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Five Keys to Victory Over the Saints

September 6th, 2013 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson could be an important X-Factor on Sunday

Here are five areas that Falcons head coach Mike Smith is likely stressing this week as important for the Falcons’ chances of winning on Sunday in their season opener against the New Orleans Saints:

Short-Yardage Success

The Falcons struggled mightily trying to gain a single yard against the Saints in their Week 10 loss last year. They need to be able to keep the chains moving on the ground game. In the Falcons loss to the Saints last year, they had six rushing opportunities where they only had to get a yard to either score or move the chains, and failed to convert on four of those instances. Those failures included three chances when the Falcons were at the one-yard line and trying to score. But it just isn’t rushing the ball that the Falcons need to succeed in. Matt Ryan attempted 12 passes where the Falcons had 2 or less yards to go to move the sticks or score a touchdown, and managed to complete only two of those passes. Both of which went for scores. The Falcons had far less short-yardage scenarios in their win over the Saints last year, with only a pair of instances where they needed less than 2 yards to convert/score. In both instances they did so. But the Falcons certainly need to prove they can convert in those situations, particularly near the goalline.

No shootout

Falcons have the weapons to score against most defenses, but given the question marks up front the Falcons don’t want to get into a scenario where Saints rushers are pinning their ears back to get after Ryan. Remember, the Falcons are playing on the road where the conditions are hostile with crowd noise and comfort for the home quarterback. Trying to get into a shootout with Brees on his home turf is playing into the Saints hands. The Falcons can limit the shootout by controlling tempo with sound defense and controlling the clock with a steady ground attack led by running back Steven Jackson.

Pressure on the Quarterback

One of the keys to why the Falcons were able to pick off Brees five times last year was due to the pressure he saw. The Falcons managed only one sack in last year’s Week 13 victory, but hit Brees six times, up from only once in their Week 10 loss to the Saints. They were aided by the injury to right tackle Zach Strief, who was not 100% for the game. This year, they could be aided by Charles Brown, who will be starting his first NFL game at left tackle after nine career starts at right tackle over the past two seasons. If the pass rush can get going in a hostile environment on the road to start the season, it will be a strong indicator for potential success the rest of the season as well.

Pass Protection

While the Saints don’t have feared pass rushers, players like Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks, Martez Wilson, among others are licking their chops to have a breakout game. The onus will be on the Falcons front to prevent that from happening. The biggest question mark up front for Atlanta is right tackle Lamar Holmes, who had a subpar preseason performance. Expect the Falcons to use Tony Gonzalez and running backs to chip to give Holmes some added help. But this likely means that the other four starters up front for the Falcons might find themselves on islands, and must be able to shoulder that load.

Redzone Conversions

The team that takes full advantage of their redzone opportunities is going to be in a prime position to win. In the first contest, the Saints successfully scored touchdowns on 2 of their 3 (or 67%) redzone trips. The Falcons however only got the ball into the endzone on 3 of their 6 (50%) trips. One of those failures on the Falcons’ part came in the final minutes of the game where the Falcons couldn’t punch it on three tries from inside the Saints’ 2 yard-line. In the Falcons second matchup, the Falcons were successful at scoring touchdowns on 2 of their 3 trips (67%), while the Saints on only 1 of their 3 (33%). Falcons-Saints games are almost always close, and 1 or 2 failed redzone trips where a team is forced to settle for three points instead of seven can often make the difference.

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Waiver Wire Scouting: Offensive Tackles

September 1st, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons are unlikely to be done with roster moves as they prep for the season opener against the New Orleans Saints one week from today.

It would be surprising to see the Falcons carry six running backs into the regular season, something they’ve never really done. They also retained offensive tackle Terren Jones on the roster, a surprising move considering how raw and inconsistent Jones looked in camp. He seemed much more likely as a practice squad candidate than someone that would make any contributions this season. Instead, it would make a bit more sense if the Falcons targeted a veteran tackle that could serve as insurance in case Lamar Holmes and/or Ryan Schraeder don’t solidify the right tackle position this season instead of Jones.

As far as offensive tackles go, the crop isn’t overly strong. Several of the players I figured to be on the roster bubble earlier this month did wind up getting cut. Dennis Roland, Jeremy Trueblood, Tony Pashos, and Kenny Wiggins all got cut. Bryce Harris was retained by the Saints, instead they cut Marcel Jones and his glorious afro. Jonathan Scott didn’t get the boot in Chicago, J’Marcus Webb did instead. Oakland’s Willie Smith was waived/injured, meaning he will wind up on the Raiders’ injured reserve if he is not claimed.

Of that group, no one leaps out. Pashos is the most established veteran. He just turned 33 earlier this month, and started 12 games with the Cleveland Browns at right tackle in 2011. He could be an emergency stopgap. But Pashos has struggled to stay healthy in recent years as his age has caught up to him.

