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Inside the Game: Week 3 at Miami Dolphins

September 28th, 2013 Comments off

This game was literally a case of snatching defeat away from the jaws of victory.  The coaches came out this week and said that execution is the problem right now and I have to agree.  Pass and run blocking hasn’t been consistent, defensive assignments and techniques have been poor or missed at times and Matt Ryan had a few missed opportunities in this game (which is rare and hard to blame given the unpredictable pass blocking).  Fans have been quick to say that the coaches fail to adjust at halftime and that causes a lull in the 3rd quarter.  It’s simply not true.  Adjustments are made but they are subtle.  In this game alone there were a few offensive formations used that were not used in the first half (one in particular I think may be helpful in the future) and  Worrilow was  used in the place of Dent in the nickel packages that were pure pass situations.  Also, press man coverage was called for and worked some but also wasn’t executed very well at times and by that I mean not disrupting the receiver’s route at the line.  Other problems are that while the Falcons got five sacks there were calls made that were not going to end well unless the blitz worked.  Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t.  In this week’s review, I’ll continue with the same play by play breakdown and highlight the plays referenced above.

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Inside The Game: Week 2 vs. St. Louis Rams

September 21st, 2013 Comments off

This game was a bit deceptive.  From first glance, it appears as if the offensive line was horrible (and parts were) but what you’ll see in this week’s review is many times the pressure is designed so that the offensive linemen can get up field and block for a designed screen pass.  This certainly wasn’t the case for all the pressure but was for a good chunk of it.  Interestingly on defense  there was a noteable change.  Akeem Dent was not in the nickel packages at the beginning of the game.  It was Weatherspoon and Bartu.  The coaches saw that Dent was not the best option for pass coverage.  I also believe that Jonathan Massaquoi may very well be the up and coming defensive end that the Falcons have been looking for.  He made several plays this game that showed some quickness, tenacity and his ability to get off blocks and make plays.  One thing that St. Louis picked up on at halftime (and Atlanta didn’t) was the Falcons inability to handle clear (aka pick) routes.  The Rams used this play 4 or 5 times to get 15 or so yards each play.

Instead of a formation summary I’ve decided that it would be useful to know down and distance as well as personnel groupings for each play.  Format will be —down-distance:  personnel grouping (P), how many STL had in the box (where noted) and then the comments on the play.

ATL starts on offense with drive #1

1-10: 21P, 8 box.  Jackson goes off left guard, line blocks to the left but Blalock misses his block which leads to the -2 yard rush.

2-12: 11P, empty backfield.  The throw to Jackson was a little behind him but was catchable and has to be called a drop.  Not sure if Ryan and Jackson are quite in sync with each other.

3-12: 11P.  Blocking was fine.  I didn’t really see where Long was offside on this play and if Holmes moved early, it wasn’t any different than when the rest of the line moved from what I saw.   After watching it 4 or 5 times, that’s where it ended up.

3-7:  11P.  Baker gets blown up, allows pressure but the play is still successful as Gonzalez got open.

1-10: 21P. I-formation, 8 in the box.  Ryan uses play action and the team sold it well.  Results in a 14 yard gain on the fullback pass.  Unfortunately, this would also be the end of the season for Brady Ewing.

1-10: 22P, I formation, 9 in the box.  Blocking goes to the right, Gonzalez goes in motion to draw attention, Reynolds makes a nice block but Toilolo gets beat and results in a 2 yard gain by Jackson but could have been more.

2-8: 11P.  Again, Ryan uses play action and Reynolds pulls  to sell the run but the defense doesn’t bite and the short pass to Jones goes nowhere.

3-8: 11P.  Good pass protection on this play.  Douglas makes an inside move that causes separation and picks up 20 yards.

1-10: 12P, 7 in the box.  Jackson goes for no gain and Baker gets abused (hate to use that word but it was bad).

2-10: 11P.  Short pass to Rodgers results in a big gain of 16 yards due to very good blocking and a well set up play.

1-10: 12P, 8 in the box.  Blocking was good.  Holmes puts Long on the ground.  Long just happened to land on Reynolds right leg which ends up becoming pressure.  Fortunately, Reynolds didn’t get hurt and Rodgers picks up 6 on another short pass.

2-4: 11P, This was one of the designed pressure plays.  Holmes is the lead blocker for Jackson but the LB read the play early and was able to outrun Holmes to get to Jackson.  Jackson scores but suffers a thigh bruise while landing on the linebacker’s arm.  7-0 Atlanta.

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Inside the Game: Week 1 AT New Orleans Saints

September 12th, 2013 3 comments

The game reviews are back, however, a much different format this go round.  Previously, the reviews started with stat recaps and built off of those with limited vision of broadcast footage.  This year, I’m able to use the all-22 films from two different angles that show so much more.  From initial formations to how the plays develop.  This allows more insight on what the mix is on offense/defense as well as exposing what happened on plays allowing for far more accurate player evaluation.

