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Breakdown of Falcons Preseason Week 3 vs. Titans

August 24th, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith and coaches have some decisions to make

The Atlanta Falcons dropped another preseason game, in their third contest of the summer against the Tennessee Titans. But despite a game that ultimately goes down as a loss, there were many positives the Falcons, particularly their starters can take from the game.

As I’ve done for the previous two preseason games, I’ve got a thorough breakdown of what I saw from Falcons players in the game, and it’s broken down by position group.

Quarterback

What I Saw: The only real negative that can be said of Matt Ryan’s performance was that he was a bit too long on each of his three deep shots. It reminded me of what Ryan did prior to 2012 on his deep passes, preferring to throw long rather than risk an interception. That conservative style was a major contributing factor in why the Falcons rarely hit on deep passes. Instead, he needs to loft it up, so that his receivers can better make a play on the ball in the air since Ryan should instead trust Julio Jones (his target on all three deep shots) to go up and make a play. Other than that, Ryan looked sharp and looked excellent in the no-huddle at the end of the first half. T.J. Yates entered the game after him in the third quarter and struggled on his three possessions. Yates seemed to struggle with pressure in his face and had bouts where his lack of ideal accuracy and anticipation led to incompletions and/or sacks. Sean Renfree came in later and working on just one series where he was in the two-minute drill, looked fairly sharp. He hit on several passes, although his pass to Julian Jones in the endzone on the final play was a bit off the mark. But he fared better when trying to handle pressure and made some decisive throws and decisions. No reps for Jeff Mathews.

Conclusion: Falcons were able to generate some big plays in this game on busted coverages and broken tackles, but would have preferred to see them hit those when they dialed up the big plays. Ryan’s deep touch seemed to have regressed a bit if judging against the last two seasons, but there’s no reason to panic. Renfree clearly outplayed Yates on his lone series, and it was the first time I thought that Renfree was deserving of real praise this summer. In previous outings, he may have been better than Yates but that had more to do with Yates’ struggles than Renfree doing anything particularly well. There will likely be one more game with each Renfree and Yates getting a half’s worth of play vs. the Jaguars next week. Their performances in that game will be the final deciding factor in the battle for No. 2 quarterback, although Renfree is decidedly in the lead right now. I doubt Mathews makes it past the first round of cuts.

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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 15 Report

August 13th, 2014 No comments
David J. Phillip/From AJC.com

Roddy White, Arian Foster (middle) and Andre Johnson. From AJC.com

Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the 15th day of Atlanta Falcons training camp earlier today:

The Falcons held combined practices with the Houston Texans today in Houston. Much of the focus centered on the battles in the trenches, where Falcons linemen faced Texans pass-rushers in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

Left tackle Sam Baker fared pretty well when going against the rookie Clowney, although they had a bit of a back and forth.

Rookie right tackle Jake Matthews was able to go against both Clowney and Watt. Matthews had his Hall of Fame father, Bruce and other family members on hand to witness the action. Jake’s little brother Luke, might be following the family tradition.

Not to be left out of the action, backup right tackle Ryan Schraeder seemed to also relish his opportunities to square off with Clowney. Left guard Justin Blalock on the other hand, did not fare quite as well against Watt, getting beat a couple of times. Blalock was not alone, as his backup Mike Johnson also struggled.

Along with the Matthews family, several local Falcon players had the support of nearby family members at practice including defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Linebacker Joplo Bartu will have a family reunion of sorts at Saturday’s game against the Texans.

Outside the trenches, the Falcons-Texans practice featured a few new Falcons mixing it up with a few former Falcons. Fullback Maurice Hagens is making his bid for a roster spot by getting after it with linebacker Akeem Dent. Matthews also go to work against defensive end Lawrence Sidbury.

Running back Devonta Freeman is showing strides in pass protection, the key to unlocking more playing time this season.

Free safety Dwight Lowery also got to mix it up with some real contact after missing time with a concussion.

The team also welcomed back Tim Dobbins against his former team today. Dobbins had missed the past few days with an ankle injury suffered in the Falcons win over the Miami Dolphins last Friday night.

Jay Adams has the usual five things we learned from practice.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN has the skinny on other noteworthy observations from today’s session.

On the opposite side of the coin, ESPN Texans blog writer Tania Ganguli noticed how a few Texans corners matched up against Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. As far as Texans fans are concerned, today’s practice saw the return of several key players. That includes Falcons quarterback T.J. Yates, who is still loved by a segment of Texans fans. The Texans also put out video of today’s practice.

