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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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Defense lifts Falcons over Saints

November 30th, 2012 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Babineaux celebrates an interception

The Falcons defense stepped up and created a number of turnovers against the New Orleans Saints to pull out the ugly 23-13 victory. The game came down to the wire with a strong defensive effort and lackluster offensive one for the Falcons. The Falcons are now a loss by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday from clinching the NFC South division crown this week with their 11-1 record.

Matt Ryan struggled in this game, completing 18 of 33 for 165 yards and a touchdown. Michael Turner led the team on the ground with 83 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. He had a late fourth quarter fumble that gave the Saints one last late game opportunity to try and steal the win. Jacquizz Rodgers had 43 yards on 8 carries. Julio Jones led receivers with 5 grabs for 48 yards. Tony Gonzalez had 4 catches for 58 yards and Ryan’s lone touchdown pass. Jason Snelling caught 4 passes for 28 yards. Roddy White had a quiet night, catching only 1 pass for 20 yards. Matt Bryant really made up for the stalled offense, connecting on 3 field goals of 45, 29, and a 55-yarder that put the team up two scores with over 4 minutes left in the game. Matt Bosher punted 6 times, matching a season-high, averaging 53.2 yards and having 1 placed inside the 20-yard line. Rodgers returned 1 kickoff for 22 yards and Dominique Franks returned 1 punt for 13 yards. The offense started strong, rushing well on their opening drive, but then stalled out, unable to take advantage of multiple Saints turnovers. They started the game with 101 yards rushing in the first half, but only had 23 yards on 12 carries in the second half. They only managed to score 6 points off the five Saints turnovers. They finished 1 for 11 on third downs, unable to convert their first one until less than 7 minutes were left in the game.

Defensively, the Falcons gave up a lot of yards as the Saints racked up 436 total yards on the day. They also struggled to get off the field on third downs, allowing the Saints to convert 7 of 14 on that down. But they managed to pick off Drew Brees five times, which cut short a number of go-ahead or tying drives for the Saints. The run defense performed better than their last outing against the Saints, limiting them to just 38 yards in the first half. The Saints finished with 101 yards on the day. William Moore led the team with 11 tackles, including 2 for loss, and also picked off Brees twice. His second interception helped seal the Falcons victory after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. John Abraham (2 tackles, 1 sack, 2 pass deflections); Jonathan Babineaux (1 interception); Kroy Biermann (2 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles, 1 interception); Robert McClain (6 tackles, 2 pass deflections); Stephen Nicholas (5 tackles); Chris Owens (3 tackles, 2 pass deflections); Dunta Robinson (7 tackles); and Sean Weatherspoon (4 tackles, 1 interception) all had noteworthy games.

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Falcons miss opportunity with Babin going to Jaguars

November 28th, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Eagles released defensive end Jason Babin, sending small shockwaves around the league. Babin had 18 sacks a year ago, ranking third in the league. He was also currently leading the Eagles with 5.5 sacks. It was a slight disappointment for the Eagles after last year’s monster season. But the Eagles seemingly looking towards their future and wanting to give more reps to young pass rushers like Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, decided to part ways with Babin. And Babin would become subject to the waivers system with his release.

It was a move comparable to that of the Falcons own decision to part ways with Ray Edwards a few weeks ago. That same summer that the Falcons handed a five-year, $27.5 million contract to Edwards, the Eagles gave out a similar deal to Babin. With 5/16ths of his $5.6 million base salary counting towards any team that claimed him, the 32-year old Babin would come at a relative bargain.

But in the end, the Jacksonville Jaguars claimed Babin today. The Jaguars, with the league’s second-worst record, had waiver priority over all teams except the Kansas City Chiefs. Due to having the best record, the Falcons were ranked last in waiver priority. Essentially meaning that Babin would need to clear waivers in order with no other team claiming him for the Falcons to get him. Doubtful given the league-wide value on pass rushers. Even if Babin is not the same player he was a year ago, he still would be considered an upgrade on a lot of rosters, including potentially the Falcons.

