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Archive for June, 2013

Seymour Talks Hit Snag

June 16th, 2013 Comments off

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweeted late Saturday night that the Falcons and free agent defensive tackle Richard Seymour couldn’t agree on contract terms. This morning, La Canfora added the Falcons might resume talks later before training camp opens in late July.

Seymour has long been rumored to be a player that the Falcons were interested in. That interest began in March, but carried over to late May when rumors began to pick up. The Falcons were expected to wait until after June 1 to negotiate seriously with Seymour due to the money they would free up from the release of Tyson Clabo. Also reports indicated that Seymour’s signing would also have to wait until after the Falcons agreed to a contract extension with Matt Ryan.

Seymour has spent the past four seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Last year, he started only 8 games due to injury, but recorded 3 sacks. Prior to joining the Raiders in 2009, he was a long-time star with the New England Patriots. In his 12-year NFL career, Seymour has recorded 57.5 sacks and been voted to 7 Pro Bowls. He went to college at the University of Georgia and lives in Atlanta during the offseason.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 30 “Norv Turner’s Neck Meat”

June 15th, 2013 Comments off

This week, Allen and I are joined by Rashad James to talk about the latest happenings with the Falcons. Those include discussion of changes to the right side of the line and whether it will work in the Falcons favor … Addressing the depth and rotation at defensive end and which players might step up opposite Osi Umenyiora to help the Falcons pass rush … Concern over depth at linebacker and which young players might step up including Pat Schiller and Brian Banks … Falcons depth at safety and whether or not more usage of Mike Nolan’s Big Nickel is on the horizon … Roddy White’s future in Atlanta … Revisiting the Julio Jones trade and other potential options … NFC South Division Race talk … Offseason Grades … Falcons Mount Rushmore … Are the Houston Texans for real?

Ep. 30: Norv Turner’s Neck Meat [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Rashad can be found on twitter: @SaucedUp_Boss

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Falcons sign Alford

June 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced the signing of cornerback Robert Alford, their second round pick from this past April’s draft. Alford is the sixth of the Falcons eight rookies to sign a deal. Top pick and fellow corner Desmond Trufant and seventh round quarterback Sean Renfree remain unsigned.

Alford, out of Southeastern Louisiana, signed a four-year deal, although terms of the deal were not disclosed. Based on the deal signed by Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, the 60th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Alford should receive a signing bonus of around $875,000.

Alford is competing for the open starting position at right cornerback opposite Asante Samuel. He has been working recently in OTAs with the first team.

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2013 Outlook: Jacquizz Rodgers

June 13th, 2013 Comments off

Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Jacquizz Rodgers

Recently, I’ve discussed quite a bit the potential benefits that running back Steven Jackson could add to the Falcons offense in 2013. In doing so, I also made mention that third-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers could get lost in the shuffle.

Rodgers served as a key asset for the Falcons last year. While his production as a runner was not overly impressive, his value in the passing game was critical to the team’s success. Quizz’s quickness and ability in the open field made him a potent weapon on screen passes, and he showcased his abilities in pass protection when the Falcons went into their no-huddle attack. While even a diminished Michael Turner still proved to be the team’s top rusher for much of the 2012 season, the offense was at its most efficient when Quizz was on the field because of their ability to throw the ball, the clear strength of the team.

Jackson and Rodgers won’t have much animosity among them as they compete for reps. Both hail from Oregon State, and have known each other for a long time. But as Jackson is likely to get a significant amount of reps, it will likely be at the cost to Quizz. But the key for Quizz will be to take advantage of what limited reps he does get.

Rodgers will still be the team’s most potent weapon out of the backfield in the passing game. While Jackson is a capable receiver, Quizz’s quickness and explosiveness after the catch make him their best asset when it comes to screens and catching dumpoffs and checkdowns. He can make that first defender miss, and then it’s off to the races. His 17 missed tackles as a receiver (per Pro Football Focus) were second-highest in the league last year among running backs behind only Trent Richardson.

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2013 Key Player: Steven Jackson

June 13th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson’s rushing ability could take pressure of Matt Ryan

Yesterday, I discussed the type of role running back Steven Jackson could have with the Falcons. Jackson hopes to show the world that he still has something left in the tank and will help add physicality to the Falcons ground attack that was lacking a year ago. The more the Falcons get from Jackson, the better served they will be in 2013.

