The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov talk about the Falcons two-week trip out west, the impact of losing LB Sean Weatherspoon and how to attack Denver’s vaunted defense on Sunday.
Good morning. The Cover 9@9 is a weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, published at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning.
1. Ryan for MVP. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, after passing for a franchise-record 503 yards against the Panthers, has jumped out as the early front-runner to win the league's most valuable player award.
However, New England quarterback Tom Brady returns from his deflategate suspension this week.
“I would say we are just getting started, honestly,” Falcon coach Dan Quinn said when asked if he thought Ryan was the MVP so far. “That’s no deflection towards Matt or Cris (Collinsworth’s) comment, but we’re just through the first quarter of the season. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Making Ryan the MVP of the first quarter is kind of like Buffalo coach Rex Ryan declaring the Bills the offseason winners. Both are nice, but they don’t count for much.
“We’ve got a lot of work to improve upon and those discussions are better said at the end of the season not at the beginning of them in my opinion,” Quinn said.
2. Hawk Time. That’s what used to call it in when boxer Aaron Pryor was about to take the ring.
It was “Hawk Time.”
With Sean Weatherspoon out for the season and Paul Worrilow (groin), De’Vondre Campbell (ankle) and Deion Jones (calf) all injured, the Falcons signed veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk to a one-year contract on Tuesday.
To make room for Hawk, the Falcons released outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield. The team also placed Weatherspoon on injured reserve.
Schofield was signed Sept. 22 after the injuries to Campbell and Worrilow. He played 14 defensive snaps and 38 special teams snaps in games against the Saints and Panthers.
Weatherspoon was injured in the 48-33 win over the Panthers on Sunday.
Hawk, who’s 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, was the fifth overall pick of the 2006 draft out of Ohio State.
He played weakside and middle linebacker over nine seasons with the Packers. Hawk played with the Bengals last season and started 11 of 16 games.
Hawk, 32, has played in 158 games with 147 starts in the NFL. He has 644 solo tackles and 306 assists over his career.
Hawk also has 20 sacks, three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and nine interceptions.
He helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers and was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
In five of his seasons with the Packers, he led the team in tackles.
3. Practice squad. Also, the Falcons signed punter Michael Palardy to the practice squad and released linebacker David Tull.
Palardy was originally signed by the Oakland Raiders as a undrafted free agent from Tennessee. He was recently with the Cleveland Browns.
In addition to working out Hawk and Palardy, the Falcons held workouts with kicker Mike Meyer (Iowa) and linebacker Jayson DiManche (Southern Illinois).
4. Collectible card. Panini America released a special set of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones dual trading cards on PaniniInstant.com to commemorate the moment on Oct. 2nd when the duo connected on 300 yards through the air.
This special trading card is part of the Panini Instant collection, which exists to commemorate milestones and achievements in real-time so fans don’t have to wait months (or even seasons) to capture their favorite moments.
5. Moms clinic. Over 250 Moms have registered for the last Atlanta Falcons Moms Clinic of the Fall which will take place today at South Cobb High School in Austell. The event is designed to educate and inform Moms about football safety. Moms will participate in a forum on football safety, proper equipment fitting, concussion awareness, proper tackling techniques and information on supplements.
6. Road trip. The Falcons are getting ready for a road trip. After playing in Denver, they’ll fly to Seattle and practice there for a week leading up to the Sunday, Oct. 16 game. They are set to practice at the University of Washington.
“As we went through the offseason, we knew we were going to be playing the AFC West and the NFC West so we thought if we had the opportunity, I know Denver’s not on the West coast, but trips we would call out West, we want to do one of those back-to-back,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “You can request that through the league, which we did. You don’t know which one you’re going to get but when we had the opportunity to do that I thought man it came at a great time for us, right at the beginning of the season for our team to spend a whole week together out on the road. I’m really pumped for these guys to have the opportunity to do that.”
7. Key Matchups. Here are the three key matchups for Sunday's game:
Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Broncos CB Aqib Talib: Jones had 300 yards receiving last week. Jones was nearly unstoppable against Carolina, who left him in one-on-one coverage. Falcons wide receiver coach Raheem Morris can give Jones insight into Talib, who played for him in Tampa Bay. Talib has three interceptions and has returned one for a touchdown.
Falcons SS Keanu Neal vs. Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman. Neal was the primary defender against Carolina Pro Bowler Greg Olsen last week. He beat Neal for a touchdown and two-point conversion in the fourth quarter but Neal held Olsen in check over the first three periods. John Phillips, a blocker, started last week against the Bucs. Heuerman, a rookie from Ohio State, has two catches for 48 yards.
Falcons CB Desmond Trufant vs. Broncos WR Dem
aryius Thomas: Trufant has had strong games against New Orleans’ Brandon Cooks and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin in back-to-back games. The dynamic Thomas caught six of seven targets for 94 yards in the win over the Bucs. Thomas, who played at Georgia Tech, has 21 catches for 332 yards and two touchdowns.
Falcons LT Ryan Schraeder vs. Broncos LB Von Miller. Miller has 5.5 sacks.
8. Book released. Jimmy Cribb, the Atlanta Falcons’ team photographer since 1980, has released his book “You’ll Never Get in the Game” with Cribb and author/screenwriter/sports writer George Henry. You can order the book at: JimmyCribbBook.com
9. Depth chart. We updated the depth chart since it was released before A.J. Hawk was offcially signed. We added Hawk, released Schofield and moved Weatherspoon to injured reserve.
WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 14 Eric Weems
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 68 Mike Person
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 65 Chris Chester, 71 Wes Schweitzer
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Tom Compton
TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 19 Aldrick Robinson, 18 Taylor Gabriel
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 93 Dwight Freeney
DT 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 90 Derrick Shelby
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw
DE 94 Tyson Jackson, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 41 Philip Wheeler
LB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Paul Worrilow, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 54 A.J. Hawk
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 41 Philip Wheeler, 54 A.J. Hawk
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 32 Jalen Collins
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole
S 37 Ricardo Allen 27, Robenson Therezie
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 38 Dashon Goldson
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 26 Tevin Coleman, 14 Eric Weems
PR 14 Eric Weems, 16 Justin Hardy
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24