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Pudge’s Picks – Thursday Night Week 9

October 31st, 2013 Comments off
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Miami’s offense is so bad it makes Dalton appear to have a soul

It’s Halloween and this should be a night I enjoy not because of costumes and candy, but because last week I did well on my picks. I went 7-6 against the spread and 10-3 straight up. Looking back, I have no idea why I picked the Steelers because the Raiders always beat them. And I’m officially off the Philadelphia Eagles bandwagon. They are about to be in Jacksonville status where I will refuse to pick them every week regardless of the matchup.

Overall my record this year is 77-43 straight up and 57-63 against the spread.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) at Miami Dolphins (3-4)
Thursday, October 31 at 8:25 pm ET on NFL Network

Line: Dolphins (+2.5)

This matchup gives me a bit of pause. The Bengals have played relatively well these past few weeks with Andy Dalton having a solid outing last Sunday. That likely means that Dalton is due to lay an egg this week. I think Miami’s defense is good enough to keep Dalton in check. Especially since Andrew Whitworth hasn’t practiced all week, and Cameron Wake is the healthiest he’s been in six weeks. Brent Grimes should be matched up frequently with A.J. Green, which should also be a boon for the Dolphins defense rather than Nolan Carroll facing him.

The problem of course is the Dolphins offense stinks. They got off to a fast start against New England last week, but that was thanks in large part to an erratic Brady and an early interception. There was absolutely no vertical element to their offense, thanks in part to the fact that there is no trust in the pass protection in front of Ryan Tannehill. And now they are facing a very formidable Bengals front, which will feature times where we’ll see John Jerry blocking (or not) Geno Atkins. That is not a good recipe for success for the Dolphins, and thus in good conscience I cannot pick them.

The one thing I like for the Dolphins offense is the fact that the injury to Leon Hall has forced the Bengals to move Adam Jones to the outside and they are platooning Dre Kirkpatrick and Chris Crocker in the slot at nickel cornerback. That means that if Miami’s passing attack is going to be able to overcome Cincinnati’s defense, it will rest largely on Rishard Matthews, who could be a big target over the middle.

Spread Pick: Bengals
Straight Pick: Bengals

Categories: Features Tags: ,

Moneyball 2013 – Week 8 Review

October 30th, 2013 Comments off
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan had his worst performance of 2013 in Week 8

Overall, a very disappointing performance for the Atlanta Falcons were they got thoroughly outplayed by the Arizona Cardinals on both sides of the ball for four quarters.

Offensively, I’m going to blame the team’s lack of a deep threat and their inability to get much push on the ground for the main causes of their problems. I counted only one instance in the first half of the game where the Falcons took a measured shot and threw a pass beyond 15 yards. That occurred on an 18-yard throw by Matt Ryan to Drew Davis on a deep in on their second possession of the game. Remember the Falcons had 27 drop backs in the first half. They took more shots downfield in the second half, but that was mainly because they were trying to get back into the game. Ryan did not have the best game and had a few opportunities in the second half to get the big strike. On their first play of the third quarter, Darius Johnson was streaking down field and had a step on the defender, but for whatever reason Ryan chose to check the ball down to Patrick DiMarco for a 2-yard gain. It wasn’t a matter of not seeing him nor having protection, just that Ryan chose to check it down. Then in the fourth quarter, when Ryan hit Harry Douglas on a 25-play on an out and up, if Ryan had put a bit more air under the ball, Douglas could have ran under it and scored a touchdown. That would have given the Falcons six points with roughly 8 minutes left in the game. Instead they ultimately went down the field and scored on that drive, but four additional minutes bled off the clock.

Ryan threw four interceptions, and the first and third one were solely on him. He didn’t see Daryl Washington in the throwing lane on the first pick. On the third one, he tried to throw to a very well-covered Davis, forcing a throw. He then threw a bad ball, and Tyrann Mathieu had an easy pick. The second and fourth interceptions could be blamed on pressure preventing Ryan from stepping into his throws, and hanging up a ball for easy picks by Rashad Johnson. Both times, the Cardinals were able to get a free rusher to Ryan (Marcus Benard on the second pick and Karlos Dansby on the fourth one).

Overall, I thought the pass protection was serviceable. Granted, the standard has fallen sharply in Atlanta over the years. And I would say the line gave Ryan enough protection to make throws if not for the emphasis on short and intermediate throws. Frankly, the Falcons receivers aren’t good enough, and I liked that Dirk Koetter resorted to a lot of pick plays and complementary routes to help his receivers. But it’s clear that this group of receivers is not capable of carrying the load, especially when a team has to drop back 65 times in game. Especially when the no-huddle isn’t part of the equation.

