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Week 6 Preview: Falcons vs. Raiders

October 12th, 2012 Comments off

Typically these previews consist of two parts, the first detailing how the Falcons upcoming opponent could beat them, and the second consisting of what the Falcons can do to counter that. But this week, I just couldn’t really find enough material to write up how the Oakland Raiders could beat the Falcons this week.

Not to say it’s not possible, but it really is just a repeat of what I’ve said the past two weeks with the potential gameplans of the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins. The Raiders will rely on a ground attack to keep the explosive Falcons offense sidelined, and try to generate some big plays offensively, as well as create turnovers on defense and try to get a boost on special teams. Not exactly a ground-breaking formula, as it’s going to become the norm for most teams that play the Falcons this year.

But as the Panthers, Redskins, and Raiders all try to adopt the same gameplan/formula for beating the Falcons, unfortunately for the Raiders they are the weakest team of the three. And thus, it will be hardest for them to execute such a plan. See, in the cases of both Carolina and Washington, they had a couple of playmakers on either side of the ball that if things went their way they could really challenge the Falcons. And to a certain extent, things did go both teams’ ways, which is why the Falcons had to come from behind in both games to pull out the victory.

But I don’t expect the Raiders to get such luck. While Darren McFadden presents a challenge to the Falcons defense, I don’t think he presents as much as DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Alfred Morris did. The Raiders run a zone-blocking scheme similar to what the Redskins have, but they are not quite as good upfront, and McFadden has not quite gotten the hang of the Greg Knapp offense. Outside a 64-yard run against the Steelers in Week 3, McFadden is averaging 2.4 yards on his other 57 carries. That run, and another are the only gains he’s had of the year longer than 10 yards. Morris has been one of the better runners after contact in the league this year, while McFadden is more of a finesse, speed guy. I don’t expect Falcons defenders to have as much trouble getting him down as they did against Morris.

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Palmer and Smith to miss Raider game

October 12th, 2012 Comments off

Today, the Falcons announced their injury report for this weekend’s home game against the Oakland Raiders. Tight end Michael Palmer (shoulder) and running back Antone Smith (hamstring) were both declared out for the game, as neither player practiced this week. Palmer will miss his third consecutive game after suffering his shoulder injury in the first quarter of the team’s Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers. Smith missed two games due to his hamstring injury in Weeks 3 and 4, but returned to practice last week and suited up for the Week 5 matchup against the Redskins. But he reaggravated the injury and will also miss his third game of the 2012 season due to injury.

Also on the injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (ankle) as questionable. Babineaux was limited in all practices this week. Nicholas was limited in Thursday and Friday practices after missing Wednesday. Nicholas suffered his injury late against the Redskins last weekend. He was replaced by Mike Peterson in the lineup. However middle linebacker Akeem Dent took over his role in the team’s nickel defense. If Babineaux does not suit up or has his role reduced, it will likely result in Vance Walker getting a start and/or Travian Robertson seeing increased reps. Robertson has been active for every game thus far this season, but has only garnered playing time late in the team’s Week 3 blowout of the Chargers.

Players that appeared on the injury report but were listed as probable for the Raider game include: wide receivers Kevin Cone (knee) and D.J. Davis (knee); defensive tackle Peria Jerry (thigh), center Todd McClure (pectoral), safety William Moore (hip), guard Garrett Reynolds (back), and cornerback Dunta Robinson (shoulder). All seven players fully participated in Friday’s practice. Cone, Davis, and Robinson also were full participants on Thursday.

Moneyball 2012 – Week 5 Review

October 10th, 2012 Comments off

This was not Ryan’s best game at least in terms of how he started, as he had 5 poor throws on the first two series. I think the slick conditions could be a culprit, but I noticed the majority of those missed throws were downfield ones. The deep ball to Jones on the first series was almost counted as a drop, but it wasn’t clear that Jones would have come down in bounds, so ultimately it was chalked up by another poor throw by Ryan. But after the pick-six, Ryan seemed to settle in and play at his usually high level this week.

Tony Gonzalez had an excellent game, winding up with 7 of the Falcons 19 passing first downs in this game, which doesn’t include his touchdown. Jones had a nice bounce-back game, although part of it seemed to be that there was a concerted effort by Ryan and Koetter to get him the ball in the first half. 11 of his first 15 targets came before halftime. Roddy White didn’t get a ton of work, but he made the most of his opportunities.

