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Takeaways from Wildcard Weekend 2013

January 6th, 2014 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones stands alone in Falcons offense

I got into an interesting Twitter conversation on Sunday in regards to the Atlanta Falcons identity. Or rather, lack there of.

This isn’t a new issue, and the team’s identity crisis really all started when the team mortgaged a good deal of its future to trade up for Julio Jones. After being initially critical of that trade, I have now embraced it following Jones’ transcendent play in last year’s playoff run.

But when Atlanta first made the move, I made comments about the Falcons adopting a new identity signaled by the team’s decision to trade away all those assets for Jones. And the reality is that the Falcons have failed to assume that identity.

The buzz word in 2011 was “explosive” and the Falcons have been anything but that since making the Jones trade. Essentially the team stood pat afterward that move, believing that Jones’ presence alone would be the difference in transforming their offense and leaving behind their run-dominated identity headlined by Michael Turner from 2008-10.

After finishing dead last in the NFL in 2010 in terms of percentage of passing plays that were completions for 20 or more yards, the Falcons made improvement to 18th in 2011. But then fell back to 27th in 2012, and were once again in the cellar this past year at 31st. Only the Washington Redskins fared worse in 2013.

If there is a silver lining, it was that the Falcons weren’t always that bad this year. If you only consider the first five weeks of the year when Jones was healthy, the Falcons ranked 20th. But that still is below average. So while one can say Jones has definitely helped make the Falcons more explosive, they have yet to cross the threshold that indicates a rise above mediocrity. In fact when one looks at the numbers collectively over the past three seasons, the only teams that have been less explosive than the Falcons are ones that have been plagued by poor quarterback play and/or no weapons at wide receiver.

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Moneyball 2013 – Week 16 Review

December 28th, 2013 Comments off

The delay in posting this was partially due to the holidays preventing me from looking at the All-22 earlier in the week, and then technical issues involving access to the internet later in the week.

In reviewing the game, the offense had their typical game in terms of what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the years. One that starts promising, then sputters in the third quarter, but then is able to turn it on in the fourth quarter. But the promising start wasn’t really all that promising. They did find some success moving the ball in the second quarter thanks mainly to a healthy running game and that big play to Drew Davis.

Matt Ryan had a decent game, although there were a couple of times where he once again seemed hesitant to throw down the field. But it wasn’t anything too glaring. There were other instances where he seemed to once again get locked onto his first read, which was often Roddy White. White earned quite a bit with a lot of short completions that helped move the chains. Six of his first seven receptions didn’t go more than seven yards in the air.

The running game had its moments, although most of their missed opportunities came due to poor blocking as once again with the young guys on the right side missing the majority of those assignments. I still believe that Harland Gunn is a better option to start at right guard than Peter Konz. Gunn didn’t have a great game, but it’s clear on tape that Gunn is simply better at everything than Konz. He’s quicker off the snap, got better feet, more violent hands, better mobility, etc. Konz isn’t playing poorly, but he’s just not showing the things on tape that suggest he’s got the potential to get demonstrably better than he has been the past two years.

Overall, the pass protection was solid. Aldon Smith was able to get the better of Lamar Holmes a couple of times on the bull rush, but for the most part, he, Justin Smith, and Ahmad Brooks had relatively quiet games.

It’s hard to put an exact reason on why the Falcons failed to move the ball in the third quarter. Konz missed a block on 3rd-and-1 on the opening drive of the third quarter, trying to pull and block Patrick Willis. Willis was able to blow up the play and halt Steven Jackson in the backfield, forcing a punt. The Falcons did take their first designed deep shot of the game on the opening play of that series, with a play-action pass to White that went 14 yards in the air, although I say it was deep because the reason why it wasn’t over 15 yards was because of Ryan’s throw not the design of the play.

Then on third down on the second series of the third quarter, Blalock gave up late pressure after Ryan had time in the pocket. I won’t blame that one on Blalock though, that was just simply the receivers not getting open. Ryan was looking at White, but was hesitant to pull the trigger because Navorro Bowman was sitting underneath and could have jumped the throwing lane. Then Ryan scrambled and threw the ball away, although had he kept his eyes downfield he could have thrown a first down to Drew Davis who was crossing the field and was open. But Ryan threw it away and the Falcons punted. The first down play on that series was a play-action bootleg where Ryan threw to a spot, but Harry Douglas got no separation from Carlos Rogers and couldn’t get to the spot where he was supposed to be.