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 10 Jonathan Babineaux

July 21st, 2014 Comments off
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 10th-ranked player: defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 74/100

Last year’s rank: 7
Player Grade: 67/100
Teams he is starter: 29 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 14 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +3

While his salary may have been eclipsed by the likes of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson this offseason, Babineaux still remains the team’s best defensive linemen. He’s only player up front that is a steady every-down player, meaning can make plays both against the run and the pass.

The issue for Babineaux is that his play has declined each year since his breakout season in 2009. Each year, there appear to be less and less games where Babineaux’s impact along the line of scrimmage is clear. In 2012, he had that sort of impact in roughly half the games played. A year ago, that figure was virtually cut in half.

One of the possible reasons for that is simply the natural decline that comes with age. Babineaux turns 33 in October, and typically it’s around age 31 or 32 when plays of his ilk start to decline. That ilk is penetrating tackles that rely on getting upfield and being disruptive in the backfield.

But another reason for that is due to the sheer number of reps he was forced to play last year. Per premium website Pro Football Focus, Babineaux played in 87 percent of the Falcons’ defensive snaps last season. That is way too much for a player at this point in his career. That number hopefully can be reduced to under 60 percent in 2014.

Another promising thing is that Babineaux’s new three-year contract should keep him in Atlanta for the remainder of his career. None of his cap hits become prohibitive, with the highest being $3.67 million in 2015, which is still lower than any of the cap hits he’s had over the past five seasons since signing an extension in 2008. That means that as long as his production is up to par, Babineaux should have a spot on the Falcons roster.

Keeping that production up to par will require help from a stronger rotation, which the Falcons have seemingly added with the additions of Soliai and Jackson, as well as drafting Ra’Shede Hageman. Malliciah Goodman will also be a heavy factor in the mix as well. The Falcons don’t really have an excuse to overuse Babineaux in 2014, which should mean that his production could rebound back to 2012 levels if Father Time hasn’t taken too much of a toll.

Babineaux is an important piece in the Mike Nolan defense. Playing a mix of five-technique defensive end and three-technique defensive tackle, Babineaux is a versatile player that has proven to be disruptive at either spot. The latter position is probably his most natural, where Babineaux should earn more opportunities particularly if players like Hageman and Goodman can earn significant snaps as five-technique ends.

Ideally, Babineaux’s primary role will come on third downs when the Falcons will likely employ a four-man front. That way, Babineaux’s quick burst upfield can be saved for passing situations with Hageman and Goodman taking the brunt of the snaps in running situations. That would be the best way to utilize Babineaux and save him wear and tear this season.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive End

July 20th, 2014 Comments off

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Tyson Jackson

The Atlanta Falcons are undergoing a revamp of their defensive fronts this year, and it will begin with the defensive end position.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have employed a multiple defense, which means it is not strictly a 4-3, nor is it a 3-4 scheme. It’s a hybrid between the two and for the most part over the two years that Nolan has been in Atlanta, it could be most accurately termed a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 principles.

But things might change in 2014 as the Falcons may flip it, opting for a 3-4 scheme with 4-3 principles instead. That change is signaled by the team’s expensive additions up front this offseason, including defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Jackson spent the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs playing in a 3-4 scheme, and is the second-highest paid defensive lineman on the roster behind only nose tackle Paul Soliai. Given that level of investment and the fact that Jackson has little experience playing in a 4-3, it does appear that at least for the team’s base packages, the Falcons will feature a lot more three-man fronts.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 16, 2014

June 16th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Weatherspoon

Once again, the Atlanta Falcons have lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to a major injury. This time it is for the rest of 2014 due to a torn Achilles heel which he suffered last Tuesday during practice.

There seems to be three presiding theories on what Weatherspoon’s impending absence will mean to the Falcons.

There’s the conservative theory that losing Spoon is not a huge loss. The presences of second-year linebackers in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu will allow the Falcons defense to navigate the loss of its leader to a competent level.

This theory makes sense given Worrilow and Bartu had to perform the same task a year ago as undrafted rookies. They certainly will be better prepared to fill Spoon’s shoes with a full year under their belts.

But it still does not adequately encompass the loss of Spoon on the field. Which creates the second theory: that Spoon’s absence will have a dramatic negative effect on the team’s defense in 2014.

That is also somewhat fair given the simple fact that neither Worrilow and Bartu are Sean Weatherspoon.

Falcons Have a Leadership Void That Needs to be Filled

Weatherspoon was the defensive leader for a reason. That being that he is one of the team’s best players on the field and has a natural outgoing personality that makes him capable of adopting a leadership role. Neither Worrilow nor Bartu are of Spoon’s talent level on the field, and while Worrilow especially, has shown solid leadership traits, he is not the defensive leader.

Leadership in the National Football League often comes simply from the fact that you’re the best player on the field. Leaders are supposed to rally the troops and when the team needs it and have to be the guys to step up in the face of adversity. Simply put, you can’t lead from the bench.

