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Takeaways from Last Week – August 5

August 5th, 2013 Comments off
David Kohl-US PRESSWIRE

Carlos Dunlap

Today the Falcons begin their joint practice sessions with the Cincinnati Bengals as they prepare for their preseason opener against them on Thursday night. Two days of practice, which all of the players look forward to because it’s nice to hit someone that is not your teammate. One of the more interesting developments that could come from this session will be if any fights occur. I could be mistaken but generally speaking it seems like the number of training camp fights is a lot lower with Mike Smith than previous regimes.

One of the drawbacks for these two days of joint practices will be the absence of Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have both taken their fair share of lumps from Roddy White and Julio Jones through the first week-plus of training camp, and it would be nice to see them go against another top wideout. Green injured his knee last week, and is expected to be held out by the Bengals for this first week of preseason if not the next week. He is by far their primary offensive weapon, and they don’t want to risk further injury to him.

If there was another matchup that I’d be curious to see is how right tackles Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes handle standout Bengals left defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap is one of the premier situational pass rushers in the league. So much so that he just earned a $40 million contract, despite the fact that he’s only technically started two games in three seasons in Cincinnati. We won’t know how much work either party will see in Thursday’s game, so how they fare in practice against a premier pass rusher like Dunlap could determine a lot about how much confidence the team has in either player. It’s probably too late for the Falcons to try and make a move in free agency to bolster the position if they don’t like what they see this week. But it could go a long way to determining just how the Falcons handle their protections this year. Most NFL teams tend to roll their protections to the left side in order to protect the blindside of the quarterback, with the Falcons being among those teams. But given all the question marks that the Falcons could have on the right side with a pair of unproven starters in Garrett Reynolds at right guard, and either Johnson or Holmes at tackle, the Falcons might have to do the opposite. Given the Falcons have invested nearly $80 million in the left side of their offensive line, it would only make sense then that they should feel comfortable enough with them to put them more on an island.

Another fascinating development will be getting to see these joint practices and the upcoming preseason game portrayed on HBO’s series Hard Knocks. The cameras are enveloping Bengals training camp for the second time in the series’ history. The Falcons have indicated that they are interested in the show in the past, but have said that the timing wasn’t right. Personally, I believe the Falcons want to be on Hard Knocks. Arthur Blank very much strikes me as the type of owner that would be very open to the idea of millions of viewers seeing the greatness that is the organization he’s built in Atlanta. But they also don’t want to deal with the potential for distractions it creates. I think they are waiting until after they win a title before we’ll see the NFL Films crew descend upon Flowery Branch. But until then, we’ll just have to settle for the taste we’ll likely receive in the second episode, which will air next Tuesday.

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Takeaways from Last Week – May 13

May 13th, 2013 Comments off
NFL: NFC Championship-San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

Mike Smith may deserve an extension along with Matt Ryan

I’m not sure if this is my final takeaway from the Falcons 2013 draft, but I the more I look at it, the more I like it. At least if judging on this lone criteria, that being that the Falcons targeted athletes.

My main takeaway from the Falcons loss against the 49ers this past January was that the 49ers were clearly a better team. I had been hopeful that the Falcons could get off to a fast start which could negate that somewhat. Because I knew that over the course of four quarters, the 49ers were just a better team, with more athletes that could dominate the game physically in the trenches as well as at the offensive skill positions.

So when I look at the 2013 draft, I see the Falcons appearing to be targeting more athletes than normal. Players like Robert Alford, Malliciah Goodman, and Levine Toilolo really epitomize that in that all three I would consider players with a lot more athletic upside than polish as of today. One could label all three projects, which is something the Falcons haven’t seemed to target in their previous five drafts under Thomas Dimitroff.

I don’t think those three players or any of the Falcons rookies this year really would slant things in the Falcons favor if they were to meet the 49ers again, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Which leads me to my next point, which is what are the expectations for the Falcons 2013 season. I know there are many within the fanbase that expect the Falcons to get over the hump and into the Super Bowl in 2014. You won’t count me among them.

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Rumors swirl of potential Falcons trade up

April 18th, 2013 1 comment

The Falcons are picking thirtieth in the 2013 draft, and rumors continue to gain momentum that the team is looking to move up and get an earlier pick. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC recently discussed the possibility of the Falcons moving up in the first round based off a year-old study of Falcons drafts under GM Thomas Dimitroff. Yesterday, SI.com’s Peter King and then today, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, cite sources that suggest the Falcons desires to trade up are real.

