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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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All-22 Breakdown: Falcons Offense Needs the Vertical Strike

November 1st, 2013 Comments off

One of the main topics I hit in this past week’s game review and podcast (roughly around the 40-minute mark) was the Falcons inability to stretch the Arizona Cardinal’s defense, and how that must change if the Falcons want to beat the Carolina Panthers this weekend. It’s one thing to read or listen to what I’m seeing, but thanks to the power of screenshots and photo-editing software, I can now show you what I’m talking about.

The Falcons have become a one-dimensional offense thanks to their inability to run the ball effectively. But that hasn’t been a new development in Atlanta, as they were one of the league’s weakest rushing teams a year ago. But they were able to compensate with an efficient passing attack, thanks in part due to the big play potential offered by Julio Jones and Roddy White. A year ago, that pair of receivers combined for 35 catches of 20 or more yards, and 9 catches of 40 or more yards.

While the Falcons generated five 20-plus yard plays against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sans Jones and White, that number fell to two against Arizona. One of the reasons why the Falcons were able to beat the Bucs despite the running backs rushing for a combined 30 yards, was because they were able to generate those big plays in the passing game. The rushing attack only got worse against the Cardinals, with backs combining for a pathetic 14 yards. And without the big plays to compensate, it resulted last Sunday in one of the worst offensive performances of the Falcons and Matt Ryan in years.

I want to outline two plays using screenshots from NFL Game Rewind’s All-22 view to illustrate what I mean by the Falcons inability to get big plays. I think these two plays, if the outcomes are different would have a vastly different impact on the outcome of the Falcons-Cardinals game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Falcons win the game, but they certainly would have made it much closer and more competitive. And more importantly, moving forward they have to do a better job of taking advantage of similar opportunities when they present themselves.

The first play I want to examine is the very first offensive snap the Falcons had in the second half. Had the Falcons executed on this play as I believe it was drawn up, it certainly would have started the second half with a bang and potentially made the game a one-score game rather than the three-score lead Arizona was able to build shortly after.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 42 “The Mayans Were Wrong”

October 12th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back and more sullen than ever as they recap the Atlanta Falcons Monday Night Football loss to the New York Jets. Things we discuss: How the Falcons defense made Geno Smith look extremely poised; The offensive line’s struggles and problems that will likely continue the rest of the season; Matt Ryan and Jacquizz Rodgers being two of few bright spots on offense; Concerns over the defense and special teams; Whether Levine Toilolo is the only hope among the Falcons non-star receivers; Whether Robert McClain has played well enough to keep his job; Red Zone Efficiency; I apologize to Osi Umenyiora… Finally we discuss the impact of Julio Jones’ injury and whether trading for a player such as Josh Gordon would be a good move; Trading Tony; How the Falcons can turn their season around; Corey Peters and whether he’s earned a new contract; What happened to Stephen Nicholas?; and finish up with some around the league stuff, where I find a way to call out Drew Davis.

Ep. 42: The Mayans Were Wrong [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 3 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. 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

Why Trading for Josh Gordon Is a Smart Move for the Atlanta Falcons

October 9th, 2013 2 comments
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Gordon

The Falcons are in a dire predicament in light of the news that Julio Jones is likely out for the season. Their offense is now without a No. 1 receiver, at least until Roddy White and his ankle and hamstring are fully healed. In the meantime the Falcons will have to be reliant on Tony Gonzalez to carry the offense from the tight end position. Not too dissimilar from the days under Michael Vick when Alge Crumpler was the de facto top option in the Falcons passing offense.

Can the team win that way? Perhaps, but it will be extremely difficult. In those days, the Falcons were able to get away with that style of play because it was buoyed by having one of the league’s premier rushing attack. Currently, the Falcons rank 25th in rushing yards per game and 17th in yards per carry. Much closer to average than back in 2004-06 where they led the league in both categories in each of those seasons.

Crumpler was also a much more effective vertical threat than Gonzalez currently is. In 69 games played with the Falcons thus far, Gonzalez has 23 receptions of 20 or more yards. In his final 62 games in a Falcon uniform, Crumpler had 50. That ability to provide big plays makes a dramatic difference in whether or not a receiver can carry an offense.

