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Hard Knocks Episode 2 Recap – Big Balls

August 13th, 2014 2 comments

Hard KnocksAs I did a week ago, I’m here for you folks that either missed last night’s episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons, or those that saw it and just want to read my take on it.

The second episode opened showing the team’s release of fullback Roosevelt Nix and players’ reactions to it. That was followed up by showing general manager Thomas Dimitroff riding his bike with Lance Armstrong. At least as far as I’m concerned, while TD’s bike-riding may be interesting to outsiders, it may be the dullest aspect of his personality. How and why people find a 47-year old man riding a bike and palling around with Lance Armstrong to compelling television is beyond me.

But anyway, the show then began to showcase several of the Falcons 2014 draft class, including Ra’Shede Hageman getting some tough love and hard-coaching from Bryan Cox. We got to see the Falcons work against the Tennessee Titans in their scrimmage from last week and were privy to the mixed messages that Mike Smith seems to be sending to the team about fighting. Although in this instance, it seemed more clear that Smith was okay with his players fighting other team’s players versus teammates.

We got to see how some of the rookies spent their off days from camp practice. Hageman and Marquis Spruill swam with a giant whale shark at the aquarium, while Ricardo Allen and his girlfriend went zip-lining. We also were witness to Spruill’s unfortunate knee injury from last week. Aside from Spruill’s injury, I enjoyed these parts the most since we got to see the rookies as human beings blowing off a little steam away from the practice field.

The show closed showing some of the highlights from the Falcons preseason win over the Miami Dolphins last week. Bryan Cox closed out the show in fine fashion with a cigar smoke-laden conversation with outside linebackers coach Mark Collins, discussing some of the Falcons players but more importantly Cox’s examination of the darkness of men’s hearts.

Next week’s show promised a preview of the battle for backup quarterback, with undrafted rookie Jeff Mathews’ arm likely being featured.

Other highlights of the show:

  • A Sean Weatherspoon cameo that also showed his mentoring of Prince Shembo, who looks hungry enough to have Joplo Bartu looking over his shoulder.
  • Cuteness overload with Tyler Starr’s son. Although, a tip to Tyler, teach your son to run with proper form. Apparently, athleticism skips a generation.
  • How Ricardo Allen earned the nickname that headlines this recap.
  • William Moore and Roddy White’s perpetual war of trash-talking.

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 9, 2014

June 9th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith

It is June and this is usually the dead time in the NFL’s offseason, and often is the time when I become the most pessimistic in my outlook on my favorite football team, the Atlanta Falcons.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Once the NFL Draft is done, there is a sizable gap of downtime before the start of training camps in late July. Typically there is a couple of weeks of continued offseason fervor as rookies and veterans come together to work out in mini-camps and offseason team activities (OTAs) in earnest.

But usually once June hits, most of the buzz on the incoming draft class and the first looks at the veterans dies down and there’s basically six to eight weeks of waiting. It’s really the only time of year where coverage of the NFL takes a back seat to NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, Major League Baseball, and other sports in America. Football takes a break, and this period from early June to late July is the true offseason of the league.

I myself also took a bit of a break last week. One of my relatives passed at the end of May and I was traveling to go to their funeral last weekend. That did not allow me much time to contemplate the Falcons to any degree worth writing my normal takeaways column to be published on Monday.

And I decided to take a bit of a break over the rest of the week to decompress before getting back to the grind this week.

It’s going to be an interesting summer because it’s the first time since 2008 that there is really any strain of real pessimism within the fan base. It’s a relatively foreign feeling when considering the Mike Smith Era overall. The Falcons streak of five consecutive winning seasons was snapped last year to the tune of a 4-12 record.

This offseason, the Falcons wound up with a high draft pick and serious questions about their ability to compete for a playoff spot in 2014. This offseason became one that is all too familiar for long-time Falcon fans like myself.

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Takeaways from Last Week – March 24, 2014

March 24th, 2014 Comments off
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester is an Intriguing Addition in Atlanta

If I’m being honest, I like the idea of Devin Hester in an Atlanta Falcons uniform moreso than the reality.

The idea of Hester donning the black and red is giving the Falcons a legitimate playmaker on special teams, something it has lacked since the heyday of Allen Rossum nearly a decade ago. Yes, Eric Weems was my guy but his abilities as a returner was analogous to a chain-moving wide receiver as opposed to an explosive playmaker.

Hester is not quite as explosive on kickoffs as he is on punts. But anything he can contribute in the former area will be an upgrade over what the Falcons have featured the past few years. Between Weems and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Falcons have just two kickoff returns of 40 or more yards the past three seasons. Hester has nine such big-play returns in that span.

