Thanks to Matt at FalconsBlog.com for joining us for this week’s question and answer exchange. Our questions and Matt’s answers follow, after the jump.
Total Titans: Scott says, “I have been a big fan of Jacquizz Rodgers since he blasted onto the scene as a college freshman at Oregon State, especially in the game against USC. What role has he had in Atlanta’s offense this year and is there a chance that his role could grow in the next year or two as Michael Turner gets closer to 30 years old and experiences the inevitable decline that all running backs seem to experience at that age?”
FalconsBlog: Atlanta fans have been very excited about Jacquizz since we traded up to nab him in the draft. The stats may not show it, but the coaches have been giving him a lot more playing time than they were at the beginning of the year. Quizz has cut into Jason Snelling’s reps as the change of pace and 3rd down back, and has occasionally been split out at wide receiver. I would expect to see a lot more of Quizz down the stretch when Turner begins to wear down, but it is hard to tell how far his role will expand in the next few years.
TT: It seems that trading up for the opportunity to draft Julio Jones is paying dividends for the Falcons. Jones is on the injury report this week and there are questions about how effective he’ll be if he does play. How does the offense change when he’s not on the field? Is there anybody else (such as Ray Edwards or Brent Grimes) who’s absence might make a difference this week?
FB: While I hope Julio can play on Sunday, I have heard he is not expected to. I believe sitting Jones is for preventative measures, as when he was knocked out of the Saints game last week he was on the sidelines jumping and cutting, probably trying to show the trainers he is OK. Honestly, without Julio, the Falcons offense is much more consistent. Atlanta’s offense took a step back when we traded for Tony Gonzalez — which was overshadowed later with injuries — but our offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, seems to have trouble working in new players. He may not figure out how to balance this offense until next season.
As of this point, we have been forcing the ball to Julio deep too much, which is asking Matt Ryan to do something he has not been asked since coming here, and asking Julio to do far too much.
As far as absences, the lack of Sam Baker’s offense may be terrible. Baker, our starting left tackle, has graciously been out the past few weeks. His replacement, Will Svitek, has been surprisingly effective against some nice pass rushers, giving up few pressures and no sacks in 3 weeks. However, Atlanta has had a tendency to play the guy they spent a draft pick on (Baker was taken in the 1st) as opposed to the player who is far far far superior (Will Svitek, free agent signing). Baker will usually make any defensive end look worthy of a Pro Bowl start, and one of the reasons our offense has improved the past few weeks is likely because of Baker sitting out.
TT: Given all the star power at the skill positions, the Falcons offense seems to be underperforming. What are the main reasons for this apparent underperformance? What does the offense need to do to get better?
FB: Atlanta is absolutely underperforming, and there are a number of reasons. Roddy White has been having a bad year, described here by our local paper, but he has not looked good. Between an excessive amount of easy drops and personal fouls, Roddy has hurt this team.
Matt Ryan still is not throwing it deep effectively, and I have seen this blamed on either his arm strength or poor offensive game planning. Earlier this season, we passed the ball on almost 80% of our offensive plays. The ball is thrown deep only to Julio, who is still working on his hands and route running.
I have called out Mike Mularkey and his head scratching decisions. I am still bitter about calling the same play on 4th and 1 against the Saints after they called a timeout to change personnel. While Atlanta has returned to what they do effectively, controlling the clock and running the ball, the offense is still average. At some point the coordinator has to be at blame for continually doing less with more.
TT: The Falcons defense seems to have improved quite a bit since last year. How much of that improvement do you attribute to Ray Edwards? Who else has helped to make the defense better?
FB: Ray Edwards has been nice to have, finally showing up the past few weeks, but the turn around in the defense is through improvements to our young defensive players. Corey Peters, 2nd year defensive tackle out of Kentucky, and last years 1st round pick Sean Weatherspoon, have seriously improved since last year. Peters has 3 sacks and 1 interception the past 4 games, and Weatherspoon has been making big plays every game after a forgettable and injury filled rookie season.
TT: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like for Titans fans to know? Also, feel free to make a prediction here if you want.
FB: Atlanta is coming off a terrible overtime loss at home to our despised division opponent, and that cannot sit well with out players. Atlanta is in a must win situation with the Saints up 2 games in the division and both wildcard teams being up 1 game. I do not think Atlanta will come out flat, and would not be surprised with a final score somewhere around 27-21, Atlanta.