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Camp Battles 2013: Defensive End

July 18th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Massaquoi’s growth could make a difference in 2013

The Falcons appear to be set with their two starters at the defensive end position. Free agent pickup Osi Umenyiora will draw the tall order of replacing one of the team’s all-time best in John Abraham at right defensive end. Kroy Biermann will once again fill in as the team’s left defensive end.

But the rest of the position will feature heavy competition as a number of young players compete not for starting spots, but for placement and reps in the team’s rotation.

The likeliest candidate to serve as the team’s third defensive end will be Jonathan Massaquoi, who enters his second season with the team. He played very little on defense last year, with most of his play coming on special teams. He was very effective there and coupled with his upside as a pass rusher, he’s in no danger to be cut. But the Falcons will look for him to have a good summer as he is the candidate most likely to figure into the Falcons nickel subpackage if/when Umenyiora and Biermann aren’t on the field. The multiple fronts presented by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could easily feature all three, especially given Biermann’s ability to drop into coverage like a linebacker.

Another player that is assured of making the final roster is 2013 fourth round pick Malliciah Goodman. Goodman’s best shot at earning playing time will more than likely come on run downs in the team’s base package as they look to get more size on the field. While Biermann is a consistent run defender, Umenyiora is not, and it’s likely that Massaquoi won’t be asked to play a major part in that role. Goodman possesses good physical tools to develop long-term into an effective pass rusher, but probably his best chance of earning lots of initial playing time will be proving himself as a run defender.

The past three seasons the Falcons have opted to keep at least five defensive ends on the roster, although last year that number was six until the November release of Ray Edwards. That probably will be the case again with Cliff Matthews and Stansly Maponga rounding out the depth chart. If the Falcons only opt for five on the roster, Matthews is the likelier candidate. Given his ability to help as a run defender, high motor, and value on special teams he has a leg up on Maponga, who missed most of the offseason coming off a leg injury. While Maponga offers better long-term value down the road as a pass rusher, he’s unlikely to offer immediate value to the rotation. If the Falcons do opt to keep six ends on the roster, Maponga will likely be the last and is primed to spend most of the year on the team’s inactive list each Sunday. Not unless he can showcase special teams prowess along the same lines of Matthews and Massaquoi a year ago, and show he’s 100% recovered from his injury. While Maponga isn’t guaranteed to make the team’s 53-man roster, he’s almost certainly a lock to be carried on the team’s practice squad at a minimum.

Two other players that the Falcons will bring to camp but are longshots to make the roster are undrafted rookies Cam Henderson and Brandon Thurmond. Henderson has a solid frame (6-4/260) with good arm length (over 34 inches) that passes the eyeball test when it comes to NFL defensive ends. Thurmond is shorter, squatter player with short arms but had excellent production while at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Between the two, it really doesn’t matter who looks better in a uniform, it will come down to any production they can produce on the field. If either player can impress with a strong preseason, the Falcons might opt to carry a seventh defensive end on their practice squad.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 31 “Thank God for Jake Delhomme”

July 2nd, 2013 6 comments

This week, Allen and I are once again joined by Tom Melton to discuss some of the upcoming roster and depth chart battles we expect to see in Atlanta Falcons training camp. We break down the battle along the right side of the offensive line as well as what could shake up with the battle for key depth positions at quarterback and tight end … We look at every level of the defense as battles rage at all the position groups. Tom weighs in on how Richard Seymour could help the Falcons … We discuss the depth at linebacker along with what if any of the young players could step up to help the Falcons pass rush … We dive into whether or not this year’s defensive line will live up to some past units and whether Falcon fans have been spoiled by past success up front … It wouldn’t be a Tom Melton episode without some patented Dunta Robinson bashing … We discuss their favorite young punter in the NFL and his name isn’t Matt Bosher … We discuss whether the loss of Tyson Clabo or John Abraham will hurt the team more and then reminisce on some of our favorite Predator moments over the years … Peter Konz’s future is discussed as well as Justin Blalock’s tuba playing … Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers’ values are also discussed. Note: This episode does contain explicit language, so it is NSFW!

Ep. 31: Thank God for Jake Delhomme [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 3 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Tom Melton can be found on twitter: @TMeltonScouting, and also writes for his own draft blog and NFL Draft Monsters.

