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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.

Why Brent Grimes Didn’t Get a Long-Term Deal

July 17th, 2012 1 comment
Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Brent Grimes

The Monday, July 16 deadline for when franchise players could get long-term deals done passed without Falcons corner Brent Grimes getting one. That outcome was not a surprise given how little movement and noise had been made in recent weeks.

The Falcons appear to be in a position to play wait and see with Grimes. The team picked up Asante Samuel this off-season, and the team is trying to get a return on their substantial investment in Dunta Robinson this year by moving him inside in nickel situations. Essentially, if Grimes has a good season then he’ll likely land the long-term deal he seeks next off-season. But the Falcons want to be sure that they are not committing another huge deal to a player that does not deserve it. Because while the Falcons brass won’t admit it, they aren’t too thrilled about the Robinson deal they gave out two years ago.

Robinson received $57 million over six years, and nearly $25 million in guaranteed money. That was and remains roughly market value for a top No. 1 corner. Unfortunately, Robinson has been anything but that caliber of player. On the other hand, Grimes has been. You would be hard-pressed to find a corner outside Darrelle Revis and Samuel that has collectively played better the past two seasons than Grimes. Yet the Falcons appear to be reluctant to make such a big investment unless they deem that player to be essential. And right or wrong, it’s clear that this team doesn’t view Grimes as an essential piece.

And from a certain perspective that is understandable, now that the team has added Samuel and decided to move Robinson inside to the slot. If Samuel continues to play at a high level, and there is a significant uptick in Robinson’s play so that he appears to solidify a nickel spot that has been a major weakness for this defense for three years running, then committing $50 million or more to Grimes isn’t the smartest financial decision. Especially when you have players like Dominique Franks and Chris Owens on the roster. While they are not nearly the players that Grimes is, the Falcons only have to commit roughly $1.9 million to the pair over the next two seasons. Had the Falcons given Grimes the exact same contract as Cortland Finnegan received from the Rams this off-season (5 yrs., $50 million), that figure would be around $24 million. So while you may only be getting one half of the player, you’re getting him for one-twelfth the price.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 17 “The One About the Falcons”

June 10th, 2012 Comments off

In this week’s episode, Ryan and I get back to the grind of talking about the Falcons. Taking segments of recent live shows where we talk about different position groups on the offense, this episode is an amalgamation (I know, big word) of those discussions. Also included in this episode is our interview with The Bleacher Report’s Scott Carasik, another knowledgeable Falcon fan. If you want to hear practically every offensive player on the Falcons roster get discussed, then this is the episode for you. Topics range from who will make the roster to what can be expected from different players this year. What if any changes that Dirk Koetter has will affect different players and positions. Ryan and I get into a long debate about what exactly is an elite quarterback. Michael Turner’s future, Chris Redman, Kerry Meier, Julio Jones, and Sam Baker are other Falcon players that get extensive discussions in this episode.

Ep. 17: The One About the Falcons [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 39 minutes

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

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2012 Key Player: Ray Edwards

May 31st, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Ray Edwards

Edwards was the obvious pick for this year’s most disappointing player, which is why he will be a key player to watch in 2012. As I mentioned in the linked piece, Edwards was a marginal improvement in 2011 in the pass rush department over the much-maligned Jamaal Anderson. After the season, Edwards’ lack of production was blamed on his bothersome knee that was operated on during last year’s lockout. But one wonders just how much the knee was really bothering him since he missed a total of three practices and was limited in three others all year long due to the knee injury, out of a total of fifty-one.

But regardless of whatever is to blame for Edwards lack of production, the bottom line is that in 2012 he has to step up his play. The Falcons paid him a hefty salary to improve the team’s pass rush. And while the pass rush did take positive steps last year, the Falcons are going to need more of that if they hope to make the playoffs and make a deep run in 2012. The Falcons pass rush has been a problem area for much of Mike Smith’s tenure as the head coach. The Falcons suffered through three seasons hoping that Jamaal Anderson would improve, and Kroy Biermann would emerge as the bookend player to John Abraham. That never happened, and thus when the team signed Edwards, they hoped those issues were over.

That did not prove to be the case in 2011, and needs to be the case in 2012, otherwise Ray Edwards may not last much longer as a Falcon. The team is desperately looking for someone that can take the mantle of the team’s top and most feared pass rusher from John Abraham in the coming years, and Edwards is in prime position. One of the reasons why the Falcons have struggled over the years in beating some of the league’s more prolific offenses such as the Saints and Packers has been because of their inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. If the Falcons intend to close the gap on such teams in 2012, they will need to do a better job getting after the quarterback.

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Biermann is staying in Atlanta

March 7th, 2012 Comments off

Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann tweeted today that he will be staying with the Falcons, presumably because he has agreed to terms to a new deal, a deal that was reported as imminent by D. Orlando Ledbetter last week. No official word has come from the Falcons.

