Don't Look Past the Atlanta Falcons

Don't Look Past the Atlanta Falcons

While the Eagles stormed through St. Louis with relative ease, another post-season favorite from the NFC got their butts kicked on Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons failed spectacularly in a 30-12 road loss against the Chicago Bears, a game summed up quite succinctly in one awful play where quarterback Matt Ryan dropped back to pass, desperately ran around in a circle to escape the pressure, then inexplicably fumbled the ball before anybody even touched him.

It just so happens the Falcons are this Sunday's opponent, in a Sunday Night game where Michael Vick will make his triumphant return to Atlanta. Considering how far on either side of the spectrum both teams fell in Week 1, it might be tempting to write off the Falcons and crown the Eagles as a sure thing to reach 2-0. That would be a mistake.

I was a little perplexed as to how the Bears could so thoroughly embarrass a team that went 13-3 last season, then made significant improvements over the off-season. Funny little aside, it turns out there is a learning curve to watching eight televisions. Last year, I could comfortably tune in to four or more games at a time, but on Sunday I focused on the Birds, a little overwhelmed in my first trip back to Football Central.

In short, I didn't see much of the Falcons at all. However, Bill Barnwell summed up their effort pretty well in his Week 1 Review for Grantland:

The game turned on fumbles. There were five of them, and wouldn't you know — Chicago recovered all five. These weren't meaningless fumbles at the end of the game, either. Devin Hester fumbled on his own 25-yard line during the second play from scrimmage and recovered it. Hester then muffed a punt in the second quarter that would have given the Falcons the ball at midfield. After a Falcons drive at the end of the first quarter was ended in Bears territory by a Michael Turner fumble, the Bears broke the game open with a stripsack of Matt Ryan on Atlanta's second drive of the second half. Brian Urlacher picked up the fumble and took it to the house for a 30-6 lead. The only fumble that really came in garbage time was when Jay Cutler dropped one on his own 22-yard line with 5:31 left, and even that would have given the Falcons a faint glimmer of hope.

If the Falcons recover even one of the first three fumbles, the entire complexion of the game changes. The Falcons were forced to throw for most of the second half and faced an excellent Bears pass rush that teed off on Ryan. The Falcons star was sacked five times on Sunday after taking just 23 sacks during the entire 2010 season, and four of those sacks came during the second half, when there was no threat of a run game. Atlanta was also without center Todd McClure, who makes the line calls and adjusts the protections along with Ryan, and right guard Garrett Reynolds was making both his first NFL start and his first NFL appearance since December 2009.

So in other words, everything that could have gone wrong, did. Any club could have taken advantage in a similar situation. The fact that it was the opportunistic Bears didn't help matters.

Chances are Atlanta won't gift-wrap two in a row, and there are plenty of reasons to believe they can compete with the Birds.

1. The Georgia Dome
Over the past three seasons, including playoffs, the Falcons are 20-5 in their home building. They went 7-1 in the regular season in '08 and 2010. Even though there will be a large contingent of fans who are there to cheer on Vick, who is still considered a hero by many in that region, I don't foresee this swinging the home field advantage in the Eagles' favor.

2. Running Game
The Eagles were ripped for 169 yards by backs on Sunday, good for 4.8 yards per carry. In Chicago, Michael Turner made the most of his limited opportunities, rushing for 100 yards on 10 attempts. He's one of the toughest players to bring down in the league, and has big play potential once he gets to the second level, which the Rams were able to do with some frequency.

3. Passing Game
Unlike St. Louis, even if the Falcons fall behind, they have comeback ability. The Rams receivers looked completely inept, but Atlanta has one of the most complete groups in the NFL, a collection of reliable veterans who won't likely drop every pass thrown their way, a promising speedster who can stretch the field, and a Pro Bowl quarterback who can make all the throws. (We'll go more in-depth on this group in our upcoming Opposition Reports)

There's one more factor I'm not sure how you would classify or quantify, but Atlanta has something to prove on Sunday. The fact that the Bears beat them so handily does not make the Eagles' job any easier. They will be dealing with an angry, focused bunch who are determined to erase the memory of the Week 1 debacle, and know a win against Philadelphia will put them right back on the map.

