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Why Hiring of Mike Tice Isn’t As Bad as You May Think

January 9th, 2014 Comments off
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Tice

I’ve heard quite a bit of mixed opinion on the Atlanta Falcons decision to hire Mike Tice as their new offensive line coach and I believe most of the negativity towards Tice is undeserved.

Much of the negativity stems from Tice’s recent stint as position coach of an abysmal Chicago Bears offensive line from 2010-11. That is understandable. Over the course of those two seasons, the Bears certainly were well-deserved of the reputation of the league’s worst offensive line. They gave up the most sacks in those two seasons, topping out at 105 combined sacks allowed.

But I don’t think it’s quite fair to attribute that solely on Tice. I think most of that lack of success in Chicago can be directly attributed to then offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

My point here isn’t to say that Tice isn’t blameless in the struggles of the Bears offensive line, but there is compelling evidence that suggests the Bears struggles to protect Jay Cutler over those two seasons had more to do with Martz than Tice’s inability to teach.

That evidence is that leading the NFL in sacks allowed was a regular achievement of Martz-coordinated offenses. Here are the numbers:

Mike Martz Offenses (Sacks Allowed)

Shows the number of sacks allowed by teams when they were coordinated by Martz (on left) and the number of sacks allowed by team after Martz's departure from team (on right), with combined league rankings over the course of those years.
Year(s)
Team
Sacks
Per Yr.
Rank
Year(s)
Sacks
Per Yr.
Rank
2000-05Rams26944.8292006-1127545.830
2006-07Lions11758.5322008-099547.531
200849ers5555.03220094040.022
2010-11Bears10552.5322012-137437.013

Read more…

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Falcons Hire Mike Tice to Coach OL

January 8th, 2014 Comments off
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Tice

This morning the Atlanta Falcons confirmed what was first rumored by ESPN’s Vaughn McClure and reported by Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post last night, that the team has hired Mike Tice to coach their offensive line. Tice is known for his emphasis on toughness, likely meeting the desires expressed by Falcons owner Arthur Blank earlier this week about adding that element back to the team.

Tice was out of football this past year after spending several seasons coaching the offensive line of the Chicago Bears. His last year there in 2012, he served as the team’s offensive coordinator. That year, he was able to maintain the Bears success running the football, as they posted a top 10 ranking in rushing yards, similar to what they did the year prior. Before being named offensive coordinator, Tice spent two seasons coaching the Bears offensive line. No NFL team gave up more sacks in those two seasons than the Bears, as the team combined for 105 sacks allowed from 2010-11. But in the year where Tice was calling the plays and had direct control over the protection schemes, that number was reduced to 44 sacks, which ranked 25th in the league.

Prior to joining the Bears, Tice worked with the Jacksonville Jaguars for four years, including two in which he was on the same staff as Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Tice first joined the Jaguars in 2006, where he served as assistant head coach and offensive assistant, before adding duties of coaching the team’s tight ends in 2007.

Tice landed in Jacksonville after four years as the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach, where he compiled a 32-32 record. His first chance to become the head coach of that team came in 2001, where he was the team’s interim head coach after the dismissal of Dennis Green. The team lost the lone game in which he coached that season. Tice was promoted to interim coach after being the team’s offensive line coach for five seasons. During that time, Tice tutored five Vikings starters that earned Pro Bowl bids, including firsts for centers Matt Birk and Jeff Christy, and tackles Todd Steussie and Korey Stringer. Tice was first hired by the Vikings in 1996 to coach their tight ends after playing three seasons with the team at that position.

Tice’s NFL career began in 1981 with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland, where he played quarterback. He played for the Seahawks until 1988, and again from 1990-91 before joining the Vikings in 1992. He sat out of football in 1994 before playing one last year with the Vikings in 1995. He also played briefly for the Washington Redskins in 1989. During the course of his NFL career, Tice played in 117 games, starting 110 of them, and caught 107 passes for 894 yards and 11 touchdowns.

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Falcons Denied Permission to Interview Vikings OL Coach

January 2nd, 2014 3 comments

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that the Atlanta Falcons were denied permission by the Minnesota Vikings to interview Jeff Davidson for the former team’s vacant offensive line coach position. The Falcons dismissed their two offensive line coaches earlier this week. Davidson has served as the Vikings offensive line coach since 2011.