Without further ado, let’s get started with formations.  Excluding punts, field goals, extra points and kickoffs the offense used 4 personnel groups:

11 (1 RB, 1 TE) – 30 times

12 (1 RB, 2 TE) – 3

20 (2 RB, 0 TE) – 2

21 (2 RB, 1 TE) – 7

Defense was very, very simplistic with the base 4-3, 5-2, 5-3, 4-2-5 nickel and 3-3-5 nickel (which is simply the 4-2-5 personnel with Biermann standing up).  Further, Stephen Nicholas was not on the field in any defensive formation.  In the base 4-3 and 5-2, you had various rotations of linemen.  While coverage assignments varied, these were the only 3 defenses we ran.  I found it surprising that we never went to a dime package (for reasons that will be very evident).

All that said, it sets up the drive breakdowns.  Future breakdowns will have far less introduction but I think a walkthrough is helpful with the new format.  What follows will be each drive with a summary of good and bad things and key points.

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Atlanta Falcons Defensive Free Agency Primer

March 11th, 2012 2 comments

Yesterday I went over the offense and the changes that may be ahead for the team.  Those changes will continue on the defensive side of the ball. Not only does the arrival of Mike Nolan bring changes to the defensive philosophy the changes will also be noticeable in the personnel.  Most of this will obviously be in the front seven and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone at this point.

SAFETIES:  The starting safeties from last season, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore,  will return for the 2012 season with DeCoud’s recent re-signing.  The way the contract is structured it seems that it’s more of a 2 year audition for DeCoud that could lead to a very good deal for both parties.  Who will back them up is the better question.  Shann Schillinger returns as one of the better special teams players on the squad.  James Sanders is an unrestricted free agent and it’s unclear whether or not the team will re-sign him.  The draft isn’t very deep at safety this year but it’s certainly possible the team draft one in the later rounds or simply sign Sanders or another free agent to round out the squad.

CORNERBACKS:  Brent Grimes received the franchise tag but shows no indications of wanting to play under the 1 year tender.  If I had to guess, the sticking point may be the length of the contract.  At 29, teams often shy away from longer term contracts while Grimes most certainly wants to ensure he makes the most of his opportunity to secure his future.  Hopefully the situation will not turn into a hold out situation but that is something the team will have to prepare for.  Dunta Robinson, Christopher Owens and a rapidly improving Dominique Franks return along with Darrin Walls who opened eyes last preseason.  Kelvin Hayden is an unrestricted free agent and my guess is that he will not be re-signed.  This is one area of the team that I’m almost certain that the front office will use a draft pick to add depth, competition as well as guard against a potential hold out.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS:  Starters Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon return along with reserves Spencer Adkins and Robert James.  Mike Peterson is the lone free agent of the group and should be re-signed to provide quality depth to the unit.  More on this position a little later on when defensive ends are covered.

MIDDLE LINEBACKERS:  The most noticeable change is most likely coming at middle linebacker.  With Akeem Dent drafted last year and the recent signing of Lofa Tatupu, I can’t help but think that the Falcons and free agent Curtis Lofton are parting ways.  There is just entirely too much “smoke” that indicates the team has one value for Lofton while he and his agent have another and feel they can get that value on the open market.  That said, I’m sure the door is still open but probably not as widely as it once was. Whether or not another middle linebacker is added remains to be seen as the team is not tipping it’s hand but I would not be surprised to see it happen.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES:  Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry are all under contract.  The fourth in the rotation, Vance Walker, is a restricted free agent and all indications are that he will return under the one year tender.  I’m not of the opinion that this group is the final group though.  A role player through free agency may be added or just as likely, a draft pick spent.

DEFENSIVE END: With Lawrence Sidbury, Ray Edwards,  last year’s draft pick addition, Cliff Matthews and the newly re-signed Kroy Biermann the Falcons return a youthful group of ends.  Free agent John Abraham has been reported to have priced himself  far out of the team’s range and it appears that the team will make a very strong push for free agent to be Mario Williams.  I’m of the opinion that a rotation of Sidbury and Biermann would yield production from the right end position but things may not be as straight forward as that.  With Mike Nolan’s defense, there will be 3-4 situations that would show Williams as a pass rushing linebacker or even Biermann as a linebacker at times as well.  This will be and already is the most discussed issue (along with whether or not Lofton will return) among Falcon fans.  I could just as easily see a role playing type defensive end (Kendall Langford is one that has been mentioned) added if Williams is not added but again, I expect the Falcons to pull out all the stops to acquire Mario Williams.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  Last year’s draft pick, Matt Bosher, started off on the shaky side but quickly worked through it and became a very consistent punter.  The future looks very bright for Bosher and I look for him to establish himself much like Michael Koenen did early in his career with the team.  Matt Bryant returns along with his consistency as the placekicker.  Returner Eric Weems is a free agent.  If he doesn’t return, a receiver like Eddie Royal may be added to not only be the returner but also fill receiver duties.  Another option would be cornerback Dominique Franks as well.  In the end, I expect Weems to return to the team.

