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The Falcons looked a lot like last year's team
The Falcons' offense wasn't a disappointment in 2017 because they couldn't move the ball; It was because they couldn't finish drives off. They ranked fifth in yards per play and eighth in total yards in 2017, but just 15th in scoring, largely because they found the end zone on fewer than half of their red zone opportunities, the 10th-lowest rate in the league.
And at least for one night, they didn't solve that bugaboo. The Falcons got into the red zone five times and came away with just one touchdown. Early on, Julio Jones put the team on his back with 54 total yards on the first drive, but then wasn't targeted once in the red zone. Jones racked up 10 catches for 169 yards, but failed to find the end zone, after scoring just three times despite over 1,400 yards last season.
Matt Ryan deserves plenty of the blame for this one, as he just wasn't on his game, in the red zone or not. He squandered multiple scoring opportunities with bad passes, included one potential touchdown to Jones where Ryan underthrew him for an easy interception. The play calling needs to get better, but so does Ryan's play, but Jones proved yesterday what we've always known: he's one of the most dominant receivers in the game under any circumstances. It'd be nice if he could get rewarded for that more often.
Devonta Freeman was dealing with a knee injury
Freeman was spotted on the sidelines late in the game with his helmet off, and the announcing crew noted he had been receiving treatment for a knee issue. That may explain why he had just eight touches in the game, except that Freeman was on the field for 39 of 70 total offensive snaps, compared to 36 for Tevin Coleman. However, it was Coleman who led the team in carries, with nine to Freeman's six.
The good news for Freeman owners comes in two parts: First, he said he's "OK' after the game; and secondly, Coleman wasn't particularly effective in the game. Coleman did rush for a nice 9-yard touchdown, and he added a 26-yard reception, but that was about all he managed in the game. He had 19 yards on nine carries. I don't think Thursday's game was a sign of increased dissatisfaction with Freeman in Atlanta.
Jay Ajayi is going to matter
He strangely didn't see the field for the first quarter of the game, raising alarms about the possibility of Darren Sproles and Corey Clement truly relegating Ajayi to a limited role. However, Ajayi ultimately played 29 snaps, the same as Sproles to lead the backfield, and was clearly the top option in the running game. He carried the ball 15 times for 62 yards and two touchdowns, though each score was set up by a Sproles and Clement carry that got the Eagles close, notably.
Still, Ajayi isn't going to just disappear, which was the concern that dropped him on some Fantasy draft boards this summer. He may not be a workhorse, but any time the Eagles have a lead to protect, he's going to be the guy to do it. When they're stuck in a shootout, we saw enough to believe the Eagles are going to lean on Sproles, which certainly limits Ajayi's trustworthiness on a week-to-week basis. However, Sproles had just five carries for 10 yards and four catches for 22, while Clement had five carries for 26 yards and no catches, so the rest of the backfield didn't exactly shine. Ajayi is going to be a No. 2 running back this season.
Other notes from Thursday night
- The Eagles are going to look like that for a while … While there was hope Alshon Jeffery could return by Week 3, he told Sports Illustrated Thursday after the game he's still "a few weeks out." That came after reports before the game that Wentz isn't expected to play for a few more weeks. That is good news for people who drafted Agholor, and probably nobody else.
- Matt Ryan looked bad … We're used to Ryan's red zone woes, but this was something else. He was floating every pass and was basically hopeless unless Jones was the intended target. We'll have to watch this one closely.
- Zach Ertz left a lot of points on the field … Ertz ended up with five catches for 48 yards, which is … fine. But he let at least three additional passes hit the turf and could have gotten closer to the 80-yard mark, more in line with what you're hoping for from an elite tight end. Unless he suddenly can't catch the ball, take solace in the 10 targets and understand better days are ahead for Ertz.
- Nelson Agholor is going to get work … It wasn't particularly valuable work Thursday, as Agholor's eight catches on 10 targets led to just 33 yards. However, as long as Alshon Jeffery is out, Agholor is going to get plenty of work – and he added a 16-yard carry and 15-yard pass to Nick Foles to boost his numbers a bit.
- Nick Foles is still Nick Foles … Foles seems to be either brilliant or totally inept, and he was certainly the latter last night. His pocket awareness was nonexistent, he had no accuracy on balls down the field, and checked down over and over. We know he's capable of better, but it's hard to predict it on any given day.
- Calvin Ridley was a non-factor … The much-hyped rookie receiver was on the field of 66 percent of the Falcons' offensive snaps but was targeted just twice and had zero catches in his NFL debut. Mohamed Sanu was, at least for one game, still clearly ahead of Ridley in the pecking order. Don't expect either to be a reliable Fantasy option.
More from around the NFL Thursday
- Josh Gordon (hamstring) will be on a 'pitch count' … Gordon told reporters Thursday, his hamstring is 100 percent healthy, but coach Hue Jackson acknowledged Gordon will likely be limited in his season debut. "My concern is if we give him too much [playing time]," Jackson said, "we might be leaving him out there for potential injury."
- Marlon Mack (hamstring) returned to practice … This is the first time we've seen Mack practice in nearly a month. It'll be tough for him to get ready for Week 1 after such a long absence, but maybe this clears him to be ready for Week 2.
- Will Fuller (hamstring) was limited in practice … We'll see if he takes the practice field Friday, but Fuller looks like a risky start between this injury and his boom-or-bust nature.
- Rex Burkhead (knee) could be eased in … Burkhead is not even on the injury report for this week, as he has been practicing in full. However, ESPN.com reports Burkhead will likely not see a full workload in Week 1. Add this in with the following note, and Jeremy Hill could be a sneaky play for Week 1, especially in DFS.
- Sony Michel (knee) was limited again … It looks like Michel could be close to returning, but I wouldn't be surprised if he misses Week 1 after missing so much of the preseason.
- Marqueis Gray is out for the season … This could open Mike Gesicki for a significant role as a rookie. Keep an eye on his usage in Week 1.
- Joey Bosa is dealing with a foot injury … He was unable to practice Thursday and looks unlikely to play in Week 1. He hasn't practiced in weeks.