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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 11, 2014

August 11th, 2014 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Falcons show toughness against Miami?

The Atlanta Falcons played their first preseason game on Friday night against the Miami Dolphins and won. That alone might be a cause for celebration and instill the belief that this year’s Falcon team is different from its predecessors.

That’s probably a stretch given the fickle and irrelevant nature of the preseason. The reasons why teams win preseason games are usually because some third-string player that is probably not going to make the team makes a big play or a mistake in the fourth quarter that decides the outcome. In the case of the Falcons-Dolphins game, the outcome of the game could be reduced to the tackle by Falcons safety Sean Baker that saved a touchdown, and the botched snap by Dolphins quarterback Seth Lobato. Two players with NFL careers that may just be footnotes in team media guides. Two instances that don’t quite apply to how the Falcons 2014 regular season is going to shape up. I’m certainly not expecting Baker to make a touchdown-saving tackle on a screen to Brandin Cooks Week 1.

Nonetheless, there are reasons to be positive if you so choose, and there are also reasons to be negative based off the Falcons first preseason action.

Some of the positives are that the Falcons’ play in the trenches was fairly strong. Working against the Falcons starting defensive line on the first two series, the Dolphins were successful on just two of seven (28.6 percent) running plays. That’s a sign that the added beef up front for the Falcons has improved. On the opposite side of the ball, the Falcons themselves were successful on four of their eleven (36.4 percent) runs with the starting offensive line. Not great by any means, but certainly competent.

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Breakdown of Falcons Preseason Week 1

August 9th, 2014 No comments
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Jacquizz Rodgers

As I did last year with each preseason game, I will post my reactions to what I saw on the field in the Atlanta Falcons preseason-opening win over the Miami Dolphins.

The preseason is a time for individual player evaluation, and I’ve looked at every snap from the game and here are my thoughts, observations, and opinions based off what I saw. Since there are so many players to discuss, like last year, I will break them down by position group.

Quarterbacks

What I Saw: Matt Ryan played well in the game, getting pulled after the opening series, a 10-play drive. He completed all of his passes. His best throw was probably his first, which saw him thread the needle to Harry Douglas on a slant pass. To no one’s surprise, it was a solid night for Ryan and he’s poised for the regular season.

T.J. Yates stepped in on the second offensive series and played through the midpoint in the third quarter for five possessions. I thought Yates showed good decision-making throughout the night, but his accuracy wasn’t stellar. There were a couple of throws where he had to make his receivers work a little harder than they needed to, but in most cases they were catchable passes. The throw to Devonta Freeman at the end of the half probably was the most glaring example where Yates could’ve had better placement. That could have been a touchdown. He almost had a second touchdown on a slant to Geraldo Boldewijn at the end of the third quarter, but I put more blame on Boldewijn there even though it wasn’t a perfect throw. Yates pocket movement was good, but his lack of ideal arm strength and accuracy hold him back. But a lot of his incompletions probably had more to do with him working with green, inexperienced receivers. If he was to work with guys like Jones, Douglas and White, he should be okay as a fill-in starter behind Ryan.

Sean Renfree played four series in the second half and made a couple of nice throws. His wheel route to Freeman for 57 yards was his best throw. He almost threw a pick at the end of the game because he stared down Freddie Martino and did not see the linebacker underneath in the throwing lane. From this game, there appears to be a gap between Yates and Renfree, which should surprise no one. Jeff Mathews did not suit up.

Conclusions: Judging solely off this game, Yates probably has a firm handle on the No. 2 job simply because he seems to be operating at a much more cerebral level than Renfree. He’s more decisive and showed better touch, timing, and accuracy on his throws, despite not exactly grading off the charts in those areas. I will be curious if the Falcons do Mathews like they did Seth Doege, who did not take a single snap last summer in four preseason games. If Mathews doesn’t get a couple of series next week, that becomes a strong possibility.

