Ryan and I discuss 2012 free agency and going position by position to look at what prospective free agents that the Falcons could or should target. We each give a bevy of players that we think could be good additions to the team next year. During the course of our discussion, we touch on several current Falcons including Brent Grimes, Michael Palmer, Curtis Lofton, Ray Edwards, Joe Hawley, Mike Johnson, and Spencer Adkins.
A solid performance for the offense, although there wasn’t anything great about. Matt Ryan had a solid game managing the offense, with only 1 poor throw on the day. Michael Turner had several nice runs and was his old powerful self, breaking tackles on some of them.
The Falcons were able to spread the ball around to different receivers with Julio Jones out of the lineup, with Michael Palmer and Eric Weems getting some action in the passing game. Roddy White had a nice bounce-back game from last week, although he still wasn’t perfect. But he made some nice grabs on the day. Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas also were solid.
The blocking was solid, with Ryan having good protection. Justin Blalock didn’t have a great day, missing 3 blocks, although it is worth noting most of them came when he was pulling or supposed to hit an assignment on the second level. Neither of those two things have ever really been his strength.
Overall, it was a solid performance for the offense. But nothing special. This is the type of game that is giong to be quickly forgotten because there really wasn’t anything notable to happen in it. The struggles the team had converting in the redzone are a chief concern, and it’s hopefully something that can be nipped in the bud.
The Falcons released their injury report this week, and Sam Baker was listed as questionable after limited participation in all three days of practice. Baker missed the past three games with a back injury. Two weeks ago he was reportedly expected to miss 3-4 weeks. He has been replaced by Will Svitek in the team’s past three outings.
Wide receiver Julio Jones was also listed as questionable, despite not practicing all week due to re-aggravating a hamstring injury in last week’s loss to the Saints. Jones suffered the original injury in a Week 5 loss against the Packers, missed two games, but then returned two weeks ago to have a big game against the Colts. If Jones is unable to go on Sunday, he will be replaced by Harry Douglas who is coming off a career high performance against New Orleans.
Expected to miss a second consecutive game is William Moore (quadricep), as he also did not practice this week. James Sanders will start in place of him at strong safety.
Several other players were listed as probable for this weekend’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Harry Douglas (thigh), Ray Edwards (knee), and Antone Smith (knee) all were able to participate fully in the past two days of practice and were probable. Brent Grimes (knee) and Jason Snelling (hamstring) were both limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but participated fully in Friday’s practice. Curtis Lofton (ankle) was added to the injury report after Thursday, but also went full bore on Friday. John Abraham and Todd McClure were also included on the injury report, but only because both were held out of Wednesday’s practice for non-injury related rest. They had full participation in both Thursday and Friday’s practices.
The Titans linebacker corps is shaken up with starters Gerald McRath (hamstring) and Barrett Ruud (groin) both listed as questionable on their injury report. Both were able to practice fully on Friday. Backup linebacker Colin McCarthy (knee) is also questionable after missing the last two days of practice. Defensive end Dave Ball will miss the game with a concussion.
A really tough outing for the Falcons as they had multiple opportunities to win this game, but could not take advantage. This is traditionally how the Falcons have played the Saints over recent years, and why they have lost most of those games. A dropped ball here, a penalty there, a blown assignment there, and it all adds up to the Falcons coming up short at the end of the day.
Personally, I think the decision to go for it on fourth down in overtime was the right call. If you can’t get 8 inches, then you probably don’t deserve to win. I didn’t agree with the play call on that play though, with less than a foot to go I think you just sneak it up the middle rather than handing it off to Turner.
For the most part, Matt Ryan had a really good game. He continues to struggle with throwing the ball downfield, as 6 of his 8 poor throws were deep (20+ yard) passes. He does a good job on the majority of his throws from 15-20 yards, but once you start pushing his throws to 25 yards or more, he tends to struggle. I’m still not in love with the Falcons overall play-calling and design of their passing plays, although there were several calls during this game that I think are good ones from Mularkey. I just want to see the Falcons use those plays more. Getting 4 or 5 options on the field at the same time, and running more vertical routes with clear outs worked very well for this team in the fourth quarter. We should be doing more of those plays earlier in the game, and particularly on first downs rather than running the ball into the pile for 1 or 2 yards.
