After another truly exciting weekend of college and professional football, there are so many thoughts and storylines swirling around in my head. The main things on which my mind is focused are the success of our dirty birds, the current state of the NFL quarterback, and the crazy, unpredictable world that is college football.
Starting with our Falcons, I’d like to say that I’m feeling pretty good when I look back at various predictions I made before the season started. My first thought surrounds the RB situation. I have liked Devonta Freeman since he was drafted and always hoped he’d be given a legitimate chance to claim the starting job, and an unfortunate injury to Tevin Coleman opened the door for that. I have always been frustrated hearing analysts proclaim that Freeman “can’t be an every down back in this league” or “doesn’t have a real future with this club”. I wonder to myself, “On what are you basing that?” He had a pretty darn successful college career at a top-tier program and didn’t get meaningful playing time in his rookie season serving as Steven Jackson’s backup, so why was his future already being written off before his 2nd season even commenced? As is often the case, I love seeing a guy’s performance on the field silence those critics who already had his future (or lack of one) written out ahead of time. Imagine the change of pace possibilities once a healthy Tevin Coleman is back in the mix. As for the receiving corps, it was certainly not an outlandish prediction on anyone’s part about Julio Jones picking up right where he left off. The more surprising part is the success of Leonard Hankerson and the tremendous success being witnessed with very little contribution from Roddy White. The one spot on which I may have missed a tad is the role of the tight end in the equation. I predicted a pretty big contribution from Jacob Tamme in this offense, and, injuries aside, that hasn’t come to fruition, yet. Again, it’s a scary thought to think how much better the offense could become if a tight end is able to step up and be a bigger part of the attack. Defensive coordinators across the league will have nightmares if that happens. Last but not least, of course, is the defense. I felt like this unit had a chance to be much more special than anyone was predicting, and thus far I feel like I have nailed it as to why. Talent is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong, and there is certainly some talent on this side of the ball, but attitude and determination play a much bigger role, if you ask me. I had a feeling that D.Q. would quickly whip this unit into shape and give it that “edge” it has sadly missed the past few seasons. He has them believing that they are tougher than the other guy, that they’re supposed to stop you and make it hurt while doing so. Sure, there’s the occasional broken tackle or missed assignment, but basically I watch this unit and see guys flying to the ball and hitting really hard, and I love it. Most Falcon fans get hyped up watching the beauty of this offense, but I get equally excited watching this defensive unit do its stuff, also. Getting the headliners is certainly a nice thing, but putting players in the right positions to be successful is really where it’s at. Just ask Miami. How is that Ndamukong Suh thing working out for the 1-3 Dolphins? I’ll take a group of hard-nosed “middle-of-the-road” guys over an overpaid prima donna any day.
Looking past the Falcons to the rest of the league, a few things immediately jump off the page at me, and most of them have to do with quarterback play. One of the things I keep preaching is how much it frustrates me to see quarterbacks written off so quickly without being given a chance to develop. In our “disposable” world, even quarterbacks don’t seem to be immune. The mentality of “either be perfect right now or we’ll find someone else” is stronger than it’s ever been. That’s why I’m so glad to see a guy like Andy Dalton having such success this season. I’ve been hearing folks calling for his head for years, because “he’s just not the right guy”, but look at him now. Give the man a chance to develop, build a decent roster around him, and voila, the Bengals are 4-0. I’m certainly not going to anoint them with any titles just yet, but I sure like their chances going forward with a veteran QB who was given a chance and the 2nd longest tenured head coach in the NFL, Marvin Lewis (I’m proud of them for hanging on to him all these years). Another thing I’m thinking is how badly the Steelers need Big Ben back. I was the first to hold out hope that Michael Vick could enjoy one last hurrah in his role with the Steelers, but just one start was enough for me to realize that it’s just not going to happen for him. I can’t put a number on how many times I listened to the announcers stating that “Vick is caught from behind and taken down”. Wow. I don’t recall a Falcon’s announcer ever uttering those words during his time in Atlanta. No defender could catch him. What a difference a few years and a few teams can make. Another thing crossing my mind is just how good Aaron Rodgers and the Packers really are. When Jordy Nelson went down, a lot of the air went out of the Pack’s bubble. And while they haven’t necessarily blown anybody out just yet, it seems like they could if they wanted to. Watching them, it’s almost like they’re toying with folks at this point, just lying in wait and not giving away just how good they are until they really need to be. Will they go undefeated? Certainly not. But is there anyone else to whom you’d rather entrust your team’s success than Aaron Rodgers? The guy is amazing and is obviously having fun doing it. Finally, on the other side of the coin, I get equally frustrated when a young quarterback is treated like a future hall of famer before he’s really done too much to earn that respect and admiration. Colin Kaepernick immediately comes to mind. At the very beginning, his style worked, because he was surrounded by a great group of guys and the right head coach. Now Harbaugh is gone, and the team around him is mediocre at best. His flaws are beginning to show. Having the ability to scramble as needed is a wonderful quality to have, but if that becomes your main weapon because the passing abilities and/or options aren’t there, it just doesn’t cut it by itself. Make no mistake about it; the athleticism is certainly there, but the game is not designed to be won on the legs of the quarterback alone. Without the downfield passing game, this 49er team is in trouble. 48 points in 4 games doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.
Lastly, I can’t help but think about the crazy world of college football and how there were a lot of things this weekend that nobody saw coming. While the Bulldogs sure like to talk a good game during the week, guys like Nick Saban just prepare their teams for the tasks at hand. Talk and hype is cheap. Preparation and the right attitude trumps that any day, as evidenced by the complete and utter dominance displayed by the Crimson Tide. Another hype machine on which the wheels fell off was Ole Miss. While nobody can honestly say how good the Gators are at this point, they’ve already surpassed expectations at 5-0 and have the Gator Nation gaining the confidence that has been lacking for several years, and a confident Gator squad is not something the rest of the SEC wants to deal with at this point. If nothing more, it sure makes things a lot more interesting in what many would call a down year for the SEC. One team I truly cannot figure out this season is the defending champion Buckeyes. Are they simply playing down to the level of their super-soft schedule, or are there really some major chinks in the Ohio State armor? As long as they keep walking away with a W, I guess they’ll hang in there, and the true tests will come in the final 2 regular season games against Michigan State and Michigan. Lastly, could this be the year that Clemson actually does something noteworthy? In the world of sports, I’ve lost track of how many times a team fails to live up to expectations but exceeds them when nothing is expected of them, and this year could be Clemson’s turn. It seems like every year is going to be Clemson’s year, but this year we didn’t hear that as much. Is the lack of pressure or expectations all the Tigers need to finally cross that hurdle? Only time will tell, of course, but I’d certainly enjoy seeing them successful in a year when many folks least expected it.
I think the true mark of a great football season is how much we anticipate the upcoming week, and I honestly can’t wait until this coming weekend. It’s like what they say about a great book. If you want to keep reading the next chapter and the next and the next, then it must be good, and I can’t wait to read the next chapter of the football season to see what else is going to happen. I’m looking forward to some great college games and seeing a “5-0” next to Atlanta Falcons in the standings late Sunday afternoon.
Follow Rick James on Twitter @rickjamesATL