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2013 Year-End Superlatives: Special Teams MVP

January 15th, 2014 Comments off
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bosher

Hands down the honor for most valuable Atlanta Falcons player on special teams goes to punter Matt Bosher. He was the choice made at the midpoint of the year, and had an even stronger second half of the season to solidify this honor.

Bosher showed improvement this year, showing a lot more “touch” with his punts and being able to flip field position at a moment’s notice. His kickoffs also got better, consistently forcing more touchbacks as well as the fact that he led the NFL with three successful onside kicks.

Other potential choices could have been Antone Smith, who was an outstanding gunner on those punts, helping Bosher pin teams back with his blazing speed. But simply Smith didn’t make enough plays over the second half of the season to leap frog Bosher.

Kicker Matt Bryant also had another quietly solid season, showing that he is still more than capable of making kicks at age 38. Also, cornerback Robert McClain deserves credit for he was very good punt returner over the last month of the season. His year returning punts was statistically the best year a Falcon returner has had since 2010.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 50 “Dirk Koetter’s Middle Finger to the Podcast”

December 4th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back to discuss the Atlanta Falcons win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 13; discussing some of the positives/negatives we saw in the game, including: Antone Smith, deep passing, Roddy White, Osi Umenyiora and the pass rush, Paul Worrilow and the run defense, as well as the futures of Robert McClain, Thomas DeCoud, and Steven Jackson for the umpteenth time. We then kick over to previewing the Falcons upcoming matchup in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers, with how each team matches up against one another. We close out with our usual “Around the League” segment discussing some of the more interesting games from Week 13 as well as some of the more promising games coming in Week 14. This episode does contain some minor NSFW language.

Episode 50: Dirk Koetter’s Middle Finger to the Podcast [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 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

Matt Bryant Hits Kick in Overtime to Beat Bills

December 1st, 2013 Comments off

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Bryant kicks the game-winning 36-yard field goal in overtime

The Atlanta Falcons won their third game of the 2013 season with a 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto. The Falcons were able to stall a pair of potential game-winning drives by the Bills at the end with timely fumble recoveries, the latter of which led to a 36-yard game-winning field by Matt Bryant in overtime.

Matt Ryan led the way with 311 yards passing and a touchdown, completing 28 of 47 passes. The Falcons found success on the ground, as Steven Jackson led the team with 84 yards on 23 carries (3.7 avg) and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Antone Smith added a 38-yard touchdown on his lone carry of the day. Roddy White had a resurgent game with a team-leading 10 catches for 143 yards, exceeding his highs of the year. Harry Douglas (6 catches, 73 yards) and Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 42 yards, 1 touchdown) also made contributions to the passing game. The Falcons 423 total yards is their second-most of the season and were solid on third downs, converting 10 of 18 attempts (56-percent). They also scored touchdowns on 2 of their 3 red-zone trips.

Defensively, the Falcons got gashed for 405 total yards, including 195 on the ground. But did a decent job getting off the field on third downs (6 of 15 for the Bills) and were able to force a pair of turnovers off fumbles. Paul Worrilow led the team in tackling with 9 stops, including a tackle for loss. Robert Alford (2 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 1 fumble recovery); Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Thomas DeCoud (4 tackles); Peria Jerry (4 tackles); Jonathan Massaquoi (8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Robert McClain (5 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 1 forced fumble); William Moore (6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery); Desmond Trufant (1 tackle, 1 pass deflection); Osi Umenyiora (6 tackles); and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 pass deflection) had noteworthy games.

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Falcons Midseason Superlatives 2013: Stock Up, Stock Down

November 6th, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Peters

We’ve already looked at the most valuable players and best newcomers through the first half of the 2013 season. We’ll finish our look at the superlative honors by looking at which players have improved the most, and who also has been the biggest disappointment through the first half of the year.

Most Improved Player: Corey Peters

There are a couple of options to choose from here. On the offensive side of the ball, players like Harry Douglas and Garrett Reynolds have stepped up their play from previous years. Akeem Dent at linebacker is a much-improved player from a year ago where he was consistently in my doghouse. Up front, Peria Jerry has also improved to become an effective rotation player from a practical non-entity.

But ultimately it has to go to Corey Peters. I’ve been pretty hard on Peters over the years, as I believe his impact on the defense has been overblown. But he’s bringing it this year, particularly against the run. He’s also had his moments as a pass rusher. But the run defense has improved signficantly from a year ago where it was downright atrocious at times. And while the 2013 Falcons run defense isn’t great, it’s been fairly good, and a lot of credit deserves to go Peters’ way because I believe he’s the biggest catalyst for that improvement.

Most Disappointing Player: Peter Konz

How do you single out one individual on a team full of disappointments? Which player best embodies the high expectations coming into the year as well as the failure to meet them?

