Ryan and I share our thoughts on the Falcons disappoint loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 1. Which includes how we grade out the offensive line and Joe Hawley and Garrett Reynold’s first starts. We also discuss the loss of Jonathan Babineaux and which players step up to fill that void, including the possibility of whether that is Carlton Powell, Ryan’s new favorite player. We also break down our thoughts on how to beat the Eagles in Week 2. Coaching changes, Thomas DeCoud, Matt Bosher, and Kroy Biermann are also topics of discussion.
I’ll try to post a handful of matchups that favor the Falcons as well as their opponents for each game they play this year. The Falcons open the season against the Chicago Bears, a team that has a similar style and mentality as they do, which is to run the football and play good defense. While the Falcons want to be a more explosive team, they still aren’t likely to veer to far from that sort of identity.
Despite having eccentric Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator, the Bears in the latter half of the season began to play to their strengths, which is one of the reasons why they won their division and finished as the NFC’s second seed behind the Falcons. That strength is their defense, and offensively they decided to be more conservative and not put the turnover-prone Cutler in situations where he had to bear the load.The Falcons will want to get into a position where the Bears will be forced to throw the ball frequently, that way the Falcons defense can potentially create turnovers by preying on the Bears inexperienced offensive line and Cutler’s propensity to make mistakes.
Defensively, the Bears biggest weakness is their secondary, and if this game becomes an aerial battle, the matchups favor the Falcons.
Matchups I Like
Falcons pass rush vs. Bears O-line
As I wrote in August, I think the Falcons pass rushers should be licking their chops to face this Chicago Bears front. While the Bears did show some improvement over the course of the preseason as their new unit tried to gel together, it’s probably not enough where this matchup tilts anywhere close to the Bears favor. John Abraham will be facing J’Marcus Webb, a player that he should give major fits due to his ability to go right past him with speed or through him with power. On the opposite side is Ray Edwards, and he’ll face rookie Gabe Carimi. Edwards should have some veteran savvy to throw his way, being able to use his speed to get around the edge as well. Throw in Kroy Biermann getting some looks as well on either side of the line and you have a lot of heat coming off the corner for the Falcons all day to get pressure on Jay Cutler.
And a player that should not be forgotten in this matchup is Jonathan Babineaux. At left defensive tackle, he’ll be matched up against new right guard Lance Louis, who struggled in a handful of starts last year. Back in 2009, Babineaux routinely dominated replacement level guards, and if he intends to get back to that sort of level this year, then doing the same against Louis can be a very good tone setter for this season.
The average NFL offensive line gives up slightly more than 2 sacks per game. It should not be surprising if the Falcons are able to double or even triple the average production against the Bears defensive line.
The Falcons announced they had waived four players from their roster, parting ways with fullback Thor Merrow, punter Ken Parrish, long snapper Andrew Schulze, and tight end A.J. Simmons.
Merrow, Schulze, and Simmons were undrafted free agents. Parrish was signed last March to compete for the punter position, yet when the team drafted Matt Bosher, his odds of making the roster became longer. Barring a move made between now and the start of the regular season, it appears that Bosher has won the punting job. It also appears that Joe Zelenka will serve as the team’s long snapper for another season.
The Falcons will have to get their roster down to 80 players by next Tuesday. Currently the roster count stands at 85.
These are some of the names and positions you should keep your eye on during the Falcons preseason opener against the Miami Dolphins tonight:
WR Julio Jones
It is no doubt that all eyes will be on Jones tonight. With Ray Edwards being held out, he is by far the biggest new addition to the Falcons lineup. He has been tearing it up in camp so far by all accounts, and fans should be eager to see if that early success translates to the field tonight. Jones will get first team reps, but it will be interesting if the Falcons pull the plug on him with the rest of the first team members early in the game, or get him some more minutes and work with the second unit.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
The other big name from this year’s rookie class, figures to get some extensive reps on the ground. Rodgers should get some touches in the first half of the game, and fans should be eager to see his quickness and explosion as a runner and hopefully in the passing game. If the Falcons are re-incorporating the screen pass back into their offense, it would be an opportune time to break it out tonight.
TE Michael Palmer
Palmer has a chance to move up the depth chart if he can have another strong performance this summer. A big key for Palmer will be how much progress he’s made as a blocker if he hopes to supplant Justin Peelle as the top reserve to Tony Gonzalez.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that the Falcons have come to terms with free agent offensive tackle Tyson Clabo. Pat Yasinskas of ESPN also reportsthat the team has re-signed fellow free agent kicker Matt Bryant as well.
Negotiations with Clabo had been ongoing since teams were allowed to begin to contact free agents on Tuesday. Clabo had been pursued by the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks according to reports, with talks with Buffalo picking up on Wednesday after the Seahawks signed free agent Robert Gallery.
Terms of the deal with either party were undisclosed. It is likely the Falcons reached a long-term deal with Clabo, while settling for a short-term deal with the 36-year old Bryant. Bryant’s re-signing likely ends any possibility that punter Michael Koenen returns to the team. Sixth round pick Matt Bosher, who signed earlier today, pulled double duty as a kicker and punter while at the University of Miami will likely focus solely on punting with Bryant in the fold.
Bryant was perfect on 13 tries in the Georgia Dome last year, and made three game-winning field goals. The Falcons first picked up Bryant late in the 2009 season after struggles with Jason Elam.
