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Takeaways from Week 11

November 18th, 2013 2 comments
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Blank

I said last week that an Atlanta Falcons loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the rock-bottom point of this dismal 2013 season. But perhaps I will be wrong as it may in fact be this week’s upcoming matchup against the New Orleans Saints. If the Falcons get eviscerated in a primetime game by a hated rival, that would be the lowest point of the year for many folks.

I don’t consider myself among them. The Falcons have been blown out by the Saints even in years that they were pretty good, just look at the 45-17 loss in 2011. I fully expect the Saints to crush the Falcons this week in the Georgia Dome, and I feel a great amount of sympathy for Falcon fans that will be on-hand to watch it.

For me, Sunday’ loss to the Bucs was the worst. The margin of victory was not accurately reflected in the 41-28 final score. The Bucs held a 32-point lead with two minutes left in the third quarter, and only thanks to them basically shutting it down for the final quarter and the Falcons finally showing a bit of pride did they shrink that margin to 13 points.

The Falcons offense continues to struggle with their very conservative game plan and play-calling. They are suddenly trying to be a run-first team because they’ve become abundantly aware of the fact that their passing attack stinks, for lack of a better term. But they really only have themselves to blame for that, because as I’ve pointed out numerous times, they opted to sign Brian Robiskie rather than making a “bold” move for a real NFL receiver six weeks ago.

And now the Falcons have resorted to trying to run behind one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. It’s the playoff loss to the New York Giants extrapolated over four games rather than just four quarters. The Falcons offense was shut out in that game because they built their offensive game plan around running with a declining Michael Turner behind a subpar offensive line. But at this point, the Falcons wish their offensive line was as good as that 2011 unit.

Offensive Line or Wide Receiver Biggest Miscalculation?

That’s evidenced by the ability to convert in short-yardage situations. In 2011, there were 62 times where the Falcons ran the ball with 2 yards to go, and they were able to convert for a first down or touchdown on 47 of them, which is 75.8-percent. You could even discount the first 10 games of the season when Turner was actually good, before he seemed to hit a wall down the stretch and see a much better run-blocking unit. In the final 6 games of the regular season, the Falcons were still able to convert 15 of 19 of those short-yardage situations, still 78.9-percent. Compare that to the entirety of this year, where the Falcons have converted on 11 of 21 short-yardage situations, which is 52.4-percent.

But in truth, I don’t believe the Falcons offensive line is significantly worse than the unit from a year ago. In 2012, the Falcons converted on 29 of 48 short-yardage situations (60.4-percent). But obviously, the offense as a whole is significantly worse from last year. And it stems mostly from the fact that the “Big Four” in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez have seen a sharp decline in their production this year.

I expected there to be a drop-off in their production this year, as last season was a ridiculously good one from those guys. But I did not expect the drop-off to be as significant as it has been this year. And that is the  real issue with this year’s downturn. The Falcons have proven that they can get by with their subpar offensive line play, if they are getting premium production from their passing attack. And while I’ve discussed this teams miscalculations in regards to their offensive line changes over the years, what really has been the major miscalculation was the belief that the Falcons passing attack wouldn’t fall off a sheer cliff.

I’ve been saying for some time that the Falcons needed to upgrade their depth at wide receiver. And I’ll continually pound the table to suggest that the team’s failure to do so in the off-season and following Jones’ injury is a key reason for this team’s downfall. But even with that said, I never would have expected the Falcons offense to perform so poorly as it has without such a move. They still should be better than what they’ve been as of late this year.

And this is where the subject I really want to discuss this week comes into play: coaching.

Dirk Koetter may be Mike Smith’s Downfall

I won’t say that Mike Smith has no chance of saving his job, but I do think that following the loss to Tampa Bay, the chance that Smith is patrolling the sidelines in 2014 for the Falcons shrinks to under 10-percent. I won’t rehash too many of the reasons why I believe Smith’s time in Atlanta is nearing its end, as I discuss many of them in last week’s column and also in my article yesterday for the Bleacher Report.