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Five Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Dolphins

August 8th, 2014 No comments

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Devonta Freeman

All five of these Atlanta Falcons players are in a position to have some standout performances on Friday night in the team’s preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins.

Devonta Freeman

With Steven Jackson out of the lineup, Freeman is likely to get most of the work tonight against the Dolphins. While he may not wind up being the starter, we should see him get work early with the first-team offense. The two areas where Freeman will need to show the most tonight is running the football and pass protection. Toting the rock isn’t a huge challenge for Freeman, but he’ll have to show a few extra things such as the ability to get reliable yards after contact if he doesn’t want to be simply a change-of-pace runner this season. Freeman was a capable pass protector during his collegiate days, but that was then, this is now. He’ll have to show that he can handle the size and strength of NFL defensive linemen, linebackers and other blitzers if he’s going to be trusted to garner serious reps on third down this year. It’s overall, a big potential debut for Freeman. There’s no doubt that Freeman will have some role with the Falcons runners this year, but how big a role that is will be partially determined by how he fares tonight.

Bernard Reedy

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Reedy since his first arrival in Atlanta as an undrafted free agent in May. He’s not the first undrafted rookie wide receiver to receive a great deal of hype as a playmaker in the lead-up to actual games being played. Martel Moore was the superstar of last summer. But Moore did not distinguish himself at all in any of the preseason games despite receiving rave reviews almost every day in practice. Reedy cannot go down that same path.

Reedy has explosive speed and needs to display that tonight after the catch. He should also get a few opportunities as a return man, which should also help his cause. He’s a front-runner as a possible sixth wide receiver on this year’s roster and his preseason debut could help him a long way to earning that.

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Five Things to Expect in Falcons vs. Dolphins

August 8th, 2014 No comments

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Kemal Ishmael

Having done a smidgen of research by looking at last year’s trends in the Atlanta Falcons preseason opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, I have come up with five things that you can expect to see in this year’s opener against the Miami Dolphins.

1. Falcons Starters Will Not Play Much

Given the Falcons have only a handful of starting positions up for grabs, most of the team’s starters will be in limited action against the Dolphins. Last year, quarterback Matt Ryan and the starting offense played slightly more than a dozen snaps on the first three series. The defense was about the same.

Depending on how the Falcons perform on their first few series will likely determine if/when Mike Smith decides to pull the plug on them. If the offense marches down the field twice and scores touchdowns, then it’s likely Smith will be satisfied with that performance. But if they were to struggle on either drive, then expect Smith to give them a third to try and iron out the kinks. The same holds true for the defense.

While it’s possible that Smith could pull the starters after a single series, given the increased focus on “toughness” this summer, I suspect they’ll get at least two to try and show some.

It will be interesting to see which starters if any garner increased reps. Last year against the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason opener, Lamar Holmes and Desmond Trufant were starters that earned extra reps with the second unit groups. If anybody likely gets similar treatment this year, it’s likely to be whoever lines up as the starting free safety, particularly if it’s an unproven player like Kemal Ishmael or Dezmen Southward.

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Hard Knocks Episode 1 Recap – Tough, Smart Football

August 6th, 2014 No comments

Hard KnocksIf you happened to miss the first episode of the HBO documentary series Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons last night, don’t worry. I’m here to help you out and fill you in on what you missed.

I’m not going to give you a shot-for-shot breakdown of the entire hour-long episode, just a brief summary of what you missed and my favorite (and not so favorite) moments.

The first episode basically showed the Falcons in the lead-up to training camp and their first week of action through last week’s Friday Night Lights event. We got to see the off-field lives of several players in what they were doing in the days/weeks leading up to camp, including Bear Pascoe (farming), Steven Jackson (exhibiting art), Tyler Starr (working out and being a father), Harry Douglas (packing) and Kroy Biermann (being a reality TV star).

We saw the coaches meet before camp and emphasize their plan to increase effort and toughness with head coach Mike Smith demanding that they instill “tough, smart football.”

Of course, the first episode made note of the numerous fights that dotted the first week of work. Jacques Smith can certainly attest to how hard Ryan Schraeder hits.

We got a glimpse of what I assume was the rookie talent show, which featured all the rookies getting up in front of the team and performing a skill. Roddy White showed his displeasure with the singing talents of Jeff Mathews and Jacob Pedersen by pelting them with empty water bottles as they exited stage left. Ra’Shede Hageman won’t have a second career in music, but his teammates seemed to enjoy his rendition of R. Kelly’s “Feelin’ On Yo Booty.” Dezmen Southward however stole the show with his impression of special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. Even though I don’t have a clue how Armstrong talks or acts, it was still hilarious.

The show did a nice job contrasting the living situations of William Moore, a veteran who bought a brand new house with his $30 million contract last year, and that of rookie Devonta Freeman. Freeman seemed to find the world’s smallest bathtub to be luxurious somehow.

Other highlights include:

  • I went “icky balooky” for Terrell Owens’ cameo.
  • Peria Jerry telling Mike Smith that he is retiring
  • Roddy was just as much the character you think he is
  • Nothing puts a period on a point better than slurping a Capri Sun.
  • Steven Jackson got to show his leadership. Didn’t realize until now how much older he is than everybody else in the running back room. Must be tough when nearly everybody is between six and nine years younger than you.
  • Donte Rumph’s nickname of “Cupcake” and how he worked to shed it.
  • The show did no favors for Harry Douglas, who revealed that he uses women’s deodorant. Based off perhaps five minutes of screen-time in this episode alone, I’ll have a large repertoire of Douglas jokes for the next several months.

If you get the opportunity, tune in next week since a preview of the second episode promised a Sean Weatherspoon appearance.

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 4, 2014

August 4th, 2014 No comments

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones (left) and Roddy White will have to carry Falcons offense this year

The Atlanta Falcons are practicing today against the Tennessee Titans. It will be interesting to see if any fights break out between the two teams. The Falcons have been a lot fiestier this summer, and I can’t help but think how Hard Knocks may be affecting things.

I’m a firm believer that you win by what happens on the field. Something may or may not be a distraction in the summer just can’t be used as an excuse for not being able to make plays in October. Losing a loved one could certainly be that type of distraction, but having a few cameras in your face is not.

If Robert McClain struggles against Victor Cruz of the New York Giants in early October, can he really blame Hard Knocks for distracting him in August? In August, McClain wasn’t thinking about Cruz. He was thinking about competing to be the nickel cornerback or trying to learn the safety position. If Hard Knocks was going distract him from anything, it would be to that. McClain isn’t supposed to really think about Cruz until the Monday before the game since it’s a week-to-week mentality in the NFL.

That’s why I’m not saying that Hard Knocks will negatively impact the regular season, but I certainly think it can have a significant impact on training camp and the preseason.

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2014 Falcons Training Camp Stock Report – Week 1

August 2nd, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones is spectacular

It’s been more than a full week since the Atlanta Falcons conducted their first practice of training camp last Friday, July 25. It’s now time to take stock on what we’ve seen over the past eight days.

STOCK UP

DT Travian Robertson

I can honestly say that I’ve been a fan of Robertson for some time. He’s popped out in each of the past two preseasons, and I even considered him a lock to make the roster a year ago. Yet it never translates to playing time for Robertson during the season. Lawrence Sidbury seemingly suffered from the same fate in Atlanta, and it would be a shame if it happened to Robertson. But he’s done his best to pop to several observers with dominant performances against centers Joe Hawley and Peter Konz in one-on-one pass-rush drills. And it’s also fair to say that Robertson’s chances of sticking improve with the recent retirement of defensvie tackle Peria Jerry. The Falcons will likely be looking to spell nose tackle Paul Soliai in many pass-rush situations. Corey Peters would be an obvious option there since he played that exact role last season in Atlanta, but he’s recovering from an Achilles tear. There are optimistic reports that Peters will be healthy Week 1, but if not, then Robertson could fill the void behind Soliai.

