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Seven Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Titans

August 23rd, 2014 No comments
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Holmes

The Atlanta Falcons face the Tennessee Titans in the third preseason of the 2014 summer later tonight. Tge third preseason is often termed the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season because teams typically play their starters for the majority of the game.

The Falcons are likely to be no different with their starters playing the entire first half and at least one series of the third quarter. That puts a lot of focus on said starters as they should have plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills.

The Falcons have a few question marks among their starting group, and hopefully they’ll get the answers they seek tonight against the Titans. Thusly, there’s more Falcon players to keep your eyes on tonight as opposed to past preseason games, as this may be the last opportunity you get to watch many of them.

Jake Matthews

The Falcons top pick in 2014 will be making his professional debut at left tackle. He’ll be tasked with blocking the likes of Kamerion Wimbley, Jurrell Casey and Akeem Ayers on the right side of the Titans defense, all three being capable and established players. Matthews has had more ups than downs thus far this preseason. Despite a penalty-laden debut against the Dolphins, Matthews held his own against one of the league’s premier pass-rushers in Cameron Wake in that game. Last week, Matthews had no major issue dealing with the Texans pass-rushers. But it also probably helped that he didn’t have to face JaDeveon Clowney, as Sam Baker had.

This week will be a big test for Matthews, to see how quickly he can transition to playing the more difficult spot on the left side. If he fares well against the capable pass-rushers the Titans feature on his side of the line, things will be looking very promising heading into the regular season. If Matthews struggles, then it may signal another year or inconsistent offensive line play for the Falcons.

It’s not an exaggeration that Matthews’ performance this year will be a huge factor in whether the team will be back in the playoff hunt once again.

Lamar Holmes

On the opposite side of the line, the Falcons have even a bigger question mark in Holmes. Even in Matthews manages to struggle this year, the expectations will remain that he’ll eventually be a good player. The same can’t be said for Holmes. While Holmes has shown improvement from a year ago, it remains to be seen if he’s improved to a level where he won’t be considered a liability up front. Holmes will be squaring off against a familiar opponent in Derrick Morgan, who along with other Titans defenders readily abused him last summer via stunts. Holmes looked lost being plugged into the lineup to replace Mike Johnson last year. This year’s re-match against the Titans will test whether Holmes is any better prepared for another trial-by-fire year.

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Roster Talk: Most Vulnerable Falcons As Cuts Near

August 21st, 2014 No comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kimario McFadden

The Atlanta Falcons will have to cut over a dozen players by Tuesday’s league-mandated deadline to get their roster down to 75 players. As the team heads into their third preseason action against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, there are several players that are vulnerable to find their NFL hopes and dreams come crashing down. Let’s examine several of them.

Last year, I made a list of 20 Falcon players that were most vulnerable to be released by the Falcons at the initial 75-player cutdown deadline. The team needed to cut 14 players to get down to the roster limit. They did so, and 12 of the 14 appeared on my list.

I’ll do the same this year, by listing 20 players that I think are most susceptible to be released by Tuesday. Obviously, because the Falcons only have to cut 15 players this year, five of these players should be able to survive for another few days before rosters must be finalized at 53 players by Saturday, August 30.

As I noted last year, occasionally NFL teams will try to sneak a player through waivers by releasing him in the first cuts, so that he can eventually be placed on the practice squad a week later when those are established. That did indeed happen last year with quarterback Seth Doege being among the first cuts and eventually wound up on the Falcons practice squad. But that was more of a technicality since Doege’s presence on the practice squad was really only a result of third-string quarterback Sean Renfree suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason finale. Had Renfree stayed healthy, there’s virtually no chance that Doege would have been signed to the practice squad.

The Falcons also did this before in 2012 when they snuck Chase Coffman through the first cuts and he eventually landed on the practice squad. But the point is that this is not something the Falcons commonly do, and I would bet against it happening again this season.

Quarterback – Jeff Mathews

Mathews saw his first action of the preseason last week, but only played four snaps at the end of the Houston Texans game. If Mathews does not get more snaps in the second half of this week’s upcoming game against the Titans, it’s probably not a strong bet that he’ll make it through the initial cuts. Traditionally, the Falcons have only played two quarterbacks in the fourth preseason game, and it’s a strong probability that T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree will be those two. So basically this weekend might prove to be Mathews’ last chance, and thus he’ll need to get more than one series and perform at a relatively high level to salvage one more shot at the roster.

