Mailbag: Atlanta edition
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Our next stop in the team-by-team mailbag tour is Atlanta. By the way, after careful consideration of all the NFC South playoff scenarios, the boys in Bristol and I decided that I'll be in Atlanta on Sunday to cover the Falcons against the Rams, while monitoring the playoff developments for the Bucs and Panthers.
Joseph Saul, Marietta, Ga, writes: Dear Pat, The Falcons Have had an unbelievable season. The offense is playing at a championship level, the defense is making plays when they need to, but not much has been said about the special teams. Our special teams are helping us more than anyone can think. Our punt team, led by Michael Koenen, is going to be very close to setting the record for the fewest return yards in a season, which is a very remarkable feat. He also has punted 59 times with 25 falling inside the 20 yard line. Our punt return team is now doing great with rookie Harry Douglas now returning, ironically from the University of Louisville. We finally started the season with a reliable kicker in Jason Elam. He has kicked 28 for 30 this season. Everything seems to be going our way in Atlanta this year!
Pat Yasinskas: Glad you brought that up because the special teams (understandably) have been overshadowed by the great seasons of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White. Michael Koenen is one of the league's most underrated punters. He's very consistent and also is a big help on kickoffs and as the holder. Harry Douglas has been very good since taking over as the return man (I also like him as a receiver) and Jason Elam's long been one of the best kickers in the league.
Zach in Atlanta writes: Did someone show Matt Ryan the video of Sage Rosenfels fumbling away a Texans win by trying to leap for a first down? If not, someone should. I love Matt Ryan, but never do that again. I could see a fumble coming as soon as he left his feet. Luckily, the Vikings couldn't hold onto the ball and it turned out alright. But I'd like some assurance that he's never going to do that again. Don't leave your feet, Matt!
Pat Yasinskas: I'm going to guess here and say Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey probably had a conversation with Ryan and gave him some similar advice.
David in Pendleton, OR, writes: Hey Pat I was wondering what you think the chances of the Falcons winning the division now that Carolina has lost at the Meadowlands?
Pat Yasinskas: I stopped doubting that anything is possible for the Falcons a month or two ago. They need to win Sunday against the Rams and root for Carolina to get knocked off by the Saints.
Brendan in Athens, GA, writes: Falcons for 2nd seed? You know 4 days ago I looked at the scenario of us clinching playoffs today. Tampa Bay lose to San Diego and Dallas lose to Ravens. It didn't seem too likely, though it was possible. Now I'm looking at the next scenario. Carolina lose on the road to the Giants and on the road to the Saints and the Falcons beat the Rams, and we are the second seed. Once again the scenario requires a lot of things out of our hands, but it is out there and it doesn't require any massive upset, I hadn't seen it mentioned anywhere yet though so wanted to make sure my math wasn't wrong. (tiebreaks should drop to conference record which we would beat them at if they lost out and we won) Could the streak of worst to first in the NFC South continue? Anyways, thanks for the NFC South coverage this year. Having an extra source of information/attention paid to my Falcons this year has been fantastic. Storylines tend to focus on the biggest stories so having someone on NFC South only helped.
Pat Yasinskas: Oh, yes, your math is right. Falcons need a win and a Carolina loss, but the division title and the No. 2 seed definitely are possibilities. Who would have thought that at the start of the season?
Matt in Athens, GA, writes: Pat, you have to aaddress this situation: I'm watching the Falcons - Vikings game, with the Falcons winning, but something that has been apparent for years to me should now be apparent to anyone with eyes (except the Atlanta coaching staff): Keith Brooking is done. I mean, D-U-N. Every big play the Vikings have had have been at his expense. Runnings backs in the flat or over the middle. Tight ends up the seem. Why isn't Stephen Nicholas playing in his place, at least in the passing situations? Brooking lost more than just a step at least a couple of years ago, yet the last three coaching staffs refuse to admit this. He should never play on 3rd and long, and to me, he looks like a liability on a 3rd and short, too. I know the Falcons are going to dump him in the off season, but he is killing the team right now, and is a major reason why the defense was unable to stop the Saints two weeks ago, or beat the Eagles among other teams. I think a REAL Will LB now tops the Falcons draft / free agent needs.
Pat Yasinskas: I've been hearing similar gripes about Keith Brooking from Atlanta fans all year and there's no doubt he's lost a step. But I watched him closely in the Tampa Bay game a few weeks ago and thought he had a very strong game. It was his best of the year and he still can make plays at times. But the Falcons know this is an issue and Brooking has admitted he knows he's near the end of his career. In fact, I expect some major changes at both outside linebacker spots in the offseason. Michael Boley, who can become a free agent, has been benched at times because of spotty play against the run. I think the Falcons will be looking hard for linebackers in free agency and the draft.
Brandon in Boise writes: Hey Pat, Im new to this so you dont know me like you do the other guys. But Im 16 and living in Boise Idaho but I grew up in Atlanta and a HUGE Atlanta fan, now, granted I dont remember Chris Chandler, so the only actual QB that I knew was Vick. On to my question.. Do you think Matt Ryan is actually the QB of the future for Atlanta, or will this just be another phase and a heart-break that we Falcon fans are unfortunately so used too.
Pat Yasinskas: Trust me on this one, Matt Ryan is the quarterback of the future for the Falcons. He's going to be with them for a very long time and make people forget Michael Vick and Chris Chandler. In fact, I think Ryan has a real chance to become one of the best quarterbacks ever.