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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 40 “A Sense of Urgency”

September 27th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back to discuss the Falcons disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 as well as preview what we hope to be a rebound win against the New England Patriots in primetime in Week 4 … Questions we try to answer in this episode: 1. Are the Falcons playing with a sense of urgency? 2. Will their schedule in the coming weeks help them get out of this rut? 3. Do the Falcons need to add more pass rush help? 4. Is Stephen Nicholas headed to the bench or the unemployment line? 5. How will Steven Jackson’s injury impact the next few weeks? 6. What is wrong with Thomas DeCoud? We also discuss the play of some of the young players in the secondary, whether veteran players on the defensive line are up to snuff, and whether Matt Ryan deserves criticism for the mistakes made against the Dolphins. We also look around the league at the recent Browns trade rumors, Josh Freeman, and I may be abandoning the Eagles bandwagon.

Ep. 40: A Sense of Urgency [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Moneyball 2013 – Week 3 Review

September 24th, 2013 Comments off

It was another game where the Falcons took their foot off the pedal in the second half because they did not execute.

And particularly in the second half, that lack of execution lies in the hands of Matt Ryan. Ryan played well for the most part, but he missed some reads and throws on critical downs late in the game. On the second series of the third quarter with the Falcons trying to drive to take a two-score lead on 3rd-and-13, Ryan threw too low to White. That was the play that was ruled a catch, but later overturned on the replay. He made the right call to throw low so that he wouldn’t get Roddy crushed by Reshad Jones, but it was just a bit too low for Roddy to make the catch. It got credited with a drop by White because he should have caught it, but maybe if it was a foot higher, it would have been an easier catch and potential conversion.

Then on the next series following the William Moore interception, Ryan made the wrong read by throwing to Harry Douglas over the top when he should have gone to Gonzalez over the middle on the slant. It was just an easier read and throw.

At the start of the fourth quarter with the Falcons in the red zone, pressure from Dion Jordan (against Lamar Holmes) rushed a 1st down throw that Ryan threw out of the back of the endzone. On the next down, Ryan went for Douglas in the end zone on a fake screen to Julio Jones. Brent Grimes cheated up initially on the screen, and I think Ryan thought he could sneak one over him for a touchdown. But Grimes quickly recovered and Ryan threw an uncatchable pass on the wheel route to Douglas. Meanwhile, Jones was open in the flat for what could have been at least a 5-yard gain if Ryan had thrown it initially, and if Jones had broken a tackle or two (certainly plausible) it’s a first down if not touchdown. Then on the very next play, Ryan doesn’t pull the trigger on the slant to Jones. I think he was a bit worried about Grimes breaking it up (although on tape, it is clear that Grimes wouldn’t have gotten there in time), and with a little bit of heat up the middle, Ryan instead rolls out of the pocket and nobody is able to get open in the endzone. So the Falcons have to settle for three.

On the next series in the red zone on 3rd-and-4, the Falcons are attempting a throwback pass to Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez is supposed to chip a blitzing Phillip Wheeler and then drag across the middle. Jimmy Wilson comes free on a corner blitz from the slot. Gonzo was open, but with Wheeler and Wilson in his face, Ryan pumps rather than throws. He spins out of the sack, but then is forced to throw it away before Dannell Ellerbe gets the sack on the delayed rush.

Those latter two instances are plays that were there, but Ryan didn’t pull the trigger. I think one of the criticisms of Ryan, and I personally feel a major reason why he’ll never be a truly elite quarterback in the class of passers like Drew Brees and Tom Brady is because of that inability/unwillingness to pull the trigger on those tighter-window throws. And I think those last two third down plays are just more examples of that. In those situations, the Falcons are in the red zone, and I understand not wanting to make a throw that winds up costing the team points. You don’t want a pick in those situations, where you get zero. At least if you throw it away and live to play another down, you can get three points out of it. So it’s hard to be too upset over it because it’s a smart play on one hand, but sometimes you wish for a little bit more bravado when it comes to Ryan in those situations. That’s just the sort of give and take that we’ll always have to live with Matt Ryan for the next five to seven years. And that deficiency is what makes him maybe the sixth best quarterback in the league as opposed to the third best quarterback in the league. And at the end of the day with all things considered, it feels like you’re nitpicking.

