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Free Agent Focus: Charles Tillman

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Tillman

Next on my list of impending free agents that I want to take a deeper look at is Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

Tillman just turned 33 last weekend and is coming off a rough, injury-shortened season. But that advanced age coupled with his injury makes me believe that Tillman is going to be undervalued this offseason in free agency. It is similar to Charles Woodson a year ago, who missed nine games in 2012 at age 36. It led to Woodson garnering almost zero interest last offseason until the Oakland Raiders scooped him up at the end of May.

The Raiders were rewarded with the 28th-ranked safety in the league last season according to Pro Football Focus on a relatively modest one-year deal. I believe the odds are fairly good that a similar windfall could come for the team that signs Tillman.

It’s also interesting because there is talk that Tillman should move to safety at this point in his career, which centered around Woodson two years ago. Although I’m confident that Tillman will be able to make that transition and extend his NFL career a couple of seasons by doing so like Woodson has, I’m not sure that move is yet needed. Tillman has already indicated his reluctance to move to a new position.

He spent much of last season nursing knee and groin injuries, as he was unable to fully participate in a practice for the Bears between Weeks 2 and 9 last season. Then he tore his triceps once he managed to recover from those injuries, and finished the season on injured reserve.

The injuries definitely limited him. He gave up a couple of big plays when healthy to A.J. Green in the season opener, but also had a pair of interceptions in that game. He then battled injuries and got exposed quite a bit by the quicker Antonio Brown in Week 3. But once he was healthy again, he showcased his stuff against Calvin Johnson in Week 10.

Strengths:

  • Has good size and length, making him a very effective press corner
  • Physical run defender that will deliver hits and make open field tackles
  • Has a knack for creating turnovers with good ball skills

Weaknesses:

  • Diminished speed causes problems when defending the deep routes
  • Has a history of getting safety help over the top due to Bears defensive scheme
  • Durability is a concern due to advanced age

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Team Needs: Falcons Could Upgrade Special Teams in Return Game

February 9th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Bosher (left) and Bryant celebrate a win

The Atlanta Falcons special teams was perhaps the only aspect of their team that consistently played at a high level in 2013. Thus there won’t be any imperative drive to try to make substantial changes this offseason.

Matt Bryant, at age 38, showed he is still kicking strong. He is entering the final year of his contract and thus the only major concern for the Falcons is thinking about his eventual replacement in 2015 and beyond. It’s doubtful that the Falcons will try to replace Bryant this year since he’s been so effective in clutch situations as well as whenever he’s kicking inside the Georgia Dome. He’s made 21 of his last 22 field goal attempts kicking at home.

But the team should at least give a long look to a young kicker in training camp just to plan ahead to 2015 when it’s possible that Bryant could decide to hang it up. The Falcons tried this strategy over a decade ago when they carried Jake Arians on the practice squad in Morten Andersen’s final season in 2000. Arians was eventually beat out by Jay Feely the following summer for the kicking job, but the strategy is still a relatively sound one. The Falcons need to start prepping for the future and that begins this offseason.

The Falcons don’t have to do such preparation at punter as Matt Bosher is blossoming into one of the better young punters in the NFL. Bosher continues to make strides both as the team’s kickoff specialist and as a punter. His big leg proved an asset several times last year when the team struggled to move the ball offensively, to help flip field position and give the Falcons’ struggling defense a fighting chance. The only real issue moving forward with Bosher is when the Falcons plan to start talking contract extension. 2014 also represents the final year on his contract, and there’s little doubt the team at some point in the next 12 months will lock him up for a lucrative long-term deal.

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Team Needs: Falcons Need Size and Experienced Depth at Cornerback

February 7th, 2014 1 comment

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford (23) and Desmond Trufant (21)

The recent release of Asante Samuel has created a hole at cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons when there wasn’t one before. That hole should be filled with a veteran corner that can upgrade the unit with some much-needed size.

As the team sits today, only two cornerbacks are under contract: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, both entering their second seasons. Well, technically Jordan Mabin and Saeed Lee are both also under contract, although neither are expected to figure significantly into the team’s plans in 2014. Mabin and Lee probably can only be expected to compete for the fifth cornerback spot, indicating that the Falcons will need to add at least two more cornerbacks this offseason.

