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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Special Teams

July 25th, 2014 No comments

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester

The Atlanta Falcons special teams unit won’t appear much different than it has the past two seasons with the same group of specialists at kicker, punter and long snapper. But there is one big addition in the return game that could make a significant difference.

Incumbent kicker Matt Bryant, punter Matt Bosher and long snapper Josh Harris return for the third consecutive season. Bryant has been a reliable, clutch kicker over his past five seasons with the Falcons. He’s getting up in age and 2014 might mark his final season in Atlanta, but the Falcons should feel fairly confident that his previous success will continue this year. The team did however bring in a young option in undrafted rookie Sergio Castillo to push him. Castillo is a long shot to unseat Bryant, but can impress the coaching staff enough that he can return on the short list of kickers next year if the team and Bryant part ways.

Bosher is becoming one of the league’s best young punters and won’t face any challengers for his position. Bosher is likely due for a contract extension at the end of the year, and thus his goal this summer will be preparing to put forth his best effort during the season to achieve maximum earning potential.

Harris has had a few lapses over the years, but they appear to become less and less with each passing season. So there’s no reason to expect the Falcons to be disappointed with his performance moving forward.

However, the one big move occurred with the team now having ex-Chicago Bear Devin Hester serve as return specialist. Hester is arguably the best return in NFL history and needs just one more score to sit atop the all-time leader board as far as non-offensive touchdowns go. Hester, 31, is not quite the dynamic threat he was in his prime, he’s still a very effective return threat that commands respect from opposing teams. Many teams still kick away from him because of his potential to take it the distance every time he touches the ball, although it’s not quite the death sentence it once was.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 16 Matt Bryant

July 19th, 2014 No comments

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bryant

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 16th-ranked player: kicker Matt Bryant.

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

Total Score: 61/100

Last year’s rank: 11
Player Grade: 60/100
Teams he is starter: 19 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 19 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 19 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +2

Originally signed late in 2009 to replace the struggling Jason Elam, Bryant has been the epitome of consistency since joining the Falcons.

He has made 91 percent of his field goal tries in the Georgia Dome and has been outstanding in the clutch.

The only real issue concerning Bryant is age. At 39 years old, he’s reached the same age that Elam was during his final, disastrous season in Atlanta. And it’s only a matter of time before things go awry for Bryant as Father Time is undefeated.

But there’s no telling when that point will arrive. It could happen this year or it could happen three years from now.

This upcoming season marks the final year on Bryant’s current contract and it remains to be seen if he’ll continue playing beyond this year. But it’s probably a good bet that this will mark Bryant’s last season as a Falcon and the team will go with a younger option next season.

The hope is that Bryant can stave off Father Time for at least one more season and buy the Falcons a bit more time before they have to make a decision about the future of their kicking position.

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Team Needs: Falcons Could Upgrade Special Teams in Return Game

February 9th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Bosher (left) and Bryant celebrate a win

The Atlanta Falcons special teams was perhaps the only aspect of their team that consistently played at a high level in 2013. Thus there won’t be any imperative drive to try to make substantial changes this offseason.

Matt Bryant, at age 38, showed he is still kicking strong. He is entering the final year of his contract and thus the only major concern for the Falcons is thinking about his eventual replacement in 2015 and beyond. It’s doubtful that the Falcons will try to replace Bryant this year since he’s been so effective in clutch situations as well as whenever he’s kicking inside the Georgia Dome. He’s made 21 of his last 22 field goal attempts kicking at home.

But the team should at least give a long look to a young kicker in training camp just to plan ahead to 2015 when it’s possible that Bryant could decide to hang it up. The Falcons tried this strategy over a decade ago when they carried Jake Arians on the practice squad in Morten Andersen’s final season in 2000. Arians was eventually beat out by Jay Feely the following summer for the kicking job, but the strategy is still a relatively sound one. The Falcons need to start prepping for the future and that begins this offseason.

The Falcons don’t have to do such preparation at punter as Matt Bosher is blossoming into one of the better young punters in the NFL. Bosher continues to make strides both as the team’s kickoff specialist and as a punter. His big leg proved an asset several times last year when the team struggled to move the ball offensively, to help flip field position and give the Falcons’ struggling defense a fighting chance. The only real issue moving forward with Bosher is when the Falcons plan to start talking contract extension. 2014 also represents the final year on his contract, and there’s little doubt the team at some point in the next 12 months will lock him up for a lucrative long-term deal.

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2013 Year-End Superlatives: Special Teams MVP

January 15th, 2014 Comments off
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bosher

Hands down the honor for most valuable Atlanta Falcons player on special teams goes to punter Matt Bosher. He was the choice made at the midpoint of the year, and had an even stronger second half of the season to solidify this honor.