I compared Jackson potentially in 2013 to running back Corey Dillon and what he provided the New England Patriots in 2004. Dillon looked washed up in Cincinnati, as years of playing on a bad team took their toll in 2003. He lost his starting job to Rudi Johnson that year and finished the season with 541 rushing yards on 138 carries (3.9 avg) and 2 touchdowns, all career lows. Dillon had a reputation then as being a malcontent, openly pouting over the Bengals losing ways for years. But he had a resurgence with the Patriots, rushing for 1,635 yards on 345 carries (4.7 avg) and 12 touchdowns, all of which represented career highs. And helped lead the Patriots to what currently is their last Super Bowl win in that year. The Patriots went from one of the weaker rushing attacks a year prior under Antowain Smith, who previously had been their workhorse in two previous championships, to one of the top rushing units in the league in 2004.

Jackson hopes to do the same in Atlanta. The major difference between Jackson and Dillon is the perception about their character. Dillon was seen as a risky gamble by Bill Belichick bringing in a player that had been labeled as a bad guy. There is no such risk with Jackson, who is considered one of the higher character players in the NFL. Jackson had moments of immaturity early in his career, but has since developed into the type of player that owners and coaches don’t mind fronting their franchise, as he did for years on bad St. Louis Rams teams in the post-Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk Era. Jackson comes from a Rams team that has eight consecutive seasons where they missed the playoffs. The only time Jackson has smelled the postseason was his rookie season when he was a reserve behind Faulk. That gives Jackson great motivation here in Atlanta as he likely gets his first opportunity to showcase that he can add value to a winning team, not just be the lone bright spot on a bad one.

Similarly to the 2003 Patriots, the 2012 Falcons were one of the league’s worst rushing teams. That year, the Patriots ranked 27th in the league in rushing offense and 30th in average yards per carry. The 2012 Falcons were similarly bad in those categories, respectively ranking 29th in both last year. Dillon helped improve the Patriots to 7th and 18th in those respective categories in 2004, and the Falcons hope to get sparked by Jackson for similar improvement. The Falcons had to rely almost solely on their passing attack last year to effectively move the ball, rushing the ball on only 37% of their offensive plays, the seventh lowest percentage in the league. None of the teams that finished lower than the Falcons had winning records. In fact, the Falcons were only one of three teams (the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts being the others) that were below the league average of having 42.3% of their total offensive plays being runs and finish with a winning record. It goes back to the old adage of “throw to score, run to win.”

The Falcons didn’t need to run the ball late in games when they held leads largely due to the prolific nature of their passing attack. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez all played at elite levels in 2012 for much if not all of the year.  When you have your four best players all playing the best they’ve played in four or more years, the need for balance isn’t necessary. But despite the likelihood that all four continue to play well in 2013, the Falcons probably can’t realistically expect a repeat of that performance.

That’s where Jackson and the ground game should come in handy to try and pick up any lost slack. In an ideal world, the Falcons will be able to generate earlier leads in games, and then use Jackson late as a hammer to finish off their opponents with his physical, hard-nosed rushing style. Last year, in the second halves of games, the Falcons ran the ball on 38.8% of their offensive plays, a percentage good enough only to rank them 23rd in the league. The next lowest playoff team were the Indianapolis Colts at 42.7% and 18th ranked.

Jackson’s ability to contribute both as a pass protector and pass catcher will also make him valuable when building those early leads. The Falcons aren’t going to suddenly not be a pass-first team, but if there can be a couple of games throughout the year here and there where the Falcons can feed Jackson and get good production, it will greatly help. Michael Turner had only 2 100-yard games last year. He’s had 8 in the past two seasons, but in 5 of those games he had at least one carry for 40 or more yards, making up the bulk of his production. The Falcons would like to see a handful of games where Jackson reaches the century mark, particularly games where Jackson’s can rush the ball 20 or more times, indicating that the Falcons were able to effectively control the line of scrimmage and play with a lead.

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Scouting Report: Steven Jackson

June 12th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson

It’s time to look at the Falcons signature offensive free agent addition in running back Steven Jackson.