That’s where the offensive line really gets the blame with their poor run blocking. Steven Jackson had really no space to get going, with maybe a yard before he would run into a wall. Granted, part of it was the fact that Jackson didn’t look sharp. And if this is all the push the Falcons can muster, they are better served using Jacquizz Rodgers as their primary rusher. Rodgers isn’t as consistent, but his quickness means he’s much more capable of creating beyond his blocking. The Falcons utilized a lot of traps and pulls in their man blocking, and frankly players like Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett were eating, chewing, and spitting out their blocks like sunflower seeds. I might need a second set of hands to count how many times the Falcons tried to double-team Campbell and he’d still clog the lane or make the tackle. I remember one instance vividly where Justin Blalock pushed Campbell downfield one-on-one, and then Reynolds was supposed to pull into the hole, but it was clogged by another defender and Jackson was stopped for a two-yard gain. Lamar Holmes struggled, but I should note his struggles came largely when he was blocking Campbell or John Abraham one-on-one. That has been the issue throughout this season, where there has been a significant gap in abilities when our blockers face opposing team’s good defensive linemen and/or linebackers. Blalock has been the only player that has shown that he can actually compete with premier opponents this year.  Unfortunately for the Falcons, they face a lot of good defensive linemen and linebackers the rest of the season. So unless the Falcons make a move sooner rather than later, that’s an issue that isn’t going to be solved until the offseason.

PLAYERS
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$5$3$0$0$0$0$8.00
Drew Davis$0$0$7$1$0$0$7.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Darius Johnson$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$1$1$1$0$0$3.00
Kevin Cone$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0-$2$0.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$2-$1$0-$1$0.00
Steven Jackson$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0-$2-$3.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0-$2$0-$1-$3.00

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Takeaways from Week 8

October 28th, 2013 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

How Much Change Will Arthur Blank Demand in 2014?

The big question last week was whether or not Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay was because they caught a bad team on the verge of collapse or because the Falcons were finally showing signs of life after a disappointing start to their 2013 season.

Well, judging from their performance on Sunday in their 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the latter.

The Falcons season appears to be done as the team now falls to 2-5 and with upcoming matchups against better teams than Arizona in Carolina, Seattle, and New Orleans over the next four games, they will be hard-pressed to get back to .500. While anything is possible on any given Sunday, the Falcons would need so many things to go their way to pull victories over those teams. And very little has gone the Falcons way this year.

Time for the Youth Movement

We’ve reached the point in the year where the main focus is going to be evaluating much of the young talent on the roster. But thanks to the plethora of injuries the Falcons have suffered this year, they already are evaluating a lot of their younger players. Players like Jonathan Massaquoi, Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford are now logging serious reps on defense. And the Falcons are going to get long looks at their young receivers such as Drew Davis, Darius Johnson, and Levine Toilolo going forward. The positive is that the experience gained by these players should make them better NFL players. Unfortunately for the Falcons, that likely won’t really pay off until 2014 and beyond.

But the Falcons will need to start mixing in other young players more. I’d like to see Ryan Schraeder get mixed into the lineups on game day. He shouldn’t supplant any starter, but he should be given a couple of series here and there. Let’s face it, Jeremy Trueblood is not a long-term option for the Falcons. As explained two weeks ago, due to price tag and draft status, the Falcons have a vested interest in Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes, respectively, seeing the field. But that is not the case with Trueblood even though he hasn’t been the weakest link among the Falcons starting five, he is the most expendable of the group. The Falcons should try to give Schraeder a couple of series in the coming weeks, and see how he handles going up against players like Charles Johnson, Chris Clemons, and Cameron Jordan as an important evaluation tool on his future.

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Ryan Picked Off Four Times in Atlanta’s loss to Arizona

October 27th, 2013 Comments off
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan is sacked by Cardinals linebacker Marcus Benard

Limited hope remains for the 2013 Atlanta Falcons season following a 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The Falcons record falls to 2-5 and with a tougher schedule upcoming, they may be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of wins on the rest of their schedule. The Falcons got outplayed by the Cardinals from the start, falling into a 21-6 hole at halftime, and any chance of coming back was negated by four second-half interceptions from Matt Ryan.

