Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Blalock’

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

Read more…

Camp Battles 2012: Offensive Line

July 16th, 2012 Comments off
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

Sam Baker

The offensive line is likely to be the most contested offensive position group in camp. Unlike the other offensive positions, the Falcons aren’t currently set on their starting lineup. The brunt of the competition will come at the two weakest spots from a year ago: left tackle and right guard. Sam Baker is the incumbent at left tackle, although he remains a question mark because he was effectively benched last year after a very poor start to the season. Will Svitek replaced him and proved to be an upgrade. But the team remains optimistic about Baker’s abilities, excusing much of his struggles due to injuries. The team drafted rookie Lamar Holmes as well in the third round, and he’ll push for time as well. But by missing rookie mini-camps with a foot injury likely will have Holmes climbing an uphill battle in camp to gain the starting spot. More than likely the spot will come down to Baker or Svitek, with Baker having the advantage going into camp because he worked the majority of first team snaps in the off-season.

At right guard, the team could have a new face as two of their off-season additions will be competing there. Free agent pickup Vince Manuwai and top pick Peter Konz will be pushing for playing time behind Garrett Reynolds, who is considered the incumbent. Reynolds got the majority of first team snaps during OTAs, a small surprise given that Reynolds, like Baker, lost his job in 2011. He was replaced after a sluggish start by Joe Hawley, who was an improvement but only slightly over the second half of the season. Reynolds has struggled with extensive reps at the guard position largely due to his height, which is disadvantageous inside at guard. Manuwai worked mostly with the second unit during minicamps, and is the strongest candidate among the two to push for time. Konz played exclusively as a center during his days at Wisconsin, and split time between both spots this off-season. He still has a small learning curve at guard, and while he will be given a legitimate opportunity to win the starting spot, he’ll likely be on the outside looking in.

The other three roster spots are pretty much locked up as the team brought back center Todd McClure along with left guard Justin Blalock and right tackle Tyson Clabo. Blalock and Clabo won’t face any competition for their jobs, while McClure will be pushed by Hawley. McClure has never lost his starting spot in his 13-year career, so it doesn’t seem likely that he will do so this summer. But the Falcons will give Hawley a chance to emerge as the team wants to get more physical up front. Hawley was miscast as a guard last year, but his skillset is much more suited to playing the pivot where he is fiesty and physical. That sort of mentality will be welcomed at the center position. But he’s not nearly as polished as McClure and certainly lacks McClure’s extensive experience and knowledge calling out blocking assignments.

But even if players like Hawley, Konz, and Holmes don’t win starting positions, they are virtual locks to be among the final nine or ten blockers that could make the 53-man roster. Between Manuwai and Reynolds as well as Baker and Svitek, it doesn’t seem like a sure bet that all will make the roster if they don’t win the starting spot. Svitek is probably the most valuable as a reserve given his versatility to serve as swing tackle and potential blocking tight end.

Also vying for positions include former draftees Andrew Jackson and Mike Johnson. Johnson was a third round pick, but injuries have limited his development over the past two summers. He had the potential to win the starting gig from Reynolds last summer, but an untimely concussion forced him out of the lineup, allowing Reynolds the time to solidify the spot. Jackson will likely get a boost because the Falcons new position coach is his former head coach Pat Hill from Fresno State. The team has been working to cross-train both players for multiple positions to give them some potential added value. Both players have gotten reps at tackle this off-season. But both are fighting an uphill battle to make the roster certainly due to the more experienced players ahead of them. It is noteworthy that both players still remain eligible for the team’s practice squad, although it doesn’t seem likely at this point that either would clear waivers if released by the team.

Also competing in camp are undrafted rookies Bryce Harris, Tyler Horn, and Phillip Manley. All three are longshots to make the roster, but can certainly impress enough to make bids for the practice squad. Harris also followed Hill from Fresno State, but is facing long odds given the added depth at the tackle position. A bit undersized, Harris is an ideal candidate to be placed on the practice squad for a year or two to add some bulk. Horn is stuck behind a relatively deep center group in Atlanta, as he is fourth on the depth chart. And the fact that Hawley and Konz add the versatility of also playing guard, it will make it that much harder for Horn to stand out. Manley offers good size for a guard, but he too is stuck behind a bunch of bodies.