In two days, when the free agency doors swing wide open, there will certainly be a frenzy of signings.  The path of the future of the Falcons will be paved and the direction of the team will be clearer as question marks are erased with each signing.

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State of the Team before the Free Agency Frenzy begins

March 10th, 2012 2 comments

As everyone knows, the Falcons have fallen short of expectations the past two season and all indications from the postseason press conference are that there will be significant changes to not only the coaching staff but also some tweaking of the roster.  With that in mind, here are some things to think about when next Tuesday arrives:

QUARTERBACK:  The big question here is what direction will the team go for a backup quarterback.  While Chris Redman has been serviceable, he’s also carried a rather large cap number ($2.55 million and previously $3.05 million).  The problem lies with how few snaps he actually takes.  Last season saw him take only 11 snaps due to injury (and they were brief injuries where Ryan returned in both the Detroit and New Orleans games) and 2010 saw him no meaningful snaps (other than mop up duty in blow outs).  Perhaps the team will want to use those millions to pursue other needs and instead turn the backup job over to John Parker Wilson.  While highly unproven, he carries a significantly cheaper cap charge and would do more than well enough in the situations described above.  The other options are to sign one or draft one but again, I think the Falcons will try to go the cheaper route.

RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK:  I was very surprised to see the team bring back Snelling.  It’s definitely not a negative that he’s back but with Coach Smith indicating a larger role for Jacquizz Rodgers, I was unsure of where the carries would come from to support the move.  The playing time may not come all at half back but he may see an increased role at fullback.  It’s hard for me to envision Ovie Mughelli returning at a cap number approaching $4 million and also difficult to imagine any kind of extension considering he’s coming off a major knee injury and turning 32 in a few months.  When looking at run blocking, Mike Cox proved to be equal to or maybe even better than Mughelli in the same amount of snaps.  Further compounding the problem is that the Falcons used a fullback in only 25% of the plays last season.  I’m leaning towards the idea that Cox will be in the backfield for the tough yards and true run blocking situations while Snelling will not only get some carries at running back but also be featured in two back sets with both Turner and Rodgers at times to give defenses multiple looks and also involve more screen options which is something that Coach Smith has foreshadowed.  Not to mention that freeing up $3 million of cap space would do wonders for the Falcons free agency needs.

TIGHT ENDS:  With Gonzalez and Palmer back, that only leaves the #3 spot open to compete with Palmer at #2.  If you had asked me prior to the combine, I’d have really believed that there would be a 50% chance that the Falcons would be drafting Coby Fleener or Orson Charles with the second round pick.  Fleener is still a possibility but Charles obviously shot himself in the foot with his DUI.  I do expect the team to do something at tight end but it may be nothing more than signing one in hopes of striking gold and waiting for next year to find Gonzalez’s replacement.

WIDE RECEIVERS:  The Falcons are set with White and Jones as the main starters for the foreseeable future.  The question to ask is what happens with the slot receiver.  Harry Douglas and Eric Weems are both free agents and Douglas understandably wants a chance to start.  With the wide receiver pool deep in free agency, he may not get that shot and find himself back with the team.  Meanwhile, Weems offers a diverse set of skills from not only as a returner but also as a tackler (second on the team to Akeem Dent) and is a capable receiver (targeted 12 times and catching 11 passes last season, the lone incompletion was not a drop).  Kerry Meier returns along with Kevin Cone who was added to the team late last year.  If both Douglas and Weems return then I would only expect a late round draft pick at most to be added.  If only Douglas returns then you’ll see us draft one earlier that would most likely have return ability.  A Travis Benjamin type receiver who could develop into the slot position while serving as a dangerous return man comes to mind.  If Weems returns then he would man the slot and you might would see Dominique Franks take over return duties.

TACKLES:  I do not believe that the starting left tackle is currently on the team.  While Will Svitek is a valuable player to have, he’s not the bookend left tackle that the team will want to hitch their wagon to.  With the struggles of Sam Baker and a cap number of $4.1 million, there’s an opportunity to shave $2.5 million off the cap and use that along with other moves mentioned to sign someone like a Marcus McNeil or Demetrius Bell.  Tyson Clabo has the right side locked down. I would not rule out a draft pick, be it early or late, being used at tackle and almost expect it.

