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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 15 Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offensive Line Stability Important For Falcons Success

August 1st, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews

You’ve probably heard the word continuity in relation to offensive line play. There should be no doubt that continuity can contribute to a team’s success when you just only look at Atlanta Falcons history. I went back and looked at Falcons history dating back to 2000 to see different starting lineups of offensive lines. What emerged was a strong link between continuity and team success.

Up front, continuity just means that teams are starting the same five guys up front every game. Ideally, over an entire season or multiple seasons. The five members of the offensive line function as a unit, and as the old adage goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Thus it’s important for continuity to occur upfront so that the five blockers get comfortable with one another. When teams constantly shuffle in different five-man groups of linemen, it destroys continuity. Injuries are usually the cause and there can be a substantial drop-off in ability from starter to reserve in many cases. Another reason why teams will change starters up front is simply from poor play. And there seems to be numerous instances throughout Falcons history, including last year, where the Falcons had to bench and replacement guys that weren’t getting it done.

Let’s look at the numbers:

Historical Falcons OL Lineups (since 2000)

* Starts refer to the number of games in which the most popular starting five appeared
Year
Wins
# of OL Lineups
Most Popular Starting Five
Starts*
200046Whitfield-Collins-McClure-Claridge-Salaam6
200176Whitfield-Hallen-McClure-Claridge-Salaam8
20029.53Whitfield-Claridge-McClure-Forney-Weiner11
200354Whitfield-Claridge-McClure-Forney-Weiner; Shaffer-Garza-McClure-Forney-Weiner6
2004113Shaffer-Garza-McClure-Forney-Weiner14
200583Shaffer-Lehr-McClure-Forney-Weiner14
200675Gandy-Lehr-McClure-Clabo-Weiner6
200746Gandy-Blalock-McClure-Forney-Weiner5
2008112Weiner-Blalock-McClure-Dahl-Clabo11
200994Baker-Blalock-McClure-Dahl-Clabo10
2010131Baker-Blalock-McClure-Dahl-Clabo16
2011104Svitek-Blalock-McClure-Hawley-Clabo9
2012132Baker-Blalock-McClure-Konz-Clabo10
201346Holmes-Blalock-Konz-Reynolds-Trueblood5

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 8 Justin Blalock

July 21st, 2014 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Blalock

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 8th-ranked player: offensive guard Justin Blalock.

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

Total Score: 78/100

Last year’s rank: 10
Player Grade: 69/100
Teams he is starter: 29 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 18 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3

Blalock’s ranking increased simply from the fact that he is coming off one of the better seasons he’s had in a Falcon uniform. Blalock’s solid 2013 season probably looks better in comparison considering many of the other Falcons blockers were especially bad. But Blalock’s play in 2013 was an uptick in his play over at least the two previous seasons, where he struggled to make an impact.

At least in the early going of the season, Blalock was one of the few Falcons blockers playing at a high level. His production dipped a bit over the final month of the season, when the blocking as a whole took a significant step back. Blalock only generated one key block over the final four games, after tallying 9.5 in the previous 12. He also gave up 3.5 of his total 4.5 sacks allowed in the final fives games of the 2013 season. There were also five hurries allowed in the final three games, with 8.5 total for the season.

But Blalock should be expected to bounce back this year and play at a level comparable to his play through the first three-quarters of 2013. He should be helped by a healthy return of left tackle Sam Baker, as well as the fact that the team should have an upgrade at right guard in Jon Asamoah. Typically, NFL teams slide their protections the left, leading the center to help out the left guard moreso than the right one. With Asamoah being capable of being left on an island at right guard, that should allow Blalock more help on his side.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Interior Offensive Line

July 19th, 2014 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

The Atlanta Falcons finally stabilized the interior of the offensive line this offseason by signing Kansas City guard Jon Asamoah to handle right guard duties. Since the team allowed Harvey Dahl to depart via free agency three seasons ago, there has been a revolving door of one poor player after another stuck at that position.

The addition of Asamoah gives the team an accomplished player that will do well to bolster their pass protection, something that should greatly benefit quarterback Matt Ryan. If there are any issues surrounding Asamoah, it’s the run blocking that is a relatively minor concern.

Asamoah made his bones in Kansas City as a productive starter mainly with his athleticism and ability to block on the move in their zone-blocking scheme. That has not been the style of blocking the Falcons have preferred over the course of the Mike Smith Era, thus raising the question of how much, if any, adapting the Falcons will do for Asamoah.