WR Julio Jones

I have to be honest a second time. I did not expect Julio Jones to be as good as he’s been this early in camp. When reports came out in early June that Jones was expecting to play Week 1, it hinted that he might see little or no action during the preseason. And that may prove true when it comes to actual games, but Jones is at least seeing a fair bit of action in practice. Jones is on the one day on, one day off practice schedule. The Falcons know that he is the biggest factor in the team’s overall success this season, and don’t want to risk re-injury. Jones has lit up every practice he’s appeared in, which has been four so far. Read more…

Offensive Line Stability Important For Falcons Success

August 1st, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews

You’ve probably heard the word continuity in relation to offensive line play. There should be no doubt that continuity can contribute to a team’s success when you just only look at Atlanta Falcons history. I went back and looked at Falcons history dating back to 2000 to see different starting lineups of offensive lines. What emerged was a strong link between continuity and team success.

Up front, continuity just means that teams are starting the same five guys up front every game. Ideally, over an entire season or multiple seasons. The five members of the offensive line function as a unit, and as the old adage goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Thus it’s important for continuity to occur upfront so that the five blockers get comfortable with one another. When teams constantly shuffle in different five-man groups of linemen, it destroys continuity. Injuries are usually the cause and there can be a substantial drop-off in ability from starter to reserve in many cases. Another reason why teams will change starters up front is simply from poor play. And there seems to be numerous instances throughout Falcons history, including last year, where the Falcons had to bench and replacement guys that weren’t getting it done.

Let’s look at the numbers:

Historical Falcons OL Lineups (since 2000)

* Starts refer to the number of games in which the most popular starting five appeared
Year
Wins
# of OL Lineups
Most Popular Starting Five
Starts*
200046Whitfield-Collins-McClure-Claridge-Salaam6
200176Whitfield-Hallen-McClure-Claridge-Salaam8
20029.53Whitfield-Claridge-McClure-Forney-Weiner11
200354Whitfield-Claridge-McClure-Forney-Weiner; Shaffer-Garza-McClure-Forney-Weiner6
2004113Shaffer-Garza-McClure-Forney-Weiner14
200583Shaffer-Lehr-McClure-Forney-Weiner14
200675Gandy-Lehr-McClure-Clabo-Weiner6
200746Gandy-Blalock-McClure-Forney-Weiner5
2008112Weiner-Blalock-McClure-Dahl-Clabo11
200994Baker-Blalock-McClure-Dahl-Clabo10
2010131Baker-Blalock-McClure-Dahl-Clabo16
2011104Svitek-Blalock-McClure-Hawley-Clabo9
2012132Baker-Blalock-McClure-Konz-Clabo10
201346Holmes-Blalock-Konz-Reynolds-Trueblood5

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A Closer Look at Roddy White’s Contract Extension

July 30th, 2014 Comments off

Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

Roddy White

Details of the new four-year contract extension signed by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White have been revealed. White’s deal is a four-year deal that adds three more years onto a contract that was previously set to end after the 2014 season. The total worth of the deal is $23 million, but can be pushed to $31.5 million due to $8.5 million in potential escalators on his base salaries from 2015-17.

White’s deal included a $7.55 million signing bonus, which is the only guaranteed portion of the deal. From his previous contract, there is also $1.325 million leftover in prorated bonus money that will also count towards his 2014 cap figure. His new deal barely affects the Falcons 2014 salary cap. Prior to his extension, White was set to count $6.325 million against the team’s cap. This deal only nets the Falcons cap savings of $112,500 this season.

