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Team Needs: Falcons Need Upgrade of Size and Speed at Wide Receiver

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas

The Atlanta Falcons offense was limited in 2013 due to major injuries suffered at the wide receiver position. The Falcons two most prominent weapons in Julio Jones and Roddy White essentially played five games each this year. Jones played in the first five games before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. And White was nursing various injuries throughout the year and didn’t appear close to healthy until the final games of the year. That left the team without a true No. 1 weapon for the middle third of the year.

Harry Douglas did his best to try and fill those shoes, but it became abundantly clear throughout the 2013 season that the task was far too much for the six-year veteran. Douglas was able to put up very good production this past year, catching career-highs of 85 catches, 1,067 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading the team in the two former categories. However, a lot of Douglas’ production came at points in games where the outcome was already decided, resulting in “hollow” production. Dropped passes, inconsistency and turnovers seem to follow Douglas throughout the season. Roughly half (eight) of Matt Ryan’s 17 interceptions were initially targeted at Harry Douglas.

Douglas will likely return to his role as the third receiver in 2014 with the healthy returns of Jones and White. But in reality, Douglas is probably better suited to being the team’s fourth receiver. Jones has missed time prior to 2013 due to injuries, and while Douglas has been a capable short-term fill-in for him, the lack of long-term value was exposed this past year. Douglas simply doesn’t do any of the things that Jones provides to the offense. Very few receivers do, but the Falcons could at least attempt to find someone that is in the same area code as Jones.

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How the Falcons Offense Matches Up against the Bucs Defense

October 19th, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas Will Need a Big Week 7

The desperate Atlanta Falcons take on the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a battle that will decide who resides in the basement of the NFC South division as the loser will reside in last place.

One of the bright spots for the Bucs this season has been their defense, which has played well despite their inability to win a game. The Falcons will be playing with a depleted offense this week, thanks to injuries to top wideouts in Julio Jones and Roddy White, as well as missing running back Steven Jackson for the fourth consecutive game. The Falcons are forced to dig deep in order to find a way to attack this Buccaneer defense.

How the Bucs decide to deploy their defense could really impact how the Falcons offense operates. The addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis has really enhanced a Bucs secondary that was among the worst in the league in 2012. The past two weeks Falcons opponents have opted to bracket and double Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez alongside Jones. Now with Jones out of the mix, it will mean Gonzalez will be the focus of the Falcons offense and opposing defense. The Bucs would be smart to try and have Revis shadow Gonzalez throughout the day whenever possible. But that will require the Bucs to ask to play Revis more inside. While Revis is capable, it will mean that the Bucs will have to make significant adjustments to their defense. If the Bucs choose to do that, a way the Falcons can attack him is by lining Gonzalez up as an inline tight end and trying to run directly at him. In the passing game, the Falcons can try to group their receivers in trips sets and try to create confusion in the Bucs secondary.

If not and the Bucs try a more traditional defense, it will feature a lot of using their safeties, Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, against Gonzalez. The Bucs haven’t faced many top tight ends this year besides Jimmy Graham in Week 2. Graham proceeded to catch 10 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, leading the Saints receivers. If that is the case, it’s clear that Gonzalez has the ability to exploit that matchup favorably for the Falcons offensive attack.

If Revis is shadowing Gonzalez, then it will leave the Falcons other receivers on islands against the Bucs lesser defensive backs. Starting cornerback Johnthan Banks has had his ups and downs this year as a rookie. But he could match up favorably against a receiver like Harry Douglas, who will be the de facto No. 1 receiver for the Falcons. Douglas isn’t very big, and Banks has good size to be an effective press corner. If the Bucs opt to employ Banks to try and press Douglas on the outside, then it will be hard for sixth-year wideout to get off the line of scrimmage and be effective. The Falcons could mitigate that some by putting Douglas mostly in the slot away from Banks, and against the smaller, less physical Leonard Johnson, the Bucs’ normal slot corner. If Revis is freed up from shadowing Gonzalez, then Douglas will be hard-pressed to get open against one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. The Falcons will try and find ways to feature Douglas with most of the defensive attention going towards Gonzalez. Douglas is at his best on shorter, quicker routes that are designed to get him in space and make us of his speed and explosiveness after the catch. The Falcons may try some screens with Douglas and shallow crossing patterns to try and feature this ability.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 43 “More Gangster than Gentleman”

October 17th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by friend Rashad James to discuss the Falcons upcoming Week 7 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as discuss the many issues that plague the Falcons in 2013. In our preview of the Bucs game, I give my insights to what I saw from the Bucs in their Week 6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and how things could play out on both sides of the ball. We then discuss: 1) Which young receivers can step up in light of Julio Jones injury. 2) Whether the rest of the 2013 season rests on the shoulders of Matt Ryan 3) Whether Levine Toilolo is going to be a key asset for the Falcons offense moving forward 4) What is the Falcons identity? 5) Do the Falcons need to reshuffle their offensive line? 6) Should fans be throwing in the towel at this point? 7) A referendum on Thomas Dimitroff’s job so far as the team’s GM 8) Whether the Falcons need to make a trade for a wideout. We end things as usual recapping some of their observations from other teams around the league, including our joy over the New Orleans Saints’ devastating loss to the New England Patriots.

