What I think about some things I saw over the weekend . . .
The AJC’s Steve Hummer caught up with Falcons franchise owner Arthur Blank in Houston after yet another bad loss for his team. Blank said he’s not contemplating firing coach Dan Quinn or anyone else. Maybe Blank is just saying that for public consumption, but I’m not sure about that.
I’m back to wondering how well Blank, a business person, can evaluate his football people with such an awkward power structure. “Co-team builders” Quinn and general Thomas Dimitroff report to Blank and there is no other senior football executive who can provide Blank an honest accounting of the operation. Blank can look at the results, but how does he judge the decision-making process?
When Quinn fired his three coordinators in January and put himself in charge of the defense, he said he did it because “new direction and voices” were needed to rediscover the team’s style and identity. Quinn’s voice, which carries the most weight on the football side, remained. As I wrote at the time: “Blank is counting on the same voice and direction producing better results.”
Clearly, that hasn’t happened. Now Blank is saying that the team’s staff and players have “performed at a much higher level in the past.” Sure, but what about now and the future? Blank says the co-team builders “don’t know how to lose.” OK, then how does he explain all the losing?
The Falcons would be 0-5 if not for Nelson Agholor dropping what should have been a game-winning TD pass. As it is, the Falcons are minus-50 in point differential, worse than every NFC team except Washington (-78). That’s 12 points worse than the Cardinals, who the Falcons play on Sunday in Phoenix.
Quinn’s defense ranks next-to-last in points allowed behind the Dolphins, who are tanking. Special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica’s units have been plagued by penalties, a blocked punt and poor production on returns (the Texans correctly determined the Falcons could do nothing with kickoffs and so didn’t even try for touchbacks). Dirk Koetter’s offense is ranked No. 21 in points, two spots better than Steven Sarkisian’s group in 2018.
Blank expressed his disappointment with all of this. He said Quinn and his staff are working hard to find solutions. Blank offered public support of Quinn and his staff, which he should do up until the moment he decides he needs a new staff.
Blank has more information than anyone about the Falcons football operations. I’m just not sure he knows how to parse it all. After all, Blank co-signed Quinn’s staff restructuring plan based on his head coach’s past performance and we see how that’s turning out.
The Falcons really are the worst team in the NFC South
It can be hard to wrap your head around it because you see the names. A team with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Grady Jarrett, et al surely must be this bad. But the Falcons really are this bad. They are the worst team in the division by a decent margin.
The third-place Buccaneers (2-3) have been outscored by one point and own two road victories (at Panthers and Rams). They were competitive against the Saints (4-1) who, by the way, are winning with backup QB Teddy Bridgewater. The Panthers (3-2) are plus-22 in point differential and, oh yeah, have won three straight games with Kyle Allen at QB.
The Falcons have no worse than the second-best talent in the division. They likely have the most talent for as long as Saints QB Drew Brees is sidelined. Yet they are the worst team in the South. Worse for the Falcons, after a toss-up game at Arizona, they are likely to be underdogs in their next three games: vs Rams, vs. Seahawks and at Saints.
Florida’s defense is legit
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm opened up the offense at Tennessee. Well, at least he did until the Bulldogs got a lead and ground the Vols down on the ground. The Bulldogs needed to make a few plays downfield to loosen up Tennessee’s defense. They are going to need to do the same thing against Florida, which is playing elite defense in coordinator Todd Grantham’s second season.
If there is a weakness for the Florida’s defense, it seemed to be in the secondary. But the Gators intercepted Auburn freshman Bo Nix three times on Saturday. Florida’s offense still is limited but managed to score 24 points against Auburn despite losing three fumbles.
The Bulldogs can’t look ahead to Florida. The rest of us can safely do so. The Bulldogs are going to beat South Carolina and Kentucky, take a weekend off and then head to Jacksonville to face a good Gators defense.
The Bulldogs should beat Florida. ESPN’s FPI gives them a 71 percent chance of doing so. It’s one thing for the Gators to rattle a freshman QB in The Swamp. It will be a lot harder to get to Fromm on a neutral field, especially if he keeps making downfield throws.
Missouri isn’t as bad as it seemed
Missouri may not be a walkover for the Bulldogs, after all. The Tigers have quietly recovered from an ugly loss at Wyoming in the opener (still puzzled why they would even schedule that game). The Tigers have won four straight home games since then by an average score of 41-8.
It looked like Missouri’s season might be wrecked when QB Kelly Bryant suffered a knee injury on a cheap shot by a Troy defender. But a team spokesman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Bryant has a sprain and is expected to practice this week. Bryant is producing even better for Missouri than he did at Clemson: 8.6 yards per pass attempt, 11 TDs and three picks.
However, star linebacker Cale Garrett will have surgery for a torn pectoral tendon. That almost surely rules him out for the No. 9 game at Georgia. His loss is a big blow to Missouri’s defense, which is ranked No. 7 in SP+.
My Weekend Predictions went 6-6
I’m ashamed that I picked against Georgia State as home ‘dogs. The Panthers don’t have much of a defense, but their offense is good. The Panthers put up a record 722 yards against Arkansas State, which is 66 more than the Red Wolves surrendered to Georgia. (Yes, the Bulldogs throttled down with a big lead, but still.)
I correctly foresaw that Houston’s offense would find its footing against the Falcons. I still have no idea what to make of Tech, which didn’t cover against North Carolina as home ‘dogs.
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