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Takeaways from Last Week – March 25

March 25th, 2013 Comments off
Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Osi Umenyiora

Reports on Saturday indicated that the Falcons signing Osi Umenyiora was very imminent. Not sure if by the time this posts Monday morning if that deal will be official, but given the sources (Pro Football Talk and Adam Schefter), I trust them.

I don’t have a problem with that move. The problem with the move is that it is at best a lateral move for a team that struggled with their pass rush throughout 2012. It’s a toss-up between the lack of pass rush and the run defense as to what was the Achilles heel of the Falcons defense last year. At least for the run defense, there were some strong performances down the stretch. Not sure, if I can say the same for the pass rush.

I don’t think Osi is better than John Abraham, but the dropoff is not huge. If you asked me who I would rather have for one season, my answer is definitely Abraham. If you’re asking me who I would rather have for three seasons, then I’d probably choose Osi just because he is a few years younger. But I definitely don’t think Osi is going to be as good or better than Abraham is at age 34.

This is why I think adding pass rush help will remain a priority for the Falcons going into the draft. I think there is a strong possibility that the Falcons will use their top pick to help there.

Once Osi signs, the focus will shift firmly to cornerback as the Falcons top need. While I won’t say that the team won’t draft a corner with their top pick, there is still a lot of time left before the draft (31 days to be exact). There are just too many good veteran corners available, that I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t try and pursue one in that time span. It seems inevitable that Brent Grimes won’t be returning to the Falcons at this point, despite my overwhelming desires. So if not Grimes, then the Falcons still have options. Antoine Winfield is probably the best, but he’s 36 and at that age is really only a one-year stopgap. But Winfield would be a good player to pair with Asante Samuel for a season. Winfield still played at a high level last year, and is one of the league’s most consistent run-defending corners in the league. You could possibly make the argument that Winfield is one of the best run-support corners in the last twenty years. Terence Newman brings many of the physical traits to the table that Robinson did that had Falcons officials gushing over him three years ago. He was decent last year in Cincinnati, but it’s hard not to forget his struggles in Dallas the previous two years. Quentin Jammer is another corner with a reputation for physicality, but I’m not sure he can really run anymore, which is the same complaint about Nnamdi Asomugha. Rashean Mathis is a guy that Mike Smith is very familiar with, but he’s struggled with injuries the past two years, so may not be a reliable starter. There are other players such as DeAngelo Hall, Mike Jenkins, Kelvin Hayden, Marcus Trufant, Stanford Routt, Cedric Griffin, and Tracy Porter that will also potentially be in the mix. And I can’t forget about Charles Woodson either.

That’s just too many serviceable to good starters out there for the Falcons to stand pat at cornerback. Right now, there cornerback position consists of Samuel and Robert McClain, and that’s about it. Dominique Franks is on the roster bubble. He didn’t contribute anything as a returner last year, and has not contributed anything on special teams coverage, making his hold on a reserve spot tenuous at best. Backup defensive backs have to contribute on special teams, and Franks does not. So unless the Falcons really like Terrence Johnson and/or Peyton Thompson, you can be fairly confident that at least two significant additions will be made at the position. Probably one on the first two days of the draft, and likely one in free agency.

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Falcons FA Focus: Cornerback

March 8th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

Brent Grimes

I know I should have posted this article over two weeks ago, but other projects distracted me. The Falcons released Dunta Robinson and now have an obvious opening at the cornerback position. The Falcons cut Robinson because of his high price tag and diminishing returns. While Robinson was able to blossom in some areas under Mike Nolan, becoming a highly valuable run defender and blitzer off the edge last year, he continued to struggle in coverage. Robinson just didn’t make enough plays in coverage, which likely means that the Falcons will want a corner with better ball skills to replace him. They have one potentially hitting the open market in Brent Grimes.

The first decision the Falcons have to make is whether or not they will re-sign him. The team is optimistic about Grimes’ return from his torn Achilles suffered on opening day last season. So it doesn’t sound like injury is going to deter them from making an offer. Whether Grimes returns really is going to come down to money. Grimes didn’t get the big contract he was seeking last year, and fresh off an Achilles tear is probably not poised to get one this year. Teams tend to get skittish about guaranteeing money when players wind up injured at the end of two consecutive years.

If the Falcons and Grimes don’t agree on a new deal, then the Falcons will have plenty of other options on the open market. While there aren’t a lot of top-level cornerbacks, there are plenty that are capable starters and role players.