In fact, one could argue the Falcons made a mistake by not trading for Jackson at the trade deadline last fall, as the boost he could have potentially provided down the stretch could have meant the difference between the Falcons losing in the NFC Championship Game and going to the Super Bowl. The Falcons appear to believe that acquiring Jackson later is better than never. But let’s first look at Jackson’s skillset before talking about what exactly he could bring to the table in 2013. Once again, the grading system is based on a ten-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

SKILLS

Speed (5.0) – Jackson possesses good burst and hits the hole quickly. He however lacks the long speed to be particularly dangerous on the second level. He’s never been a back known for his ability to break long runs having 31 runs of 20 or more yards in his 9-year career. In comparison to Michael Turner, who had 45 in his 5 years in Atlanta and 29 between 2008-10. Jackson’s running style is more suited to being a volume back that can consistently get gains of 3-7 yards per run and wear down opponents over time.

Power (8.0) – Jackson runs with great authority, toughness, and physicality. He’s not afraid of contact and will consistently crave it. He consistently keeps his feet churning after initial contact and in traffic, allowing him to consistently add yards here and there. While not a player that is going to run over every defender, he does make it so that he’s not easy to bring down which can help wear down defenses. As a volume runner that can make him most effective in the fourth quarter.

Agility (6.0) – Jackson possesses good lateral agility and quickness, able to side-step defenders in the hole. He shows good burst out of his cuts, as he’s comfortable working inside and on the edge. His agility makes him an effective one-cut runner when working on stretch plays and other zone blocking runs. He is able to make a defender miss on the second level and bounce plays to the edge, although again his lack of ideal speed limits his ability to generate big plays in those instances.

Vision (7.0) – Jackson has good vision to the hole, able to run to daylight and due to his power, burst, and lateral quickness, he can exploit it. But his declining skill in those areas doesn’t allow him to always do so to the level he once did in the past. There will be many runs where he’ll run into traffic and use his size and power to make a hole where there is none.

Hands (7.0) – He possesses good hands and is comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. He’ll drop some passes on occasion, but considering his relatively high volume of targets and opportunities, it’s a fairly low percentage. He is able to secure the ball and then square his shoulders to get downfield to run hard after the catch.

Blocking (7.0) – He is an experienced pass protector having served in that role for the Rams for a number of years. His reps were cut down last year in part due to the presence of Daryl Richardson, and also do to the Rams new offense preferring to spread the field and limiting how much backs were asked to block. His size and physicality makes him more than capable of squaring up a defensive linemen coming off the edge or up the middle.

OVERVIEW

Jackson isn’t the player he once was. Five years ago, he was in the mix for being one of the top backs in the league a notch below players like Adrian Peterson. Similarly, Jackson possesses all the tools you look for in a top back, size, speed, power, pass catching ability, quickness, and agility. And despite languishing on bad Rams teams for years, he was be able to showcase these skills. So even while his production never matched that of a player like Michael Turner in his heyday in Atlanta, I always considered Jackson to be the superior back.

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OTAs: Day 7 Report

June 12th, 2013 Comments off

The media once again had access to the first of four days of the Falcons third and final offseason team activities. The Falcons will have a mandatory minicamp starting next week on June 18:

  • As mentioned earlier, Desmond Trufant returned to practice today. He and fellow rookie Robert Alford were able to get extra reps due to the excused absence of veteran cornerback Asante Samuel today. Trufant at left corner, Alford at right, and both Robert McClain and Dominique Franks manning the slot. Matt Ryan was impressed with the Falcons top pick.
  • Speaking of Ryan isn’t too concerned over his looming contract status.

    You know what, I leave that to my agents and the front office. Those guys will get that stuff done.

  • Absent at today’s session were Samuel, as mentioned previously, Tony Gonzalez, and Levine Toilolo. Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Meanwhile, Chase Coffman stepped in for Gonzalez at tight end with the Falcons starters. Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas still look to be on schedule to return for next week’s minicamps.
  • Steven Jackson has improved his diet to try and defeat Father Time. Sounds like his plans are to be a “finisher” for the Falcons with most of his work on the ground coming in the fourth quarter. He’s focused on getting on the same page with Ryan in the passing game for the no-huddle offense earlier in games.
  • Matt Ryan seems to admit the offensive line is a work in progress, but that strides are being made. And it looks like they might be incorporating more tempo which I suggested the other day.

