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Lofton bolts for the Saints

March 26th, 2012 Comments off

On Saturday night, Curtis Lofton agreed to a five-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. The following day Lofton had some interesting quotes in an article written by Mike Triplett of The Times-Picayune. Those quotes probably riled up many a Falcon fan that read them. But I have taken a different viewpoint. I don’t read Lofton’s statement(s) as ones meant to slight the Falcons or their fan base.

Here are the key excerpts of what Lofton said to Triplette:

Lofton, who turns 26 this summer, admitted that he didn’t expect to even become a free agent. After being a full-time starter and leader for the Atlanta Falcons over the past four years, he thought the Falcons would try to re-sign him and continue to build their defense around him.

“I was told they wanted me to start my career as a Falcon and end as a Falcon,” Lofton said.

Once he hit the open market, Lofton wound up taking only one free agent visit and he knew that New Orleans was the place for him. He admitted that the market was surprisingly slow-moving for middle linebackers, but he also was being patient, turning down some overtures from several teams.

“I wanted to go to a team that, No. 1, had a chance to win a Super Bowl, had true fans, a great defensive coordinator. Then once the Saints called, I was like, ‘Wow,’” Lofton said. “When I took my visit there, I loved it. I knew I was going there. I didn’t need to visit anywhere else. I told my agent that.”

Lofton said he is a “loyal guy,” so he wanted to give the Falcons a chance to keep him. But he liked what the Saints were offering better, so he wound up switching sides in the NFC’s South’s most heated rivalry.
Although that was a tough decision to make — and he has been hearing plenty of criticism from Falcons fan — Lofton said it was for the best.

One thing I know from playing against this team and from talking to them, they’re rallying together. It’s us vs. them. And this team is a winner. And from just talking to Vilma and everyone, I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

Without context, these quotes seem to slight the Falcons and their fanbase. That the Falcons lack “true fans.” I don’t think that is what Lofton said one bit. Let’s look at the facts:

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Curtis Lofton

  • Lofton first visited the Saints on March 18
  • Lofton signed with the Saints on March 24
  • Lofton only visited one team, the Saints

By examining the facts, they clearly show that Lofton wanted to remain a Falcon. Overwhelmingly so, he gave the Falcons essentially six days between when he visited the Saints and signed with them to get back into the derby. Now you could certainly argue that Lofton was disappointed that the Falcons didn’t make a better offer to him and he felt slighted, and thus lashed out. But you could also read that Lofton was just looking for the same qualities he saw in Atlanta in another team, and the Saints were the only team that fit that description.

His criteria of finding a team that had true fans, capable of winning a Super Bowl, and a great defensive coordinator also can be used to describe the Falcons. Why else did it take him six days to sign in New Orleans? It doesn’t normally take six days to negotiate a contract. A day or two, or in the rare cases when you’re dealing with huge Mario Williams money, it could take three days.

I think most of that six-day period was used with Lofton and his representatives playing chicken with the Falcons. And I think the Falcons called his bluff.

I don’t blame the Falcons one bit for making that decision. I think it’s one of their bolder decisions, and unlike the Julio Jones trade, I think it makes a lot more football sense. Curtis Lofton is a good, young middle linebacker that is coming off arguably his best season as a pro. But Lofton also is not a player that has shown a ton of improvement over his career as a Falcon, particularly the last three years. He is better than he was in 2009, but not by a huge degree. And in reality, it’s unlikely he’ll become a significantly better player over the next three years.

Lofton has his strengths and has his weaknesses, and they will likely remain so for the rest of his career. He is a good run defender. He is a mediocre at best pass defender. He has improved in the latter phase, but he’ll never reach a point where it’s a strength of his game. He lacks the speed, quickness, and agility to match up in man coverage, and he is still prone to being caught out of position when working in zone as well.

Lofton is often applauded for his leadership. And while he is a very good leader in terms of leading by example, he’s a very, quiet ho-hum guy. The guy that is more willing and able to take the bull by the horns for that unit was Mike Peterson. I do think if Peterson was not re-signed, Lofton could assume some of that mantle going forward. But I do think he and Sean Weatherspoon would have functioned primarily as co-leaders of that unit. Tatupu has many of the same leadership traits that Lofton exhibits, and I don’t think the Falcons are going to take any step back in that department.

