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Six Falcons Starters Questionable vs. Rams

September 14th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones (left), Roddy White

Yesterday, the Falcons released their injury report for Sunday’s matchup against the St. Louis Rams, the team’s home opener. On it, six Falcons starters were listed as questionable including: defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee), offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle). All six were limited in Friday’s practice. For Babineaux, Baker, and White, that was the only practice they participated in all week long. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice, but was limited on Thursday and Friday. While Samuel and Weatherspoon were limited throughout the week.

White and Samuel’s injuries stem from the preseason, while the others were suffered in the Falcons’ Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Earlier this week, Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated that White is expected to play this Sunday after spending the season opener in a limited role and mainly as a decoy. That led to increased reps for wide receiver Harry Douglas. With Jones also limited, the Falcons may count more on fourth wide receiver Drew Davis this week as well.

Samuel missed the season opener, and the team had Robert McClain start in his place. Rookie cornerback Robert Alford was promoted into McClain’s vacated nickel cornerback spot.

Babineaux is the team’s starter at right defensive tackle, which leads to him also getting work at defensive end in the multiple fronts employed by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. His primary backup is Travian Robertson, who was inactive last week. Although if he’s unable to go it will likely fall upon Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews for increased reps. They combined for only 14 snaps last week against the Saints (per Pro Football Focus). Peria Jerry would like get the start.

In the case of Baker, the Falcons have been getting newly signed tackle Jeremy Trueblood up to speed in preparation for the possibility that he starts this weekend. Trueblood was signed over a week ago and could make his debut at right tackle. That could potentially slide starting right tackle Lamar Holmes over to left tackle, the position he played as a rookie and while in college at Southern Miss. It could also mean playing time for undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder, who is the team’s primary backup at that position.

Weatherspoon’s injury could lead to increased reps from Joplo Bartu or Paul Worrilow. Both are undrafted rookies and played solely on special teams in their NFL debuts last week. If Weatherspoon was to miss the game, Stephen Nicholas would likely be start at weakside linebacker, as he did in the preseason when Weatherspoon was limited by a finger injury. That would likely lead the Falcons to utilize defensive end Kroy Biermann more as a strongside linebacker than defensive end. Nicholas did not play a single defensive snap last week due to the Falcons ability to play Biermann as well as their reliance on the nickel subpackage.

Also listed on the Falcons’ injury report as probable were safety Thomas DeCoud (knee), Jerry (knee), and Matthews (neck). All three players were limited in practice on Wednesday, but fully participated in both Thursday and Friday practices.

Notable injuries for the Rams include: tight end Cory Harkey (probable/knee), defensive end Chris Long (questionable/hip), cornerback Quinton Pointer (out/thigh), running back Daryl Richardson (probable/foot), and safety Darian Stewart (doubtful/thigh).

Mike Smith: Roddy Will Play on Sunday

September 11th, 2013 Comments off
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Roddy White

The Falcons announced their injury report for Wednesday, which included wide receiver Roddy White who did not practice due to the high ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason. Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com quotes Falcons head coach Mike Smith:

We kept Roddy out and, again, he’s the guy that played for us (last) week and we anticipate that he’ll play this coming week.

The Falcons will face the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, coming fresh off their Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

When White initially went down with his injury in the Falcons’ second preseason contest against the Baltimore Ravens, it was expected that White would be ready to play in the season opener against the Saints. He did play on Sunday, but was limited to 37 snaps (per Pro Football Focus). Per White, he was supposed to play only 10-15 snaps against the Saints. Initially labeled a low-ankle sprain, on Sunday it was revealed that the injury was in fact the more severe high ankle sprain.

White was limited to just two catches for 19 yards with limited mobility and burst. Since being a first round pick for the Falcons in 2005, White has never missed a game, now having logged 129 consecutive games played with the Falcons.

The Falcons worked out a trio of free agent wide receivers yesterday in Courtney Roby, Mohamed Massaquoi, and Lavelle Hawkins according to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post. Likely in preparation for the possibility that White may sit out the game.

Roby, 30, is a former Saint that played primarily as a special teams player and kickoff returner since 2008. During that span, he only caught a pair of passes for 15 yards. He was cut at the end of camp by the Saints.

