Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 1:08 am.

Falcons believe they have championship pedigree

The Atlanta Falcons are trying to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their own home stadium. And the notion isn’t far-fetched. The team has added even more offensive firepower and is expected to return to the sort of high-scoring offense that propelled them to the championship game two years ago.

The preseason was no indication of things to come. Head coach Dan Quinn did a great job protecting wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman. Neither played a down in the four preseason games.

He limited the snaps for quarterback Matt Ryan and other key players, such as wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, running back Tevin Coleman and first-round draft choice wide receiver Calvin Ridley. As a result, the team is probably as healthy as it has ever been entering the first game.

More will be known after the opener. The Falcons travel to Philadelphia to play the world-champion Eagles on Thursday, a rematch of last year’s NFC semifinal. The Eagles are the sort of aggressive, physical defense that has given the Falcons trouble in the past. (Two weeks ago Atlanta was buffeted by Jacksonville’s similarly physical defense in the third preseason game.) Thursday’s game will likely be an indication of how the season will shake out.

There remain questions around offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The offense took a step backward last year in his first season. Sarkisian replaced Kyle Shanahan, who took the head coaching position in San Francisco. Sarkisian is a frequent whipping boy on local sports talk shows. However, Ryan has been a loyal soldier and continues to speak in positive terms about his coordinator.

The nature of training camp makes it difficult to assess how the offense has developed. The first unit looked crisp and sharp in limited play against Kansas City, but struggled against Jacksonville. The offense is loaded with playmakers.

There are two new starters on offense: fullback Ricky Ortiz and right guard Brandon Fusco, who signed as a free agent and displaced 2017 starter Wes Schweitzer. Fusco is considered an upgrade, although Schweitzer had a good camp and put up a spirited fight to keep his job.

The defense is a veteran unit, and most of them were drafted and nurtured by the organization. Middle linebacker Deion Jones is the leader of the group, which has become known for its speed and its aggressive style of play.

The main question on defense is the pass rush. The Falcons had trouble in that area last year and their most accomplished rusher, Adrian Clayborn, bolted to New England in free agency. Also gone is reliable defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who stayed for a year, reestablished his credentials and signed with rival Carolina.

There are pass-rushing threats. Defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. is expected to have a bounce-back season, 2017 first-round pick defensive end Takk McKinley has another year in the system and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett always seems to find his way into the backfield.

The special teams are solid with veteran kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher.

The Falcons intentionally left a spot open on their active roster and plan to sign a 53rd player after the first game. There remains speculation the club might try to add a veteran defensive lineman to the roster.

SERIES HISTORY: 31st regular-season meeting. Eagles lead series, 16-13-1. Philadelphia has won the last two meetings, including last year’s 15-10 victory in the NFC divisional round. Atlanta’s last win in Philadelphia came in 2012.