Because of Lofton’s issues in coverage, I don’t think the Falcons needed to bend over backwards to keep him. That coupled with his departure won’t cripple the locker room due to Tatupu’s presence, it was a bold move for the Falcons, but a smart one. They didn’t need to spend market value for a player that is not really going to improve over the next four to five years. In fact, he is a player that could have just peaked in 2011. The league is a passing league, and the Falcons need more linebackers like Sean Weatherspoon that are true everydown playmakers, rather than players like Lofton who are not.

I applaud the Falcons decision to pass on Lofton. And I also hold no ill will towards Lofton for signing with the Saints. If I had been in his shoes, I probably would have signed with the Saints as well.

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Falcons add Tatupu

March 10th, 2012 Comments off
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Lofa Tatupu

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Falcons have reached an agreement with free agent linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a player they worked out yesterday. Prior to joining the Falcons, Tatupu played six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks (2005-10) and made three Pro Bowls.

Tatupu missed all of the 2011 season due to lingering knee issues from double arthroscopic surgery on both knees from January 2011. But apparently is healthy and ready to go. Tatupu gives the Falcons a solid insurance policy at middle linebacker if the team is unsuccessful with re-signing Curtis Lofton, who will become a free agent on Tuesday.

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Falcons work out Tatupu

March 9th, 2012 Comments off

Adam Schefter of ESPN tweets that the Falcons worked out free agent linebacker Lofa Tatupu earlier today. Tatupu sat out all of the 2011 season due to injuries after being released by the Seattle Seahawks last summer after the lockout. Tatupu has been making rounds with workouts since the end of the season, including working out with the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints last month.

Tatupu managed to play and start in all 16 games in 2010, but finished with 88 tackles, a career-low in seasons where he played in 15 or more games. Tatupu was a second round pick for the Seahawks in 2005. He emerged quickly, earning a Pro Bowl bid as a rookie, helping to anchor a Seahawk defense that went all the way to the Super Bowl. He would also make the Pro BOwl in 2006 and 2007. He missed 11 games in 2009 with a torn pectoral muscle, but it was knee injuries that helped limit him in 2010. He would undergo arthroscopic surgery on both knees. Tatupu’s late father, Mosi, was a Pro Bowl fullback who spent nearly all of his professional career with the New England Patriots (1978-90).

Tatupu could be seen as a potential insurance policy if the Falcons aren’t able to retain free agent Curtis Lofton next week with the signing period beginning on Tuesday. Like Lofton, Tatupu was never the biggest or fastest player, but known for his toughness and leadership. Lofton has been criticized for his issues in coverage over the years, recording just 3 interceptions and 15 pass breakups in four seasons with the Falcons. That was an area that was considered a strength for Tatupu in the past, with 10 interceptions and 35 breakups in nearly five and a half season. However, any decline due to Tatupu’s injury concerns could make any upgrade potential negligible.

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Can the Falcons afford Super Mario?

March 6th, 2012 1 comment
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Mario Williams

The more I think about it, the more it’s hard to imagine a good reason why the Falcons shouldn’t pursue Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams on the open market come next week.

Williams is likely to be one of the most coveted free agents in recent memory. Teams are constantly looking for top pass rushers, and few would argue that Williams is not one of the best currently in the league. The Texans did not slap him with a franchise tag, and thus are likely to lose him to the highest bidder.

Given recent deals that Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, and Elvis Dumervil have signed that included $40 million or more in guaranteed money, the market likely will dictate that Williams will make more. Basically, Williams will make as much money as a franchise quarterback, exceeding the guaranteed dollars that Philip Rivers and Eli Manning have received in recent years and potentially approaching the guaranteed dollars of Tom Brady ($49 million).

In fact, if the Falcons attempt to extend the contract of Matt Ryan in the next 18 months, Williams’ contract could potentially rival Ryan’s for who is the highest paid player on the team. And so the question becomes can the Falcons afford two players on the roster that are guaranteed $40-50 million. Especially in an off-season where the Falcons are likely to pay premium dollar deals to cornerback Brent Grimes ($20 million-plus guaranteed), and Curtis Lofton (potentially approaching $20 million).

I think the answer is yes, but the Falcons have to be smart about their spending. Let’s examine the biggest contract for a defensive end signed by Julius Peppers with the Chicago Bears in March 2010. That deal was worth $84 million over six years with $42 million guaranteed. Another $7.5 million could be earned via incentives. Any deal with Williams, is likely to be structured similarly.

