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Team Needs: Falcons Need More Athletes at Linebacker

February 6th, 2014 1 comment

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

The adversity the Atlanta Falcons faced at linebacker in 2013 should benefit the team in 2014.

The team was without stalwarts Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon for much of last season. Nicholas dealt with injuries in training camp, and ultimately lost his job as the team looked at younger, more athletic options in Joplo Bartu at strong-side linebacker position. Weatherspoon missed most of the regular season with an injury, and it thrust Paul Worrilow into the limelight after a promising summer.

Both undrafted rookies, Bartu and Worrilow, got a wealth of experience playing significant roles with the team in 2013. So much so that it is very likely that both will open up this offseason in starting roles with Bartu manning the strong side and Worrilow starting in the middle as Weatherspoon resumes his duties at weak-side linebacker.

Now Nicholas has since been released, and the team is searching to upgrade their depth at linebacker. Particularly in Bartu, the Falcons finally got another “plus” athlete on the roster besides Weatherspoon, and needs to continue that trend into 2014. Nicholas could once be described that, but time and age really started to catch up to him in 2012 where he was continually abused by opposing tight ends. Despite the upgrade in terms of athleticism from Bartu, the Falcons still struggled to check opposing tight ends in 2013. But one hope is that with a year’s worth of experience under his belt, there will be improvement from Bartu moving forward.

Worrilow was so good as Weatherspoon’s replacement at weak-side linebacker that he eventually replaced Akeem Dent as the team’s starting middle linebacker roughly a third of the way through the season. While Dent did show improvement after a lackluster 2012 season, his limited speed, range, and coverage ability just proved to be too much of a liability. While not the world’s greatest athlete himself, Worrilow proved an upgrade in those areas. But more importantly, he was a far more instinctual defender in his first season in Atlanta than Dent had showed in three years. But Dent is expected to return and help out on special teams, an area where he’s excelled at in the past, and add depth in the middle.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 57 “Who Stays, Who Goes?”

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

This week, Allen has a snow day and I ask Dave Choate of The Falcoholic to fill in. We discuss several Atlanta Falcons players that are on the bubble, as we decide which players we think stay or go this offseason. Among the players discussed are Steven Jackson, Harry Douglas, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux, Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. Afterwards, I give my thoughts on the Falcons cap room, while Dave weighs in on the recent induction of Claude Humphrey into the Hall of Fame and whether it will open opportunities for other past Falcon greats. We finish off the episode by discussing Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks blueprint and potential dynasty, free agent pass rushers that are on the Falcons radar, and whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is worthwhile with Khalil Mack possibly available.

Episode 57: Who Stays, Who Goes? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

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

Team Needs: Searching for the Next John Abraham at Defensive End

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

The pass rush of the Atlanta Falcons has been a problem area for a number of years.

Expectations were reasonably high that the Falcons could potentially upgrade their pass rush with the switch from defensive end John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora last year. Unfortunately, Umenyiora’s production wasn’t in the same ballpark as Abraham from the previous year. Falcon fans had to watch as Abraham put together a Pro Bowl season with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Falcons finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks.

Upgrading that pass rush will likely be one of the team’s biggest priorities this offseason, alongside their needs on the offensive line. While the Falcons could opt to release Umenyiora due to the disappointing 2013 he had, it’s more than likely that they’ll retain him and move him into a situational role similar to what he had with the New York Giants prior to his arrival in Atlanta.

One reason to release Umenyiora is due to the presence of Jonathan Massaquoi, who midway through the year arguably started to play at a level on par with Umenyiora. Massaquoi wasn’t ready for the starting role that was thrust upon him last year due to the injury to Kroy Biermann, but as a situational player he could be a solid fit, and a much cheaper and younger one than Umenyiora. Of the young defensive ends on the roster, Massaquoi possesses the most upside and the teaching that new defensive line coach Bryan Cox could provide, could help bring that out of him in 2014.

Biermann is another player that the Falcons can count on to bolster their pass rush in 2013. He is coming off a torn Achilles that sidelined him for practically the entire season. While never a great pass rusher, his production as a pass rusher in previous years was pretty consistent and frankly, any little bit will help the Falcons.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 39 “Is the Sky Falling?”