Probably the first player that jumps to mind is Steven Jackson. But it raises the question of whether his injury means that he deserves a pass. If yes, then several other injured players are removed from contention, such as Sam Baker. If the answer is no, then that means that all injured players are thusly fair game. And therefore, there’s an even more obvious choice for this honor: Roddy White. But it would feel vindictive to single him out as a disappointment, thus I’ll eliminate injured players from consideration.

Even with that caveat, there are still plenty of players worthy of consideration: Thomas DeCoud, Lamar Holmes, and Jonathan Massaquoi, among others. I think it really just comes down to two prime candidates: Robert McClain or Peter Konz.

In the case of McClain, the expectations were that he would pick up where he left off a year ago, which was as one of the better nickel corners in the league. That hasn’t been the case, and he’s been benched in favor of Alford. Alford’s solid play probably eases the sting of McClain’s disappointment.

Konz was the top rookie last year by default because he was the only guy to really play, not because he played well at right guard. They could potentially bench him or move him back to guard, and promote Joe Hawley at center. But this team has been firmly committed that Konz was the replacement for long-time starting center Todd McClure. And such a move to replace Konz at center, would be an indicator that they are no longer committed to that.

Such a move may not be merited because I believe Konz still could turn into a very good player for the Falcons. But given that his play has at least sewn the seeds of doubt in my own and others’ minds makes him the biggest disappointment thus far this year.

It’s going to be interesting to see at year’s end whether these superlative awards will change hands. One or two typically do.

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Moneyball 2013 – Week 8 Review

October 30th, 2013 Comments off
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan had his worst performance of 2013 in Week 8

Overall, a very disappointing performance for the Atlanta Falcons were they got thoroughly outplayed by the Arizona Cardinals on both sides of the ball for four quarters.

Offensively, I’m going to blame the team’s lack of a deep threat and their inability to get much push on the ground for the main causes of their problems. I counted only one instance in the first half of the game where the Falcons took a measured shot and threw a pass beyond 15 yards. That occurred on an 18-yard throw by Matt Ryan to Drew Davis on a deep in on their second possession of the game. Remember the Falcons had 27 drop backs in the first half. They took more shots downfield in the second half, but that was mainly because they were trying to get back into the game. Ryan did not have the best game and had a few opportunities in the second half to get the big strike. On their first play of the third quarter, Darius Johnson was streaking down field and had a step on the defender, but for whatever reason Ryan chose to check the ball down to Patrick DiMarco for a 2-yard gain. It wasn’t a matter of not seeing him nor having protection, just that Ryan chose to check it down. Then in the fourth quarter, when Ryan hit Harry Douglas on a 25-play on an out and up, if Ryan had put a bit more air under the ball, Douglas could have ran under it and scored a touchdown. That would have given the Falcons six points with roughly 8 minutes left in the game. Instead they ultimately went down the field and scored on that drive, but four additional minutes bled off the clock.

Ryan threw four interceptions, and the first and third one were solely on him. He didn’t see Daryl Washington in the throwing lane on the first pick. On the third one, he tried to throw to a very well-covered Davis, forcing a throw. He then threw a bad ball, and Tyrann Mathieu had an easy pick. The second and fourth interceptions could be blamed on pressure preventing Ryan from stepping into his throws, and hanging up a ball for easy picks by Rashad Johnson. Both times, the Cardinals were able to get a free rusher to Ryan (Marcus Benard on the second pick and Karlos Dansby on the fourth one).

Overall, I thought the pass protection was serviceable. Granted, the standard has fallen sharply in Atlanta over the years. And I would say the line gave Ryan enough protection to make throws if not for the emphasis on short and intermediate throws. Frankly, the Falcons receivers aren’t good enough, and I liked that Dirk Koetter resorted to a lot of pick plays and complementary routes to help his receivers. But it’s clear that this group of receivers is not capable of carrying the load, especially when a team has to drop back 65 times in game. Especially when the no-huddle isn’t part of the equation.

That’s where the offensive line really gets the blame with their poor run blocking. Steven Jackson had really no space to get going, with maybe a yard before he would run into a wall. Granted, part of it was the fact that Jackson didn’t look sharp. And if this is all the push the Falcons can muster, they are better served using Jacquizz Rodgers as their primary rusher. Rodgers isn’t as consistent, but his quickness means he’s much more capable of creating beyond his blocking. The Falcons utilized a lot of traps and pulls in their man blocking, and frankly players like Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett were eating, chewing, and spitting out their blocks like sunflower seeds. I might need a second set of hands to count how many times the Falcons tried to double-team Campbell and he’d still clog the lane or make the tackle. I remember one instance vividly where Justin Blalock pushed Campbell downfield one-on-one, and then Reynolds was supposed to pull into the hole, but it was clogged by another defender and Jackson was stopped for a two-yard gain. Lamar Holmes struggled, but I should note his struggles came largely when he was blocking Campbell or John Abraham one-on-one. That has been the issue throughout this season, where there has been a significant gap in abilities when our blockers face opposing team’s good defensive linemen and/or linebackers. Blalock has been the only player that has shown that he can actually compete with premier opponents this year.  Unfortunately for the Falcons, they face a lot of good defensive linemen and linebackers the rest of the season. So unless the Falcons make a move sooner rather than later, that’s an issue that isn’t going to be solved until the offseason.