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Falcons need to be wary of Lofton’s deal

March 2nd, 2012 Comments off
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Curtis Lofton

The Falcons want to bring back Curtis Lofton, and that is the right decision. But the Falcons have to be careful that they do not overpay Lofton on the open market, because Lofton is not likely to be a core piece on their defense going forward. The reason for that is the league is increasingly become a passing-oriented league. The rule changes favor offenses, and particularly those that can sling the football. And the issue with Lofton is that this is the weakest part of his game.

There are several reasons why the Falcons should want Curtis Lofton back. Firsly, he is coming off arguably his best season as a pro. While he is not a dominant run defender, he certainly is a good one that is a key reason why the Falcons run defense has been so stout the past three years. Secondly, he is also developing into a leadership role. While Mike Peterson has been the leader of the linebacker corps the past three years, his time in Atlanta is at or nearing its end. At some point in the near future, someone else is going to have to step up and Lofton is as good a candidate as any to do so. While Lofton is a bit of a mild-mannered guy off the field than his more loquacious teammate Sean Weatherspoon, Lofton certainly brings an aggressive, physical disposition on the field. Lofton is a good leader by example type and their two personalities can complement each other in the locker room going forward for young Falcons.

Thirdly, Lofton is also a good middle linebacker. He’s not one of the best in the league, as he’s often portrayed as, but he is certainly above average. He is fairly consistent in playing at a solid to good level on a weekly basis. And that sort of consistency is welcomed on any defense, particularly when it comes to the guy that is at a key position such as the middle linebacker. I’ve heard it said that teams should want to reward the best people as opposed to the best players with long-term deals. And Lofton is certainly one of those players.

But before the Falcons lock Lofton up to a highly lucrative contact, they must realize that there are also some limitations. As stated before, Lofton is not the best pass defender. The league has seen the rise of tight ends and slot receivers in recent years, making the middle of the field a fertile ground for explosive passing attacks.  While Lofton has improved there in recent years, he’s not helping the Falcons win that arms race. Playing in space over the middle and being stuck on an island against good receivers is not something Lofton does very well. And if he is to be the rock at the center of the Falcons defense for years to come, he will ever increasingly have to perform in those duties. And while Lofton can continue to improve there, he’s never going to reach a point where he is considered an asset in the pass defense. A comparable Falcon of yesteryear was Keith Brooking who was similarly adequate and effective at times, but often times was a liability when it came to the better players he would find himself matched up with.

There has been talk that the Falcons would prefer that Lofton become more of a two-down player. While that could minimize some of Lofton’s deficiencies in coverage, it will make his value to this football team significantly diminished. Two-down linebackers are a dime a dozen in the NFL because the overwhelming majority of guys currently in the league could be considered such. And therefore, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Falcons to make Lofton one of the higher paid players at his position when he could be lumped into that same group.

Basically, Lofton is a good player, but limited going forward. And therefore, the Falcons need to offer him a good, but limited deal. If Lofton balks at such a deal and can make a more lucrative contract elsewhere, then good for him. That will free up the Falcons to invest money where they need to, which is improving the pass defense.

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FalcFans Podcast – Episode 14 (Two Parts)

February 27th, 2012 Comments off

Ryan and I get together in this first part of a two-part episode to talk Falcons off-season once more with some updates on free agency, draft, and the Combine. We run down our thoughts on several current Falcons including Sam Baker, Michael Turner, John Abraham, and of course the obligatory Joe Hawley argument. We also share our thoughts on which free agents and draft prospects the Falcons should target in order to improve the team in some key areas. We also give our perspectives on whether the Julio Jones looks better or worse with the value of hindsight.

In part two, we talk about Brent Grimes and Curtis Lofton and their futures in Atlanta as well as comparign Thomas DeCoud and Reggie Nelson. We also talk about a bunch of non-football topics including UFC, dating, technology, social media, and about past and future guests on the show.

Part 1:

Duration: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Part 2:

Duration: 1 hour

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by on gamedays to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Abraham headed to free agency

February 23rd, 2012 Comments off

Steve Wyche of NFL.com reported yesterday that in talks with Rich Rosa, the agent of impending free agent defensive John Abraham, that the veteran player is likely headed for free agency based on the current level of contract negotiations with the team.

That report comes on the heels of Mark Bradley’s predictions in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Falcons “won’t spend big” to keep Abraham. Abraham was the team’s top pass rusher this past year with 9.5 sacks, and will turn 34 in May. He first joined the Falcons in 2006 and has been one of their more prominent and stalwart defensive players since that time, having led the team in sacks in four of the past five seasons.