Mike Smith has stressed trying to bolster competition in camp, and very few positions embody that mentality than the offensive line. Its struggles a year ago precipitate that renewed focus on getting the best players on the field. And while the majority of the team’s starting positions are likely settled, there will be a maelstrom brewing as players compete for second unit spots and their football-playing lives. Predicting who the final nine or ten will be on the roster is the most tenuous of any position group. Three of the starters (Blalock, Clabo, and McClure) and three reserves (Hawley, Holmes, and Konz) are fairly safe bets. But beyond that, the last handful of spots will be completely up for grabs.

2015 Falcons: Offensive Line

June 17th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Peter Konz

The Falcons offensive line come 2015 is considered one of the strengths of the team, given the teams new-found emphasis on the position that begins in 2012.

The Falcons 2015 line consists of the same unit that it started beginning in 2013, which features left tackle Lamar Holmes, left guard Justin Blalock, center Joe Hawley, right guard Peter Konz, and right tackle Tyson Clabo. What begin as a bit of a shaky unit has now blossomed into a strong group up front now that they’ve built some continuity with each other. Also in the mix is a Pat Hill favorite in guard Andrew Jackson, who hopes that now in his fifth season in the league can crack a permanent place in the starting lineup at guard.

The anchor of the unit is Konz, who thanks to Hawley’s solid play in his first season as a full-time starter in 2013 hasn’t been asked to kick inside to center yet. Hawley was good enough that the team opted to re-sign him following the 2013 season with a modest three-year deal and hasn’t regretted the decision as he has developed into a solid starting center thanks to his toughness and aggressiveness. At the other guard spot is the old veteran Justin Blalock, whose Falcon career is beginning to wind down. While Blalock has yet to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl in his career, he’s considered to be a solid guard. But the team is looking for Jackson to potentially push him for the starting spot. They are also hopeful that even if he doesn’t beat out Blalock, that Jackson has improved enough that he could be plugged in at right guard, which will allow Konz to play his more natural center position. Jackson has managed to fill in at various times over the past three seasons when others have been out with injuries. He has been cross-trained to play all three interior positions, although Konz remains the primary backup at center. But the team feels its interior of the line is the strength of the unit.

Outside, Lamar Holmes and Tyson Clabo form the bookends. By 2015, Clabo appears to be on his last legs. He’s entering the contract year of his deal that he signed in 2011, and most expect him to hang it up after the year is done. But he wants to give it one more go with this team to try and push them over the top. The team has already drafted his heir apparent and potential replacement in the rookie out of Iowa, Brandon Scherff. On the opposite side, Holmes has grown into a solid player. While he’s not considered to be one of the top left tackles in the league, he is considered capable of getting the job done of protecting Matt Ryan’s blindside. Holmes had a shaky start in his first year as a starter in 2013, but in the subsequent years has shown improvement each season so that now in 2015, he is considered a solid asset for the unit. His career arc mirrors that of previous left tackles such as Donald Penn, Duane Brown, and Jermon Bushrod, of guys that got off to questionable starts, but showed steady improvement each year. He is in line for a big extension after 2015 if he can show continued growth.

Due to their renewed focus on maintaining a strong front, the Falcons have used a multitude of their late round picks over the past few drafts to build depth.

2012 Key Players: Offensive Line

May 29th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

The Falcons Front Line

I’ve already discussed how Michael Turner’s play this year will be a key to success for the Falcons in 2012. Tied to that is the play of the offensive line. It’s clear that the Falcons are a team that pride themselves on being an effective to good running team. And that notion isn’t likely to change under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Jaguars under Jack Del Rio styled themselves in a similar manner, being a team that could run the ball well and play good defense, i.e. often the core elements of what is called being “physical.” That’s the exact sort of mentality and identity that Mike Smith has tried to instill here in Atlanta over the past four seasons. And it’s probably one of the main reasons why Smith was attracted to Koetter to take over for Mike Mularkey.

But joining Koetter on his quest to reinvigorate the Falcons offense on the ground will be new offensive line coach Pat Hill. Hill comes to the Falcons after years as the head coach at Fresno State. The Falcons hope Hill’s brand of high energy and toughness will also prove a boost up front.

It was clear last year that the biggest weakness on the offense was the offensive line. They struggled to create holes for Turner to run through, and struggled protecting Matt Ryan when they faced quality pass rushes. While the team may be very vocal about not regretting the decision to trade for Julio Jones, they certainly should be regretful over how they took the offensive line for granted last off-season.