Ep. 43: More Gangster than Gentleman [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 14 minutes

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

Rashad can be found on twitter: @SaucedUp_Boss

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. 42 “The Mayans Were Wrong”

October 12th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back and more sullen than ever as they recap the Atlanta Falcons Monday Night Football loss to the New York Jets. Things we discuss: How the Falcons defense made Geno Smith look extremely poised; The offensive line’s struggles and problems that will likely continue the rest of the season; Matt Ryan and Jacquizz Rodgers being two of few bright spots on offense; Concerns over the defense and special teams; Whether Levine Toilolo is the only hope among the Falcons non-star receivers; Whether Robert McClain has played well enough to keep his job; Red Zone Efficiency; I apologize to Osi Umenyiora… Finally we discuss the impact of Julio Jones’ injury and whether trading for a player such as Josh Gordon would be a good move; Trading Tony; How the Falcons can turn their season around; Corey Peters and whether he’s earned a new contract; What happened to Stephen Nicholas?; and finish up with some around the league stuff, where I find a way to call out Drew Davis.

Ep. 42: The Mayans Were Wrong [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 3 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

Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

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Three Key Position Battles to Watch Tonight vs. Jaguars

August 29th, 2013 Comments off

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson is poised to make a bid for the roster tonight

While the majority of the Falcons roster is fairly settled, there remain some roster spots open. And many of them come at a few key positions, where a clear-cut winner has yet to emerge. Here are three key position battles where the player who has the best performance tonight against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Falcons preseason finale could emerge the winner, while the loser seeks employment elsewhere.

Fifth Wide Receiver: Darius Johnson vs. Kevin Cone

The Falcons top four wideouts appear locked in with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Drew Davis atop the depth chart. The Falcons have traditionally kept five wide receivers over the years, with the fourth and fifth players primarily playing special teams.

That helps Kevin Cone, who has been effective working on punt and kickoff coverage dating back to 2012. But Cone has been disappointing thus far on offense. That’s where Darius Johnson has shined. Johnson is the opposite of Cone, in that he’s small, but very quick and explosive. He has been highly productive working with the second and third team offenses. While Cone has made some contributions there, they have been too few and far between. While Cone’s hands have shown improvement from a year ago, he has struggled to separate from coverage.

Johnson did get reps as a return man during his days at SMU, and his speed and quickness could potentially be an asset there in the event that Harry Douglas or Jacquizz Rodgers go down with injuries. But his smaller size remains an obstacle when it comes to coverage on special teams. It didn’t stop a player like Eric Weems from excelling over the years in Atlanta in that realm, but Johnson is a ways from proving himself to be another Weems.

How this final game plays out will determine who wins the job. Cone’s a much more proven commodity as far as special teams goes, while Johnson seems to possess greater offensive potential. The Falcons will ultimately have to decide which they value more. But in both players’ cases, it will help if Cone has a good night on offense, and/or Johnson can make a few plays on special teams. What helps Cone in his bid for a roster spot is that he isn’t eligible for the practice squad, while Johnson is. The Falcons would then have to decide whether they want to risk exposing Johnson to waivers. It would be iffy at best if Johnson cleared them, considering he is currently ranked tied for third in the league in receptions going into the final preseason game. That is likely to catch some receiver-needy team looking for a quick, slot-type to develop.

Another factor that could be in play might be the questionable health of Roddy White. While White is expected to suit up for the Falcons Week 1, if there are any setbacks with his recovery from an ankle injury between now and then, the Falcons could be tempted to carry six receivers on the roster for the opening week as insurance. That could ensure that both players wind up being kept.

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Camp Battles 2013: Wide Receiver

July 14th, 2013 Comments off
 Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Is 2013 the year Kevin Cone finally emerges?

Like many of the Falcons offensive starting positions, they are locked in at the wide receiver position. Thomas Dimitroff envisioned the possibility of having a No. 1 and No. 1-A receiver when he moved up in the 2011 draft to add Julio Jones to a receiver corps that already had Roddy White. It seems that vision will come true in 2013, as it’s hard to figure which player will be the preferred weapon of Ryan in the regular season. Based off last year, technically the honor of being the top option will probably fall on Jones. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones saw a pass from Ryan once every 4.56 snaps where he ran a route. White on the other hand was slightly less used with a target for ever 4.70 snaps. That gap could widen as the Falcons look to better take advantage of Jones’ elite physical tools.