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Falcons Needs: Special Teams

February 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons won’t be making many major changes here. Their primary goal, if any, at this position group will be upgrading their ability in the return game. The team lost Eric Weems last off-season, and their in-house replacements for him did not suffice.

Jacquizz Rodgers was a competent kickoff returner at times, but if he is going to carve a larger role on offense, they should have another player that can play here. If the Falcons do add a wide receiver or cornerback this off-season, it would make a lot of sense to find one that can also return kicks.

Dominique Franks struggled throughout the year to make any impact as the team’s punt returner. He was replaced late in the year by Harry Douglas, who did very little in his brief time. At this point, finding a competent punt returner would appear to be the biggest priority.

The Falcons probably will let players like Tim Toone and James Rodgers get opportunities to win either job next summer. But it makes sense to bring in more competition if possible via a free agent signing, a mid or late round draft pick, or do what the Falcons did a year ago and target a number of undrafted players that have return and special teams experience.

As for the other specialist positions, besides bringing another camp body there is no need there. Kicker Matt Bryant still seems to be going strong. His leg strength isn’t what it once was, but inside the Georgia Dome he’s about as good a kicker as they come. Punter Matt Bosher showed improvement in his sophomore season. Bosher’s big leg has the potential to really affect field position. He’s also a very good kickoff specialist.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a couple of miscues during his rookie season, but for the most part was solid to good. If any one of the three specialist deserve competition, it would be him, but it’s not really necessary. Other than that, the Falcons might want to kick the tires on an undrafted kicker just to get a look-see at the young talent that is out there given Bryant’s increasing age. Bryant turns 38 in May and has two more years left on his contract.

The teams’ coverage units took a step back in 2012 due to the absences of Weems and Akeem Dent, who were the team’s best cover guys in 2011. Dent got more work on coverage towards the end of the year. The team still has solid performers with players like Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith, Drew Davis, Robert James, and Chris Owens. Healthy seasons from players such as Bradie Ewing, Kerry Meier, and/or Shann Schillinger could also improve the unit. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews flashed ability as well late in the year, and the team needs to get a greater contribution from Charles Mitchell, who will be replacing Chris Hope in all likelihood as the top reserve at safety. Overall, the Falcons coverage was more than capable last year. If the Falcons target reserves at wide receiver, linebacker, or in the secondary this off-season, you can be sure they will be expected to contribute in this arena as well.

Falcons Needs: Safety

February 12th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

DeCoud congratulates Moore

The Falcons do have some questions at safety, most of which linger around the looming free agent status of strong safety William Moore.

Moore is probably the team’s most likely candidate to land the franchise tag if it comes to that. That will carry a cap hit of roughly $6.8 million. Recent reports suggest that Moore probably won’t be too pleased to receive such a tag as it would conflict with his desire to test the market. For the sake of both the Falcons and Moore, it will work best if they can come to an agreement before the deadline of March 5, after which teams can no longer tag players.

Moore is one of the better players on the Falcons defense. Along with former college teammate Sean Weatherspoon, he represents the young core of the Falcons defense that is expected to succeed players like John Abraham, Asante Samuel, and Jonathan Babineaux as regular playmakers. Moore is an opportunistic run-defending safety that managed to make a lot of plays in coverage this past year. He seemed to really find a home in Mike Nolan’s defense. The two major weaknesses of Moore’s game are his struggles when facing quality tight ends and his lack of durability. Saints TE Jimmy Graham abused him so badly in the Week 10 loss this past year, that Nolan made concerted efforts to avoid that matchup in the Falcons in Week 13 win over the Saints. Moore has missed a quarter of the games in each of the past two years with thigh and hamstring injuries. He also sat out his rookie year in 2009 with a hamstring injury, and was often nicked up throughout college. Moore’s physical playing style contributes to his injuries coupled with the fact that players at his position tend to have the shortest careers of all defenders. I doubt that is a big enough issue to make the Falcons let Moore walk, but it may become an issue that may prolong contract negotiations. The Falcons may not want to pay top dollar to a player that already has a long injury history and may only be effective for just another three or four years given the nature of his position.