Bosher showed improvement this year, showing a lot more “touch” with his punts and being able to flip field position at a moment’s notice. His kickoffs also got better, consistently forcing more touchbacks as well as the fact that he led the NFL with three successful onside kicks.

Other potential choices could have been Antone Smith, who was an outstanding gunner on those punts, helping Bosher pin teams back with his blazing speed. But simply Smith didn’t make enough plays over the second half of the season to leap frog Bosher.

Kicker Matt Bryant also had another quietly solid season, showing that he is still more than capable of making kicks at age 38. Also, cornerback Robert McClain deserves credit for he was very good punt returner over the last month of the season. His year returning punts was statistically the best year a Falcon returner has had since 2010.

Gonzalez Bids Farewell in Falcons 21-20 Loss to Panthers

December 29th, 2013 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons owner Arthur Blank honors Tony Gonzalez at halftime

The Atlanta Falcons finished a disappointing 2013 season with a disappointing 21-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers at home. The Falcons record fell to 4-12, their first losing record under head coach Mike Smith in six seasons. The home loss also marked the farewell game of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who heads to retirement after 17 Hall of Fame-worthy seasons in the NFL. Gonzalez played his last five here in Atlanta after a dozen in Kansas City with the Chiefs. He finishes his career as the all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns for tight ends.

Matt Ryan got off to a good start and finished the game completing 28 of 40 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Steven Jackson led rushers with 41 yards on 13 carries, and also added five receptions for 53 yards. Roddy White led receivers with eight grabs for 91 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown. Jason Snelling snagged Ryan’s other touchdown pass on a nine-yard score, and finished the game with a pair of catches for 15 yards. Gonzalez finished with four catches for 56 yards, while Harry Douglas added seven catches for 58 yards. Matt Bryant connected on both of his field goal tries from 42 and 37 yards. Matt Bosher punted five times for an average of 48.4 yards, placing two of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain had a trio of punt returns for 34 yards, while none of the Panthers kickoffs were returned thanks to four touchbacks. The Falcons was able to generate 307 total yards, but were limited by nine sacks allowed. It marked the largest sack allowance since December 2001. Ryan’s interception also gifted Carolina seven points due to an eight-yard return on a pick-six by Panthers cornerback Melvin White. The Falcons were unable to score touchdowns on two of their three red zone trips, but did manage to convert 44 percent of 16 third-down conversion tries.

Defensively, the Falcons were sharp, only allowed 283 total yards by the Panthers. However, 134 yards came on the ground as the Falcons struggled to handle the scrambling ability of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Newton led his team with 72 yards rushing. The Falcons did generate two turnovers, with William Moore intercepting a tipped pass and Desmond Trufant recovering a fumble by DeAngelo Williams. But the Panthers were able to convert both of their red zone trips into touchdowns and converted 47 percent of their 15 third-down attempts. Paul Worrilow led the team with 13 tackles and tallied the team’s lone sack and hit on the quarterback on the day. Robert Alford (three tackles, one forced fumble); Jonathan Babineaux (four tackles); Joplo Bartu (six tackles, two tackle for loss); Peria Jerry (three tackles, one tackle for loss); Jonathan Massaquoi (four tackles); Cliff Matthews (four tackles); William Moore (two tackles, one interception); Stephen Nicholas (four tackles); and Desmond Trufant (five tackles, one pass deflection, one fumble recovery) had noteworthy performances.

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49ers Survive Falcons With Game-Winning Pick-Six

December 24th, 2013 Comments off

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Navorro Bowman returns an interception 89 yards for the game-sealing touchdown

The Atlanta Falcons lost another tough one with a 34-24 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. The game marked the final regular season contest played by the 49ers in Candlestick Park. The Falcons got off to an early lead, pulling ahead by a score of 10-3 at halftime. But the 49ers then scored 17 unanswered points before the Falcons got get back on the scoreboard. Ultimately the Falcons were in position to pull ahead, having marched the ball inside the 49ers’ 10-yard line with 1:31 left to go in the game. But Matt Ryan’s pass to Harry Douglas was tipped off 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock into the hands of linebacker Navorro Bowman, who then returned it 89 yards for a touchdown, sealing the game for the 49ers.

Ryan led the way completing 37 of 48 passes for 348 yards, two touchdowns, and a pair of interceptions. Steven Jackson led the team in rushing with 53 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Roddy White led receivers with 12 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez caught eight passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Douglas finished with five catches for 46 yards, while Drew Davis had three catches for 70 yards. Matt Bryant hit on his lone field goal attempt from 35 yards out. Matt Bosher punted five times for an average of 48.8 yards with two kicks placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain averaged 16.5 yards on a pair of punt returns, while Jacquizz Rodgers had 50 yards on two kickoff returns. The Falcons offense was able to generate 402 total yards, mostly coming in the air. They also were able to convert eight of 15 third down attempts and scored touchdowns on half of their four red zone trips.