GUARDS:  Likewise, I also don’t think the Falcons are done at guard.  While Blalock is solid at left guard, right guard is wide open.  Garrett Reynolds just isn’t a guard in my opinion and tends to play too high (and that’s largely due to his height).  He’s much better suited to be a tackle but with Clabo on the right side, I don’t see that happening.  Mike Johnson missed last season with an injury and will get a chance to compete for the position again this season.  Last year’s draft choice of Andrew Jackson will be added to the mix again as will newly signed Vince Manuwai.  Manuwai missed last season after being cut in camp due to conditioning and an ankle injury.  If he returns to form of 2009/2010 then the Falcons problems at guard may very well be solved–at least short term.  Manuwai will be 32 when season starts so a longer term solution will probably be sought.  One player I would really love for the Falcons to snag is Geoff Schwartz.  According to reports, he is not likely to be tendered by Carolina.  Although he did miss last season with a hip injury he proclaims to be 100% healthy and ready to go.  At 25 years old, he’s young and has a huge upside.  Starting for Carolina in 2010, he graded out by Pro Football Focus to be the #7 right guard in the league and also started 5 games at right tackle and graded out well there too.  That kind of versatility is very valuable and would come at a very reasonable price.  The reward easily outweighs the risk.  The draft is also very deep at guard this year and provides even more options.

CENTER:  I don’t get the impression that the team will be re-signing Todd McClure.  While thankful for all of his years of service, all signs and comments point towards taking a step towards the future with this position.  I believe that Joe Hawley (drafted in 2010 for this very purpose) will be given the shot to man the position.  I do expect the team to possibly re-sign Brett Romberg to backup or possibly draft a center to compete with Hawley.  A great draft year for interior linemen, I find myself intrigued by David Mock who will most likely be around in the mid to late rounds.

While adding a player like Carl Nicks, Evan Mathis or other big name free agent offensive linemen are definitely appealing, I don’t get the impression that is the direction the team is going to go but I do think they will and have addressed needs as far as offensive line goes.  With a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach, it will be interesting to see what direction the team goes in but signing Manuwai paired with Blalock shows that they may want to go a lot bigger than they have in the past.

Tomorrow, I’ll break down the defense and special teams as we continue to take a look at what the future might hold.

Post-Draft Roster Analysis Part 2 – The Defense and Special Teams

May 1st, 2011 Comments off

Having reviewed the offensive side of the ball, this blog will look at the defense and special teams.

Defensive Ends:  John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis, Lawrence Sidbury, Emmanuel Stephens and Cliff Matthews

Lots of if’s among this group.  Abraham is getting older and enters the last year of his contract.  Biermann shows potential and needs to take the next step in his development to solidify his spot.  Beyond that, Anderson has underachieved and may be in his last year with the team.  Davis provides a solid rotational backup but is only signed through 2012.  Sidbury has yet to really crack the rotation and get anything more than spot duty.  This is the season that he’ll need to show something in order to stay a part of this group.  Stevens is a practice squad/camp body type player at this point.  The late round addition of Matthews will inject some youth and competition into the group.  Biggest rumor is that the Falcons will make a serious run at Ray Edwards.  If that’s the case, then I’d look for Biermann to move to the right side and replace Abraham in 2012 while working Sidbury and Matthews into the rotation.  I do not expect Anderson or Davis to make a significant impact or stay in the near future.

Defensive Tackles: Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Corey Peters, Vance Walker and Trey Lewis

Babineaux is as solid as they come but does turn 30 this season.  Jerry must improve and play at the level he was drafted to play.  He should be fully back from his injury this season and will show whether or not he’s part of the solution or not.  Peters played quite a bit for a rookie and should continue to develop.  Vance Walker is good rotational run stopper and should stay on board for quite some time.  Lewis hasn’t regained his promising form prior to being injured and I question whether he will at this point.  It’s my opinion that the key to our pass rush lies with the progression of Jerry and Peters not allowing opposing QB’s to step up and escape by scrambling or throwing.

Outside Linebackers:  Stephen Nicholas, Mike Peterson, Sean Weatherspoon, Spencer Adkins, Coy Wire and Robert James

Nicholas may or may not return depending on free agency rules and demand.  Peterson is not only at the end of his career but is also a free agent and may not return.  If he does, it will likely only be for another season.  Weatherspoon will be expected to step up and start this season and produce.  Wire is a dependable backup in run support.  Adkins has plenty of athletic ability and upside but seems relegated to special teams as does James.  Newly drafted Akeem Dent may figure into this picture in some way although I’m not sold that he has the speed or ability to drop into coverage to play on the outside.

Middle Linebackers:  Curtis Lofton, Akeem Dent and Bear Woods

Lofton is entering the last year of his contract and underwent double knee surgery.  Regardless of what level of surgery it is, it’s a red flag.  Lofton is very good against the run and has shown improvement against the pass.  The question now is longevity.  I’ve penciled in Dent as his primary backup but not sure that he really fits in the middle.  Time will tell on what Dent becomes and what his role will be.   While Woods has all the heart in the world,  I’m not sure he has a place on the squad at this point.  This is a position that seems to warrant attention in the next couple of seasons one way or the other.

Cornerbacks:  Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Christopher Owens, Dominique Franks and Brian Williams

Robinson and Grimes are the no-brainer outside corners.  What remains to be seen is who will be the nickelback.  Considering that the Falcons were in nickel defense more than 50% of the time last season, the nickel has to be looked upon as a starter.  As of now, Owens and Franks will most likely battle for that spot with a veteran brought in to compete as well.  I don’t look for Williams to return as he is a free agent and at the tail end of his career.  A bit puzzling that a corner wasn’t added in the draft but this could be a situation where there is heavy free agent action and 2 or 3 veterans signed to compete.

