Posted: 8:00 am Monday, August 18th, 2014

Are the Falcons contenders or pretenders? 

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

FLOWERY BRANCH — When the Tennessee Titans were here to practice two weeks ago, safety Bernard Pollard let everyone know what he thought of the Falcons.

Pollard tried to fire-up his teammates as he ran up and down the sidelines yelling, “They are pretenders. Remember, they are pretenders.”

The Falcons first-team offense didn’t look like pretenders against the Miami Dolphins. They appeared legit.

Against Houston, they looked like pretenders and couldn’t block an elite pass rusher in rookie Jadeveon Clowney.

Now, they’ll have to pass protect with a rookie at left tackle.

Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Houston Texans' Jadeveon Clowney, right, during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Houston Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney, right, during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

The first-team defense was shaky in both outings and have not looked like contenders.

The special-teams units imploded against Houston, but most of those players likely won’t be on the field on Sept. 7.

Several defensive players said that Miami had success because they didn’t game-plan for the Dolphins.

Against Houston, the excuses and rationales were different, but tackling remained an issue.

The first-team defense won’t have any excuses against Tennessee when they play the third exhibition game, the regular-season dress rehearsal.

“Everyone knows that the third (exhibition) season game is the game when you go through (your) dry run in preparation for the regular season,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

Generally, Smith’s teams have played mistake free football and have tackled well until last season.

“We have to find a way to narrow the mistakes and the penalties,” returner Devin Hester said. “We have two more preseason games to try to get this stuff fixed.”

Safety William Moore believes that game-planning for Tennessee will make all of the difference in the world for the defense.

“You have to keep in mind that we didn’t game plan for (the Texans),” Moore said. “(Against Tennessee) we will have the opportunity to game plan and that is very important in the NFL.”

Moore reminded us not to put too much stock in exhibition games.

“There’s not much you can take from a preseason game because you are trying to find which guys will make the roster,” Moore said. “At the same time, we have to come out from the beginning to the end throughout the whole season. No one is going to take it light on us.”

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White also warned the twitter-verse about how much stock to place in exhibition game performances.

“You get nothing out of exhibition games except for a lot of (players) conditioning, what shape they are in, and if they are able to go 60 plays or not,” White said. “You learn how far your young guys have to go, grasping concepts and things you want them to do, but other than that, the veterans go out and play. Everybody just tries to get through this thing and try to stay healthy as possible and make it to game one.”

White was ticked that the Falcons lost left tackle Sam Baker in a meaningless game.

“It’s stuff like that, that tells you a lot about these games,” White said. “I know you can get hurt at practice but playing (meaningless) games and getting your left tackle hurt, I just don’t know. I don’t know what you judge from these preseason games. I’m not a fan (of) them, but we have to play them. So you have to go out and do what you have to do.”

So after Saturday night, we should know if the Falcons are pretenders or contenders.

SECOND EXHIBITION GAME — TEXANS 32, FALCONS 7

Falcons thrashed by Texans, 32-7

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ lost to the Texans

Baker out for season; Matthews likely headed for left tackle spot

Jadeveon Clowney made impact plays against the Falcons

Julio Jones makes 2 catches for 20 yards in his return

VIDEOS

Falcons coach Mike Smith on the loss to the Texans

Falcons QB Matt Ryan on the offense

Falcons RB Devonta Freeman after the loss to the Texans

Falcons CB Robert Alford after the loss to the Texans

TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE

Date                                         Practice Times (public availability)

Monday, August 18                    Practice 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. (closed to the public)

100 comments
stendec
stendec

With record setting choke king quarterback Matt "Pick 6" Ryan these bums will not even be great pretenders! To paraphrase a song. Four interceptions for opponent game losing TDs in one season. A mark I am certain will never be touched throughout NFL history! All you Falcon fans as proud as I am? To Hell with the quitter! Best to you though Mister Ledbetter sir. Will be keeping tabs on your words friend. :)

Falcons Fans in Chicago
Falcons Fans in Chicago

Come watch Falcons games in Chicago at the bar Falcons fans made their own back in 2008: @FalconsBar_Chi