Even with the healthy returns of Roddy White and Steven Jackson, the best-case scenario for the Falcons offense over the remainder of the 2013 season will be reminiscent of the 2010 Falcons offense. It’s certainly possible, but given the state of the Falcons offensive line, that is more wishful thinking than anything. That 2010 rushing attack was dominant against some opposing fronts (4 games of 150+ rushing yards that season), but effective against most (12 games of 85+ yards). The Falcons have eclipsed 85 yards only twice this year: in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, thanks largely to a 50-yard run by ackson, and against the Miami Dolphins. A healthier Jackson isn’t going to suddenly morph Garrett Reynolds and Jeremy Trueblood into Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo in their primes.

If the Falcons have any chance of turning their season around and making a late push towards a wild card slot, they need to rely on the arm of Matt Ryan. But that arm will be limited if the Falcons do not have a vertical threat in the offense that can affect how opponents play the Falcons. Julio Jones’ mere presence of the field makes defenses play the Falcons differently. They have to respect the deep ball on all plays because of Jones. Jones forced defenses to bracket him with safety help over the top, because he is capable of running past every corner in the NFL.

In recent weeks, NFL teams have devised a new way of playing the Falcons which is by doubling Gonzalez as well. Coupled with the bracketing of Jones, defenses are forcing a beat up White, Harry Douglas, and the rest of the Falcons unproven receivers to beat them. And it clearly has worked against the Falcons. Without Jones to help keep defenses honest, it will only get worse.

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Julio Jones likely out for the year

October 8th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jones makes a one-handed grab on a 46-yard play vs. Jets

FOX Sports Jay Glazer reports that the Falcons are fearful that wide receiver Julio Jones is out for the remainder of the 2013 season with an undisclosed foot injury. Both the team and Jones are hoping for a better prognosis with a second opinion but are pessimistic.

Jones exited last night’s loss to the New York Jets in the fourth quarter for an undisclosed injury for a few snaps, but was back in the game on the next series. Which included a 46-yard grab with five minutes remaining to set up a Falcons score.  He was targeted only once for the remainder of the game. It was reported by NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington last night that Jones was limping badly from an unknown injury to his lower right leg after the game:

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White is already ailing from a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. He injured his hamstring late in the game, shortly before Jones’ own exit from the game.

The Falcons are off this week due to a bye. In the absence of Jones, the Falcons will have to rely on Harry Douglas and a potentially recovered White to carry the Falcons passing attack at wide receiver. Kevin Cone made his first career catch against the Jets, while fourth receiver Drew Davis has been shut out with only a single target this year. Jones currently leads the NFL in receiving yards (580) and is second in receptions (59) behind only Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts (62). Any rumors of the Falcons potentially making a trade before the October 29 deadline will certainly pick up in the coming days. There have been rampant reports in recent weeks that the Cleveland Browns are listening to offers for wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon missed the Browns first two games of the year due to a suspension by the league for their banned substances policy, for allegedly an accidental ingestion of banned cough syrup. In the three games since, he’s caught 18 passes for 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 41 “Anonymous Osi”

October 3rd, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back with guest star Tom Melton to discuss the Falcons Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots. The questions we wish to answer this week are: 1) Are the Falcons approaching must-win territory in the coming weeks? 2) Will the Falcons youth movement in the wake of injuries is going to cost them this year? 3) Do the Falcons have enough balance on offense and can they turn things around in the red zone? 4) Just how awesome is Tony Gonzalez really? 5) How effective is the Falcons pass rush and whether the Osi Umenyiora signing is working out? 6) Was Mike Smith’s gutsy 4th down call the right move? 7) Did Mike Nolan’s scheme cost the Falcons the game? … We give our thoughts on the upcoming matchup against the New York Jets, as well as assess the play of the offensive line, receivers, young tight ends, and also look around the league at Josh Freeman’s situation in Tampa Bay.

Ep. 41: Anonymous Osi [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes

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

Tom Melton can be found on twitter: @TMeltonScouting, and also writes for his own draft blog and contributes to Draft Headquarters.

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

Baker, Samuel and White Questionable For Week 4 vs. Patriots

September 28th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their Week 4 injury report yesterday, listing offensive tackle Sam Baker (foot/knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) as questionable. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is out as a previous report indicated. Both Baker and White missed Wednesday’s practice and were limited on Thursday and Friday. Jones was limited all week, while Samuel was added to the injury report just yesterday after fully participating the previous two days.