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

Takeaways from Last Week – June 17

June 17th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Osi goes through drills during OTAs

This past week, I posted a scouting report and a breakdown of why Falcons new running back Steven Jackson will be a key player for the team this season. I think this week I’ll do the same for the team’s other big free agent acquisition: defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

But in watching more tape of Osi’s 2012 season with the New York Giants, I keep coming away confused. Not because Osi isn’t a good player, since he is. But I just can’t understand why the Falcons think adding him is an upgrade over former end John Abraham.

It’s not really a knock on Osi, but I think at best he’s a lateral move. Last year, Abraham finished the year with 8 sacks, 18.5 pressures, and 6.5 hits according to Moneyball, good enough for 33 “positive pass rushes” or PPRs. That’s a really solid number. But there was a drop-off in Abe’s production as the season wore on, where he was essentially a non-entity in terms of production over the final month. In the first half of the season he recorded 22 PPRs. In the third quarter of the season, that number was 8.5. In the final 4 games, it was just 2.

So in that sense I get why the Falcons cut Abe. For whatever reason, it was clear he had lost a step by the end of the year, regardless of the injury that occurred in Week 17. I made this statement after reviewing the Falcons Week 16 win over the Lions:

My hope is that John Abraham’s slip in production is because he’s saving himself for the playoffs, not because he’s hit some sort of wall and/or has not adapted well to playing with his hand off the ground as he’s done for most of the past 10 games. But if the Falcons are going to have a deep run, they are going to need him to step up.

The Falcons probably figure that Osi will give them steadier production over the course of the entire season. For Osi, a year where he gets 25-30 PPRs is a solid season. 35 or more would be a very good season, and anything about 40 is extremely good. I wouldn’t put money on him reaching the latter benchmark, but even at my most pessimistic in regards to Osi I still think he’s definitely capable of getting 25-plus.

The reason why I call it a lateral move is because I think the Falcons potentially face the same problem they did in 2012, which is not getting enough production from the rest of the players.

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OTAs: Day 5 Report

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

Once again, the media had access to today’s practices on the fifth day of the Falcons OTAs. So here’s what we came away with:

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 24 “Playoff Recap and Offseason Preview”

February 20th, 2013 1 comment

Another episode in which I’m joined by Allen Strk to recap the Atlanta Falcons postseason efforts as well as preview some potential moves the Falcons could make this off-season. Allen and I last spoke at the end of the regular season, and scheduling conflicts prevented us from getting a recap up earlier this month. But we’re back again to go deep into the San Francisco 49ers loss and Seattle Seahawks win, including our thoughts on Michael Turner, Thomas DeCoud, Julio Jones, Stephen Nicholas, Harry Douglas, Richard Sherman, and the offensive line. Both of us give our insights into what are some of the Falcons biggest off-season needs with much of the focus on the defensive line and the secondary. We discuss some potential free agents that could help the team including Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett, and even Darrelle Revis. You’ll also hear us discuss the play of Kroy Biermann and the futures of Jonathan Babineaux, Dunta Robinson, and Brent Grimes.

Ep. 24: Playoff Recap and Offseason Preview [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 20 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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Falcons FA Focus: Defensive End

February 16th, 2013 2 comments

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Can Paul Kruger succeed without Suggs?

The expectation is that the Falcons will be looking to upgrade their pass rush this off-season. John Abraham had a productive year, but did not quite blossom under Mike Nolan in the second half of the season when he basically worked exclusively as a stand-up edge rusher. Kroy Biermann was able to carve out an important role in the nickel package, with his versatility to rush the quarterback and drop into coverage to help the Falcons disguise their blitzes and coverages. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are expected to carve out bigger roles. Massaquoi will have most of the attention, as he has good athleticism and burst to be an effective pass rusher off the edge and could push for time behind either starter.

There is talk that the Falcons could opt to part ways with Abraham who turns 35 in May. If so, then they will have to definitely replace him with another player that can anchor the pass rush. The Falcons would then like to replace something old with something new, more than likely leading them to find Abe’s replacement in the draft. But they could have potential options in free agency. But cutting Abraham seems unlikely given his status on the team as the best pass rusher. If anything, he might be asked to take a paycut and will be expected to serve primarily as a third down pass rusher this year in the nickel subpackage. That will mean that the Falcons may seek to find someone that can also play on run downs, rather than someone that is purely a pass rusher.