Ledbetter reported that Biermann would sign a three or four-year contract worth $10-12 million. Biermann is set to become a free agent next Tuesday on March 13. Biermann was a fifth round pick for the Falcons in 2008, and started 14 games in 2010. In four years with the Falcons, Biermann has tallied 12.5 sacks and 106 tackles with 17 games started.

UPDATE: Ledbetter reports that Biermann signed a three-year deal. Exact terms are undisclosed. NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora reports that the team is worth roughly $9 million, with a maximum value of $12 million.

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Biermann on the verge of an extension

March 1st, 2012 Comments off
Icon SMI

Kroy Biermann

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that impending Falcons free agent defensive end Kroy Biermann is set to re-sign with the team. Ledbetter writes that Biermann’s deal is “imminent” and likely to be inked in the next 36 hours.

Biermann wants a three-year contract, while the team is looking to add another year to his deal. His extension is set to pay him between $10 and $12 million overall, according to Ledbetter’s source. He is set to be the first of the Falcons many free agents that will re-sign deals. Free agent signing period begins on March 13, and teams have until March 5 to designate which of their free agents will be slapped with the franchise tag.

Biermann was a fifth round pick by the Falcons in 2008 and has been in and out of the starting lineup since then. He first emerged in 2009 as a reserve tallying 37 tackles and 5 sacks. He was promoted to the starting lineup the following year, but his production dipped to 28 tackles and 3 sacks. This past year he returned as a backup, and had 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Re-signing Biermann likely became a priority when talks with defensive end John Abraham seemed to be getting nowhere, and might be a stronger indicator that things on that front aren’t likely to change in the coming days. If the Falcons do not re-sign Abraham, Biermann would most certainly become the incumbent starter at right defensive end.

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Free Agent Focus: Defensive End

February 6th, 2012 Comments off
Icon SMI

John Abraham

Coupled with their need to improve their offensive line, one could argue that the Falcons enhancing their pass rush is their second biggest key of the off-season.

The hope is that new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with his experience running both the 3-4 and 4-3 will be able to bring some varied and multiple fronts to try and help confuse opposing quarterbacks and add more pressure. But at the end of the day you can’t just scheme your way to a good pass rush, you need good players that can provide that pressure.

The Falcons will first have to make decisions on two of their own free agents, which are John Abraham and Kroy Biermann.

Abraham was by far the team’s top pass rusher this past year, recording 9.5 sacks. But despite a drop-off in sack total from a year ago, Abraham was able to put more pressure on the quarterback this year and had his best season since 2008. He will be 34 when next season starts, and as has been the case the past two seasons he really is only a part-time player. With his age, the Falcons can probably only realistically expect Abraham, even as a situational player, to have perhaps one or two more good years left in him. It is similar to what happened with Leonard Little in St. Louis, who over the last two years of his career was able to combine for 12.5 sacks at ages 34 and 35 before he hung it up. With Abraham, it seemingly will come down to price. The Falcons should want Abraham back, but if he wants to be paid too much money to be a situational player, the team might opt to look at younger options.

Abraham’s departure will likely increase the odds that Biermann returns. Biermann after a strong start to the 2009 season, has disappointed each of the past two years. Biermann is an adequate defensive end that plays the run well, and is a decent pass rusher. But he’s clearly shown that he’s not the type of player that can consistently beat quality starting tackles, a skill that is necessary to be a starter at this level. So while the Falcons could want him back, they aren’t likely to pay him more than the average reserve salary.

If the Falcons plan to vary up their fronts by using more zone blitzes and dropping their ends more in coverage like 3-4 linebackers, then Abraham is their best option. Abraham is the only Falcons defensive end that has shown some comfort dropping into coverage, dating from his experience with the New York Jets in their hybrid scheme back in 2005. If that is the Falcons plan, then it could affect who they might look at on the open market. While the Falcons have stated clearly they intend to stick with the 4-3 scheme, they have been somewhat ambiguous about whether they intend to move to a 3-4 down the road. It could be a strong indicator if they target certain pass rushers on the open market that offer the versatility to play in either scheme. If the Falcons do pursue a free agent on the open market it will likely be at the expense of both Abraham and Biermann.

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Falcons Defensive Highlight of the Year

December 31st, 2011 Comments off
Getty Images from Yahoo! Sports

Peters gives the stiff arm

Defensive highlights usually don’t get quite as much pub as the offensive ones. But Falcons defenders have made their share of big plays. And it was hard choosing which one was the best of the year.

Kroy Biermann’s pick six in Week 1 was a very impressive play, but probably doesn’t seem as great since it was in a one-sided loss. Ray Edwards fumble recovery the following week against the Eagles probably would get more points if he had taken it the distance for a score. Corey Peters did take John Abraham’s sack-strip of Blaine Gabbert vs. Jacksonville all the way to the house, but that wasn’t his most impressive play of the year.

So in the end, it has to go to Peters for his one-handed interception against the Panthers which gave the Falcons the ball back late in that game, and a few plays later they sealed the victory.

Other plays that get honorable mention: