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Archive for December, 2012

Armstrong to interview in KC and Chicago

December 31st, 2012 Comments off

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports tweets that Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong is set to interview for head coaching vacancies with the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears. Armstrong joined the Falcons in 2008 after seven seasons coaching the special teams of the Miami Dolphins. He also coached with the Bears for four years (1997-00) prior to his stint with the Dolphins.

Football Outsiders rates special teams play with their DVOA metric. Twice since joining the Falcons (2008 and 2010) Armstrong’s special teams units were graded among the Top 10. This past year, they finished 13th.

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Koetter set to interview with 3 teams this week

December 31st, 2012 Comments off

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has three interviews lined up this week, while the Falcons have a first round bye in the playoffs. Koetter is set to interview for the vacant head coaching positions with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, and Philadelphia Eagles. According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Koetter will interview tomorrow with the Chiefs.

Koetter joined the Falcons last January, as a replacement for Mike Mularkey who left to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 2012 Falcons offense ranked 7th in scoring and 8th in total yards. The Falcons were led by their passing attack, which ranked 6th in the league in passing yards.

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Caldwell contacted by the Browns

December 31st, 2012 Comments off

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that according to a source, the Cleveland Browns have already contacted Falcons Director of Player Personnel David Caldwell about the now vacant general manager position, following the dismissal of Tom Heckert. Caldwell’s name has been mentioned in connection to a number of potential front office vacancies around the league. Steve Wyche of NFL.com indicates that Caldwell’s potential popularity stems from the Falcons on-field and off-field success under GM Thomas Dimitroff. Per Wyche, down the road current Falcons Associate Director of Player Personnel Lionel Vital and Director of Football Administration Nick Polk could also be sought-after GM candidates.

Cabot also mentions that Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is a candidate to take over the head coaching spot in Cleveland, after the team dismissed Pat Shurmur today as well.

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Falcons’ Second Season Begins

December 31st, 2012 Comments off

It is called the postseason or second season in many circles, because the month of January kicks off a brand new season in the NFL. It is one where who or what you were in the regular season is meaningless and trivial, a small footnote. Teams will be tested purely off their own merit, not their regular season achievements. Whether you finished with a 9-7 record or 13-3, you’re all the same when the second season begins: 0-0.

The Falcons have struggled in the second season, as it has been been seven years since they have won a game there. They are winless under the leadership of Mike Smith. What has been disheartening to Falcon fans is that each of those losses have gotten progressively worse. The Falcons intend to turn the tide this year, as they sport the best offense they’ve had in the Mike Smith Era, and a defense that has routinely stepped up in big games.

Having the best regular season record and the No. 1 seed is meaningful only in the sense that it means the Falcons will be playing at home. Two of their three postseason losses have come on the road, where the team has struggled throughout the Mike Smith Era. But that has changed this year. While the Falcons have a better record at home (7-1) than on the road (6-2) this year, the Falcons offense is better by 51.0 total yards per game, 3.4 points per game, and about 0.7 yards per play when traveling. The story is the opposite for the defense, surrendering 24.4 less yards per game, 3.4 less points per game, and about 0.4 less yards per play at home rather than on the road.

In past postseason games, the defense has struggled to get stops, create turnovers, and not surrender big plays to opposing teams. Mike Nolan will have this year’s unit charged to change that.

But the onus will likely rest on the team’s offense to play better at home than it has for much of the year. The offensive line has struggled when asked to play indoors for the most part this year. The lone exception being an outstanding performance against the New York Giants a few weeks back. They have also been able to generate some of their big plays at home, with a total of 25 explosive pass plays (for 20 or more yards) at home, while only 21 on the road.

If the Falcons intend to reverse their fortunes in this year’s second season, it will likely require them to be able to pass protect Ryan effectively in order to generate those big explosive passing plays. While it won’t be a tall order, it is something the Falcons have been inconsistent with during the regular season. But the beauty of the second season is that all gets thrown out the window. The Falcons will have their opportunity to showcase an explosive offense and opportunistic defense in the playoffs. What they did before won’t matter. It is all up to what they do going forward.

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Falcons lose in finale against Bucs

December 30th, 2012 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Samuel walks dejectedly off the field.