The Falcons drafted Charles Mitchell last year in the sixth round, probably with the mindset of having him add depth at the position but also to provide an insurance policy in case Moore walked. Well, it doesn’t seem likely that the Falcons will roll the dice with Mitchell as a starter going forward after a lackluster rookie season. But he’ll likely be expected to supplant free agent Chris Hope for the No. 3 safety position. Shann Schillinger is returning from sitting out the year with an injury and will be expected to contribute on special teams. But don’t be surprised if the Falcons look at more options in the draft or free agency to solidify their depth. Again, safety is the most injury prone position on defense, thus it pays to have good depth there. That’s what prompted the team to sign Hope last summer before camp. Hope had his moments filling in for Moore late in the year, but he wasn’t a great fit in Nolan’s scheme and probably won’t be back next year. The Falcons have featured a revolving door in terms of veteran backups the past three years, starting with Erik Coleman in 2010, James Sanders in 2011, to Hope last season. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons go for a fourth, although again it’s more likely that they will give Mitchell every opportunity to take over that spot.

When the Falcons signed Thomas DeCoud to a five-year deal last spring, the deal was structured in a way that suggested that the Falcons weren’t completely satisfied with him at free safety. The first two years of his deal had modest cap hits (both under $2.5 million), with a jump to nearly $5 million in 2014. If DeCoud is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2014, $2.25 of his $4.2 million base salary will become guaranteed. The Falcons could potentially reap savings of $3 million against their 2014 cap if they were to cut him at before that point.

But DeCoud is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, and it’s increasingly less likely that the Falcons will explore other options at the position in the near future. DeCoud would have to have a very underwhelming 2013 season in order for this upcoming year to be his last in Atlanta.

Like Moore, DeCoud really took to Nolan’s scheme. Already blessed with very good speed and range, he was much more disciplined in coverage this year allowing him to make more plays there. He’s still underwhelming in run support due to his lack of size, which will always be an issue. But he often can make up for it with his closing speed. Despite his 2012 accolades, he’ll probably never be considered one of the best safeties in the league but he can be a productive and effective starter moving forward.

The further solidify depth, the team could tinker with Dominique Franks playing here. It certainly was something they tried late in the year as they mixed in more of their dime subpackage. Franks may struggle to make the roster next year as a cornerback. He’s the biggest of the team’s corners. The Falcons may tinker with the notion of featuring more dime next year, especially as they face teams like New Orleans and New England that present matchup challenges for the Falcons personnel. Similar to Franks, that player might be styled as a big corner that can play the run effectively.

Falcons Needs: Cornerback

February 11th, 2013 Comments off
Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Dunta Robinson

The Falcons got improved play from Dunta Robinson, while Asante Samuel seemed to make the loss of Brent Grimes much smoother. The Falcons even discovered a diamond in the rough with Robert McClain at the nickel cornerback position. All of those things make it seem like the cornerback position is a strength for the team, but it may not be.

Both starters Robinson and Samuel are on the wrong side of the age thirty. Samuel still is going strong and throughout the second half of the season was able to show his trademark ball skills. He’s still a liability when it comes to run support, but when you make as many game-changing plays as he does in coverage, it is forgivable. Robinson appears to be the opposite player. His first year in Mike Nolan’s scheme really brought out of his run support and blitzing abilities. But Robinson rarely makes plays in coverage, and is increasingly becoming a liability there with added age. He’s never been a player that has played with great technique or discipline, relying instead on his superior athleticism to match up with receivers. But as one gets older, that athleticism is one of the first things to go and Robinson appears to be in the midst of that. Robinson has a base salary of $8 million in 2013, and $3 million of that becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the league year (March 16).

So the Falcons have a decision to make at right cornerback. They can keep Robinson, and hope that Father Time can be staved off for one more year. Another option might be to try and draft a young corner to become his replacement. Another option could be to sign a player to push or replace him as the starter.

Other things factor into that decision, mainly Brent Grimes. Grimes is a free agent coming off an Achilles tear, one of the more devastating injuries in football. It’s certainly possible Grimes could return for the start of next year, but it would be a question of how effective he would be at that point. But given the questions surrounding Grimes’ health status, it would be a major gamble to try and replace Robinson with him in 2013. If Grimes returns to Atlanta, it will likely have to come down to his price tag. A year ago, the Ne York Giants re-signed cornerback Terrell Thomas, who was coming off an ACL tear. The Giants gave Thomas a four-year deal that had only a small portion paid in the first year, with a big option bonus in the second year, essentially giving Thomas a year to prove whether he was worth retaining long-term. The best possible scenario for the Falcons is if they can get Grimes signed to a similar deal which would lower their risk factor.

