The Cleveland Browns announced today that they have hired Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as their new head coach, ending the possibility that Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter would take over that team. Koetter was said to have interviewed with the Browns this week for their vacant head coaching position. The hiring of Pettine fills all the vacancies for head coaching positions in the NFL, likely ending any potential turnover the Falcons could have on their coaching staff this year.
It was announced Tuesday that Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez would get the chance to play in the Pro Bowl after his final season in the NFL, as a replacement for San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who pulled out from the contest. Gonzalez will be the lone representative of the Falcons to play in Sunday’s all-star game in Hawaii, after being voted as an alternate. Gonzalez was selected to ‘Team Rice’ on Wednesday night in the game’s new format of a live draft.
The new format has two respective captains, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, select their teams regardless of conference affiliation over the course of two nights. Gonzalez was selected by Rice’s team alongside other skill position players on Wednesday night. He will play alongside Jimmy Graham at the tight end position on a team that features quarterback Drew Brees, running back LeSean McCoy and defensive end John Abraham among others.
This will mark Gonzalez’ 14th trip to the Pro Bowl, tying the NFL record alongside offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen. He has made the Pro Bowl four consecutive seasons, with his the only time he did not make the Pro Bowl since 1999, being his first year in Atlanta in 2009. He was also honored as part of the All-Decade team of the 2000s, which was announced in 2010.
Gonzalez plans to retire this offseason after 17 years in the NFL, playing his last five with the Falcons, after beginning his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997. Gonzalez ranked second on the team in receptions (83) and receiving yards (859) but led the team with 8 touchdowns. He finishes his career ranked second all-time in career receptions (1,325), fifth in yards (15,127) and sixth in receiving touchdowns (111). For tight ends, he ranks first in each category. He also finishes his Falcon career ranked fourth in receptions (409), eighth in yards (4,187), and tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns (35) on the team’s all-time list. His career mark in receptions tops the team’s all-time list of tight ends.
Gonzalez will be eligible to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019, and is widely expected to be a first-ballot entree.
The Atlanta Falcons announced today
that former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli has been hired as the team’s new assistant general manager. Pioli is a long-time friend and associate of Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff due to their shared time with the New England Patriots. Pioli will join Atlanta when his current contract with NBC Sports and Sirius XM Radio expire on February 3.
Pioli spent four seasons with the Chiefs (2009-12) as their GM after leaving New England. He spent nine seasons in New England, co-running the team alongside head coach Bill Belichick as their director of player personnel. There, Pioli earned NFL Executive of the Year honors from Pro Football Weekly twice (2003, 2007) and Sports Illustrated twice (2003, 2004). He would earn both honors again in 2010 with the Chiefs. SI named him their top sports Executive of the Decade for the 2000s. Prior to his stint in New England, he was pro personnel director for the New York Jets under his father-in-law Bill Parcells from 1997-99. Pioli first encountered Parcells and Belichick when both were with the New York Giants in the 1980s as a student at Syracuse that would visit team practices. Pioli got his first foray into scouting as a pro personnel assistant with the Cleveland Browns in 1992, again with Belichick.
While responsible for drafting Pro Bowlers like safety Eric Berry, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, and linebacker Justin Houston during his time in Kansas City, Pioli was criticized for other poor picks like first rounders defensive end Tyson Jackson and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, as well as the trade that brought quarterback Matt Cassel to the team, and coaching hires like Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel.
Dimitroff consulted with Pioli before pulling the trigger on the trade that brought Julio Jones to Atlanta. In his new capacity, Pioli could help alleviate some of the turnover the Falcons have had in their front office in recent years.
Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports
that Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will interview for the vacant head coaching position for the Cleveland Browns.
No timing on when the interview will occur, although it will likely occur within the next day or two. The Browns remain the only NFL team with a vacancy at head coach. Koetter was linked to the Browns a year ago for the same job before opting to sign an extension to stay on with the Falcons. That was followed by the subsequent hire of Rob Chudzinski by the Browns. Chudzinski was then fired after one season when the Browns finished 4-12 after beginning the 2013 season 3-2.
