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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.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 47 “I Hate Brian Robiskie”

November 14th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are more depressed than ever with the Atlanta Falcons. In this week’s episode, we briefly discuss the few positives we saw in the Falcons Week 10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but focus mainly on the negative, as we conclude that the Falcons are practically unwatchable. We go into detail about the offensive line and some of the potential roster changes that could be upcoming there. We discuss Sam Baker’s horrible contract, whether Peter Konz should be benched, and the status of Thomas DeCoud and Steven Jackson in 2014. We also talk up Paul Worrilow and how he should be the new starting middle linebacker. Aaron rants about the conservative nature of the offense, coaches on the hot seat, and whether the rumor surrounding Jon Gruden is something to get excited about. Then we go into our thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and what things you can expect to see in the Falcons Week 11 matchup. Then we look ahead briefly to the New Orleans Saints in Week 12, gripe about our fantasy football teams, and talk playoffs in our weekly “Around the League” segment.

Ep. 47: I Hate Brian Robiskie [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 23 minutes

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

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

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 46 “It’s Just a Numbers Game”

November 5th, 2013 Comments off

This week, Allen and I are joined by the Falcoholic himself, Dave Choate, to discuss the current state of the Atlanta Falcons. Now at the midpoint of the 2013 season, we discuss in-depth the issues facing this team for the remainder of this season and the following years. We discuss the things they liked and disliked in the Falcons Week 9 loss to the Carolina Panthers, and also preview the upcoming matchup in Week 10 versus the Seattle Seahawks. We talk about Matt Ryan’s struggles and whether he is as good as advertised; Roddy White’s beef with Richard Sherman; the play of young linebackers like Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow and the bright futures ahead of them; the young cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and how their progress is a sign that the team’s drafting may not be as bad as previously thought; and what sort of changes Arthur Blank may wind up instituting at the end of this season in both the front office, coaching staff, and roster; We look ahead some of the potential veterans that could find themselves playing in other uniforms in 2014; and Allen and I finish by looking at several of the issues around the league including Richie Incognito, Andrew Luck, and the overrated Kansas City Chiefs.

Ep. 46: It’s Just a Numbers Game [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 21 minutes

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

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

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

Robiskie gets a promotion

June 2nd, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced that wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie will be adding assistant head coach to his current title.

Robiskie was among the first hires by Mike Smith back in 2008. Prior to joining the Falcons, Robiskie had spent roughly three decades patrolling NFL sidelines, getting his first gig as an assistant special teams coach in 1982 with the then Los Angeles Raiders. That came on the heels of a five-year playing career with the Raiders and Miami Dolphins as a running back and fullback.

Robiskie has spent time both as an offensive coordinator, most recently with the Cleveland Browns in 2004. He also served as an interim head coach twice in his career, compiling a 2-6 record. His first stint came in 2000 with the Washington Redskins after the dismissal of Norv Turner, which was followed up in Cleveland after Butch Davis was axed in 2004.

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Falcons make changes to athletic performance staff

February 1st, 2013 Comments off

Last week, it was reported that the Falcons would not retain strength and conditioning coach Jeff Fish due to “philosophical differences.” At that time, it was reported that A.J. Niebel would be replacing him in the role. Well, earlier this week the team made that move official. They also announced that Marty Lauzon would be promoted to the role of director of sports medicine and performance, another move that was reported last week, after spending the past three years as the team’s head athletic trainer.

Niebel joined the Falcons in 2011 as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. He served under Fish, who was hired in 2008. Prior to working with the Falcons, most of Niebel’s NFL experience came working as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders for six years (2003-09). During that time he also served as a consultant for the San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball and their Class A club in San Jose.

Lauzon began his pro football career working as an intern with the Montreal Machine of the World League in 1992 before joining the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League the following year. He joined the Cleveland Browns in 1999, and would then be promoted to head athletic trainer for his final four years there before resigning in 2009. He was hired in 2010 by the Falcons to replace long-time Falcons trainer Ron Medlin.

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Takeaways from Wildcard Weekend

January 7th, 2013 Comments off
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton will face a lot more scrutiny in 2013.

It was an interesting wildcard weekend. For my picks, I went 2-2 against the spread and 3-1 straight up. Had Andy Dalton and Cincinnati been able to move the ball early on against Houston, and at least gotten a field goal on one of their early drives, I could have gone 3-1 against the spread. But alas, Andy Dalton proved to be Andy Dalton.