Roland got worked over in the Falcons preseason matchup against Cincinnati. Trueblood has always been terrible. Wiggins is familiar to Pat Hill, having played for him at Fresno State. He certainly was battle-tested going up against quality defenders in San Francisco all summer. Jones is a massive guy with upside as a blocker, but lost out in a competition to the more consistent Harris. Webb had a lackluster summer, and coupled with a change in coaching staff was swept out the door. He has experience as a starter (44 starts) and can play either side of the line having started at both. Webb is infamous for being the embodiment of a porous Bears offensive line the past three years, and certainly that reputation is somewhat deserved. Although forgotten is that Webb was relatively solid a year ago playing left tackle. He still has far too many lapses, but outside an abysmal performance against Aldon Smith last year, he graded out about as well as Sam Baker did in pass protection (according to Pro Football Focus). That makes Webb the most talented of the group, and to be plugged in potentially as a swing tackle makes some sense.

I think a lot of Falcon fans are optimistic that the Falcons can scour the waiver wire for a player that can be plugged in immediately at right tackle and be an upgrade over Lamar Holmes. Well, that is not going to happen. If a player the Falcons add winds up playing this year, it won’t be under promising circumstances.

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Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 36 “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”

August 28th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by Steve Cohen once again to recap and discuss our observations from the Falcons-Titans games. We discuss some of the problems that plagued the Falcons, notably their pass protection … Discussion of the overall strength of the Falcons roster … Do they need to add help at WR, S, and OL … How is Robert Alford performing … Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes, and who are the weak links up front … Roster cuts and impending decisions … Who will stay or go? … What we want to see in the preseason finale vs. Jacksonville.

Ep. 36: Beggars Can’t Be Choosers [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 16 minutes

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

Steve can be found on twitter: @SteveInBrooklyn

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

Takeaways from Last Week – August 26

August 26th, 2013 Comments off
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Could Lamar Holmes make or break the Falcons Super Bowl chances?

The big story from the weekend is the fact that the Falcons offensive line looked very suspect against the Titans on Saturday.

In fact, calling their performance suspect is about as nice as I can be. They got whooped. And if I could travel back in time and run into myself from a year ago and told him about their efforts against the Titans, my past self would tell the future self, “No duh.”

Frankly, the Falcons front five got whooped quite a bit in 2012. And by quite a bit, I mean that I can count on one hand how many games where they could be considered the victors of the battle in the trenches. And if their performance against the Titans is any indicator, that will not change in 2013.

It’s no small wonder. The Falcons replaced long-time fixtures at center and right tackle in Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo. They are still in a plug and play mode at right guard with Garrett Reynolds, in the hopes that third time is a charm with Reynolds as far as his production goes. If I ran into my past self, he’d call me naive if not downright stupid for thinking there would be significant improvement up front considering what the Falcons did this past off-season.

The offensive line certainly is going to be a work in progress. And in truth it may be several years before things get fixed up front.

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Reactions to Falcons-Titans

August 25th, 2013 Comments off

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure Mike Smith will find a lot to like upon review

One of the more interesting takeaways I had from this Tennessee game may be the fact that Mike Smith refused to use any of his timeouts at the end of the game. The Titans got the ball back with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Falcons had all three timeouts. By not using those timeouts, Smith let 93 seconds bleed off the clock between plays to get down to the two-minute warning. The possibility existed that had he used those timeouts and the defense had made a stop on third down, he could have gotten another possession to evaluate his young players on offense. But he chose not to.

It’s hard to try and infer what that means. It would seem that he was a little bit disgusted with the Falcons play on the evening (I don’t blame him) and just wanted to get out of Nashville as soon as possible. But I do feel for the young offensive players who may find themselves unemployed over the next 48 hours without getting that last opportunity to showcase their skill.

Here are my positional thoughts on the performances in the game:

Quarterback

What I Saw: I thought Ryan handled himself fairly well given all the pressure he saw. He seemed lock into Julio Jones for the most part, and it’s not hard to see why. Jones was open quite a bit working against Alterraun Verner for much of the night. There was a couple of poor throws by Ryan, but given that the Falcons play-calling was fairly vanilla, he didn’t have Roddy White, and the pass protection broke down consistently on third down, there’s really not a lot he can do. Dominique Davis continues to frustrate me. He has talent and he made a couple of good throws and reads in this game. But he continues to be very erratic with his accuracy on downfield throws. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Davis has shown more than enough ability to merit being kept on this roster as a developmental backup. But he has not yet shown anywhere close to the ability I expect in a No. 2 quarterback. Now part of that may be because I hold backup quarterbacks to a slightly higher standard than most. And it’s clear to me that standard is much higher than the Falcons have given the likelihood that Davis will enter the season as Ryan’s top backup. As a method of comparison, only 2 of Ryan’s 8 incompletions were the results of poor throws. For Davis, 5 of his 7 incompletions were because of his own inaccuracy.