The Falcons last went through a blockbuster trade-up in the first round in 2011, where they moved up 21 spots to select wide receiver Julio Jones. The team sent their first round pick (27th overall), second and fourth round picks in the 2011 draft along with first and fourth round picks in the 2012 draft to Cleveland in exchange for the sixth overall selection. In 2012, the Falcons did not trade up in the draft, however they did move back seven spots in the third round via a trade with Baltimore.

La Canfora reports that the Falcons are eyeing either Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, according to his sources. Both have been projected to be potential Top 5 picks in the majority of mock drafts.

Today during an hour-long press conference, Dimitroff indicated that the team was open to maneuvering in the draft, whether that mean moving up or down.

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Takeaways before the Combine

February 18th, 2013 Comments off
Photo by Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Players like Rams WR Brandon Gibson don’t fare well at Combine

If you haven’t heard, the league is adding a new aptitude test that will supplement the Wonderlic, rather than replace it at this week’s Scouting Combine that begins Wednesday in Indianapolis. You can go here to get a bit more details, but I found it interesting that Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff may have played a key role in getting this adopted according to a report.

I’ve never taken the Wonderlic, but I have taken the samples that you can find around the internet at times. And from my perspective, the Wonderlic is your standard run of the mill IQ test. For years people have criticized the Wonderlic largely because it doesn’t reflect football-centric intelligence. From the description of this new unnamed test, it does seem like it will have a bit more applications towards football. I’m not sure it’ll ask football-specific questions, but it’ll probably not feature a lot of the rote math or language questions that presumably the Wonderlic asked. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it in the future. It probably is not going to replace the Wonderlic since apparently the Combine is unwilling to eliminate tests.

I know few put little stock in the Wonderlic, but I do think it is noteworthy when a player scores low, particularly quarterbacks. Generally, the consensus on the minimum a quarterback should score is at least 20. In one sense because it’s a timed test, it does sort of give you a ballpark answer on how quickly a guy can process information. But a very high score doesn’t necessarily indicate that a guy is processing information quickly. Or at least, it may not be the same sort of information that applies to reading a defense. I’m no quarterback, but I imagine that is more intuitive than academic, the latter of which seems to be what the Wonderlic is measuring.

I also think that the Wonderlic stands out in terms of its usage when you find a player that scores in the single digits. It by no means is a strong indicator that someone will be a bad pro (Roddy White scored a 4). But I know if I was a GM I would generally avoid players that scored in the single digits unless I was really impressed with their ability and upside. For example, Patrick Peterson and Chris Culliver both reportedly scored 9 on their Wonderlic tests in 2011. Peterson is of a caliber that I would “roll the dice” on him, while Culliver I might be lukewarm to take. I wouldn’t consider that the right way, just a matter of personal preference that I don’t want a locker room full of dummies. So I think in that sense, the Wonderlic can still retain some value even if this new test completely overshadows it.

I think it’s also nice that there will be a new wrinkle to the Combine this year. I think the Combine has lost some of its luster due to the sheer amount of preparation that goes into it for players. Prospects spend 4 to 6 weeks leading up to it, prepping for all the drills and tests. I think it inflates some of the numbers.

And I know GMs, coaches, scouts, and draft experts constantly talk about how it doesn’t affect things, that is straight B.S. They constantly talk about how tape from the season is what really matters, the proof is in the pudding. And the simple fact is that guys’ draft stock is largely determined by their performances at All-Star games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, as well as the Combine and pro days.

For example, you have a player like Texas wideout Marquise Goodwin. I saw a pair earlier games from Goodwin this year (versus Oklahoma State and West Virginia), and my assessment of him was that he was a borderline seventh round pick due to his special teams potential. He was targeted 10 times combined in those games and caught all 10 passes thrown his way for 52 yards. Factor in the 28 yards after the catch he had, you realize that those 10 targets traveled a combined 24 yards in the air. Essentially all 10 of his passes came on screens, quick outs, or comebacks, the types of routes that don’t require a ton of skill to execute. He may have only had 1 or 2 targets that required him to run a route more than 5 yards downfield in that pair of games. What I saw from him in those games was good straight-line speed that made me believe he had good upside on special teams. But his short stature (5-9/180) probably would limit how effective he would be as a vertical threat at the next level. But what also hurt him in my eyes was that he wasn’t that productive after the catch. Had he gone for 78 yards instead of 28 yards after the catch, then I’d be more willing to buy his dynamic potential. For me, Goodwin was a speedy slot type that may not be a reliable everydown option.

But Goodwin went to Mobile and killed at the Senior Bowl. And now he’s a potential Top 15 receiver prospect that is projected to go on the second day of the draft.