Safeties:  Thomas DeCoud, William Moore, Shan Shillinger, Rafael Priest and Rafael Bush

As long as Moore stays healthy and pays his traffic tickets, the Falcons should be fine at safety for a long time to come.  Shillinger provides adequate depth and very good special teams skills.  Priest and Bush will most likely compete for a single reserve safety spot.

Kickers and Punters:  Matt Bryant, Michael Koenen, Ken Parrish and Matt Bosher

Bryant and Koenen are ticketed for free agency.  I believe Bryant will re-sign while Koenen is allowed to seek employment elsewhere.  With a pick spent on Bosher, he’ll very likely be the next punter while Parrish serves as a camp body.

Most of the work for the Falcons in free agency will hinge on whether or not they feel the defensive end position is headed in the right direction and how many corners they want to bring in.  As was the case on the offensive side of the ball, a lot will be determined by what the team does with its own free agents.  I look for a defensive end, two corners and possibly a linebacker to be brought on board.


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Post-draft Roster Analysis–The Offense

May 1st, 2011 Comments off

The 2011 Draft is in the books and it’s time to take a look at the roster and get primed for free agency and the future.

Quarterbacks:  Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, J.P. Wilson

I was actually a little surprised that we didn’t add a QB in the late rounds but the QB talent in the draft was very thin and overrated in my opinion.  With Ryan, the Falcons obviously have their starter in place and have no pressing need at the position.  While Redman is a more than competent backup, he’ll be 34 years old this summer and signed through 2012, which will probably be his last contract with the Falcons.  Wilson enters his third season and is the heir apparent to Redman.  However, in order for that to happen, Redman will have to be let go and the financial commitment be made to Wilson.  A lot of that will depend on the free agency rules that end up in the new CBA but this would have to happen sooner than later which is why I expected to see another developmental QB added.  Maybe I was a year early.

Running Backs:  Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, Gartrell Johnson, Antone Smith, Jaquizz Rodgers, Jerious Norwood and Ovie Mughelli

Turner is signed for 3 more seasons and it’s hard to envision him going beyond that with the team.  Snelling is the obvious successor in the power role but is entering the free agency years of his career and will command more money.  There will be opportunities to either pay the price for Snelling now or trade him for value.  I don’t see much of a future for either Johnson or Smith at this point with the addition of Rodgers.  With the fifth round selection of Rodgers, we’ve added our new change of pace back which immediately ends Norwood’s stay in Atlanta as he enters free agency.  Looking forward, expect the team to draft a big back in the next draft or two to either compensate for Snelling leaving or Turner being cut in favor of Snelling.  As for Mughelli, he’s here until 2012 and I could actually see the fullback position being phased out by then and instead going with a two back set of a power back and a speed back or single back/empty backfield formations as this seems to be the way the team and offenses in general are moving.

Tight Ends:  Tony Gonzalez, Michael Palmer, Justin Peele, Robby Agnone and Marquez Branson

Gonzalez is back for 2011 and will most likely call it a career after this upcoming season, if not, 2012 is almost certain to be his last season.  After scouring reports, I have found nothing  pertaining to the Falcons tabbing Palmer as the future replacement for Gonzalez.  While Palmer has a similar body type, he’s not as fast or athletic as Gonzalez and is probably the backup solution.  Peele is more of a blocker and is getting up in age.  Agnone and Branson are not long term solutions and probably no more than camp bodies or practice squad players.  I really thought that a future tight end would be selected in the draft but that didn’t happen.  What is certain is that a tight end will almost certainly be drafted in 2012 or obtained in free agency.

Wide Receivers:  Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems, Kerry Meier, Julio Jones, Andy Strickland, Brandyn Harvey and Tim Buckley

Roddy White is the obvious star of the group but will turn 30 this year and is signed through 2014.  The drafting of Julio Jones not only adds speed to the #2 receiver spot but also gives us the next #1 when Roddy is done.  Jenkins is signed through 2012 and provides a sizeable option in the slot if he returns.  There are rumors that he will be traded or cut in the offseason.  Douglas is facing a pivotal year being that he will be 2 years removed from a knee injury and is expected to achieve the potential seen in his rookie season.  Weems is the consummate returner and also expected to contribute more in the receiving game.  Meier is coming off a knee injury and will likely only see time in 4 or 5 wide sets this season.  He is largely seen as the replacement for Finneran and as a slot receiver.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Falcons add another receiver via the draft in 2012.

Offensive Tackles:  Sam Baker, Tyson Clabo, Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds

I still don’t feel that Baker is a true left tackle but the team must feel comfortable enough with him at the position to proceed without change.  Clabo is set to enter free agency this offseason and will most likely be re-signed by the team.  Svitek is a competent backup to either tackle position and is signed through 2012.  The team is high on Reynolds (either at right tackle or at guard) and is signed through 2012.  His future will largely be determined by what happens in free agency this offseason and could very well end up being the starting right guard.

