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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive End

July 20th, 2014 No comments

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Tyson Jackson

The Atlanta Falcons are undergoing a revamp of their defensive fronts this year, and it will begin with the defensive end position.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have employed a multiple defense, which means it is not strictly a 4-3, nor is it a 3-4 scheme. It’s a hybrid between the two and for the most part over the two years that Nolan has been in Atlanta, it could be most accurately termed a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 principles.

But things might change in 2014 as the Falcons may flip it, opting for a 3-4 scheme with 4-3 principles instead. That change is signaled by the team’s expensive additions up front this offseason, including defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Jackson spent the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs playing in a 3-4 scheme, and is the second-highest paid defensive lineman on the roster behind only nose tackle Paul Soliai. Given that level of investment and the fact that Jackson has little experience playing in a 4-3, it does appear that at least for the team’s base packages, the Falcons will feature a lot more three-man fronts.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 25 Jonathan Massaquoi

July 17th, 2014 No comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 25th-ranked player: defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 52/100

Last year’s rank: 33
Player Grade: 52/100
Teams he is starter: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 27 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +4

There is a lot on Massaquoi’s shoulders this season, as in the eyes of many he’s expected to be the team’s top pass-rusher. A fairly tall order for a player with just four career sacks.

But due to the disappointment of Osi Umenyiora last season, many had hope that the Falcons would seriously address their pass rush this past offseason. But the team basically stood pat, suggesting there is a great deal of confidence in players like Massaquoi stepping up.

The hope is for that confidence to not be as misplaced as the team’s confidence was in some of its young offensive linemen last season.

But there is some cause for hope with Massaquoi. While not showing gawdy numbers last year as a pass-rusher, there were many instances where Massaquoi was a step or so away from making a play. And if he can be sped up in any way, he should be able to make up that ground and start turning those “almost” sacks, hits and pressures into actual ones.

That’s where the coaching of new defensive line coach Bryan Cox is expected to impact. If Cox can improve Massaquoi’s skills so that his hands are a bit quicker, that should allow him to disengage from blockers a beat or two faster, which can be all the difference in a game-changing play.

Massaquoi is expected to start over Umenyiora this year in the team’s base packages, relegating the latter to sub-packages. It should help both players as Massaquoi is the better run defender.

Last season, Massaquoi was a bit miscast on the strong side as a replacement for an injured Kroy Biermann. Massaquoi just doesn’t possess those sorts of abilities to be a combo end and linebacker. He’s more a true end, that should benefit from replacing Umenyiora on the weak side in the base package as he did down the stretch last year.

Massaquoi will be asked to play standing up this year certainly, but ideally it will be primarily to rush the quarterback rather than dropping into coverage, another area where he has routinely struggled over the past two years.

It’s a big year for Massaquoi and will determine his future in Atlanta. He could not show the growth expected and might be relegated to situational duties for the remainder of his time here. Or he could blossom under Cox’s tutelage and essentially become the first capable edge-rusher that the team has developed in the Mike Smith Era.

It really could go either way.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 7, 2014

July 7th, 2014 No comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas

The NFC South is expected to be one of the more competitive divisions in all of the football this season. But that is nothing new.

It’s a division so competitive, that no team in its 12-year existence has ever won the division in consecutive years. And I doubt that streak is broken in 2014.

The Carolina Panthers won the division in 2013, being carried by one of the league’s premier defenses and their ability to win a bunch of close games. After losing their two opening games last year by one score, the Panthers won all five one-score games in the second half of the season.

That ability to win close games is often the difference between whether or not you can win the division or not. The Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have benefited from it the most in the years where they have managed to win the division. In years where the Panthers won the NFC South (2003, 2008 and 2013), they have posted a combined 19-6 record in one-score games. The Falcons record is 20-6 in their three division-winning seasons (2004, 2010 and 2012).

Since the division’s creation beginning with the 2002 season, the Falcons have played in the greatest amount of one-score games (100) within the four-team group and also have the best winning percentage (56.5 percent). No team has benefited more from their ability to win close games than the Falcons under head coach Mike Smith.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 16, 2014

June 16th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Weatherspoon

Once again, the Atlanta Falcons have lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to a major injury. This time it is for the rest of 2014 due to a torn Achilles heel which he suffered last Tuesday during practice.

