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Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

Running Back

What I Saw:: Jacquizz looked very good, making defenders miss and as usual adding to his blocking. Snelling also had some nice runs. Vaughan had a nice touchdown run. Unfortunately, Wingo didn’t get in until the fourth quarter with the third stringers, who had a hard time creating holes for him. Antone Smith also flashed on a few runs, showing his excellent straight-line speed and burst. It’s going to come down to Vaughan vs. Smith. Smith is more explosive, more polished in the passing game, and the far superior special teams player. But Vaughan is a better runner with the ball in his hands, although he does have a tendency to hesitate at times when hitting the hole.

Ewing did some nice things in the early going with some nice blocks. Good to see him getting work. DiMarco was inconsistent as a blocker. He had a couple of nice blocks, but missed some assignments as well. He did nice work on special teams again, and while that probably won’t get him a shot in Atlanta, it should mean he’ll manage to hang around the league for several more years even if he never develops into a great lead blocker.

Conclusions:: If it were me, I’d probably favor Smith over Vaughan, just because he’s a bit more versatile. Honestly, Vaughan isn’t going to get significant reps as a running back…ever. And while he’s been very effective there this summer, it’s not like he’s the next Fred Jackson by any means, so the Falcons aren’t likely to be kicking themselves if they let him go. I don’t believe Vaughan is eligible for the practice squad, but I could be wrong (that third year is hard to figure out). If so, then he can stick there. I think Wingo has shown enough promise throughout the preseason that he can also be a p-squad candidate.

Wide Receiver

What I Saw:: Darius Johnson saw 9 targets, so he was clearly doing something right. But he only caught 1 of them. He had 1 drop, but most of the times Davis targeted him they were errant throws, particularly in the first half. Kevin Cone had a nice grab, adjusting to a low throw on a Davis rollout. But then dropped one when a defender knocked the ball out of his hands on a comeback, and he injured his right shoulder. But he did get back into the game if I recall correctly. Martel Moore made a nice grab over the middle but other than that, no receiver really stood out. Towards the end, Davis started tucking and running quite a bit. Without looking at the All-22, it’s nearly impossible to tell if guys were getting open and he wasn’t seeing them, or they just weren’t getting open. I’ll give Davis the benefit of the doubt and think that it was just receivers unable to get open. That has been a common thread throughout the preseason.

Conclusions:: I saw Johnson working as a gunner on punts, which is good for him. Cone did some nice things as a receiver. But the main thing is that Cone doesn’t separate well from coverage as he has struggled doing that throughout the preseason. Due to his size, he was able to make a couple of catches despite it. Johnson however does separate from coverage due to his speed and quickness. But his lack of size may limit his potential going forward. Cone is also the more polished and experienced cover guy on special teams as well. Johnson has the greater offensive potential, but he’ll be limited to being more of an underneath slot-type, which the Falcons offense hasn’t really favored over the years (see Harry Douglas). But Cone might be able to give them more immediate value on special teams, even though he’s not great there. If it were me, I’d probably try and stash Johnson on the practice squad and see if I can get a better 5th wideout than Cone that is better on both special teams and has greater offensive potential. Although that’s easier said than done and I think it might be hard for Johnson to clear waivers. Moore might also get a look on the practice squad due to his early work in camp, but he too is a project.

Tight End

What I Saw:: Coffman has good hands and will make a nice outlet receiver on the twenty occasions he sees passes this season. Toilolo showed nice hands on his lone catch, but for the most part was mediocre at best. He missed a block in short-yardage on a critical 4th down conversion attempt in the fourth quarter. He also got flagged for a false start which backed up the Falcons five yards when they were at the Jags’ 6-yard line late in the game, significantly aiding in their inability to score.

Conclusions:: I don’t think Toilolo has done anything to really earn any playing time once the regular season starts. Coffman isn’t a good blocker, but he’s decent and Toilolo hasn’t distinguished himself to be better in that regard this summer. Last year, the Falcons probably employed 2-TE sets maybe 10-15 times per game, and almost never put 3 TEs on the field. Those figures probably won’t change this year.