The Bengals didn’t even move the ball past Houston’s 45-yard line until midway in the third quarter. The big question that arises in Cincinnati after their loss to the Texans is whether or not Andy Dalton is really their franchise QB. What appears to be happening in Cincinnati is the classic case where people are more focused on wins than they are production. Despite the Bengals record under Dalton, he has showcased himself to be nothing more than a below average to average quarterback.

Dalton is still young and has a lot of development to do. I don’t want to sound like I’m writing him off after his second season. The Chargers basically did that with Drew Brees, and look how that turned out. But the thing that is worrisome about young quarterbacks is not whether they are missing throws, it’s missing reads and making bad decisions that is concerning. You can’t have a guy that is afraid or unwilling to pull the trigger. And you cannot have a guy that is not seeing the field. Dalton is now in his second year in Jay Gruden’s offense, and the Bengals should not be forced to manage him as much as they have this year. That’s not a good sign going forward.

It doesn’t mean that they need to not give Dalton another year to showcase his skills, but they need to start thinking about a contingency plan in case Dalton doesn’t show the strides in 2013 that they hope to see. The problem is that you don’t want to find yourself down the same path that the New York Jets went down. The Jets under Mark Sanchez were 19-12 during the regular season in his first two seasons, and 4-2 in the playoffs. The Bengals are 18-13 with Dalton and 0-2 in the playoffs. With Sanchez, the Jets won despite him. There are similarities with the Bengals. They have a very good defense and one of the top defensive coordinators in the league in Mike Zimmer. Their offense is also predicated on the ground game, although not quite to the degree of the 2009 and 2010 Jets (who ranked 1st and 2nd, respectively in rush attempts in those years). They have one of the league’s best offensive lines, and they have one dynamic weapon on the outside in A.J. Green.

They don’t need to do anything dramatic this off-season. But I think a contingency plan that involves having another young, talented QB on the roster waiting in the wings makes a lot of sense. You don’t want to go into 2013 with just Bruce Gradkowski and Zac Robinson as your backup quarterbacks. If they can find a Nick Foles type in the third or fourth round, I think Cincinnati should jump all over that.

A lot of the talk also today has been about whether the Redskins should have pulled RG3 from that game. I don’t get it. Maybe, I wasn’t watching the same game that everyone else was watching. But I don’t understand how people can say that the franchise quarterback that had practically single-handedly carried that team to a seven-game winning streak and into the playoffs, one of the few times in league history where a 3-6 team managed to make the playoffs, should be pulled from the game because his knee is hurt. His knee looked messed up the week before against Dallas, but they still won the game.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 23 “2012 Year in Review”

January 4th, 2013 Comments off

I am joined once again by my friend Allen Strk to recap the Falcons 2012 season. We give our thoughts on a plethora of Falcon players and our favorite moments from the season. We discuss the health of players like John Abraham, William Moore, and whether Mike Smith made the right call playing the starters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But quickly our attention turns to the Falcons upcoming playoff matchups, each giving our opinions on the different scenarios the team could see in the second round. We each give our insights on the Redskins, Vikings, Seahawks, 49ers, and Packers as potential obstacles to the Falcons potential journey to the Super Bowl. Eventually we wind up giving our picks for who will make it to the Super Bowl, as well as our thoughts on the many coaching vacancies around the league.

Ep. 23: 2012 Year in Review [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

 

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

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Koetter signs extension to stay in Atlanta

January 2nd, 2013 Comments off

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that following an interview for the head coaching position of the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter signed an extension that will keep him off the head coaching market for at least one more season.

Koetter joined the Falcons this past January after former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey accepted the head coaching position with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Under Koetter’s guidance, the Falcons had one of the top-rated passing attack, finishing 6th in passing yards. They also finished the 2012 season as the 7th-ranked scoring offense, and 8th-ranked total offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan set new career highs in all major passing categories, setting new franchise records in terms of attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns.

Koetter, along with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong have drawn a lot of interest from teams that have fired coaches. Seven NFL coaches were fired on Monday. Koetter was set to interview with the Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, and Philadelphia Eagles this week. Both Nolan and Armstrong are candidates with the Eagles. Armstrong is also set to interview with the Chiefs and Chicago Bears, according to earlier reports.

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Armstrong to interview in KC and Chicago

December 31st, 2012 Comments off

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports tweets that Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong is set to interview for head coaching vacancies with the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears. Armstrong joined the Falcons in 2008 after seven seasons coaching the special teams of the Miami Dolphins. He also coached with the Bears for four years (1997-00) prior to his stint with the Dolphins.

Football Outsiders rates special teams play with their DVOA metric. Twice since joining the Falcons (2008 and 2010) Armstrong’s special teams units were graded among the Top 10. This past year, they finished 13th.

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