Turner had a nice game on the ground despite a limited workload. The blocking up front was solid given how many times the Falcons dropped back to throw, and there were holes created on the ground. It’s extremely rare in games where Sam Baker stands out as a run blocker, but he did a good job in this game with a pair of key blocks (including a good one on Turner’s TD run). McClure had his trademark struggles in pass protection vs. the 3-4 nose tackle, but he did a fairly solid job run blocking at times. There were really no bad performances by the Falcons blockers up front despite only modest earnings by all except Baker. Giving up only 4 pressures/sacks in 53 dropbacks is rock-solid. There were a couple of times where they gave up some pressure, but Ryan was able to move around the pocket and still find an open receiver. Baker and McClure were usually the culprits on those plays. But for the most part they gave Ryan ample time to find open receivers, and I did notice Ryan took more shots than normal downfield, which is also a testament to added time in the pocket.

The Joe Hawley Experiment at fullback/tight end did not really work out in the passing game. But their jumbo package with Hawley and Johnson on the field did seem to be quasi-effective in opening run lanes. I’m sure most people groaned when Hawley dropped those two passes, although I found them humorously inept. Against a better opponent in a tighter game, it might have been more irksome, but for now I can shrug it off as a one-game outlier.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$14$1$0$0$0-$2$13.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$1$11$0$0-$1$11.00
Michael Turner$0$9-$1$0$0$0$8.00
Julio Jones$0$0$7$0$0$0$7.00
Roddy White$0$0$5-$1$0$0$4.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Harry Douglas$0$1$2-$1$0$0$2.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$1$0$0$0$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Joe Hawley$0$0-$2$0$0$0-$2.00

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Are the Falcons Using Too Much Nickel?

October 4th, 2012 Comments off

Through the first two weeks of the season, I was astounded by the amount of nickel defense the Falcons played. Their base defense which featured all three linebackers was only used on about a dozen plays out of about 150 combined plays.

While it seemed to be paying dividends with their successful pass defense, it seemed detrimental against the run. Through two weeks the Falcons pass defense was one of the best in the league, but the run defense was near the bottom of the league. Against San Diego, the Falcons used more of their base package, and it seemed to pay some dividends against the run with some improvement.

Here are the numbers from that game, which exclude kneel downs and scrambles on passing plays. SR stands for success rate, which I think is a more accurate reflection of rushing success than yards per attempt, which can be heavily skewed by a single run e.g. Jackie Battle’s 52-yard run. If you’re unfamiliar with what success rate is, here is a pretty straight-forward explanation.

RUSHING
Att.
Yds
Avg
TD
SR
Base9343.8044.4%
Nickel68013.3083.3%

NYPA = Net Yards Per Attempt, which factors in yards lost due to sacks.

PASSING
Att.
Comp.
Pct.
Yds
Avg
TD
INT
Rtg
NYPA
Base8450.0516.40070.36.4
Nickel301756.71284.30239.33.8

While there is clear evidence that the Falcons run defense improved when they were in their base package, it was clear that their nickel subpackage was highly effective against Philip Rivers.

Now here are the numbers against Carolina. Note these do not include plays where Cam Newton scrambled after dropping back to pass, but do include his designed runs.

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Week 4 Preview: How the Falcons Will Beat the Panthers

September 27th, 2012 Comments off

As mentioned earlier, the Panthers do have some of the tools to potentially beat the Falcons. But I do not think they will.

If the Falcons just have a “normal” game based around what they have done these first three weeks they will beat the Panthers. They simply are a better team. But they cannot take the Panthers lightly, because as mentioned earlier, the Panthers can do a couple of things that can hurt the Falcons.

The main key for the Falcons is going to be able to throw to win. They can throw fairly easily on this Panther secondary. Rookie Josh Norman is likely to be matched up on Julio Jones on the outside for most of the game. Norman is not a bad player, and down the road he might turn into a pretty good starting corner. But he’s not there yet, and I think Julio should be poised to prey on that. The question becomes is Julio’s hand injury more serious than we expect, and will it impact the game?

What is interesting about Roddy White is that you look over the past few seasons, and there is always one game against Carolina where he’s very good, and another where he’s just mediocre. And there’s no real rhyme or reason to which performance he has. Sometimes it is at home, sometimes on the road. But you wonder if Jones is less than 100%, and this is the game that Roddy decides not to show up for, then the Falcons could potentially be in trouble.