The first decision the Falcons will have to make at this position in regards to free agency is whether or not to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury has flashed nice pass rushing skills, and arguably is only behind Abe in terms of who are the best rushers on the team currently. But Sidbury is not great at defending the run and has a minimal impact on special teams, which has made it harder for the team to justify him being active on Sundays. The Falcons have so few good pass rushers, it’d be hard to let Sidbury walk. But it probably comes down to price tag. If he’s willing to accept a modest deal in line with backup ends, then the chances he returns to Atlanta are higher. In that case, we’d be talking something along the lines of deals for one or two seasons that average less than $3 million per year. But if he’s looking for something that matches or exceeds the roughly $9 million that Kroy Biermann got over three years, then he’s likely gone.

There are a number of good pass rushers that should be available this off-season, although not sure if there are any great ones. Several big names will jump to the top of the list. Dwight Freeney (Colts) and Osi Umenyiora (Giants) are both free agents. Neither player is the dominant pass rusher they once were, but still effective at getting after the quarterback with good speed. But both players, like Abraham, at this point in their careers probably need to be protected in terms of reps. Neither player seem to project well into the hybrid defense that Nolan employs. Freeney played in a similar scheme last year in Indianapolis, and didn’t take quite well to it. But Freeney’s spin move is still one of the most deadly moves in the league which means if the Falcons were going to opt for a more traditional 4-3 look, he’d be an option. Umenyiora essentially became a situational rusher for the Giants last year with Jason Pierre-Paul taking over the full-time starting spot at right end. He’s still quick speed rusher, but has never been known for his enthusiasm for playing the run, nor is he versed into dropping into coverage. If the Falcons try to do with him what they did with Abraham last year, it’s likely going to be a very rocky relationship.

Some names that might become available if their respective teams opt to cut them are Justin Tuck (Giants), Jason Babin (Jaguars), and Will Smith (Saints). Tuck isn’t the same player he was a few years ago. He still has something left in the tank, but he’s no longer an impact pass rusher that you can rely on making multiple plays per game. Babin could have been an option for the Falcons late in the year. He’s still a competent speed rusher, and unlike the others has experience playing in the 3-4 so he wouldn’t be a true square peg in Nolan’s scheme. But Babin isn’t known for his great locker room presence, which probably prompted the Falcons to pass on him initially. And he did little in Jacksonville to suggest that decision was a mistake. Smith has had good performances against the Falcons over the years going up against Sam Baker, but overall is just nothing special as a pass rusher. He too would probably be miscast in a Nolan scheme.

The problem with many of the names I’ve mentioned already is age. Even if the Falcons could get production from some of them, all are on the wrong side of 30, and would essentially be lateral moves in regards to replacing/complementing Abraham. If the Falcons are going to go after free agent pass rushers, it makes much more sense to target players with much more youth.

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Falcons Needs: Defensive End

February 6th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Falcons may have big plans for Jonathan Massaquoi in 2013

Normally I would have followed up my needs assessment of the offensive line with a look at several of the offensive linemen that the Falcons could target. But due to the sheer amount of linemen I need to watch on film, I’m just going to skip ahead to other position needs and get to those free agents at a later date. So now it’s time to start to take a look at the Falcons needs on defense, beginning with the defensive ends.

The Falcons have their starters for next year already on the roster in John Abraham and Kroy Biermann. Abraham did not take to his new role in Mike Nolan’s defense as cleanly as hoped, but it would be an shock if he’s not retained. He is the Falcons best pass rusher by far. Biermann proved to be a valuable commodity in the team’s nickel subpackage that for much of the year became predominantly their base package due to his versatility. But the Falcons certainly need to upgrade their pass rush, as it was rarely affected the outcomes of games in 2012.

Both starters are signed through 2014, but the team probably will want an heir apparent under fold before then to succeed Abraham. Thus the Falcons will be looking for developmental talent in the draft more than likely. The ideal situation will be finding a young pass rusher in the draft that can make Abraham more of a part-time player and split reps with both ends. Due to the versatility of Nolan’s scheme, that will likely be a player that is comfortable playing both with his hand on the ground and off it. Abraham primarily played as a stand-up end with his hand off the ground. Biermann did both, but as a pass rusher mainly put his hand on the ground. When he stood up, Nolan often asked him to drop into coverage. The ideal player for the Falcons is someone that can do all three: rush like a linebacker, rush like an end, and also be fairly effective dropping into coverage. The prototype for this type of player would be Von Miller. An obviously, there are very few Von Millers that exist in the world, so the Falcons will probably be looking to settle for “Von Miller Lite.” A big part of the Falcons plan moving forward may rest in hoping that Jonathan Massaquoi develops into this type of player. But if they come across another player early in the draft that also fits this description, they should definitely pull the trigger.