Defensively, the Falcons gave up 379 total yards, including 199 yards on the ground. The defense got off to a good start, limiting 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to just 69 yards passing in the first half. The 49ers also only had 52 rushing yards and were only able to convert one of five third downs in the first half. But that changed in the second half, as San Francisco generated 266 total yards, including 147 on the ground. They also were able to convert on three of four third down attempts and had no issues moving the ball at will against the struggling Falcons defense. Joplo Bartu led defenders with 11 tackles, including one for loss. Thomas DeCoud (5 tackles); Jonathan Massaquoi (1 tackle, 1 sack); Robert McClain (2 tackles, 1 pass deflection); William Moore (5 tackles); Stephen Nicholas (10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass deflection); Corey Peters (1 tackle, 1 sack); and Paul Worrilow (5 tackles) had noteworthy games.

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Redskins Turnovers Lead to 27-26 Falcons Win

December 15th, 2013 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant breaks up a two-point conversion to seal Falcons win

The Atlanta Falcons pulled out a 27-26 win over the Washington Redskins to get their fourth win of the 2013 season in a game that saw the Redskins turn the ball over seven times. The Falcons got off to an early lead, but the Redskins were able to come back and take a lead at the end of the first half. But the Falcons responded and retook the lead. But the Redskins were able to mount of a potentially game-tying drive in the final minutes of the game. But they opted to go for the go-ahead two-point conversion rather than settling for an extra point to force overtime, and the attempt failed, allowing the Falcons to stave them off.

Matt Ryan led, completing 29 of 38 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and interception. Steven Jackson led rushers with 38 yards on 15 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez led receivers with six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Roddy White and Harry Douglas each had five catches for 53 and 37 yards, respectively. Matt Bryant hit on both of his field goal tries from 20 and 51 yards out. Matt Bosher had a good day punting, booming six punts for an average of 49.3 yards with three placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain returned three punts for an average of 8.3 yards, while Jacquizz Rodgers had three kickoff returns for an average of 26 yards. The Falcons struggled to convert third downs for much the game, finishing with five conversions on 14 tries (36 percent). They were able to score touchdowns on three of their five red zone trips, with one of their failures coming on a failed fourth-down attempt from the one-yard line. On that play, Jackson was stuffed at the goal line. The Falcons turned the ball over two times, but that paled in comparison to the Redskins issues with retaining the football. The Falcons were able to capitalize on those Redskins mistakes, generating 20 of their points off the favorable field position presented by those miscues.

The Redskins turned the ball over seven times on the day, including five lost fumbles. The Falcons were able to pick off the Redskins twice as well. Otherwise, they didn’t have much success slowing down the Redskins offense, who put up 476 total yards. That marked the second-highest yardage total allowed by the Falcons defense this season. That included 103 yards on the ground, marking the eleventh-consecutive game in which the Falcons have allowed over 100 yards rushing to the opposing team. The Falcons defense got stops on four of the five red zone trips by the Redskins, forcing a pair of field goals and a pair of turnovers. Robert Alford and Paul Worrilow shared in the team lead in terms of tackles, each tallying nine stops. Jonathan Babineaux (one tackle, two fumble recoveries); Joplo Bartu (six tackles); Malliciah Goodman (one fumble recovery); Jonathan Massaquoi (five tackles); Robert McClain (five tackles, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries); William Moore (five tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery); Zeke Motta (five tackles); Stephen Nicholas (five tackles, one forced fumble); Corey Peters (four tackles, one pass deflection); Desmond Trufant (seven tackles, one interception, two pass deflections); and Osi Umenyiora (two tackles, one sack, one forced fumble) had notable games.

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Falcons Blow Halftime Lead to Packers in 22-21 Loss

December 8th, 2013 Comments off
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gonzalez is tackled by a Packers defender.

The Atlanta Falcons blew a halftime lead to lose to the Green Bay Packers 22-21. The Falcons were up 21-10 at the midway point, but were unable to generate any offense in the second half to prevent the Packers comeback. The Falcons have three possessions in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter to retake the lead and win the game, but failed to capitalize on any of them. Atlanta’s record falls to 3-10 for the 2013 season.

Matt Ryan led the team, completing 20 of 35 passes for 206 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. His interception came on the final offensive play of the game, but had mostly been solid up to that point. Steven Jackson led rushers with 71 yards on 15 carries. Roddy White led receivers with eight catches for 74 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers and Tony Gonzalez each had three receptions for 33 and 25 yards respectively. Gonzalez had a touchdown grab for two yards. Drew Davis caught Ryan’s other touchdown on his lone reception for 36 yards. Matt Bryant missed on his only field goal attempt, a 52-yarder that fell short. Matt Bosher punted four times for an average of 44.5 yards, with two kicks being placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain returned one punt return for eight yards, while Rodgers averaged 21 yards on six kickoff returns. The Falcons started strong on third down conversions, converting four of six in the first half, but finished only converting two of seven in the second half. Atlanta netted only 285 total yards on offense, their second-lowest output of the season.