UPDATE: NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora reports that Clabo signed a five-year deal worth $25 million, including $11.5 million guaranteed. The deal can max out at $27 million.
The Falcons signed three of the draft picks today, with the team announcing that sixth round pick P Matt Bosher, and seventh round picks OG Andrew Jackson and DE Cliff Matthews all came to terms on four-year deals. The team also announced the addition of another undrafted free agent, USC punter Jacob Harfman.
Teams were allowed to start signing their own draft picks Tuesday under the new labor agreement. The Falcons have now inked half of their 2011 draft class, with top picks Julio Jones, Akeem Dent, and Jacquizz Rodgers remaining unsigned.
Bosher is expected to replace free agent Michael Koenen at the punter position. But will get competition from players like Harfman and journeyman Ken Parrish. Jackson adds needed depth on the interior of the Falcons offensive line, with both starters: Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl being free agents. Matthews should compete for a reserve spot on the defensive line, and the team hopes he can bolster their pass rush in the coming seasons.
Harfman (5-9/201) served as USC’s punter and kickoff specialist the past two seasons. In that span, he had 92 punts for an average of 40.4 yards with 29 placed inside the 20-yard line. He also had 9 stops on special teams. He had 143 kickoffs with 25 going for touchbacks in his two seasons with the Trojans. He attempted a 50-yard field goal as a junior, but missed. He came to USC as a transfer student from Mt. San Antonio JC, where he averaged 40 yards on 45 punts with 22 placed inside the 20. He also had 27 touchbacks as a kickoff specialist, and connected on 20 of 26 field goals, and 69 of 75 PAT attempts. As a freshman, he played at Urbana (OH) University, a NAIA school where he was 5 of 11 on field goals and 30 of 34 on PATs.
It will be important for the Falcons to settle their issues here in free agency. Both incumbents are impending free agents, although it’s likely only one will be retained.
The likelier of the pair appears to be Matt Bryant who is coming off a resurgent year, hitting three game-winners and being perfect in the Georgia Dome. That likely will leave Michael Koenen out in the cold as the team is ready to move on after an inconsistent season.
The team made plans for this it would seem with the sixth round selection of Matt Bosher. Bosher was a dual threat at the University of Miami, but spent most of his time as a punter. He also served as that team’s kickoff specialist, making him an ideal candidate to replace Koenen in both capacities.
He’ll be pushed by journeyman Ken Parrish, who has a better than average chance due to the lockout and having a bit more professional experience having been with the Eagles the past two off-seasons and working in the United Football League last fall.
It’s Bosher’s job to lose, but it’s definitely a position that the team will keep the best player since field position is very important. This is a position that could be closely scrutinized throughout the summer, as if neither Bosher nor Parrish seem to be pulling their weight, the Falcons could opt to go in a brand new direction.
Long snapper Joe Zelenka is probably safe. The Falcons have brought in undrafted long snappers in recent summers to push him, but it’s probably not necessary this summer since Zelenka has been very consistent for the 21 games he’s served as the team’s snapper.
Eric Weems is unlikely to lose his return job coming off a Pro Bowl year. Although the team may give some opportunities to some of their younger players to see if they can add some value. Jacquizz Rodgers, Andy Strickland, and Dominique Franks could get opportunities. The Falcons may also give top rookie Julio Jones a chance as well. However, the Falcons won’t be looking for someone to replace Weems, instead looking at options in case he goes down with an injury.
The Falcons special teams was a major strength throughout most of last season. Kicker Matt Bryant was a pleasant surprise with his clutch shots throughout theyear, hitting three game-winners and going a perfect 13 of 13 at home for the Falcons. Return specialist Eric Weems went to the Pro Bowl, thanks in large part to a pair of touchdowns each on a punt and kickoff, ranking in the Top 5 in both categories in average yards per return (the only player in the league to accomplish that), and his team-leading 16 stops on special teams.
The one player that was not so great was punter Michael Koenen, who had his struggles early in the season. He managed to finish the year strong, but it was probably enough inconsistency to cause the Falcons to pass on re-signing him long-term.
That seems to be the impetus to why the Falcons used a sixth round pick on Matt Bosher in last month’s draft. Bosher both kicked and punted at the University of Miami, but was a better punter there. He also kicked off, something he did with some efficiency during his senior season. That latter ability is likely what attracted the Falcons to him and caused them to draft him over a more highly-rated punter in Florida’s Chas Henry. Henry, although had a big leg, he was much less proven as a kickoff specialist.
Both Koenen and Bryant are going to be free agents, and won’t be affected by the labor issues since both have more than six years of experience. Based off their 2010 play, it makes sense that the team is more willing to keep Bryant despite him turning 36 next week and Koenen still being a very spry 28.
But if Bosher takes over as the team’s punter and kickoff specialist, how good can he be right off the bat?
The selection of Bosher could mean the end of Michael Koenen’s career with the Falcons. He hit 85% of his 53 career field goal attempts, and averaged 41.7 yards on 234 career punts. He did a good job with his placement and field position, putting 70 punts inside the 20 and forcing 82 fair catches. He should benefit in transitioning to the NFL by moving from the warm weather of South Florida to the controlled environment of the Georgia Dome.
Click here to read a scouting report on Bosher.