The Falcons may seek free agent options as there will be a few that could come in and become immediately valuable starters. But given the failure that was Ray Edwards, the Falcons may be a bit hesitant to dive headlong into the free agent waters.

Another decision the Falcons will have to make is whether to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Sidbury has flashed potential as a pass rusher, but his struggles against the run and his inability to perform on special teams have caused him to be inactive more often than not in his four-year Falcon career. While the Falcons do have nice backup options in Cliff Matthews and Massaquoi eagerly waiting for extended reps in 2013, it may be hard for the Falcons to justify letting a good pass rusher like Sidbury walk given their issues in that area. It may all boil down to price tag. If Sidbury is willing to accept a short-term deal that commits a minimal amount of guaranteed money, then the Falcons probably will be willing to keep him. If not, then he’ll likely be able to find greener pastures elsewhere.

Given the likelihood that the Falcons will add a pass rusher early in the draft, it means that they may not ultimately miss Sidbury as five ends certainly should suffice. Especially if the Falcons continue to rotate defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux at left end as they often did in the latter half of 2012.

Scouting the Seahawks: How Atlanta Matches Up

January 11th, 2013 Comments off

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Marshawn Lynch is the foundation of the Seahawks attack.

I’ve watched quite a bit of Seahawks games on NFL.com’s Game Rewind to prep myself for this preview. I watched how they fared against New England’s and Buffalo’s offenses. I wanted to see how they did against a top quarterback with weapons (something they haven’t seen much of this year) and a dynamic wideout in Stevie Johnson who brings similar tools to the fold as Roddy White. I also looked at their Week 12 loss against the Dolphins, to see how the Dolphins pulled off that victory. I also wanted to see what the New York Jets did in Week 10 to cause Russell Wilson to have one of his worst games of the year. And of course I looked at their matchup last week against the Washington Redskins.

What I discovered was a very good Seahawks team that plays a style that is going to be a difficult matchup for the Falcons.

The key to Seattle’s success is their strong running game helmed by Marshawn Lynch and Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme. Lynch is one of the best after contact runners in the league, and the Falcons defense has struggled throughout this year with their tackling. If they aren’t swarming to the ball and Lynch gets too many one on one situations with our linebackers and safeties, the Falcons could be in for a long day.

Lynch’s running is the foundation of their offense. With it, they utilize a lot of play-action and read option with Russell Wilson. The Falcons have been fairly solid against those two, but have had their lapses. They’ve faced Carolina (twice) and Washington, both of whom utilized a lot of read option, so they will be prepared. However neither Carolina nor Washington used much of it in their early matchup. The only time the Falcons have seen a lot of it (and I suspect Seattle will use it quite a bit) was in their Week 14 loss to Carolina. During that game the Falcons did give up a pair of long touchdowns on read option on a Cam Newton run and a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams. But I feel somewhat confident that Mike Nolan may have fixed many of those kinks in the subsequent weeks.

If the Falcons can contain Lynch, it will be difficult for the Seahawks to overcome it because it might force them into playing a way they don’t want to play, which is a dropback passing game. Russell Wilson’s short stature has made it difficult for him to be your typical pocket passer at this level. He likes to get out on the move, using his legs and throwing downfield. In fact, it reminds me quite a bit of the Falcons circa 2002 with Michael Vick. It’s what makes Seattle so dangerous since Wilson is prone to breaking some long runs. The key for any defense against them will be to contain him to the pocket and force him to use his arm, not his legs. The former has not quite developed, and he still is prone to making some youthful mistakes against the blitz, similar to Vick.
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Moneyball 2012 – Week 16 Review

December 26th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons offense looked sharp because of the explosive scoring plays they were able to generate against a weak Lions secondary. Matt Ryan had a solid game, but despite a very high earning his individual play was nothing special. But he gets credit for only have 2 poor throws, which is a fairly low total for him in the second half of the season.

The offense stagnated a bit in the second half because the Lions were able to dial up pressure. Ndamukong Suh made Peter Konz look pretty bad in this game. As I’ve said before, Konz is clearly the weakest link of the offensive line. It doesn’t mean that Konz going forward can’t become a very good player for the Falcons, particularly if he moves to center. But Suh really had a field day against Konz, with 2 pressures, 2 missed blocks, 0.5 sack, and 2 hurries all occurring when the two of them were matched up, including the safety. Konz is just miscast as a guard, as he lacks the polished technique and footwork to block 1 on 1 against quality D-tackles like Suh. He should fare better at center where those issues won’t be major liabilities. McClure’s lone pressure came when he was asked to block Suh 1 on 1 as well.