Opposite Asamoah at left guard, Justin Blalock returns and was the team’s best blocker a year ago. But given the Falcons had one of the league’s worst lines, that might not be saying a lot.

But 2013 was one of Blalock’s better seasons as a Falcon and if he can carry that momentum in 2014, it should give the Falcons the best pair of starting guards that they’ve had in more than a decade. While Blalock has never blossomed into one of the league’s premier guards, he has become relatively consistent with above average to good play each year as he enters his eighth season in the league.

Contrasting with Blalock, there is a lot more uncertainty surrounding Joe Hawley at center. While Hawley played mostly well down the stretch as a replacement for Peter Konz at center, that does not automatically mean that given the opportunity to start every game this year will automatically translate to equal or greater success.

This summer will be an important one for Hawley, as he is getting his first legitimate chance to be the team’s long-term option at center. Initially drafted as the heir apparent to Todd McClure in 2010, Hawley was leap-frogged when the team drafted Konz in 2012.

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Draft Needs: Should Falcons Add More Depth at Guard

April 29th, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons stabilized their right guard position with the signing of former Kansas City Chiefs starter Jon Asamoah this offseason. There had been a revolving door at the position since the team opted to let Harvey Dahl go following the 2010 season.

Asamoah joins Justin Blalock as the most proven of the team’s five projected starters, making the interior of the line a potential strength.

But as the injury-riddled 2013 season showed, shoring up the depth at a strong position is a smart move. However, the Falcons do have some internal options.

The loser of the battle at center between Joe Hawley and Peter Konz could serve as a backup at that position. However, both Hawley and Konz were major contributors to the instability at right guard over the past three seasons since both are much more natural as centers. Moving forward, they should only be returned to the position as a last resort.

The team got solid production from Harland Gunn towards the end of last season, relative to what they saw earlier in the year. They also added Gabe Carimi this offseason, who showed promise in 2012 as a guard for the Chicago Bears. Both could prove capable fill-ins in the event of an injury, although neither are proven candidates as of yet. Gunn is a bit undersized for the position, and despite earlier promise, Carimi struggled in three starts at left guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013.

The team could also move backup right tackle Mike Johnson back to guard, particularly if they wind up using a high pick on an already cluttered offensive tackle position. Johnson has spent the past two summers working at right tackle after failing to earn his way onto the field at guard his first two seasons.

So the Falcons could get by with the players currently on their roster. While solidifying guard depth may not pay immediate dividends this season, it could prove worthwhile down the road.

Blalock has a cap hit that exceeds $7 million this year as well in the final two years of his contract thereafter. He is coming off arguably his best season since joining the Falcons in 2007, but if he is unable to maintain that level of play it’s possible he could find himself playing elsewhere. The Falcons can save nearly $4 million in cap space if they cut him next offseason, and $6 million the following spring. That could be enticing savings if there is any slip in Blalock’s play. Tyson Clabo was 32 when the Falcons cut ties with him, and Blalock will turn 31 at the end of 2014.

Adding a developmental guard that could potentially be in the mix to replace Blalock down the line would be a smart move by the Falcons, in case none of the current players on the roster earn that opportunity. You could expect such a player to be found on the third day of the draft given more pressing needs at other positions.

Categories: Draft Central Tags: , , ,

Takeaways from Last Week – April 28, 2014

April 28th, 2014 Comments off
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Werder kicked off a firestorm this past week

The buzz this past week centered around whether the Atlanta Falcons would trade up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

This isn’t anything new if you’ve been around the Falcons for the past few months. Clowney has been on the tip of every Falcon fan’s tongue since November when it was clear the team would finish the year with a poor and subsequently a high first-round draft pick. Would it be high enough for the team to get Clowney? That question fractured the fan base into two groups: the tankers and the anti-tankers. The former group wanted the Falcons to lose as many games as possible to secure the highest possible draft pick, while the latter group wanted to see their beloved Falcons scrap it out and finish the 2013 season as strongly as possible.

Two guesses as to which group I fell into.

But now the media is a few months late to the party. I first began writing about trading up for Clowney during February’s Combine. But soon afterward, things went by the wayside and the Falcons went back to where they’ve been for most of the franchise’s existence: obscurity and irrelevance.

But now that rumors that the Houston Texans are keen on moving back from their No. 1 overall selection, the Falcons are now thrust back into the limelight. Given the team’s recent history for bold draft-day moves, their open admiration of Clowney, it makes perfect sense to link them as the likeliest trade partner for the Texans.