Massaquoi, 26, was a second round pick with the Cleveland Browns in 2009 out of the University of Georgia. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past off-season, but was released midway through camp. He spent little more than a week with the New York Jets before being released a second time. Over four disappointing seasons with the Browns, he started 43 games and caught 118 passes for 1,745 yards (14.8 avg) and 7 touchdowns. He is cousins with current Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.

Hawkins, 27, is a former fourth round pick with the Tennessee Titans in 2008 out of California. He had several lackluster seasons. Most of his production came in 2011, where he finished fourth on the team with 47 receptions for 470 yards (10.0 avg) and a touchdown. Like Massaquoi, he has already been cut a couple of times this past year. He was initially released by the Titans in May, before spending the next three months with the New England Patriots before getting purged at the start of training camp. He was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers and was productive during the preseason with 7 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, but was cut at the end of camp thanks to some mental breakdowns in their preseason finale.

Also listed on the Falcons’ injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, offensive tackle Sam Baker, and wide receiver Julio Jones as not having participated on Wednesday due to various kneel ailments. Safety Thomas DeCoud, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon were also limited on Wednesday due to knee injuries. Defensive end Cliff Matthews (neck) and cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) were also limited. Samuel was inactive on Sunday due to his lingering thigh injury suffered during the summer.

Moneyball 2013 – Week 1 Review

September 11th, 2013 Comments off

This was your classic Falcons-Saints game where the Saints proved victorious. The Falcons had numerous opportunities to steal the win, but they didn’t take advantage of enough of them.

The Falcons couldn’t move the ball against the Saints as the game progressed mainly because of their woes in pass protection. From my count, the Falcons gave up pressures or hurries on 8 of their 12 third/fourth down attempts, which shows you why it is not surprising that they only converted 3 of them. Thus why most of their drives after the first quarter were stalled.

Lamar Holmes had a really bad game. And the only reason his earnings aren’t lower than they are, is because I don’t subtract points for pressures and hurries given up. I probably should, but I don’t because otherwise our offensive linemen would be in the negative almost every week. Cameron Jordan just worked over Holmes, as I counted 3 hurries and 2 pressures from Jordan alone when working against Holmes. The one time it wasn’t Jordan that beat Holmes on a pressure, it came off a stunt from Tyrunn Walker, where Holmes couldn’t get outside quick enough after releasing Jordan inside to Reynolds.

Sam Baker also had one of his weaker games. I did notice early in the game (maybe the second series?) Baker got his leg rolled up from behind and was slow to get up. Did the affect him the rest of the game? Perhaps, and it’s interesting that he sat out Wednesday’s practice with a knee ailment.

Maybe that is an excuse for his shoddy play. Twice Baker got beat when the Falcons were inside the 5-yard line. The first time came in the 1st quarter, when Galette beat him on 3rd down forcing Ryan to throw it away and the team to settle for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown. The second time came when he gave up a hurry to Curtis Lofton at the end of the game on Ryan’s lob to Gonzalez. I only considered it a hurry rather than pressure because Ryan did seem to hold onto the ball a bit too long waiting for Gonzalez to get open.

Speaking of Ryan, I thought he had a good game. But at the very end on the last two plays where first Steven Jackson and then Gonzalez couldn’t reel in the game-winning touchdown, he seemed to lock on both guys early on. Jackson definitely should have caught his pass. Gonzalez should have too, given that he is the G.O.A.T., but at least in his case he has the excuse that Kenny Vaccaro tipped it just before it hit his hands. Given that Ryan was running for his life most of the game, he probably deserves MVP honors for the game.

The running game was mostly non-effective. Not due to Jackson, who on several plays made something out of nothing. But the Falcons couldn’t consistently create push and open holes. They might want to mix in some more stretch plays, as it seemed that early on some of their early success occurred when guys were blocking on the move.

