Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Overreaction Monday: Everybody wins (but everybody has issues)


Back home from “Georgia Takeover Weekend” in Chicago and South Bend, Ind.

I’ve never seen anything like Saturday, when half of Notre Dame’s stadium was filled with Bulldogs’ fans for an important early season games, and the Falcons similarly had thousands of fans at Sunday’s game over the Bears. It was a rare nirvana weekend for Atlanta sports fans: The Falcons, Dogs and Georgia Tech all won. But it wasn’t perfect. Which leads me to bring back the panic. It’s time again for Overreaction Monday:

Falcons

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was happy his team won the opener but he'll be happier when his team' running game gets in gear. (AP photo)

What happened: They opened the season with a 23-17 win over the Chicago Bears.

Next game: Home against Green Bay.

Panic narrative(s): “Steve Sarkisian is overmatched! The defense still stinks! Wes Schweitzer is a mess!”

Reality check: Let’s start with the offense, because that was the aspect about Sunday’s game that probably jolted most. The Falcons averaged nearly 34 points per game last season and scored 23 or less only twice last season (23-16 win over Denver; 24-15 loss at Philadelphia). The team’s biggest change is Sarkisian is now the offensive coordinator, not Kyle Shanahan. But to judge Sarkisian on one game is silly (just as judging Shanahan on the entire underwhelming 2015 season was premature). The Falcons’ biggest problem against the Bears was that their offensive line had a poor day against Chicago’s front seven. They couldn’t run the ball. Totals: 64 yards, 2.8 per carry, with Matt Ryan having a longer gain (13 yards) than either Devonta Freeman (6) or Tevin Coleman (7). Was Schweitzer’s start concerning? Absolutely. He won the starting right guard job but struggled much of the day. But I doubt coaches will make a change after one game, especially since Schweitzer beat out Ben Garland for the job.

On the defense: The unit actually played well most of the game and showed an effective and balanced pass rush. Brooks Reed had two sacks, Vic Beasley and Brian Poole on a blitz each had one. The Falcons were credited with 10 “quarterback hits” against the Bears’ Mike Glennon. They’ll take that. But when Chicago opened up the attack after the Falcons took a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter, the defense didn’t respond well. The Bears are not expected to have one of the NFL’s better offenses this season but their last two possessions went for 75 yards and a touchdown, and 68 yards and a near score (they reached the Falcons’ five-yard line before a fourth-down sack by Reed). That was a bad sign, especially for those who will flashback to the Super Bowl collapse. The other blemish on the day: two missed tackles by Reed and Deion Jones on a 46-yard run by Tarik Cohen that led to Chicago’s first touchdown.

Georgia

Georgia coach Kirby Smart watches from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. Georgia won 20-19. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

What happened: The Bulldogs, starting freshman Jake Froom at quarterback, rallied to win at Notre Dame 20-19 in their first real rest of the season.

Next game: Home against Samford.

Panic narrative(s): “We can’t win the SEC East with this offense!”

Reality check: Actually, they can. It’s true that the Dogs don’t have a wide margin for error and therefore probably can’t afford to have two turnovers by the quarterback every game (Fromm had a fumble on a botched handoff, which led to a Notre Dame touchdown, and an interception). But it was a positive sign that Fromm, while obviously committing several “freshman” mistakes, never seemed panicked or overwhelmed by the moment. The bigger issue is the youth across the offensive line, which needs to continue to improve. But Georgia can win a lot of games like this with defense. By far the most encouraging sign from Saturday was the play of Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, who combined for two sacks, four quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 13 tackles and two and a half tackles for loss. Defense was expected to be a strength and there’s no reason the team can’t win a number of grind-it-out, low-scoring games in the East Division.

Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall tosses the ball back on an option play against Jacksonville State Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

What happened: They rebounded from a tough double-overtime loss to Tennessee to easily beat Jacksonville State 37-10.

Next game: at Central Florida.

Panic narrative(s): “Forget a win over an FCS school. The defense needs to stop somebody that matters.”

Reality check: Well, yeah. The good -- make that the really good -- about Georgia Tech is that despite losing its starting quarterback (Justin Thomas) to graduation and dismissing running back Dedrick Mills, the offense continues to produce: 78 points and 977 yards in two games. Credit some terrific play by new quarterback TaQuon Marshall. But offense has seldom been the problem during the Paul Johnson regime. Their season will be defined by whether they can play better defensively than they did in the second half and overtime against Tennessee, a game that should have gone down as a win. While a fumble by the Jackets' J.J. Green opened the door to a Tennessee comeback in regulation and the overtime, it was the defense that collapsed. Tech led 21-7 early in the second quarter. The Volunteers failed to score on their first possession of the second half but then scored touchdowns on five of their next six possessions (including the two overtimes). Tech's defense played more aggressively against Jacksonville State, using more blitzes and accounting for more tackles for loss and three turnover. But let's be real: This was a FCS opponent. They'll have a tougher test Saturday at Central Florida, which should be rested because its game against Memphis Saturday was canceled.

Revisiting the weekend

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.