Ryan struggled, attempting a career-high 61 passes and completing 34 of them for 301 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions. The Falcons ground attack was pathetic, with Ryan leading the team with 13 yards rushing on a single carry. Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 8 yards on a pair of carries, while Steven Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time since Week 2 to rush for 6 yards on 11 carries. Harry Douglas led receivers with 12 catches for 121 yards. Drew Davis had 5 catches for 77 yards and a touchdown while Darius Johnson caught 4 passes for 40 yards. Tony Gonzalez was limited to just 3 catches for 26 yards. Matt Bryant connected on both of his field goal attempts of 24 and 30 yards. Matt Bosher punted 4 times for an average of 45.8 yards with 2 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain returned a pair of punts for an average of 13.5 yards, while Rodgers had two kickoff returns for a 27-yard average. The team generated only 292 total yards on 79 offensive plays. The Falcons continued to struggle in the red zone, converting only 1 of their 3 trips there. They converted 8 of 20 third down conversion attempts (40-percent), but the story offensively was the fact that four of their five  offensive series ended in turnovers in the second half.

Defensively, the Falcons got gashed by the Cardinals rushing attack early. They gave up 201 rushing yards on 30 carries, including 153 on 13 carries in the first half. Atlanta was somewhat effective against the pass, allowing just 172 passing yards by Carson Palmer on 18 throws, sacking him three times and picking him off once. They even got stops on third down, allowing the Cardinals to convert only 3 of 10 attempts (30-percent). But the damage was done early in the game, with the Cardinals able to put points on the board thanks to some big plays in the first half. Jonathan Babineaux led defenders with 7 tackles, including 3 tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. Robert Alford (2 tackles, 1 pass defended); Joplo Bartu (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks); Peria Jerry (1 tackle, 0.5 sacks); William Moore (3 tackles); Corey Peters (3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack); Asante Samuel (3 tackles, 1 interception); Desmond Trufant (4 tackles, 1 pass defended); and Paul Worrilow (6 tackles) had noteworthy games.

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Pudge’s Picks – Week 8

October 26th, 2013 1 comment

For some silly reason, I feel good about this week’s picks. I’ve had previously good feelings in weeks where I bombed, but I feel a little bit of momentum with a relatively solid week of picking last week.

Atlanta Falcons (2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (3-4)
Sunday, October 27 at 4:25 pm ET on FOX

Line: Cardinals (-2.5)

This is a must-win for the Falcons in the sense that this is their most winnable game for the remainder of the season, with possible exception to their Week 11 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cardinals have a very good defense that should be able to keep the Falcons offense in check for most of the game, but they have a very poor offense that even the Falcons lowly defense should be able to overcome. I believe the Falcons defense will have another solid performance this week and win a squeaker on the road that will likely come down to the final drive. Matt Bryant better be ready.

Spread Pick: Falcons
Straight Pick: Falcons

Dallas Cowboys (4-3) at Detroit Lions (4-3)
Sunday, October 27 at 1 pm ET on FOX

Line: Lions (-2.5)

The reason why you probably like the Cowboys in this game is because their secondary is better equipped to match up against Calvin Johnson than the Lions secondary is to go against Dez Bryant. But I think I like the Lions because I believe they will have more balance to their offense. I know, I don’t think the words “balance” and “Lions” have been used in the same sentence in the past four years. And I also like Detroit’s pass rush more to create some mistakes by Tony Romo, who is prone to do so on the road. Matt Stafford is quietly a solid year, so I like Detroit in a close one at home.

Spread Pick: Lions
Straight Pick: Lions

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Categories: Features Tags: ,

Three Keys to a Falcons Victory in Week 8

October 26th, 2013 1 comment
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Tony Gonzalez

Here’s a look at three keys to victory in order for the Atlanta Falcons to defeat the Arizona Cardinals in their Week 8 road matchup.

Pressure Leads to Turnovers

The Falcons defensive line is coming off its strongest performance of the season, effectively able to control the line of scrimmage last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They got plenty of pressure on Mike Glennon and doing such were able to create an early turnover that led to seven points.

They will have to do much of the same this week against the Cardinals. Carson Palmer has thrown two or more interceptions in each of his last five games, and the Falcons will hope to make it six in a row. The Cardinals defense is one tough nut to crack, and given the Falcons injuries on offense, it will make it even tougher. Creating multiple turnovers can create additional opportunities for the offense to put points on the board.

