FLOWERY BRANCH http://www.dallascowboysteamonline.com/sean-lee-jersey , Ga. (AP) — Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian spent the offseason, training camp and preseason fine-tuning an Atlanta offense that’s expected to be elite in his second year.
When the Falcons and Eagles open the NFL regular season Thursday night in Philadelphia, Sarkisian will be back in his role as play-caller, giving him a chance to move past some of the disappointment of eight months ago.
“To say that we had a fourth-and-goal at the 2 against the team that went on to the win the Super Bowl and it was a bang-bang play tells you that we’re very close, and it’s been this offseason of getting over that hump,” Sarkisian told The Associated Press this week.
“So we’re very hungry and looking forward to the opportunity.”
Sarkisian’s first season wasn’t exactly a bust. The offense led the NFL in third-down percentage and ranked eighth in passing as Atlanta went 10-6 and won a wild-card playoff game at the Los Angeles Rams.
But the Falcons dropped from first in scoring to 15th. Quarterback Matt Ryan, the league MVP the year before, threw 18 fewer touchdowns, was intercepted five additional times and had his passer rating fall over 16 points from the NFL’s best.
Even worse, the offense developed a reputation for being predictable. Atlanta scored its only touchdown in the divisional playoff game after the Eagles lost a fumble at their 18-yard line. The Falcons, who were favored to win, went scoreless in the second half.
Yet they still had a chance to sneak away with a win before it all fell apart at the 2.
With the ball on the left hash mark, the Eagles said they knew the call before the snap as soon as tight end Levine Toilolo motioned right across the formation . They had only one half of the field to defend as Ryan rolled right and came under quick pressure.
Julio Jones, the star receiver and obvious target http://www.buffalobillsteamonline.com/patrick-dimarco-jersey , fell down in the right side of the end zone, but got up quickly enough against cornerback Jalen Mills to turn and face the quarterback. Ryan lofted up a perfect pass. The ball went through Jones’ hands .
Sarkisian, a former head coach at Washington and Southern Cal, has been through similar moments before, but this was his first big test as a coordinator in the NFL. He said he did the best he could.
“You put together a plan throughout the week and you get into situations and things are going accordingly, you trust the plan,” he said.
The Falcons are hoping to improve in Sarkisian’s second year the way they did in the second season of his predecessor, Kyle Shanhan, who called the plays that helped Atlanta win the 2016 NFC title.
Sarkisian said he feels more comfortable this time around, and it’s obvious why.
Ryan and Jones and center Alex Mack are three of the league’s best at their positions. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are tough to defend in the open field and the receiving corps that still includes dependable veteran Mohamed Sanu and added Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley as a first-round pick.
The biggest issue is getting the ball to Jones more often in the red zone. Sarkisian was heavily criticized last year for not having Jones, a two-time All-Pro, dialed in more often as Ryan’s No. 1 option inside the opponents’ 20.
“I think I’d be remiss not to say we need to get No. 11 the ball,” Sarkisian said, “and we need to make sure you defend No. 11 Nick Kwiatkoski Jersey , and Julio demands coverage that way.”
Notes: Long snapper Josh Harris was limited in practice Tuesday after missing Monday’s session with a hip injury. Coach Dan Quinn said he Harris will be a game-time decision. Two reserves, G Ben Garland and CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, will not play, but the Falcons are otherwise healthy.With the Bengals determined to improve an offense that finished last in the league, their new defensive coordinator didn’t expect to be very busy during the draft.
He wound up getting six of the first eight players picked.
Could he have imagined going 6 of 8?
”If I was shooting free throws maybe, but not getting defensive players,” Teryl Austin said.
The Bengals decided they were set for now on offense and turned their draft focus to upgrading a defense that slipped last season. After taking Ohio State center Billy Price with the 21st overall pick, they went defense primarily in the next four rounds.
The Bengals’ defense finished No. 18 overall last season, including 30th against the run, so they weren’t exactly stocking up in an area of strength.
”We’re not sure how different it’s going to be until we get them here and see where they fit,” Austin said. ”That’s going to play out over time. Infusing talent always raises the competition level.”
Some things to note about the Bengals’ defense-heavy draft:
ANOTHER GIO? Running back Mark Walton from Miami was one of the few offensive players picked, going in the fourth round. Although the Bengals’ main focus on offense has been fixing the line, they also needed a running back to replace Jeremy Hill – Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard return. Walton is 5-foot-10 and reminds the Bengals of Bernard in size and quickness. One big attraction: Walton played on Miami’s kickoff and punt coverage teams, so he can fit on special teams immediately.
THE REST OF THE CLASS: In the fifth round Cody Parkey Jersey , Cincinnati took cornerback Davontae Harris from Illinois State, defensive tackle Andrew Brown from Virginia and cornerback Darius Phillips from Western Michigan. The Bengals had no picks in the sixth round. In the seventh, they got quarterback Logan Woodside from Toledo, guard Rod Taylor from Mississippi, and receiver Auden Tate from Florida State.
SETTLED AT QB: The Bengals needed another quarterback after backup AJ McCarron left for Buffalo, and there was a question whether they would try to replace him by taking one in the middle of the draft – they got McCarron in the fifth round in 2014.
Instead, they signed Matt Barkley to a two-year deal last month and decided they were set at the No. 2 spot, waiting until the seventh round to get an extra quarterback.
PAYING ATTENTION: The Bengals will be watching Price closely in the next few months. He had surgery to repair a torn chest muscle after the combine, and he’s expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Last year, the Bengals took receiver John Ross in the first round even though he was recovering from shoulder surgery, and it didn’t turn out well. He played in only three games before another shoulder injury ended his season.
NO PIES: Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson gets free pizza for a year as part of a promotion by an NFL sponsor. Pizza Hut offered free pies to the ”Pi Pick” – third round, 14th choice, or 3.14. That was Jefferson. He expected to make an appearance at a local Pizza Hut on Saturday, but it didn’t work out.
”I actually missed the pizza party Jacoby Brissett Jersey ,” Jefferson said. ”I don’t know how that’s going to work. I’m still working that deal out with my marketing agent.”
O-H: The draft will be remembered locally for the Bengals finally taking some Ohio State players. Even though franchise founder Paul Brown won a national championship at Ohio State, the Bengals had drafted only two Buckeyes in the past 23 years – none higher than the sixth round. Over that same time, they took seven players from Michigan. This year, they took Price and Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard in the third round. Price will be practicing across from former Michigan defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow.
”The rivalry is still part of it,” Price said. ”He went to the team up north and I went to Ohio State. We will leave it at that. I remember playing him specifically. The last week in November, we will have a little bet.”
SELLING TICKETS: Bringing Hubbard aboard has already boosted ticket sales. Hubbard grew up in Cincinnati and attended Bengals games regularly.
”My uncle went down and got season tickets right after he found out I’m going (to the Bengals),” Hubbard said.
STILL NEED: Help on the offensive line. They filled the hole at center, but they’re still depending upon young players who have yet to prove themselves. Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi struggled the past two seasons, prompting the Bengals to get left tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo. Right tackle Jake Fisher had a procedure to repair an irregular heartbeat during the season. There’s still work to be done in their biggest problem area.
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