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Archive for May, 2012

2012 Key Player: Ray Edwards

May 31st, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Ray Edwards

Edwards was the obvious pick for this year’s most disappointing player, which is why he will be a key player to watch in 2012. As I mentioned in the linked piece, Edwards was a marginal improvement in 2011 in the pass rush department over the much-maligned Jamaal Anderson. After the season, Edwards’ lack of production was blamed on his bothersome knee that was operated on during last year’s lockout. But one wonders just how much the knee was really bothering him since he missed a total of three practices and was limited in three others all year long due to the knee injury, out of a total of fifty-one.

But regardless of whatever is to blame for Edwards lack of production, the bottom line is that in 2012 he has to step up his play. The Falcons paid him a hefty salary to improve the team’s pass rush. And while the pass rush did take positive steps last year, the Falcons are going to need more of that if they hope to make the playoffs and make a deep run in 2012. The Falcons pass rush has been a problem area for much of Mike Smith’s tenure as the head coach. The Falcons suffered through three seasons hoping that Jamaal Anderson would improve, and Kroy Biermann would emerge as the bookend player to John Abraham. That never happened, and thus when the team signed Edwards, they hoped those issues were over.

That did not prove to be the case in 2011, and needs to be the case in 2012, otherwise Ray Edwards may not last much longer as a Falcon. The team is desperately looking for someone that can take the mantle of the team’s top and most feared pass rusher from John Abraham in the coming years, and Edwards is in prime position. One of the reasons why the Falcons have struggled over the years in beating some of the league’s more prolific offenses such as the Saints and Packers has been because of their inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. If the Falcons intend to close the gap on such teams in 2012, they will need to do a better job getting after the quarterback.

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2012 Key Players: Offensive Line

May 29th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

The Falcons Front Line

I’ve already discussed how Michael Turner’s play this year will be a key to success for the Falcons in 2012. Tied to that is the play of the offensive line. It’s clear that the Falcons are a team that pride themselves on being an effective to good running team. And that notion isn’t likely to change under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Jaguars under Jack Del Rio styled themselves in a similar manner, being a team that could run the ball well and play good defense, i.e. often the core elements of what is called being “physical.” That’s the exact sort of mentality and identity that Mike Smith has tried to instill here in Atlanta over the past four seasons. And it’s probably one of the main reasons why Smith was attracted to Koetter to take over for Mike Mularkey.

But joining Koetter on his quest to reinvigorate the Falcons offense on the ground will be new offensive line coach Pat Hill. Hill comes to the Falcons after years as the head coach at Fresno State. The Falcons hope Hill’s brand of high energy and toughness will also prove a boost up front.

It was clear last year that the biggest weakness on the offense was the offensive line. They struggled to create holes for Turner to run through, and struggled protecting Matt Ryan when they faced quality pass rushes. While the team may be very vocal about not regretting the decision to trade for Julio Jones, they certainly should be regretful over how they took the offensive line for granted last off-season.

Too often the line got manhandled in 2011 and it often occurred in instances where they could not establish the run early in games. If they got behind the offense would become one-dimensional and lose its balance. And several opposing teams were able to take advantage by pinning their ears back and be effective at getting to Matt Ryan.

Ryan is not a quarterback that likes to get hit. That isn’t questioning his toughness, but there is plenty of evidence over the past four years that if teams can get to him early and often, it can affect his play the rest of the game. That could also describe Tom Brady rather easily. So it’s prohibitive of Ryan becoming a top quarterback, it’s just an obstacle to overcome. You can live with a subpar O-line in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger behind center because he seems to thrive at times with pressure in his face. But that won’t be the case here in Atlanta, and thus emphasizing better play up front will remain important as long as Ryan is the starter.

Thus the Falcons off-season decisions to bolster the competition up front were good moves. The team needed to improve their blocking, and they did so by adding veteran guard Vince Manuwai and drafting rookies Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes in the draft.