But it’s really the punts where Hester is going to impact. Partially because there’s the potential that a new rule change could further marginalize kickoffs, but also because the Falcons have had a dearth of playmaking ability on punt returns.

Weems had a single punt return of 40 or more yards in both 2010 and 2011. Those represent the only two such big punt returns since Rossum left the team after 2006. That year also coincides with the start of Hester’s NFL career with the Chicago Bears, and he’s had 19 such 40-plus yard punt returns over the past eight seasons. He’s had 11 over the past four years.

The only real issue is that the Falcons are catching Hester on the downward slope of his career. He was able to see his production rebound last year in 2013 by concentrating fully on his duties as a returner as opposed to also moonlighting as a wide receiver. But he’s a far cry from the player that he was just a few years back when he had a combined five punt return touchdowns over the 2010-11 seasons.

But as I’ve illustrated, he still represents a clear upgrade over what the Falcons have featured in recent years.

The other aspect of the idea of Hester that I like is his potential impact on offense. He’s probably not going to be a major element of the Falcons passing attack, but I do think he does represent a potential upgrade over Harry Douglas as the team’s third option.

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FalcFans Weekly March 23, 2014

March 23rd, 2014 1 comment
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Peters

Defensive tackle Corey Peters appeared on Sirius XM NFL Radio on Saturday afternoon, and Pro Football Talk has a pretty good summary of what was said with quotes. In it, he revealed that he’s off crutches in the midst of his rehab from a torn Achilles tendon. Earlier this month, it was reported that Peters was still in a walking boot when he was re-signed by the team.

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Former Falcons defensive tackle Vance Walker discusses “political” reasons that drove him out of Atlanta a year ago. Here’s an interesting quote:

I’d say, it wasn’t necessarily the scheme; it was probably a little more political from the Falcons to the Raiders. The Falcons had a decent roster of D tackles, and even though I was showing and proving that I could rush the passer, I never really got the opportunity. That’s what they promised I would be able to do out in Oakland. It kind of freed me up and let me show my abilities. Obviously, I know I would be a lot better, I could still be a lot better and learn from my mistakes and learn from others. I think (it was just) a personnel type of thing, with me being younger, with the Falcons; I guess they weren’t ready to give me that role just yet.

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Malliciah Goodman has reportedly packed on some muscle this offseason in advance of his expected role as a defensive end in the 3-man front the Falcons are likely to feature more this season.

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Takeaways from Last Week – March 3, 2014

March 3rd, 2014 1 comment
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff addresses the media at the Combine

After hearing general manager Thomas Dimitroff on the Rich Eisen Podcast this past week, I’m thinking that the Atlanta Falcons may not be as intent on upgrading the pass rush as much as they are with other areas of their roster, including their offensive line. Most of their conversation centered on the value of the Combine and how teams assess the things they see or don’t see in Indianapolis in the final evaluations of things.

Here are some interesting excerpts with my commentary. Editor’s Note: Dimitroff’s initial excerpted comments were taken from the middle of his conversation with Eisen, while the latter one was taken from the end. But since they are related, I feel they work together in context.

Eisen: Let’s talk about your Falcons right now. For the lack of a better way to put it, what in the world happened with the Falcons last year?
Dimitroff: Oh wow. 4-12. You think about that, going from 13-3 to 4-12, what an incredible decline. We know that. Someone mentioned that it was an historical decline. I believe there were a number of things that were going on with our season and no one wants to complain about the injuries. Everyone’s dealt with injuries. Interestingly enough we were handling the injuries to a spot and then when Julio went down, we dropped into a pit that we weren’t able to pull ourselves out of. That was unfortunate, that was something that was disheartening to me because I thought our resiliency and our ability to do something like that was much stronger given the five, six, and seven-year talent that we had versus the earlier years when we had first and second-year guys. So that was tough. I’ve also said and I’ve said this publicly, I really believe that it was a mis-assessment and a misevaluation of the readiness of that offensive line to come together for Matt. Because in the end we still have stuff to do on our D-line. But if we’re not protecting the guy spinning the ball, to our point earlier, we’re not going to be a prolific offense and we’re not going to be an elite football team. So we didn’t protect him properly and Matt was not able to step up in the pocket and throw. I thought he did an admirable job dealing with what he had to. He was waylaid many, many times as you know. But he is such a fantastic leader. I’m happy with how he responded.

