Jeff Schultz

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

Overreaction Monday: Richt's ploy, Falcons' bye, Braves' salary dump


Georgia won, Georgia Tech lost, the Falcons were off – well-timed – and the Braves may be two moves away from being dropped to Double-A. Welcome back to Overreaction Monday.

GEORGIA

Skinny: 7-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC (second place in East Division). Last week: Defeated Auburn 20-13. This week: Home against Georgia Southern.

Overreaction narrative: “We won! We’re fixed! And Mark Richt visited Jacob Eason! Take that, haters!”

Reality check: Slow your roll, fanboy. Auburn kinda stinks this season, but it was coming off a good win at Texas A&M and was playing at home, so in that sense what the Bulldogs did Saturday was impressive. But the big picture hasn’t changed. Georgia is still destined for a second- or third-tier bowl. (In ESPN’s bowl projections , former AJC comrade Mark Schlabach has the Dogs going to the Outback Bowl against Michigan, which would be good. Brett McMurphy has them going to the Liberty Bowl against Kansas State, which would be bad.) Either way (once more, with feeling): Georgia's season was define by its losses to  Alabama, Tennessee and Florida and its failure to win the SEC East since 2012.

But there were two noteworthy things to come out of the weekend: 1) The continued improvement of the defense under Jeremy Pruitt, even against the backdrop of rumors that he is central to dysfunction and disharmony on the coaching staff; 2) Coach Mark Richt’s late decision to hop a flight to Washington state to meet with the family of touted recruit Jacob Eason, have breakfast with the quarterback Sunday morning and then send out a picture of the two sitting together in a diner.

Now, it's possible Richt merely wanted to ease concerns with the family and the player amid speculation the coach might be fired. Or maybe he just wanted to attempt to change the narrative from, “What a disappointing season,” to, “We’re going to be awesome next season.” But let me offer this third possibility: Richt is sending a message to athletic director Greg McGarity and president Jere Morehead that goes something like this: “See this recruit? He likes me. And if you want me gone, you’re going to have to fire me, because I'm not resigning.” You could say it’s an attempted power play.

Will it work? My guess is: No. McGarity and Morehead will still make their decision regardless of this, which is not to say which way they're leaning because I honestly don't know. The decision could be based on Richt's recent resume and/or what big-money boosters think as much as the potential of the future, which offers no guarantee. And if Richt believes that a picture with next year’s hot recruit is going to appease the masses, he’s mistaken.

The Falcons' red zone offense undeer coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Matt Ryan has fizzled in the last three games. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

FALCONS:

Skinny: 6-3 (second in NFC South). Last week: Bye. Next week: Home against Indianapolis.

Overreaction narrative: “Why give a week off to a team that has lost three of its last four games?”

Reality check: I asked coach Dan Quinn that question Monday. With his players not finishing as he would like, wouldn’t it make sense to keep them around for at least a few days to go over some things during the bye weeks. Quinn admitted he was “disappointed” by the Falcons’ play and thought about changing his plan to give players the entire week off. “But as tempting as that was, I decided to stick with the process.” He felt too many players were banged up and needed the rest, both physically and mentally.

I suppose a case could be made that coaches needed to work the bye week more than the players. They did for a few days early in the week. The two biggest things that need fixing: Get Roddy White more involved in the offense and improve red zone production – and a case could be made that fixing one may help the other. The Falcons had 10 touchdowns in 13 red zone possessions (76.9 percent) in the first four games and were 16 for 22 (72.7 percent) in the first six games. But in the last three games -- a 10-7 win over Tennessee and losses to Tampa Bay (23-20) and San Francisco (17-16) – the Falcons reached the end zone only four times in 11 possessions (36.4 percent). The breakdown: four field goals, three turnovers and four touchdowns. There could be a number of reasons why red zone production might decrease but one of the biggest is the defense knowing what’s coming. So the focus is on offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to find some pages in the playbook that he’s ignored. Hello, Roddy?

Braves general manager John Coppolella may be preparing for another salary dump by dealing Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran or someone else. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

BRAVES

Skinny: Last season: 67-95, the third worst record in the majors. Next season: Same?

Overreaction narrative: “They traded Andrelton Simmons. It’s clear they don’t care about this team in 2016.”

Reality check: This weekly blog has been reserved for football but I thought we’d branch out to baseball this week, given the Braves’ seem intent and removing all remaining interest in next season’s team. As I wrote the other day, the trading of Simmons for two pitching prospects and 31-year-old Erick Aybar made no sense on several levels. The Braves needed his defense because they're not that great at anything else. He's arguably the game’s best defensive player and the Braves had him under contract for five more seasons. Again: Five. Don't pay attention to the spin. It's clear that not only do they not want to spend money, they're slashing payroll again, possibly because they anticipate a huge attendance drop next season and they're trying to keep the bottom line happy for Liberty Media. Now comes one from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that the team is "shopping everyone owed money." That includes first baseman Freddie Freeman (surprise), the team's best player, starting pitcher Julio Teheran (not a shock) and outfielders Nick Markakis (no surprise) and Cameron Maybin (expected). So are you ready to watch a minor-league team again next season? I don't doubt that general manager John Coppolella, under the watch of president John Hart, thinks he's making the right moves for the future of the franchise. But if there was some sense of logic to most of last season's exits -- Jason Heyward and Justin Upton were entering the final year of their respective contracts, Evan Gattis was not viewed as the team's everyday catcher and the Braves wanted to make room for Christian Bethancourt -- two major moves since have not made sense: The trades of Simmons and pitcher Alex Wood. Bottom line: This is not a team worth watching.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson saw his offense struggle after a fast start against Virginia Tech, including fumbling three times. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

GEORGIA TECH

Skinny: 3-7 overall, 1-6 in the ACC (seventh place in Coastal Division). Last week: Lost to Virginia Tech 23-21. This week: at Miami.

Overreaction narrative: “We’ve given up.”

Reality check: “Giving up” suggests Tech was that good to begin with. I’ve admitted I vastly overrated this team. What I didn’t expect was: The number of dumb mistakes and turnovers this team would have, their weaknesses on both offensive and defensive lines and the regression of quarterback Justin Thomas. Tech led 14-0 in the first quarter and 21-14 in the third quarter after an interception return, but failed to score on its last eight offensive possessions: Three fumbles, four punts, downs. The days of Paul Johnson’s offense putting up video-game like scores are few and far between now. The Jackets had a nice comeback season a year ago (11-3, 6-2) but Johnson, who acknowledges, “I’ve never had a team like this,” needs to figure something out if Tech is going to finish the season on a high note. It has games remaining against Miami and Georgia.


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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.