Davidson is familiar to the Falcons, having served as the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers prior to his arrival in Minnesota. He served in that capacity in Carolina under head coach John Fox for four seasons (2007-10), but joined the Vikings after Fox’s dismissal in 2011. Prior to becoming the Panthers offensive coordinator, he served that role with the Cleveland Browns in 2006. He replaced Maurice Carthon midway through that season. Prior to that, he coached the Browns offensive line since 2005. Davidson’s previous experience was with the New England Patriots (1997-2004) as tight ends and offensive line coach and the New Orleans Saints (1995-96) as an offensive assistant.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 53 “Harry Douglas Ruins Dreams”

December 31st, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by another Falcoholic contributor, the ever-optimistic Jeanna Thomas, to discuss the Atlanta Falcons last two games of the year against the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers in Weeks 16 and 17. Topics we hit include the battle between Steven Jackson and Donte Whitner, the problems that plague the offensive line, the refusal to play Antone Smith, and the outlook of some young players: Peter Konz, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford. We also discuss how injury will affect the future of Corey Peters, as well as the possibility that the team’s good intentions sabotaged Tony Gonzalez’s final game. We end the show discussing some of the things we saw around the league in Week 17, as I gloat over Allen about the Eagles win over the Cowboys. We each give our predictions about which teams could emerge in the first round of the playoffs to make a legit run at the Super Bowl in February.

Episode53-Harry Douglas Ruins Dreams [Download]
Duration: 1 hour, 31 minutes

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

Jeanna writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @jeannathomas.

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

Falcons Dismiss Three Assistant Line Coaches

December 31st, 2013 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced yesterday that three assistant coaches will not return in 2014: offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn, and defensive line coach Ray Hamilton.

Hill was hired by the team in 2012 after the team dismissed offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Prior to his arrival in Atlanta, Hill was last an offensive line coach when he served as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Between 1997-2011, he was a successful head coach at Fresno State, where he compiled a 112-80 record with 11 bowl appearances.

Dunn was hired by the team in 2008 as an assistant offensive line coach, and promoted to share duties with Hill in 2012 after the Boudreau’s departure. Before his hiring in Atlanta, Dunn served as an assistant coach for 15 years on the college ranks.

Hamilton was also a 2008 hire, brought over by Smith from Jacksonville where he served five years as the defensive line coach of the Jaguars. Hamilton, a former NFL player that played nine seasons as a nose tackle with the New England Patriots from 1973-81, followed up his playing career in 1985 as an assistant coach with the Patriots. He spent the remaining years mostly as a defensive line coach with multiple teams having coached a number of top defensive linemen over the years including John Abraham, Hugh Douglas, Shaun Ellis, John Henderson, Howie Long, Willie McGinest, Eric Swann, and Greg Townsend.

The Falcons are expected to hire their replacements in the coming weeks.

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Mike Nolan to Return to Falcons With Extension

December 30th, 2013 Comments off

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Nolan

Last night, FOX Sports Insider Jay Glazer reported that Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s contract would be extended, indicating that he would return to the Falcons for at least one more season. This morning, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reported that Nolan’s extension is for two more years per his agent. Nolan’s contract was set to expire after the 2013 season.

Nolan is a well-respected defensive mind coming off his second season serving as the defensive coordinator of the Falcons. However, he has yet to achieve great success here in Atlanta. The Falcons defense finished 27th in both total and scoring defense in 2013. That follows a year in which the team managed to finish fifth in scoring defense based off points allowed, but 24th in total defense based off yards allowed. The Falcons have struggled to stop the run under Nolan, ranking 31st this past year in rushing yards allowed, after a 2012 season that saw the team ranked 24th.

Respect for Nolan stems from his stints prior to his arrival in Atlanta. The last time he coached a defense that finished in the top 10 in both scoring and total defense was in 2004 when he was the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. He was able to catapult that success to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005. There, he compiled an 18-37 record over four seasons thanks in part to defenses that were typically ranked near the bottom of league. In 2009, he became the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, helping that team rank seventh and 12th in total and scoring defense, respectively. In 2010, he joined the Miami Dolphins staff as defensive coordinator where they finished in the top 15 in both categories in each season. Prior to his promotion to the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2002, Nolan had served as a defensive coordinator with three teams over eight seasons: New York Jets (2000), Washington Redskins (1997-99), and New York Giants (1993-96).

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Boise State Finds Coach and It’s Not Dirk Koetter

December 11th, 2013 Comments off

Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports tweets that Boise State University is expected to hire Bryan Harsin as it’s next head coach. Harsin was a candidate for the vacant position, alongside current Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Both Harsin and Koetter interviewed for the position this past Monday, and reports surfaced that talks between Koetter and the school were heating up after he conducted a second interview with officials on Tuesday.