Too often the line got manhandled in 2011 and it often occurred in instances where they could not establish the run early in games. If they got behind the offense would become one-dimensional and lose its balance. And several opposing teams were able to take advantage by pinning their ears back and be effective at getting to Matt Ryan.

Ryan is not a quarterback that likes to get hit. That isn’t questioning his toughness, but there is plenty of evidence over the past four years that if teams can get to him early and often, it can affect his play the rest of the game. That could also describe Tom Brady rather easily. So it’s prohibitive of Ryan becoming a top quarterback, it’s just an obstacle to overcome. You can live with a subpar O-line in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger behind center because he seems to thrive at times with pressure in his face. But that won’t be the case here in Atlanta, and thus emphasizing better play up front will remain important as long as Ryan is the starter.

Thus the Falcons off-season decisions to bolster the competition up front were good moves. The team needed to improve their blocking, and they did so by adding veteran guard Vince Manuwai and drafting rookies Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes in the draft.

Read more…

An Auburn Reunion in Atlanta?

February 26th, 2012 Comments off
ICON SMI

Grubbs (69) and Dunlap (77) pose on the right with Auburn teammates

It is not a big secret that a major need for the Falcons headed into the off-season is improving their performance in the trenches. They got whipped up front by the New York Giants in the playoffs, as well as teams like Houston during the regular season. It exposed their inability to compete at the higher levels, which has been a big reason why the team has yet to win its first postseason game under Mike Smith. Getting stronger on the offensive line can be a major step forward to try and correct that issue.

D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote a few weeks back about whether or not the Falcons should try to sign Marcus McNeill, if the San Diego Chargers choose to part ways with him next month. It seems like that is a likely conclusion since the Chargers can clear $10 million in cap space by making the move. The key part of the equation will be whether McNeill can pass a physical, having suffered from chronic neck and spinal injuries over the years. He finished the year in San Diego on injured reserve due to suffering neck injuries that forced him out of two games in late October and November. He had off-season neck surgery following 2008, and had two surgeries on his knees last year in February and August.

When McNeill has been healthy, he’s been very good. The massive run blocker would be an upgrade at left tackle for the Falcons. One of the major issues with Sam Baker there has been his inability to get push in the ground game. McNeill has only been recorded with giving up 12.25 sacks over the past four seasons in 50 games played, according to STATS LLC. Compared to Baker, who according to STATS has given up 16.5 sacks in the last 28 games he’s played in Atlanta over the past two years.

An interesting proposition for the Falcons could be teaming McNeill with a former college teammate at Auburn in free agent guard Ben Grubbs. The pair started alongside each other for two seasons at Auburn before McNeill became a second round pick in 2006. Grubbs stayed for another year and was taken in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2007. Grubbs has since developed into one of the better offensive guards in the league, playing in his first Pro Bowl this past year. Known for his solid run blocking and pass protection skills, he would be an upgrade at that position for the Falcons over Justin Blalock. Blalock has been serviceable to solid over his tenure in Atlanta, but is by no means a lynchpin for the team on the left side.

Grubbs is a free agent, one which the Ravens are intent on keeping. But the Ravens will be hard-pressed because they won’t be able to use their franchise tag on him (that will be reserved for running back Ray Rice), and Grubbs stands to make a pretty penny on the open market. With Carl Nicks set to hit free agency as well, and deals signed by players like Jahri Evans and Davin Joseph in recent years, whoever winds up with Grubbs is likely going to have to spend big.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Moneyball 2011 – Week 11 Review

November 21st, 2011 Comments off

A solid performance for the offense, although there wasn’t anything great about. Matt Ryan had a solid game managing the offense, with only 1 poor throw on the day. Michael Turner had several nice runs and was his old powerful self, breaking tackles on some of them.

The Falcons were able to spread the ball around to different receivers with Julio Jones out of the lineup, with Michael Palmer and Eric Weems getting some action in the passing game. Roddy White had a nice bounce-back game from last week, although he still wasn’t perfect. But he made some nice grabs on the day. Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas also were solid.

The blocking was solid, with Ryan having good protection. Justin Blalock didn’t have a great day, missing 3 blocks, although it is worth noting most of them came when he was pulling or supposed to hit an assignment on the second level. Neither of those two things have ever really been his strength.