September 18th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I break down our thoughts on all of the injuries that have hit the Falcons this week, including assessing whether losing Sean Weatherspoon, Steven Jackson, or Kroy Biermann will impact the team the most … We also look at how the Falcons can potentially replace those guys, including how the team should use Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers … Questions about whether the Falcons should bring in another pass rusher or fullback from off the street … Recapping the Rams game and whether certain things like the Falcons’ pass protection is improving … Previewing the Dolphins game and whether Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez can really make the difference in a win/loss … Joplo Bartu’s emerging greatness … I rant about some of the overrated young quarterbacks in this league including Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson … And we end with talking about our two favorite subjects: Dunta Robinson and the magnificent Philadelphia Eagles.

Ep. 39: Is the Sky Falling? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. 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.

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

Biermann, Ewing out for the season

September 16th, 2013 Comments off

Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Kroy Biermann

Falcons head coach Mike Smith announced in his press conference today that defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing will be placed on injured reserve and are out for the year. Biermann suffered a torn Achilles tendon while Ewing separated his left shoulder during the first half of Atlanta’s win over the St. Louis Rams yesterday.

Biermann has served as the team’s starting left defensive end, but has also earned reps at strongside linebacker. His versatility has been a boon to the Falcons defense under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the past two years. Biermann suffered his injury while pressuring Sam Bradford in yesterday’s game, but had got his foot caught under him when an opponent fell on top of him. Through one and a half games, Biermann had tallied seven tackles, second-most among defensive linemen behind Corey Peters’ eight tackles. It is likely that Jonathan Massaquoi will be asked to fill some of Biermann’s pass rushing duties, although he’s as of yet unproven in terms of his ability to drop in coverage and play linebacker as Biermann has. It will also potentially mean more snaps for linebackers Joplo Bartu and Stephen Nicholas, who currently are the team’s top candidates for the strongside position.

Ewing was a fifth round choice of the Falcons in 2012. He was lost during the opening series of his first preseason action that summer, tearing his ACL and missing that year. He came back this summer and while he missed early work due to an injury, he returned and played well. Ewing suffered his injury at the end of the play after catching a 14 yard pass from Matt Ryan. In his debut against the New Orleans Saints last week, he had a single catch for 15 yards.

It is likely the team will promote practice squad player Patrick DiMarco to the roster and platoon him with Jason Snelling at fullback. Snelling filled in for Ewing after he was lost on the opening series of the Rams game. DiMarco filled in for Ewing this summer while he was out with an injury.

How the Falcons Scheme for Jimmy Graham

September 4th, 2013 Comments off
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Jimmy Graham drags Stephen Nicholas

One of the things that stood out in the Falcons two matchups against the New Orleans Saints last year was how different the two games were in regards to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s performances. In the first contest, a loss for the Falcons in the SuperDome, Graham was the best player on the field for the Saints passing attack, finishing with a team-leading 146 yards on 7 catches. He scored a pair of touchdowns and also caught a 46-yard pass that set up what proved to be the Saints’ game-sealing field goal. But in the second game, where the Falcons won in the Georgia Dome, Graham was marginalized. He caught only a single pass in the first half, and was held out of the endzone on a total of 4 catches for 59 yards. Those numbers are even made more impressive by the fact that over the course of the second game, Drew Brees dropped back to pass 18 more times, thus giving Graham much more opportunity to pad his stats. In the first game, Brees targeted Graham on roughly a quarter of his dropbacks (8 targets, 33 dropbacks), but that was more than halved in the second game (6 targets, 51 dropbacks).

What changed? A variety of factors could be considered for why the Falcons were much more effective at covering Graham the second time around. Part of it was venue. While Graham’s numbers home versus away the past two seasons as a starter are similar, with only minor variations in receptions and yards, he has managed to catch nearly twice as many touchdown passes at home (13) than he does on the road (7). The Falcons also got a lot more pressure on Drew Brees in the second game, which had him rattled from his five interceptions. When you’re throwing it so much to the other team, it’s hard to complete passes to your top target. But the biggest takeaway I had was how Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan changed his approach for dealing with Graham.

There’s no doubt that Graham is the centerpiece of the Saints passing attack. While Marques Colston is technically their No. 1 receiver, Graham is such a difficult matchup problem due to his speed, size, and athleticism that defenses must focus the majority of their attention on him or else fear getting burned. If Nolan wasn’t aware of this fact prior to the Falcons first matchup against the Saints last year, he certainly became acquainted with that notion during the game. The Falcons appeared in the second contest to have a much more concerted effort to contain Graham.