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What Is Wrong With Falcons Backup Quarterbacks?

August 20th, 2014 No comments
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Dirk Koetter

It looked like the Atlanta Falcons had finally decided to address their lack of experience at the quarterback position behind starter Matt Ryan this past June when they acquired T.J. Yates via trade from the Houston Texans.

However that decision has yet to pay dividends.

Yates is coming off a very poor performance in the team’s second preseason action against his former team, where he threw two interceptions and had a couple more passes that could have easily been turnovers.

In June, I outlined reasons why the team’s acquisition of Yates was a good move. Those reasons were centered on the fact that Yates had experience as a starter, something the team lacked at the time in reserves Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews, all of whom hardly had any NFL experience.

While by no means did I want to suggest that Yates was a particularly good backup option, he certainly was better than what the team had. And for a Falcons organization that has a tendency to twiddle its thumbs even when there are fairly obvious roster issues, striving for better was at least a step in the right direction if not ultimately the solution.

However, 2014 is a critical year for this team and its coaching staff. At this point for Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who faces scrutiny coming off a 4-12 season, every win that he can get in 2014 matters.

And thus, if having a competent backup quarterback can mean the difference of winning one more game if the team finds itself in the absence of Ryan, then that one decision could ultimately decide Smith’s fate.

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2014 Falcons Preseason Stock Report – Week 2

August 20th, 2014 No comments
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Worrilow

The Atlanta Falcons lost their second preseason game to the Houston Texans this past weekend in somewhat sloppy and embarrassing fashion, getting outplayed in all three phases of the game. But despite the disheartening loss, there were a few players that raised their stock in bids to earn key roles or roster spots with the team, along with others that must do more to get back into the good graces of coaches and fans alike.

STOCK UP

DE Malliciah Goodman

Goodman is ascending with two solid preseason performances this summer. Showing the ability to penetrate and collapse the pocket, he was the team’s most productive pass-rusher against the Texans. Goodman has also made plays against the run, showing the ability to defeat double teams and disrupt plays in the backfield.

He’s an ascending player, and frankly has played at a level that is deserving of a starting spot if not for the deference given to veterans Jonathan Babineaux and Tyson Jackson. Goodman has appeared in the team’s sub-packages lined up beside Babineaux as an interior pass-rusher. That is possibly a role he could maintain in the regular season given that neither Jackson nor nose tackle Paul Soliai are known for their pass-rushing prowess. But Goodman’s ability to also stuff the run means the Falcons could tinker with the notion of starting him over either veteran. In the case of Babineaux, it would help keep the 32-year old fresher for those passing situations. In the case of Jackson, it may simply result in getting a better player on the field for the majority of snaps.

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Hard Knocks Episode 3 Recap – Masters of Fundamentals

August 20th, 2014 No comments

Hard KnocksAnother week and another episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons aired last night. It was another good one featuring several montages in the lead-up to the Falcons’ road trip to Houston to face the Texans in preseason.

I’m sure the show was able to clear a couple of rooms to start off, showing doctors performing surgery on linebacker Marquis Spruill’s torn ACL. If you’re a bit squeamish, it might have been a good time to go grab a beer from the fridge for a few minutes. But it was good to see Marquis have a very positive attitude about it, saying that he’d be “right as rain” soon.

It was an injury-filled episode. Not only did we see how players like Steven Jackson, Kroy Biermann and Julio Jones are recovering from their respective injuries, but we also witnessed Sam Baker’s season-ending injury suffered towards the end of the episode in the game against the Texans.

We got to see that the team’s delay on officially moving Jake Matthews to left tackle was just as much a farce as you thought it was. During the Texans game, offensive line coach Mike Tice told Jake that he would be the new left tackle immediately once Baker went down.

William Moore got to showcase his freestyling skills in front of teammates in the trainer’s room. He was outdone in the music department when we witnessed a jam session with ukeleles between Levine Toilolo and Brenden Daley while hanging out by the pool at the team hotel in Houston. Toilolo’s rendition of Mario’s “Just a Friend 2002″ was great.

Wide Geraldo “Amsterdam” Boldewijn was featured heavily on last night’s episode. We learned that he’s super raw as a wide receiver, taking some heat from both wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie and quarterback Matt Ryan alike. But at least he can speak four languages.