Offensive Tackle

What I Saw:: Lamar Holmes started at right tackle, as the Falcons correctly figured he needed the extra work. He did not have a good performance, getting beat with speed a couple of times. He gave up a sack to Pannel Egboh on a play where DiMarco whiffed chipping, and Holmes was unable to set up in time. Schraeder had a nice game at left tackle, and while I’ve been critical of him this summer, I think he’s definitely had a much stronger summer than Holmes. It’s possible that he could get inserted into the lineup early in the season if Holmes’ play doesn’t pick up in September. Terren Jones played the second half at left tackle, while Schraeder kicked over to the right side. Savoie got in the game in the last 9 minutes of the fourth with the third string. Both he and Jones struggled. Jones is huge and showed nice ability as a run blocker using that size well, but his technique, hands, and footwork are poor in pass protection. He’s just a big, lumbering guy that moves so slowly and lacks any sort of power or polish to his game there. His size and strength mean he has upside to develop, but the Falcons could let him walk and not bat an eye given how long it will take to develop him. Savoie just looked outmatched and undersized against the Jaguars’ backup edge rushers. That has been the case throughout the preseason.

Conclusions:: Holmes will start the season at right tackle. Traditionally the Falcons don’t have any leash on underperforming young blockers, as both Hawley and Konz struggled at right guard the past two seasons and the Falcons made no effort to pull them from the lineup. Basically injury is the only way a starting lineman loses his job in Atlanta. But that might change this year. The team likes Schraeder, and if Holmes struggles over the first month or so, I could see them pulling him in favor of Schraeder. But the Falcons definitely need to add another body to act as insurance in case that happens and Schraeder also struggles, which I would bet is likely. Jones and Savoie should probably get cut and the Falcons don’t need to bring either back for the practice squad.

Offensive Guard

What I Saw:: I thought McClendon looked good when he replaced Manley at left guard. Manley struggled in this game, and while he’s got good size, like Jones his footwork and technique are sloppy and inconsistent. He is not very explosive in this game, and Kyle Love was dominating him in the early going of this game. Yes, Love is no bum, as he started for the Patriots last year so it’s understandable. But McClendon, Gunn, and Hawley didn’t struggle as much as Manley did blocking him. Manley also got beat soundly by D’Anthony Smith on a third down play, that would have been a completion and conversion by Renfree but Smith was all over him. Gunn played every offensive snap in this game, starting the game at right guard, then kicking over to left guard in the second half, and then finishing the game at center. I think that tells you something about how the coaching staff feels about him. He played well, as I counted a team-high two key blocks from him. He got the key block on Vaughan’s big touchdown run. McClendon did a nice job blocking on the second level, swallowing up linebackers there. He got beat for a pressure late in the game by Egboh. That was really the only mark against him. Goins got in the game late, and struggled to create push on the ground, but was competent in pass protection.

Conclusions:: It’s clear to me that the Falcons should keep either Gunn or McClendon as their top reserve guard, and cut Manley. I don’t really have a strong preference whether it’s Gunn or McClendon although i think J-Mac’s upside is higher due to superior size and strength. But Gunn probably was the team’s best blocker on the field last night and thus erased any doubts I had about him. The good thing is both are p-squad eligible, which means they can potentially keep both. After a good summer last year, Manley just looked too fat and slow this summer, to be frank. Goins didn’t play enough to really make a strong impression, and he’s likely gone too.

Center

What I Saw:: Hawley got the start and got beat by Kyle Love on the first play from scrimmage. But after that, he was fine. He showed that trademark mean streak, as he was getting after guys and playing beyond the whistle. He embodies the “dirt bag” mentality. I was actually empathizing with the Jaguars defenders and getting mad at Hawley with how dirty he was being at times. McClendon and Gunn got the bulk of the second half reps. It was Gunn’s first work at center this summer (he did work there last year with Dallas and Atlanta in practices), and he was decent. I like Gunn’s quick hands there, and I think long-term he probably is best served playing center since he doesn’t have ideal size to play guard. But both guys showed their versatility.

Conclusions:: Hawley will be active on Sundays off the bench, but I think McClendon and Gunn both showed that they have similar potential due to their ability to play all three interior spots. I can’t say much about our depth elsewhere on the line, but I like the depth we have at center.

