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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Special Teams

July 25th, 2014 Comments off

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester

The Atlanta Falcons special teams unit won’t appear much different than it has the past two seasons with the same group of specialists at kicker, punter and long snapper. But there is one big addition in the return game that could make a significant difference.

Incumbent kicker Matt Bryant, punter Matt Bosher and long snapper Josh Harris return for the third consecutive season. Bryant has been a reliable, clutch kicker over his past five seasons with the Falcons. He’s getting up in age and 2014 might mark his final season in Atlanta, but the Falcons should feel fairly confident that his previous success will continue this year. The team did however bring in a young option in undrafted rookie Sergio Castillo to push him. Castillo is a long shot to unseat Bryant, but can impress the coaching staff enough that he can return on the short list of kickers next year if the team and Bryant part ways.

Bosher is becoming one of the league’s best young punters and won’t face any challengers for his position. Bosher is likely due for a contract extension at the end of the year, and thus his goal this summer will be preparing to put forth his best effort during the season to achieve maximum earning potential.

Harris has had a few lapses over the years, but they appear to become less and less with each passing season. So there’s no reason to expect the Falcons to be disappointed with his performance moving forward.

However, the one big move occurred with the team now having ex-Chicago Bear Devin Hester serve as return specialist. Hester is arguably the best return in NFL history and needs just one more score to sit atop the all-time leader board as far as non-offensive touchdowns go. Hester, 31, is not quite the dynamic threat he was in his prime, he’s still a very effective return threat that commands respect from opposing teams. Many teams still kick away from him because of his potential to take it the distance every time he touches the ball, although it’s not quite the death sentence it once was.

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Team Needs: Falcons Could Upgrade Special Teams in Return Game

February 9th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Bosher (left) and Bryant celebrate a win

The Atlanta Falcons special teams was perhaps the only aspect of their team that consistently played at a high level in 2013. Thus there won’t be any imperative drive to try to make substantial changes this offseason.

Matt Bryant, at age 38, showed he is still kicking strong. He is entering the final year of his contract and thus the only major concern for the Falcons is thinking about his eventual replacement in 2015 and beyond. It’s doubtful that the Falcons will try to replace Bryant this year since he’s been so effective in clutch situations as well as whenever he’s kicking inside the Georgia Dome. He’s made 21 of his last 22 field goal attempts kicking at home.

But the team should at least give a long look to a young kicker in training camp just to plan ahead to 2015 when it’s possible that Bryant could decide to hang it up. The Falcons tried this strategy over a decade ago when they carried Jake Arians on the practice squad in Morten Andersen’s final season in 2000. Arians was eventually beat out by Jay Feely the following summer for the kicking job, but the strategy is still a relatively sound one. The Falcons need to start prepping for the future and that begins this offseason.

The Falcons don’t have to do such preparation at punter as Matt Bosher is blossoming into one of the better young punters in the NFL. Bosher continues to make strides both as the team’s kickoff specialist and as a punter. His big leg proved an asset several times last year when the team struggled to move the ball offensively, to help flip field position and give the Falcons’ struggling defense a fighting chance. The only real issue moving forward with Bosher is when the Falcons plan to start talking contract extension. 2014 also represents the final year on his contract, and there’s little doubt the team at some point in the next 12 months will lock him up for a lucrative long-term deal.

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Camp Battles 2013: Special Teams

July 23rd, 2013 1 comment

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford could man both return spots this year

The Falcons brought in a pair of undrafted specialists in Jeremy Shelley and Sean Sellwood to push kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher, respectively. Both are longshots and unless Bryant or Bosher get hurt really don’t stand much of a chance to make the roster.

Instead both will be competing in the hopes that it may impress another NFL team that could pick them up at the end of the summer off waivers. If either of them offer much potential for the Falcons it’s Shelley. Matt Bryant is signed through the 2014 season, but is already 38 years old. He’s been highly productive for the Falcons since joining the team late in 2009, but age eventually always catches up. Jason Elam was also solid for the Falcons until he turned 39 that same season, and his inconsistency prompted the team replace him with Bryant. So in reality if Shelley can have an impressive summer, he could be on speed dial in case there is any dropoff from Bryant in the near future. Shelley was one of the more accurate kickers in college football the past few years while at Alabama, specializing on short field goals. He’ll have to prove that he has NFL-caliber leg strength however.