The Falcons looked sluggish in a season finale loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 22-17. The Falcons opted to play the majority of their starters, but the offense stagnated early. While the Falcons were able to score some points late to make the game interesting, they could not overcome the early lead the Bucs built up. The Falcons finish the 2012 regular season with a 13-3 record, an NFC South title, and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Matt Ryan played the entire game, completing 28 of 44 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons running game did not do much, with Jacquizz Rodgers leading the team with 28 yards on 5 carries. Michael Turner added 18 yards on 6 carries and a touchdown. Rodgers also led receivers with 8 catches for 50 yards. Julio Jones (3 catches, 56 yards), Roddy White (5 catches, 42 yards), and Tony Gonzalez (5 catches, 41 yards). The lone passing touchdown was caught by Harry Douglas, who finished the game with 4 catches for 21 yards. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try from 28 yards out. Matt Bosher punted 6 times for an average of 50.8 yards, with 3 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Bosher had a punt blocked. Rodgers returned 3 kickoffs for 59 yards, while Douglas took over punt return duties from Dominique Franks and had 4 returns for 42 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons gave a decent effort, keeping the Bucs offense in check for most of the day. They allowed 366 total yards, including 144 yards on the ground which made the difference in the second half. The Falcons had held the Bucs to only 37 rushing yards in the first half on 12 carries, but thanks in large part to a 40-yard scoring run by Doug Martin, they could not slow down the Bucs ground attack in the second half. Sean Weatherspoon led defenders with 8 tackles. Thomas DeCoud (6 tackles); Akeem Dent (3 tackles); Stephen Nicholas (6 tackles); Corey Peters (3 tackles); Asante Samuel (2 tackles, 1 interception); and Vance Walker (5 tackles) had notable games.

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David Caldwell a candidate for multiple GM jobs

December 29th, 2012 Comments off

SI.com’s Don Banks and the National Football Post report separate instances where Falcons Director of College Scouting David Caldwell is a candidate for a potentially open GM position. Banks intimates that Caldwell could be a candidate in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Jacksonville. While the NFP report indicates that he will be high on the short list of candidates for the Carolina Panthers. The latter report expects that he will receive multiple interviews. Caldwell interviewed last January for the vacant GM position with the Indianapolis Colts, which ultimately went to Ryan Grigson.

Caldwell was among the first hirings by GM Thomas Dimitroff here in Atlanta in 2008. He spent ten years with the Colts as an area scout prior to joining the Falcons, and was a scouting assistant with the Panthers for two years prior to that. Part of Caldwell’s potential popularity is based on his draft-based background.

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Three Falcons are going to the Pro Bowl

December 26th, 2012 Comments off

The NFL announced the Pro Bowl rosters today, among them included three Falcons players: quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, and tight end Tony Gonzalez. The trio ties the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins as the fifth most among NFC teams. The San Francisco 49ers paced the conference with nine players voted to the squad. Alongside the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons sent three offensive players.

Ryan broke his career-highs for passing yards (4,481), touchdowns (31), completions (394), and passer rating (100.2) this season. Both his yardage total and passer rating rank fifth in the league through 15 games. It marks Ryan’s second Pro Bowl appearance, after being voted to the team in 2010. Jones in his second season is making his first Pro Bowl. Through fifteen games, he has career highs in receptions (76), yards (1,142), and touchdowns (10). His yardage total ranks 11th in the NFL and his touchdowns are 6th highest in the league. Gonzalez is earning his 13th Pro Bowl nod, his 3rd as a Falcon since joining the team in 2009. His receptions (88), yards (889), and touchdowns (8) are the highest since joining the Falcons. His receptions and yards are both second-most among NFL tight ends this season, and his touchdown total is tied for third in the league among his position group.

 

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 16 Review

December 26th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons offense looked sharp because of the explosive scoring plays they were able to generate against a weak Lions secondary. Matt Ryan had a solid game, but despite a very high earning his individual play was nothing special. But he gets credit for only have 2 poor throws, which is a fairly low total for him in the second half of the season.

The offense stagnated a bit in the second half because the Lions were able to dial up pressure. Ndamukong Suh made Peter Konz look pretty bad in this game. As I’ve said before, Konz is clearly the weakest link of the offensive line. It doesn’t mean that Konz going forward can’t become a very good player for the Falcons, particularly if he moves to center. But Suh really had a field day against Konz, with 2 pressures, 2 missed blocks, 0.5 sack, and 2 hurries all occurring when the two of them were matched up, including the safety. Konz is just miscast as a guard, as he lacks the polished technique and footwork to block 1 on 1 against quality D-tackles like Suh. He should fare better at center where those issues won’t be major liabilities. McClure’s lone pressure came when he was asked to block Suh 1 on 1 as well.