There seems to be three presiding theories on what Weatherspoon’s impending absence will mean to the Falcons.

There’s the conservative theory that losing Spoon is not a huge loss. The presences of second-year linebackers in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu will allow the Falcons defense to navigate the loss of its leader to a competent level.

This theory makes sense given Worrilow and Bartu had to perform the same task a year ago as undrafted rookies. They certainly will be better prepared to fill Spoon’s shoes with a full year under their belts.

But it still does not adequately encompass the loss of Spoon on the field. Which creates the second theory: that Spoon’s absence will have a dramatic negative effect on the team’s defense in 2014.

That is also somewhat fair given the simple fact that neither Worrilow and Bartu are Sean Weatherspoon.

Falcons Have a Leadership Void That Needs to be Filled

Weatherspoon was the defensive leader for a reason. That being that he is one of the team’s best players on the field and has a natural outgoing personality that makes him capable of adopting a leadership role. Neither Worrilow nor Bartu are of Spoon’s talent level on the field, and while Worrilow especially, has shown solid leadership traits, he is not the defensive leader.

Leadership in the National Football League often comes simply from the fact that you’re the best player on the field. Leaders are supposed to rally the troops and when the team needs it and have to be the guys to step up in the face of adversity. Simply put, you can’t lead from the bench.

That being said, it would be more advantageous for the Falcons if Desmond Trufant was the second-year player that stepped up and took on a leadership role in Spoon’s absence versus either Worrilow or Bartu. Trufant was the team’s best defender a year ago and he’ll need to have possibly an even better second season to follow up. Other players like William Moore, Jonathan Babineaux, Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi will also have to step up in the locker room as well as produce on the field.

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An Early Look at Key Training Camp Battles on Atlanta Falcons Defense

May 31st, 2014 Comments off
ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

After taking a look at the key roster battles that will take place this summer on the Atlanta Falcons offense, it’s time we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

Like the offense, the Falcons defensive starting lineup is relatively settled with much of the competition coming at depth positions.

Unlike the offense, the possibility that the Falcons look to bolster many positions with veteran additions at the end of camp is low. It could happen, if injuries become a problem, but for the most part the added presence of recent draft picks at several positions means the team has a vested interest in getting young guys more opportunities.

Defensive Tackle

The team signed Paul Soliai to a large contract, making him their starter at nose tackle. He will be joined by incumbents Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. The only question among the three of them is whether or not Peters’ recovery from a late-season Achilles tear will force him to miss significant time in training camp. If so, he could wind up starting the year on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list, potentially opening up an opportunity and roster spot for someone else at the position.

Peria Jerry would appreciate that greatly, as he’s the most experienced remaining option at the position but on the bubble as far as his roster spot goes. He’ll need a strong summer to retain his job, with Ra’Shede Hageman, Cliff Matthews, and Travian Robertson also vying for time at the position. This summer is Robertson’s last chance to make the roster, but Peters’ absence opens up the possibility for the team needing more depth at nose tackle, which benefits Robertson.

Like Robertson, Matthews may be entering his final summer with the Falcons given their investment in Hagemen. A competent special teams player, Matthews will need to make more plays on defense this summer to prove he’s worth retaining for the Falcons.

Undrafted rookie Donte Rumph is a long shot to leap frog any of them for a roster spot, but given his size, a good summer could merit a practice squad position to prompt development down the road.

Defensive End

Tyson Jackson and Malliciah Goodman can be considered locks for roster spot. Jackson will be a starter, and Goodman’s performance this summer will determine whether or not he earns significant playing time in the regular season. There’s an outside possibility he could win the starting spot opposite Jackson if he performs at an exceedingly high level.

Hageman and Matthews will also get looks here, and undrafted rookie Nosa Eguae is also in the mix. But like Rumph, Eguae is likely looking at a practice squad spot if he has a strong enough summer.

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Takeaways from 2014 NFL Draft – May 12, 2014

May 12th, 2014 1 comment
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons 2014 Top Selection: Jake Matthews

Normally I write my weekly takeaways column on Sunday afternoon or evening with the intention of it being posted first thing Monday morning around 8:00 a.m. This week, that was no the case.