Thanks largely to Suh, the Lions were able to get Ryan a bit rattled with pressure and hits in the second half, and the running game wasn’t good enough to pick up the slack. I don’t think Turner played poorly, but there was a run in this game that I think well illustrates how much of his skill has declined. He had a run for a 2-yard loss in the fourth quarter on a sweep left. He got to the edge, and was in a one-on-one situation with rookie corner Jonte Green on the edge. The old Michael Turner would have just ran right through Green and gotten some positive yardage on that play. Instead now, Turner tried to bounce outside and run around Green, who was able to slow him up and allow his teammates to rally for the loss.

If you’re wondering why Tony Gonzalez was so quiet this week, it was a combination of a few factors. Mostly it was because Ryan was looking elsewhere, as Roddy White was near unstoppable in the first half, and Jones took over in the second half. Also, it was because there were some longer developing routes for Gonzo, and pressure forced Ryan to try and get rid of the ball quicker before Gonzo could come open. And it was also due to the fact that there were several instances where Gonzo was asked to chip as the Lions made ample use of the Wide 9s in this game.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$20$3$0$0$0$0$23.00
Roddy White$0$0$14-$1$0$0$13.00
Julio Jones$0$0$7$0$0$0$7.00
Michael Turner$0$6$1$0$0$0$7.00
Michael Palmer$0$0$2$1$0$0$3.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$1$0$0$0$3.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$3$0-$1$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$1$1$0$0$2.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$2$0$0$1.50
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$2.5$0$0-$2.50

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 13 Review

December 4th, 2012 1 comment

This was a very bad game for the offense as the passing game never got into sync. The Falcons went nearly the full game without converting a third down and the lack of big plays was stark. I don’t think Ryan played poorly, but he certainly did not play well. He looked rattled early, as the Saints were effective pressuring him early. It caused him to be off on some throws and reads. Towards the latter part of the game, he seemed less willing to sling it downfield, and was going more for the easy completions in an effort to keep the offense on schedule. They attempted to take some shots early in the game, but they failed. Obviously when this offense is settling on 6 or 7-yard completions on a lot of dumpoffs to the running backs, then it is not potent at all.

The running game started strong, and one criticism could be that the team abandoned it during the middle portion of the game where the offense was struggling to move the ball. I don’t really adhere to that criticism. Everyone knows this team offensively is carried by its passing attack. The running game was on point against the Saints, but I don’t think you could believe it would be sustainable throughout the night.

One thing I did notice in terms of the backs was that I think Rodgers could be more potent with Mike Cox blocking for him. Cox has been an upgrade at the fullback position in recent weeks. And while he’s no Ovie, he’s at least competent to good for the most part. Traditionally, the Falcons like to use Cox in conjunction a lot with Turner, but I think Rodgers might be a better match. Turner’s late fumble was partially his fault for fighting for yards, but also it did seem that the refs were fairly lethargic on blowing the whistle for forward progress. But in the end, you still have to secure the football, which Turner did not, and ultimately the blame still falls squarely on him. After recent games, it’s going to be hard for Turner to earn the trust back of the coaching staff in order to finish games. While Turner was superior to Quizz in the early going, it does seem that the Falcons offense seems more effective with Quizz as the closer.

Up front, the line blocked well earning most of their key blocks in the early going. Konz was the weakest of the front, as he along with McClure, Blalock, and Baker all had their troubles blocking Sedrick Ellis. By my count, Ellis had a pressure (vs. McClure), 2 hits (1 vs. Baker, 1 vs. Konz), and a hurry (split by Baker & Blalock). McClure had his ups and downs, missing a couple of blocks (one of which was on a screen), giving up pressure to Ellis and Hicks up the middle. But he also made some very nice blocks in this game, so it also balances out. Clabo had a good game, as it seems like this is the first game in forever that he didn’t give up a pressure/hurry once. But overall, I think the line has been showing some improvement in recent weeks. It’s about time…

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$9$0$0$0-$2$7.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$5$0$0$5.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$4$0$0$4.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$4$0$0$4.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$3$0$0$0$0$3.00
Todd MCClure$0$0$0$3$0-$1$2.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Julio Jones$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Matt Ryan$2$0$0$0$0$0$2.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3-$2$0-$1$0.00
Roddy White$0$0-$1$0$0$0-$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

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