RandyFalcon
RandyFalcon

I've heard this team referred to as a team of stars and bums. And I understand why. We have little depth. I'm not concerned about the preseason games. I'm concerned about the injuries. I felt that this team had a shot at a good year if they could stay healthy. But already we've lost Spoon and Baker before the season even starts. A couple more injuries and we're back to a below .500 team. 

zuzu331
zuzu331

Matthews looked rock solid against one of the best DL in the league (Watt),Worrilow was hitting everything that moved and Freeman and Antone Smith were running great-lets PLATOON the RBs,guys. The skys not falling.

BobDawg
BobDawg

…. and the Seahawks are already in mid-season form with that D. 

BobDawg
BobDawg

Falcons will be lucky to see 8-8 this year… Bandaids better be aplenty with this group. 

TheOldMan
TheOldMan

The fact that until last year's severe injury bug, the Falcons were a playoff team given all of the boy wonder's flops in the draft points up that this is a QB/WR driven league.  But you have to be able to play some modicum of defense and I just don't see it.  There's no pass rush, they're shredded in the run game, and can neither play kill the clock or stop it from happening to them.  They may be able to win some shootouts, but I see 8-8 as realistic. 


I also agree with Roddy that the preseason is dumb.  Make the last two preseason games part of the regular season. 

DeaconBlues
DeaconBlues

Too soon to tell.  We've witnessed 2 - yes, TWO - preseason games.  Games that weren't "planned" for (as Moore astutely points out), games that are constructed more to evaluate depth and roster ability.  We haven't "seen" anything on which we can make an accurate assessment (although we are obliged to maintain "hits" on the internet to demonstrate that people are paying attention - no offense, DLed).  We listen to "assessments" from coaches who, like politicians, are experts at saying much without saying anything (Coach Smith is one of the best at this), ostensibly because it's more important to say nothing to the opposition about strategy and deployment of resources.  My guess is that Smith & Co. welcome the "woe is me" refrain from the 12th Man; it makes it easier to mask the overall strategy that is to be deployed when the battles actually mean something.


Neither I, nor anyone, can effectively analyze how this team will play during the regular season (including Peter King and D. Orlando Ledbetter, et al)  because, quite frankly, we haven't seen it.  Yes, Sean Weatherspoon and Sam Baker are out for the season.  Weatherspoon's absence is of bigger import schematically than is Baker's, on the surface; they are known commodities (including their injury karma, a circumstance that I wish upon no one ever).  Unknown is how well Jake Matthews and Prince Shembo will fit in to the scheme of things.  I, quite frankly, can't make an intelligent opinion about that.  Most assume that Matthew's transition to LT is a fait accompli; though Smith & Co. would have liked for that transition to happen after a season or two is given, but I believe that TD had this "what if" scenario in mind when he drafted Jake.  No one wants to see Sam hurt, especially Sam.  But, in the "next man up" case, I'm comfortable with it.


The retirement of Tony Gonzalez dictates change to offensive strategy.  Who can replace TG?  Could we have drafted TG's replacement this year?  I doubt it.  Perhaps TD did that when he drafted Levine Toilolo last year.  Smart kid out of Stanford, big target, good hands, but untested in the Big Game.  Again, by design.  Why throw the rookie to the wolves unnecessarily when he can spend a year under the tutelage of the best?  How well will he and Bear Pascoe play together?  Too soon to tell.


The offense fell apart last year.  Literally.  No team - not the Seahawks, not the Broncos, the Patriots - could have survived such devastating circumstances.  Stephen Jackson - hurt.  Julio Jones - hurt.  Roddy White - hurt.  An offensive line decimated by injuries and inexperience.  Now, I can cast a critical eye towards TD for falling asleep a little on the O-Line thing, and even on Coach Smith for backing off on one of his first principles, namely, that battles are won in the trenches.  My opinion and it's just that - is that Smith & Co. got too starry-eyed when they looked at all of their shiny toys, never considering what might happen if they break.  This year, TD got a new coach in Mike Tice, help in Matthews and Paul Soliai and Jon Asamoah.  Tangible upgrades by anyone's measure.  Joe Hawley acquitted himself well last year.  I don't know what happened to Peter Konz (I had really high hopes for him) and Lamar Holmes last year.  I  have high hopes for Mike Johnson this year, Alabama guy hit by the injury bug last year.  Matt Ryan got the hell beat out of him last year, but he still finished 5th in production in the NFL last year.  How will the offense fare this year?  Common sense says better, if only with a healthier Jones and White.  As for the run game or the O-Line?  Too soon to tell.