Behind both starters is Harry Douglas, who in this day and age of a passing league is also technically a starter. Douglas appeared in 58.8% of the Falcons offensive snaps last year (per Pro Football Focus) and will once again resume his duties in the slot. But the Falcons managed to mix Roddy White more in the slot last year, and might continue to expand his role there.

Most of the competition will come in camp at the position behind Douglas at the No. 4 wideout spot. That role primarily will be used on special teams rather than offense. Drew Davis is the incumbent there. Outside some of the Falcons blowouts and games in which Julio Jones was injured, he saw little more than two dozen snaps on offense last year. Davis managed to make the most of what few opportunities he did have, showing good speed and quickness to catch 4 passes and a touchdown last year. Davis flashed good ability as a cover guy on special teams, but was inconsistent at times. The key for him to maintain his current position on the depth chart is to make strides both on offense and special teams. Offensively, refining his route-running should help.

But in reality the competition for the fourth wide receiver spot is fairly wide open. Kevin Cone spent last year as the team’s fifth wideout. Cone had a bit of a disappointing preseason last summer. Among the potential candidates, he may possess the best physical tools due to his size and speed combination. But his hands were inconsistent and he hasn’t quite refined his route-running to a high level. Coming out of an option offense at Georgia Tech in 2011 explains his slow progress somewhat, but 2013 needs to be the year that he puts it all together.

Tim Toone was a late summer addition last year that showcased some ability as a punt returner and speed on offense. He finished the year with the team, although he did not suit up for game. Toone’s best avenue to making the roster will be showing he can be a contributor on special teams, most likely as a punt returner.

Also competing for a shot at the return gig is James Rodgers, the older brother of Jacquizz. Rodgers spent the year on the practice squad. He had a solid summer last year, coming fairly close to locking down one of the return spots. He’s an undersized offensive player, but if he can regain the explosiveness he lost due to an ACL tear in 2010, it should aid him greatly.

Marcus Jackson may be the most polished receiver of the group of last year’s practice squad players. Jackson was able to showcase solid hands last summer and an ability to get open, a necessary trait to be a productive NFL receiver. But the key for him will be to not only continue to make strides offensively, but also show he offers value on special teams. Otherwise, he’s looking at another year on the practice squad.

The Falcons also have three undrafted rookies in the mix in Darius Johnson, Rashad Evans, and Martel Moore. Johnson and Evans are helped by the fact that they have return experience while at SMU and Fresno State, respectively. They will hope to do what Rodgers couldn’t last summer and steal one of those jobs. Both are undersized but possess speed that could be assets on special teams. Moore offers a bit more potential as a wide receiver on offense due to his superior size and capable speed. Like Jackson before him, he’ll likely be pushing for a chance to earn a practice squad spot with a good summer.

Falcons Needs: Wide Receiver

February 1st, 2013 Comments off

The quarterback, running back, and fullback positions have already been discussed, making it time to move on to the second to last of the offensive skill positions: wide receiver. It would be a tough argument to suggest that the Falcons don’t feature the league’s premier pair of wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Both players are coming off spectacular 2012 seasons and both are under contract at least through the 2014 season. So it’s conceivable that the Falcons can boast the premier duo for at least two more seasons.

But the Falcons depth at wide receiver is questionable and may need to be addressed. The team re-signed Harry Douglas last off-season to a four-year deal. While Douglas is a capable reserve that will make plays from time to time, he’s not the caliber of receiver that is a consistent option from week to week. Douglas fills his particularly niche ably, but he doesn’t really possess a skillset that extends outside the niche. That niche consists mainly of a slot receiver that does his best work on the short and intermediate routes. When Douglas is asked to go vertical or play on the outside, he essentially becomes a fairly middling option for the team. It would behoove the Falcons to find a player that is complementary to Douglas that does fit that outside/vertical mold. Such a player could allow the Falcons to make more use of either Jones or White in the slot, something that has proven effective over the past two years. And in the event of an injury to either starter it would still give the team a good explosive option downfield that will prevent the team from resorting to the dink and dunk style that has limited them in the past. Not to mention the likely departure of Tony Gonzalez also means that the Falcons may have to rely on multiple options to fill that void.