The Falcons could reach out to other potential free agents that are younger and cheaper than Robinson on the open market, but given that the price tag of corners is often driven up, that doesn’t seem to be ideal.

The Falcons could draft a corner early in the draft, but given their needs at a number of other positions it probably wouldn’t be a priority and thus would have to wait until the third day of the draft. And at that point, you’re only getting a backup candidate rather than a potential starter.

The Falcons could tinker with inserting McClain into the starting lineup. McClain had a breakout year as the team’s nickel cornerback, but when he was asked to supplant either Robinson or Samuel, both of whom dealt with injuries this past year, he was far less effective. Given the long time it’s been since the Falcons have had a good nickel cornerback, the team probably doesn’t want to put too much on McClain’s plate next year. And given the age of Samuel, the smarter strategy may be to groom McClain to replace him in two years as opposed to replacing Robinson now. That way the team can allow McClain to develop some more. The Falcons have been burned multiple times in the past with putting too much trust in young, green corners after flashing a bit of promise. Chevis Jackson, Chris Owens, and Dominique Franks were at one point in time considered to be promising starters after good starts in Atlanta. But all three ultimately petered out to become average at best players.

Franks will be back next year and the team tinkered with him playing the role of a dime safety late. Franks struggled as a punt returner and being able to carve out of a bigger role on defense might be his only salvation when it comes to making the team next year.

Like Grimes, Chris Owens is also an unrestricted free agent this year. He’ll be considerably less expensive than other potential options. Owens is an effective stopgap option as an outside corner, has experience playing in the slot, and is one of the team’s better special teams players. That should all mean that he should be back in a Falcon uniform due to his depth value. But if not, then the odds increase dramatically that the team uses one of its picks this April at the position.

All this means that Robinson probably does return to the Falcons in 2013, just at a reduced price tag. But given the ages of Robinson and Samuel, the Falcons need to have long-term plans for replacing both sooner rather than later. McClain might fit the bill for one of those spots, but in the very near future the Falcons need to find someone that can do the same at the other. Owens and Franks are less than ideal options at this point, and Grimes’ status is up in the air.

Owens out against Seahawks, Abe questionable

January 11th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report today. On it, cornerback Chris Owens was the only play to be ruled out for this Sunday’s divisonal playoff matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. Owens missed the entire week of practice with a hamstring injury. Defensive end John Abraham, who went down with an ankle injury in the season finale was listed as questionable, after going through limited participation in practice this week. Safety Charles Mitchell (calf) was also listed as questionable. Safety William Moore (hamstring) and cornerback Dunta Robinson (concussion) were listed as probable. Moore went fully during today’s practice, while Robinson hasn’t skipped a bit all week. Moore has not played since Week 13, missing the final 4 regular season games due to his injury. Robinson suffered his concussion early in the Falcons Week 17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but returned to practice last week.

Due to the absence of Owens, Dominique Franks will likely get more reps on defense if the Falcons opt to utilize their dime package which normally features four corners.

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 15 Review

December 18th, 2012 1 comment

A solid performance for the Falcons against the Giants. It was probably their most balanced game all year long. If they’ve been more balanced, then I just don’t recall that game, because it’s been a while since it happened.

The hat tip must go to the offensive line. After being manhandled by the Giants last January, they were very good. They were able to open enough holes to establish the run for the team early on. They also did an excellent job protecting Matt Ryan. I counted only 3 hurries (2 by Osi vs. Baker, 1 by JPP vs. Clabo), and no pressures. Last year, Ryan was sacked twice and pressured 6 times.

Propelled by one of the better line performances we’ve seen in 2012 (and by far their best at home), Ryan and the offense got back on track after two abysmal performances in previous weeks. Roddy had a relatively quiet game, his two lone catches were third down conversions. Jones also was fairly quiet in the first half, but came alive in the second half. Gonzo was Gonzo, you know being money on third downs and in the redzone. Douglas really stepped up and made some nice plays. Even Mike Cox got into the action. It’s nice to see the Falcons offense being able to spread the ball around and get multiple contributors involved.

On the ground, Turner had a solid game. But he was outshined by one Jason Snelling. I don’t think anybody’s ever earned as much money as Snelling did on that small amount of carries. Sure, all of his earnings came in the fourth quarter, and only $1 did not come on the final drive during garbage time. But he ran extremely hard, and it was clear that Snelling was going to give the coaches something to consider in film review this week. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but he looked better on those 7 carries than I think any Falcon RB has looked all year long. The Falcons should be looking to mix him more in the rotation going forward.