Overall, it was a solid performance for the offense. But nothing special. This is the type of game that is giong to be quickly forgotten because there really wasn’t anything notable to happen in it. The struggles the team had converting in the redzone are a chief concern, and it’s hopefully something that can be nipped in the bud.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$13$2$0$0$0$0$15.00
Michael Turner$0$14-$1$0$0-$3$10.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$6$1.5$0$0$7.50
Roddy White$0$0$5$0$0-$1$4.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$4$0$0-$0.5$3.50
Todd McClure$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Will Svitek$0$0$0$2.5$0-$1$1.50
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Michael Palmer$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0-$1$1$0$0$0$0.00
Eric Weems$0$0$0$0$1-$1.5$0.50
Justin Blalock$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

Read more…

Moneyball 2011 – Week 9 Review

November 8th, 2011 Comments off

This was a solid execution of the Falcons signature game plan. They wanted to run the ball well, and they did. They minimized penalties and mental mistakes, with Svitek’s holding call being the lone play that stood out in the negative. Big earnings for Turner, Rodgers, and even Snelling and Jones got into the act. The offensive line graded out its best this week collectively mainly because of their ability to beat the Colts in the trenches.

But this game was really a tale of the potential of the Falcons two rookies in Jacquizz Rodgers and Julio Jones. Rodgers had a solid game and the Falcons need to get him more touches on offense. Most of his touches in this game came in garbage time and they need to find more ways to get him the ball earlier in the games. Good things just tend to happen when he touches the ball.

But of course the star of this game was Julio Jones who made a lot of great things happen despite only a handful of touches in this game. His two big plays in the passing game and his two rushing attempts were big plays for this team.

Matt Ryan was up and down in this game. He looked particularly bad at the end of the first half with three poor passes on the final series. Most of his earnings ($8) came off the two big plays by Jones, and most would agree that Jones did the brunt of the work there. But he had some nice throws in the second half of the game, but overall it was a nondescript performance for him despite the high earnings. Which is probably similar to what you could describe Ryan’s overall season as.

Up front, Svitek was the highest earner mainly because I don’t subtract for pressures given up. Considering he was facing Dwight Freeney, some of his struggles were expected as Freeney’s spin move killed him a couple of times. Overall, the best game goes to Justin Blalock. Blalock’s two missed blocks came on the Falcons final two offensive series when the game was pretty much over and they were trying to run out the clock. Hawley was serviceable at right guard, but from this performance it should not be seen as a permanent option.

Mike Cox had a nice debut as a Falcon. He missed a couple of blocks, but he also a couple of impressive blocks early on. Snelling even contributed once on a Rodgers as a lead blocker. Going forward, until Cox works out some of the kinks, the Falcons should probably platoon the pair of them in Ovie’s vacant spot.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Julio Jones$0$4$8$1$0$0$13.00
Matt Ryan$11$1$0$0$0$0$12.00
Michael Turner$0$11$1$0$0$0$12.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$8$1$0$0$0$9.00
Jason Snelling$0$4$0$1$0$0$5.00
Roddy White$0$0$4$0$0$0$4.00
Will Svitek$0$0$0$4$0-$1$3.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Eric Weems$0$0$0$0$1.5$0$1.50
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$0.5$0$0$0.50
Joe Hawley$0$0$0-$0.5$0$0-$0.50

Read more…

Moneyball 2011 – Week 3 Review

September 27th, 2011 Comments off

The tale of this game is the failure of the Falcons offensive line. The Bucs pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage with their front four. Brian Price was a monster, and Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy each made their shares of plays. Garrett Reynolds was the only positive earner mainly because I don’t deduct for multiple pressures given up, as he gave up three. I don’t know if the Falcons have ever had a game where basically all five of their blockers should have been in the red. Justin Blalock struggled against Price, after being far and away our best blocker in the first two outings. I gave him credit for a half-sack on Mason Foster’s sack in the third quarter, where McClure botched the snap. I gave McClure the other half credit because of that botched snap.

The ground game was non-existent mainly because the Falcons struggled to get any real push, but because of how sluggish a runner that Michael Turner looked in this game. Turner looked his age in this one, and if he’s going to continue to play as slow as he has this year, the Falcons are going to have to resort to new ways of manufacturing rushing yards, such as a lot of dink and dunk throws to Harry Douglas, Julio Jones, and Roddy White and try to get those guys in space. The team might also want to try and mix in Jacquizz Rodgers a lot more.