I don’t think that will happen, and it’s going to be a cold day in hell when both Roddy and Julio are no shows on this offense. But this is also why the Falcons have Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, to help pick up that slack.

The Panthers run defense is weak, so I suspect Michael Turner and the ground attack could have another strong week. I would be shocked if Blalock and Reynolds have much problems with the Edwardses (Dwan and Ron) and opening lanes for Turner. The Falcons seem poised to give Rodgers a bit more reps on the ground going forward, and he could also have a good day.

Defensively, John Abraham tends to have a field day against the Panthers. I expect the Falcons to be able to get pressure against Newton. Newton has that ability to extend plays and make things happen with his legs, but the Falcons have been fairly competent at containing that. I think the Falcons will try and be aggressive with Newton, attack him with blitzes and challenge him to make accurate throws downfield.

Mike Nolan is probably going to throw a lot of things at Cam, frankly things that I can hardly imagine at this point. But if he can design schemes that can get Peyton Manning off balance, he can certainly do some things that can get Newton’s mind twisted.

Because the Panthers will likely rely on a steady ground attack, like last week, Akeem Dent should get more opportunities to emerge. That should also mean increased reps for Ray Edwards as well.

Cam Newton is currently second in the NFL in terms of highest interception rate. And the Falcons right now are the most opportunistic secondary in the league. This is why this should be a good matchup for the Falcons. With Abraham’s pressure and Nolan’s blitzing schemes, they should be able to create a number of turnovers this week. At some point this season, the Falcons defense is probably not going to be able to create multiple turnovers in a game. But I doubt that this week is the time when that occurs.

It’s becoming less and less about the Falcons opponents, at least during this early slate of 2012 games. It’s becoming more about competing with themselves for this Falcon team. Meaning their biggest obstacle is their own complacency. The day they decide to just show up some place, and think they can win with minimal effort, is the day they will get beat.

And what Mike Smith has done a pretty good job instilling in his time in Atlanta, is a hungry mentality week to week that keeps his team motivated and moving forward. And that is why I think they will win this game. It’s a division rival, and it’s an opportunity to really send out a signal to the other teams in the division and conference that this team is as formidable as advertised. It’s their first NFC game, and while they have eleven more that will also affect the season, they cannot really afford to dig themselves in a hole at the outset with an 0-1 record. Especially to a division rival and lesser team like Carolina.

Long gone are the days of Mora where as a fan you weren’t sure what Falcon team would show up in a given week. The Mike Smith Falcons are much more consistent, and rarely lay eggs. I expect that trend to continue and the Falcons extend their record to 4-0 this week.

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Week 4 Preview: How the Panthers Could Beat the Falcons

September 27th, 2012 Comments off

First off, let me say that I do not believe the Falcons will lose to the Panthers. I’ll get into some of those reasons later, but I think our offense will just be too much for their defense. Carolina’s secondary is weak, a glaring weakness on their entire team. If anything surpasses it, that would be their run defense. It was atrocious last year, and this year it has graduated to horrible.

Now granted the Falcons run defense hasn’t been that much better this year, but at least the Falcons’ excuse is that they’ve played a ton of nickel, which has led to some cracks being exploited.

The Falcons shouldn’t have any issues moving the ball against the Panthers defense and ultimately scoring a lot of points. Frankly, if the Falcons cannot put up at least 27 or 28 points in this game, it will be very disappointing.

But after watching this Falcon team over the first three weeks, and see them slap around a number of teams, a target is forming on their backs. They will be a team to beat, and everybody is gunning for No. 1. So you will start to see teams implement strategies and rules to beat the Falcons. I think these strategies will fall under two main blueprints:

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Falcons backups fall short against Jaguars

August 30th, 2012 Comments off
Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Davis rolls out to throw

The Falcons dropped their fourth and final preseason game to the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 24-14. The game got off to a great start for the Falcons, going up 7-0 on the second play of the game. But from that point on, the Jaguars battled back to pull out the victory.