But the main points are that, as I mentioned above, the Falcons have hit rock-bottom and haven’t been this bad a football team since the lowest point of 2007. That was a season which was arguably the lowest point of this team’s long history of mediocrity and certainly the lowest of Arthur Blank’s time as team owner. And it’s those reminiscent feelings that I think will prompt Blank to move on from Smith at the end of this year. You can’t be as bad a football team as the Falcons have been over the past four weeks and expect the head coach to keep his job, especially given the expectations that surrounded the Falcons going into this year, and will continue in 2014.

And if Smith does get fired, he may be ultimately taking the fall for Dirk Koetter. The fact that this team has Matt Ryan at quarterback, Tony Gonzalez at tight end, and a competent albeit unspectacular Harry Douglas at wide receiver means that the offense should be better than it currently is. I don’t expect greatness, but they should be better than this.

In reviewing the All-22, I’m not seeing a lot of things that I think could help improve the offense. The Falcons aren’t running enough play-action, nor are they taking any measured shots down the field. Last year, they often utilized max protect to offset the weakness of the pass protection to get those big plays downfield. I don’t see much of that nor enough of the “Four Verticals” that the Koetter offense is supposed to be predicated off.

There were unconfirmed rumors that following the 2006 season, one of the reasons why Jim Mora was dismissed was because he was unwilling to throw offensive coordinator Greg Knapp under the bus by firing him. I don’t know if that is true, but it would not surprise me that if Mike Smith is allowed to keep his job next year, it will be dependent on his willingness to cut Koetter loose.

And I’m not sure going with a familiar face like Bill Musgrave is going to cut it to replace Koetter. One of the reasons why I’m open to the Jon Gruden rumors, is because I’m confident that if Gruden was the head coach, it would result in a sharp improvement from the offense. The last time Gruden had a quarterback of Ryan’s caliber, it was Rich Gannon, and relative to his era, Gannon was arguably better than Ryan is to his.

Gruden Could Have Greater Success in Atlanta than Tampa Bay

A big reason why Gruden failed in Tampa Bay was instability at the quarterback position, but that wouldn’t be a problem here in Atlanta with him and Ryan working together for the long haul.

The big question surrounding Gruden is how much personnel power he is seeking. He had a significant amount in Tampa Bay once Rich McKay left at the end of 2003. One would hope that Gruden would be aware of the notion that Atlanta would present a unique opportunity for him. If you’re a high-profile coach like Gruden, Brian Billick, or Bill Cowher, you want significant pull if you’re going to depart your cushy broadcasting job to patrol the NFL sidelines again. But you also want a good quarterback as well since all of those coaches have shown that winning is much easier when you have one. And I don’t think you’re going to find many opportunities that have both a good quarterback and an organization also willing to defer personnel power. And while his respect within the Falcons fan base has diminished considerably, I do think Thomas Dimitroff is well-respected enough around the league that somebody like Gruden should be willing to work alongside him.

Whether the feeling is mutual remains to be seen. But it’ll be interesting because I suspect the situation that may arise in Atlanta in 2014 may be similar to the situation that McKay was fleeing in Tampa Bay, where ownership forced a coach on the GM, and the latter ultimately lost the power battle. And one wonders in all these years that Blank and McKay have worked beside one another and had the latter whispering in the ear of the former, whether or not Blank is averse to that scenario.

But there’s still a chance that Mike Smith salvages his job. But it will stem from this Falcon team playing much better than it has over the past month. But at this point, I just don’t see it happening. After a certain point, it’s going to be too little, too late. For me, I think we’ve already reached that point.

Elsewhere in the NFL…

Not much I want to take away from this past week, besides the fact that four notable undrafted free agents and late round picks really shined this weekend. Two of them were rookies with the Oakland Raiders this past summer. The other faced the Falcons on Sunday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Antone Smith

Quarterback Matt McGloin came into Raiders camp as a fourth arm, as the Raiders appeared poised to go with Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor, and fourth round pick Tyler Wilson as their three quarterbacks. But the undrafted passer out of Penn State managed to quickly pass Wilson on the depth chart. And with Pryor’s unseating of Flynn, McGloin entered the season as the No. 2 for the Raiders.

I thought McGloin looked good in the preseason, but was not expecting him to have much success against the tough Houston Texans defense on Sunday. But he managed the game competently as he completed 18 of 32 passes for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns. It is enough to spark a potential quarterback controversy between him and Terrelle Pryor, who has struggled mightily over the past month.