As for the rest of the offense, it was nice to see the running game get back on track. There was spacing up front, with several of the Falcons key blocks coming on the second level. Justin Blalock did a nice job pulling and had one of the more impactful run blocking performances I can recall seeing. Jeremy Trueblood wasn’t great in terms of his run blocking, but did a fairly solid job in pass protection with no real issues there. In the second quarter, on a screen pass to Douglas (his only catch of the game) the Falcons ran in the red zone, if Trueblood had hit his assignment down the field, it would have probably been a touchdown. Instead the Falcons were stopped at the 2-yard line and ultimately settled for a field goal after Jason Snelling was bottled up on the next play. That was their multiple first red zone failures. Holmes did a solid job run blocking at left tackle as well. Holmes needs to continue to get better in pass protection, although I guess he was improved at left tackle since he really can’t get much worse. He still continues to struggle with his punch, as he was struggling both with speed and bull rush from Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan. Holmes is still very much a work in progress, but he’s making small strides.

Jacquizz Rodgers and Snelling looked excellent on the ground. Rodgers really enhanced the blocking up front with several instances where he was able to avoid a missed block in the backfield and turn a few yards lost into a few yards gained. Snelling did a good job as a pass catcher, although he did give up a pressure on a blitz where he blew his assignment.

The Falcons need to get Gonzalez more involved in the passing game, with only a single target after the first series. As I noted before there were instances where they either tried or missed opportunities to throw to him. But he was able to beat a couple of double teams on the opening series and I noticed a couple of other plays later where they were still doubling or bracketing him, so that somewhat explains his lack of production. But against New England, Dirk Koetter and Ryan need to make a more concerted effort to get him involved.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
ST
PEN
TOTALS
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$13$0$1$0$0$14.00
Matt Ryan$12$0$0$0$0$0$12.00
Jason Snelling$0$6$6$0$0$0$12.00
Julio Jones$0$1$9$0$0$0$10.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$3.5$0$0$3.50
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$1$0-$1$3.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Roddy White$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$2-$1$0$0$1.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Patrick DiMarco$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$0.5$0$0$0.50
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0$1$0-$1$0.00
Josh Vaughan$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$0$0$0-$2-$2.00

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Why Mike Smith Should Not be on the Hot Seat

September 23rd, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith

Ninety-seven percent.

That’s the chances that an NFL kicker makes a field goal inside 25 yards. It also represents the chances that an NFL team wins a game in which they are plus-4 on turnover margin.

And it is the chances that the Atlanta Falcons do not win the Super Bowl this season.

I have been seeing and hearing a lot in the past twelve or so hours since the Falcons’ 27-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins on how the Falcons need to get rid of Mike Smith. And while I doubt many of those people are calling for an immediate dismissal of Smitty, they are likely expecting the Falcons to make a move later if Atlanta does not win a Super Bowl this year.

I can understand that frustration because the Falcons have given you, one of their fans, quite a bit to be frustrated over. But firing Mike Smith simply because the Falcons haven’t gotten off to the fastest start or don’t appear to be a Super Bowl team in Week 3 is going a step too far.

Yes, the Falcons have struggled to finish games this year. They have outscored their trio of opponents 47-26 in the first half this year. Meanwhile, they are getting outscored 24-48 in the second half of games. The Falcons have found success early in games, outscoring opponents 31-0 in the first quarter of their three games this year. They have combined for 40 points in the other three quarters this year, but have allowed 74 points.

Let’s compare that to the Falcons after their 3-0 start a year ago. In the first quarter of their first three games of 2012, the Falcons outscored their opponents 26-3. But in the second quarter, they were able to outscore opposing teams 34-21. In the third quarter that score margin was 21-3, and 13-21 in the fourth quarter.

There are some clear conclusions here. Both the Falcons’ offense and defense are underperforming compared to last year’s results.

These aren’t indicators that the Falcons are poorly coached by Mike Smith. It’s just an indicator that this year’s team is not quite as good as the 2012 group was at the start of last season. There are obvious reasons for that, and it starts with injuries. With Roddy White out of the lineup, the Falcons are struggling to sustain drives. Just look at the Falcons ability to convert third downs by quarter over the first three games of 2012 and 2013:

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Categories: Features Tags: , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 39 “Is the Sky Falling?”