Thanks largely to Suh, the Lions were able to get Ryan a bit rattled with pressure and hits in the second half, and the running game wasn’t good enough to pick up the slack. I don’t think Turner played poorly, but there was a run in this game that I think well illustrates how much of his skill has declined. He had a run for a 2-yard loss in the fourth quarter on a sweep left. He got to the edge, and was in a one-on-one situation with rookie corner Jonte Green on the edge. The old Michael Turner would have just ran right through Green and gotten some positive yardage on that play. Instead now, Turner tried to bounce outside and run around Green, who was able to slow him up and allow his teammates to rally for the loss.

If you’re wondering why Tony Gonzalez was so quiet this week, it was a combination of a few factors. Mostly it was because Ryan was looking elsewhere, as Roddy White was near unstoppable in the first half, and Jones took over in the second half. Also, it was because there were some longer developing routes for Gonzo, and pressure forced Ryan to try and get rid of the ball quicker before Gonzo could come open. And it was also due to the fact that there were several instances where Gonzo was asked to chip as the Lions made ample use of the Wide 9s in this game.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$20$3$0$0$0$0$23.00
Roddy White$0$0$14-$1$0$0$13.00
Julio Jones$0$0$7$0$0$0$7.00
Michael Turner$0$6$1$0$0$0$7.00
Michael Palmer$0$0$2$1$0$0$3.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$1$0$0$0$3.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$3$0-$1$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$1$1$0$0$2.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$2$0$0$1.50
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$2.5$0$0-$2.50

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Smitty makes right call in ‘playing to win’

December 25th, 2012 Comments off

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com wrote on Sunday about Falcons head coach Mike Smith’s comments following Saturday night’s win against the Detroit Lions. In those comments, Smith talked about the Falcons intention to “play to win” in their Week 17 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smith said:

“We’re going to play the game to win. That’s how we’re going to approach it. It’s an important game because it’s a division game. All games, I think, are important. In terms of the importance of it, does it have no bearing? It really does, because we want to win every time we go out and play.”

The Falcons have already locked up the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and thus the result of next Sunday’s season finale is relatively meaningless. Leading many to think the Falcons should rest their starters in order to keep them healthy for their upcoming playoff game in two weeks. The Falcons receive a first-round bye, giving them an extra week of rest. That two-week lay-off certainly will be beneficial to get some players healthy, such as safety William Moore who has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury. It also should give players like wideout Roddy White, who has had a lingering knee injury in recent weeks, a greater chance to get closer to 100% health before the playoffs.

While Smith’s comments don’t mean that some key players could still wind up sitting out or playing limited reps, it does mean that the Falcons won’t be treating this as nothing more than a preseason game. The Falcons will be smart to reduce the reps of some key players, and give some of the younger guys more opportunities to show their skills. For example, White has played over 90% of the team’s offensive snaps most weeks. Even with a bum knee, he played in 50 of the team’s 57 snaps against the Lions (88%) per Pro Football Focus. That won’t be necessary this week. The Falcons should be a bit more willing to rotate Drew Davis into the lineup and maybe White only needs to play 35 or so snaps. That certainly would give the Falcons an opportunity to win the game, but also lower the risk that White aggravates that knee injury.

In 2010, when the Falcons similarly had a first round bye and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, they squared off against the Carolina Panthers in the season finale. The Falcons built a 31-3 lead before pulling many of the starters at the outset of the fourth quarter. It seems likely that will be the goal for the Falcons this week. Unfortunately, the Falcons won’t be facing 2-13 Panthers team led by Jimmy Clausen this year. Instead they will be facing a 6-9 Buccaneers team that is coached by Greg Schiano. A year ago the Falcons faced a 4-11 Buccaneers team that had quit on then-coach Raheem Morris, resulting in 45-24 beatdown. That likely won’t be the case with Schiano, who wants his players to blitz on kneel-downs because he believes going all-out for four quarters.

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Falcons place Cone on IR as Hawley returns

December 24th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced earlier today that wide receiver Kevin Cone will go on injured reserve to make room for offensive lineman Joe Hawley, who is coming off a four-game suspension. The team indicated no word on the exact nature of Cone’s injury that merits his placement on the season-ending reserve list. Although in past years it has been regular for the team to place players on injured reserve prior to the season finale. They did so a year ago with linebacker Mike Peterson and Kelvin Hayden, in 2010 with safety Shann Schillinger, and also in 2009 with Harvey Dahl and Chris Houston. Hawley returned from his suspension a week ago, but was granted a roster exemption last week allowing the Falcons to carry 54 players on their active roster.

Cone had played in 12 games this season for the Falcons primarily on special teams. Hawley had played in 6 games this season prior to his suspension, adding necessary depth at center and guard.

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