Defense.  Very sore spot.  I thought it was a sore spot last year before the injuries to Biermann and Weatherspoon.  I can't call Peria Jerry a flop.  That he was able to have even walked after his injury in 2009 is testament to his strength; how many of us would have even walked normally under such circumstances, I wonder?   It is fair to say, injury or know, that he did not fit the bill for which TD drafted him.  Unfortunate, IMO; I think he would've been great.  But "would've been" doesn't cut it in the NFL, as we all know.  Kudos to Smith for standing by his guy.  Why they let Abraham  go, I cannot say.  Abraham and Umenyiora yould have been great together, albeit aged.  Abraham still had gas last year.  May still this year, I don't know.  My point is that no one helped Umenyiora last year  I suspect Weatherspoon could've, I suspect Biermann could've.  I like Massaquoi, he should've gotten better tutelage last year save for the injury bugs of his peers.  Samuel had the mind last year, but not the body.  Too, he was never really hired as a "Cover" guy.  This year, Biermann is back and Massaquoi has some experience.  Hagemann is a beast, when he stays focused.  Troufant and Alford were bright spots last year, should be very good if not great this year.  I like Prince Shembo, he's got a lot of talent - as did Warrilow and Bartu.  Moore is solid, don't know what happened to Decoud last year, and not sure who to replace him.  Too soon to tell.  Bryan Cox is a good coach, great player.  No one doubts Mike Nolan's creds.  Should TD have drafted a pass rusher or gotten one from FA?  It would've made us feel a lot better, sure, but we don't put W's on the board.  Maybe we already have one.  What I can say, unequivocally, is that there's no ay we can answer that question after two games.  I hate to say it, but it's too soon to tell.


If anyone's still listening, I think no way they come close to 4-12.   I, like most, have a bad taste in my mouth from last year, but I don't think it was because the team sucked.  Poorly prepared for the worst, yes, but realistically, who would've been better prepared.  I don't know.  What I do know is that a dummy doesn't when executive of the year 2 consecutive years.  What I do know is that Mike Smith is the winninges coach the Falcons have ever had.  What I do know is that the 2014 Falcons have talent.  


How much?  It's too soon to tell.



LMO
LMO

What happened to all of these yahoo's that were sooo happy to get rid of Dominique Davis and how much BETTER a guy that was cut from a 2-14 team would be for us "Yeah Dominique can't READ defenses" ha..well you GET what you ask for... Dominique Davis is MUCH better than ANYTHING remotely resembling a backup we have now.  If Matt goes down it's a WRAP!!!

BooBooBear
BooBooBear

I'm trying to remember ... did the Falcons start a season with a rookie at left tackle after they drafted Baker?  What was their record then?  13-3?


What Falcons head coach holds the best record for preseason games?  Marion Campbell?  (Please don't look it up ... it is unimportant)


What is the most famous preseason event in Atlanta Falcons history?  Mike Vick breaking his leg against the Ravens?  Season ticket holders being forced to buy packages that included preseason games at full price?


Does anyone realize the Falcons more regularly beat the Saints when they had an outdoor stadium and played on grass?  Since the Falcons began playing on fake grass they have entered the world that the Saints know better.


As to the question: Are the Falcons pretenders or contenders?  The answer is a clear and resounding, "Yes!"

ReggieTheMailman
ReggieTheMailman

People love saying the preseason means nothing but when your o-line is getting your 100 million dollar qb twisted around like a pretzel then... it does kinda matter. The preseason is about player evaluation and teams with ordinary quarterbacks are moving up and down the field on our first team defense....that kinda matters. 