I’d love to sit here and pick on Douglas some more, particularly for his inability to win in traffic at the end of the game on the pick-six where he got outmuscled by Tramaine Brock. But what needs to be said about Douglas that hasn’t been said already? The Falcons need to find an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason. They have been complacent there for the past two years, and this is the offseason where that needs to change. But I’m not overly optimistic that it will change.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$19$0$0$0$0$0$19.00
Roddy White$0$0$13$0$0$0$13.00
Steven Jackson$0$8$0$0$0$0$8.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Drew Davis$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$0$0$0$0$2.00
Patrick DiMarco$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Ryan Schraeder$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0$1$0-$2-$1.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Harland Gunn$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

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Falcons Lose Close One to Saints

November 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bryant is disappointed after missing a 52-yard field goal late vs. Saints

The Atlanta Falcons showed a little signs of life, going the distance with the New Orleans Saints in a 17-13 loss. Despite now sporting a 2-9 record, the Falcons were able to hang with the rival Saints (now 9-2) and had opportunities to win the game late. It is a stark change from recent performances which have seen the Falcons get beat by at least two scores in four straight games.

Matt Ryan had an improved performance, completing 30 of 39 passes for 292 yards, but was held without a touchdown for the first time in 16 games. Steven Jackson scored the Falcons’ lone touchdown, leading the team with 16 carries for 63 yards on the ground. Harry Douglas led receivers with 9 catches for 79 yards. Darius Johnson (6 catches, 67 yards), Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 43 yards), and Jackson (3 catches, 16 yards) had notable contributions in the passing game as well. Roddy White was held in check for the most part, catching just a pair of passes for 24 yards. Matt Bryant connected on two field goals from 39 and 24 yards out, but missed a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The kicked sailed wide left, giving the Saints the ball back and a chance to seal the game with their four-point lead. Matt Bosher punted 3 times for an average of 45.3 yards, with 1 punt placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain returned one punt for 10 yards. The Falcons third down offense improved this week, as they were able to convert on half of their 12 attempts. They were also able to score touchdowns on one of two red zone trips.

Defensively, the Falcons held the Saints to their second-lowest scoring output of the season. They gave up 374 total yards, including 103 on the ground. They were unable to provide adequate pressure, totaling only a single sack on Drew Brees, and struggled to get off the field on third downs. The Saints were successful at converting 54-percent of their 13 third down attempts. Paul Worrilow led the team in tackles for the fourth-consecutive week, tallying 9 stops on the night. Jonathan Babineaux (4 tackles); Joplo Bartu (7 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (7 tackles, 1 pass defended); Peria Jerry (3 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack); Robert McClain (5 tackles); William Moore (5 tackles); Desmond Trufant (5 tackles, 3 passes defended); and Sean Weatherspoon (4 tackles) had notable performances.

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Gonzalez Questionable But Expected to Play vs. Saints

November 21st, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gonzalez

Yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons announced their injury report for their Thursday Night contest against NFC South Division rival, the New Orleans Saints. On it, tight end Tony Gonzalez was among several players listed as questionable with a toe injury, but according to head coach Mike Smith (via ESPN’s Vaughn McClure), he is expected to play. Gonzalez did not participate in practices on Monday and Tuesday this week, but did participate on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Also listed as questionable are defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (tricep), quarterback Dominique Davis (knee), and safety Zeke Motta (hand). All three players were limited in all three days of practice this week. Davis suffered his injury in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, prompting the team to work out a pair of veteran quarterbacks in Trent Edwards and Mike Kafka this week. Neither passer was signed due to the expectation that Davis will be available against the Saints. Motta has a broken finger and is expected to play with a cast according to an earlier report this week.

Listed as out on the injury report is defensive end Malliciah Goodman, who also missed last week’s game with a calf injury. He was held out of practice again this week.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (shoulder), running back Jacquizz Rodgers (ankle), offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood (knee/hip), and linebacker Paul Worrilow (shoulder) were all listed as probable. All three players fully participated on Wednesday, while being limited in practice on Monday and Tuesday due to the shortened week of preparation.

Notable injuries for the Saints include guards Jahri Evans (ankle) and Ben Grubbs (neck), defensive end Akiem Hicks (back), running back Darren Sproles (knee/ankle), safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion), and tight end Ben Watson (concussion). All six players were listed as questionable on the team’s injury report. Both Evans and Sproles were held out of Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices. Also appearing on the injury report as probable are tight end Jimmy Graham (elbow/foot), defensive end Cameron Jordan (ankle), and linebacker Curtis Lofton (hamstring/ankle). Cornerback Jabari Greer was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a torn ACL. He is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by second-year cornerback Corey White.

Gonzalez Questionable in Week 11 vs. Bucs

November 15th, 2013 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced their injury report for this weekend’s upcoming matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and tight end Tony Gonzalez was among several players listed as questionable. Gonzalez injured his toe during last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks and was held out of practice this week on Wednesday and Thursday. He returned to practice on a limited basis today, but his status for Sunday’s game remains up in the air.