Conclusions?: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Falcons divide reps next week against Jacksonville. Traditionally the Falcons let one quarterback handle the entire game, with Davis being the likeliest candidate. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons try to mix Renfree into the game to get him some extra work, or will they be content to let him hold a clipboard this year. If I was to wager, I would expect Davis to play the entire game, since he is the guy that needs the most amount of work.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 35 “Ravens Recap/Titans Preview”

August 20th, 2013 1 comment

Allen and I are joined by Dave Choate of the Falcoholic to discuss the Falcons preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. We talk of the players that impressed us the most in the game: Peter Konz and the solid offensive line play, Steven Jackson’s improvement, Paul Worrilow’s emergence, and the battle between Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford… Stephen Nicholas, and how safe his roster spot is… Whether Lamar Holmes has solidified the starting right tackle spot, or whether the Falcons should be on the lookout for help there in free agency… Potential of adding a defensive tackle to bolster the interior rotation and later discuss some specific names… Dave then breaks down some of the players he thinks are sleepers that could wind up making the roster and gives his thoughts on how the depth at wide receiver might shape up. And whether Michael Jenkins could help bolster that position… Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens, their off-season moves, and whether or not they can repeat as champions… Reviewing some of the matchups that could be interesting this week against the Tennessee Titans… Discussion of the Falcons subpar pass rush and tight end depth… Von Miller’s suspension and how that could affect the Denver Broncos season and AFC playoff picture.

Ep. 35: Ravens Recap/Titans Preview [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. 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

Training Camp: Day 13 Report

August 11th, 2013 Comments off

Today represents the team’s final day of training camp open to the public. The Falcons won’t actually break camp until next weekend. After a day off following the team’s preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Falcons returned to practice on Saturday. Here is what was reported:

  • Jay Adams took over for Daniel Cox in highlighted five takeaways from Saturday’s practice. Those include Paul Worrilow’s Thursday night performance against the Bengals, Julio Jones’ return to practice, the play of the Falcons young corners, as well as thoughts from Asante Samuel and Kroy Biermann.
  • Robert James was held out of practice, presumably due to an undisclosed injury he suffered in Thursday night’s matchup that limited him to only five snaps.
  • It appears the Falcons are trying to figure out ways to get both Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson on the field at the same time:

  • The official site posted Mike Smith’s transcript from his post-practice interview. Smith highlighted the two rookie corners, Matt Bosher, Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder. Also spoke on Peter Konz’s play and Brian Banks’ progress. He also mentioned that newly signed offensive tackle Jeff Nady will get work at right tackle.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 34 “Everything Bengals”

August 10th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined once again by Matt Chambers to recap the Falcons preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. We each give our thoughts on some of the things we liked and did not like about the game. You’ll hear our thoughts on the rumors of Steven Jackson’s demise…How Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes looked and how it could affect the offensive line play in 2013…Paul Worrilow vs. Akeem Dent…The pass rush and whether some of the young defensive linemen are ready to step up…Robert McClain, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford and how they looked against the Bengals…The greatness of Dane Sanzenbacher…Brian Banks and what are his chances of making the roster…Dominique Davis’ performance and how the backup QB position may play out…The greatness of Jason Snelling…Whether Chase Coffman is for real…What to look forward to in upcoming preseason games, including next week’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

Ep. 34: Everything Bengals [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes

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

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for Grits Blitz blog.

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

Reactions to Falcons-Bengals (Offense)

August 9th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

An unimpressive debut from Dominique Davis highlights last night’s game

Preseason is all about individual evaluation, and I’m doing some of my own, position-by-position. I re-watched the Falcons loss to the Bengals again this morning, and took copious notes. And you will now see my copious write-up of what I took away from the offensive players. I will try and mention every player that played (and a few that did not), and give an assessment on where some of the position battles might lie with one preseason game down.

It’s the first preseason game, and I’m going to try not to overreact to the good performances, nor the bad ones. Several players that were unimpressive will have up to three more chances to reverse that, and certainly the opposite is true as well. Thus why I add the question mark after the conclusions I made since they are very loose ones. Nothing is concluded as of yet.

Quarterback

What I Saw: Matt Ryan was near-perfect, managing the game on his three offensive series. Seemingly his only mistake (barely so) being a rushed throw that was too high for Harry Douglas where Geno Atkins was in his face. Dominique Davis got the brunt of the work after that and started slow. Davis’ footwork and mechanics were iffy at times and his accuracy was off too often in this game. He made a couple of plays with his legs. He was able to get into a rhythm on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter. But his only really good throws were mainly checkdowns and throws to his running backs. He struggled connecting with his receivers on downfield throws. He didn’t have great protection either. Renfree didn’t get a lot of work, making a nice throw on a rollout and having a pair of drops later. Seth Doege did not play.

Conclusion?: Overall, Davis didn’t do much to inspire a ton of confidence with his ability to handle the No. 2 spot, but Renfree didn’t get enough action to push him. How this position battle plays out will get an Act 2 next week as we’ll just have to wait and see if Davis improves.

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