Today, it was announced that besides the Jaguars, seven other teams put in waiver claims with the Falcons. Separate reports have indicated that the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, along with the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins putting a claim on him. Who the last team was is not known, but it’s doubtful that it was the Falcons given last night’s report from D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC that sources indicated that the Falcons had no interest in Babin.

Whether Babin would provide a boost to the Falcons pass rush, it was certainly worth a look by the Falcons to try and claim him. The Falcons pass rush is one of the most glaring weaknesses on their defense. With their run defense making some improvements in recent weeks, the pass rush now may rank as the biggest weakness for the defense. And lacking a good pass rush is a major liability come playoff time, for this 10-1 Falcon team that is attempting to win its first playoff game in the Mike Smith Era.

If Babin proved to be another Ray Edwards and was a non-factor down the stretch for the Falcons, it would be a worthwhile risk. Unlike with Edwards where the Falcons gave up $11 million guaranteed, Babin would only be guaranteed about $1.6 million left of his base salary. Relatively speaking, he would have been easy to cut ties with in the off-season. If he worked out, then it could have been a significant boost to the pass rush and defense for a stretch run for a Falcon team that has lofty goals this year.

Instead, the Falcons will be reliant on John Abraham stepping up. Abraham has been on a recent lull in his production, but hopefully it is due to Abraham gearing up for the playoff push as opposed to hitting a wall. Biermann has stepped up his play in recent weeks, and the Falcons are hoping that the infusion of youth with Edwards departure might help out.

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 10 Review

November 15th, 2012 Comments off

Sorry for the delay in getting this up. I know the rest of the world has moved on from this game, and re-hashing why the Falcons lost this game so late in the week is not fun.

I thought offensively the Falcons did a lot of good things, but there was too long a gap (particularly the second and third quarters) where they were unable to put points on the board, which caused them to get in too deep a hole to dig out of. One of the trends I’ve noticed with this year’s team as well as past years’ is that they rarely give you a solid three or four quarters of strong play. I think that is a big reason why they have struggled to win big games, including in the playoffs. That sort of inconsistency is fine if you’re facing Carolina, Minnesota, or Oakland, but simply can’t cut it against teams like New Orleans.

Matt Ryan played well, but he seemed to play with a bit of a sped up clock due to the pressure he was seeing. I think that pressure was a major contributor to the drought in scoring. I did like the fact that the Falcons continue to show the ability to generate explosive plays downfield. That is going to be the key to whether this offense can really rise to the top because that was sorely lacking over the first month or so of the season. Gonzalez continues to play at a high level and he might really be doing himself a disservice by retiring. Even if he’s only 75% the player he is this year from now on, he could easily remain a premier TE in this league for another 4 or 5 years. The Falcons clearly missed Jones, and it’s no coincidence that their struggles to put points on the board were primarily when he was out of the game.

This game exposed many of the masses to really how poor the Falcons running game is this year. In key games, they are essentially one dimensional and if they get into a situation where they need to get a single yard on the ground, they are very likely to fail. I don’t really want to point fingers at Koetter, but I do think his decision to run Turner on that 3rd & 1 at the goal line was not a good decision. Frankly, I bet he called it not because he actually thought the play would work but because he didn’t want the talking heads and second guessers talking about how they threw it 3 straight times from the goal line with Michael Turner in the backfield. Or maybe because of some pipe dream from the coaches that there is some semblance of physicality with this offense. Memo to Koetter and Mike Smith, if you thought there was a physical element to this offense, then you haven’t been watching them this year. I suggest you embrace the fact that you are a finesse team. Not saying you should shoot to throw the ball 50 times a game, but in the do or die situations, keep the ball in Matt Ryan’s hands, your best player, rather than Turner who might now be sixth best on offense due to the ascendancy of Jacquizz Rodgers.

