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Dirty Bird Takebusters: Sarkisian, Schweitzer, Stinky Tackling

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Hot take bustin’ makes me feel good.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s something strange, in your Twitter timeline, who you gonna call? Takebusters!

If there’s an opinion there, stinking up the air, who you gonna call? Takebusters!

*familiar 80s melodious riff* I ain’t afraid of no takes.

Welcome to Dirty Bird Takebusters, a new feature here on The Falcoholic that will break down the most piping-hot takes of takes circulating throughout Falcons fandom after each and every game.

This week, I’ll strap on my hold-on pack, hop in the HECKNO-1 and bust the worries surrounding two key figures on offense, and a concern from the team’s defensive performance.

HOT TAKE

FIRE STEVE SARKISIAN WE’RE DOOMED SHAHANAN COME BACK

HOT TAKE TRANSLATION

Steve Sarkisian’s debut as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator is a far-cry from Kyle Shanahan’s 2016 lauded play calling and his inexperience calling plays at the NFL level/conservative approach will see the Falcons regress significantly on offense in 2017.

HOT TAKE VALIDITY: 20%

REALITY CHECK

Give Steve Sarkisian a break – after spending time rehabbing from an ugly public bout with alcoholism that cost him a dream gig at USC, the well-respected offensive mind took the time to better himself, and spent 2016 as an offensive assistant with the Alabama Crimson Tide before being thrust last-minute into the offensive coordinator role for Bama in the 2017 National Championship. It was a little jarring to see a guy who had not coached in a while be handed the reins to a historic NFL offense, though Falcons fans weren’t without their optimism as to Sarkisian perhaps seamlessly transitioning into the red-hot fold that Shanahan left behind.

Sunday proved two things – Sarkisian deserves far more time to really prove what he’s got from a play calling standpoint, and that it’s a true fool’s errand to judge a man off one performance. Sarkisian’s come back from a heck of a process – overcoming addiction is, naturally, a tolling process, and he’s no doubt likely not at his intellectual/creative best this early in his return to coaching in a major role. He’s also having to learn all the nuances that come with being an NFL offensive coordinator after spending years in college football, not an easy role to transition into, particularly with the league’s ever-changing schemes and styles and Sark’s lack of NFL coaching experience.

The Falcons offense was efficient enough to win on the road against a difficult Chicago Bears front seven Sunday in Sark’s debut. They were not held to just two field goals, nor did Matt Ryan lose his run of posting up consecutive 200-yard games. They scored 24 points on the road, which is reminiscent of their Denver, Seattle and Philadelphia road games in 2016, where they scored 23, 24 and 15 points respectively, and went 1-2 against three very stout defensive front sevens (ironically – the worst secondary of that group was the Eagles, who the team scored the least amount of points on). Those teams also had offenses that could alter the time of possession with their run games. So, in all actuality, this offensive performance was on par with what you would have expected the 2016 Falcons to do as the visitor in a similar situation.

Ironically, this Falcons offense looks more encouraging than the 2016 unit did after one week, with Kyle Shanahan on the firmest of hot seats after his offense sputtered in the run game and only scored two touchdowns at home against the Buccaneers.

It’s too early to tell how Sarkisian will do in his time in Atlanta, of course, or what his full array of play calls will look like. He’s a sharp mind with proven success at the collegiate level, but he’s taking on the mammoth task of trying to match his predecessor’s historic offense. Though, with one game under his belt, his offense performed about as well as the 2016 offense did in similar situations in the point department. More games will be needed to paint a fuller picture, but Sarkisian’s debut was by no means a catastrophe; far from it, actually. Also, consider that Ryan has been given his own power over the play calling this season, which he has not had a major hand in since the 2014 season under Dirk Koetter. This is as much Ryan’s offense as it is Sarkisian’s, so that balance will also need time to gel.

A game at home against a good-but-not-great Packers defense should be a better test of how the early returns will be for Sarkisian’s tenure. And, no, laugh-out-loud, they’re not going to only target Julio Jones minimally all season. Give me a break, too.

HOT TAKE

BENCH WES SCHWEITZER HE’S A BUST THE OFFENSE IS DOOMED

HOT TAKE TRANSLATION

Second-year right guard Wes Schweitzer’s first at-bat on the offensive line was a major detriment to the Falcons’ offense, and his immediate benching in favor of G Ben Garland will be necessary if the team is to find success as an offensive line this season.