And now we find the fan base once again fractured into two groups: those that want the Falcons to do whatever is necessary to get a talent like Clowney, and those wishing the avoid Clowney like the plague. We’ll call them traders and anti-traders.

However, that’s probably an over-generalization. Instead, the majority of Falcons fans would probably be very interested in acquiring Clowney, but are cautious about the amount of compensation a trade with the Texans or any other team at the top of the draft the Falcons would require.

Clowney Adds Significant Talent to Falcons Defense Read more…

Takeaways from Last Week – March 10, 2014

March 10th, 2014 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

This weekend the NFL instituted it’s second “legal tampering” signing period, allowing free agents to begin negotiating with prospective teams before the official free agency period starts on Tuesday afternoon, March 11.

Already the Atlanta Falcons have been linked to a number of potential free agents, including guard Jon Asamoah, safety Mike Mitchell, and cornerback Champ Bailey.

But the Asamoah linkage seems strongest with multiple outside sources indicating that the Falcons interest in Asamoah is high.

While I like Asamoah quite a bit as a player, I’m not sure that he is a good fit in Atlanta. But apparently it seems like I’m in the minority in that regards.

As for Caplan’s assessment, I would have to respectfully disagree. Asamoah is a player that ideally fits in a zone-heavy blocking scheme because he’s very athletic, but not overly powerful.

The Falcons have incorporated more zone-blocking into their ground attack under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the past two years, but still primarily a man-blocking team.

The Falcons have made an effort to emphasize size with their line acquisitions in recent years, evidenced by additions like Terren Jones, Lamar Holmes, Phillipkeith Manley and Peter Konz the past few years since Koetter joined the team. If you’re trying to be an offense that features a lot of zone-blocking, targeting plus-sized linemen, many of whom weigh in excess of 330 pounds is largely counterintuitive.

And the lines that Mike Tice and Wade Harman coached in Chicago and Baltimore respectively emphasized size and/or man-blocking.

Could the team’s interest in Asamoah suggest a shift in their blocking? Perhaps, but more than likely the answer is no.

Read more…

2013 Year-End Superlatives: Most Improved Player

January 17th, 2014 Comments off

Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Corey Peters

The Atlanta Falcons’ most improved player in 2013 is defensive tackle Corey Peters, who was my choice at the midway point in the season. Not only did his play continue to merit distinction in the second half of 2013, but no other players really emerged.

There were potentially other options under consideration, including offensive linemen Joe Hawley and Justin Blalock. Hawley entered this year as a utility backup, but exited it arguably as the team’s second-best offensive lineman behind Blalock. Through the previous four seasons of reviewing games, rarely did I ever view Blalock as anything more than a serviceable starter. Blalock is a player that gets the job done competently, but rarely ever stands out on tape. That changed for a long stretch of 2013, where I saw Blalock consistently playing at a relatively high level.

But in the end, Peters is the most deserving because unlike Blalock, I’m not sure Peters had shown this season that he was even a serviceable starter. He was a decent option as a starter, but seemed like a player that would have been a much better fit as a third tackle in the rotation rather than a full-time starter. But Peters improved this past season, and was light years better in 2013 than he had been in any other season previously. His best asset was his ability to plug the run, as the Falcons discovered his ideal role as a one-technique nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme. He flashed his pass-rushing skills with five sacks, second most on the team, able to take advantage of weaker centers and guards when he got the opportunities.

Peters is an impending free agent that unfortunately suffered an Achilles tear late in the season. It’s a rough thing to happen to Peters, who was on the verge of really cashing in on the improvement he made. But it might wind up serving as a blessing for the Falcons because there be as many teams trying to sign him away this offseason, thus lowering his potential price tag. If the Falcons are able to retain Peters, there is good reason to believe that once he’s completely healthy again, whether in 2014 or 2015, he’ll pick up right where he left off in 2013 as one of the team’s better defensive players.

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 “2013 Awards Extravaganza!”

January 14th, 2014 1 comment

Allen and I get together once again to discuss our choices for various awards stemming from the Atlanta Falcons 2013 season. Included are our choices for the team’s most valuable player, offensive and defensive players of the year, most improved player, biggest disappointment, and most underrated and overrated players among several other individual honors. During the course of our discussion, I explain my hatred for Harry Douglas for the umpteenth time, and also where I rank Matt Ryan among the league’s top quarterbacks following his play in 2013. After divvying out our awards, we get into a discussion about the winners and losers from the second round of the playoffs, as well as our expectations for the upcoming conference championship games.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 2013 Awards Extravaganza! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 18 minutes

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

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

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

Moneyball 2013 – Week 13 Review

December 10th, 2013 Comments off

Sorry for the delay in posting this, I was traveling last week for my day job and procrastinated over the weekend which prevented me from watching the All-22 of the Bills game until this morning. It shouldn’t happen again.