The other Raider player was defensive end David Bass, who is now with the Chicago Bears. Bass was drafted in the seventh round by the Raiders out of Missouri Western State. He too popped during the preseason for the Raiders, but was cut and claimed by the Bears. He started last week for the Bears due to the injury to Shea McClellin, but this week against the Baltimore Ravens he got a pick-six which was pivotal for the Bears win. It occurred in the second quarter, and without those additional points, the Bears are unlikely to beat the Ravens in overtime. Bass is one of those late-round developmental ends that the Falcons have been so found of, but has enough quickness, burst, and athleticism to suggest he might develop into a capable rotational pass rusher down the road.

The other player is Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey. I was disappointed the Falcons didn’t claim Rainey back when the Cleveland Browns waived him last month.

The Bucs picked him up and it paid off with a 163-yard effort against the Falcons, following a 45-yard effort against the Miami Dolphins a week ago in the final three quarters once Mike James went down with an injury. Rainey is a player that first came upon my radar prior to the 2012 draft as a smaller, but skilled back at Western Kentucky. He went undrafted and was picked up by the Ravens, and continued to impress me on the handful of preseason games I saw of him. He began that year on Baltimore’s practice squad, but was promoted for a few weeks before a knee injury cost him the rest of his 2012 season. This summer the Ravens cut him, which drew the ire of Ravens fans everywhere.

The Browns picked him up, and while his production was subpar in six games (13 carries for 34 yards, 2.6 avg), I noticed when I was doing my homework on Josh Gordon, that Rainey still ran with the burst and quickness that I recalled seeing the year before. It reminded me a lot of Jacquizz Rodgers, thanks to their shared short, squat builds. And I had the feeling that if the Falcons picked up Rainey, they could potentially groom him into a better replacement for Jason Snelling than Josh Vaughan could be.

But the Bucs snatched him up, and it paid off for them on Sunday. Obviously, the Bucs had waiver priority due to their worse record back on October 22 when Rainey was cut. So maybe the Falcons did try to claim him, but couldn’t.

But my sadness over not getting Rainey was somewhat abated by the play of Antone Smith on Sunday. If Sunday’s game didn’t cement the thought that the Falcons need to have a screen package for Smith every week on offense, then I don’t know what will.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 47 “I Hate Brian Robiskie”

November 14th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are more depressed than ever with the Atlanta Falcons. In this week’s episode, we briefly discuss the few positives we saw in the Falcons Week 10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but focus mainly on the negative, as we conclude that the Falcons are practically unwatchable. We go into detail about the offensive line and some of the potential roster changes that could be upcoming there. We discuss Sam Baker’s horrible contract, whether Peter Konz should be benched, and the status of Thomas DeCoud and Steven Jackson in 2014. We also talk up Paul Worrilow and how he should be the new starting middle linebacker. Aaron rants about the conservative nature of the offense, coaches on the hot seat, and whether the rumor surrounding Jon Gruden is something to get excited about. Then we go into our thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and what things you can expect to see in the Falcons Week 11 matchup. Then we look ahead briefly to the New Orleans Saints in Week 12, gripe about our fantasy football teams, and talk playoffs in our weekly “Around the League” segment.

Ep. 47: I Hate Brian Robiskie [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 23 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

How the Falcons Offense Matches Up against the Bucs Defense

October 19th, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas Will Need a Big Week 7

The desperate Atlanta Falcons take on the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a battle that will decide who resides in the basement of the NFC South division as the loser will reside in last place.

One of the bright spots for the Bucs this season has been their defense, which has played well despite their inability to win a game. The Falcons will be playing with a depleted offense this week, thanks to injuries to top wideouts in Julio Jones and Roddy White, as well as missing running back Steven Jackson for the fourth consecutive game. The Falcons are forced to dig deep in order to find a way to attack this Buccaneer defense.