PLAYERS
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$5$3$0$0$0$0$8.00
Drew Davis$0$0$7$1$0$0$7.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Darius Johnson$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$1$1$1$0$0$3.00
Kevin Cone$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0-$2$0.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$2-$1$0-$1$0.00
Steven Jackson$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0-$2-$3.00
Jeremy Trueblood$0$0$0-$2$0-$1-$3.00

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 42 “The Mayans Were Wrong”

October 12th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back and more sullen than ever as they recap the Atlanta Falcons Monday Night Football loss to the New York Jets. Things we discuss: How the Falcons defense made Geno Smith look extremely poised; The offensive line’s struggles and problems that will likely continue the rest of the season; Matt Ryan and Jacquizz Rodgers being two of few bright spots on offense; Concerns over the defense and special teams; Whether Levine Toilolo is the only hope among the Falcons non-star receivers; Whether Robert McClain has played well enough to keep his job; Red Zone Efficiency; I apologize to Osi Umenyiora… Finally we discuss the impact of Julio Jones’ injury and whether trading for a player such as Josh Gordon would be a good move; Trading Tony; How the Falcons can turn their season around; Corey Peters and whether he’s earned a new contract; What happened to Stephen Nicholas?; and finish up with some around the league stuff, where I find a way to call out Drew Davis.

Ep. 42: The Mayans Were Wrong [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 3 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

Baker, Samuel and White Questionable For Week 4 vs. Patriots

September 28th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their Week 4 injury report yesterday, listing offensive tackle Sam Baker (foot/knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) as questionable. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is out as a previous report indicated. Both Baker and White missed Wednesday’s practice and were limited on Thursday and Friday. Jones was limited all week, while Samuel was added to the injury report just yesterday after fully participating the previous two days.

With Baker out of the lineup last week against the Miami Dolphins, the Falcons started Lamar Holmes at left tackle and replaced him at right tackle with Jeremy Trueblood. It remains to be seen if the Falcons will go with that combination again this week. Baker missed two days of practice due to a knee injury prior to the team’s Week 2 bout against St. Louis, was listed as questionable but managed to play. He wound up starting, but did not play the last few snaps after suffering the foot injury that kept him out last week.

Jones has been limited in nearly every practice since suffering his knee injury in Week 1, but has been no worse for wear on gamedays. He is currently leading the NFL in receptions (27) and receiving yards (373).

Samuel being added to the injury report suggests his thigh injury has regressed somewhat. He missed the season opener and played only seven snaps against the Rams. He managed only one day of practice last week but only missed a single snap in Week 3 against the Dolphins. In his absence earlier in the season, slot corner Robert McClain got the start at left cornerback and slid back back inside in the nickel to make way for Robert Alford on the outside.

White has yet to fully participate in any practice this year, as he grits through a high-ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. He has played every game, but been essentially splitting reps with Harry Douglas opposite Jones.

Jackson’s absence will mean that Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling will carry the load at running back for Atlanta for the second week in a row.

Also appearing on the injury report as probable were: center Peter Konz (knee), cornerback Robert McClain (knee), guard Garrett Reynolds (knee), and running back Josh Vaughan (ankle). Both Konz and Reynolds were limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but fully participated in practice on Friday. McClain and Vaughan both fully participated in all three practices this week. McClain and Vaughan both suffered their injuries against the Dolphins and exited the game. Konz had the same practice schedule and was nursing his knee injury a week ago. Reynolds suffered his injury against the Dolphins, but was not removed from the game.

For the Patriots, wide receiver/special teams player Matt Slater (wrist) was listed as out. Notable players that are questionable were wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), cornerback Kyle Arirngton (groin), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot), and running back Leon Washington (thigh). According to reports cited by WEEI’s Mike Petraglia, Amendola and Gronkowski are unlikely to play this week.

Falcons vs. Patriots: Six Intriguing Matchups

September 27th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones

The Falcons hope to respond after a disappointing loss last week as they face the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick, who has earned a reputation as the league’s best schemer. With questions surrounding Falcons head coach Mike Smith and whether the Falcons coaching staff is pulling its own weight, they will have to be up to the task of trying to match wits with Belichick.