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2012 Key Player: Julio Jones

May 28th, 2012 1 comment
US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones

When looking over the final numbers that Julio Jones posted in 2011: 54 catches, 959 yards, 17.8 avg, and 8 touchdowns, you would think he was one of the most feared wideouts in the league. Then considering that he missed what combined to be 3.75 games (about 15 quarters), then his production becomes even more astounding. His projected 1253 yards over 16 games would have had him finished 10th in the league in yards not far behind Roddy White (1296 yards), and his 10 touchdowns would have ranked 6th, exceeding that of White and players like Wes Welker, Victor Cruz, Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Greg Jennings. But as usual, when one examines only the raw numbers it can paint an inaccurate picture. A deeper look at Jones performance in 2011, particularly when you look at each game paints a slightly different picture.

Not to slight Jones and his excellent rookie season, but there were trademark signs of the inconsistency that is common among first-year wideouts that is not easily seen if you just look at the overall numbers. Two prime examples of this was his Week 3 performance against the Bucs and his Week 13 performance against the Panthers. In both games, his final box score numbers looked great with 6 catches for 115 yards against Tampa Bay and 3 catches for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns against Carolina. But in both games, Jones was extremely quiet for the first three quarters of the game.

Against Tampa Bay, he was targeted a grand total of 2 times in the first three quarters, catching the ball once for an 18-yard gain. With the Falcons down 16-3 going into the fourth quarter, Jones was able to turn things on, catching all 5 of his targets for 97 yards including a 49-yard bomb that set up a scoring play to Tony Gonzalez which cut the Bucs lead to 6 points with 10 minutes to go on the game.

Against the Panthers, through the first three quarters Jones had been targeted a total of 6 times, catching the ball only once for 12 yards. That also included 2 dropped passes. Then in the fourth quarter, he caught a pair of touchdowns on his only two targets for a total of 92 yards.

These two games are perfect illustrations of the highs and lows that Julio Jones experienced in 2011. With the highs you get that game-changing big play ability that this offense was sorely lacking in previous seasons. But with the lows, you get next to nothing where he is virtually a non-existent factor in the offense.

Another often overlooked thing was Jones number of drops. While most observers criticized Roddy’s league-leading 15 drops, forgotten is that Jones had 9 of his own. Once you factor in targets (91 for Jones, and 175 for White according to Pro Football Focus.com), you realize that Jones dropped a slightly higher percentage of passes than White did: 9.8% for Jones vs. 8.6% for White.

The key for the Falcons in 2012 is to find ways to minimize those lows while also being able to maintain or maximize the highs. That will be potentially the biggest priority that new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will need to accomplish this year. And if the Falcons can get him to a point where opposing defensive coordinators have to fear him the most, then that opens up opportunities for their other weapons.

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2012 Key Player: Michael Turner

May 27th, 2012 Comments off
AP from Yahoo! Sports

Michael Turner

It’s not a secret that I don’t think too highly of Michael Turner’s future with the Falcons. All off-season long, I’ve advocated that I think the team will be better off without him than with him. But it’s clear at this point that the Falcons brass disagree with me. And because of that, Turner’s production in 2012 will be a key to the team’s success.

Turner’s production has been on a fairly steady decline in recent years. Although last year he did see a jump in yards per carry, I attribute much of that to the season’s two bookend games against the Bears and Bucs where he averaged over 10 yards on a total of 27 carries. If you look at the other 14 games he played in where he totaled 274 carries for 1068 yards (3.9 avg), it mirrors almost exactly the season that Cedric Benson had last year (273 carries, 1067 yards, 3.9 avg). Benson is currently an unsigned free agent because most feel that he’s past his prime, coupled with his less than stellar production in the passing game, thus making him undeserving of a starting job. It’ll will be up to Turner this year to prove skeptics like myself wrong that he should not be in a similar boat.