How the Bucs decide to deploy their defense could really impact how the Falcons offense operates. The addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis has really enhanced a Bucs secondary that was among the worst in the league in 2012. The past two weeks Falcons opponents have opted to bracket and double Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez alongside Jones. Now with Jones out of the mix, it will mean Gonzalez will be the focus of the Falcons offense and opposing defense. The Bucs would be smart to try and have Revis shadow Gonzalez throughout the day whenever possible. But that will require the Bucs to ask to play Revis more inside. While Revis is capable, it will mean that the Bucs will have to make significant adjustments to their defense. If the Bucs choose to do that, a way the Falcons can attack him is by lining Gonzalez up as an inline tight end and trying to run directly at him. In the passing game, the Falcons can try to group their receivers in trips sets and try to create confusion in the Bucs secondary.

If not and the Bucs try a more traditional defense, it will feature a lot of using their safeties, Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, against Gonzalez. The Bucs haven’t faced many top tight ends this year besides Jimmy Graham in Week 2. Graham proceeded to catch 10 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, leading the Saints receivers. If that is the case, it’s clear that Gonzalez has the ability to exploit that matchup favorably for the Falcons offensive attack.

If Revis is shadowing Gonzalez, then it will leave the Falcons other receivers on islands against the Bucs lesser defensive backs. Starting cornerback Johnthan Banks has had his ups and downs this year as a rookie. But he could match up favorably against a receiver like Harry Douglas, who will be the de facto No. 1 receiver for the Falcons. Douglas isn’t very big, and Banks has good size to be an effective press corner. If the Bucs opt to employ Banks to try and press Douglas on the outside, then it will be hard for sixth-year wideout to get off the line of scrimmage and be effective. The Falcons could mitigate that some by putting Douglas mostly in the slot away from Banks, and against the smaller, less physical Leonard Johnson, the Bucs’ normal slot corner. If Revis is freed up from shadowing Gonzalez, then Douglas will be hard-pressed to get open against one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. The Falcons will try and find ways to feature Douglas with most of the defensive attention going towards Gonzalez. Douglas is at his best on shorter, quicker routes that are designed to get him in space and make us of his speed and explosiveness after the catch. The Falcons may try some screens with Douglas and shallow crossing patterns to try and feature this ability.

Read more…

Moneyball 2013 – Week 5 Review

October 16th, 2013 Comments off

Sorry for this being over a week late as I just got busy with the day job and an epidemic of procrastination. To be honest, much of this game has faded from my memory at least in terms of specific instances and plays that I would normally point out. And rightly so, considering this was probably the most disappointing loss of the season for the Falcons.

In their second “must-win” game the Falcons failed to pull out the victory. And this game was worse because the Falcons had been thoroughly outplayed for much of the game, but turned it on at the end to seemingly steal the win. That is your typical Mike Smith-led Falcons team, that manage to win these types of ball games even when they aren’t the better team on that particularly Sunday. But then the defense had a major letdown (more on that later) and the Falcons had another loss on their hands.

Offensively, I don’t think the Falcons were bad by any means. They were able to convert in the red zone, a stark change from previous games. But it is concerning how many plays the Falcons had to run in several of those instances to get points. Their first red zone trip had a total of six plays inside the 20, their second had nine, and the final one had eight. An offense that is clicking should be able to score within three or four plays inside the red zone, as the Falcons did on two of their red zone trips. But the Falcons seemed to inch along inside the red zone, and got help with penalties on the Jets that helped keep them rolling. While the end result may look positive as far as the Falcons red zone woes, what you actually saw on the field is by no means promising.

At least as far as the red zone goes, I really wanted to see the Falcons try some fade patterns. I know the Jets were bracketing Julio Jones with safety help, and doubling Tony Gonzalez at times, but I still believe if Koetter had been more creative with how he lined guys up, there were plenty of instances where he could have gotten either player one on one in a favorable matchup. I did like the fact that the Falcons now seem to be regularly employing Levine Toilolo in the red zone, with three straight games where he has seen a target in the end zone. Obviously now, the Falcons don’t have Jones anymore. But I’m thinking in terms of trying to avoid these long, drawn out red zone trips, the Falcons should just go for the fade to Gonzalez (and now Toilolo instead of Jones) on first down. Gonzalez is money in traffic, and Toilolo with his size and athleticism is going to out-jump any defender in the league. And you should be confident that Matt Ryan has the touch to throw a catchable pass in the end zone, so I would like to see the Falcons going straight for the throat in these instances rather than plodding along in the red zone.

