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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.

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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Predicting the Falcons Final 53

July 24th, 2013 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Will Brian Banks make the squad?

On the eve of training camp, it’s time to predict which players will make the Falcons 53-man roster to start the season. As things progress this summer, I’ll continue to update how things are looking.

One of the challenges of accurately predicting who will make a roster is injuries. Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, and no team is immune from them. There are always going to be at least one or two players that were near-locks to make the team that wind up beginning the season on injured reserve. Players like Will Svitek and Bradie Ewing fit the bill from 2012. And that is bad for those players, but also gives unexpected opportunities for others. And even when a player doesn’t suffer a season-ending injury, it certainly affects the roster. If a key player sprains his knee and is going to miss just one or two games, it will often cause the team to carry an extra player at his position group into the season, which leads to carrying one less player at another.

Another factor is that when other teams make cuts, players that the team likes will become available. And it’s hard enough predicting who the Falcons will cut, it’s near impossible to predict who the other 31 teams will cut. Thus it’s unknown, which veterans will become available and who the Falcons could possibly add to bolster their roster heading into the season.

So I have no expectation that these predictions will be 100% accurate due to unknowable factors like that, but if I can get 48 of 53 players correct, I’d be extremely happy. I put an asterisk (*) beside the players that I believe remain eligible for the practice squad. A double asterisk (**) indicates players that I believe fulfill the parameters to allow a potential third year on the practice squad (normally players are only allowed two).

Quarterback
While I do think there is a relatively good possibility (around 25%) that the Falcons opt to bring in an outside veteran to bolster depth at this position, right now I do think the odds favor the Falcons opening the season with Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree poised as the team’s two backups behind Matt Ryan. While the new trend in the NFL is to keep only two quarterbacks, I’m not convinced that the Falcons have that much confidence in Davis to keep him alone on the roster. Especially since the Falcons did use a draft pick on Renfree, and that indicates that they do have long-term plans for him.

Who Makes It: Matt Ryan, Dominique Davis*, Sean Renfree*
Who Doesn’t: Seth Doege*

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Camp Battles 2013: Defensive Tackle

July 19th, 2013 Comments off
ICON SMI

Peria Jerry is on the bubble to make team

Like many other positions, there is no real concern over the starters at defensive tackle for the Falcons as Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters both return. Babineaux has been a fixture since the 2008 season, and Peters since 2010. Peters missed last summer with a foot injury that limited his effectiveness in 2012. He hopes to respond with a stronger year that can be buoyed into a long-term contract by the team.

The bigger questions at this position come in terms of the depth. The Falcons have already been linked to free agent Richard Seymour as a possible addition throughout the summer, although talks were broken off in June. Then, Seymour sounded like a player prepared to retire if no NFL team was willing to meet his price. The possibility still remains that Seymour could be signed to the team. If so, then he almost certainly will be the team’s top reserve at the position. If not, then there will be a fairly wide-open competition for the spot.

The incumbent is former first round pick Peria Jerry, who has had a disappointing career in Atlanta. Jerry becomes a potential candidate for release as the team could save nearly a million dollars against their 2013 cap by doing so. But that will only come if the team is comfortable with one of the other defensive tackles being the top backup at the position.

The likeliest player would be second-year Travian Robertson. Robertson garnered limited playing time last year, but had an impressive summer showcasing his ability to be a disruptive run defender and capable pass rusher. Also in the mix is Micanor Regis, who also had a good summer last year alongside Robertson. Regis is athletic and offers more size to plug the middle in run defense. He can potentially play a role at the nose tackle position when the Falcons incorporate more 3-man fronts on their defense.

But to unseat Jerry, at least one if not both are going to need to have strong summers. Robertson is as close to a lock to make the final roster, regardless of whether it’s as the third or fourth player in the rotation. At this point, Regis may be looking more at a practice squad spot. But the Falcons carried five defensive tackles last year on the roster (Vance Walker being the other), and Regis adds similar potential value to the unit as the bulky run defender like Walker.

Also in the mix will be undrafted rookies Adam Replogle and Neal Huynh. Replogle is an athletic player that offers potential as a pass rusher. Huynh is more of a run stopper that can add depth at nose tackle. Both players are longshots to make the final roster, but certainly will be prime candidates to make the practice squad.

The Falcons interest in Seymour indicates the possibility, if not likelihood that they could be looking for more help at this position by the end of summer even if Seymour isn’t picked up. If Seymour is the indicator, an established veteran that is well-versed in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense would be a prime candidate.