Guards:  Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl, Mike Johnson, Jose Valdez and Andrew Jackson

Blalock and Dahl are both set to be free agents and one of the two will surely be elsewhere in 2011 although depending on what happens with the CBA, it’s possible that both could find their way back onto the roster depending on free agency rules.  Johnson is the future of one of the guard positions and probably sooner than later.  Valdez is an intriguing developmental prospect that the team is high on and could eventually be a factor.  Newly added Andrew Jackson is another developmental prospect for the future.  Right now, the biggest question facing the Falcons is whether Blalock and Dahl return.  It’s hard for me to imagine both being retained or being allowed to leave and again, I have to caveat that with “depending on what happens with free agency rules.”

Centers:  Todd McClure, Joe Hawley and Rob Bruggeman

This is McClure’s last year under contract and it’s hard for me to see him playing beyond that.  Hawley is the heir at center and appears ready for the job.  Bruggeman is a developmental prospect.  I don’t expect a lot of movement at this position going forward but you could see a late draft pick added in 2012 as a backup to Hawley.


In summary, the Falcons offense is largely set with only the free agency questions at guard and tackle to answer for 2011.  Going forward, expect another developmental QB, power RB, a bona fide replacement for Gonzalez, WR for depth and o-line depth to be added in the next two drafts.


Next blog:  The Defense and Special Teams

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Grading the Game Week 1 AT Pittsburgh Steelers

September 19th, 2010 3 comments

In past seasons, I’ve used the statistics from the game as a base point and then explaining the numbers with the game review.  This method, while informative, didn’t do what I really wanted it to do.  This new format should accomplish what was missing previous with more analysis and less hard data.  If nothing else, it should provide for some interesting discussion!

AT Pittsburgh Steelers 6-9 (OT)

This was a very hard fought game and definitely a tough loss to swallow.  We had some opportunities to win the game but just didn’t get it done.  That’s stating the obvious so here’s the why and how as I see it.

Passing :  Matt Ryan is taking a lot of heat this week and I really think it’s unjust after reviewing this game.  In the first quarter, it appeared that his timing might have been off.  During the rest of the game, he hit his spots for the most part.  Yes, he through an interception that could have very easily cost us the game but other than that and a few throws that made me wonder what in the world he was thinking, he was very good.  I question why he was put in that situation.  (more on that later)  Grade:  B

Running :  Michael Turner struggled to find daylight and at times, seemed to hesitate on the rare occasion that there was daylight.  My question here is again on the coaching staff and that’s why didn’t Norwood get more than 2 carries?  If your north/south game isn’t getting it done then why not use your speed element to throw something different at them?  That made no sense to me.  Grade: C

Receiving:  With the limited camera angles, it’s impossible to evaluate route running (unless it’s the player getting the pass or they happen to spot something and show it) but from what I could tell, the receivers did their jobs.  I do think we miss Jenkins more than we realize but it was great to see Douglas back out there.  Grade: B

Offensive line:  In my opinion, this was where the game was lost and if not, it’s second to coaching.  There was very little push in the running game and Ryan was forced to move around and get rid of the ball far more than what I consider to be acceptable.  One thing I noticed is that our linemen were blocking north/south instead of turning their man away from the hole the running back is supposed to go through.  That either indicates that the linemen aren’t strong enough to turn their men away or that they are coached to block north/south.  Either way, that’s a huge concern to me and something I’ll keep an eye on going forward.  The other thing is that Baker and the entire right side of the line struggled mightily.  Baker had a tough assignment with Harrison but if you are going to be the left tackle, you’re supposed to be able to handle the tough assignments.  Dahl and Clabo were pushed backwards and beaten all day long.  The best two blockers in this game were Blalock and McClure.  While not perfect, their performance was solid, if not good.  Grade: D

Defensive line:  Very good job by our defensive front.  There was pressure throughout the game and the run was bottled up until the OT play where not only was  Grimes apparently out of position but Biermann was clearly held as you see Heath Miller’s hands grabbing jersey on the outside and turning Biermann away and then as Mendenhall breaks through the line and Biermann turns to pursue, Miller still has jersey at arm’s length.  While the non-call wasn’t what really lost us the game, it was something that should have been called in my opinion.