Matt Ryan put up some numbers thanks to some earnings when the Falcons went into no-huddle or the two-minute drill, but he did not have a good game. Ball security seems to be an issue in the pocket. If you’re wondering why he went to Jacquizz Rodgers instead of an open Tony Gonzalez on that fourth down play at the goalline that was broken up by Corey Lynch, it was because Gonzo was covered by Ronde Barber who had broken up two passes already on that drive, and had an outstanding game overall, Pro Bowl caliber. The Falcons receivers had good games with Roddy White and Julio Jones both doing some good things after the catch. I don’t know the exact number, but I think Jones had around 40 or more yards after the catch. Roddy’s 3 drops are a little disturbing, although I think fatigue had a lot to do with the last one where he was wide open near the goalline.

I think the Falcons could have done a better job on their play-call on 3rd & 15 just before they opted to kick the field goal down 6 points with 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter. They could have had a play that had a better checkdown for Ryan over the middle that would have allowed them to still get 7-8 yards to make it a much more manageable 4th down if they decided to go for it, instead of practically sending all 3 of their receivers into the endzone.

And what the heck has happened to Ovie Mughelli? Besides that TD grab vs. the Eagles (which was about as mundane as TD grabs get), he has been very very quiet this year.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$11$2$0$0$0-$4$9.00
Julio Jones$0$0$8$0$0$0$8.00
Roddy White$0$0$7$0$0$0$7.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$2$0$0-$1$3.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Michael Turner$0$1$0$0$0$0$1.00
Eric Weems$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0-$0.5$0$0-$0.50
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00
Ovie Mughelli$0$0-$1-$1$0$0-$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0-$1.5$0-$2-$3.50

Read more…

Moneyball 2011 – Week 2 Review

September 20th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons did not have their most stellar performance against the Eagles, but they made plays at critical points in the game to pull out the victory.

Offensively, Matt Ryan did not really get going until the fourth quarter, where he earned $7 of his $9.50 passing the ball. Michael Turner had a good start with $7 in the first half, but went quiet until his big runs late in the game. Tony Gonzalez was money in this game with his two touchdown grabs and ability to move the chains. Roddy White and Julio Jones were fairly quiet for most of the game, although they had some key catches at certain points in the game. But at least from the Eagles perspective, they should feel happy about their two highly paid corners containing both White and Jones pretty much the entire night.

Up front, the blocking was hit and miss just like last week. Sam Baker really struggled going against Trent Cole, which was the same issue he had a year ago. Reynolds gave up an early sack but had a fairly solid game the rest of the way. Clabo also struggled on the outside getting beat by Jason Babin several times. Blalock was the best up front, and Hawley had his really good moments as well as his share of mental errors and mistakes. If and when McClure returns, the Falcons can iron out many of the inconsistencies.

The Falcons inability to move the ball on the ground in the third quarter was a big reason why the Eagles were able to get back into the game and take a 10-point lead then.

Ryan saw a lot of pressure throughout the game from the edges, but some of it was on him getting happy feet in the pocket after he took a couple of early hits.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$9$2$0$0$0$11.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$9$1.5$0$0$10.50
Matt Ryan$9.5$1$0$0$0-$1$9.50
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$3$0$0$0$0$3.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Ovie Mughelli$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Julio Jones$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Eric Weems$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Reggie Kelly$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Michael Palmer$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0-$1.5$0$0-$1.50
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$0$0-$2-$2.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$2.5$0$0-$2.50

Read more…

Falcons to pass on signing Edwards

July 25th, 2011 Comments off

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that the Falcons will reportedly pass on signing Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards when free agency begins in the coming days after the end of the NFL lockout. Ledbetter cites rumors and gossip discussed among NFL beat writers that were in Atlanta during last week’s owners meetings. The Falcosn will also be unlikely to sign Carolina Panthers end Charles Johnson, as he will be the top priority for the Panthers to keep.

Ledbetter also indicates that the Falcons will prioritize re-signing their own free agents, and at the top of that list will be offensive tackle Tyson Clabo. And also that guard Harvey Dahl will take precedent over Justin Blalock, as the Falcons plan to re-sign at least two of their three starting offensive linemen.

It is also expected that linebacker Stephen Nicholas will leave for greener pastures, by joining the New York Giants.

Categories: News Tags: , , , , ,