Michael Turner had a strong start to this game, earning $7 of his $13 on the first series. But after that, he was pretty non-descript. Had a few more nice runs, but he didn’t do much. Part of that was because of the blocking. The blocking was solid early on, but as the game wore on the Falcons could not get any push.
Cameron Jordan was punking Tyson Clabo throughout this game. Will Svitek doesn’t really seem to be an improvement over Sam Baker in pass protection, although his run blocking is much better. But Ryan’s interception is probably just as much on him giving up the pressure to Will Smith as it is on Roddy White for dropping the ball. Joe Hawley is probably our meanest offensive linemen, but he’s miscast as a guard because of his inability to get consistent push. McClure is clearly starting to slow down, and Blalock is solid, but that doesn’t bode well for your offensive line when he’s your best blocker. He’s the type of player that should be your third best blocker.
Roddy White really struggled in this game, and without even checking I’m sure this is by far his worst earning since I started doing Moneyball in 2009, and probably is one of his worst games since his rookie year. One of his penalties was a ticky tack call (the offensive P.I.), but his blocking was bad in this game, and he just didn’t really seem to have his head in the game. Speaking of officiating, this game was pretty sloppy in that realm. The Falcons got some calls, the Saints got some calls, but I feel like the refs missed some calls. There was a hold on Jonathan Babineaux late in the game, that I felt they missed. There was a block in the back on Martez Wilson that I thought they missed on Sproles one good punt return. And the pass to Roddy in the endzone at the end of the game that could have won it, I thought it was certainly debatable if Greer got there too early for a pass interference. But I tend to cut the refs some slack, but I’m not sure this is going to get a lot of positive grades for Terry McAulay & Co. when it comes time to picking who officiates in the playoffs and Super Bowl.
Tony Gonzalez was money in this game, but the Falcons just didn’t get him the ball enough. Harry Douglas had an outstanding game, and when the Falcons spread the field, that’s where most of his plays were made. It was also nice to see the Falcons get Eric Weems involved as well. And this is another knock on Mularkey, but why can’t either of these two players get involved in the offense unless Julio Jones is out of the game. They combined for 11 catches, and I would say probably on 9 or 10 those plays, they were good play calls and designs. Yet, they never seem to run those same plays when Jones is on the field, and thus both players essentially disappear whenever Jones is in the lineup.
A lot of highlights from the Detroit Lions game, and it was hard to pick a winner. But I had to go with Matt Ryan’s 49-yard pass to Harry Douglas because it involved the drama of Ryan returning to the game after what many feared to be a horrific injury, and on his first pass back in the game hit Douglas down the middle on a critical 3rd down play to keep a drive alive.
The other pick probably would have won had it been a normal game where there was no injury involved with Ryan. That would have been Roddy’s excellent fingertip grab on Ryan’s lob throw into the back of the endzone.
Michael Turner had a solid game, and looked like the old Michael Turner throughout this game, breaking tackles and getting yards after contact. Ovie Mughelli looked back to be in his old form. Granted, it did come against a horrible Panthers run defense, but it’s still somewhat promising for the rest of the year. The Falcons dominated a run defense that they should have dominated. Despite this however, I think the Falcons still need to get Jacquizz Rodgers more involved on offense.
Matt Ryan had a nice solid game managing the game, although he continues to struggle throwing the ball down the field with 3 of his 4 poor throws being deep passes.
Tyson Clabo’s negative score is the result mainly of Charles Johnson getting the better of him in the second half several times. It was nice to see Harry Douglas have a solid game catching the ball and even contributing as a blocker. If Ryan had hit him with two of those deep passes, we might be saying Who?-lio today (yes, I know a very bad pun).
Mularkey’s play-calling on 1st down needs some tweaks. Throughout the second and third quarters the Falcons force fed Turner the rock on first downs, and it netted almost no positive results. He needs to do a better job keeping this team on schedule on first down and needs to do a better job mixing up his play-calling then. Maybe if he’s that intent on running the ball on first down, that would be an excellent time to switch things up by feeding Rodgers instead? But other than that, the Falcons did an excellent job executing the rest of his game plan and he did make a couple of very good play calls (34-yard catch & run to Douglas on 3rd & 12 was one of them) today, so he deserves some credit. And Mughelli and Michael Palmer also made some plays in the passing game, so they were more involved this week than past games.