In looking at the past two Patriots games, here are three favorable matchups to watch out for on Sunday night for each team.

Advantage: Falcons

Julio Jones vs. Aqib Talib

Last week, the Patriots asked Talib to shadow Vincent Jackson and he was very effective doing so. Jackson was limited to just three catches for 34 yards. It is likely that the Patriots will do something similar this week hoping that Talib can have a similar effect against Jones, who is clearly the Falcons No. 1 target. Jones has been targeted on nearly half (43-percent) of Ryan’s 81 attempts this year. It should be noted that even at his peak in 2009, Roddy White never exceeded 36-percent. If Talib is effective in containing Jones, it will make the Falcons offense much less effective. But that will be a tall order for Talib. It has been no secret the first three games of this season that Jones has been best and often sole offensive weapon in the passing game, yet no Falcons opponent has really been effective at slowing him down. Talib and Jones have only faced each other once, back in Week 3 of 2011. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones was able to catch a pair of passes against Talib for 25 yards on three targets in that game. The Falcons coaching staff, knowing that the Patriots No. 1 defensive priority will be limiting Jones’ impact on the game will have to find ways to get him the ball despite the shadow that Talib creates.

Tony Gonzalez vs. Patriots LBs/Safeties

If Talib shadows Jones throughout the game, it should allow Belichick free to mix up his coverages in regards to tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has yet to really have a breakout game this season and this week he could be poised for such. The Pats have yet to really face a formidable tight end through the first three weeks of the 2013 season. A year ago (per Football Outsiders) the Patriots were weak against the tight end, ranking 29th in DVOA. Note that the Falcons, who also struggled to cover tight ends, ranked 21st last year. The Patriots may not put a single player on Gonzalez, but rotate multiple players. Normally, safety Steve Gregory and linebackers Jerod Mayo and Don’ta Hightower tend to draw most of the assignments against opposing tight ends. But the Patriots may try using athletic rookie linebacker Jamie Collins as well in the hopes he may be better suited against a veteran like Gonzalez.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 40 “A Sense of Urgency”

September 27th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back to discuss the Falcons disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 as well as preview what we hope to be a rebound win against the New England Patriots in primetime in Week 4 … Questions we try to answer in this episode: 1. Are the Falcons playing with a sense of urgency? 2. Will their schedule in the coming weeks help them get out of this rut? 3. Do the Falcons need to add more pass rush help? 4. Is Stephen Nicholas headed to the bench or the unemployment line? 5. How will Steven Jackson’s injury impact the next few weeks? 6. What is wrong with Thomas DeCoud? We also discuss the play of some of the young players in the secondary, whether veteran players on the defensive line are up to snuff, and whether Matt Ryan deserves criticism for the mistakes made against the Dolphins. We also look around the league at the recent Browns trade rumors, Josh Freeman, and I may be abandoning the Eagles bandwagon.

Ep. 40: A Sense of Urgency [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. 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

Dolphins drop Falcons in Comeback Win

September 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Sims beats Stephen Nicholas for the game-winning touchdown

The Falcons’ record drops to 1-2 with a 27-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins on the road. The Falcons got off to another good start, getting an early 10-0 lead in the first half, but couldn’t finish thanks to a game-winning drive led by Ryan Tannehill in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Matt Ryan led the way, completing 23 of 38 passes for 231 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Jacquizz Rodgers led the Falcons on the ground with 86 yards on 18 carries (4.8 avg). Jason Snelling added 53 yards on 11 carries (4.8 avg) as well. Julio Jones once again led Falcons’ receivers with 9 catches for 115 yards (12.8 avg). Snelling (4 catches, 58 yards), and Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 24 yards) also made contributions. Matt Bryant hit on three of four field goal attempts from 52, 20, and 33 yards. But he missed on a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter late in the game. Matt Bosher punted twice for an average of 33 yards, placing none inside the 20-yard line. Harry Douglas returned 3 punts for 4 yards, and fumbled once. The Falcons dominated time of possession in the first half of the game with 22:48 versus the Dolphins’ 7:12. Their rushing attack finally got going with a total of 146 yards on 30 carries, but they had their share of struggles in the red zone, only scoring touchdowns on 2 of 5 trips.

Defensively, the Falcons limited the Dolphins to 285 total yards, but could not get stops on any of Miami’s three red zone trips, and allowed them to convert 7 of 12 third downs (58-percent). They did sack Ryan Tannehill five times and force two turnovers. Robert McClain led defenders with six tackles, and he also added a tackle for loss and a sack. Joplo Bartu (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defended); Akeem Dent (5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss); Peria Jerry (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); William Moore (5 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended); Corey Peters (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); Asante Samuel (1 tackle, 1 pass defended); Desmond Trufant (4 tackles, 1 pass defended); and Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) had notable performances.

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