Eisen: So in reading into your comments about the Falcons…offensive line? I know I don’t want you to show your cards here, because obviously there are many weeks to go before this May draft. Offensive line? Would that be an easy concept to target what you’re looking at in the draft this year?
Dimitroff: You know I looked at many and we have looked at many positions and many opportunities to look at free agency. I’ve always said this, you know that: free agency, look at the draft, see where we can get the best value and the best football player. Again, no mystery that we need to fortify both fronts. That’s going to be important for us. So, you look at O-line, you look at D-line, you look at our linebackers. You can rush the passer as a linebacker as well. You can do certain things that can protect our offensive threat, i.e. Matt Ryan in many ways. But we know as well as anyone if you don’t have stoutness in front of a quarterback and you don’t provide the pocket, you have little chance of being successful in this league.

It’s comments like these that make me think the Falcons using their top draft selection on a pass rusher is anything but a forgone conclusion. It’s very interesting that besides injuries, the first thing that Dimitroff mentioned in response to what went wrong with the Falcons in 2013 was offensive line play.

What that says is that the Falcons may see their pass protection as the bigger priority in regards to upgrading this offseason versus the pass rush. Now, that could manifest in a number of ways. But more than likely, it would appear that the team won’t simply settle on Gabe Carimi as the lone upgrade to the unit this offseason.

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Takeaways from Last Week – February 24, 2014

February 24th, 2014 Comments off
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney speaks at the Combine on Saturday

Discussion of the possibility of the Atlanta Falcons trading up made headlines this past weekend following general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s press conference on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And of course the dots are being connected to the possibility that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the primary target.

But I’m going to pump the brakes on getting too “icky-balooky” over Dimitroff’s revelation. Because frankly, it wasn’t much of one. Dimitroff said nothing in his presser that he hasn’t said leading up to the past two drafts. The only real difference is that Dimitroff made these comments not in April but in February at the Combine, a place where a record number of media members have gathered. Of course it’s going to create headlines and generate buzz when you have such a magnified media presence.

It’s no different than the revelation that Clowney is interested in being a Falcon. Of course he is as Clowney should be interested in any team that is going to take him very high in the draft.

Does this mean that a Clowney-Atlanta marriage is one made in heaven? Perhaps, but there is still a long way to go in the draft process before we reach that fateful evening on May 8.

I indeed hope the Falcons find a way to get Clowney, as he is a once in a generation sort of prospect. I can recall three times in the past where I have been exuberant about a Falcons draft selection. The first was in 2001 when the team’s move to trade up for Michael Vick was first announced. The second came when the team selected Matt Ryan in 2008. And the third was when the team traded up for Julio Jones in 2011. While I didn’t initially approve of that trade, Jones’ talent was to a degree that had me excited about the potential he could bring to the team.

But it is that Jones trade that has me currently hesitant about another move to climb the boards to get Clowney. Unfortunately, when revisiting the Jones trade, there is a tendency to draw a line in the sand with people on either side suggesting that it was all good or alternatively all bad for the Falcons. It’s much more complicated than that, with both costs and benefits to the trade.

I have little doubt that the Falcons would not have achieved the highs of 2012 without making the move to acquire Jones. But at the same time, I don’t think the lows of 2013 would have been quite as bad in the absence of the trade either.

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Falcons Announce Extensions for McKay, Dimitroff, and Smith

January 27th, 2014 1 comment

The Atlanta Falcons today announced that they have reached contract extensions with the three principal figures within the organization: team president Rich McKay, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. McKay’s deal adds four years to his contract, while both Dimitroff and Smith add another year to their deals. McKay’s deal now runs through 2019 while the latter two are signed through 2015.

McKay last received an extension at the end of the 2009 season. He joined the Falcons in 2003 as the team’s general manager but was relieved of those duties following the team’s disastrous 2007 season. He was then replaced by Dimitroff, and assumed duties solely as team president. In those duties, he has been instrumental in the team’s attempts to build a new stadium, and his extension likely is indicative that owner Arthur Blank intends him to continue those duties through the construction of the stadium. Ground has yet to be broken on the stadium, which is projected to cost in excess of $1 billion, but it is expected to open in 2017.

Dimitroff and Smith appear joined at the hip, and Blank made comments earlier this month that indicate that expectations are for the team to get back on track and have a winning season and playoff berth after a disappointing 4-12 campaign by the Falcons in 2013. Both Dimitroff and Smith received contract extensions following the 2010 season, extending their deals through 2014.

Smith’s extension is pivotal as concerns over his lame duck status have been an underwritten subject this offseason.

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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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

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