Dominique Davis got the start for the Falcons under center and played every snap. He finished the game, completing 14 of 24 passes for 175 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. On the ground, Antone Smith led the team with 33 yards on 12 carries. Dimitri Nance (4 carries, 25 yards) and Jacquizz Rodgers (5 carries, 24 yards, a touchdown) also had productive evenings on the ground. Smith also led the team in receiving with 3 catches for 40 yards. Kevin Cone caught the lone touchdown on a 49-yar scamper, ending his night with a pair of receptions for 64 yards. LaMark Brown (2 catches, 15 yards), Nance (2 catches, 12 yards), and Marcus Jackson (2 catches, 8 yards) also produced in the passing game. Matt Bryant had no field goal attempts on the night. Matt Bosher had a good night as he punted 7 times for an average of 47.3 yards with 3 placed inside the 20-yard line. James Rodgers returned a single kickoff for 27 yards, while Tim Toone and Dominique Franks each had a punt return for 8 and 4 yards, respectively.

Defensively, the Falcons backups played most of the game and had their struggles to get off the field at times. While the Jaguars only converted 4 of 13 third downs, they won time of possession by holding the ball for 11 more minutes than the Falcons did. Pat Schiller and Akeem Dent led the team in tackles, each with 8 stops. Dominique Franks (5 tackles, 1 INT); Robert James (3 tackles); Jonathan Massaquoi (4 tackles); Cliff Matthews (4 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Robert McClain (3 tackles); Charles Mitchell (5 tackles); Peyton Thompson (5 tackles); and Vance Walker (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery) all had noteworthy nights.

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Falcon Players to Watch Tonight vs. Jaguars

August 30th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons are expected to give some of the starters some work tonight. The new CBA and league-mandated rules limiting contact in practices likely is the main cause of this. Guys just aren’t getting as many reps as before to get ready for the regular season. The fourth preseason game used to be one where none of the starters played except perhaps a series or so. But nowadays, you can expect teams to give their starters a couple of series if not a full quarter of play. The Jaguars are planning on playing their starters for the entire first quarter. I would not expect the Falcons to do the same, but I do think we’ll see many of them get work.

My hope for Mike Smith is certain “essential” players will be rested. Matt Ryan doesn’t need to play tonight, along with a few others of our key offensive playmakers. We’ll see how he plays it.

QB Dominique Davis – Part of me wants some of the offensive starters to get reps tonight, but with Davis lining up under center. I believe the Falcons will give Davis most if not all of the snaps under center tonight. Davis has worked almost exclusively with the third string performers on offense, and allowing him to work with several of the players higher on the depth chart will be an excellent gauge as to whether he’s ready to be the team’s No. 2 quarterback this year. This is the main reason to keep an eye on Davis tonight. He has played well throughout the preseason. But another strong performance with some of the second team players could be enough to catapult him into the role of primary backup. It’s possible with a strong enough performance, that Davis can inspire enough confidence that this team doesn’t even keep Luke McCown.

RB Dimitri Nance – Nance needs a strong performance tonight to stick on this roster. He has run well this summer, but he’s working behind Antone Smith on the depth chart. Smith is the superior special teams player and has also had a strong summer. But Nance is not only fighting for his hopes of making the Falcons roster, but a strong performance tonight certainly could get him looks from other teams.

FB Lousaka Polite – It’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons handle their fullback rotation giving questions on how much the starters will play. Polite has seen increased reps with the starters since joining the team, and if he can showcase his trademark power tonight and help the runners have a big night, he could take the job from Mike Cox.

WR Kevin Cone/D.J. Davis – If the Falcons choose to sit both Roddy White and Julio Jones, that could mean that Cone and/or Davis could be elevated to the starting positions potentially depending on the health and availability of Kerry Meier. Among the group of wide receivers competing for the fifth spot on the depth chart, these two are the two most prominent. That fifth spot will more than likely go to the player the team likes the most on special teams (likely Davis), but a strong offensive showing from Cone could also force them to shift their thinking.

OG Peter Konz – The battle at right guard is not complete, and I believe the Falcons are really hoping for a strong outing by Konz in order to make the final decision easier for them. I think they want Konz to have the job, but he’s not going to be given that opportunity, he has to earn it. A good game against the Jaguars could be what does it.

OT Lamar Holmes – It will be Holmes second outing, and it’s possible if not probable that he could be asked to play every snap. I think Holmes is still working himself back into playing shape due to all the missed time this off-season, and those extended reps could do a lot to help him. It would be smart of the Falcons to also try and get him some reps at right tackle as well, since he’s likely to be the team’s swing tackle this year.

DT Micanor Regis – I think Regis is on the outside looking in as far as a roster spot goes, but I think has done more than enough to land a practice squad role with the Falcons. But another strong outing could make the Falcons decision that much harder. Ultimately it could lead to them keeping five defensive tackles, or possibly cutting a veteran like Vance Walker.