HOT TAKE VALIDITY: 40%

REALITY CHECK

No, Wes Schweitzer did not have a great game in his NFL debut against the Bears’ defensive line, and there is some legitimate cause for concern. Rising star DE Akiem Hicks was a threat to the Falcons for most of the game, though he became less of a factor as the minutes wore on. And, consider this writer among those who became swayed by Schweitzer’s promising preseason reps in thinking he was fully ready for the task and would experience little-to-no hiccups. Seeing a guy stonewall DT Ndamukong Suh one time will do that to you.

In all actuality, Schweitzer’s performance was his worst-case scenario in terms of public perception – he looked lost at times as to how he would fend off Hicks’ power and prowess as an interior rusher, though he did have reps where he was able to neutralize Hicks from the play, often helped by a double-team with RT Ryan Schraeder, and on a handful of occasions, on his own. Schweitzer, like many first timers in the NFL, didn’t have a great day. But, he by no means was an absolute turnstile, though, and did put a couple of encouraging reps on film.

The cause for concern comes in the short-term, as the team’s upcoming slate of interior defensive linemen (Mike Daniels, Haloti Ngata, A’Shawn Robinson, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington) is fairly intimidating. But, no, Schweitzer isn’t likely to see the bench anytime soon, nor does he deserve to. It’s just nonsensical to bench a player after one less-than-encouraging day, particularly after he showed the promise and maturity to win the job in the first place over a very able player in Garland.

The likely path forward for Schweitzer will be him moving slowly-but-surely in the direction of being a competent starting guard playing between two great players in Alex Mack and Schraeder. He’s unlikely to be an all-time at the position (remember his draft status and his entire season on the inactive list), but he’s got the upside to at least be serviceable for the time being – maybe he’ll even end up being pretty decent one day.

But, for now, the Falcons are going to have to make do with what Schweitzer can provide and scheme around his liabilities as the offensive line as a whole continues to mesh as a unit for the season – Schweitzer one of its five working cogs.

HOT TAKE

THE DEFENSE HAS GONE BACK TO BEING A BUNCH OF SLOPPY JOES WE’RE DOOMED

HOT TAKE TRANSLATION

The Falcons’ defense struggled to wrap up against the Bears’ two elusive backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and didn’t put up the best performance in stopping the outside runs. Their defense has reverted back to the 2015 unit’s penchant for poor tackling and will struggle once again to stop the run in 2017.

HOT TAKE VALIDITY: 20%

REALITY CHECK

Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme is often called “high-flying” for a reason. It’s a scheme based on athletic attack – it thrives on players using their natural gifts, mental reads and raw instinct to make plays, eschewing the heady schematic requirements that can hold players back from living up to their skillset’s potential. Quinn saw a lesser roster put forth an inspiring effort when he took over the play calling at the end of 2016, and by all accounts, this is the best top-to-bottom defensive grouping the Falcons have seen in quite some time.

But, in Quinn’s scheme, there is a fine-tuning process the players must undergo individually and as a group. The scheme can only do so much – players have to be comfortable in being able to make the play on their athletic and mental tendencies alone, and against as strong a backfield as Chicago has, the possibility of missing tackles and making poor decisions in run defense was heightened in the first go-around. They drew the short-stick of a team to fine-tune themselves to, and quite frankly, it was a good conditioning exercise.

Sloppy tackling is usually something excised pretty quickly from a Quinn defense, whether it comes from coaching or guys just getting more acclimated to the speed of the game for the year (a speed that’s naturally heightened due to playing in Quinn’s defense). The mental errors and subpar tackling will begin to erode as the season wears on by default.

Part of the issues against the outside runs came from rookie LB Duke Riley’s learning curve in his role on the weakside and CB Desmond Trufant’s rusty performance coming off pectoral surgery. Trufant’s rust will quickly evaporate – pectoral injuries aren’t by definition difficult to bounce back from, and he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Riley’s curve will grow smaller as the season wears on – his rookie effort could be similar to LB De’Vondre Campbell, who both flashed and had moments of sharp lapse in 2016.

As a unit, though, how the run defense improves after an admittedly not super 2016 campaign will be something to monitor, with DT Dontari Poe’s addition supposed to be a key factor in helping there. For what it’s worth, the interior run defense does look better, with the team holding RB Jordan Howard to 52 yards on 13 carries and RB Tarik Cohen doing most of his damage on the perimeters.

See you next week for some more bustin’.

Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the new Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.