In 2015, White will receive a $500,000 roster bonus on June 3. He is also due per-game roster bonuses of $46,875 if he appears on the 53-man roster each week. That translates to mean that assuming White makes the roster (a very, very safe assumption) and is not on a reserve list such as the injured reserve, he will earn that bonus each week. Those are worth up to $750,000 if he is on the 53-man roster for the entire season. If White is active on the Falcons 46-man roster each week, he will receive additional gameday roster bonuses of $15,625 which could be worth up to $250,000 for the entire season. White will earn those bonuses if he is active each Sunday, basically dependent on if he’s healthy enough to play each week.

In 2016 and 2017, White’s gameday 53-man roster bonuses increase to $62,500 for season totals up to $1 million. His 46-man roster bonuses will be $31,250 worth up to $500,000 for each season.

Essentially, the deal makes it very likely that White will play at least the next two seasons with the Falcons. In 2016, the Falcons could potentially release a then 34-year old White and save $2.3625 million against their salary cap. The team could save up to $4.5 million in cap space if White is released prior to the 2017 season. The Falcons could release White next offseason, if they designate him a post-June 1 release in 2015 but that seems unlikely. There is a fairly good chance that White will play out the life of his contract, since his cap hits marginally increase from where it stands now. There is expected to be a significant increase in the salary cap limit starting in 2016.

Year
Base Salary
Signing Bonus
Roster Bonus
Gameday Bonuses
Cap Hit
Escalators
2014 $3,000,000 $3,212,500$0$0 $6,212,500 $0
2015 $2,200,000 $1,887,500 $500,000 $1,000,000 $5,587,500 $3,250,000
2016 $2,750,000 $1,887,500 $0 $1,500,000 $6,137,500 $2,625,000
2017 $3,000,000 $1,887,500 $0 $1,500,000 $6,387,500 $2,625,000
TOTALS $10,950,000 $8,875,000 $500,000 $4,000,000 $24,325,000 $8,500,000
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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 28, 2014

July 28th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant is the rare impact rookie in NFL

Atlanta Falcons training camp has begun. And all the prognostications and analysis that has occurred over the past six months of the NFL offseason are basically thrown out the window at this point as things will soon be decided on the field.

It’s one of the reasons why football is great because of its unpredictably. As I noted last week, it’s one of the most unpredictable of the major American sports. And it’s for that reason, what I do is somewhat meaningless.

Like so many others, for the past six months I have made a bunch of educated guesses as to what I thought the Falcons would do this offseason, in the draft, and ultimately how that would lead to a successful or unsuccessful 2014 season.

What will ultimately happen this season is completely beyond me. If I knew, then I’d get on the first plane to Las Vegas and bet it all.

There are always several surprises in not just the regular season, but in training camp. There is always a player or two that winds up making the Falcons roster that I’m fairly dumbfounded as to why it happened. There’s always a promising prospect that doesn’t make the cut which disappoints me. There’s always a player that I had exceedingly low expectations on entering the summer, but manages to blow those out of the water. And then there’s the opposite, a player that disappoints greatly during the summer months. It all adds up to an eclectic mix that will eventually make up the Falcons 2014 roster.

One of the things that typically emerge during the initial days of camp reports and observations is how promising much of the new blood added to roster in the offseason is looking.

For instance, one can make the argument that after cornerback Desmond Trufant the best player on the Falcons defense last year was defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. And it’s very possible that he may hold that title going into 2014. But you probably won’t hear very much about Babineaux this summer during camp practices because he’s old news. Unless Babineaux is schooling one of the young kids like Malliciah Goodman or Ra’Shede Hageman on the intricacies of the position, there won’t be a lot of buzz surrounding him. Yet given that he’s the best player up front, he probably is a player that practices the best as well.

But nobody wants to hear how Babineaux still looks solid in the various camp reports you’ll find over the next several weeks. It’s more about how those young guys like Goodman and Hageman are looking and likely to contribute significantly in 2014.

So pardon my cynicism, but that’s the nature of the beast. People tend to get caught up in what is shiny and new rather than what appears old hat.

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