Like Bosher, Sellwood possesses a big leg, but really is just insurance. Bosher struggled throughout his rookie season in 2011, but emerged as one of the top young punters with a much more consistent 2012 season. Sellwood really is only around in case Bosher regresses, which isn’t likely.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a bit of a rocky rookie season, but the Falcons didn’t bring in any direct competition for him. Assuming he doesn’t regress this summer, he should be a lock to retain his spot.

The big battle at this position group will be for the returner positions. Jacquizz Rodgers returned kickoffs last year, while Dominique Franks managed punts. Rodgers was effective at times in his role, but Franks was not. More than likely the Falcons would prefer another young player to emerge at either spot. However, the likelihood that Rodgers has a decreased role on offense due to the presence of Steven Jackson, means that he may better handle return duties. But in reality, he’s probably only going to open the season as the kickoff returner if no one else emerges.

The best candidate may be second round pick Robert Alford. While Alford primarily returned punts in college, his skillset may be better suited to returning kicks due to his excellent straight-line speed. In a perfect world, Alford will take over at both spots and give the Falcons a big play element that has been missing since the heyday of Allen Rossum. He’ll be competing with a number of other potential candidates.

Tim Toone, while not a big play threat as a punt returner, showed last summer that he can be somewhat reliable when it comes to consistently getting yardage. That is a valuable trait in that role and lacking that ability was one of the biggest reasons why Franks struggled last year. Undrafted rookies Rashad Evans and Darius Johnson both offer explosive speed and return experience from college. James Rodgers, Jacquizz’s brother nearly won a spot last summer and if he can improve upon that he is a prime candidate to win one of the spots.

Antone Smith and Harry Douglas also might be in the mix as they have return experience, but really are only options of last resort if no one else emerges.

Falcons Needs: Special Teams

February 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons won’t be making many major changes here. Their primary goal, if any, at this position group will be upgrading their ability in the return game. The team lost Eric Weems last off-season, and their in-house replacements for him did not suffice.

Jacquizz Rodgers was a competent kickoff returner at times, but if he is going to carve a larger role on offense, they should have another player that can play here. If the Falcons do add a wide receiver or cornerback this off-season, it would make a lot of sense to find one that can also return kicks.

Dominique Franks struggled throughout the year to make any impact as the team’s punt returner. He was replaced late in the year by Harry Douglas, who did very little in his brief time. At this point, finding a competent punt returner would appear to be the biggest priority.

The Falcons probably will let players like Tim Toone and James Rodgers get opportunities to win either job next summer. But it makes sense to bring in more competition if possible via a free agent signing, a mid or late round draft pick, or do what the Falcons did a year ago and target a number of undrafted players that have return and special teams experience.

As for the other specialist positions, besides bringing another camp body there is no need there. Kicker Matt Bryant still seems to be going strong. His leg strength isn’t what it once was, but inside the Georgia Dome he’s about as good a kicker as they come. Punter Matt Bosher showed improvement in his sophomore season. Bosher’s big leg has the potential to really affect field position. He’s also a very good kickoff specialist.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a couple of miscues during his rookie season, but for the most part was solid to good. If any one of the three specialist deserve competition, it would be him, but it’s not really necessary. Other than that, the Falcons might want to kick the tires on an undrafted kicker just to get a look-see at the young talent that is out there given Bryant’s increasing age. Bryant turns 38 in May and has two more years left on his contract.

The teams’ coverage units took a step back in 2012 due to the absences of Weems and Akeem Dent, who were the team’s best cover guys in 2011. Dent got more work on coverage towards the end of the year. The team still has solid performers with players like Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith, Drew Davis, Robert James, and Chris Owens. Healthy seasons from players such as Bradie Ewing, Kerry Meier, and/or Shann Schillinger could also improve the unit. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews flashed ability as well late in the year, and the team needs to get a greater contribution from Charles Mitchell, who will be replacing Chris Hope in all likelihood as the top reserve at safety. Overall, the Falcons coverage was more than capable last year. If the Falcons target reserves at wide receiver, linebacker, or in the secondary this off-season, you can be sure they will be expected to contribute in this arena as well.