Harsin is a former assistant with Boise State, who served as their offensive coordinator from 2006-10, before joining the staff at the University of Texas where he shared play-calling duties with Major Applewhite for two seasons. He then was hired last year to become the head coach at Arkansas State, posting a 7-5 record as that team is set to play Ball State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in January.

Koetter was formerly the head coach at Boise State for three seasons, posting a 26-10 record from 1998-00. He then became the head coach at Arizona State, where he compiled a 40-34 record before joining the ranks of NFL assistant coaches when he accepted the offensive coordinator position with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007. He served in that role for five seasons before being hired by the Falcons in 2012.

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Koetter to Interview for Boise State Job

December 9th, 2013 Comments off

Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman reports that Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will be interviewed by Boise State University officials today for that school’s vacant head coaching position. The job came open this past week, when long-time Boise State head coach Chris Petersen accepted the head coaching position at the University of Washington. Per Cripe, Koetter’s interview will be conducted via phone due to travel issues as the Falcons prep for their upcoming matchup against the Washington Redskins this week.

Koetter previously was the head coach at Boise State, and can be credited with starting the success that the school’s football program has seen over the past sixteen seasons with a 171-33 record and a 12 consecutive bowl appearances. Koetter’s Bronco teams went 26-10 over three seasons (1998-00) before landing the head coaching position at Arizona State in 2001. There he compiled a 40-34 record over six seasons before joining the Jacksonville Jaguars as offensive coordinator in 2007. He became the Falcons offensive coordinator in 2012 and saw immediate success in Atlanta. However, this year he has faced much scrutiny over the team’s offensive struggles.

Koetter was a candidate for multiple vacant head coaching jobs last season thanks to his initial success with the Falcons.

Cripe suggests that Boise State will move quickly to replace Petersen, suggesting that we will know quickly whether Koetter will remain the Falcons offensive coordinator or move on.

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Takeaways from Week 12

November 25th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff Will Face Greater Scrutiny in 2014

Last week, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank gave head coach Mike Smith a vote of confidence. That was followed up on Thursday, with further elaboration that Blank fully intends to bring Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff back for 2014. Then later on Thursday, the Falcons played their best game since Week 7.

Maybe, Blank should have backed Smith a month ago.

Blank indicated in Silver’s report that regardless of how the Falcons finish this year, the Terrible Twosome in Smith and Dimitroff will be back. I guess that nips my belief that if the Falcons were to finish 2-14 or 3-13 that Smith would be fired. Although never say never. The Falcons could revert back to getting blown out for the final five games, and I think Blank would have to strongly consider making a change.

But truth be told, I don’t want the Falcons to blow things up. Or at least, I don’t want to feel like the Falcons have to blow things up.

What is most concerning about Blank’s comments is that it may lead to this team not making major changes to their “process.”

For the most part over the years, I have backed the so-called “process.” But the problem with the Falcons process is that it represents very little progress.

Complacency, more so than Injuries are Falcons Downfall

The story of this season will center on injuries and complacency. This team has obviously suffered a number of injuries which have limited their ability to field a competitive team. My personal opinion is that the amount of injuries doesn’t explain how uncompetitive this team has been since the bye week, but I’m sure that is going to be what the Falcons chalk their struggles up to this off-season.

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Takeaways from Week 11

November 18th, 2013 2 comments
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Blank

I said last week that an Atlanta Falcons loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the rock-bottom point of this dismal 2013 season. But perhaps I will be wrong as it may in fact be this week’s upcoming matchup against the New Orleans Saints. If the Falcons get eviscerated in a primetime game by a hated rival, that would be the lowest point of the year for many folks.

I don’t consider myself among them. The Falcons have been blown out by the Saints even in years that they were pretty good, just look at the 45-17 loss in 2011. I fully expect the Saints to crush the Falcons this week in the Georgia Dome, and I feel a great amount of sympathy for Falcon fans that will be on-hand to watch it.

For me, Sunday’ loss to the Bucs was the worst. The margin of victory was not accurately reflected in the 41-28 final score. The Bucs held a 32-point lead with two minutes left in the third quarter, and only thanks to them basically shutting it down for the final quarter and the Falcons finally showing a bit of pride did they shrink that margin to 13 points.

The Falcons offense continues to struggle with their very conservative game plan and play-calling. They are suddenly trying to be a run-first team because they’ve become abundantly aware of the fact that their passing attack stinks, for lack of a better term. But they really only have themselves to blame for that, because as I’ve pointed out numerous times, they opted to sign Brian Robiskie rather than making a “bold” move for a real NFL receiver six weeks ago.