That’s partly to blame for the fact that it was Mother Day’s weekend, and instead of doing all the things I normally would have done on a Sunday afternoon/evening to get this weekly column posted, I decided to spend time with my mother, who had driven four hors from Virginia to North Carolina to witness my sister-in-law’s graduation from grad school. In the interest of being a good son, my mother took precedent over this column.

Secondly, I had not watched all of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 draft picks play yet. And the column after the draft is the one devoted to my thoughts on whether I believe the Falcons’ draft was a good one or not.

Because unlike most people, I try to be informed before giving my opinions. If you want to know my take on any of the Falcons undrafted free agents, I don’t have one because I haven’t seen any of them play. Until I do, which will be in the first preseason game, my opinion on them will remain largely non-existent.

I was born in 1983, so I spent a significant portion existing in a world without the internet. That was a world where people couldn’t post their opinions, thoughts or insights with the click of a button on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or in Yahoo! News comments.

Back in those times, the only people that were given a platform to express opinions were people that had earned that right to be called experts in their give fields. There was a filter, and it was one that you had to work hard to break through.

The idea that Courtney Love could be involved in finding a missing plane in that time was laughable at best. Instead of social media, people expressed their opinions to companions and family members in their respective living rooms, kitchen dinner tables or bars.

But that age doesn’t exist anymore, and now people are free to give their opinions with no filter. Today, everything is thrown at the wall, and it’s only a matter of what sticks.

Why am I telling you this? Because one of the things I find fascinating is how everybody, including those least informed, will give their opinions on the draft. Besides watching a YouTube highlight clip and reading a bunch of online scouting reports, most people aren’t informed about most of these players with their own eyes.

It often leads to people have overly optimistic expectations about a particular draft prospect, or overly pessimistic ones. There is no longer a middle ground. And people should know that most things fall into that middle area.

I’m saying all this because I believe it will take time to see how these draft prospects develop. Patience is really the key, and while it won’t stop me from having an opinion today, I’m at least aware of the fact that what my opinion today is relatively meaningless in the big picture. That big picture will be determined by where the Falcons 2014 draft picks are three to five years from now.

What will this column will entail from this point is my best guess on where those players will be at that point. While that guess is an educated one based off informed analysis from watching these guys play a handful of collegiate games, it is still a guess nonetheless.

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Draft Needs: Are Falcons Desperately Seeking an Edge-Rusher?

April 30th, 2014 Comments off
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

If you’re making a case for what is the Atlanta Falcons biggest draft need, it starts and ends with edge pass-rusher.

The lack of a significant pass rush has plagued the team for multiple seasons. The last time the team finished in the top 15 league-wide in sacks was 2008, and the last time they finished in the top 10 was in 2004 when they led the entire league with 48 sacks.

Frankly, the Falcons wasted the talents of John Abraham for the seven years he played in Atlanta as they were never able to surround him with a good enough supporting cast to create a consistently effective pass rush. The Falcons have watched team after team tee off on Matt Ryan over the past few seasons, yet have rarely done the same to opposing quarterbacks. It is long overdue that changes.

Thus, it was disappointing when the team opted to not make any major moves during free agency to improve the pass rush. Instead the team focused their attention on adding run defenders like Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson along with retaining the likes of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry. While the latter three are solid players, they are simply part of the pass-rush-deficient problem that has plagued the team for multiple years.

So things now turn to the draft where the Falcons must find a way to improve the league’s worst third-down defense.

However that puts a lot of pressure on a rookie pass-rusher to essentially carry the unit, even if said rookie isas gifted as South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

But any rookie will get help from the likes of Jonathan Massaquoi, Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora and Stansly Maponga. The Falcons are retaining their hybrid scheme, but may play with “more 3-4 flavor” than previously under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

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Takeaways from Last Week – April 28, 2014

April 28th, 2014 Comments off
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Werder kicked off a firestorm this past week

The buzz this past week centered around whether the Atlanta Falcons would trade up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

This isn’t anything new if you’ve been around the Falcons for the past few months. Clowney has been on the tip of every Falcon fan’s tongue since November when it was clear the team would finish the year with a poor and subsequently a high first-round draft pick. Would it be high enough for the team to get Clowney? That question fractured the fan base into two groups: the tankers and the anti-tankers. The former group wanted the Falcons to lose as many games as possible to secure the highest possible draft pick, while the latter group wanted to see their beloved Falcons scrap it out and finish the 2013 season as strongly as possible.

