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FalcFans Weekly – March 30, 2014

March 30th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones celebrates after a TD

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that in speaking with Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons will not be shifting strictly to a 3-4 defense as many suspected based off their offseason moves. However, the Falcons will instead opt to retain the “multiple” defense that employs both 3-4 and 4-3 looks as they have done consistently under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan since 2012. ESPN’s Vaughn McClure follows up that regardless of a shift in the defensive scheme, improvement on that side of the ball will be a key factor in the team improving upon their 4-12 record from 2013.

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Dave Choate of the Falcoholic was inspired by a conversation that we had this weekend to write this piece: Breaking Down Two Likely 2014 NFL Draft Scenarios For The Falcons

Choate also contributes this one on the unlikelihood that Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson joins the Falcons.

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Daniel Cox of team’s official site highlights some of general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s comments involving the team’s compensatory picks from his radio appearance this past week.

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There is at least one proponent of the Falcons signing former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

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Takeaways from Last Week – February 24, 2014

February 24th, 2014 Comments off
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney speaks at the Combine on Saturday

Discussion of the possibility of the Atlanta Falcons trading up made headlines this past weekend following general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s press conference on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And of course the dots are being connected to the possibility that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the primary target.

But I’m going to pump the brakes on getting too “icky-balooky” over Dimitroff’s revelation. Because frankly, it wasn’t much of one. Dimitroff said nothing in his presser that he hasn’t said leading up to the past two drafts. The only real difference is that Dimitroff made these comments not in April but in February at the Combine, a place where a record number of media members have gathered. Of course it’s going to create headlines and generate buzz when you have such a magnified media presence.

It’s no different than the revelation that Clowney is interested in being a Falcon. Of course he is as Clowney should be interested in any team that is going to take him very high in the draft.

Does this mean that a Clowney-Atlanta marriage is one made in heaven? Perhaps, but there is still a long way to go in the draft process before we reach that fateful evening on May 8.

I indeed hope the Falcons find a way to get Clowney, as he is a once in a generation sort of prospect. I can recall three times in the past where I have been exuberant about a Falcons draft selection. The first was in 2001 when the team’s move to trade up for Michael Vick was first announced. The second came when the team selected Matt Ryan in 2008. And the third was when the team traded up for Julio Jones in 2011. While I didn’t initially approve of that trade, Jones’ talent was to a degree that had me excited about the potential he could bring to the team.

But it is that Jones trade that has me currently hesitant about another move to climb the boards to get Clowney. Unfortunately, when revisiting the Jones trade, there is a tendency to draw a line in the sand with people on either side suggesting that it was all good or alternatively all bad for the Falcons. It’s much more complicated than that, with both costs and benefits to the trade.

I have little doubt that the Falcons would not have achieved the highs of 2012 without making the move to acquire Jones. But at the same time, I don’t think the lows of 2013 would have been quite as bad in the absence of the trade either.

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Team Needs: Falcons Need Upgrade of Size and Speed at Wide Receiver

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas

The Atlanta Falcons offense was limited in 2013 due to major injuries suffered at the wide receiver position. The Falcons two most prominent weapons in Julio Jones and Roddy White essentially played five games each this year. Jones played in the first five games before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. And White was nursing various injuries throughout the year and didn’t appear close to healthy until the final games of the year. That left the team without a true No. 1 weapon for the middle third of the year.

Harry Douglas did his best to try and fill those shoes, but it became abundantly clear throughout the 2013 season that the task was far too much for the six-year veteran. Douglas was able to put up very good production this past year, catching career-highs of 85 catches, 1,067 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading the team in the two former categories. However, a lot of Douglas’ production came at points in games where the outcome was already decided, resulting in “hollow” production. Dropped passes, inconsistency and turnovers seem to follow Douglas throughout the season. Roughly half (eight) of Matt Ryan’s 17 interceptions were initially targeted at Harry Douglas.

Douglas will likely return to his role as the third receiver in 2014 with the healthy returns of Jones and White. But in reality, Douglas is probably better suited to being the team’s fourth receiver. Jones has missed time prior to 2013 due to injuries, and while Douglas has been a capable short-term fill-in for him, the lack of long-term value was exposed this past year. Douglas simply doesn’t do any of the things that Jones provides to the offense. Very few receivers do, but the Falcons could at least attempt to find someone that is in the same area code as Jones.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 “2013 Awards Extravaganza!”

January 14th, 2014 1 comment

Allen and I get together once again to discuss our choices for various awards stemming from the Atlanta Falcons 2013 season. Included are our choices for the team’s most valuable player, offensive and defensive players of the year, most improved player, biggest disappointment, and most underrated and overrated players among several other individual honors. During the course of our discussion, I explain my hatred for Harry Douglas for the umpteenth time, and also where I rank Matt Ryan among the league’s top quarterbacks following his play in 2013. After divvying out our awards, we get into a discussion about the winners and losers from the second round of the playoffs, as well as our expectations for the upcoming conference championship games.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 2013 Awards Extravaganza! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 18 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

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