The Falcons just can’t win up front. I noticed many instances where if guys could hold a block for more than a split-second, it could have sprung Turner for longer runs. Turner just lacks the burst to take advantage of those short-lived creases, and the Falcons need to be willing to give Rodgers and Snelling more reps as runners. The ground game will still be terrible, but potentially not as terrible.

I don’t wish to pile on Turner as many have done this week, but the Falcons brass have had an overwhelming sense of denial to how much he had left in the tank this year. I can’t be too harsh on him, because Turner has stepped up in recent weeks. But this game showed that in these bigger games, he’s been at best a non-factor and at worst a liability.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$16$1$0$0$0$0$17.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$9$0$0$0$9.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$3$4$0$0$0$7.00
Julio Jones$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Roddy White$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Michael Turner$0$2$0$1$0$0$3.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Mike Johnson$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Tommy Gallarda$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$0$0$0.5$0$0.50
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
D.J. Davis$0$0$0$0$0-$1 -$1.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0-$1$0-$1-$2.00
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Moneyball 2012 – Week 8 Review

October 31st, 2012 Comments off

Initially from watching the game live, I was very impressed with the Falcons performance. Upon review, I still came away impressed but cannot dismiss that the Eagles did not play well in this game. Most of the positives come on the offensive side of the ball.

Matt Ryan had a strong game. The running game had its moments and you could certainly argue this was the most complete game the offense has played this year. Turner had one of his better performances and Quizz also ran what might be the best game of his career. The blocking was just OK in this game. Relative to recent games, the pass protection held up well. There were some holes in this game, but It was inconsistent. But probably less inconsistent than it has normally been this year.

Sam Baker usually gets destroyed by Trent Cole so only giving up two pressures is relatively a strong performance for him. Clabo continued to have his issues, but had his share of moments as a run blocker. Watching live, I thought Konz played well. Upon further review, I might hold off on that. He did have his moments particularly as a run blocker, but there were two many missed blocks and he had some struggles in pass protection. He had 2 hurries and a pressure on plays that we’re wiped out by penalties. I think he definitely flashed his potential in this game, but still needs to work out the kinks. Reynolds at this point might be more consistent/reliable, but I don’t think he has the upside of Konz, particularly in the ground game. It seemed that Konz had many of his issues trying to block linebackers in the run game, and also struggled versus stunts.

Speaking of blocking, my hat goes off to DJ Davis and Roddy White for their efforts there. Davis had an impressive debut, standing out as a blocker. Both of his catches came when he was wide open thanks to Eagle defenders focusing on the Falcons’ other playmakers, but he did make a nice catch on the TD since it was not a particularly well-thrown ball. Roddy has been an underwhelming blocker so far this year, as I’ve noticed several times this year where he misses an assignment that could have potentially sprung a runner for a big gain. But that was not the case on Sunday.

Julio was very impressive, as his two big plays were a welcome addition to the offense. He absolutely roasted Nnamdi on the touchdown, and if not for an excellent tackle by Kurt Coleman, could have potentially scored on the 37-yard screen pass. The Eagles really had a hard time defending the Falcons screens as well as the shovel passes to Snelling, which essentially doubled as running plays.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$3$0$0$0$0$18.00
Julio Jones$0$1$10$0$0-$1$10.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$7$1$0$0$0$8.00
Michael Turner$0$7$1$0$0-$1$7.00
D.J. Davis$0$0$4$2$0$0$6.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$2$0$0$5.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00

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5 Keys if the Falcons Want to Improve in 2012

September 7th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

Often when people look to see if a team has improved, they will measure it with wins and losses. And while that is not a bad way to do so, it is not a true measure of a team’s ability. Because you’re not playing the same schedule year to year, and even the teams that you do play annually aren’t always the same quality as they were in previous years. Every NFL season brings a new and different set of challenges, and to simply measure them by how many games you’ve won or lost doesn’t accurately gauge whether you rose to meet those challenges.