Browns officials are currently in Mobile, Alabama along with representatives from every NFL team to watch Senior Bowl practices. The Falcons are coaching the North team, and it makes sense that the Browns would take advantage of the access they gain from Koetter being there. Word of Koetter’s impending interview comes in the wake of news that Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has withdrawn his name from the Browns’ search. The Browns are scheduled to interview Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine tonight in Mobile, according to reports. It is likely Koetter’s interview will occur shortly thereafter.
Koetter was a candidate this past fall for the head coaching job at Boise State University before the school opted to hire someone else. Koetter is finishing his second season as the Falcons offensive coordinator. Prior to joining the Falcons, he spent five seasons in the same role with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Prior to his time in Jacksonville, Koetter was a head coach on the college ranks for nine years where compiled records of 26-10 at Boise State and 40-34 at Arizona State.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Atlanta Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital has opted to remain in Atlanta rather than join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their new general manager. Vital was a candidate for that position and interviewed for the vacant job after the Buccaneers dismissed Mark Dominik this offseason.
Vital joined the Falcons shortly after the 2008 draft and was promoted to his current position a year ago when David Caldwell left the team to become the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vital is dubbed the next in line in the string of Falcons front office employees that could become an NFL GM.
Mike Smith gets chance to coach up some draft prospects at Senior Bowl
This week will be all about the Senior Bowl for the Atlanta Falcons as the team is tasked with coaching the North squad in the prestigious annual college football all-star game.
The potential boost coaching the Senior Bowl could give to the team drafting this May could be significant. It is by no means a guarantee that the team will be able to draft well, but it does give Atlanta a potential leg up. They will get to know the many players that they will be coaching during the course of the week better than several other teams.
The Falcons will get a first-hand look at how players react to hard coaching, decipher information, and just interact with teammates and competition in general. Much of this information a team can discover with painstaking research about a particular draft prospect, but it would all be second-hand based and can’t be completely trusted.
This week will definitely help in the team’s draft evaluations, even if the team doesn’t fully take advantage by targeting players they coach. But in all likelihood, the Falcons will take advantage thanks to their history under general manager Thomas Dimitroff of targeting Senior Bowl players. Since taking over the team in 2008, Dimitroff and the Falcons have drafted 14 players that participated in the Senior Bowl:
Falcons Senior Bowl Picks (since 2008)
Tight end Julius Thomas could be a major difference maker for the Broncos
Picking winners in the playoffs is easier when compared to the regular season. Thanks to having teams that are bit more consistent at the things they do well, it’s easier to evaluate the matchups. It’s also easier since you have a much larger sample size of previous games to evaluate.
Due to that lessened hardship, I had a clean sweep last week with picking all the winners correctly, going 4-0. Did not however get all the spreads right as I went 3-0-1 due to the Seattle Seahawks winning by eight points and pushing. That brings my playoff total to 7-1 picking games straight up and 6-1-1 when picking against the spread.
Before the season in my predictions post, I tabbed the Seahawks to square off against the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. I initially picked the Broncos to win that game, although if that matchup does ultimately come to fruition, I’d probably switch allegiances at this point. For these picks because I had initially expected it, I’m going to pick that Bronco-Seahawk matchup to come true.
I’m personally excited by the potential that I nailed both Super Bowl teams, although I don’t think that particular matchup was that difficult to see coming. The Broncos were far and away the best team in the AFC going into the season. And I suspect most people that didn’t have loyalty to a particular NFC team (like my fellow Falcon fans) picked the team they figured would win the NFC West: Seattle or San Francisco.
But overall, I like the fact that this could make two years in a row in which I got at least one of the Super Bowl teams right. Last year, I correctly predicted the Baltimore Ravens to wind up in the Super Bowl before the season started.
But enough patting myself on the back, here are this weekend’s picks:
New England Patriots (13-4) at Denver Broncos (14-3)
Sunday, January 19 at 3 pm ET on CBS
*Line: Broncos (-5.5)
After careful consideration, defensive end Osi Umenyiora was selected as the most disappointing player on the Atlanta Falcons in 2013.