Mike Cox, you’re going to get some love here too. Not only did you entertain us with your tumble over a defender, you also did a solid job blocking. Your blocking hasn’t been world-shattering, but you’ve been steady and consistent. You don’t miss assignments which is really all you can ask for from a fullback.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$0$0$0$0$0$15.00
Julio Jones$0$3$9-$1$0$0$11.00
Jason Snelling$0$7$2$0$0$0$9.00
Michael Turner$0$7$0$0$0$0$7.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$5$1$0$0$6.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$6$0$0-$1$5.00
Mike Cox$0$0$2$2$0$0$4.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$1$0$0$0$3.00
Roddy White$0$0$2$1$0-$2$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0-$1$0.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 11 Review

November 21st, 2012 Comments off

An underwhelming performance for the offense. Granted, the Arizona Cardinals feature probably the best defense the Falcons will see all year long, and the fact that Julio Jones was not healthy all contribute to the poor performance. But the Falcons still managed to have opportunities in this game that they did not take advantage of.

I have to give the line some credit, as pressure was not a major issue in this game. Blalock had a few key blocks, and Turner had some nice runs, showing good power at times. By league standards, it was a mediocre game for the Falcons running the ball. But considering the struggles the Falcons have had this year, it was a good day by their standards. That’s how far things have fallen with the Falcons ground attack over the years.

As for Ryan’s interceptions, at least two came on instances where the Cardinals were able to blitz and get a free rusher to Ryan. I don’t really think you can blame the line for that, since that tends to be under the jurisdiction of the QB to make the proper adjustments. Other than a handful of bad throws, I thought Ryan played well otherwise.

Give the Cards some credit, they covered Gonzalez well. There were times where Ryan was looking for him and he was covered. Jones clearly was hurt and lacked explosion in his cuts. Douglas stepped up in the fourth quarter and made a number of big catches to help this team pull out the victory.

It also looked like McClure’s injury bothered him as he had a bad series on the opening drive of the third quarter (he was injured on the penultimate drive in the second quarter). I don’t know what that will mean for future games, but it certainly tells me that the injury was more severe than probably initially thought when he just managed to miss a single snap.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$9-$1$0$0$0$8.00
Roddy White$0$0$5$0$0-$1$4.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$4$0$0$4.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$1$3$0$0-$1$3.00
Harry Douglas$0$1$3$0$0-$1$3.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Matt Ryan$3$0$0$0$0$0$3.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$3$0$0-$2$1.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Julio Jones$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00

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Owens and Smith to miss Charger game

September 22nd, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday, the Falcons released their injury report for this weekend’s road game against the San Diego Chargers. Cornerback Chris Owens and running back Antone Smith were declared out for the game. Both players were injured during last Monday’s win against the Denver Broncos, Owens suffering a concussion and Smith injuring his hamstring. Neither player participated in this week’s three days of practice.

Also on the report were tackle Tyson Clabo (hip) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (thigh), both declared as questionable. Defensive end John Abraham (knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (thigh), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (knee) were all listed as probable. All six players were limited in their participation of Wednesday and Thursday’s practice. All those listed as probable fully participated in Friday’s practice however.

With Owens out of the game, Dominique Franks is expected to fill in at nickel cornerback. Franks was inserted into the Broncos game after Owens left early.

Grimes out for year with Achilles injury

September 10th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Brent Grimes

The Falcons announced on twitter today that cornerback Brent Grimes would be gone for the year with an Achilles injury. Grimes left the second half of yesterday’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs with what was deemed a calf injury. The exact nature of Grimes injury has not been disclosed, but it is likely Grimes suffered a torn Achilles and will require season-ending surgery. The team announced that Grimes would go on injured reserve.

Grimes has served as the Falcons top corner the past two seasons, including a Pro Bowl year in 2010. He missed 4 games last year with a right knee injury and was given the Franchise tag after the season, set to make around $10.3 million this year. In Grimes absence, the Falcons will likely promote either Dominique Franks or Chris Owens into the nickel role. Grimes started at right corner against the Chiefs, a role that will likely be resumed by Dunta Robinson. In nickel situations, either Franks or Owens will come into the game on the right side as Robinson moves into the slot.

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