We got to see Harry Douglas, Roddy White and Julio Jones spend some time at the bowling alley. Harry got to show off his “aerial” technique, although Julio wound up winning the game, beating him by a single point. Roddy was a distant third.

Not only were Roddy’s bowling skills subpar, but his reflexes and hand-eye coordination was lacking in a game where the Falcons receivers were taking turns trying to catch a dollar bill before it hit the ground. I did like the jab that the producers of Hard Knocks took at their practice antics by displaying a sign afterwards that said: “No Children Allowed on the Field.”

T.J. Yates’ struggles to pick up the offense were also featured. That might explain his struggles in last week’s game. Or maybe he just wanted to make his former teammates look good.

Bryan Cox was revealed as an overprotective father when it comes to his daughters. We also got a brief earful of his prolific sex life. Apparently he was getting dirty instead of learning his multiplication tables. He is without a doubt the breakout star of the show.

I’m not sure Matt Ryan has a second career in comedy. Nothing wrong with the joke itself, but he didn’t tell it particularly well. However, I did like the fingertip grab made by the son of the Texans tight ends coach after practice on a pass from Ryan.

Other highlights:

  • Keith Armstrong chewing out Tyler Starr for his “karate moves” in trying to defeat blocks on special teams coverage. Non-Bryan Cox Quote of the night might have been Armstrong’s: “God Bless you, but get down the field!”
  • J.J. Watt enters practice like a boss!
  • Maurice Hagens is not good at removing his pads.
  • Bernard Reedy is not very friendly to rival mascots.
  • Don’t mess with D.J. Swearinger, especially if you’re going to try and sucker punch him like Douglas.

Next week’s episode promises to feature Joe Hawley’s take on the famous scene from the film Ghost and Bryan Cox’s cinematic tastes.

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 18, 2014

August 18th, 2014 No comments
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2014 is another lost season for Sam Baker

The biggest concern emerging from the Atlanta Falcons 32-7 preseason loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday was the injury to left tackle Sam Baker.

Baker tore his patellar tendon in his right knee and is out for the season. It likely marks the end of Baker’s career as a Falcon.

The team drafted Jake Matthews to be their left tackle of the future and after Baker’s injury, the future is now.

There is a part of me that is glad the Falcons will be able to liberate themselves from Baker’s terrible contract, but at the same time, there is a larger part of me that is distraught that it had to end this way.

While Matthews’ presence made Baker the most expendable of their five projected starters, it does not mean that the Falcons won’t lose something.

That is because the Falcons may be forced to play either Lamar Holmes or Ryan Schraeder in the starting lineup this season. And thus far based off their play in the preseason, neither have shown any strong inclination that they are prepared for such an assignment.

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Breakdown of Falcons Preseason Week 2 vs. Texans

August 17th, 2014 No comments
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

Just like last week, I’m breaking down any and every player that stood out to me (or didn’t) in the Atlanta Falcons preseason loss to the Houston Texans. Since there are so many players, I’ve separated them by position group. Brew a cup of coffee and sit back, because we’re going to be here for a while.

Quarterback

What I Saw: It’s hard to be critical of Matt Ryan’s performance in this game. His numbers weren’t good, but he didn’t play poorly. He missed on the first big throw to Julio Jones down the sideline, throwing too far outside which made it hard for Julio to keep both feet in bounds. He then had two more incompletions because of what I’d call lackadaisical effort by Roddy White. His last incompletion wasn’t an ideally placed pass on an in cut by Jones, but more often than not, Julio wins in those sort of traffic situations.

The Falcons backup quarterback play was erratic at best, and just plain horrible at worst. Sean Renfree had a nice stat-line, but got help from defensive penalties that nullified a couple of bad throws and decisions. Renfree had a couple of overthrows and inaccurate passes that he should have hit on. But he fared much better than T.J. Yates, who had a very rough game with two picks. The first, a pick-six, I’d blame mainly on Julian Jones who didn’t even look for the ball on a miscommunication. The second pick was 100 percent on Yates. It was a 2nd-and-18, and Yates was looking for a first down from Jabin Sambrano, throwing late over the middle. Texans linebacker Max Bullough read the throw the entire way and made an easy pick. On that play, Yates had easier completions on check downs to Tramaine Thompson, Jerome Smith or Brian Wozniak that could have gained a few easy yards and set up a more manageable third down. Obviously, Yates got too aggressive and the Falcons paid for it.