The Seahawks game was a coming out party for Julio Jones, but this week’s highlight has to go once again to the veteran Tony Gonzalez for his spectacular one-handed catch in traffic.
This is a tale of two halves. In the first half the Falcons looked really sharp. Their running game was effective, they made some nice throws down field, and converted their third downs. In the second half, their running game evaporated and thus they had difficulty converting on third downs, and Ryan missed on a lot of his throws downfield.
The Falcons defense got soft, and their inability to get pressure with their front four throughout the game allowed Tarvaris Jackson to pick them apart. The Falcons could not move the ball on the ground against the 8-man fronts that the Seahawks were showing in the second half as well.
The Falcons that were playing in the first half looked an awful lot like the 13-3 team that was playing last year. But in the second half, they looked like the same old 1-2 Falcons that went into this game. Thankfully, their first half lead was big enough that they were able to hold off the Seahawks.
Ryan had a good first half, but he missed too many throws downfield in the second half. He overthrew receivers and just wasn’t that accurate with most of his throws as the game wore on. Turner had a good start, running harder than we’ve seen to date, but that diminished as the game wore on and the holes closed up. The Falcons just can’t seem to get the ground game going when they need to this year, and that has to change if this team wants to get back into the thick of the hunt for the division crown. Jacquizz Rodgers had some nice runs, and it might be time for the Falcons to give him a greater look. Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez had good games for the most part. But Roddy’s drops continue to be an issue, particularly when they have come late in games in critical situations. The blocking was better, as Ryan had pretty good protection all game long as the Falcons only gave up one pressure. The run blocking was good in the first half, and Garrett Reynolds had his best game with 3 key blocks, two of which came on third down conversions by Turner. Although his false start late in the game was really bad. Nothing kills critical drives as much as stupid false starts and blocking penalties.
It was nice to see Ovie Mughelli finally show up, registering his first key block of the season. But he also missed another block and dropped a pass, so a less than stellar performance overall for him.
Twelve weeks ago, I wrote that the Falcons needed middle linebacker Curtis Lofton to step up this year. And according to a write-up by the National Football Post’s Dan Pompei, it seems like the coaching staff thinks the same way. Because according to Pompei the Falcons coaching staff have given Lofton more leeway to be a leader in the middle of that defense.
Pompei writes that Lofton will be given the responsibility of calling different fronts and more blitzes on the defense. Lofton is now becoming more of a leader and essentially the quarterback of the defense. Throw in the fact that he was one of the key organizers of the Falcons off-season workouts, Lofton may be poised for a big year in 2011.
Lofton’s play dropped off last year as far as his ability to defend the run. And perhaps this leadership role will reinvigorate him with confidence to get back to a run-defending level he was in 2009. And with continued progression in coverage coupled with his leadership, Lofton can become a more complete playmaker and anchor this defense.
When the Falcons drafted linebacker Sean Weatherspoon with last year’s first round pick, they were hoping that together with middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, it would form a stabilizing core in the middle of the team’s defense.
Weatherspoon got off to a promising start as a rookie, but a mid-season injury derailed much of his progress. If he can bounce back and have a strong 2011 season, then the Falcons defense can potentially make the next step going forward.
Spoon has the potential to be the team’s best linebacker and essentially the heart of the defense. While Curtis Lofton has him on seniority, Spoon is the superior player in terms of speed and versatility. Not only does he have the potential to be an impact performer against the run, but also against the pass, which is a major area of weakness for Lofton.
Spoon also has the potential to play multiple positions for the Falcons. He got reps at both outside spots last year, but started the season as the team’s strongside linebacker. Where he plays in 2011 will largely depend on whether the team decides to bring back free agents Mike Peterson or Stephen Nicholas. All signs seem to point to Peterson being the preferred candidate to return, which will likely mean Spoon will remain on the strongside. But the team also drafted Akeem Dent, and it seems that his future prospects are at the same position. Meaning that eventually, Spoon should find a home at his more natural weakside position.
Spoon made his share of rookie mistakes last year. He was caught out of position several times in coverage as well as against the run, and missed some tackles. But he also flashed his playmaking ability, showing his speed and range, and showing he can be an effective blitzer and cover man at times.
The key for him is adding experience and continuity. Staying on the field for the entire 16-game season should go a long way for his development and progress.