 

Trufant returns; Maponga out til training camp

June 11th, 2013 Comments off

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com reports that Falcons head coach Mike Smith updated the status of three rookies today at the team’s OTA session. Top pick and cornerback Desmond Trufant was able to participate in his first Falcon practice due to the graduation of students at the University of Washington. Tight end Levine Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Smith also indicated that rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga is expected to be out until training camp, as he recovers from offseason surgery on his broken foot/ankle.

Trufant had been trying to keep up with the team by speaking with defensive backs coach Tim Lewis via Skype due to his absence away from the team due to league rules indicating that rookies can’t join their teams until after their respective schools graduate. Toilolo’s absence has been for similar reasons.

In other injury news, linebackers Stephen Nicholas (sports hernia) and Sean Weatherspoon (knee) appear to be on track to re-join the team for mandatory practices next week. That had been the target date since their injuries were announced.

Takeaways from Last Week – June 10

June 10th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan is on the verge of making himself a lot of money. He showed significant improvement last year, as statistically he ranked highly in a number of advanced metrics.

Unfortunately for Ryan, the pressure on him is only likely to increase, particularly from the fan base.

But I honestly don’t expect Ryan to put together a better season than he did in 2012. Looking at advanced metrics such as expected points added (EPA) by Advanced NFL Stats, the Falcons three receivers graded very highly last season. Roddy White’s EPA of 71.2 was the fourth highest in the league during the regular season behind only Calvin Johnson (107.3), Demaryius Thomas (85.9), and Andre Johnson (83.4). Julio Jones ranked 8th with a EPA of 64.2 last year, and Tony Gonzalez was the top-ranked tight end with an EPA of 59.7. Among all receivers (tight ends included), that would have ranked 12th, ahead of receivers like Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree, Jordy Nelson, and Brandon Marshall.

That’s a rare combination. There were three other teams that have three receivers ranked in the Top 32: the Patriots, Cowboys, and Broncos. But when you average their ranking, the Falcons finished with an average rank of 8th for their Big Three, while the Broncos (13.7), Patriots (18.7), and Cowboys (22.0) were well behind the Falcons.

The point is to suggest that 2012 likely represents a statistical peak for the Falcons top wideouts and quarterback. A repeat performance in 2013 would be welcomed, but not likely. The last time I think a team had that caliber of performance was in 2008 with the Arizona Cardinals, as Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Anquan Boldin all ranked in the Top 13 that year in terms of EPA. The following season, all three ranked between spots 35th and 41st among wide receivers. In 2008, Kurt Warner’s EPA was 6th highest in the league but slipped to 14th the following year.

Thus why it’s probably a shame the Falcons didn’t take advantage of that production and ride it all the way to the Super Bowl. They got close, but it’s likely there will be a step back in 2013 for the passing attack.

And if the Falcons expect to have a repeat of the 2012 season and make a deep run in the playoffs, they are probably going to be much more reliant on the other aspects of the team to step up. But outside the secondary, the Falcons really got minimal production from the rest of their roster last year. Their running game was among the worst in the league. They couldn’t sack the quarterback and they couldn’t stop the run, putting them near the bottom of the league in those areas as well. Their offensive line was average at best for the majority of the season.

Ryan and the receivers essentially carried the team last year. And I hope many fans won’t get down on him or them if that doesn’t happen again this year or in future years. But the focus and scrutiny often falls on the quarterback, especially if he makes over $100 million.

I just hope for Ryan’s sake, that after he gets his new contract he won’t be held to an impossible standard by all parties.

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Falcons Super Bowl Window is Small

June 7th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

White hopes his next big celebration includes a Lombardi Trophy

Falcons receiver Roddy White made recent headlines with comments that the time is now for the Falcons to win a Super Bowl. I for one am not a person that typically agrees with many of the public utterings made by White, but in this case he’s 100% correct.

The Falcons do have a small window of opportunity to “get over the hump” and try and win a Super Bowl. While the powers that be in Flowery Branch probably won’t say as much publicly, the truth is in their actions.

And by actions, just look at the team they’ve constructued. While it wouldn’t be accurate to say the Falcons are “all in” for a Super Bowl in 2013, they certainly are for the next two seasons.

Don’t agree? Well, here’s a thinking exercise… Name the Falcons current ten best players. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute.

Okay done? Here’s probably the list you came up with, or very close to it…

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