already the Falcons’ best defensive lineman. Yet head coach Dan Quinn limited deployment of Hageman. That included a serious aversion to playing him on third downs in 2015. Hageman entered the league as a second round pick in 2014, a year before Dan Quinn arrived in Atlanta.
Running Back Committee?
In the fourth round of that same 2014 draft, the Falcons acquired a fellow by the name of Devonta Freeman. He established himself as a feature back last season, leading the league in rushing touchdowns and giving the Atlanta Falcons a potent rushing attack. It was something the team had lacked since the heydays of Michael Turner.
The latest news out of the Falcons organization is that Freeman will spend this upcoming season as part of a two-man committee with second year running back Tevin Coleman. The stated reason being Freeman’s fade down the stretch. That fade was due in large part to lingering lower body injuries that this committee hopefully would help prevent.
The problem with the running back committee approach is a simple one. Freeman was the Falcons second best player last season, and they are going to need him on the field if they expect to win enough games to get to the playoff in what is a tough NFC South. It’s going to be harder to accomplish that with Freeman on the bench.
The running game may have ignited for the Falcons last season, but their passing game did the opposite of that (De-ignited? Fizzled out? Yeah fizzled out). It fizzled out. Most of the blame and vitriol has been directed toward offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Finding a scapegoat is always fun, and Shanahan has become a favorite already. This masks the real issue in 2015: quarterback Matt Ryan.
Kyle Shanahan didn’t bobble and fumble snaps, Ryan did that. Shanahan didn’t bounce handoffs off the fullback’s shoulder pads, that was Ryan. Instead of Kyle Shanahan throwing into double and triple coverage, or overthrowing open receivers, that was Ryan as well. Their were plenty of quarterbacks who played well in 2015. Matt Ryan was not one of them.
Kyle Shanahan has helped Robert Griffin III and Matt Schaub become Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Brian Hoyer has looked like a legitimate starting quarterback in Shanahan’s system. Shanahan is by no means a ruiner of quarterbacks.
The Falcons signed receiver Mohamed Sanu and drafted tight end Austin Hooper to help the passing game. This is Ryan’s second season in Shanahan’s offense and he should be more comfortable. Ryan proving 2015 was an aberration and not the beginning of a trend is the single biggest issue facing the Atlanta Falcons in 2016.