And now the Falcons have resorted to trying to run behind one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. It’s the playoff loss to the New York Giants extrapolated over four games rather than just four quarters. The Falcons offense was shut out in that game because they built their offensive game plan around running with a declining Michael Turner behind a subpar offensive line. But at this point, the Falcons wish their offensive line was as good as that 2011 unit.

Offensive Line or Wide Receiver Biggest Miscalculation?

That’s evidenced by the ability to convert in short-yardage situations. In 2011, there were 62 times where the Falcons ran the ball with 2 yards to go, and they were able to convert for a first down or touchdown on 47 of them, which is 75.8-percent. You could even discount the first 10 games of the season when Turner was actually good, before he seemed to hit a wall down the stretch and see a much better run-blocking unit. In the final 6 games of the regular season, the Falcons were still able to convert 15 of 19 of those short-yardage situations, still 78.9-percent. Compare that to the entirety of this year, where the Falcons have converted on 11 of 21 short-yardage situations, which is 52.4-percent.

But in truth, I don’t believe the Falcons offensive line is significantly worse than the unit from a year ago. In 2012, the Falcons converted on 29 of 48 short-yardage situations (60.4-percent). But obviously, the offense as a whole is significantly worse from last year. And it stems mostly from the fact that the “Big Four” in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez have seen a sharp decline in their production this year.

I expected there to be a drop-off in their production this year, as last season was a ridiculously good one from those guys. But I did not expect the drop-off to be as significant as it has been this year. And that is the  real issue with this year’s downturn. The Falcons have proven that they can get by with their subpar offensive line play, if they are getting premium production from their passing attack. And while I’ve discussed this teams miscalculations in regards to their offensive line changes over the years, what really has been the major miscalculation was the belief that the Falcons passing attack wouldn’t fall off a sheer cliff.

I’ve been saying for some time that the Falcons needed to upgrade their depth at wide receiver. And I’ll continually pound the table to suggest that the team’s failure to do so in the off-season and following Jones’ injury is a key reason for this team’s downfall. But even with that said, I never would have expected the Falcons offense to perform so poorly as it has without such a move. They still should be better than what they’ve been as of late this year.

And this is where the subject I really want to discuss this week comes into play: coaching.

Dirk Koetter may be Mike Smith’s Downfall

I won’t say that Mike Smith has no chance of saving his job, but I do think that following the loss to Tampa Bay, the chance that Smith is patrolling the sidelines in 2014 for the Falcons shrinks to under 10-percent. I won’t rehash too many of the reasons why I believe Smith’s time in Atlanta is nearing its end, as I discuss many of them in last week’s column and also in my article yesterday for the Bleacher Report.

But the main points are that, as I mentioned above, the Falcons have hit rock-bottom and haven’t been this bad a football team since the lowest point of 2007. That was a season which was arguably the lowest point of this team’s long history of mediocrity and certainly the lowest of Arthur Blank’s time as team owner. And it’s those reminiscent feelings that I think will prompt Blank to move on from Smith at the end of this year. You can’t be as bad a football team as the Falcons have been over the past four weeks and expect the head coach to keep his job, especially given the expectations that surrounded the Falcons going into this year, and will continue in 2014.

And if Smith does get fired, he may be ultimately taking the fall for Dirk Koetter. The fact that this team has Matt Ryan at quarterback, Tony Gonzalez at tight end, and a competent albeit unspectacular Harry Douglas at wide receiver means that the offense should be better than it currently is. I don’t expect greatness, but they should be better than this.

In reviewing the All-22, I’m not seeing a lot of things that I think could help improve the offense. The Falcons aren’t running enough play-action, nor are they taking any measured shots down the field. Last year, they often utilized max protect to offset the weakness of the pass protection to get those big plays downfield. I don’t see much of that nor enough of the “Four Verticals” that the Koetter offense is supposed to be predicated off.

There were unconfirmed rumors that following the 2006 season, one of the reasons why Jim Mora was dismissed was because he was unwilling to throw offensive coordinator Greg Knapp under the bus by firing him. I don’t know if that is true, but it would not surprise me that if Mike Smith is allowed to keep his job next year, it will be dependent on his willingness to cut Koetter loose.

And I’m not sure going with a familiar face like Bill Musgrave is going to cut it to replace Koetter. One of the reasons why I’m open to the Jon Gruden rumors, is because I’m confident that if Gruden was the head coach, it would result in a sharp improvement from the offense. The last time Gruden had a quarterback of Ryan’s caliber, it was Rich Gannon, and relative to his era, Gannon was arguably better than Ryan is to his.

Gruden Could Have Greater Success in Atlanta than Tampa Bay

A big reason why Gruden failed in Tampa Bay was instability at the quarterback position, but that wouldn’t be a problem here in Atlanta with him and Ryan working together for the long haul.