The big takeaway from this game was how aggressive the Falcons were offensively. They took multiple shots down the field, with 11 passes thrown beyond 15 yards and four passes thrown beyond 20 yards. That included four deep throws in the first half, which is a significant increase from previous weeks where the Falcons typically only started to throw down the field after they got behind in games in the second half.

Matt Ryan was able to hit those deep shots to Roddy White, who was able to make contested catches in traffic. I noticed quite a bit how little separation all of the Falcons receivers were able to get against the Bills defensive backs. But White and Tony Gonzalez, to a lesser extent, were able to make those grabs while Harry Douglas was not. This was a very frustrating watch in regards to Douglas, who just seems unable to make any grabs in traffic or whenever he is asked to extend away from his body. The notion that he and Ryan have a strong rapport, judging from this game alone, sounds ridiculous. For a pair of players that have been playing together for five years, Ryan doesn’t seem to ever be able to put the ball in the “sweet spot” where Douglas may be able to catch it like he seemingly does with his other targets. It’s like the conversation they have walking back to the huddle after another incomplete pass is this:

Ryan: “I thought you were going to dive/jump/extend for that one.”
Douglas: “Oh sorry, I didn’t know.”

Although the argument I’d probably make is that there isn’t a sweet spot for Douglas.

It’s going to be so laughable a year from now when the Falcons are overpaying Douglas when Darius Johnson is perfectly capable of filling his role for one-seventh the cost. If you’re going to pay someone to struggle to make contested catches in traffic, might as well pay 14 cents as opposed to a dollar.

Douglas really botched up that late scoring drive in the fourth quarter with his penalty for removing the helmet of Aaron Williams on a block, but got gifted a pass interference call on Nickell Robey on the next play. Yes, Robey was grabbing him, but it was incidental contact (tangling of the feet) that prevented Douglas from coming back to the ball rather than the “hand checking” that Robey was doing. It was a gift of a call, so you can’t always say that the refs are out to get the Falcons.

About the only positive I can say about Douglas is that he could have scored on that screen in overtime had Justin Blalock made the block against Leodis McKelvin.

The pass protection wasn’t great, but they gave Ryan enough time to make several of the throws he needed. Jeremy Trueblood and Peter Konz really struggled in the second half, giving up multiple hurries. I penalized Ryan on the sack where he tripped, although it was Konz that stepped on his foot. Lamar Holmes had early struggles, with Jerry Hughes and the other Bills ends giving him particularly problems with their speed. Holmes just appeared to be stuck in molasses as there was just neither explosiveness to his movements nor power in his punches. Joe Hawley also did not have a good game, although most of his struggles came when he was matched up against a Bills nose tackle (either Marcell Dareus or Alan Branch), similar to Todd McClure over the years. But there were also a couple of breakdowns in the protections, as a couple of times Bills defenders were able to come unblocked because someone missed an assignment (the first sack by Manny Lawson, and later sack by Corbin Bryant) were two good examples of that. That wasn’t reminiscent of McClure from yesteryear, as the Falcons rarely had such breakdowns due to missed assignments. Breakdowns in the past were simply because guys got beat.

Blalock was the only lineman that I would say played well, although he was credited with 1.5 sacks. One of which was due to a stunt by Hughes, that I split between him and Holmes, mainly because Holmes whiffed and when Blalock tried to clean up his mess, he also missed the block. If I was being technical, I’d probably say that play was 75 percent Holmes’ fault. His other sack came when Bryant came unblocked between him and Holmes, and I think it was a blown assignment as Blalock blocked the inside man. It’s just a guess, but I think that was probably more on Hawley for confusion on what the protection was than Blalock messing up.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$12$3$0$0$0-$2$13.00
Steven Jackson$0$12$0$0$0$0$12.00
Roddy White$0$0$7$0$0$0$7.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$2$0$0$0$4.00
Antone Smith$0$4-$1$0$1$0$4.00
Harry Douglas$0$1$4$0$0-$2$3.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1.5$0$0$1.50
Darius Johnson$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Patrick DiMarco$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Ryan Schraeder$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1.5$0-$1-$2.50

Read more…