Moneyball 2012 – Week 17 Review

January 6th, 2013 Comments off

I must apologize for getting this review up so late. I don’t know what it is about the bye week that makes me very lazy. But I think part of it was the fact that I didn’t really want to watch this game. It was was a throwaway game, and ultimately a throwaway loss.

But I did see some things in this game that give me pause. The Falcons continue to struggle with pressure, and when teams can get pressure on Ryan, the Falcons offense becomes very mediocre. Ryan was hit three times on the opening series. Then on the second series, the drive started out brilliantly, but then Lavonte David hit Ryan on a blitz, and the Falcons wound up settling for a field goal instead of a drive that a few plays earlier seemed like a guaranteed touchdown. This has been a problem throughout the latter half of the regular season. Agains the Lions, the offense stalled in the third quarter when pressure was dialed up. They looked very good against the Giants because there was hardly any pressure.

The Falcons seemed to be going through the motions in this one. Mike Smith made the right decision to play the starters, but unfortunately those starters just seemed disinterested in this game, looking as if they were hoping to get through this game with just perfunctory and minimal effort as possible. This is the same thing we saw a few weeks ago against the Panthers. The team just lacked an edge. So clearly despite Smitty’s best intentions, his plan did not work. Where I will criticize Smitty is when he opted not to pull the starters at the outset of the fourth quarter. The Falcons were down 12 points at that point, and while it was still a winnable game, there was no need for the Falcons to make the effort to overcome that deficit at this point in the year. It’s tough conceding defeat, and you know a guy like Smitty is a competitor, but that was one of the few times where you just got to know when it’s over, and to count your blessings that no one suffered a major injury. But then of course, Abraham did then suffer an injury. And we’re still waiting to know if he’s going to play next week in the playoff game.

I thought the running game was largely a non-factor, except a few nice runs on the second series. Matt Ryan did not play well. Part of that was because of the pressure and hits he saw early in this game. But he seemed to be staring down reads and just didn’t look comfortable in the pocket all game long. Ryan has not dealt well with pressure throughout the second half of the season, as I’ve noted several times. It’s a glaring weakness of this team, and if this team falls short in the next week or so, I’m absolutely certain it will be because of erratic pass protection.

There isn’t a lot to say about this game. If the Falcons go on to win in the playoffs, this game will be long forgotten. If the Falcons however should lose, then this game is going to stick out as a sore thumb. I really hope that the Falcons make me forget this game. I feel slightly dumber from having watched it.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$4$4$0$0$0$8.00
Matt Ryan$3$2$0$0$0$0$5.00
Michael Turner$0$4$0$0$0$0$4.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$1$0$0$4.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2.5$0$0$2.50
Peter Konz$0$0$0$2.5$0$0$2.50
Julio Jones$0$0$3$0$0-$1$2.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$2-$1$0$0$1.00
Jason Snelling$0$1$1-$1$0$0$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
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Moneyball 2012 – Week 8 Review

October 31st, 2012 Comments off

Initially from watching the game live, I was very impressed with the Falcons performance. Upon review, I still came away impressed but cannot dismiss that the Eagles did not play well in this game. Most of the positives come on the offensive side of the ball.

Matt Ryan had a strong game. The running game had its moments and you could certainly argue this was the most complete game the offense has played this year. Turner had one of his better performances and Quizz also ran what might be the best game of his career. The blocking was just OK in this game. Relative to recent games, the pass protection held up well. There were some holes in this game, but It was inconsistent. But probably less inconsistent than it has normally been this year.

Sam Baker usually gets destroyed by Trent Cole so only giving up two pressures is relatively a strong performance for him. Clabo continued to have his issues, but had his share of moments as a run blocker. Watching live, I thought Konz played well. Upon further review, I might hold off on that. He did have his moments particularly as a run blocker, but there were two many missed blocks and he had some struggles in pass protection. He had 2 hurries and a pressure on plays that we’re wiped out by penalties. I think he definitely flashed his potential in this game, but still needs to work out the kinks. Reynolds at this point might be more consistent/reliable, but I don’t think he has the upside of Konz, particularly in the ground game. It seemed that Konz had many of his issues trying to block linebackers in the run game, and also struggled versus stunts.