The big question surrounding Gruden is how much personnel power he is seeking. He had a significant amount in Tampa Bay once Rich McKay left at the end of 2003. One would hope that Gruden would be aware of the notion that Atlanta would present a unique opportunity for him. If you’re a high-profile coach like Gruden, Brian Billick, or Bill Cowher, you want significant pull if you’re going to depart your cushy broadcasting job to patrol the NFL sidelines again. But you also want a good quarterback as well since all of those coaches have shown that winning is much easier when you have one. And I don’t think you’re going to find many opportunities that have both a good quarterback and an organization also willing to defer personnel power. And while his respect within the Falcons fan base has diminished considerably, I do think Thomas Dimitroff is well-respected enough around the league that somebody like Gruden should be willing to work alongside him.

Whether the feeling is mutual remains to be seen. But it’ll be interesting because I suspect the situation that may arise in Atlanta in 2014 may be similar to the situation that McKay was fleeing in Tampa Bay, where ownership forced a coach on the GM, and the latter ultimately lost the power battle. And one wonders in all these years that Blank and McKay have worked beside one another and had the latter whispering in the ear of the former, whether or not Blank is averse to that scenario.

But there’s still a chance that Mike Smith salvages his job. But it will stem from this Falcon team playing much better than it has over the past month. But at this point, I just don’t see it happening. After a certain point, it’s going to be too little, too late. For me, I think we’ve already reached that point.

Elsewhere in the NFL…

Not much I want to take away from this past week, besides the fact that four notable undrafted free agents and late round picks really shined this weekend. Two of them were rookies with the Oakland Raiders this past summer. The other faced the Falcons on Sunday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Antone Smith

Quarterback Matt McGloin came into Raiders camp as a fourth arm, as the Raiders appeared poised to go with Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor, and fourth round pick Tyler Wilson as their three quarterbacks. But the undrafted passer out of Penn State managed to quickly pass Wilson on the depth chart. And with Pryor’s unseating of Flynn, McGloin entered the season as the No. 2 for the Raiders.

I thought McGloin looked good in the preseason, but was not expecting him to have much success against the tough Houston Texans defense on Sunday. But he managed the game competently as he completed 18 of 32 passes for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns. It is enough to spark a potential quarterback controversy between him and Terrelle Pryor, who has struggled mightily over the past month.

The other Raider player was defensive end David Bass, who is now with the Chicago Bears. Bass was drafted in the seventh round by the Raiders out of Missouri Western State. He too popped during the preseason for the Raiders, but was cut and claimed by the Bears. He started last week for the Bears due to the injury to Shea McClellin, but this week against the Baltimore Ravens he got a pick-six which was pivotal for the Bears win. It occurred in the second quarter, and without those additional points, the Bears are unlikely to beat the Ravens in overtime. Bass is one of those late-round developmental ends that the Falcons have been so found of, but has enough quickness, burst, and athleticism to suggest he might develop into a capable rotational pass rusher down the road.

The other player is Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey. I was disappointed the Falcons didn’t claim Rainey back when the Cleveland Browns waived him last month.

The Bucs picked him up and it paid off with a 163-yard effort against the Falcons, following a 45-yard effort against the Miami Dolphins a week ago in the final three quarters once Mike James went down with an injury. Rainey is a player that first came upon my radar prior to the 2012 draft as a smaller, but skilled back at Western Kentucky. He went undrafted and was picked up by the Ravens, and continued to impress me on the handful of preseason games I saw of him. He began that year on Baltimore’s practice squad, but was promoted for a few weeks before a knee injury cost him the rest of his 2012 season. This summer the Ravens cut him, which drew the ire of Ravens fans everywhere.

The Browns picked him up, and while his production was subpar in six games (13 carries for 34 yards, 2.6 avg), I noticed when I was doing my homework on Josh Gordon, that Rainey still ran with the burst and quickness that I recalled seeing the year before. It reminded me a lot of Jacquizz Rodgers, thanks to their shared short, squat builds. And I had the feeling that if the Falcons picked up Rainey, they could potentially groom him into a better replacement for Jason Snelling than Josh Vaughan could be.

But the Bucs snatched him up, and it paid off for them on Sunday. Obviously, the Bucs had waiver priority due to their worse record back on October 22 when Rainey was cut. So maybe the Falcons did try to claim him, but couldn’t.

But my sadness over not getting Rainey was somewhat abated by the play of Antone Smith on Sunday. If Sunday’s game didn’t cement the thought that the Falcons need to have a screen package for Smith every week on offense, then I don’t know what will.