LB Akeem Dent – If any of the Falcons projected 22 starters needs reps, none of them need them moreso than Dent. Dent has had his ups and downs this summer, and needs to have a few more ups tonight against Jacksonville. Of the 11 projected starters on the defense, Dent is the only one where questions remain to exactly what the team has in him. Getting him more work in the nickel subpackage should also benefit his prep for the regular season. It might not even be about Dent having a good game, it’s probably just more about getting him as many reps as possible to get him ready.

S Chris Hope/Shann Schillinger/Charles Mitchell – All three players are potentially on the roster bubble, since according to my calculations, I’m not sure the Falcons can afford to keep five safeties this year. I think Mitchell is probably the safest of the trio, but Hope and Schillinger could be competing directly for a single roster spot. If any one or two of them emerge tonight, it could be what solidifies their hold on the team.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 19 “Cuts and Around the League”

August 29th, 2012 Comments off

Ryan and I are back to recap the preseason win over the Miami Dolphins, as well as talk about the cuts the Falcons made over the weekend to get down to the 75-man roster limit. We discuss how we think the final roster could shape up as well and preview a bit of what we expect to happen in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs. We get into discussions about a few Falcon players. Such as some of the young guys that appear to be stepping up including Lamar Holmes, Cliff Matthews, Micanor Regis, Akeem Dent, and the drama surrounding the backup QB position. Veteran players such as Corey Peters and Dunta Robinson are discussed also. We also discuss many topics around the league from Larry Fitzgerald’s praise of the Falcons offense, the Vontae Davis trade, and the Dolphins QB Controversy. We even get to have a lengthy discussion about Ryan’s favorite team the Dallas Cowboys, and how their current predicament with Dez Bryant relates to the Falcons. You’ll even hear our thoughts on the upcoming release of EA’s Madden NFL 13.

Ep. 19: Cuts and Around the League [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: ustream.tv/channel/falcfans-show

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

Falcon Players To Watch Tonight vs. Dolphins

August 24th, 2012 Comments off

Tonight marks the final dress rehearsal for the regular season, at least as far as the starters go. They will likely play the entire first half and a bit into the third quarter as well. Most of the guys you’ll see on the field during that time period are locks to make the roster. Next week, most of those same players will sit for the preseason finale. The third preseason game is often considered to be the most important because it more closely mirrors the intensity of the regular season. With that in mind, here are some Falcon players that you should be keeping your eyes on against the Miami Dolphins:

Michael Turner – Turner has rushed 8 times for a total of 14 yards this preseason, not a good look for him. He has been successful on two of those runs. He hasn’t had great blocking up front, but he needs to step it up against the Dolphins. Turner wants to silence the doubters and having a solid performance in his final preseason action will be a key aspect in doing so.

Sam Baker – Baker has been really spared this summer, with both Terrell Suggs and Carlos Dunlap, Baltimore and Cincinnati’s top pass rushers, respectively being out of the games. Baker has yet to really be tested. Well this week, he should get tested against Cameron Wake, and it should be a nice indicator whether the Falcons brass was right to have confidence in Baker in 2012.

Lamar Holmes – Holmes will make his preseason debut tonight and should get a ton of reps. He’ll be one to watch to indicate whether the Falcons have good depth at left tackle. Holmes is not in the mix to start given his lack of reps, but he can answer questions about whether the Falcons might need to look at other tackles come cutdown days if he doesn’t have a good performance tonight.

Kerry Meier – I’ll keep harping on Meier needing to emerge until he does. Meier needs to show that he is capable of stepping into the lineup in the event of an injury to Jones, White, or Douglas, and has yet to do so. It would be nice to see him go out in the first half or so against the Dolphins starters and make a play. He missed the Bengal game with a leg injury and needs to play and produce against the Dolphins.

Ray EdwardsLast time I mentioned that Edwards stock was down due to the fact that he was being pulled off the field in nickel situations. This week if that remains the case, then Edwards makes the most of his pass rushing situations against the Dolphins.

Akeem Dent – Dent is back after missing last week’s game with a concussion. He had his ups and downs against the Ravens, and needs to come back with a performance against the Dolphins that shows more ups than downs. In particular, he needs to improve in coverage to at least give the team faith that he won’t be totally lost if he has to pull extended reps there during the regular season.