Also questionable on the injury report are wide receiver Harry Douglas (knee), and defensive tackles Peria Jerry (toe) and Corey Peters (knee). Douglas suffered his injury during the week, missing Thursday’s practice but returned to practice on a limited basis today. Both Jerry and Peters were able to play last week despite suffering from the same injuries. Jerry was limited in practice on all three days, while Peters missed Wednesday’s practice, but was limited on Thursday and Friday. Defensive end Malliciah Goodman (calf) will miss this week’s game as he was out all three days of practice.

Listed as probable are running back Steven Jackson (toe), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot), and wide receiver Roddy White (shoulder). Jackson and White have both been limited this year with other injuries. Jackson missed several games earlier in the season with a hamstring injury. White returned to the Falcons lineup last week for the first time since Week 5 after suffering from hamstring and ankle injuries. Weatherspoon was just elevated off the short-term injured reserve this week after suffering a foot injury earlier in the year.

Also appearing on the injury report is running back Jason Snelling. Snelling missed Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, but was limited. He missed Friday’s practice with a non-injury related issue due to his arrest for possession of marijuana.

Notable injuries for the Buccaneers include guard Carl Nicks (foot) and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers (concussion), who are out and questionable, respectively. Also listed on the injury report as probable are safety Mark Barron (knee), wide receiver Vincent Jackson (knee), guard Davin Joseph (knee), tackle Donald Penn (calf), and defensive tackle Akeem Spence (wrist).

White Questionable but Expects to Play vs. Seahawks

November 9th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons injury report released this week lists Falcons wide receiver Roddy White as questionable with his hamstring/ankle injuries that has caused him to miss the past three games. White indicated earlier this week that he expects to play this Sunday, but was listed as questionable due to being limited in all three days of practice this week.

Also listed as questionable were offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (thigh), and defensive tackle Corey Peters (knee). Like White, Baker and Nicholas were limited in all three days of practice this week. Peters missed Wednesday and Thursday’s practices and was limited on Friday. Peters suffered his injury during last week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. Baker returned to the starting lineup against the Panthers for the first time since Week 4. Nicholas has missed the past two games with his injury.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (toe) was listed as probable after being limited on Wednesday and Thursday’s practices, and fully participated in Friday’s practice.

For the Seahawks, notable injuries include defensive end Red Bryant (concussion) and center Max Unger (concussion), who were listed out. Right tackle Breno Giacomini (knee) is doubtful. Safety Kam Chancellor (ankle), defensive end Chris Clemons (non-injury) and running back Marshawn Lynch (knee) were listed as probable.

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White Questionable in Week 9 vs. Panthers

November 2nd, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report yesterday, and wide receiver Roddy White was listed as questionable after participating on a limited basis in Friday’s practice. White has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and was held out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday. If White is unable to go, the Falcons will continue to start Drew Davis opposite Harry Douglas at wide receiver as they have done the past two weeks.

Also listed as questionable were offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee), safety William Moore (hip), and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee). All three players were limited on all three days of practice this week. Out this week will once again be Stephen Nicholas (thigh), who was held completely out of practice. If Baker is unable to go, he will be replaced by Lamar Holmes, who has started the past three games at left tackle in Baker’s absence. Moore’s backup is rookie Zeke Motta, who has had minimal reps on defense thus far this year, mostly appearing on special teams. Umenyiora’s potential absence could see the Falcons shuffle their defensive end rotation, moving Jonathan Massaquoi to right end and potentially starting Malliciah Goodman at left end.

Jason Snelling (ankle) is probable after missing Wednesday’s practice, but fully participated on Friday. Linebacker Akeem Dent (ankle), center Joe Hawley (elbow), defensive tackle Peria Jerry (toe), and guard Garrett Reynolds (knee) were all probable as well. Dent and Reynolds were both limited on Wednesday, but fully participated in Thursday and Friday’s practices. Hawley and Jerry were limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but fully participated on Friday.

For Carolina, notable players on their injury report are: linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot), who is questionable this week, along with linebacker Thomas Davis (shoulder), defensive end Charles Johnson (groin), and running back DeAngelo Williams (quad), who are all probable. Johnson and Williams were held out of practices on Wednesday and Thursday, but returned on a limited basis on Friday.

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

Takeaways from Week 3

September 23rd, 2013 Comments off

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan and the running game give Atlanta hope

I have become increasingly aware of the fact that over the years part of my duties as a Falcons blogger is being able to talk my fellow fans down from the ledge.

Under Mike Smith, losses by the Falcons are relatively rare and thus it seems that the negativity is magnified during the weeks following a loss. People have to get all the negativity that they are used to getting out over a 12-loss Falcon season in less than half as many games. Also it seems like after every single loss that Falcon fans want to take a referendum on the season and use that individual game to determine whether the Falcons are going to or capable of winning a Super Bowl.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But the only game that determines whether a team is able to win a Super Bowl is the Super Bowl itself. And that game is a long ways off. Thus nobody should be trying to figure out February in September.