This was the most difficult of these to decide upon because there were plenty of options. As an entire unit, the Falcons were one of the most disappointing teams in the league in 2013. Midway through the season, I selected center Peter Konz. And one could make a very strong argument why Konz still deserves the distinction. But even at that time I thought Umenyiora was a disappointment, but because he had earned the distinction of being the team’s top newcomer thanks to a Steven Jackson injury, I didn’t really mention him. But once Jackson’s play in the second half of 2013 indicated that he had overtaken Osi as the team’s best non-rookie newcomer, the latter immediately became a candidate for this “award.”
The main reason why I didn’t choose Konz is because when you really think about it, there was no reason for there to be high expectations on Konz. He had a good preseason, but he was not a good player as a rookie in 2012. I count myself among those people that are very disappointed with Konz, but outside one promising preseason game against Haloti Ngata this past summer, there really have been little to no indicators in his limited NFL career that suggest he was going to be a good player. Thus the bar was relatively low for him, and even though Konz managed to come in below that lowered standard, the difference isn’t as huge.
Before the season, I indicated the sort of benchmark Osi needed to hit in order to have a good year. I expected him to have 25 or more “positive pass rushes,” which according to my Moneyball review system, are the combined number of sacks, pressures, and quarterback hits. Osi finished the year with 12.5, behind Jonathan Babineaux (13) and marginally ahead of Jonathan Massaquoi (11.5).
Not helping Osi’s case was the drop off in production he saw in the second half of the season with just four positive pass rushes. I also tallied hurries this past year and in the first eight games, Umenyiora had seven but just one in the final eight games. That sheer drop in production over the second half of the year is what earned Osi this distinction as 2013′s most disappointing player, since it’s certainly not an honor.
The Atlanta Falcons’ most improved player in 2013 is defensive tackle Corey Peters, who was my choice at the midway point in the season
. Not only did his play continue to merit distinction in the second half of 2013, but no other players really emerged.
There were potentially other options under consideration, including offensive linemen Joe Hawley and Justin Blalock. Hawley entered this year as a utility backup, but exited it arguably as the team’s second-best offensive lineman behind Blalock. Through the previous four seasons of reviewing games, rarely did I ever view Blalock as anything more than a serviceable starter. Blalock is a player that gets the job done competently, but rarely ever stands out on tape. That changed for a long stretch of 2013, where I saw Blalock consistently playing at a relatively high level.
But in the end, Peters is the most deserving because unlike Blalock, I’m not sure Peters had shown this season that he was even a serviceable starter. He was a decent option as a starter, but seemed like a player that would have been a much better fit as a third tackle in the rotation rather than a full-time starter. But Peters improved this past season, and was light years better in 2013 than he had been in any other season previously. His best asset was his ability to plug the run, as the Falcons discovered his ideal role as a one-technique nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme. He flashed his pass-rushing skills with five sacks, second most on the team, able to take advantage of weaker centers and guards when he got the opportunities.
Peters is an impending free agent that unfortunately suffered an Achilles tear late in the season. It’s a rough thing to happen to Peters, who was on the verge of really cashing in on the improvement he made. But it might wind up serving as a blessing for the Falcons because there be as many teams trying to sign him away this offseason, thus lowering his potential price tag. If the Falcons are able to retain Peters, there is good reason to believe that once he’s completely healthy again, whether in 2014 or 2015, he’ll pick up right where he left off in 2013 as one of the team’s better defensive players.
This award goes to the best non-rookie that is new to the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, and my choice is running back Steven Jackson.
At the midpoint, I gave it to defensive end Osi Umenyiora, thanks largely to Jackson’s early season injury. Umenyiora had some shining moments early in the season, but those became few and far between as the entire year wore on. Jackson’s play down the stretch was somewhat a boost for this offense, and despite modest production, it still outclassed anything Umenyiora did.
But by and large this honor really signifies that the Falcons didn’t get major contributions from their newcomers that weren’t rookies like Desmond Trufant and Paul Worrilow. The only other newcomer that could also be considered for this honor was offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was middling at best.
Jackson was ultimately among the league’s least effective starting running backs this year, while Umenyiora was the top dog on one of the league’s least effective pass rushes. The improvement that both positions and units were expected to make this year with the additions of both players was minimal at best. Jackson at least gets some extra slack cut his way due to the fact that he was running behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, making him the better choice for this individual honor.