Roddy White clearly was not fully healthy and was a decoy for most of the game. Harry Douglas stepped up and filled in ably. Jones played well, the only negative being that fumble he had which was one of several plays that really turned the Falcons’ fortunes. The holding call on Baker that negated a 3rd down conversion to Douglas at midfield was another killer.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
ST
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$2$0$0$0-$1$16.00
Steven Jackson$0$7$3$0$0$0$10.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Julio Jones$0$0$5$0$0-$2$3.00
Bradie Ewing$0$0$2$1$0$0$3.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$2$0$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Roddy White$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$1$0-$1-$2.00

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 37 “What About Sanchez?”

September 3rd, 2013 Comments off

This week Allen and I have our big 2013 NFL Preview Extravaganza. But first we review the cuts made by the Falcons as well as preview the Falcons-Saints game, and our expectations for Week 1. Allen is very optimistic, while I am the opposite. Thereafter, we break down each division in the NFL, looking at potential playoff teams and ultimately make our Super Bowl picks for 2013. In the end, we get into discussion over how to get cheap Super Bowl tickets, underage drinking, and how Pitt’s football team reminds me of former Falcon teams.

Ep. 37: What About Sanchez? [Download]

Duration: 2 hours, 13 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 Last Week – September 2

September 2nd, 2013 Comments off

ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

The Falcons finalized their roster over the weekend and there were a few interesting moves. If you’ve ready any of my lengthy reaction reviews following the Falcons preseason games, you probably know my opinion on many of the players that made the roster. I want to devote this week’s column to discussing many of the players that were small surprises.

For the record, I would say that I was off on eight players making the roster when I did my initial prediction at the start of training camp. Forty-five out of fifty-three ain’t bad at all. Just to recap, the players I wrongly projected to make the team were: I had Sean Renfree as the third-string quarterback, instead the Falcons kept Josh Vaughan as their fifth tailback. Renfree went on injured reserve, as it’s obviously impossible to predict injuries. Marcus Jackson was on my 53-man roster instead of Kevin Cone as the fifth wide receiver. I picked Phillipkeith Manley as the backup guard, instead it was Harland Gunn. Manley was added to the practice squad. Micanor Regis was my pick for backup defensive lineman, but the Falcons instead opted to keep Peria Jerry. Pat Schiller and Brian Banks were my picks for the team’s backup linebackers, but Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow made it instead. Charles Mitchell and Terrence Johnson were the backup defensive backs, instead Shann Schillinger and Dominique Franks preempted them. Yes, I did pick Ryan Schraeder to make the roster, along with all the teams’ rookie draft picks.

This isn’t meant to toot my own horn (well, maybe just a little) but just as a vector to discuss some of the decisions the Falcons made with their roster. I should preface this by saying that I’m often critical of how the Falcons have managed their roster over the years. I think one of the larger deficiencies of this team is their struggles to develop players, especially undrafted players and guys at the back-end of their roster. When the Falcons kept Brett Romberg as a third center on their roster in 2011, it made little sense to me. What team needs three centers? Todd McClure and Joe Hawley were already on the team and had both proven they could ably play the spot. That same year the Falcons picked up Kirk Chambers at midseason to replace an injured Mike Johnson on the roster. But despite Joe Hawley’s struggles at guard that year, the Falcons never once considered plugging in Chambers there. In my eyes that’s a poor use of a roster spot. Instead the Falcons could have been smart to replace him with a player that they could develop for next year such as Shawn Andrews, Vince Manuwai, or  Leonard Davis. Essentially if a player is not contributing in some capacity by being active every Sunday, or isn’t a player that the team wants to develop for its long-term future, then that player is basically taking up unnecessary space. That might be overly harsh, but I always feel like there is room for improvement as you could replace that players’ spot on the team with someone who does fulfill those requirements.

Take for instance a player like Stansly Maponga, who made the roster as the sixth defensive end, but in truth because the Falcons will use a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 looks this year, he’s essentially eighth on the depth chart. Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, and Jonathan Massaquoi will earn the majority of the reps at end in the Falcons 4-3 looks. But the Falcons also can play Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews there if need be. And in their 3-4 looks, alongside Goodman and Matthews, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will get reps at end. And they will get those reps at times when the Falcons employ a four-man front if the preseason is any indicator as to what will happen in the regular season. So the odds are very low that Maponga will play any snaps this year unless the Falcons are hit with several injuries up front. Maponga thus will probably be inactive every Sunday because I don’t think the Falcons consider him to be a highly valuable special teams player either. So the Falcons likely won’t get any value out of him on game days this year. But in the case of Maponga there is a clear long-term value to developing him. I personally didn’t think Maponga was that impressive this year, enough that I thought the Falcons could risk exposing him to waivers with the intent of putting him on the practice squad. The Falcons obviously felt differently, and understandably so because Maponga does have developmental potential. He may not have had a great rookie summer, but he had injury concerns as somewhat an excuse, and he could still be primed to take a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2, as many players do. Lawrence Sidbury did when he was here in Atlanta, and Maponga reminds me a lot of Sidbury, at least as an NFL prospect.