September 18th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I break down our thoughts on all of the injuries that have hit the Falcons this week, including assessing whether losing Sean Weatherspoon, Steven Jackson, or Kroy Biermann will impact the team the most … We also look at how the Falcons can potentially replace those guys, including how the team should use Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers … Questions about whether the Falcons should bring in another pass rusher or fullback from off the street … Recapping the Rams game and whether certain things like the Falcons’ pass protection is improving … Previewing the Dolphins game and whether Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez can really make the difference in a win/loss … Joplo Bartu’s emerging greatness … I rant about some of the overrated young quarterbacks in this league including Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson … And we end with talking about our two favorite subjects: Dunta Robinson and the magnificent Philadelphia Eagles.

Ep. 39: Is the Sky Falling? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Five Keys to Improve Pass Protection vs. Rams

September 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons pass protection played poorly in their season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints last week. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked three times and saw pressure on 75% of the Falcons third downs, preventing the team’s ability to mount drives and score points.

The Falcons offensive line will face even more scrutiny this week as they face the St. Louis Rams, who have one of the better pair of defensive ends in the league in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Quinn is coming off a three-sack performance against the Arizona Cardinals last week, including stripping quarterback Carson Palmer twice on blindside hits. One positive for the Falcons may be that Long may not be 100-percent due to him nursing a hip injury. But regardless the Falcons’ line will need to step up this week to deal with that potent Rams’ pass rush.

Complicating matters is the fact that left tackle Sam Baker is questionable this week with a knee injury. It may force the Falcons to shuffle around their offensive line. Right tackle Lamar Holmes, who is coming off an abysmal game where he was readily worked over by Cameron Jordan may move to left tackle to face Quinn. Then newly signed right tackle Jeremy Trueblood may be inserted into the starting lineup. The Falcons may also have to consider starting undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder at left tackle, as he is Baker’s primary backup.

Even with a healthy Baker the Falcons would need to work extra hard to try and deal with the Rams’ pass rush. Now that he’s injured, it will have an even greater impact on the game. Here are five things the Falcons may do to try and offset these issues the best they can:

Personnel: More Max Protect

As Chad Walton indicated in his review of the Saints game, the Falcons did not make significant use of two-tight end sets (12 or 22 personnel). That should change this weekend as the Falcons will use more max protection sets to try and chip and slow down the Rams’ edge rushers. Max protect refers to protections that have at least seven blockers trying to protect the quarterback. But one of the drawbacks of max protect is that it limits how many receivers run routes, limiting the quarterback’s throwing options. This puts more emphasis on those receivers needing to separate from coverage. That could put the Falcons at a disadvantage this weekend since their two best “man beaters” on the outside in Julio Jones and Roddy White are nursing injuries, limiting their effectiveness. This will put more focus on Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas to step up their play.

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Saints Swarm Ryan and Falcons in Opener

September 8th, 2013 Comments off
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan gets sacked by Parys Haralson

The Falcons dropped a tough divisional loss to the New Orleans Saints 23-17 in their 2013 NFL season opener. The Falcons had an opportunity to take the lead with a score in the final minutes, but Falcons receivers could not reel in Matt Ryan’s passes to win it.

Matt Ryan led the team, completing 25 of 38 passes for 304 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Ryan saw significant pressure as he was sacked three times and hit six times. Steven Jackson had an impressive debut with 77 yards on the ground on 11 carries, including a 50-yard run. Julio Jones led receivers with 7 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez had the Falcons other score, finishing the game with 3 catches for 36 yards. Harry Douglas (4 catches, 93 yards) and Jackson (5 catches, 45 yards) also had standout performances. Roddy White, who was injured, was limited with just 2 catches for 19 yards. The Falcons offensively got off to a good start, taking an early 10-0 lead over the Saints, but the Falcons couldn’t sustain it. They did have 367 total yards and converted only 3 of 11 third downs. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal attempt from 23 yards out. Matt Bosher had six punts for an average of 46.8 yards, with 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. Harry Douglas returned a pair of punts for 21 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons got off to a good start, keeping the Saints scoreless through the first quarter. Asante Samuel was a gameday scratch, and the team was forced to start Robert McClain at left cornerback, and promote Robert Alford to nickel back. Akeem Dent led the Falcons defense with 11 tackles, including 2 for loss. Alford (1 tackle, 1 interception, 2 passes defended), Kroy Biermann (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), Peria Jerry (1 tackle, 1 sack), McClain (10 tackles, 1 pass defended), William Moore (8 tackles), Corey Peters (6 tackles, 1 sack), Desmond Trufant (5 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss) had notable games. The Saints put up 419 total yards and converted 6 of 13 third downs (46%).

