In a losing effort against the division rival New Orleans Saints 23-17, starting 0-1 and being dead last in the NFC South wasn’t the ideal start the Atlanta Falcons had envisioned in a year with very high expectations. Despite the loss, the Falcons may have re-discovered a lost gem in Harry Douglas, who made his presence felt with an explosiveness that has eluded the slot receiver in the past couple of years.
With star receivers Roddy White limited by a high-ankle sprain and Julio Jones receiving double-teams all day long, it was Douglas who led the Dirty Birds air attack and showcased the lightning-strike ability the Falcons possess in their receiving corps. Douglas caught four passes for a game-high 93 yards with an average of 23.3 yards per catch, and also caught a 50-yard bomb from Matt Ryan.
For the past couple of seasons, the Falcons have slowly evolved from a run-heavy offense in Ryan’s first few years in the league into a dynamic, explosive, pass-heavy team.
When analysts and fans gush about the Falcons’ trio of receivers that arguably is one of, if not the best in the league, very few mention Douglas or even recognized him as part of this “elite” unit that includes Pro Bowlers White, Jones and Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Although Douglas has flashed his potential at times through out his career with his athleticism in the open field and his explosiveness in going up for the ball, he has been too inconsistent in his previous four years to be mentioned in the same breath as his fellow teammates.
In the past four seasons, Douglas’ stat line is as followed: 23 receptions for 320 yards in 2008, 22 receptions for 294 yards in 2010, 39 receptions for 498 yards in 2011 and 38 receptions for 395 yards in 2012 along with scoring one touchdown in each season he played in.
Douglas’ best season came in 2011 where he started to get in a groove, but fell a step backwards in the following year. While nobody expects Douglas to put up astronomical numbers while playing along side three of the best receiving threats in the NFL, Douglas will have his opportunity to shine with White needing time to get back at full strength as his injury lingers on.
In the season opener, fans got to see the exciting 2011 version of Douglas making a reappearance and statement that he can be an impact player even on a team stacked with high-flyers at the wide receiver position.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Douglas can continue to be aggressive at his slot position, where he possesses the skills to be a mismatch for nickel and dime defensive backs. Against the Saints, Ryan gave Douglas a chance to be a difference-maker, and the former Louisville player capitalized his opportunities that were given to him.
While the passing game will still be mainly focused on targeting White, Jones and Gonzalez for the most part, Douglas will be an X-factor, as he is a threat in both the intermediate and deep game, especially in the open field.
Although Douglas performed well in just one game so far into a long season, with White’s ability limited, expect the Falcons and Ryan to give ample chances along with a few more passes his way in the short term.
If Douglas can manage to find his niche as a consistent producer at his slot position, the Falcons will become a much more efficient team in the red zone and as a team overall.
For now, forget the “What Ifs” and care about the now, as Douglas made his impact felt and slowly tries to regain his “Mojo” for the Falcons in what should be a special year if all goes according to plan.