Defensive End

What I Saw:: Massaquoi played throughout the game and was effective at getting pressure. The highlight play on defense was his sack-strip of Matt Scott, where he scooped up the loose ball and ran it in for a touchdown. He made a couple of plays against the run, but also got beat a couple of times too. But it was enough flashing to make me think that eventually he won’t be a liability there and could develop into an everydown player down the road similar to Biermann. Goodman got most of the early work opposite Massaquoi. He was decent, getting pressure on the first snap of the game to force an errant throw. He had a nice run stuff at the end when the Falcons were trying to get the ball back in the fourth. If/when he develops, he can be an asset on run downs. I’m not sure I’d call him a natural pass rusher, and he looks more like he’ll be filling that Chauncey Davis role I had envisioned for Cliff Matthews. Maponga also got plenty of reps, but just doesn’t look all that explosive coming off the edge. Maybe it’s the extra bulk that he appears to have added since college, or the fact that he’s still working back from the foot injury that made him miss the off-season. But he just didn’t show me enough either as a pass rusher or run defender last night or throughout the summer.

Conclusions:: I think Massaquoi has earned a role in the rotation. It may not be huge, but if he gets 15-20 snaps per game, I think the Falcons will be OK. Goodman probably won’t get a lot of reps early in the season, but he’s a guy to keep your eye on in the second half of the year as he gets more comfortable. I personally don’t think the Falcons need to carry Maponga on the roster this year. I think they can risk him going through waivers to put on the practice squad. I’m not trying to write him off, but in my opinion he didn’t show enough on the field in the preseason to earn a roster spot. And if he does stick on the final 53, it’ll be because of his draft status and the Falcons hopes for future development, not because he was truly deserving.

Defensive Tackle

What I Saw:: Matthews continued to get the bulk of his work inside. He flashed quickness as a pass rusher, with a pair of hurries, including one on the first play of scrimmage alongside Goodman. I don’t recall any instances where he popped as a run defender, but I didn’t notice any where he got overwhelmed either. After several of the latter in the first three games, I guess that’s progress. Or maybe the Falcons didn’t play him as much in those situations as they did early on. Because I did notice plenty of Travian Robertson, Adam Replogle, Neal Huynh, and Micanor Regis in run situations. Robertson had a good game, getting two tackles for loss. He wasn’t the first man through on either of those plays, but he did clean up what others couldn’t. Replogle also looked disruptive and made a couple of nice stops. Huynh got bullied at the point of attack on Jordan Todman’s touchdown run, but after that seemed to settle in and started to eat some space. Regis also did some decent things using his bulk to press the line of scrimmage.

Conclusions:: I think Matthews is probably the ninth guy in the rotation. Based off their play this summer, I think Goodman should earn more regular season reps than him. Robertson will also be getting plenty of reps, potentially spelling Peters at nose tackle. Replogle has played well, but I don’t know if he deserves a roster spot. Definitely a practice squad spot. But I think the Falcons need to sign another tackle to replace Peria Jerry as the starter in their 3-man front, and stash Replogle on the practice squad. Regis and Huynh have had their moments, but probably not enough to stick.

Linebacker

What I Saw:: Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow, and Robert James got the start. James outshined the others as a run defender. Although I think Bartu and Worrilow looked more comfortable, fluid, and instinctual in the passing game. Bartu had a couple of nice plays when blitzing, getting a hit on Kafka in the second half to break up a throw. Worrilow did a better job than James when it came to getting in position in coverage. But James showed great range and made a ton of plays early on in run defense. I counted a tackle for loss and a team-high 3 run stuffs. And there were also a couple of times where he set up a teammate to make a good play vs. the run by taking on a blocker. He was the most consistent of the trio when it came to getting off blocks as well. Schiller and Brian Banks got late reps in the fourth quarter. Banks made a nice tackle when the Falcons had the Jags backed up at the end of the game. Schiller also made a couple of nice plays too, with a run stuff and doing a decent job taking on the fullback in the hole on another play.

Conclusions:: I think both Schiller and Banks have played well when they’ve gotten on the field. But they have gotten significantly less reps than Worrilow, Bartu, and James that they can only hope the Falcons recognize their solid play and give them another shot on the practice squad. James I think played well enough to earn a roster spot, and force the Falcons to keep six linebackers. He still needs work in coverage, but I think Bartu and Worrilow both have shown enough that they could potentially work onto the field on third downs…down the road. Neither are ready to be regulars on defense this year, and thus I think the Falcons would be smart to hold onto Nicholas for another year. The linebacker depth was a huge question mark entering the summer, and for once guys emerged and stepped up. That hasn’t happened a lot over the years in Atlanta.