The best way to create turnovers is to get pressure on the quarterback. That leads to rushed and errant throws, which defenders in the Falcons secondary can capitalize on to make big plays.

The Falcons should see favorable matchups against one of the league’s weakest offensive line. Osi Umenyiora has historically preyed on weak tackles, which the Cardinals sport in left tackle Bradley Sowell. Injury to left guard Daryn Colledge could also lead to backup Nate Potter starting, and the Cardinals also have a weakness at the other guard spot with Paul Fanaika being unexceptional.

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Jackson to Return; White and Snelling Out in Week 8

October 26th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson

The Falcons announced their weekly injury report yesterday, indicating that wide receiver Roddy White and running back Jason Snelling will be out for this weekend’s matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. White (hamstring/ankle) and Snelling (ankle) both missed the entire week of practice thanks to their respective injuries. Also linebacker Stephen Nicholas (thigh) was held out of practice this week and will miss the game.

But the Falcons got good news as running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is expected to suit up for the Falcons for the first time since Week 2. Jackson was limited all three days of practice and was declared probable. Typically the Falcons only declare players that fully participate on Friday as probable, but Jackson’s status is indicative that his limited reps this week were more precautionary than necessary.

Also questionable will be offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee) and linebacker Akeem Dent (ankle). Baker and Dent were both limited in all three practices this week. If Baker is unable to go, Lamar Holmes will likely get the start at left tackle, a role he’s filled the past two games with Baker out of the lineup. Dent returned to the lineup last week after missing the Falcons Week 5 contest against the Jets due to the ankle injury he suffered the preceding week against the New England Patriots. Omar Gaither started at middle linebacker against the Jets in Dent’s absence.

Listed as probable on the injury report were cornerback Robert Alford (ankle), tight end Chase Coffman (knee), and defensive tackle Corey Peters (shoulder). Alford was limited on Wednesday, but fully participated in Thursday and Friday’s practices. Coffman and Peters were both limited on the first two days of practice, but saw a full workload on Friday. Alford supplanted Robert McClain as the team’s nickel cornerback last week and also replaced Harry Douglas on punt returns. But the team has indicated that they might look at other players in the latter role given Alford’s costly turnover last week on his lone punt return.

Notable injuries for the Arizona Cardinals include running back Rashard Mendenhall (toe), who is doubtful for the game. It will likely lead to backup Andre Ellington starting for the team on Sunday. Left guard Daryn Colledge (back) and outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (knee) are questionable. Colledge’s absence could lead to Nate Potter getting inserted into the lineup, a role he struggled in last week in Arizona’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) fully participated in all three days of practice and is listed as probable.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 44 “Tampa Bay is a Dumpster Fire”

October 25th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined once again by Rashad James, making his second consecutive appearance on the podcast to discuss the Atlanta Falcons win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7. We discuss some of the standout players from the game including William Moore, Malliciah Goodman, Harry Douglas, and Desmond Trufant. We also take a look at the play of the Falcons young linebackers and whether or not they have what it takes to turn into good NFL linebackers. In their preview of Week 8, we discuss how much impact a healthy Steven Jackson can bring, whether or not there needs to be changes made at punt returner, how the Falcons left tackle matches up with John Abraham, and whether the Falcons defense can take advantage of Arizona’s lackluster offensive attack.

Ep. 44: Tampa Bay is a Dumpster Fire [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 1 minute

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. 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

Pudge’s Picks – Thursday Night Week 8

October 24th, 2013 Comments off

It was a bit of a better week picking games in Week 7 for me. I finished 10-5 straight upup, while going 7-8 against the spread. The Colts win over the Broncos was the big shocker from last week. Obviously there were several outcomes that I wouldn’t have predicted, but nothing that came out of left field.

My season totals stand at 67-40 straight up and 50-57 against the spread.

There’s been talking recently about the possibility of a Thursday Night doubleheader. I’d honestly be in a favor of it. Frankly I’d also be in a favor of a Sunday night doubleheader, assuming they started the games relatively early. Like say around 6 Eastern. If a West Coast team is hosting, it will always be the late game. I just don’t want to be up to 1 am watching games. It’s fun every once in a while but would get taxing if it happened every week.

I’m thinking many of these new schedule changes are eventually going to come so that the NFL season is longer, not necessarily in terms of number of games (18 games seems a decade or more away), but in length of time the season covers. I don’t think we’re that far from seeing the double bye week, and wouldn’t be shocked to eventually see a triple bye week. After all, if the goal is truly to make the game safer, giving players more rest makes sense. And I’m sure the networks wouldn’t be upset over having an NFL-dominated programming block over 23 weeks instead of 20.