Yep, this is the first big game of the young 2011 season, and you better believe it's gonna be a test.

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid will have to hope NBA coaches trust the process.

Embiid on Thursday was not named a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler locked in the three Eastern Conference frontcourt spots. Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan rounded out the backcourt.

James (25.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists) and Antetokounmpo (23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists) were locks as starters. That left Butler, Kevin Love and Embiid as the next in contention. Butler is a two-time All-Star averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 36.8 minutes for the 21-22 Bulls. Love is posting 20.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 31.6 minutes per game on the Eastern Conference-leading, 29-11 Cavaliers.

The Western Conference starting spots went to Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis. 

The voting was made up of fan votes (50 percent), player votes (25 percent) and media votes (25 percent). Embiid has a chance to be voted in by the NBA coaches, whose reserve selections will be announced on Jan. 26. 

Embiid would have been named a starter had the results been based on fan voting (50 percent). He finished third ahead of Love and Butler.

Embiid was in the running for a starting role during a breakout rookie season. He is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. Even though his playing time is capped at 28 minutes, he ranks seventh among all players in scoring per 48 minutes. He is eighth overall in free throw attempts per game (7.9) and 10th in those made (6.2).

Embiid had obstacles, though, when it came to the voting: rookie status, 28-minute restriction, limited games played (29) because of his allocated workload, and the Sixers’ record.

Even though the All-Star Game highlights individual achievements, team record is often taken into consideration. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine games (see story), but still stand well below .500 at 14-26.

When it came to the players’ vote, it is hard for a rookie who hasn’t even competed against every team in the league to make a strong enough impression for another player to influence their perception of the top talent. Embiid finished outside of the top five in the players' vote, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Butler, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. Meanwhile, the Sixers' big man finished fifth in the media vote.

Embiid and the Sixers were very active in pushing for the fan votes. Embiid received the social media support of celebrities including Triple H, Kevin Hart and MLB MVP Mike Trout, among others. The Sixers promoted Embiid through a Shirley Temple campaign based on his favorite drink.

Embiid picked up major steam in the last week of voting. He had trailed Love by 16,028 fan votes in the second returns on Jan. 12.

He took to Twitter to express his gratitude.

Chip Kelly still jobless after swinging and missing with Jaguars

Chip Kelly still jobless after swinging and missing with Jaguars

Chip Kelly's job search continues.

The beloved (sarcasm) former Eagles head coach reportedly interviewed for the Jaguars' offensive coordinator opening. However, on Wednesday night, Jacksonville announced it was retaining Nathaniel Hackett as its OC.

“We are excited to announce Nathaniel Hackett as our offensive coordinator and he will immediately be tasked with installing and implementing our offense this offseason,” Jaguars new head coach Doug Marrone said in a statement from the team. “I have had the pleasure of working with Nathaniel for seven consecutive seasons and know firsthand how knowledgeable and passionate he is about winning.”

So, Kelly swung and miss twice on the Jaguars, as he reportedly interviewed for Jacksonville's head coaching job, as well.

"I’m not going to close the door on any opportunity, but I have to be very smart in what I do next,” Kelly said, via CSNBayArea.com, two days after his firing as 49ers head coach. “I don’t have to take anything, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I need to make sure that I’m in the right situation.

“I don’t know what the future holds. I’ll do my due diligence. I’m not going to coach just to coach.”

Kelly's decline is staggering, even if you saw it coming.

Look at this NFL coaching history ...

With Eagles in 2013: 10-6, wild-card playoff berth
With Eagles in 2014: 10-6, missed playoffs
With Eagles in 2015: 6-9, fired before final regular-season game
With 49ers in 2016: 2-14, fired after regular season

Who knows what's next for the Chipper?