I thought the Falcons did a nice job trying to stay balanced, even though their running game wasn’t overly effective. That was mainly because the interior of the Falcons offensive line got pushed around by the likes of players like Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Kenrick Ellis, and Damon Harrison in the middle. Joe Hawley, serving as the extra tackle was credited with the missed block on the goal line run by Rodgers at the end of the first half. A positive is that the Falcons pass rush held up okay relative to some recent performances with two sacks, 1 pressure, and 5 hurries allowed on 47 dropbacks.

While the Falcons got no contribution from Harry Douglas in the passing game, Kevin Cone made a key catch to extend a drive. And both he and Davis also contributed as blockers on Rodgers’ 19-yard touchdown run.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
ST
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$19$0$0$0$0-$2$17.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$9$0$0$0$0$9.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$7$1$0$0$8.00
Jason Snelling$0$2$4$0$0$0$6.00
Julio Jones$0$0$5$0$0-$1$4.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$4$0$0$0$4.00
Kevin Cone$0$0$1$1$0$0$2.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Drew Davis$0$0$0$1$1$0$2.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Patrick DiMarco$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Antone Smith$0$1$0$0$0$0$1.00
Roddy White$0$0$2$0$0-$2$0.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$1$0-$1-$2.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00

Defensively, the Falcons struggled in this game. Obviously they gave up the scoring drive at the very end that lost the game for the team. The Jets really had no issues moving the ball the 55 yards necessarily to get into field goal range for the game-winning kick. Massaquoi had his lone pressure on Geno Smith on that drive, but didn’t have what it takes to finish the play. That has been a problem with Massaquoi all year. He has a decent first step, but doesn’t play with great balance to keep his feet and finish plays, constantly stumbling when he gets off the block. The pass rush in general was very lackluster. While they were able to dial up a bit more pressure in the second half, thanks to blitzing, the lack of pressure in the first half was key to the Jets getting out to their early lead. Smith had all time to throw, and the Falcons back-seven paid for it. Joplo Bartu had a tough day, looking overmatched by Jeff Cumberland in coverage too many times and missed a few too many tackles. He also got credited with blowing the coverage on the Kellen Winslow touchdown catch, as I think he was sucked up by the run action (Smith scrambling) and blew his assignment, which allowed Winslow to sneak to the back of the end zone.

The run defense started strong, as the Jets were successful on only 1 of their 8 running back runs in the first half. But they managed to be successful on 6 of 11 in the second half. The Falcons missed a bunch of tackles in this game as well.

It’s hard to point out players that played well, although I would point to Babineaux, Worrilow, and Trufant probably being the best. But none had strong performances, which is often the case when the Falcons lose.

On special teams, Shann Schillinger missed the block that led to the blocked punt. Thomas DeCoud missed the tackle on the 36-yard kickoff return in the second quarter.

PLAYER
DEF
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Corey Peters$2$0$0$2.00
Desmond Trufant$2$0$0$2.00
Osi Umenyiora$1.5$0$0$1.50
Jonathan Babineaux$1$0$0$1.00
Jonathan Massaquoi$1$0$0$1.00
Paul Worrilow$1$0$0$1.00
Robert Alford$0$1$0$1.00
Stephen Nicholas$0.5$0$0$0.50
Matt Bosher$0$2-$2$0.00
Asante Samuel$0$0$0$0.00
Thomas DeCoud-$1$0$0-$1.00
Omar Gaither-$1$0$0-$1.00
Robert McClain-$1$0$0-$1.00
William Moore-$1$0$0-$1.00
Joplo Bartu-$6$0$0-$6.00

Advanced Stats from Week 5:

Poor Throws (4): Ryan
Drops (1): Jones
Key Blocks (5): Blalock, Cone, Davis, Gonzalez, Reynolds
Sacks Allowed (2): Reynolds, Trueblood
Pressures Allowed (1): Konz (0.5), Rodgers (0.5)
Hurries Allowed (5): Holmes (2), Konz (1), Snelling (1), Trueblood (1)
Missed Blocks (8): Reynolds (3), Blalock (2), Konz (2), Hawley (1)