Linebackers:  Lofton picked up where he left off and might be even better.  Peterson had a very good game as well.  For his first start Weatherspoon didn’t play bad at all but the review did show several times were he was out of position or broke late on coverage and other rookie mistakes.  Grade: B

Secondary:  When watching the game live, I couldn’t understand how Hines Ward ended up so wide open on two plays in the second half.  Two words:  Erik Coleman.  He missed several tackles, was out of position several times and just flat beaten on others.  Grade: C (If I could play the take away the Coleman plays game it would be an B, maybe even a low A)

Special teams:  A couple of the punts were fair caught that probably shouldn’t have been and Koenen had the horrible punt in OT.  One thing I’ve noticed about Matt Bryant is that if he’s lined up on the left hash, he’s darn near perfect but put him on the right hash and you’d better cross your fingers.  Kickoffs were fine, coverage was fine.  Grade: B-/C+

Coaching:  I’d really love to ask Paul Boudreau about blocking techniques and see what’s being taught.  While I don’t necessarily buy into the hang Mularkey sentiment, I do question why Norwood wasn’t used more, why screen passes weren’t used more and when they were used it looked like we hadn’t practiced them at all (which may be why we didn’t use more) and where were all the slants that we saw in preseason.  Slants and screens would have helped back off some of that pressure that the Steelers were constantly bringing.  Finally, I wish Smitty would have stuck to his guns and gone for it on the late 4th down.  The defense had played so well that if we didn’t get that first down, you had to like your chances of getting the ball back with good field position to try again but with almost 4 minutes to go, I don’t agree with playing for a tie on the road.  Grade: C-

Overall, while it’s definitely a bitter pill to swallow I think there’s a lot to look forward to this season and I’m sure some of the questions we all have will get answered during the season.  On to the first home game and the Arizona Cardinals!

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Game #15 AT Minnesota Vikings Game Review

December 28th, 2008 Comments off

This one wasn’t pretty but resulted in a 24-17 win and a clinched playoff spot thanks to some key turnovers by the Vikings and some smart plays by our defense. At 10-5, the sights are now set on the division title should the Panthers lose.

Here’s what I saw:


Running game: Turner (19/70, 1 TD), Norwood (6/10), Snelling (3/12), Douglas (1/4) and Ryan (3/2) . Effective Runs (4 yards or more or scores TD)-Turner,9; Douglas, 1; Norwood, 1; Snelling, 2 and Ryan, 1.

Breakdown of passes:

Ryan: 13/24, 134 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT. Breakdown of incompletions: 6 Bad passes, 2 Drops, 1 pass defended and 3 thrown away.

Drops (2): White and Norwood

YTD Drops (36):

White – 16
Douglas – 3
Jenkins – 5
Finneran – 4
Turner – 2
Peele – 2
Norwood – 2
Jennings – 1
Snelling – 1

Receiving: Jenkins had 4 catches for 61 yards to lead the team in both categories.

Run blocking: Was very good early but faded fast.

Pass blocking: Way too much pressure on Ryan allowed. 2 sacks, 4 pressures and plenty of hits.

Sack responsibility (2): First was on Clabo getting run over by Edwards. Last sack was on Ryan scrambling off right end by Edwards.

YTD Sacks (15):

Justin Blalock – 2.0
Todd Weiner – 1.5
Tyson Clabo – 2.0
Busted Play – 1.0
Matt Ryan – 6.0
Wayne Gandy – 1.0
Quinn Ojinnaka – 1.0
Jerious Norwood – 1.0
Jason Snelling – 0.5

Note: QB responsible sacks are those that he has at least 3 seconds and either chose to try to scramble or stayed in the pocket when the better decision would be to throw it away. Also includes those rushing attempts that go for 0 or negative yardage that for some reason are counted as a sack.


Run defense: Limited Peterson to only 76, unfortunately, never spied Jackson and allowed 76 to him as well. Very mixed review.

Pass Defense: If Shiancoe would have been covered then the pass defense wouldn’t grade out negatively but 136 yards and 2 TD’s to the tight end shows what a sore spot this is.

Sacks (3): Moorehead got the first resulting in a turnover as well. Davis and Abraham also picked up sacks.

Special Teams:

Norwood had 3 kickoff returns (1 touchback):1-from the 1, 25 yards. 2-from the 3, 35 yards. 3-from the 2, 20 yards.

Douglas had 2 punt returns: 1. from the 45, 4 yard return 2. from the 17, 13 yards nullified by 12 men on field penalty.

Koenen had 6 punts: 1-34 yards to the 22, muffed and recovered by ATL. 2-48 yards to the 10, 7 yard return. 3-50 yards to the endzone, touchback. 4-36 yards to the 44, no return. 5-37 yards to the 18, no return. 6-48 yards to the 33, no return. Not his best but decent.

Koenen had 5 kickoffs: 1-to the goal line, 10 yard return. 2-to the 3, 19 yard return. 3-squib to the 29, 11 yard return. 4-to the endzone, touchback. 5-to the endzone, touchback. Very good day on kickoffs.

Field Goals: 1/1 Good from 22.

Special Teams coverage: Excellent coverage.

Things that really need improvement:

1. Cover the middle of the field better in pass coverage (especially Tight Ends and Running Backs). This is going to kill us one day.
2. Eliminate 3rd and long conversions/big plays by opposition.
3. Spy running QBs.