Look, I’ll admit the stats aren’t that promising since teams that start the season 1-2 aren’t exactly known for making deep playoff runs. But here’s something that should provide you a bit of solace. Five of the twelve playoff teams last year did start the season 1-2. That might be the most ever, although I only checked back to about 1990 or so before my eyes glazed over. In 2010, none of the playoffs teams got off to worse than a 2-1 start. What does that mean? I don’t know. It could be a one-year aberration or a sign that parity is rising in the NFL. But more importantly, it’s supposed to illustrate to you that a 1-2 start doesn’t end your season just as it did not for Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, and Washington a year ago.

Also, the 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants both started the year 1-2 and ultimately won the title. Sure, two out of twelve doesn’t exactly fill you with an abundance of confidence but it should illustrate to you that an NFL season is not defined by what happens in Week 3.

If I’m making the argument for why the Falcons are going to turn around their season then that argument is going to be based off the fact that both losses came in the final minute. A play or two here and there, and the Falcons could easily be 3-0. The fact that the Falcons’ are pretty beat up at this point in the year also could play into their favor later on. It’s getting a lot of younger players reps to the point that several of them might wind up stepping up. It is noteworthy that without contributions from rookies like Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Michael Johnson, the Giants may not have made it to the Super Bowl back in 2007.

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Moneyball 2013 – Week 2 Review

September 17th, 2013 Comments off

This was one of the more one-dimensional offensive efforts I can recall seeing from the Falcons. There have been plenty of times the past few years where the Falcons running game was virtually non-existent, but it never seemed this bad. One measly yard in the first half? And as I mentioned yesterday, when the Falcons (and frankly most NFL teams) are this bad at running the ball, they find it hard to win.

Yet the Falcons did, and that was mainly due to the performances of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, who were outstanding in this game. The Falcons made ample use of Jones’ ability on screens, as I counted five screens to him in this game. In truth, only two of them were effective (tallying 38 combined yards), but they contributed to scoring drives. And of course, Jones’ 81-yard catch was also pivotal in this game. As it truly was the Falcons’ lone big play of the game, as they had to rely on a lot of short and intermediate throws due to the lack of the running game and poor pass protection.

On the subject of pass protection, once again another poor performance for tackles Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes. Baker really struggled in the first quarter vs. Robert Quinn, giving up three of his hurries, one of his pressures, and his only missed block in that quarter. Relatively, he played better the rest of the game giving up only a sack, pressure, and hurry over the final three quarters. Holmes’ struggles came in the second quarter, giving up three of his four hurries to Chris Long in that quarter.

It was no surprise that either struggled, since Quinn and Long are arguably one of the two or three best pairs of pass-rushing ends in the league. I’ll give Baker a bit of a pass because he was dealing with a knee injury and he seemed to adjust somewhat to Quinn’s speed after the first series. I will be a little harder on Holmes because many of his struggles came on instances where his technique was poor. Too often it was if he didn’t understand that you are allowed to punch and use your hands. Holmes also got away with a false start on the opening series that was instead called against Chris Long for an offsides. Without that missed call from the refs, the Falcons likely would have begun the game with a three-and-out rather than eventually scoring a touchdown, and it might have been a drastically different game.

As for the rest of the line, they were relatively solid. Blalock had the best game. He missed a block on the first play of the game, but after that he did a pretty good job despite giving up a sack to Eugene Sims. Reynolds gives a bit too much ground than I would like in pass protection. Ryan’s quick trigger has not made that an issue yet, but there may be a game down the road against a good defensive tackle where that will become a problem. But Reynolds is doing good things as a run blocker. Konz has not been having the sort of performances that I was expecting after a strong preseason. He had his hands full with Michael Brockers throughout the game. He hasn’t been playing poorly by any means, but he is far from dominant, which he seemed to flash during the summer.

The line gave up pressure on five of the 13 third down attempts, which is an improvement from last week. So that’s a positive I guess since they basically cut last week’s number in half.

The running game was limited mainly due to blocking, but there were a few carries by Jacquizz Rodgers where he did not hit the hole hard. In the future, the Falcons may try to avoid running him up the middle. He just was a bit too tentative, and if the team wants him to be an effective runner, they should stick to the counters and stretches that were more effective last year. But more of his runs were stopped because of poor blocking than his own poor running.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
ST
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$21$0$0$0$0$0$21.00
Julio Jones$0$0$11$0$0$0$11.00
Jason Snelling$0$5$4$0$0$0$9.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$3$0$0$0$5.00
Steven Jackson$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$3$0-$1$2.00
Bradie Ewing$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$2$0$2.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Roddy White$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Drew Davis$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Kevin Cone$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3-$2$0-$1$0.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0-$1-$2.00

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