Tackles for Loss (1): Bartu
QB Sacks (3): Umenyiora (2), Peters (1)
QB Pressures (2): Babineaux, Massaquoi
QB Hits (1): DeCoud
QB Hurries (0)
Passes Defended (2): Peters, Trufant
Blown Coverages (5): Bartu (3), DeCoud (1), Trufant (1)
Missed Tackles (8): Bartu (2), Babineaux (1), DeCoud (1), McClain (1), Moore (1), Worrilow (1), Umenyiora (1)
Key Blocked (2): Gaither, Worrilow
Stops (6): Worrilow (2), Babineaux (1), McClain (1), Trufant (1), Nicholas (0.5), Umenyiora (0.5)

Takeaways from Week 4

September 30th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

‘Sad Arthur Blank’ should be a meme somewhere

Last week, I tried to make the compelling case for why the Falcons 1-2 start wasn’t as dire as many believed.

I’ll have a much harder time trying to make the same argument now that the Falcons are 1-3.

Honestly, losing to the Miami Dolphins on the road wasn’t that shocking to me. Losing to the Patriots at home, however was. I just expected the Falcons to play much better than they did on Sunday night.

Their looking out of sync against the Dolphins, I chalked up to the injuries and being on the road. I can still partially blame injuries for their looking out of sync against the Patriots, but they typically look much sharper at home.

My immediate reaction won’t be to write off the Falcons this season. From the research I did (called Pro Football Reference), 109 teams in the “Parity Era” (1995-2012) have started the season 1-3, and only 17 of them went on to make the playoffs, giving the Falcons about a 15.5-percent chance. Given that you have a 37.5-percent chance to begin win that is not promising.

One of those teams that did manage to make the playoffs despite a 1-3 start was the 2002 Falcons. After their 1-3 start, they didn’t lose their next eight games (seven wins, one tie) to get into the playoffs on a wildcard. Two of their three opening losses came against playoff teams.

Currently, all three of the Falcons losses come against teams that I suspect will make the playoffs, as the chances a team that starts the year 4-0 makes the playoffs is 82.6-percent over the Parity Era. And we know at least two of our opponents, depending on the result of the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints game tonight will be 4-0. And it’s loser will still be in the driver’s seat to finish the year strong and be playing in January.

The Falcons definitely have some work to do. And the honest to goodness truth is that this team is not nearly as good as we thought they would be. They still have the capacity to be a good team, but time is running short.

Their offense needs to get in sync, and their defense got exposed thoroughly for the first time against what had been a struggling Patriots offense.

Read more…

Five Keys to Improve Pass Protection vs. Rams

September 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons pass protection played poorly in their season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints last week. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked three times and saw pressure on 75% of the Falcons third downs, preventing the team’s ability to mount drives and score points.

The Falcons offensive line will face even more scrutiny this week as they face the St. Louis Rams, who have one of the better pair of defensive ends in the league in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Quinn is coming off a three-sack performance against the Arizona Cardinals last week, including stripping quarterback Carson Palmer twice on blindside hits. One positive for the Falcons may be that Long may not be 100-percent due to him nursing a hip injury. But regardless the Falcons’ line will need to step up this week to deal with that potent Rams’ pass rush.

Complicating matters is the fact that left tackle Sam Baker is questionable this week with a knee injury. It may force the Falcons to shuffle around their offensive line. Right tackle Lamar Holmes, who is coming off an abysmal game where he was readily worked over by Cameron Jordan may move to left tackle to face Quinn. Then newly signed right tackle Jeremy Trueblood may be inserted into the starting lineup. The Falcons may also have to consider starting undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder at left tackle, as he is Baker’s primary backup.