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Five Falcons to Watch Sunday vs. Saints

September 6th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant may draw plenty of attention from Saints offense in his NFL debut

Keep an eye on these Falcon players on Sunday, as good (or bad) performances from them should be critical to whether the Falcons win in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

LB Akeem Dent – Dent will likely draw several assignments on Jimmy Graham. No easy task in his debut in the Falcons nickel subpackage, as he’s expected to replace Stephen Nicholas as the team’s full-time linebacker next to Sean Weatherspoon, who will likely have his hands full trying to deal with the speedy Darren Sproles. The Falcons have also talked about mixing in Joplo Bartu in their dime subpackage this year, so it will be interesting to see if or how that plays into Sunday’s gameplan.

TE Tony Gonzalez – The Saints inside linebackers aren’t known for their great coverage ability, nor are their safeties. Gonzalez has had big games in the past against the Saints, including a 11-catch, 2-touchdown performance in last year’s road loss. If the Falcons can get Gonzalez going and moving those chains by working the middle of that Saints’ defense, it could mean great things for their offense.

RB Steven Jackson – The Falcons struggled running the ball in short yardage in their loss to the Saints last season. One of the keys to success for the Falcons will be not getting into a shootout, and if the Falcons can control the game on the ground and tempo, then it will be a good indicator for success. They will try to establish Jackson early in the game to help set up manageable third down situations for Matt Ryan and the passing attack.

CB Desmond Trufant – Due to the Falcons focus in coverage on Graham and slot receiver Marques Colston in the middle of the field, Trufant may find himself on an island throughout the game. That will include instances where he’s left alone against Colston, Lance Moore, and others such as Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, and/or Robert Meachem if the Saints choose to play him on Sunday. Expect Drew Brees and Sean Payton to try and exploit the green rookie in his first NFL regular season start.

DE Osi Umenyiora – If the Falcons gameplan against the Saints last time was any indicator, Osi will get plenty of opportunities to rush the quarterback. He’ll be facing primarily Charles Brown, who is relatively green as he’ll be making his ninth start for the Saints, but his first at left tackle. Osi traditionally has taken advantage of weaker tackles, and it will be an important matchup for the Falcons defense to try and exploit.

Ultimate 2013 Predictions

September 5th, 2013 Comments off
John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

Ryan and Jones lead the Falcons to a fourth consecutive playoff season

The 2013 NFL season kicks off tonight, and it’s once again time for the yearly predictions. You’ll see how I project the Falcons 2013 season to go as well as my projections for the other 31 NFL teams. I’ll also try and estimate some of the stats that Falcons players will have this year. I was fairly accurate on many of those projections last year.

If you heard the latest episode of the FalcFans podcast, where myself and Allen Strk projected the playoff teams, you’re not going to see many significant changes. But there are a few, not that I’ve had a few more days to dwell on things.

2013 ATLANTA FALCONS

Final Record: 10-6 (2nd place in NFC South)

1- at Saints – L
2- Rams – W
3- at Dolphins – W
4- Patriots – W
5- Jets – W
6- bye
7- Bucs – W
8- at Cardinals – W
9- at Panthers – L
10- Seahawks – W
11- at Bucs – L
12- Saints – L
13- at Bills – W
14- at Packers – L
15- Redskins – W
16- at 49ers – L
17- Panthers – W

The rest of the league’s projections continue after the jump.
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Five Falcons to Watch Tonight vs. Titans

August 24th, 2013 Comments off

Tonight against the Tennessee Titans will function much like a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Falcons have game-planned for the Titans, and the starters will likely see their most extensive action of the preseason. They are expected to play all of the first half and also might get a series or two in the second half.

While preseason records don’t count, the third preseason typically is the Falcons’ best because of their primary reliance on starters. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 4-1 in their third preseason game. That represents 4 of only 7 preseason wins the Falcons have earned under Smith over the past five summers. So when it comes to treating these exhibition games like the real games, the team is exceedingly good.