Speaking of blocking, my hat goes off to DJ Davis and Roddy White for their efforts there. Davis had an impressive debut, standing out as a blocker. Both of his catches came when he was wide open thanks to Eagle defenders focusing on the Falcons’ other playmakers, but he did make a nice catch on the TD since it was not a particularly well-thrown ball. Roddy has been an underwhelming blocker so far this year, as I’ve noticed several times this year where he misses an assignment that could have potentially sprung a runner for a big gain. But that was not the case on Sunday.

Julio was very impressive, as his two big plays were a welcome addition to the offense. He absolutely roasted Nnamdi on the touchdown, and if not for an excellent tackle by Kurt Coleman, could have potentially scored on the 37-yard screen pass. The Eagles really had a hard time defending the Falcons screens as well as the shovel passes to Snelling, which essentially doubled as running plays.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$3$0$0$0$0$18.00
Julio Jones$0$1$10$0$0-$1$10.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$7$1$0$0$0$8.00
Michael Turner$0$7$1$0$0-$1$7.00
D.J. Davis$0$0$4$2$0$0$6.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$2$0$0$5.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 3 Review

September 26th, 2012 Comments off

Sorry for the late update, I got busy earlier this afternoon and couldn’t check out the All-22 until a few hours ago.

This was about as low-key a blowout as you’re going to find. The Falcons never really broke a sweat in this game. This was what I would call very much a ball-control gameplan via the pass.

The Falcons did have their best game running the ball so far this year. Michael Turner had a couple of nice runs and seemed much more explosive in the second half than he did in the first. Jacquizz Rodgers did some things on the ground, and could have done a bit more had the blocking been better. The Falcons did definitely pick it up in the second half as far as the line goes. They did an excellent job in pass protection. The first sack they allowed I counted as a pressure because Ryan managed to step up in the pocket and was tackled while running rather than passing, so it’s more of a tackle for loss than a true sack according to the Moneyball rules. Justin Blalock earned well because he made some nice key blocks on certain plays, but there were a lot of other players where I think he looked sort of lost. McClure seemed to have his struggles early in the game with taking on the big 3-4 nose tackle. That’s historically been a weakness of his, and it showed up at times in this game. The Falcons problems running the ball going forward may not get fixed this year. They may have a couple of nice games such as this, but it’s not going to be anything they will be able to hang their hats on on a weekly basis. They just don’t really move guys off the ball ever. Which doesn’t help a player like Turner who is more of your plodding runner. And while Quizz is much quicker and runs with more burst, they still don’t create enough spacing to allow his style of running to really work. I did notice that both Mike Johnson and Peter Konz fared well in the fourth quarter as run blockers. That is something that may give this team optimism long-term that they can improve up front.

Matt Ryan played very well for the third straight week. He was being a distributor once again, basically doing his best John Stockton impression. Another cross-sport comparison would be another former Jazz point guard, Deron Williams. That’s how Ryan has played so far this year.

The Triplets as they will now be referred to: Julio, Roddy, and Tony, all had strong performances. Gonzo had the best game of course, and he and Roddy did a lot of chain moving. The Falcons need to get the deep ball better incorporated into their offense going forward. Ryan almost hit that deep pass to Roddy for six, and there were a couple of throws to Julio that did some damage. Those types of plays need to be regular occurrences in each week, and the Falcons pass attack that is operated at around 95% efficiency, could really take that next step to being indefensible.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$0$0$0$0$0$15.00
Michael Turner$0$9$0$0$0$0$9.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$8-$1$0$0$7.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$5$0$0$0$7.00
Roddy White$0$0$4$1$0-$1$4.00
Julio Jones$0$0$4$0$0$0$4.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Jason Snelling$0$1$2$0$0-$1$2.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Mike Johnson$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$0.5$0$0$0.50
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$0.5$0$0$0.50

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