Turner should get some help from what should be an upgraded offensive line. It’s no doubt that the drop-off in production up front played a part in Turner’s less than stellar production throughout the 2011 season. The question remains how much a part of it. If it was a huge part, then any improvements should be a huge positive for Turner.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 16 “Chocolate and Vanilla”

May 20th, 2012 Comments off

Ryan and I give our thoughts on the Falcons State of the Franchise address from this past week including debating what may come of the Falcons new stadium, and the buzz it could create among the fanbase and whether or not it matters all that much. We also discuss what changes they can realistically expect with new coordinators, and what level of influence does Mike Smith have on those chances. We discuss Jason Snelling and his potential role with the team as well. Later, we talk about the NBA playoffs, including quite a bit on Ryan’s beloved Indiana Pacers against the Miami Heat. We also talk about wrestling, boxing, and MMA. Ryan professes his love for the women of TNA, while I stick by the old standby in Kim Kardashian. The topic without a doubt turns to stalkers and Vince McMahon’s profound philosophical insights before it’s all said and done.

Ep. 16: Chocolate and Vanilla [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 20 minutes

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Undrafted Sleeper: Robbie Frey

May 16th, 2012 1 comment
US PRESSWIRE

Frey takes one to the house in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl

A lot of talk has been made about the Falcons many undrafted additions at the wide receiver position that could be making the roster, including burner Cody Pearcy. But a player that might be going under the radar and has just as strong a chance to make the team’s final roster is former UConn Huskie and Kutztown Golden Bear Robbie Frey. Frey won’t have an easy road trying to make the Falcons roster, but his potential as a kickoff returner could give him a significant leg up.

With the loss of Eric Weems as the team’s primary return specialist, a big part of this summer’s training camp competitions will be to find a player or two that can replace him. The Falcons will likely rest on either Harry Douglas or Dominique Franks to return punts, both having done so before. But it leaves the competition for who will take over on kickoffs wide open.

That likely will mean that any one of the Falcons undrafted receivers and Frey will have an opportunity to shine and make the roster. Unlike the receivers, while Frey isn’t blessed with dynamic speed, he is unique in the sense that he was consistently productive and the most experience kickoff returner among the undrafted crop. The only other player with his level of experience is James Rodgers, and he’s been slowed by an ACL injury that he suffered in 2010, and is now still continuing to fight back from.

The departure of Ovie Mughelli does increase the odds that Frey coudl make the roster. The Falcons aren’t guaranteed to carry more than one fullback on the roster, something they did last season. The team carried Ovie Mughelli in that role until his injury, and then Mike Cox afterwards. They could do the same with fifth round pick Bradie Ewing being the run-away favorite to be the starter this season. Last year, they opted to keep four tailbacks in Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, and Antone Smith. Snelling’s ability to double as a lead blocker means that the team isn’t forced to carry more than one fullback at a time. Smith predominantly played on special teams, a role he shined in late in the year. But his roster status is far from a lock. And he’ll be pushed by Dimitri Nance and Frey for a potential fourth tailback spot. If Frey can prove himself as a return man, and also a capable gunner on special teams like Smith then he has as good a chance as anyone to make the roster. Another key part to the equation will be how well he can pick up the passing game. When Nance and Smith competed directly for the reserve role back in 2010, a big part of the reason why Smith made it and Nance did not was because Smith was the more polished player in pass protection. Frey did not have a ton of experience working in the passing game at either UConn or Kutztown, but if he can show he’s a quick study the team could give him the opportunity.

But the primary value Frey can bring to the table is kickoff return specialist. And while the rule changes to kickoffs have limited the ability of kickoff returners, it is not a throwaway position. The majority of kicks go into the endzone forcing teams to settle for touchbacks. But a good returner can add value if he can take kicks that would normally be called for touchbacks and get them beyond the 20-yard line to set up his team for success. If a team can trust it’s returner to be able to take kicks five or six yards deep and then turn that into a twenty-five or thirty yard gain, it is immensely valuable to an offense to give it the best possible field position. If Frey can showcase this kind of ability, and his extensive experience should help him, then he has as good if not a better shot than anyone of landing the role and finding a place on the roster.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 15 “Ryan Hates the Avengers”