Bradley also made the educated guesses that the team will use their franchise tag on cornerback Brent Grimes, and won’t be too broken up if middle linebacker Curtis Lofton departs via free agency. In the case of Lofton, it mirrors what Len Pasquarelli wrote two weeks ago that the team views Lofton as a two-down defender and will pay him accordingly. It would appear that the Falcons are in the same vein with Abraham, that they will opt to keep them at the right price.

The Falcons seem poised to let players such as Abraham and Lofton test the market if they don’t manage to re-sign them before March 13.

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Free Agent Focus: Linebacker

February 13th, 2012 Comments off
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Curtis Lofton

The Falcons primary goal this off-season at this position will be re-signing Curtis Lofton. Lofton is by all indications going to be one of the team’s highest priorities this off-season to keep, if not the highest priority among their 17 free agents. But there have been recent reports that while Lofton should be back in Atlanta in 2012, his role could change.

Those reports come from Len Pasquarelli, who indicates that the Falcons could perceive Lofton more as a two-down situational linebacker than a full-time everydown player. If that is the case, and the Falcons are successful at retaining Lofton, it could mean that they will be looking for more help at the linebacker position on the open market.

If the Falcons pull Lofton off the field in passing and nickel situations, they will need to find a player to replace him. That player could be Stephen Nicholas, but that seems unlikely since this team has over the years done their best to limit Nicholas’ role on passing downs. Unless Mike Nolan envisions something where Nicholas pass-rushing ability is added to the mix along with coverage duties. That does make some sense if the Falcons do plan to employ a mix of 3-4/4-3 looks, with Nicholas and Weatherspoon being their two best blitzing linebackers.

But the Falcons might also want to look at potentially adding an outside linebacker that can be more of a factor in coverage. The Falcons have had their issues covering the really good tight ends that populate the NFC and NFC South specifically in recent years. Collectively, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, and Kellen Winslow combined for 33 catches for 365 yards, and 4 touchdowns this year in their combined 8 games against the Falcons. Particularly with Graham, if the Falcons can do a better job containing him, it will go a long way to trying to get over that hurdle that is beating the Saints on a consistent basis. The Falcons should be looking at options to help combat this issue. If the team opts to not keep Mike Peterson, then they will have a perfect opportunity to add another outside linebacker to the mix that can help in coverage to replace him.

A player that immediately should shoot to the top of the Falcons list is Wesley Woodyard. He played under Nolan in 2009, where he served as the Broncos nickel linebacker. He has served in a similar capacity since, until this year he started 7 games at both weakside and middle linebacker. Woodyard played safety in college, and also one of the Broncos special teams captain. He is a player that is likely to be one of their higher priorities to re-sign this off-season, but the Falcons could show enough interest to try and lure him away since there’s no guarantee that he will start in Denver.

Another name from Nolan’s past could be Manny Lawson. Lawson was a player that the 49ers used a #1 pick on in 2006 under Nolan. He never developed into the feared pass rusher while there, but did develop into a capable coverage guy due to his athleticism. When Jim Harbaugh took over and brought in a 3-4 scheme that required the outside guys to be able to bring pressure, Lawson was cast off and settled in Cincinnati, where he had a nice season. Lawson’s newfound experience in the 4-3, plus his familiarity with Nolan’s 3-4 could make him an intriguing option that like Nicholas could be used both in coverage and as a pass rusher.

Another option could be Lawson’s teammate Brandon Johnson. Johnson, is a tall, athletic linebacker that has spent time as the Bengals nickel linebacker over the past few years and has been capable in that role. He probably would not be the Falcons top option, but a decent alternative if they cannot get Woodyard or Lawson.

A player that the Falcons might be holding out to get, would be Carolina’s Thomas Davis. Davis might be cut this off-season. Davis has torn his ACL in each of the past three years, having appeared in only a total of 9 games. But a healthy Davis, who is a Georgia native, is exactly the type of player that would provide what the Falcons are looking for on the outside: a guy that can help contain this top tight ends. The Panthers may opt to cut him, and obviously the health of his knee would prove to be a major concern. But it wouldn’t hurt to take a look-see if that day comes, and if the Falcons can get him at a discount, it could be a low-risk, high-reward scenario if Davis finally proves healthy.