The Falcons could opt to find this player in free agency or the draft. Neither avenue seems to be a better option than the other. Free agency probably will cost a bit more, but you certainly are getting a more proven commodity that can contribute immediately. If the Falcons opt to draft someone, the value there is the potential that cheaper player can potentially develop into a starter in 2015 or beyond. Roddy White will be 33 when his contract expires at the end of 2014, and typically receivers of his caliber can produce as starters up to around age 35 or 36. So while he may still have something left in the tank, by 2015 one can expect to see diminishing returns. Thus it behooves the Falcons that if possible, they can start to groom his eventual replacement sooner rather than later. Another benefit of signing a free agent is the potential that player could challenge or surpass Douglas on the depth chart and thus represent a clear and immediate upgrade to the spot. On the other hand with a rookie, you run the risk that the player makes little to no contribution in his first year, and the possibility that he never does.

Kevin Cone, Drew Davis, and Kerry Meier all will also be in camp next summer as all three are signed through 2013. All three players have flashed ability to provide depth for the team, but not to a degree that suggests any are ready to be significant options in the Falcons passing game next year. All three players’ primary value to the Falcons is on special teams, but again due to the potential departure of Gonzalez, there is room for guys to start contributing offensively. Cone possesses a skillset that probably best fits what the Falcons might be looking for in a fourth option due to his size and vertical speed, but he has struggled with consistency and catching the ball in his short time in Atlanta. Davis possesses good quickness suggesting his potential may lie in the slot, but he is still unpolished. Meier is a big target with good hands, but has marginal speed and quickness to suggest he poses much of a threat to NFL defenses. James Rodgers, Tim Toone, and Marcus Jackson will also be in camp next year. And while they have developmental potential, the Falcons probably can’t expect to get anything more out of them that they didn’t get out of Cone, Davis, or Meier this past year.

Now, I doubt this position will be a high priority for the Falcons. They may not consider it a need at all. They certainly did not a year ago. Last year, they brought 11 receivers to training camp, and currently 9 wideouts are under contract for the team. They may just bet that between the half dozen guys not named Sharod, Harold, and Quintorris, competition will be enough to get more from this position group. Personally, I’m not sure if that’s a good bet.

Falcons place Cone on IR as Hawley returns

December 24th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced earlier today that wide receiver Kevin Cone will go on injured reserve to make room for offensive lineman Joe Hawley, who is coming off a four-game suspension. The team indicated no word on the exact nature of Cone’s injury that merits his placement on the season-ending reserve list. Although in past years it has been regular for the team to place players on injured reserve prior to the season finale. They did so a year ago with linebacker Mike Peterson and Kelvin Hayden, in 2010 with safety Shann Schillinger, and also in 2009 with Harvey Dahl and Chris Houston. Hawley returned from his suspension a week ago, but was granted a roster exemption last week allowing the Falcons to carry 54 players on their active roster.

Cone had played in 12 games this season for the Falcons primarily on special teams. Hawley had played in 6 games this season prior to his suspension, adding necessary depth at center and guard.

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Samuel questionable against Saints

November 28th, 2012 Comments off
Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Asante Samuel

The Falcons announced their weekly injury report this afternoon, earlier than normal due to the fact that they will host the New Orleans Saints tomorrow on Thursday Night Football. On the report, cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive tackle Peria Jerry were listed as questionable after sitting out all three days of practice this week. Samuel was nursing a bum shoulder, which he has been limited with in recent weeks. He re-injured the shoulder last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and missed the fourth quarter. Jerry is nursing the same quadricep injury that kept him out of last week’s game. He’s dealt with thigh and knee injuries already this year which have curtailed his reps in recent weeks. Both could get welcome rest after this week’s game, as they will receive an extra three days of rest as they will not play again until December 9. If Samuel is unable to go, then Robert McClain will likely take reps at left cornerback, while Chris Owens plays in the nickel. If Jerry does not play, then Vance Walker and Travian Robertson are likely to see an increase in reps. A week ago, both players saw season-high snaps with 49 and 16, respectively.

Also appearing on the injury report listed as probable were tackle Sam Baker (groin), wide receivers Kevin Cone (groin) and Harry Douglas (ankle), safety Charles Mitchell (calf), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (knee), tight end Michael Palmer (back), cornerback Dunta Robinson, defensive tackle Vance Walker (ribs), and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle). Besides Robinson, all of the players were limited in practice this week due to the short week. Robinson was added to the report on Tuesday, after missing practice due to an illness.

A key injury for the Saints is right tackle Zach Strief, who was listed as questionable with a groin injury. Strief was limited in practice all week after missing three games. If he does not go, then Will Robinson will be expected to start at right tackle. Robinson is the Saints fourth string right tackle, and was only signed to the roster on November 20.

Out this week for the Saints are defensive end Junior Gallette (ankle), wide receiver Courtney Roby (shoulder/ankle), tackle Charles Brown (knee), defensive tackle Tom Johnson (back), and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (concussion). Tight end David Thomas (knee) and cornerback Corey White (knee) are questionable. Cornerback Elbert Mack (concussion) is probable.