JackClemens
JackClemens

They should bounce back to competitiveness, but they will not contend for a title. Hope they prove me wrong.

DOrlandoLedbetter
DOrlandoLedbetter moderator

The Falcons are pretenders.  47.95%  (561 votes)

 

Total Votes: 1,170

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

These are the type of excuses you'd expect from a 12-4 team but not one coming off a 4-12 season. The Falcons should have an innate burning desire to win every battle on the field which would result in wins or close losses. This was clearly not the case on Saturday and listening to the player comments gives me little hope that this toughness campaign is anything more than a PR move to sell tickets.

WilliamCoit
WilliamCoit

This is going to be an interesting year for the Falcons. Baker got beat a few plays before he got hurt. An elite DL was going to hurt his ability to protect Matt Ryan. I'm in favor of putting the rookie at LT. We need to see if he can play at this level. 

Intruder
Intruder

18-18 in the NFC South, 1-3 in the playoffs, and a winning percentage of 28% vs playoff teams. This is Smith's record and no way could he be considered much above average.


Season opener: Offense-Saints

                            Defence-Saints

                              Coach---Saints

RangeRover
RangeRover

One thing for sure, Hard Knocks tomorrow night may set a record for number of curse words.

RogerBurke
RogerBurke

No upgrade in defense or runningback spells pretender

Match369
Match369

Haven't seen much so far this Year.  I am a die hard fan but just don't know about this years team.

MikeisBack
MikeisBack

I think they Contenders...I think it kind of bad Karma...mix blessing what happen with Baker...if Jake can anchor the left side...maybe a guy like Mike Johnson...emerges and surprises everybody...or somebody in  that group of RTs surprises...then finally  we may be able to run the friggin foot ball.lol  

Match369
Match369

Haven't seen mch so far I don't know what to think.  As always ned help on defense though that's a given.  Hopefully some play maker will emerge if no send them packing.  we need a refuse to lose attitude this year if you are no with it kick rocks.

Esquire
Esquire

I didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling from the Falcons performance Saturday night.  Smith better kick some tails out there or his Falcon tenure will be history possibly even by mid season.    I think the 1st team offense has much more gas in the tank but how many times can you win a shootout every game.  Our defense is still missing some pieces and that, unfortunately, will make an 8-8 season look pretty good.

DirtyBird504
DirtyBird504

It's too early to make a call.  We haven't seen all that this team has to offer.  Got to see how the OL will adjust to losing Baker.  If we can adjust to the Baker lose, our offense will be fine.

Also, game plannig is a very big part of the game.  In the NFL, game planning and the ability to make adjustments during the game, is the difference between winning and losing. 

Finally, I really want to see the schemes that Mike Nolan has for our defense.  That is something that we have yet to see.  Therefore we really don't know what we have on defense.

stendec
stendec

@DeaconBlues Cry me a river! I slept through most of that novel. You make me puke!

stendec
stendec

@LMO If Matt Ryan goes down no one will care. Least of all me!

LMO
LMO

@DOrlandoLedbetter Led, is Tice Sour on Mt. Mckinney as he coached him during his days in Minny.  Let the peoples know please and thank you for what you do Led!

stendec
stendec

@Intruder Remember when Falcons beat Saints regularly? Those days are long gone!

youlibtards
youlibtards

Great, see how many teams they scare with bad language

RangeRover
RangeRover

What? The if Jackson is healthy the Falcons may have the best stable (Jackson, Smith, Freeman, Rodgers, Vaughn) of RB's in the NFL. Look for one (Rodgers, my guess) to get traded to a team looking for a solid backup.

stendec
stendec

@Match369 Refuse to lose? Have not laughed that hard since those four fatal Matt Ryan interceptions went the other way for TDs last season!

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@Esquire


Wow Esquire....never thought I see the day you would say we were going 8-8...........


What next?  People will tell me beer and cigars are bad for me?

DirtyBird504
DirtyBird504

Then again I still say we make the playoffs.... (Barring anymore injuries of course)