Nolan mixed up his looks with how he dealt with Graham. The Falcons rolled a lot of their coverages to Graham in the middle of the field, with both safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore not being far from Graham on most snaps. DeCoud drew a number of one-on-one assignments against Graham in the first half of the game. In the second half, the Falcons switched it up by putting linebacker Stephen Nicholas on him more often than not. But either safety wasn’t far.

This sort of blanket coverage put other Falcon defenders in tougher situations as they couldn’t consistently rely on safety help. Asante Samuel left that game early with an injury, and was replaced by Chris Owens. Owens had one of his best performances in that game. Robert McClain was often matched up against Marques Colston in the slot, and handled him effectively. Sean Weatherspoon was tasked with trying to deal with the explosive Darren Sproles for much of the game, and had his share of struggles there.

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Reactions to Falcons-Titans

August 25th, 2013 Comments off

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure Mike Smith will find a lot to like upon review

One of the more interesting takeaways I had from this Tennessee game may be the fact that Mike Smith refused to use any of his timeouts at the end of the game. The Titans got the ball back with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Falcons had all three timeouts. By not using those timeouts, Smith let 93 seconds bleed off the clock between plays to get down to the two-minute warning. The possibility existed that had he used those timeouts and the defense had made a stop on third down, he could have gotten another possession to evaluate his young players on offense. But he chose not to.

It’s hard to try and infer what that means. It would seem that he was a little bit disgusted with the Falcons play on the evening (I don’t blame him) and just wanted to get out of Nashville as soon as possible. But I do feel for the young offensive players who may find themselves unemployed over the next 48 hours without getting that last opportunity to showcase their skill.

Here are my positional thoughts on the performances in the game:

Quarterback

What I Saw: I thought Ryan handled himself fairly well given all the pressure he saw. He seemed lock into Julio Jones for the most part, and it’s not hard to see why. Jones was open quite a bit working against Alterraun Verner for much of the night. There was a couple of poor throws by Ryan, but given that the Falcons play-calling was fairly vanilla, he didn’t have Roddy White, and the pass protection broke down consistently on third down, there’s really not a lot he can do. Dominique Davis continues to frustrate me. He has talent and he made a couple of good throws and reads in this game. But he continues to be very erratic with his accuracy on downfield throws. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Davis has shown more than enough ability to merit being kept on this roster as a developmental backup. But he has not yet shown anywhere close to the ability I expect in a No. 2 quarterback. Now part of that may be because I hold backup quarterbacks to a slightly higher standard than most. And it’s clear to me that standard is much higher than the Falcons have given the likelihood that Davis will enter the season as Ryan’s top backup. As a method of comparison, only 2 of Ryan’s 8 incompletions were the results of poor throws. For Davis, 5 of his 7 incompletions were because of his own inaccuracy.

Conclusions?: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Falcons divide reps next week against Jacksonville. Traditionally the Falcons let one quarterback handle the entire game, with Davis being the likeliest candidate. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons try to mix Renfree into the game to get him some extra work, or will they be content to let him hold a clipboard this year. If I was to wager, I would expect Davis to play the entire game, since he is the guy that needs the most amount of work.

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Titans’ pass rush swallows Falcons

August 24th, 2013 Comments off

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan was sacked five times vs. Tennessee

The Falcons remain winless in the 2013 exhibition season as they dropped another game to the Tennessee Titans by a score of 27-16. The Falcons starters struggled to produce points on their limited redzone opportunities.

Matt Ryan led the Falcons, completing 11 of 19 passes for 138 yards. He saw ample pressure as he was sacked five times in just over a half of play. He gave way to Dominique Davis in the third quarter, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and an interception. On the ground, Steven Jackson led the team with 51 yards on 12 carries. Davis added 45 of his own on a pair of attempts. Julio Jones and Darius Johnson tied for the team lead with 4 receptions each for 81 and 62 yards, respectively. Johnson had a touchdown, the Falcons’ only of the night. Chase Coffman and Tony Gonzalez also got into the act with a pair of catches each for 24 and 21 yards, respectively. Jackson also had a trio of receptions for 15 yards. Jeremy Shelley worked in for Matt Bryant, who sat out the game with back spasms. Shelley connected on 3 of 4 field goal tries from 27, 31, and 32 yards. He missed a 46-yarder. Matt Bosher had 4 punts for an average of 51 yards with 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers had a lone kickoff return of 32 yards, while Harry Douglas returned a pair of punts for a combined 22 yards. The Falcons offense struggled to protect their quarterbacks, allowing six sacks on the night from the Titans defense. They struggled on third downs, converting on 4 of 12 attempts for the game, with the starters only converting 1 of 7 tries. They did not convert touchdowns on any of their three redzone tries.