The players to watch will focus mainly on the starters:

FB Bradie Ewing

Tonight will be Ewing’s first preseason action, and frankly his first NFL action after suffering a season-ending injury early in his first preseason action last year as a rookie while working on special teams. He has yet to line up on offense with the Falcons. Ewing is expected to man the starting fullback position. While Patrick DiMarco hasn’t run away with the spot in his absence, Ewing will need to have a solid debut and if he can get one clean, hole-clearing hit on a Titans linebacker to spring Steven Jackson, it’ll be a successful night.

TE Tony Gonzalez

This will mark Gonzo’s only action of the preseason. There are zero questions surrounding Gonzalez, but it will be nice to see him on the field. He’s both a security blanket for Matt Ryan and also the fans. As long as he’s healthy and playing, things are going to be okay.

DT Peria Jerry

I have been a firm believer that when the time comes, the Falcons will opt to dump Jerry due to his high salary and lacking production when final cuts are made next weekend. But I’ve been wrong before. Jerry has been working extensively with the team’s starters when Mike Nolan has used a 3-man front, playing left defensive end. Jerry has made minimal contributions as a Falcon since his injury in 2009, and if things are going to be different in 2013, it needs to show up tonight.

DE Jonathan Massaquoi

With the starters expected to get a full first half of play, it will be interesting to see how much the Falcons try to mix Massaquoi in with the group and how effective he is going up against the Titans’ starting offensive tackles. Massaquoi has been the one shining spot among the backups when it has come to getting pressure on the quarterback, and the Falcons will likely employ him in a rotation with Biermann and Umenyiora once the regular season starts. But how many reps he earns may depend on how strong a showing he has tonight.

OLB Sean Weatherspoon

Tonight will be Spoon’s first action of the preseason. And while Spoon is not in a position where he needs to prove himself, like with Gonzalez, it will be nice to see him on the field nonetheless. He’s coming off a lackluster (by his standards) 2012 season, and it will be nice to see if he can kick off his 2013 performance with a good start tonight.

Takeaways from Last Week – August 19

August 19th, 2013 Comments off
ICON SMI

Could we see the return of Mike Peterson?

Roddy White is injured, and I’m not worried. At least I should say I’m not worried right now. If White is out of the lineup in Week 1, then I’ll be worried.

But I’m pretty calm at this point in time, even knowing that White will miss the rest of the preseason with an ankle injury that he suffered on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Falcons now have three weeks for White to get some rest and hopefully heal what the team termed a “minor” injury. Initial reports seem to confirm the lack of severity on this injury, suggesting White could suit up within a week if this were the regular season. But to be honest, I don’t fully buy that. The Falcons routinely have underestimated the amount of time it would take for their players to return. One famous example came in 2010 when Michael Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury in early August that was originally slated to put him out 4-6 weeks. Jenkins did not suit up for a Falcons game until 10 weeks later.

Now it should be noted that since 2010 I don’t recall any other blatant misreads of a player’s recovery. And the team may be a lot better today now three years removed at estimating the timetables for players’ recoveries. But generally speaking, I tend to add a week or two to all prognoses that the Falcons release about their injured players. The fact that the Falcons usually don’t put a timetable on players’ returns is also indicative that they also realize that it only opens themselves up for more criticism.

But the term “minor” is such a relative term. It could be minor in the sense that it may only keep him from practice or playing for a week or two. It could be minor in the sense that it won’t require surgery, but could keep him out of the lineup for a month or more. We really won’t know until Wednesday, September 4, when the Falcons practice report for Week 1 is released and it says either FP (full participation), LP (limited participation), or DNP (did not practice) to indicate where White’s status is. My personal philosophy is que sera sera, thus there is no sense worrying about things you cannot control.

And losing White is arguably the lesser of two evils, at least compared to losing Julio Jones. While I think Richard Sherman’s “dissing” of White several months ago went a bit too far (by saying he’s a product of the system), I do think there is a small sliver of a kernel of truth to what Sherman was saying in that White isn’t as good a player as Jones. Jones is the player that really makes the Falcons offense go, at least in the sense that it changes the way teams try to defend the Falcons. I do think there is a lot more overlap in regards to how the Falcons normally use White in comparison to his replacement, Harry Douglas.

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