Obviously, the Falcons will make it their first priority to keep Lofton. Mike Peterson’s status could be up in the air, especially if the team does intend to target another player that can provide more help in coverage. But this is definitely a position worth stabilizing for the team in free agency.

Moneyball 2011 – Week 18 Review

January 10th, 2012 Comments off

I know I’ve said this a couple of times already this year, but this was really hard game to re-watch. It felt like getting a prostate exam. The Falcons just looked inept on offense in this game, and seemed like some 6-10 team that had won a door prize to get into the playoffs, rather than the 10-6 team we saw most of the year.

Matt Ryan did not play well in this game. He was late on throws and reads, and seemed unwilling to try and challenge downfield. It looked like the Falcons gameplan was to feature a lot of short passing to offset the lack of a running game in the hopes that getting the ball out of his hands quickly would slow down the Giants pass rush. Well it really didn’t work too well. Roddy White did not play very well, with three drops. Julio Jones had a nice day, but the reality is that the Falcons did not really try to feature him. Gonzalez made some nice catches, but he too seemed to be not heavy into their game plan.

Much of their gameplan centered on feeding Michael Turner, which was certainly expected. But the Falcons offensive line struggled to move the pile and Turner was for the most part a non-factor. The Falcons offensive line is probably the real culprit of this loss. THey got their butts kicked by the Giants front, and nothing signifies this more than they two 4th & 1 stuffs on the sneaks where they got no push. But don’t always forget that the Falcons had a 3rd & 2 and 3rd & 1 that the line could not convert either.

Personally, I really don’t have a major issue with Mike Smith’s decision to go for it on either fourth down instead of kicking the field goal. I tend to favor coaches that are a bit more aggressive on fourth down. What I do have issue with is that the Falcons did not convert. They were asked to “man up” and they got punked. And regardless of whether the Falcons net 6 points on those two series, it still doesn’t change the fact that the Giants were punking them throughout the day. So while it would have made the score closer had the Falcons kicked those field goals, I certainly don’t think it would have really had any impact on the outcome of the game.

The bigger coaching decision I have to question is why the Falcons did not call a timeout at the end of the first half in their two-minute drill after Ryan inept-looking scramble. After that play, 18 seconds ticked off the clock. Why did Smith nor Ryan not call a timeout then? That’s two or three plays that the Falcons could have had at the end of the half to try and put some points on the board.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$6$0$0$0$0$6.00
Julio Jones$0$2$3$0$0$0$5.00
Matt Ryan$6-$2$0$0$0$0$4.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$4-$1$0$0$3.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Jason Snelling$0$1$0$0$0.5$0$1.50
Todd McClure$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Eric Weems$0$0$0$0$0.5$0$0.50
Michael Palmer$0$0$0$0$0.5$0$0.50
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$1$0-$1$0.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Will Svitek$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Roddy White$0$0-$1$0$0$0-$1.00
TEAM OFFENSE$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00

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Moneyball 2011 – Week 17 Review

January 3rd, 2012 Comments off

A dominant performance from the Falcons, reminiscent of the Jaguars game two weeks ago. But one wonders after the Saints game, whether this is because the Falcons are really that good or whether the Jaguars and Bucs are really that bad. And personally, I think it might be more of the latter.

But a solid game on the ground. Matt Ryan really did not have to do a lot in this game. His receivers made plays when he threw it and he just had to hand the ball off largely for 2 quarters before he made way for Redman. Turner had an outstanding game, as the Bucs defenders in their back seven seemed to have no interest in trying to tackle him. The offensive line gets a lot of credit in this game for some good blocking. Clabo, and McClure probably had the standout performances, with a solid outing from Blalock and Hawley as well. Snelling and Cox also made some nice blocks, as well as Roddy getting two key blocks downfield. Reggie Kelly decided to show up for the first time this year, with 3 key blocks.

Jones had a very good game showing his big play potential for another week. Despite two drops, Roddy had a strong game.

Quizz and Snelling also had good games, although Quizz’s fumble at the goalline was a blemish. But considering how good he and others were the rest of the game, it’s not that huge a deal.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLOCK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$18$0$0$0$0$18.00
Julio Jones$0$2$7$0$0$0$9.00
Matt Ryan$8$0$0$0$0$0$8.00
Jason Snelling$0$6$0$2$0$0$8.00
Roddy White$0$0$3$2$0$0$5.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$6$0$0$0-$2$4.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Reggie Kelly$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Chris Redman$1$0$0$0$0$0$1.00
Will Svitek$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Eric Weems$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

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