The Atlanta Falcons are the subject of this year's "Hard Knocks" on HBO. No team has ever gone undefeated after appearing on "Hard Knocks." Will Atlanta be the first? Tune in to find out! Meantime, here's what happened in Episode 4.
• Admit it. You wonder if, physical shortcomings aside, you'd have what it takes to make it in the NFL. Could you handle training camp, the pressure of fighting for a roster spot, the unrelenting scorn of your coaches? This year's audience stand-in is Ra'Shede Hageman, a rookie defensive lineman who's getting thrown around by both the opposition and the coaching staff.
Houston had little trouble with Hageman in last week's preseason game, and that's where coach Bryan Cox steps in. In a visual equivalent of rubbing a dog's nose in his own filth, Cox forces Hageman to watch just how poorly he has played.
"I want you to see how [freaking] pitiful you look," Cox says as tape runs. "They make you their jailhouse [girlfriend]." Accurate, if blunt.
• Coaches are the surrogate dads for both the team and the audience, so it's with a cringe of recognition that we watch special teams coach Keith Armstrong light up his charges, including Hageman. He unleashes a profane rant that would fit in neatly in a Scorsese film, one which includes the gem "You ain't good enough to be an [a-word]." I plan to use that in my own parenting techniques.
• Matt Ryan may be one of the cover models of this week's Sports Illustrated and one of the NFL's new gunslingers (why, yes, I did pick him for my fantasy team, thanks for asking), but he knows full well that quarterback is a position in transition ... visually, if not procedurally. When asked about posing with his shirt off as part of that Sports Illustrated shoot, the lean Ryan declines, noting that Colin Kaepernick is in astonishing physical shape.
• Joe Hawley did pottery, "Ghost"-style, and Devonta Freeman got a pedicure. Somewhere, Mike Ditka bites through an iron fence.
• In order to be a good quarterback, you need smarts, skills and a good voice. Really. "Omaha" was a joke all last season, but quarterbacks' cadences serve an important purpose. Fourth quarterback Jeff Matthews has everything but the voice, and as a result, the Falcons send him packing.
• Julio Jones' long touchdown against Tennessee is going to be running on replay in the Falcons' offices all year. The team had better hope it's harbinger and not the year's lone highlight.
• Next week marks the season finale of "Hard Knocks," and the beginning of the year for Atlanta. It'll be fun to see if the cast of clowns we've come to know and love these last few weeks can put it all together for a run at a playoff berth.