Cornerback

What I Saw:: Dominique Franks got beat for a touchdown while working int he slot, but it was really a good catch by Jeremy Ebert. Even if Franks was in better position (which he certainly could have been), it would have been impossible to defend. He made another nice play, reading a WR screen and almost had a pick six if he had caught the ball rather than tipping it. But on another play, he showed poor instincts as he was badly out of position on a 21-yard run by Todman on a sweep. He was looking at the receiver who was trying to block the LB, and gave up the edge which allowed Todman to run untouched for the big gain. It’s those inconsistent plays like that that frustrate me with Franks. One play, he shows good instincts and awareness, and then another shows none. Trufant and Alford had some lapses, but both made excellent plays on their interceptions, showing good ball skills and instincts on those plays. Peyton Thompson and Terrence Johnson didn’t get a ton of reps, but had their best games of the summer. Johnson made a nice play against the run, and I’ve always liked his toughness and physicality there. But he looks a bit lost in coverage. Thompson looked good because he didn’t give up any touchdowns.

Conclusions:: I’ve always thought Franks has ability, but you can’t trust him because he makes too many errors, most of them being mental ones. He’s entering his contract year, and I’m not sure the Falcons need to feel compelled to let it play out since I suspect like Chris Owens he’ll be walking next spring. But he’d make nice insurance in the event of injury, so I wouldn’t fault the Falcons for keeping him. And maybe he gets his act together and makes a couple of plays during the season if the opportunity arises. Johnson might make a better dime safety than true cornerback for the next team that picks him up. Thompson was better, but did not do enough to erase his other issues earlier this summer. He won’t be back. Alford and Trufant I think will be in for a long season. You can tell they’re rookies, and I suspect they’ll have their ups and downs, particularly early in the year. The hope is that by year’s end (when the Falcons are making their playoff run), it’ll be more ups.

Safety

What I Saw:: Shann Schillinger and Zeke Motta started the game. That might indicate how the coaches feel the depth chart is going. Schillinger took a bad angle on Todman’s touchdown run. Motta also missed a tackle on that play, but that wasn’t really his responsibility as he was coming from the other side of the field. Motta did make other plays later on against the run. Charles Mitchell and Kemal Ishmael did some nice things against the run when they worked in later. Ishmael continues to be very quick to come upfield and deliver a hit against the run.

Conclusions:: If I’m reading between the lines, it would seem that the coaches trust Schillinger a bit more due to him being higher on the depth chart than Mitchell. Schilinger has been mostly good against the run this summer, but that whiff on Todman is going to be engrained in my brain. Motta is not a great tackler, while Ishmael is. But it would appear the coaches trust Motta a bit more in coverage, which is why he’s higher on the depth chart as well. I’ll be curious to see how things shake out for the Falcons. I don’t think any of these guys are prepared to play if/when a starter gets injured. But all bring value on special teams, which is underrated. I can’t sit here and say “this is what I would do in the Falcons shoes…” because nobody really has distinguished himself on the field in my eyes. I like that Ishmael is a hard-hitter, but other than that they are all about equal. So if I was in the Falcons’ shoes, I’d sign a veteran safety and then let the rest of the chips fall where they may. I think the only thing you are risking if you cut either Schillinger, Motta, or Ishmael you might be potentially losing on a very good special teams player. I can’t say the same thing for Mitchell, who has been marginal in that regard.

Special Teams

What I Saw:: Jeremy Shelley missed a 48-yard field and an extra point. Not the way he wanted to finish his preseason. He had a good summer, but he missed both field goals attempted from beyond 45 yards. The question about him coming out of Alabama was whether he had NFL leg strength, as he was used only on short kicks in college. Well he didn’t really answer those questions this summer, as his 48-yarder looked like he pulled it trying to get that extra “umph” on the ball. I couldn’t tell you what happened on the PAT, as he just pushed it right. Alford returned punts and kickoffs in this game. The knock on him there is that he only knows how to get to the edge on punts. He’ll have to be broken of that if he wants to be a consistent return threat in the NFL. The edge is really only your friend when the punter outkicks the coverage. You can’t be afraid to run it up the middle on the majority of the other kicks, making the first defender miss. On kickoffs, he struggled because he stopped his feet which you can’t do there either.

Conclusions:: It’s unfortunate, but Shelley might have cost himself a shot this fall in the NFL with a poor game. His missed kicks arguably cost the Falcons the game. The Falcons will still have him on speed dial if something should ever happen to Matt Bryant. Douglas and Quizz will return punts and kickoffs this season. I was optimistic Alford would take one of those jobs, but he still needs work. But frankly, given the fact that he needs to devote more energy to improving on defense, not having the return job isn’t a bad thing.

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