With Baker out of the lineup last week against the Miami Dolphins, the Falcons started Lamar Holmes at left tackle and replaced him at right tackle with Jeremy Trueblood. It remains to be seen if the Falcons will go with that combination again this week. Baker missed two days of practice due to a knee injury prior to the team’s Week 2 bout against St. Louis, was listed as questionable but managed to play. He wound up starting, but did not play the last few snaps after suffering the foot injury that kept him out last week.

Jones has been limited in nearly every practice since suffering his knee injury in Week 1, but has been no worse for wear on gamedays. He is currently leading the NFL in receptions (27) and receiving yards (373).

Samuel being added to the injury report suggests his thigh injury has regressed somewhat. He missed the season opener and played only seven snaps against the Rams. He managed only one day of practice last week but only missed a single snap in Week 3 against the Dolphins. In his absence earlier in the season, slot corner Robert McClain got the start at left cornerback and slid back back inside in the nickel to make way for Robert Alford on the outside.

White has yet to fully participate in any practice this year, as he grits through a high-ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. He has played every game, but been essentially splitting reps with Harry Douglas opposite Jones.

Jackson’s absence will mean that Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling will carry the load at running back for Atlanta for the second week in a row.

Also appearing on the injury report as probable were: center Peter Konz (knee), cornerback Robert McClain (knee), guard Garrett Reynolds (knee), and running back Josh Vaughan (ankle). Both Konz and Reynolds were limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but fully participated in practice on Friday. McClain and Vaughan both fully participated in all three practices this week. McClain and Vaughan both suffered their injuries against the Dolphins and exited the game. Konz had the same practice schedule and was nursing his knee injury a week ago. Reynolds suffered his injury against the Dolphins, but was not removed from the game.

For the Patriots, wide receiver/special teams player Matt Slater (wrist) was listed as out. Notable players that are questionable were wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), cornerback Kyle Arirngton (groin), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot), and running back Leon Washington (thigh). According to reports cited by WEEI’s Mike Petraglia, Amendola and Gronkowski are unlikely to play this week.

Falcons vs. Patriots: Six Intriguing Matchups

September 27th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones

The Falcons hope to respond after a disappointing loss last week as they face the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick, who has earned a reputation as the league’s best schemer. With questions surrounding Falcons head coach Mike Smith and whether the Falcons coaching staff is pulling its own weight, they will have to be up to the task of trying to match wits with Belichick.

In looking at the past two Patriots games, here are three favorable matchups to watch out for on Sunday night for each team.

Advantage: Falcons

Julio Jones vs. Aqib Talib

Last week, the Patriots asked Talib to shadow Vincent Jackson and he was very effective doing so. Jackson was limited to just three catches for 34 yards. It is likely that the Patriots will do something similar this week hoping that Talib can have a similar effect against Jones, who is clearly the Falcons No. 1 target. Jones has been targeted on nearly half (43-percent) of Ryan’s 81 attempts this year. It should be noted that even at his peak in 2009, Roddy White never exceeded 36-percent. If Talib is effective in containing Jones, it will make the Falcons offense much less effective. But that will be a tall order for Talib. It has been no secret the first three games of this season that Jones has been best and often sole offensive weapon in the passing game, yet no Falcons opponent has really been effective at slowing him down. Talib and Jones have only faced each other once, back in Week 3 of 2011. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones was able to catch a pair of passes against Talib for 25 yards on three targets in that game. The Falcons coaching staff, knowing that the Patriots No. 1 defensive priority will be limiting Jones’ impact on the game will have to find ways to get him the ball despite the shadow that Talib creates.

Tony Gonzalez vs. Patriots LBs/Safeties

If Talib shadows Jones throughout the game, it should allow Belichick free to mix up his coverages in regards to tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has yet to really have a breakout game this season and this week he could be poised for such. The Pats have yet to really face a formidable tight end through the first three weeks of the 2013 season. A year ago (per Football Outsiders) the Patriots were weak against the tight end, ranking 29th in DVOA. Note that the Falcons, who also struggled to cover tight ends, ranked 21st last year. The Patriots may not put a single player on Gonzalez, but rotate multiple players. Normally, safety Steve Gregory and linebackers Jerod Mayo and Don’ta Hightower tend to draw most of the assignments against opposing tight ends. But the Patriots may try using athletic rookie linebacker Jamie Collins as well in the hopes he may be better suited against a veteran like Gonzalez.