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Falcons get to 53 with 9 more cuts

August 31st, 2013 Comments off

Just before the deadline, the Falcons officially announced the last nine cuts. The team had already made 13 moves yesterday in their effort to get down to the 53-man roster limit by 6 pm Eastern today. Among those cut were: fullback Patrick DiMarco, linebacker Robert James, wide receivers Darius Johnson, Martel Moore, and James Rodgers, cornerback Jordan Mabin, guards Phillipkeith Manley and Jacques McClendon, and defensive tackle Adam Replogle.

These moves may not be the final moves the Falcons make in regards to their roster as they have typically also picked opposing teams’ players off the waiver wire in recent years. Tomorrow the Falcons can establish their eight-man practice squad as well.

These moves indicate that at least for the time being, the Falcons will keep four undrafted free agents on their roster in linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, as well as offensive tackles Terren Jones and Ryan Schraeder. Guard Harland Gunn made the roster, beating out both Manley and McClendon. Wide receiver Kevin Cone retained his spot as the team’s fifth receiver. The Falcons currently have six running backs on their roster including fullback Bradie Ewing. The team opted to keep Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan at tailback, after it seemed likely only one would stick around. Other bubble players that seemingly have retained jobs are cornerback Dominique Franks and defensive tackle Peria Jerry. The Falcons also retained all of their draft picks, except quarterback Sean Renfree who went on injured reserve yesterday.

Dominique Davis is the team’s lone backup quarterback as of now. Again, the Falcons could continue to make more moves in the next week as they fine-tune their roster in preparation for their season-opening game against the New Orleans Saints on September 8.

Roster Talk: Locks and Bubble Players

August 28th, 2013 1 comment

Back at the start of training camp, I made my projections on who would make the Falcons final roster. And frankly, I feel very good about most of them. I feel like I might be in the single digits with the number of ones where I was off on, which should work out to be only about a sixth of the roster. I’ll take that.

But on the eve of the Falcons final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, I want to discuss which players on the roster are locks versus those that are likely on the outside looking in. I’ll break down all 75 players and put them into four categories which should determine their status for the impending Falcons final 53.

Locks

These players from the start were really in no danger to get released. While they may not have all been 100%, they were in the upper part of the 90th-percentile, and thus were more at risk to be injured than cut by the Falcons.

Among them are a few rookies, who weren’t in danger of getting released one bit such as their top four picks this past April. Their play in training camp and the preseason was to determine how much they’d play when the regular season begins, not whether the Falcons would carry them on the roster.

Quarterback: Matt Ryan
Running Backs: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling
Wide Receivers: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas
Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez, Levine Toilolo
Offensive Line: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley
Defensive Ends: Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Massaquoi, Malliciah Goodman
Defensive Tackles: Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux, Travian Robertson
Linebackers: Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent
Cornerbacks: Asante Samuel, Robert McClain, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford
Safeties: Thomas DeCoud, William Moore
Special Teams: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris

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Injured vets expected to go Week 1

August 26th, 2013 Comments off

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com cites Falcons head coach Mike Smith as indicating that several players that suffered injuries over the course of the preseason are expected to play when the Falcons open the regular season on September 8 against the New Orleans Saints. Those players include: kicker Matt Bryant (back), defensive tackle Peria Jerry (jaw), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle).

Bryant suffered from back spasms and did not suit up against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. Jerry and Samuel both suffered their injuries in the first half of the Titans game. Jerry returned to practice on Monday. While White injured his ankle the preceding week against the Baltimore Ravens and missed the Titans game.

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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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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.