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Jones trade firmly in the crosshairs Sunday

January 12th, 2013 Comments off

Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones

When the Falcons moved up 21 spots in the 2011 draft to take a wide receiver by the name of Julio Jones, it made headlines. Most pundits and experts believed it was not a smart trade, but also signaled that the Falcons were “all in” for the 2011 season. To give up the sheer amount of picks they gave up for a second top-level wide receiver did not make a lot of sense. And I agreed with these opinions. I questioned the move and still question it today. I believe the Falcons gave up too much in that trade for Jones. Jones has been an excellent player, but so have been a number of lesser receivers taken in that same draft class such as Torrey Smith in Baltimore and Denarius Moore in Oakland. Had the Falcons held onto those two first round picks and used them on other problem areas (such as the offensive line) and drafted one of those lesser receivers, I think they could be a better team for it. But we’ll never really know the answer to that question.

But what we will know is that whether Jones’ presence on the roster pays off on Sunday. Jones and White are widely considered the best tandem of receivers in the NFL. Throw in Tony Gonzalez, and it’s hard to find a better trio of targets for a quarterback to throw to. Alone is that good enough to win a playoff game, something the Falcons have yet to do under head coach Mike Smith? Of course not. But it is the primary asset of this Falcons team. Those three players along with Matt Ryan are the one thing that distinguishes tthem from other teams, essentially it is what makes them “special.” They will be facing one of the league’s best pass defenses in Seattle, and what many deem the best cornerback tandem in the league in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. It will be the one matchup that all eyes will be glued upon.

“This is no disrespect to Mike Jenkins, because he’s a damn good receiver. But I’ve always been intrigued with the prospect of having a one and one-A with Roddy and someone like Julio.”

This was quote from Thomas Dimitroff cited by Michael Holley in his 2011 book War Room. Will the presence of the 1 and 1-A make a difference tomorrow? It didn’t really a year ago against the Giants. But it will have to this year because of that spotlight mentioned earlier. If having a 1 and 1-A receiver does indeed make a difference worth all of those draft picks, then this will be the game to showcase it.

And if you’re asking me my opinion about what will happen, I think Jones and White will make that difference. Despite my misgivings about the trade, this is the perfect chance to prove doubters like myself wrong. From watching film of Browner and Sherman, I don’t think they have the ability to match up with a pair of elite receivers like Jones and White. And I think if the Falcons offensive line can provide the necessary time for Ryan, he will be able to deliver the balls to make that obvious. If the offensive line is not good enough, then it raises those questions about whether the Falcons would have been better off using those high picks on blockers as opposed to another dynamic wideout. Either way, we should have a fairly definitive answer on whether the trade paid off for the Falcons or not by tomorrow evening.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 8 “Screw You Guys”

October 13th, 2011 Comments off

We are now available on iTunes!

Ryan and I are back to discuss more Atlanta Falcons football. This week, we discuss some of the issues that plagued the Falcons offense and defense during the team’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, which I compare to getting a prostate exam. We also get into what twe expect with Julio Jones being injured as the Falcons take on the Carolina Panthers. This game could be a litmus test to the Falcons playoff chances and whether Cam Newton’s rookie season stacks up against that of Matt Ryan. The bulk of our discussion this week however centers on the Falcons draft picks under Thomas Dimitroff and whether they have been all that they’re cracked up to be. Ryan brings up the question of whether Mike Smith is suffering from a “Jim Mora Effect” along with other issues that plague the team’s coaching staff, such as getting other players not named Tony and Roddy getting involved on offense.  And as usual we have a laundry list of players that we feel the need to rag on this week. Also we see if we can lure Carlton Powell onto the podcast, and wax nostalgic over the heyday of internet stalking.

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Dimitroff gets extension

March 9th, 2011 Comments off

Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com reports that the Falcons have announced the extension of general manager Thomas Dimitroff to an undisclosed multi-year deal.

Dimitroff’s extension follows that of head coach Mike Smith, who got three years added to his deal back at the beginning of February. Dimitroff is coming off a year in which he was named The Sporting News’ top NFL executive. Dimitroff has been instrumental in the rapid ascension of the Falcons since being hired in 2008, due to his solid drafting, free agency moves, and the decision to hire Smith in the first place. He is considered one of the brightest young minds in the business.

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Dimitroff named league’s top executive

February 9th, 2011 Comments off
Icon SMI

Thomas Dimitroff

The Sporting News announced that they have named Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff as their NFL Executive of the Year. The award is voted on by 47 NFL front office personnel including other GMs, owners, and coaches. Dimitroff led the voting with 13 votes, and Kansas City Chiefs GM Scott Pioli came in second with 8 votes.