That being said, it would be more advantageous for the Falcons if Desmond Trufant was the second-year player that stepped up and took on a leadership role in Spoon’s absence versus either Worrilow or Bartu. Trufant was the team’s best defender a year ago and he’ll need to have possibly an even better second season to follow up. Other players like William Moore, Jonathan Babineaux, Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi will also have to step up in the locker room as well as produce on the field.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – May 26, 2014

May 26th, 2014 Comments off
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Ra’Shede Hageman

Last week, I discussed some of the reasons why I liked the Atlanta Falcons’ selection of Jake Matthews with their top pick in the 2014 NFL draft. This week, I believe it’s only fair if I talk a little more in-depth about the next Falcons selection, defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman.

I consider “defensive lineman” to be Hageman’s position because I’m not sure exactly how the Falcons will use him. And that is what gives me some of the trepidation about his ability to immediately translate as an impact player in Atlanta.

If my scouting report on Hageman wasn’t clear, it’s not that I doubt his impact potential. Hageman could be one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the NFL if he fully reaches that potential. But I think that belief also creates problems for him in the form of  lofty expectations.

I remember back in 2007 when expectations followed Jamaal Anderson to Atlanta. And yes, I apologizing for invoking that very painful memory for you.

Personally I had not seen Anderson play at Arkansas, because the period between 2005 and 2007 were years that I had cut back on watching college football due to focusing on and handling team needs and free agency for the draft website, The Huddle Report.

But after watching one of those ESPN’s SportsCenter the week of the draft and seeing the Atlanta Journal-Constution’s Terrence Moore say that the Falcons the Falcons were going to select Anderson with the eighth overall pick, my reaction was, “Who?”

That offseason, most of what I had been hearing were three names for the Falcons with the eighth overall selection: running back Adrian Peterson, safety LaRon Landry and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. My heart was set on Peterson, but felt Landry was a worthwhile consolation prize.

I never really gave Anderson much thought before Moore’s proclamation. I knew the Falcons needed another pass-rusher to team with John Abraham due to the departure of long-time leader Patrick Kerney that offseason. But I guess I figured that we could target an end in a later round where pass-rushers like LaMarr Woodley and Charles Johnson could be found rather than using it on our top pick for someone that throughout the process I hadn’t been hearing a ton about.

But we got Anderson and I can still recall all the message boards and online, post-draft stories touting Anderson’s potential to be a double-digit sack artist with comparable skillset to Mario Williams. And despite knowing little about Anderson, I bought into the hype.

But I decided to start watching college football again that fall, so that I could never be blindsided by a pick again. Because despite the post-draft, summer hype, what occurred with Anderson during the fall was tough to stomach.

It was like his pass-rush ability never existed. He was just so slow and so poor at fighting off blocks.

Again, I did not see Anderson play at Arkansas. I can only really guess to what he looked like, but I see similar red flags with Hageman.

Comparison of Hageman and Anderson Not Meant As Knock

Does that mean that I think Hageman will be a bust? No.

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Draft Needs: More Beef Needed on Falcons Defensive Interior?

April 30th, 2014 1 comment
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Malliciah Goodman

An offseason priority for the Atlanta Falcons was “toughening up” their team, with an emphasis on bulking up on both lines of scrimmage. The team did just that when they opened up free agency by signing defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

For many, it signaled that the Falcons were moving to a 3-4 scheme. Why else would would they guarantee $25 million to players that have spent the bulk of their careers playing in that defensive scheme? While Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has coached both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, prior to his arrival in Atlanta he had not coached a defense with a 4-3 as their base scheme in seven years. Nolan’s history signaled a clear preference for the 3-4 defense, and the signings of Soliai and Jackson appeared to be that preference finally coming to fruition in Atlanta after two years of a hybrid unit between the two schemes.

But Falcons head coach Mike Smith was quick to pump the brakes on those expectations, indicating that the team would still be utilizing a hybrid scheme. That makes sense given the team opted to bring back free agents Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry, who all were drafted by the Falcons originally to play in a 4-3 scheme.

Although it’s interesting that between the three of them, they are making less than $5 million in guaranteed money. So if money talks, then the Falcons will be tailoring their defense more towards the strengths of Jackson and Soliai, which should indicate more 3-4 “flavor” than 4-3 in their hybrid unit in 2014.

That should help a player like Malliciah Goodman, who has the ability to play in either scheme, but may project best in a 3-4 at defensive end. Goodman flashed good ability as a run defender as a rookie last year, and has reportedly bulked up considerably this offseason with the mindset of becoming a regular in the team’s base defense.