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Dolphins drop Falcons in Comeback Win

September 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Sims beats Stephen Nicholas for the game-winning touchdown

The Falcons’ record drops to 1-2 with a 27-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins on the road. The Falcons got off to another good start, getting an early 10-0 lead in the first half, but couldn’t finish thanks to a game-winning drive led by Ryan Tannehill in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Matt Ryan led the way, completing 23 of 38 passes for 231 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Jacquizz Rodgers led the Falcons on the ground with 86 yards on 18 carries (4.8 avg). Jason Snelling added 53 yards on 11 carries (4.8 avg) as well. Julio Jones once again led Falcons’ receivers with 9 catches for 115 yards (12.8 avg). Snelling (4 catches, 58 yards), and Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 24 yards) also made contributions. Matt Bryant hit on three of four field goal attempts from 52, 20, and 33 yards. But he missed on a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter late in the game. Matt Bosher punted twice for an average of 33 yards, placing none inside the 20-yard line. Harry Douglas returned 3 punts for 4 yards, and fumbled once. The Falcons dominated time of possession in the first half of the game with 22:48 versus the Dolphins’ 7:12. Their rushing attack finally got going with a total of 146 yards on 30 carries, but they had their share of struggles in the red zone, only scoring touchdowns on 2 of 5 trips.

Defensively, the Falcons limited the Dolphins to 285 total yards, but could not get stops on any of Miami’s three red zone trips, and allowed them to convert 7 of 12 third downs (58-percent). They did sack Ryan Tannehill five times and force two turnovers. Robert McClain led defenders with six tackles, and he also added a tackle for loss and a sack. Joplo Bartu (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defended); Akeem Dent (5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss); Peria Jerry (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); William Moore (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended); Corey Peters (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Asante Samuel (1 tackle, 1 pass defended); Desmond Trufant (4 tackles, 1 pass defended); and Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) had notable performances.

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Baker, Jackson Out vs. Dolphins

September 20th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report for Sunday’s road matchup against the Miami Dolphins today. On it, offensive tackle Sam Baker was listed as out with knee and foot injuries after a week of not practicing. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is also out, although his absence was known earlier this week.

Baker will likely be replaced at left tackle by starting right tackle Lamar Holmes. In Holmes’ stead, Jeremy Trueblood will be elevated to the starting lineup at right tackle. Holmes was Baker’s primary backup at left tackle as a rookie in 2012, but moved to right tackle this year after the departure of Tyson Clabo. Holmes has struggled thus far at right tackle this year, as Baker has at left tackle. The Holmes-Trueblood combination was inserted for the final three snaps of the Falcons’ win over the St. Louis Rams last week.

Questionable on the team’s injury report are wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), defensive tackle Cliff Matthews (neck), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle). Both Jones and Matthews were limited in all three days of practice this week with their respective injuries. Samuel sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, but was limited on Friday. White missed practice on Wednesday, but was limited the remaining two days.

Jones was questionable a week ago, but still managed to match career-highs of 11 catches and 182 yards against the Rams. Matthews also was limited last week by his neck injury and exited the game early after re-aggravating the injury on special teams, but later returned against the Rams. Samuel missed the season opener against the Saints with his thigh injury, and was pulled early against the Rams. In his absence, Robert McClain and Robert Alford have been working at left cornerback. Roddy White has been limited in both of the Falcons’ first two games, with the bulk of snaps opposite Jones being performed by Harry Douglas.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux missed Friday practice with a non-injury related absence. Linebacker Akeem Dent fully participated today after after being limited the two previous days with a shoulder injury. Similarly, center Peter Konz was limited two days with a knee injury before fully participating today. All three of them were listed as probable on the team’s injury report.

For the Dolphins, cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) and nose tackle Paul Soliai (knee) were declared out this week on their injury report. Safety Chris Clemons (hamstring), quarterback Pat Devlin (ankle), linebacker Koa Misi (knee), center Mike Pouncey (ankle), and wide receiver Mike Wallace (groin) were declared questionable. Notably, quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder) was listed as probable after being limited early in the week, but fully participating on Friday.