One of those spots almost certainly will go to impending restricted free agent Robert McClain. McClain is a valuable reserve due to his ability to play in the slot, as well as the fact that he played well as a punt returner late last season. McClain also is the team’s most accomplished cornerback in terms of run support, an area where both Trufant and Alford were inconsistent during their rookie seasons.

But in terms of pass coverage, Trufant certainly was far from inconsistent. By year’s end, his play had become the steadiest of anybody on the defensive roster. Alford had his fair share of ups and downs, but showed enough promise that the team is confident that he can enter 2014 penciled in as Samuel’s replacement in the starting lineup.

The Falcons might opt to keep Dominique Franks, an unrestricted free agent, as the fourth cornerback. However, the team should be able to find a better option than Franks this offseason. While Franks has shown the ability to play in the dime sub package in the past, he would be an inferior option to McClain in such a role, and also is a very limited contributor on special teams. Franks has flashed ability in the past as a reserve on defense, showing the capability that he is at least competent there. That makes his primary value only worthwhile in the event of an injury to one of the starters, where he’d likely be promoted to the nickel role.

Such an injury is likely given the Falcons history, as the team has not had two corners start all 16 games in the same season since Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose did in 2001. If that trend continues, then it’s imperative the team attempt to upgrade their depth in 2014.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 57 “Who Stays, Who Goes?”

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

This week, Allen has a snow day and I ask Dave Choate of The Falcoholic to fill in. We discuss several Atlanta Falcons players that are on the bubble, as we decide which players we think stay or go this offseason. Among the players discussed are Steven Jackson, Harry Douglas, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux, Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. Afterwards, I give my thoughts on the Falcons cap room, while Dave weighs in on the recent induction of Claude Humphrey into the Hall of Fame and whether it will open opportunities for other past Falcon greats. We finish off the episode by discussing Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks blueprint and potential dynasty, free agent pass rushers that are on the Falcons radar, and whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is worthwhile with Khalil Mack possibly available.

Episode 57: Who Stays, Who Goes? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

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

Why Asante Samuel is Worth Keeping in 2014

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

 Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Asante Samuel’s status for 2014 doesn’t look promising

If you happen to be a regular listener to the FalcFans Podcast or one of my followers on twitter, then you probably know of my strong feelings about Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel and how his value to this team is underrated.

Samuel is likely to be released this offseason. While there have been no obvious indicators of his impending release, many signs points toward it. Samuel is set to cost the team between $5.1 million (according to the AJC) and $5.7 million (according to SpotRac) in cap space in 2014 (another says $5.25 million). For the record, the discrepancy in Samuel’s exact 2014 cap hit is based around conflicting reports on the size of the roster bonus(es) Samuel is set to receive this fall. Regardless of the exact amount, the cost isn’t quite so prohibitive, except for the fact that . Thus paying nearly $6 million for a player that might just be a backup is jarring.

Samuel is entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed with the Falcons upon his acquisition via trade before the 2012 season. And dependent on that source, his release will free up between $4 and $5 million in cap space this year. Samuel just turned 33 at the beginning of January and there aren’t very many cornerbacks over the ages of 31 and 32 that are playing at a high level Throw in the fact that Samuel was benched for the final four games of the 2013 season to make way for young up and comers like Robert Alford, it makes a lot of sense why Samuel will be cut.

Alford is an up and coming player and the Falcons have batted 1.000 when it came to their second round picks becoming starters in their second seasons. Samuel’s presence on the roster could inhibit the Falcons chances to get Alford on the field. Although I think that might be a bit overrated, but more on that later.

But first, let’s remove Robert Alford from the equation. Because how good a player he is has nothing to do with assessing Samuel’s real value. And that value is significant.

There is no doubt that Samuel is coming off a down year. His Pro Football Focus grade was -0.2, with a coverage grade of -2.0 last season, indicating slightly below average production. It clearly wasn’t a very productive year. After recording five interceptions and 19 pass breakups in 2012, that production fell to one and three, respectively, in 2013.

But one of the issues that raises is the difference between production and ability. What sites like Pro Football Focus really measure is production, not ability. Ability is better gauged watching and reviewing games. In terms of production, there was a steep drop for Asante in 2013. But in terms of ability, that drop was negligible.

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Categories: News Tags: , , , ,

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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