Time for the Atlanta Falcons in our tour of team-by-team mailbags.
Eli in Los Angeles writes: What's impressed me most about this Falcon team is the defense. Although I know they allow too much yardage, they have 6 picks, 7 sacks, and are 30% on third downs. Do you see the massive improvement that I am?
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I do. The Falcons worked on their defense in the offseason, signing cornerback Dunta Robinson and drafting linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and Corey Peters. They also got William Moore and Peria Jerry back after both missed most of their rookie season with injuries. All that has made a big difference. The Falcons are much faster and more aggressive on defense. I think that’s largely because they finally have the personnel in place to play the type of defense Mike Smith wants.
Jeff in Charleston, S.C. writes: That is certainly disheartening news hearing about the ankle injury to Sean Weatherspoon. After being relieved that the carting off the field was due to cramping, now we hear that there is a legitimate injury. What is your take on this? I know Smith is always vague on injuries, but do you think there is any reason to believe Spoon won’t play this weekend in order to make sure he is healthy down the stretch?
Pat Yasinskas: Like you said, Smith is vague on injuries, but he did say he hopes Weatherspoon can return to practice this week. That was encouraging and we’ll get an update on Atlanta’s injury report later this afternoon. I know the Falcons would like to have Weatherspoon out there. But it’s not a dire situation if he’s not ready. Stephan Nicholas is his backup and Nicholas was a starter last season. Nicholas doesn’t have Weatherspoon’s upside, but he’s still a decent player who could start for some teams. It’s nice when you’ve got depth like that.
David in Dacula, Ga., writes: I heard Jamie Dukes say that Matt Ryan was not a great QB but the Falcons were a good team -- is that a fair assessment? I think he is much better than he gives him credit [for]. He is a great leader and passer and runs the offense very well. Are these not the things that make a great QB?
Pat Yasinskas: I don’t know exactly what qualifies a quarterback as elite or great. But Ryan went into the Superdome and beat the defending Super Bowl champions. I think that says a lot. Maybe Ryan’s not in the Tom Brady/Drew Brees/Peyton Manning category yet. But I think he’s already a very good quarterback and will at least be that for a very long time. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if Ryan someday definitively joins the list of elite quarterbacks.
Micky in Leitchfield, Ky., writes: Do you think William Moore will keep the starting job once Erik Coleman is able to return?
Pat Yasinskas: Just a guess here because Smith isn’t going to tip his hand about strategy. But I think Moore continues to start. The Falcons weren’t thrilled with Coleman’s play last season. They believe Moore has lots of upside and I think they’re going to give him the chance to show it.
Nate in Orlando writes: I'm concerned with the upcoming Falcons game. They are playing the winless 49er's, who may have a chip on their shoulder. They have something to prove especially after the thumping the Birds gave them last year. Any chance at all that Atlanta is overlooking what may be a really tough game?
Pat Yasinskas: Yep, this one has some elements of the old “trap’’ game and I’m sure the Falcons are a little drained after the New Orleans game. But playing at home should help and the Falcons also have the momentum really rolling right now. And I’m pretty sure that Smith, like any coach in his position, has spent a good part of the week reminding his team to focus on San Francisco.