May 16th, 2012 Comments off

Recorded on May 7, Ryan and I are back to talk some Falcons including the impact of some of the Falcons newly acquired rookies and free agents, as well as Brent Grimes contract status. But mainly it’s our time to discuss some non-football topics including NBA playoffs, professional wrestling, and Ryan’s thoughts on The Avengers. There are some movie spoilers for the nine of you out there that have yet to see the movie, so if you want to avoid getting spoiled, skip ahead to about the 16-minute mark of the podcast. Hope you enjoy it and we’ll be back with some more Falcon-centric episodes in the near future.

Ep. 15: Ryan Hates the Avengers [Download]

Duration: 55 minutes

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

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Falcons sign Holmes

May 15th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced the signing of third round pick offensive tackle Lamar Holmes today. Holmes will ink a four-year deal with the Falcons, exact terms of which are unknown. Holmes signs after the team signed four of their six draft picks last weekend. It leaves fifth round pick Jonathan Massaquoi as the team’s lone unsigned pick. Holmes was held out with a minor foot injury in the Falcons first rookie min-camp over the weekend as well.

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Falcons sign 4 draft picks, 3 from tryouts

May 14th, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday the Falcons announced the signing of four of their six 2012 draft picks, as well as the signing of three players that tried out with the team during this past weekend’s rookie minicamp. Of the draftees that signed on the dotted line, top pick Peter Konz, along with fullback Bradie Ewing, safety Charles Mitchell, and defensive tackle Travian Robertson signed four-year deals. Offensive tackle Lamar Holmes and defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi still remain unsigned. From the teams tryout players, the team signed fullback Lee Meisner, wide receiver Kenny Stafford, and tight end Aron White. To make room, the team cut ties with undrafted defensive tackle Ray Kibble.

Meisner (5-11/241) hails from Colorado State-Pueblo where he served as a four-year starter at inside linebacker. He also served part-time as the team’s punter his freshman and sophomore year, combining for 36.0-yard average on 53 punts. He led the team three consecutive years in tackling, having a career high of 124 tackles and 9.5 for loss as a junior. He had 98 tackles, 8 for loss, and a career-high 4 interceptions as a senior. For his career, Meisner finished with 349 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 8 interceptions, 12 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 recovery. The Falcons intend on converting him to offense in order to compete for a reserve spot at fullback.

Stafford (6-1/198) started 9 of 13 games this past year for Toledo, catching 21 passes for 272 yards (13.0 avg) and 1 touchdown. For his career, he caught 59 passes for 906 yards (15.4 avg) and 8 scores during his career, predominantly as a reserve. At Toledo’s pro day in March he clocked a 4.37 40 time with a 35-inch vertical jump. He is also the nephew of former Minnesota Vikings All-Pro wideout Cris Carter.

White (6-4/239) was the backup to Orson Charles at Georgia working most of his career as the No. 2 guy. But he did start as a sophomore, where he had career bests of 13 catches for 198 yards (15.2 avg) and 4 touchdowns, while starting 12 of 13 games. The past two seasons, he has caught a combined 18 passes for 226 yards (12.6 avg) and 4 scores.

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Pro scout Carthon to join Rams

May 9th, 2012 Comments off

Steve Wyche of NFL.com reports that the St. Louis Rams are set to hire Falcons pro scout Ran Carthon as their pro personnel director. Carthon will re-join Les Snead, the Falcons former director of player personnel who was hired as the Rams new general manager in February.

Carthon is the son of NFL assistant coach and former player Maurice Carthon, who is currently on the Kansas City Chiefs coaching staff. Ran played briefly in the NFL having played 9 games with the Indianapolis Colts between 2005-06 after entering the league as an undrafted running back in 2004, following a career at the University of Florida. After his playing career was over, Carthon joined the Falcons scouting department in 2008 as a pro scout, where he has served since.

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