Two guesses as to which group I fell into.

But now the media is a few months late to the party. I first began writing about trading up for Clowney during February’s Combine. But soon afterward, things went by the wayside and the Falcons went back to where they’ve been for most of the franchise’s existence: obscurity and irrelevance.

But now that rumors that the Houston Texans are keen on moving back from their No. 1 overall selection, the Falcons are now thrust back into the limelight. Given the team’s recent history for bold draft-day moves, their open admiration of Clowney, it makes perfect sense to link them as the likeliest trade partner for the Texans.

And now we find the fan base once again fractured into two groups: those that want the Falcons to do whatever is necessary to get a talent like Clowney, and those wishing the avoid Clowney like the plague. We’ll call them traders and anti-traders.

However, that’s probably an over-generalization. Instead, the majority of Falcons fans would probably be very interested in acquiring Clowney, but are cautious about the amount of compensation a trade with the Texans or any other team at the top of the draft the Falcons would require.

Clowney Adds Significant Talent to Falcons Defense Read more…

Takeaways from Last Week – March 10, 2014

March 10th, 2014 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

This weekend the NFL instituted it’s second “legal tampering” signing period, allowing free agents to begin negotiating with prospective teams before the official free agency period starts on Tuesday afternoon, March 11.

Already the Atlanta Falcons have been linked to a number of potential free agents, including guard Jon Asamoah, safety Mike Mitchell, and cornerback Champ Bailey.

But the Asamoah linkage seems strongest with multiple outside sources indicating that the Falcons interest in Asamoah is high.

While I like Asamoah quite a bit as a player, I’m not sure that he is a good fit in Atlanta. But apparently it seems like I’m in the minority in that regards.

As for Caplan’s assessment, I would have to respectfully disagree. Asamoah is a player that ideally fits in a zone-heavy blocking scheme because he’s very athletic, but not overly powerful.

The Falcons have incorporated more zone-blocking into their ground attack under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the past two years, but still primarily a man-blocking team.

The Falcons have made an effort to emphasize size with their line acquisitions in recent years, evidenced by additions like Terren Jones, Lamar Holmes, Phillipkeith Manley and Peter Konz the past few years since Koetter joined the team. If you’re trying to be an offense that features a lot of zone-blocking, targeting plus-sized linemen, many of whom weigh in excess of 330 pounds is largely counterintuitive.

And the lines that Mike Tice and Wade Harman coached in Chicago and Baltimore respectively emphasized size and/or man-blocking.

Could the team’s interest in Asamoah suggest a shift in their blocking? Perhaps, but more than likely the answer is no.

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Takeaways from Last Week – February 10, 2014

February 10th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gonzalez points to the fans in his final game in Atlanta

You think like a fan, not like a man.

And I’m referring to the portion of the Atlanta Falcons fanbase that became critical of tight end Tony Gonzalez in light of the excerpts from Seth Wickersham’s article that appeared in this week’s ESPN the Magazine.

That article shed a light on the frustration that Gonzalez felt during the course of the Falcons 2013 season. It was supposed to be a year where the team was in contention for the Super Bowl. Instead, it became a year in which the Falcons were contending to be the worst team in the NFL.

Any man (or woman) would be frustrated in that scenario. Nothing Gonzalez expressed in Wickersham’s article was any more negative than what I myself have vocalized about the Falcons this year, or heard a litany of other fans say. Thus, being upset with Gonzalez probably makes you a hypocrite.

Gonzalez came out of retirement to win a Super Bowl, not for the glory of the Atlanta Falcons. And his venting over not being able to win that Super Bowl doesn’t make him a villain, but simply a human like the rest of us.

Frankly the only negative thing I can say about Wickersham’s piece is mistaking Jarrett Bush for Morgan Burnett.

I recommend picking up a copy of the magazine and reading it if you can. If not, Gonzalez went on CBS Radio with Doug Gottlieb on Friday and expressed the same sentiments during that interview.

Now if you read or listen and still come away upset with Gonzalez, then so be it. But the issue probably isn’t Gonzalez, it’s probably you.

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