Here are five areas that I think the Falcons need to improve in if they want to be able to say they have improved as a team from 2011 and previous years. These are five areas that you could set apart as mini-goals for this team. And if they were to accomplish all five by the end of the year, I believe this will result in more regular season wins for the Falcons as well as a greater chance of winning in the postseason. And not just winning one game in January, but potentially many multiple so that they could possibly be winning come February.

1. Matt Ryan Needs to Take the Next Step as a Passer

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Which Falcons could become trade bait?

August 30th, 2012 Comments off

This is the port in the summer where people are talking about trading players, and I just wanted to quickly go over some Falcon players that probably have the most trade value. Obviously, a player like Roddy White would have huge trade value, but the Falcons won’t trade him. I’m looking more at guys that appear to be somewhat expendable and have an outside shot that it could happen if a phone call was made.

Most trades at this point in time involve late round picks and roster bubble players. The Vontae Davis trade withstanding, it’s rare a team will part ways with their top corner who is only in his third year in the league. The normal trade at this point in time is what the Colts did earlier when they acquired Josh Gordy from St. Louis. Most of these trades are for conditional picks, meaning that if said player makes the new team’s roster or plays a certain amount of games in the upcoming season, compensation will be exchanged. If not, then nothing is lost.

I’ll start with Michael Turner, not because I think he’ll be traded or should be traded, but just because in the dark reaches of an alley, there are a few Falcon fans conspiring about it. Turner does not have a ton of trade value. I think it would be possible for the Falcons to get a conditional fifth or sixth round pick at this point in time for Turner, potentially based off how many rushing yards he has this season. But that’s probably about it. That really is not worth it.

Jason Snelling is another player that could be shopped most years, but his injury as well as the question marks that the Falcons have at fullback probably placed in the non-expendable category. Teams don’t normally trade for injured players, and when they do it rarely turns in their favor. (see Otah, Jeff)

Also on offense, players that could be parted ways with include some of their backup offensive linemen. Namely Andrew Jackson, Joe Hawley, and Mike Johnson. Hawley and Johnson probably have better value on the market namely because Hawley has gotten extensive reps last year and Johnson was a higher round pick that many people liked coming out of Alabama. A team like Dallas, who has been hurting at a position like center could probably be interested in a player like Hawley for a possible sixth or seventh rounder. Johnson probably could fetch the same price, if a team was looking for a guy that can add depth at guard or tackle.

On the defensive line, the two players that are probably the easiest to trade would be Kroy Biermann and Vance Walker. I would be shocked if the Falcons would trade Biermann because he seems to be nestled atop their depth chart as the team’s nickel pass rusher, replacing Ray Edwards. But given the fact that they still would have Edwards and Lawrence Sidbury to fill that role, and could still develop Jonathan Massaquoi and/or Cliff Matthews as depth, it would not be crazy if the Falcons did shop Biermann for a late round pick. Walker’s experience means that a team hurting for a run-stopping one-gap tackle could be enticed to give up a seventh rounder.

If the Falcons were confident in the return abilities of Harry Douglas on punts, it could potentially mean that Dominique Franks could be shopped. If a team was really hurting for depth at cornerback, they might also look at Chris Owens, assuming he’s fully recovered from his hamstring injury. The Falcons could presumably opt to deal one of them because of the other’s presence.

I don’t think any of these players should be traded or will be traded, but it always interesting to see what possibilities are out there. A lot of those players I mentioned, getting just a conditional sixth or seventh round pick doesn’t seem like a fair trade for the Falcons. Ultimately the depth many of those guys provide and the roles they fill are worth me in return than a draft pick that ultimately will just be a career backup and special teamer in all likelihood. Biermann is a prime example of this. He’s a pulled muscle away from starting a bunch of games this year and helping keep the pass rush from evaporating. No offense, but that right there is worth more than drafting another Charles Mitchell or Wilrey Fontenot.

