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.
Ryan to Douglas: 49 yard catch & run
Roddy White: 18 yd TD catch
Tony Gonzalez: 30 yard catch
Michael Turner: 50 yard run
Curtis Lofton: Pressures Stafford to end the game
Corey Peters: sack
Sean Weatherspoon: sack
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.
Tony Gonzalez’s one-handed grab
Ryan’s 45-yard pass to Jones
Lofton’s INT off a tipped pass from Peterson
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.
Falcons Wrap Camp Exile
The Falcons finished their final day of what has been dubbed “Camp Exile” on Wednesday. That was the name of the player-organized sessions which primarily featured 7-on-7 workouts between offensive and defensive players. Matt Ryan, Curtis Lofton, and Coy Wire got majority credit for organizing the workouts that had varying attendance between 20 and 35 teammates over recent weeks. Perhaps the most noteworthy accomplishment for the camp was the ability for Ryan and top rookie wide receiver Julio Jones to lay a foundation and work to build a rapport for the upcoming season. (Source: D. Orlando Ledbetter, AJC)
Roddy confident about Falcons offense
On an appearance on NFL Network on Sunday Night, Falcons receiver Roddy White was brimming with confidence and expectations when asked about the potential success that the Falcons could have with rookie receiver Julio Jones added to the mix. White compared it to the famous St. Louis Rams offense of 1999, often dubbed the “Greatest Show on Turf.” It currently ranks as the 5th most potent scoring offense in NFL history, and until it’s record was broken by the 2007 Patriots, ranked first in terms of point differential between points scored and allowed by the defense.
It’s going to be special. It’s going to remind you of the greatest show on turf. We got a lot of explosive players and you know, I see a lot more explosive plays coming out of our offense. [Julio Jones] is a guy that can get downfield and make those things happen. And more one on one coverages with me so I can do my thing and get explosive plays.
Snelling wants to stay in Atlanta, but willing to explore options
In an interview with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live, Falcons running Jason Snelling shared his thoughts on the current CBA negotiations as well as his potential future with the Falcons. Snelling is expected to be an impending free agent if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement returns to players with four years or more being unrestricted free agent. Snelling indicated that he would like to return to the Falcons as they are at the top of his list, but also would be willing to explore other options in free agency if possible. (Source: Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk)
There are two things that cannot be questioned about Curtis Lofton: first his toughness and secondly, his leadership. These are two areas where Lofton excels in. He’s a punishing, hard-hitting middle linebacker that likes to mix it up on defense. He’s taken on more of the leadership mantle during the lockout, acting as the “quarterback” of the defense during player-organized workouts according to several sources.
But there are areas where Lofton can be questioned, and often that is his play on the field. He did not play up to expectations in 2010 after a very promising 2009 campaign. The previous year, he made consistent plays against the run, while struggling quite a bit against the pass. And while he made improvements as a pass defender, his run play was not up to par. And that play against the run is mainly what Lofton is known for.
The Falcons emphasized improving their offense in this past year’s draft mainly because their brass feels it already has many of the pieces on defense to make significant strides going forward. Obviously, one of those pieces is Lofton. But he’ll have to step up his play like many of the others if he wants to prove the Falcons front office to be right.
LB Akeem Dent
While much of the post-draft debate has centered on whether the Julio Jones trade-up was a good move or not, the biggest question mark of the Falcons 2011 draft class is arguably the next player they took off the board: Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent.
There is very little question of Jones’ skills. The only question there is whether the Falcons gave up too much to acquire those skills and only time will tell. But one wonders whether Dent has the skills that merited the Falcons taking him with a late third round pick.
My initial reaction was that Dent was not worth that high a pick, particularly for a 4-3 team like the Falcons. Dent fits best as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. That is the best scheme and role where he can maximize his skills at the NFL level. Playing in a 4-3 is not likely to maximize his skillset, which leaves questions of what the Falcons saw in Dent that many others, including myself did not see.
So I went back and watched some more tape on Dent to see if I could figure it out. Here is what I saw…
The Eagles defense swarms Packers RB James Starks
I imagine when the line comes out today or tomorrow, the Falcons will only be favored by one or two points in this game. Considering Vegas gives the home team an automatic three points and the Falcons are one of the teams with one of the more widely known home-winning records, such a low line is actually an indicator that Vegas thinks Green Bay is the superior team.
The emergence of running back James Starks is a worrisome development for the Falcon faithful. When the Falcons took on the Packers in Week 12, Green Bay had no real running game. In that game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the team’s leading rusher with 12 carries for 51 yards. The Falcons rushed three for much of that game, which allowed Rodgers ample room to step up in the pocket and scramble for first days down all day. Among the Packers running backs, Brandon Jackson had a paltry 10 carries for 26 yards. The Packers were one dimensional on that November day in Atlanta, and it greatly helped the Falcons achieve victory.
In the following week, Starks emerged with 73 yards on 18 carries. It wasn’t a mind-blowing statline to the conventional fan, but one has to remember that it was the best single total by a Packers running back since Brandon Jackson’s 115-yard performance in Week 5. And with Stark’s 23-carry, 123-yard performance on Sunday afternoon against the Eagles, it doesn’t seem like the Falcons can count on the Packers being one-dimensional again.
Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was listed as questionable for the regular season finale this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in the team’s weekly injury report earlier today. Babineaux missed the entire week of practice with a shoulder injury. Also listed as questionable are defensive end Kroy Biermann (calf), linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), and center Todd McClure (ankle). Defensive end John Abraham (groin) and wide out Roddy White (knee) were listed as probable on the report.
Babineaux was the lone Falcon to miss all three days of practice. Lofton, McClure, and White each missed Wednesday and Thursday practices, but White fully participated on Friday, and both Lofton and McClure had limited participation as well.
Second-year defensive tackle Vance Walker is listed on the team’s depth chart as Babineaux’s primary reason. His absence will likely mean increased playing time for Peria Jerry as well.
Team hopes to have both Lofton and Weatherspoon in lineup
The Falcons released their full injury report this afternoon, which listed defensive end John Abraham and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon as questionable for Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. Included on the report were also linebacker Curtis Lofton and tight end Justin Peelle, both listed as probable.
Abraham was the only one of the group that was limited in Friday’s practice with a groin injury. He was also limited on Thursday and did not participate on Wednesday. Weatherspoon who has missed the past four games with a knee injury, fully participated in Friday’s practice giving optimism that he will play this weekend. Peelle has missed three games due to a sports hernia, but fully participated in both Thursday and Friday practices. Lofton was limited on Wednesday with a knee injury, but fully participated in the past two days of practice.