Bill Shanks

Falcons create more questions than answers

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn’s Falcons play Jacksonville on Thursday in their final game of this NFL preseason.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn’s Falcons play Jacksonville on Thursday in their final game of this NFL preseason. AP

One NFL preseason game shouldn’t make an entire season. But Thursday’s loss by the Atlanta Falcons to the Miami Dolphins was more than just a loss. It was a bell-ringer, an eye-opener and any other label you can put on a game that might represent bad things to come.

Thursday was the third preseason game in August, the one that is supposed to matter, the one where most starters play a good amount of time. The final game of the four is saved for position battles, so most starters will play for only a little while. But the third game is usually a gauge for what might preview the regular season.

Thursday against the Dolphins, quarterback Matt Ryan looked ordinary. Star receiver Julio Jones got hurt. The first-round pick, safety Keanu Neal, was injured. And the team just looked blah, just OK. Was it terrible? No. Was it impressive? Not even close.

The Falcons took away one of Ryan’s excuses this offseason by signing center Alex Mack. Ryan’s offensive line is now better, but it’s the scheme that still looked out of whack. The second season of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan looks much like the first season, with a quarterback who just doesn’t look right.

Why would Shanahan come in and make so many changes? It’s not like Ryan was not an effective quarterback for years. Sure, the offense needed to be tweaked, updated. But Shanahan has changed Ryan to where now people are asking questions about Ryan’s future.

And look, Ryan is not going anywhere. Matt Shaub, regardless of how well he has done this month, is not replacing Ryan. But there are still serious questions about whether Ryan can lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl.

Ryan is now 31 years old. He’s in his ninth season. It’s at that point in a quarterback’s career when a legacy is being defined. If Ryan never wins a Super Bowl, he’s going to go down as a very good player who was unable to get to the big game. And it’s also the time when some might wonder if Ryan is just not good enough to lead a team to a championship.

But it certainly didn’t help for Shanahan to come in and try to change Ryan. Why was that necessary? Sure, improve the line of scrimmage. Get Ryan more weapons. But to make Ryan do things he just can’t do makes zero sense.

Unfortunately, Ryan must answer the questions about himself and his career this season. If the offense sputters, Shanahan likely would be sacrificed before Ryan. Regardless, Ryan needs to be better than he has been this month.

Mohamed Sanu, who was brought in with a big-money contract to replace Roddy White, also looks ordinary so far. Sanu was the third receiver for Cincinnati. He’s now the No. 2 target in Atlanta behind Jones. But if Jones gets hurt, could Sanu step up and be the main receiver?

The defense has plenty of moving parts, as head coach Dan Quinn likes versatility and options. But so far, it just looks like there are too many moving parts. With Neal out for maybe a month, the Falcons need to bring in help at safety. The secondary can’t go backwards this season.

Vic Beasley must prove he’s not ordinary, but so far … well, he does look ordinary. Will Beasley follow Ra’Shede Hageman as a second straight Falcons defensive draft pick to not pan out?

It’s August. It’s early. The games don’t count yet. But the Falcons have given us plenty of reasons to be concerned so far.

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