Camp Battles 2012: Defensive Line

July 17th, 2012 Comments off
Thomas Campbell-US Presswire

Lawrence Sidbury

Relative to many positions on the Falcons roster, the defensive line won’t see a lot of shakeup during training camp. The four starters are pretty much settled and the majority of the reserves are fairly secure in their roster spots. The brunt of the competition will be based around many of those reserve players trying to carve out larger niches in the Falcons rotation.

The four starters that are likely to open the season include John Abraham and Ray Edwards at defensive end and Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters at defensive tackle. As far as the starters go, the issues to watch are how much improvement both Edwards and Peters make, and whether Babineaux can bounce back after a subpar 2011.

Edwards was hampered by an injury last summer, but also never seemed to mesh with Brian VanGorder. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hopes to fix that issue, and it seems that Edwards has already warmed up to him and his new scheme. Last season, Peters flashed top-level playmaking skills, but still has yet to develop the sort of consistency to put together a complete season. It will be interesting to see whether or not the fact that he won’t have to look too much over his shoulder will drive him for greater success this season. Babineaux was hampered by an injury early last year, and the Falcons are hopeful that his production will return to a level where it was prior to 2011 when he was one of the most disruptive interior players in the league.

For bench players like Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury, both won’t have to worry too much about not collecting a check from the Falcons this year. Last year Biermann stole reps in nickel situations from Edwards. He’ll be competing to show that the new deal he signed this past off-season was money well worth spending. Biermann likely benefited to a degree from the relationship with VanGorder, and will have to find a way to similarly impress Nolan that he is worthy of being the top backup in the rotation. Sidbury was no sure thing to make the roster last summer, so a year has made a world of difference. Sidbury flashed potential last season and will be working to carve out a larger spot in the rotation. He’ll push Biermann to be the team’s top reserve. He’ll need to show improvement as a run defender, where Biermann has the edge. Abraham’s playing time is stream-lined so that the majority of snaps he comes off the field will be in running situations. And if Edwards can bounce back and earn Nolan’s trust on passing situations, then there may not be as many opportunities there as well. Becoming a more all-around player will be the key to Sidbury taking the next step.

Outside those six, the roster spots aren’t solidified. The Falcons will likely keep at least nine, but potentially ten players to beef up their rotation. A big part of the competition will be at tackle, where Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, and rookie Travian Robertson will all be competing for playing time. Jerry’s roster spot is probably the safest because his contract is structured so that cutting him doesn’t help the Falcons cap situation to a significant degree. And Vance Walker has proven himself over the years to be a valuable rotation player, making him less likely to be cut. Robertson will need a strong summer to move up the depth chart, but should be kept as a potential fifth tackle. The Falcons carried five tackles for much of last year with Carlton Powell in that role. That makes undrafted rookie Micanor Regis on the outside looking in as far as the roster goes, since he’s unlikely to leap frog all three players to make the team. But with a strong summer, he definitely can be a candidate for the practice squad.

At end, one of the big battles will come in the competition between Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews for the fifth defensive end spot. It’s unlikely that the Falcons will try and carry six defensive ends. It’s not impossible that the Falcons may opt to carry six defensive ends, particularly if they try and work either Massaquoi or Matthews at outside linebacker. But given only four ends will likely be active on game days, carrying a sixth player will mean that the roster could be depleted elsewhere. Massaquoi has the edge given that he has a bit higher upside as a pass rusher. Most years the Falcons have only seen their fifth defensive end as a special teams player, which may limit Massaquoi’s contributions as a rookies. But if he has a strong summer, he could push for playing time during the regular season comparable to Sidbury back in 2009. Even if the Falcons part ways with Matthews, he is still a prime candidate for the practice squad. He will need to have a strong summer to make the roster.

Also competing will be Louis Nzegwu, who is in a similar boat as Regis in facing long odds to make the roster. But he has the sort of athletic talent that can make him a nice project to carry and develop on the practice squad for a year or two.

Overall the issue along the defensive line won’t about shuffling around the roster, but more about Nolan trying to get more out of the current slate of players.