Dimitroff was hired by the Falcons before the 2008 season after serving as the director of college scouting for the New England Patriots for five seasons. Dimitroff’s personnel moves have been instrumental for the quick turn-around of the Falcons and their having three consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. He has brought in veterans such as Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, and Dunta Robinson the past three off-seasons, as well as spearheading the Falcons draft selections of Matt Ryan, Curtis Lofton, Kroy Biermann, and William Moore.

Dimitroff is currently amidst negotiations for a well-deserved contract extension with the Falcons.

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Smitty gets 3-year extension

February 3rd, 2011 2 comments
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Mike Smith

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com reports that the team has announced a three-year extension signed by Falcons head coach Mike Smith.

Smith was entering the last year on the original four-year deal he signed with the Falcons when they hired him prior to the 2008 season. In three years as the Falcons head coach, he has compiled a 33-15 record, with two playoff appearances and a division crown. A year ago, he became the first coach in the team’s 44-year history to record back to back winning seasons. And with last year’s 13-3 mark, he has extended that streak from two to three seasons. He is 17 wins away from passing Dan Reeves as the winningest coach in franchise history. Now he will have three more years to achieve such a mark.

The Falcons have been actively working to get general manager Thomas Dimitroff an extension as well according to reports.

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The Genius behind the Gonzo trade

November 24th, 2009 Comments off
The right move

The right move

For those that have visited the forums, you may be aware that there are some Falcon fans that are skeptical of the so-called genius behind the decision to acquire Tony Gonzalez this off-season.

Gonzalez had a brilliant start to the season, but has come back down to earth a bit over the past month or so. And now there are opinions where Matt Ryan may be pressured to focus on Gonzalez a bit too much, which may be actually hurting the team more than helping. And despite the Ryan-Gonzalez connection essentially leading us on a comeback this past Sunday vs. the Giants, in general I would say that I agree with those opinions.

Another reason why some may cite why the Gonzalez move was a bad move is because it cost the Falcons a second round pick this year. Second round picks because of the relative cheapness yet the relative high quality of the players picked is really the most valuable pick in the draft. The New England people (Belichick, Pioli, and Dimitroff) understand this better than anyone in the league, and thus do their best to hoard these picks. Dimitroff however is much more willing than his former mentors to part with these picks because he’s a bit more aggressive than either.

A third reason why the Gonzalez trade may be a bad one is the belief that Gonzalez’s presence on the roster has forced Mike Mularkey to shrink the playbook, which has hurt Ryan’s development, and is one of the primary culprits why Ryan has been slumping as of late.

And all of the reasons are not wrong. The problem is that these reasons are based purely off the notion of seeing the Gonzalez trade as a one-year move. It’s only a small part of the big picture.

If one is only to look at this move from a first year perspective, you need to change your viewpoint.

At the website Pro-Football-Reference, they have a stat called expected wins and losses. You can read about it here, but briefly it’s a stat that indicates that points scored and allowed is much more accurate way than strictly wins and losses to examine how good a team will be in the following year. Last season the Falcons won 11 games, but based on PFR’s stat, their expected wins was 9.7 wins and 6.3 losses. Which means the Falcons were closer to a 9-win team than an 11-win team as far as expectations entering this season.

The mastermind

The mastermind

Dimitroff understood this, and knew that with a tougher schedule, and the youth movement on defense, that the Falcons would likely take a step back this year. Probably to the point that had they stood pat, they may have only been a 6 or 7-win team this year.  And one could certainly say that more often than not this year, we have appeared to be of that caliber.

So what acquiring Gonzalez did was not supposed to take an 11-win team to a whole new plateau. Essentially, it was taking a 7-win to another plateau. What Gonzalez has done is maintained the status quo. Gonzalez is the difference on what may be a 7-9 team that keeps them at 9-7. Dimitroff, like all members of the Falcons organization desperately wants to break the curse of non-consecutive winning seasons. The Falcons needed to make a significant move this off-season to break the curse.

Gonzalez’s addition to the offense was exactly that. Now, it’s up to the individual to decide whether breaking that 43-year streak merits giving up that valuable second round pick. Personally, I think it is. And I think when all is said and done this year, the Falcons will achieve at least 9 wins.

Now looking ahead, Gonzalez has two more years after this one on his contract. And as Ryan continues to develop, Gonzalez can help take a 9-7 team to another plateau. And if/when this team makes a deep playoff run between now and 2011 with Gonzalez helping all the way, those people that spoke ill of this trade will look fairly silly.

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