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Five Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Texans

August 16th, 2014 No comments

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Baker

Unlike last week where the focus was on several young players trying to carve out roles with the team, this week’s Atlanta Falcons players to keep eyes on are mostly established veterans. That is because the Falcons starters will likely play at least the entire first quarter tonight against the Houston Texans. It will be their most extensive action thus far and should be more informative about whether or not certain roster positions and players are ready to assume significant roles this season.

Sam Baker

Baker was arguably the team’s best blocker among their starting five against the Miami Dolphins last week, but will face a significant test against rookie edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney on Saturday.

While Clowney is far from a proven playmaker in only his second NFL game, he does present a significant challenge for a player like Baker, who throughout his career has struggled against players with top-level speed and quickness off the line. That certainly can be said of Clowney even at this point in his career, and it will be notable if Baker can perform well against him in this game. He had a good two days of practice against Clowney this past week, and we’ll have to see if that carries over into the game tonight.

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Hard Knocks Episode 2 Recap – Big Balls

August 13th, 2014 2 comments

Hard KnocksAs I did a week ago, I’m here for you folks that either missed last night’s episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons, or those that saw it and just want to read my take on it.

The second episode opened showing the team’s release of fullback Roosevelt Nix and players’ reactions to it. That was followed up by showing general manager Thomas Dimitroff riding his bike with Lance Armstrong. At least as far as I’m concerned, while TD’s bike-riding may be interesting to outsiders, it may be the dullest aspect of his personality. How and why people find a 47-year old man riding a bike and palling around with Lance Armstrong to compelling television is beyond me.

But anyway, the show then began to showcase several of the Falcons 2014 draft class, including Ra’Shede Hageman getting some tough love and hard-coaching from Bryan Cox. We got to see the Falcons work against the Tennessee Titans in their scrimmage from last week and were privy to the mixed messages that Mike Smith seems to be sending to the team about fighting. Although in this instance, it seemed more clear that Smith was okay with his players fighting other team’s players versus teammates.

We got to see how some of the rookies spent their off days from camp practice. Hageman and Marquis Spruill swam with a giant whale shark at the aquarium, while Ricardo Allen and his girlfriend went zip-lining. We also were witness to Spruill’s unfortunate knee injury from last week. Aside from Spruill’s injury, I enjoyed these parts the most since we got to see the rookies as human beings blowing off a little steam away from the practice field.

The show closed showing some of the highlights from the Falcons preseason win over the Miami Dolphins last week. Bryan Cox closed out the show in fine fashion with a cigar smoke-laden conversation with outside linebackers coach Mark Collins, discussing some of the Falcons players but more importantly Cox’s examination of the darkness of men’s hearts.

Next week’s show promised a preview of the battle for backup quarterback, with undrafted rookie Jeff Mathews’ arm likely being featured.

Other highlights of the show:

  • A Sean Weatherspoon cameo that also showed his mentoring of Prince Shembo, who looks hungry enough to have Joplo Bartu looking over his shoulder.
  • Cuteness overload with Tyler Starr’s son. Although, a tip to Tyler, teach your son to run with proper form. Apparently, athleticism skips a generation.
  • How Ricardo Allen earned the nickname that headlines this recap.
  • William Moore and Roddy White’s perpetual war of trash-talking.

2014 Falcons Preseason Stock Report – Week 1

August 12th, 2014 No comments
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Kemal Ishmael

This is my second instance of trying to access which Atlanta Falcons players have raised their stock or lowered their stock through the early part of the summer. Unlike before which was based off the first week of training camp practices, we now have a preseason game to incorporate.

STOCK UP

RB Antone Smith

Smith’s performance against the Miami Dolphins was a standout one where he was able to flash big-play potential on a run and a pass, if not for the fact that both were nullified by penalties. His first, a 34-yard catch on a simple checkdown was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty on wide receiver Harry Douglas. On that play, Smith made a simple catch over the middle, but was able to use his speed to outrun angles by Dolphins linebackers for the big gain. His next big play came in the second quarter, where he burst off the right side of the line, juked a defender and then outran the Dolphins defense on a 76-yard sprint to the endzone. That was held up due to a holding call on right tackle Jake Matthews. But despite the penalties, the plays have the Falcons exploring ways in which they can have Smith be a regular part of the Falcons offense this season.

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