Offensive MVP: Michael Jenkins (4 catches, 61 yards-made some really big catches)

Defensive MVP: John Abraham (1 sack, 4 tackles, 4 pressures, 1 fumble forced)

Special Teams MVP: Eric Weems (1 forced fumble)

Goat of the Week: Brian Van Gorder (for not putting a spy on Jackson and not calling more attention to Shiancoe in coverage)

Let me know your thoughts and questions otherwise:

Next up: VS St. Louis Rams, December 28th!

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Game #14 VS Tampa Bay Buccaneers Game Review

December 28th, 2008 Comments off

For all the criticisms of the defense, it really stepped up in this game in combination with Tampa’ mountain of penalties. Despite a couple of misfirings by Ryan, a fumble at the goal line by Rader and a special teams gaffe by Wire, the defense refused to break and picked up the slack to carry the team to a 13-10 overtime win over their division rivals. The huge win moved the birds to 9-5 and firmly entrenched in the playoff race with division title hopes still alive.

Here’s what I saw:


Running game: Turner (32/152, 1 TD), Norwood (4/-7), Douglas (1/11) and Ryan (6/19) . Effective Runs (4 yards or more or scores TD)-Turner,12 and Ryan, 3.

Breakdown of passes:

Ryan: 15/23, 206 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT. Breakdown of incompletions: 7 Bad passes and 1 thrown away. Both INT’s happened in Tampa territory. Along with a fumble, these miscues could have cost us the game.

Drops (0): None

YTD Drops (34):

White – 15
Douglas – 3
Jenkins – 5
Finneran – 4
Turner – 2
Peele – 2
Norwood – 1
Jennings – 1
Snelling – 1

Receiving: White had 4 catches for 61 yards to lead the team in both categories.

Run blocking: Was very good amassing 175 yards at 4.1 a play.

Pass blocking: Not as much pressure as Tampa normally gets.

Sack responsibility (1): Came on safety blitz that was unblocked. Ryan was stepping up in the pocket and got stripped.

YTD Sacks (13):

Justin Blalock – 2.0
Todd Weiner – 1.5
Tyson Clabo – 1.0
Busted Play – 1.0
Matt Ryan – 5.0
Wayne Gandy – 1.0
Quinn Ojinnaka – 1.0
Jerious Norwood – 1.0
Jason Snelling – 0.5

Note: QB responsible sacks are those that he has at least 3 seconds and either chose to try to scramble or stayed in the pocket when the better decision would be to throw it away. Also includes those rushing attempts that go for 0 or negative yardage that for some reason are counted as a sack.


Run defense: Allowed 99 yards with an average of 3.8 yards per carry. Gave up some yardage late but was overall very good. Coy Wire made a noticeable difference in place of Boley.

Pass Defense: 269 yards allowed, which isn’t terrible, but there were a couple of big plays at crucial times that hurt. Bryant really abused Houston towards the end of the first half but was quieted when Foxworth manned up on him.

Sacks (4): Grady Jackson got 1 sack and Abraham got the other 3.

Special Teams:

Norwood had 3 kickoff returns:1-from the 9, 16 yards. 2-from the 6, 20 yards. 3-from the 5, 20 yards. I’m convinced something isn’t right with Norwood.

Douglas had 5 punt returns: 1. from the 47 TB, 13 yard return 2. from the 21, 7 yards. 3. from the 20, 17 yards. 4. from the 13, 10 yards nullified by Foxworth holding penalty. 5. from the 29, fair catch. Douglas did well when he had an opportunity. (Finneran had a fair catch, there was 1 touchback and 2 punts out of bounds as well)

Koenen had punts: 1-44 yards to the 23, fair catch (aided by unncessary roughness penalty). 2-48 yards to the 45, 12 yard return partially nullified by illegal block penalty. 3-52 yards to the 6,4 yard return. 4-34 yards to the 11, no return. 5-47 yards to the 32, 6 yard return. 6-Blocked with Tampa recovering and returning to the 22. Resulted due to Coy Wire’s missed block.

Koenen had 4 kickoffs: 1-to the 8, 17 yard return. 2-to the 5, 17 yard return nullified by illegal block penalty. 3-to the -1, 24 yard return. 4-to the goal line, 21 yards nullified by holding penalty. 2 of the kicks weren’t as deep as normal.

Field Goals: 2/2 Good from 26 and 34 (including the game winner).

Special Teams coverage: The blocked punt almost cost us the game.

Things that really need improvement:

1. Cover the middle of the field better in pass coverage (especially Tight Ends and Running Backs). Not sure why this hasn’t received more attention
2. Eliminate 3rd and long conversions/big plays by opposition.
3. Defensive consistency in the second half.

Offensive MVP: Michael Turner (152 rushing yards, 30 receiving yards, 1 TD)

Defensive MVP: Domonique Foxworth (3 tackles, 1 INT, and 3 passes defended)

Special Teams MVP: Jason Elam (game-winning field goal)

Goat of the Week: Matt Ryan (2 INT’s and a fumble)

Let me know your thoughts and questions otherwise:

Next up: AT Minnesota Vikings, December 21st!

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