Even with a healthy Baker the Falcons would need to work extra hard to try and deal with the Rams’ pass rush. Now that he’s injured, it will have an even greater impact on the game. Here are five things the Falcons may do to try and offset these issues the best they can:

Personnel: More Max Protect

As Chad Walton indicated in his review of the Saints game, the Falcons did not make significant use of two-tight end sets (12 or 22 personnel). That should change this weekend as the Falcons will use more max protection sets to try and chip and slow down the Rams’ edge rushers. Max protect refers to protections that have at least seven blockers trying to protect the quarterback. But one of the drawbacks of max protect is that it limits how many receivers run routes, limiting the quarterback’s throwing options. This puts more emphasis on those receivers needing to separate from coverage. That could put the Falcons at a disadvantage this weekend since their two best “man beaters” on the outside in Julio Jones and Roddy White are nursing injuries, limiting their effectiveness. This will put more focus on Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas to step up their play.

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Takeaways from Last Week – August 26

August 26th, 2013 Comments off
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Could Lamar Holmes make or break the Falcons Super Bowl chances?

The big story from the weekend is the fact that the Falcons offensive line looked very suspect against the Titans on Saturday.

In fact, calling their performance suspect is about as nice as I can be. They got whooped. And if I could travel back in time and run into myself from a year ago and told him about their efforts against the Titans, my past self would tell the future self, “No duh.”

Frankly, the Falcons front five got whooped quite a bit in 2012. And by quite a bit, I mean that I can count on one hand how many games where they could be considered the victors of the battle in the trenches. And if their performance against the Titans is any indicator, that will not change in 2013.

It’s no small wonder. The Falcons replaced long-time fixtures at center and right tackle in Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo. They are still in a plug and play mode at right guard with Garrett Reynolds, in the hopes that third time is a charm with Reynolds as far as his production goes. If I ran into my past self, he’d call me naive if not downright stupid for thinking there would be significant improvement up front considering what the Falcons did this past off-season.

The offensive line certainly is going to be a work in progress. And in truth it may be several years before things get fixed up front.

Read more…

Ranking the Falcons: No. 31 Harry Douglas

July 11th, 2013 1 comment
AP Photo

Harry Douglas

Check out the scoring system here. The 31st-ranked Falcon player is wide receiver Harry Douglas.

Total Score: 42


Player Grade:
51 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 3 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 22 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3

Douglas is one of the reasons why I chose not to limit this ranking system to 25 players. The fact that he finished outside the Top 30 was even a surprise to me. His player grade is fairly high, being tied for 21st on the team, but he’s simply hurt by the fact that there are a plethora of equally good or better receivers elsewhere in the league.

And the primary reason for that is that Douglas’ skillset is fairly limited. While he’s very quick and explosive, making him the prototype for the traditional NFL slot receiver, less and less NFL teams are using that types of players in the slot nowadays. And simply put, there just seem to be more receivers out there that are simply better at it than Douglas, e.g. Andrew Hawkins, Tavon Austin, Jacoby Ford, and Doug Baldwin just to name a few. Now it may be the case that several of those players outshine Douglas because they are not surrounded with the cast of receivers that Douglas finds himself with here in Atlanta. It’s probably easier for a player like Hawkins to shine when he’s competing for targets against Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham rather than Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

What helps Douglas’ case is the fact that his production has increased over the past two years when Julio Jones has been absent from the lineup and HD has been asked to fill in. The problem is that when not in those circumstances, Douglas is fairly middling. He’ll make his presence known from time to time, with notable big plays late in games (last year’s win over Seattle and the 2011 OT loss to the Saints being prominent examples), but it’s not consistent week in and week out.

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Will Turner impact against the Seahawks?

January 12th, 2013 1 comment
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Turner

The Falcons have had an extra week of practice, and thus the capacity to add some new wrinkles to the offense this weekend. My hope is that the extra time allowed the Falcons to really come up with a winning gameplan against the Seattle Seahawks. And as previously noted, I think that should include more Jacquizz Rodgers and less Michael Turner.

The Falcons offensive line has struggled to create push this year. It has been one of the main reasons why Michael Turner has been a non-factor. The other main reason is that Michael Turner over time has diminished in ability. Father Time still remains undefeated. With all of the hits that Turner has taken over the years with the Falcons, he no longer has the burst, quickness, or lateral agility that he once did. Turner was never a guy that shined in those areas as the majority of his success from 2008-10 with the Falcons was because Turner was an elite after-contact runner. But over time, Turner is no longer that force of nature after contact. And his skills in those other areas has gone from average to poor. And basically that means he needs a lot more space to run, something the Falcons front five have had increasing difficulty creating since the loss of their top run blocker, Harvey Dahl, in 2011.