That development should benefit a player like Babineaux, who was the team’s top pass-rusher a year ago despite having a single sack. Per Moneyball game reviews which focus on All-22, Babineaux led the team with 13 “positive pass rushes,” which are sacks, quarterback hits and pressures combined. Babineaux also played the most of any Falcon defensive lineman last year with 924 snaps according to premium website Pro Football Focus. Only William Moore (1,064 snaps) and Desmond Trufant (1,022) played more on defense. Babineaux’s reps were the fourth-most of any interior defensive lineman in the league in 2013, and frankly way too much for a 32-year old player.

Goodman missed two games due to injury last season, but wound up playing 305 snaps. If he can carve a bigger role in the rotation, particularly on run downs, it will allow the team to streamline Babineaux’s playing time on passing downs. That could potentially cut his snap count in half, and thus keep him fresher for this year and give him a better chance to play out the remainder of what is expected to be his final NFL contract.

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FalcFans Weekly – April 6, 2014

April 6th, 2014 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

Potential Atlanta Falcons newcomer and safety Rafael Bush appears very keen on joining the team. The Falcons signed Bush to an offer sheet this week as a restricted free agent, giving his former team, the New Orleans Saints until April 8 to match or let him become a Falcon. Bush is still friends with Falcons safety William Moore, from their days with the team back in 2010-11, and is the strongest candidate should he join the Falcons to replace Thomas DeCoud at free safety.

Blogging Dirty’s Jake Bennett has a nice write-up about how Bush’s addition can benefit the Falcons.

And speaking of Moore, he apparently now has a chip on his shoulder in regards to the contract the Saints gave Jairus Byrd this offseason.

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Vaughn McClure of ESPN has an excellent piece on how defensive tackle Paul Soliai’s contract came to be in Atlanta with a  candid discussion with his agent David Canter.

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McClure also shares insights into center Peter Konz, who has been working hard to improve this offseason. Konz has added some muscle and took to heart the final words of tight end Tony Gonzalez, when he addressed the team before the regular season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

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Takeaways From Last Week – March 17, 2014

March 17th, 2014 2 comments
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Jackson

It’s not fun being so negative.

Which makes my negative reaction to the Atlanta Falcons initial free-agent moves doubly worse.

Are the Falcons a better team after signing guard Jon Asamoah, defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson? Aboslutely.

Are they a significantly better team? No, not really.

At least not in some areas. Sure, they beefed up the run defense. But was the run defense that huge a need? Perhaps it’s selective memory, but outside Bobby Rainey’s Week 11 romp, I don’t recall that many instances where I felt like the defense getting the ball run down their throat.

I do remember the Falcons getting run on and run on a lot, but it never felt like it was something “out of control” to the degree to prompt swift and decisive action at the outset of the free-agent market. I think a lot of the poor run defense had more to do with the fact that they were so young at linebacker, coupled with shoddy tackling in the secondary. It seemed more like long runs were killing the Falcons, evidenced by the 28 runs of 15 or more yards they gave up last season, which was tied for the fourth-highest total allowed in the league.

Not to suggest that upgrading the run defense shouldn’t have been a priority for the Falcons, just not the priority.

I try not to be the guy that acts like the “armchair GM” that all his decisions are the right decisions. I’m very aware that I’m often wrong about things, and that there are several methods to the madness that is building successful NFL teams.

So when looking at the Falcons’ moves, I always try to see them from the team’s perspective. And if I can follow their logic and thinking, then I can usually accept, if not approve their decision-making.

So from the team’s perspective, it’s very clear they wanted to upgrade both lines. They re-signed two offensive lineman in Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson and added Asamoah. They went after defensive linemen by re-upping Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux while adding Soliai and Jackson.

It’s clear that the focus was on the interior of both lines, to add beef and “toughen up” the unit just like they had indicated was their plan all along. I mentioned Soliai as a potential target back in February, albeit with the expectation that he’d be a relatively cheap addition.

So on the face of things, I cannot fault the Falcons. In fact, I applaud them. They correctly identified the two biggest weaknesses of the team in both lines and addressed them with upgrades.

But once you go beyond that superficial layer, things start to fall apart.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 60 “We Just Love Misery”

March 16th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are back to recap and review the first week of free agency in the NFL and whether or not the Atlanta Falcons’ moves to bolster the offensive and defensive lines were good or bad. We break down each move and player, indicating what we like about the decisions to bring back Joe Hawley, Jonathan Babineaux and Mike Johnson; as well as discussing the pros and cons of newcomers Jon Asamoah, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. During the course of our discussion, I explain the “Hampton-Hoke Fallacy” and the negative ripple effects that can occur when teams overpay for players.

Episode 60: We Just Love Misery [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

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.

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