1. Arthur Blank has a marketing problem: It’s clear few fans in Atlanta have been caught up “NFC South First Place” fever. There were an estimated 30,000 Pittsburgh Steelers fans in the Georgia Dome Sunday. That can only happen if a large number of Falcons fans are selling their season tickets. Obviously, few teams in pro sports have national fan bases as large as the Steelers, so Sunday was an extreme example. But the game still illustrates how local fans checked long ago and have lost faith in this team and, we can assume, this regime. Above all else, that’s why Blank will make significant changes – whether it’s just with the team’s coaching staff (Mike Smith, assistants) or also in the front office (general manager Thomas Dimitroff, scouts). Above all else, Blank is businessman.
2. Wondering about Julio Jones: He’s a great player. Those who doubt that are doing so largely because they want to use, “The Trade,” as a lightning rod for what’s wrong this team. (I’m not going down the road right now.) But there’s no question Jones has had problems staying healthy. He missed three starts his rookie season, 11 last year, Sunday with a hip injury and it’s reasonable to wonder about his status this week. Jones is tough, he plays through pain, but that’s a difficult injury for any athlete, let alone a wide receiver who relies on his speed, quickness and cutting ability. Even if Jones tries to play against New Orleans, his effectiveness may be diminished. Because Falcons-Saints games often come down to one play, that’s a big injury.
3. Matt Ryan hasn’t rescued team: It’s true that quarterbacks usually get too much blame and too much credit. It’s also true that Ryan’s pick six against the Steelers, which ultimately proved to be the difference in the game, might have been partially the fault of wide receiver Harry Douglas for turning up field on his route. But Ryan is supposed to be the leader of this team and he needs to be the difference maker (in a good way). He has struggled with accuracy at times, even on some completions. He hasn’t made a lot of mistakes but the ones he has made have been significant. He’s also ultimately responsible for getting the offense in the end zone. Twice against the Steelers, the Falcons twice had to settle for field goals despite drives of 70 and 75 yards (that ended at the Steelers’ 10 and 4, respectively). And yes, Julio Jones would have helped.
4. Yes, sacks matter: The Falcons had one Sunday. They seldom got pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. Their 16 sacks rank at the bottom of the league. Twenty teams have at least double that total, and Buffalo (49), Philadelphia (47) and Baltimore (45) seemingly are playing in another league.
5. Falcons-Saints, an historical perspective: The Falcons won the season opener at the Georgia Dome, 37-34 in overtime. What are their chances of winning again Sunday? For what it’s worth, they haven’t swept a season series from the Saints since 2005 (34-31 in San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina; 36-17 in the Georgia Dome). The last time: They swept a series that included a win in the Superdome was 2002 (37-35 in New Orleans; 24-21 in Atlanta).