Carolina Panthers (3-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-6)
Thursday, October 24 at 8:25 pm ET on NFL Network

Line: Bucs (+6.5)

The Panthers have dominated bad teams this year, beating the Giants, Vikings, and Rams by an average of 26 points. But they did lose to the Cardinals on the road, and with a Ron Rivera-coached team and Cam Newton-led team, there is always the potential for a letdown. But the Bucs were so bad last week vs. the Falcons and looked to be on the verge of quitting on Greg Schiano. Having a short week is usually a bad recipe for success in such a situation.

Arizona beat Carolina with tough defense and pressuring Newton. Patrick Peterson locked down Steve Smith, and if Revis can do the same, they got a shot. Losing Martin is huge but may not be that big a deal this week since they were unlikely to run the ball well against Carolina’s front anyway. So they will hope Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams can exploit the Panthers secondary and keep it close. With a couple of Newton turnovers, and there’s a chance Tampa gets their first win.

Spread Pick: Panthers
Straight Pick: Panthers

Categories: Features Tags: ,

Moneyball 2013 – Week 7 Review

October 22nd, 2013 Comments off

It was a solid win for the Atlanta Falcons over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons really needed to come out strong after their bye week to get their season back on track.

But after watching the tape, I’m not as impressed with this win as I was initially on Sunday. It’s clear that the Bucs are simply a bad team, and while the Falcons are better, I certainly won’t say that they are a good team. The Bucs really hurt themselves with a bunch of penalties and missed opportunities. While it didn’t reach as bad as their infamous performance in Week 17 of 2011 under Radio Raheem, it’s inching closer to that point. While the Falcons controlled this game from start to finish, the Bucs never took advantage of the numerous opportunities they had to get back into this game. In the end, the Falcons won a game that they should have won, but it doesn’t inspire me with a ton of confidence going forward that the team is going to play significantly better in the coming weeks as they did before the bye.

Despite excellent numbers, Matt Ryan was more solid than spectacular. He made several very good throws, but it seemed like the Falcons had a fairly conservative gameplan in the early going. The Bucs had a couple of breakdowns in the secondary that led to some big plays early such as the two to Harry Douglas in the second quarter. While Douglas gets credit for making the plays, it really was a terrible play on the ball by Leonard Johnson on the 54-yard pass and a blown assignment on Mark Barron on the 37-yard touchdown that are more responsible for those plays more than anything Douglas did in particular.

The key for Ryan was that he got good pass protection throughout the game. While the Falcons weren’t spotless up front, the fact that they allowed no sacks, one pressure, and only four hurries the entire game made all the difference. Lamar Holmes looked his best thus far this year, but then again any decent NFL starter should look fairly good going up against Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Trevor Scott, and Adrian Clayborn. The Falcons did a solid job keeping Gerald McCoy in relative check, as he only had one pressure (vs. Holmes), one hit (vs. Blalock), and one hurry (vs. Reynolds). The Bucs tried to dial up some blitzes, and the Falcons did a fairly solid job picking it up. With time to throw, Ryan was able to locate receivers, particularly Douglas. But so much of the Falcons offense seemed to be devoted to underneath throws to Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers, with five screens to the latter including the one for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The running game was very ineffectual, although that was because the blocking was poor up front as nobody really got any push against the Bucs front. Lavonte David was a force against the run, and accounted for both of Peter Konz’s missed blocks in the first quarter.

I noticed the Falcons barely used Levine Toilolo throughout the game, and he got no snaps in the red zone. That was very disappointing given how effective he’s been there the past three games. I’m not sure there’s a good reason why Brian Robiskie and Drew Davis are getting snaps in the red zone, and Toilolo is not.

I know I sound negative, but truthfully the Falcons did what they needed to do, nothing more. The backup receivers in Darius Johnson and Davis, each made nice plays, but considering how many snaps they got, the fact that they really only had 2 catches isn’t very promising. Considering the low expectations however, I can’t complain too much. I’ll just say that I’m very much looking forward to the day that Roddy White is back in the lineup.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
ST
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$13$0$0$0$0-$1$12.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$9$1$0$0$12.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$9$0$0-$1$8.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Jason Snelling$0$3$0$0$0$0$3.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Drew Davis$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Darius Johnson$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00

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