The strength of the Seahawks run defense is the middle, where they have a lot of beef in Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and Alan Branch. It’s no secret that center Todd McClure is not a power blocker. Right guard Peter Konz while a capable run blocker, is neither consistent nor powerful enough to push a 320-pounder like those three off the ball. And that’s also never really been left guard Justin Blalock’s game, as he too is not consistently a “plus” run blocker. And while Mike Cox has done a solid job this year lead blocking, he’s not the guy that can clear a hole quite like Ovie Mughelli could in his heyday. If the Falcons intend to run a lot into the teeth of the Seahawks defense, they are playing to Seattle’s strength and their own weakness.

Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Jacquizz Rodgers

Instead, the Seahawks will be playing a 250-pound Bruce Irvin nearly every snap due to the injury to Chris Clemons. Greg Scruggs will be rotating in as well. Greg Who? Exactly. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, the Falcons best run blocker should be matched up quite a bit with Irvin, who normally plays left end. The smartest thing for the Falcons will be to attack Irvin wherever he lines up on the field when they want to run the ball.

And the simple truth is that if the Falcons do attack the edges on the ground, Michael Turner is not their best candidate. Both Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, while underused, possess a better skillset to get out on the edge than Turner. If the Falcons intend to run the ball, and trying to maintain some semblance of balance will be beneficial for the Falcons, it plays to their strength to feature a lot more Quizz and/or Snelling, and a lot less Turner. Rodgers, smaller stature, outstanding quickness and lateral agility means he doesn’t need as much space to work with as Turner. He can find creases, cutbacks, and do a better job finding daylight not only on the edge, but also up the middle if/when the Falcons do decide to try and pound it.

Not to mention the fact that the Falcons are a pass-first team, that will likely try to tire out the Seahawks front four with a lot of no-huddle. Rodgers has overwhelmingly been their featured guy in the no-huddle due to his solid pass protection skills, as well as his ability to make impact plays in the passing game. While Turner is a capable pass protector, he is really a weak link when it comes to catching the ball. A four-yard pass on a checkdown to Rodgers has a chance to go 20 yards. The chances Turner drops that checkdown are much higher than the chances he turns it into a big gain.

Turner still should be the go-to guy for the Falcons in short-yardage and near the goalline. But on the majority of snaps, whether it’s a run or pass, having Rodgers on the field gives the Falcons the best possible matchup against the Seahawks.

What I’m afraid will happen on Sunday is the Falcons being overly “loyal” to Turner. I thought the Falcons should have gotten rid of Turner this past off-season. I think they did not because of the hope that he still had something left in the tank, and it would have not looked great dumping a guy that had had the four-year run that Turner had in Atlanta outright. And I think at certain points this year, the Falcons have continued to put Turner as a big part of their weekly gameplans out of that same loyalty, when it’s been fairly clear since the middle of the year that the offense functions better when Rodgers is on the field. I just hope the Falcons don’t get into that same mindset where they are giving Turner unnecessary reps Sunday over some gooey feelings for the guy. The bottom line is the Falcons need to win on Sunday. I believe that Rodgers gives them the best chance to do that. And I hope that Dirk Koetter has devised a plan of attack that reflects that.

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Koetter signs extension to stay in Atlanta

January 2nd, 2013 Comments off

Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports that following an interview for the head coaching position of the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter signed an extension that will keep him off the head coaching market for at least one more season.

Koetter joined the Falcons this past January after former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey accepted the head coaching position with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Under Koetter’s guidance, the Falcons had one of the top-rated passing attack, finishing 6th in passing yards. They also finished the 2012 season as the 7th-ranked scoring offense, and 8th-ranked total offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan set new career highs in all major passing categories, setting new franchise records in terms of attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns.

Koetter, along with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong have drawn a lot of interest from teams that have fired coaches. Seven NFL coaches were fired on Monday. Koetter was set to interview with the Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, and Philadelphia Eagles this week. Both Nolan and Armstrong are candidates with the Eagles. Armstrong is also set to interview with the Chiefs and Chicago Bears, according to earlier reports.

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