Defensively, the Falcons gave up 334 total yards, including 112 yards on the ground, marking their tenth consecutive game in which they have given up 100 or more rushing yards to an opponent. The Falcons forced two Packer turnovers, an interception and forced fumble on a sack. The interception resulted in a 71-yard touchdown return for Sean Weatherspoon. Paul Worrilow led the defense with 12 tackles, including one for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and 1 pass deflection. Robert Alford (5 tackles); Malliciah Goodman (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery); Jonathan Massaquoi (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1.5 sacks); Robert McClain (5 tackles); William Moore (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); Zeke Motta (6 tackles); Corey Peters (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack); Desmond Trufant (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); and Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass deflection) had noteworthy performances.

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Matt Bryant Hits Kick in Overtime to Beat Bills

December 1st, 2013 Comments off

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bryant kicks the game-winning 36-yard field goal in overtime

The Atlanta Falcons won their third game of the 2013 season with a 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto. The Falcons were able to stall a pair of potential game-winning drives by the Bills at the end with timely fumble recoveries, the latter of which led to a 36-yard game-winning field by Matt Bryant in overtime.

Matt Ryan led the way with 311 yards passing and a touchdown, completing 28 of 47 passes. The Falcons found success on the ground, as Steven Jackson led the team with 84 yards on 23 carries (3.7 avg) and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Antone Smith added a 38-yard touchdown on his lone carry of the day. Roddy White had a resurgent game with a team-leading 10 catches for 143 yards, exceeding his highs of the year. Harry Douglas (6 catches, 73 yards) and Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 42 yards, 1 touchdown) also made contributions to the passing game. The Falcons 423 total yards is their second-most of the season and were solid on third downs, converting 10 of 18 attempts (56-percent). They also scored touchdowns on 2 of their 3 red-zone trips.

Defensively, the Falcons got gashed for 405 total yards, including 195 on the ground. But did a decent job getting off the field on third downs (6 of 15 for the Bills) and were able to force a pair of turnovers off fumbles. Paul Worrilow led the team in tackling with 9 stops, including a tackle for loss. Robert Alford (2 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 1 fumble recovery); Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Thomas DeCoud (4 tackles); Peria Jerry (4 tackles); Jonathan Massaquoi (8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Robert McClain (5 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 1 forced fumble); William Moore (6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery); Desmond Trufant (1 tackle, 1 pass deflection); Osi Umenyiora (6 tackles); and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 pass deflection) had noteworthy games.

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Falcons Lose Close One to Saints

November 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bryant is disappointed after missing a 52-yard field goal late vs. Saints

The Atlanta Falcons showed a little signs of life, going the distance with the New Orleans Saints in a 17-13 loss. Despite now sporting a 2-9 record, the Falcons were able to hang with the rival Saints (now 9-2) and had opportunities to win the game late. It is a stark change from recent performances which have seen the Falcons get beat by at least two scores in four straight games.

Matt Ryan had an improved performance, completing 30 of 39 passes for 292 yards, but was held without a touchdown for the first time in 16 games. Steven Jackson scored the Falcons’ lone touchdown, leading the team with 16 carries for 63 yards on the ground. Harry Douglas led receivers with 9 catches for 79 yards. Darius Johnson (6 catches, 67 yards), Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 43 yards), and Jackson (3 catches, 16 yards) had notable contributions in the passing game as well. Roddy White was held in check for the most part, catching just a pair of passes for 24 yards. Matt Bryant connected on two field goals from 39 and 24 yards out, but missed a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The kicked sailed wide left, giving the Saints the ball back and a chance to seal the game with their four-point lead. Matt Bosher punted 3 times for an average of 45.3 yards, with 1 punt placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain returned one punt for 10 yards. The Falcons third down offense improved this week, as they were able to convert on half of their 12 attempts. They were also able to score touchdowns on one of two red zone trips.

Defensively, the Falcons held the Saints to their second-lowest scoring output of the season. They gave up 374 total yards, including 103 on the ground. They were unable to provide adequate pressure, totaling only a single sack on Drew Brees, and struggled to get off the field on third downs. The Saints were successful at converting 54-percent of their 13 third down attempts. Paul Worrilow led the team in tackles for the fourth-consecutive week, tallying 9 stops on the night. Jonathan Babineaux (4 tackles); Joplo Bartu (7 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles, 1 pass defended); Peria Jerry (3 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack); Robert McClain (5 tackles); William Moore (5 tackles); Desmond Trufant (5 tackles, 3 passes defended); and Sean Weatherspoon (4 tackles) had notable performances.

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