Defensively, the Falcons got off to a good start but could not maintain that early momentum. They allowed the Titans to convert half of their fourteen third down tries, and also allowed touchdowns on 3 of 4 redzone attempts. They did force a pair of Titans turnovers and did manage to generate 10 points off them. Kroy Biermann led the group with 7 tackles, including a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss. Robert Alford (6 tackles, 3 pass deflections), Joplo Bartu (4 tackles, 1 forced fumble), Thomas DeCoud (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery), Akeem Dent (6 tackles), William Moore (6 tackles), Corey Peters (3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss), Desmond Trufant (4 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (3 tackles) had notable games.

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Training Camp: Day 13 Report

August 11th, 2013 Comments off

Today represents the team’s final day of training camp open to the public. The Falcons won’t actually break camp until next weekend. After a day off following the team’s preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Falcons returned to practice on Saturday. Here is what was reported:

  • Jay Adams took over for Daniel Cox in highlighted five takeaways from Saturday’s practice. Those include Paul Worrilow’s Thursday night performance against the Bengals, Julio Jones’ return to practice, the play of the Falcons young corners, as well as thoughts from Asante Samuel and Kroy Biermann.
  • Robert James was held out of practice, presumably due to an undisclosed injury he suffered in Thursday night’s matchup that limited him to only five snaps.
  • It appears the Falcons are trying to figure out ways to get both Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson on the field at the same time:

  • The official site posted Mike Smith’s transcript from his post-practice interview. Smith highlighted the two rookie corners, Matt Bosher, Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder. Also spoke on Peter Konz’s play and Brian Banks’ progress. He also mentioned that newly signed offensive tackle Jeff Nady will get work at right tackle.

Reactions to Falcons-Bengals (Defense)

August 9th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Banks got his first football action in a decade

It’s time to look at what the Falcons defense and special teams did against the Bengals in their preseason debut. From the scoreboard (34 points allowed) it would seem not particularly good. But there were some bright spots. As with what I did for my offensive reactions, I will go through each position group and highlight what I saw from individuals and make loose conclusions about them and their respective position battles.

Again remember, it’s only the first preseason game and thus players will have plenty of opportunities to either improve or decline in upcoming games as well as camp practices.

Defensive End

What I Saw: Osi Umenyiora stood out when he got the opportunity to work against Anthony Collins on the second Bengals series. He got credit for a pressure, beating him with an inside move. He also got in the face of Dalton on a botched screen play although Corey Peters made the play there (more on that to come). Kroy Biermann started opposite him and looked solid defending the run. Osi did not fare as well in that area, struggling to get off blocks at the point of attack. He did make one stop (again teaming with Peters), but that was when he came off the edge on the backside pursuit. Massaquoi and Maponga got mixed in with the reserves. Malliciah Goodman and Neal Huynh also received snaps on the edge. I don’t recall Cliff Matthews getting much edge work, so I’ll hold off on discussing him until I get to the tackles. Massaquoi looked sharp as a pass rusher, as he seemed to be one of the few Falcons reserves up front that could beat individual blocks. He got a sack and a pair of hits from either side of the line. He was able to beat a cutblock by Tyler Eifert to make a stop vs. the run, but there was another time where he was out of position on a play-action rollout. Goodman didn’t do a lot when he played at end. Maponga did get a hurry/hit on a play at left end. That followed Massaquoi’s sack, both of them badly beating Dennis Roland. Roland is a player I considered as a potential pickup after cuts to bolster depth at right tackle, but I think after last night’s performance we might want to scratch him off the list. Overall, outside those few plays the Falcons struggled to get pressure off the edge and had to rely a lot on blitzing and stunts to manufacture pressure, which also wasn’t all that effective. Cam Henderson and Brandon Thurmond got work at the end of the game, but didn’t really stand out.

Conclusion?: It would’ve been nice to see Osi work over Andrew Whitworth like he did Collins, but Whitworth sat out of the game. In the immortal words of Denny Green, Osi, Massaquoi, and Biermann are what we thought they were. Other than that, not much to take away from this position. Goodman and Maponga looked like rookies still growing into their roles, so we’ll have to see what improvements they make in the coming weeks.

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