The Atlanta Falcons lost just three games last season but are just 3-3 so far in 2011 and could qualify as one of the league’s biggest disappointments so far this season. On the other side, the Lions have been one of the success stories of the season despite losing their perfect record last week. This week seven matchup has the potential to play an important role in the NFC playoff race.
In preparation of Sunday’s game, I got together with Jamie Kelly, the editor at Blogging Dirty. My thanks to Jamie for taking the time to answer my questions to help inform this Lions audience on a Falcons perspective.
Zac Snyder: I’m sure the Falcons’ start is slower than fans would like, what do you attribute that to?
Jamie Kelly: A combination of things really. Firstly the schedule at the start of the season was tough and didn’t really allow the Falcons to play their way into form. Secondly, a true real lack of direction on offense. With the acquisition of Julio Jones, everybody expected the Falcons to be a great passing attack straight away. Unfortunately, there have been two major issues that have prevented the passing attack from flourishing, OC Mike Mularkey and the O-Line. OC Mike Mularkey is a very conservative play caller, who doesn’t like to spread the ball around that much, he prefers to pound the ball up the middle, which has hampered the development of the passing game somewhat. The O-Line as well is not built for a passing attack, they are not athletic enough as a group to pass protect effectively 60 to 70% of all offensive snaps.
Secondly the Defense at times this season, has been soft in coverage. The Falcons are 27th in pass Defense in the NFL, and struggle to get off the field on 3rd down. Now that the Falcons are having more success in the ground game and starting dominate time of possession, that should help the Defense no end.
ZS: Where is Matt Ryan in his development as an NFL quarterback?
JK: That’s tough to say, looking at his stats, it could be said he’s taken a step back from last year. However his lack of success has been down largely to poor O-Line play and being behind in a lot of games this year, and being forced to throw more balls into double coverage than he did last year.
He is certainly developing a very strong bond with Julio Jones (before he got injured), which should help him develop as a passer.
I have no doubt that Matt Ryan can be an elite QB, but the system is holding him back. In a run first offense, even when he does get an opportunity to throw he doesn’t have many targets to throw the ball too. Hopefully the Falcons will start to incorporate more 3 and 4 WR sets in the playbook for Matt Ryan to play with.
One thing for sure is that he is extremely intelligent and a great leader, he goes through his progression very well and rarely makes mistakes, until he is forced into a position where he has to take chances. The funny thing is when the Falcons run the no huddle and let Matty Ice call the plays the Falcons actually have more success!
ZS: Has Julio Jones already passed Roddy White as the team’s big play receiver?
JK: Yeah, that is a safe assumption. When you look at Roddy White’s style, he was never much of a deep threat. He excelled in short and intermediate routes. With the introduction of Julio Jones, who has started very quickly and Roddy’s issues with drops this year. Julio has certainly moved into the role of the big play guy in the offense.
ZS: Where do you think the Lions will have an advantage and where will the Falcons have an advantage when they meet on Sunday?
JK: I think the Lions will certainly have an opportunity to pressure Matt Ryan. There are a few match ups along the O-Line, which do worry me as a Falcons fan. DE Cliff Avril on Tackle Tyson Clabo, is a miss match. Avril’s quick first step should cause Clabo some problems. Also Suh on any of our guards concerns me a lot!
The Falcons on Defense should be able to force the Lions into a one dimensional attack, as the Falcons are very stout against the run. If the Falcons are able to do that I am more confident than I would be about the Falcons’ chances of slowing down Calvin Johnson.
ZS: How do you see the Falcons-Lions game playing out and what do you think the final score will be?
JK: A week ago, I would have said that the Lions would win, now I’m not so nearly as certain. With the Lions coming off a tough loss and the Falcons suddenly resurrecting their identity. I fancy the Falcons to pull an upset here 20 – 14.