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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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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 9, 2014

June 9th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith

It is June and this is usually the dead time in the NFL’s offseason, and often is the time when I become the most pessimistic in my outlook on my favorite football team, the Atlanta Falcons.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Once the NFL Draft is done, there is a sizable gap of downtime before the start of training camps in late July. Typically there is a couple of weeks of continued offseason fervor as rookies and veterans come together to work out in mini-camps and offseason team activities (OTAs) in earnest.

But usually once June hits, most of the buzz on the incoming draft class and the first looks at the veterans dies down and there’s basically six to eight weeks of waiting. It’s really the only time of year where coverage of the NFL takes a back seat to NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, Major League Baseball, and other sports in America. Football takes a break, and this period from early June to late July is the true offseason of the league.

I myself also took a bit of a break last week. One of my relatives passed at the end of May and I was traveling to go to their funeral last weekend. That did not allow me much time to contemplate the Falcons to any degree worth writing my normal takeaways column to be published on Monday.

And I decided to take a bit of a break over the rest of the week to decompress before getting back to the grind this week.

It’s going to be an interesting summer because it’s the first time since 2008 that there is really any strain of real pessimism within the fan base. It’s a relatively foreign feeling when considering the Mike Smith Era overall. The Falcons streak of five consecutive winning seasons was snapped last year to the tune of a 4-12 record.

This offseason, the Falcons wound up with a high draft pick and serious questions about their ability to compete for a playoff spot in 2014. This offseason became one that is all too familiar for long-time Falcon fans like myself.

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FalcFans Weekly – April 27, 2014

April 27th, 2014 Comments off

Much of the news surrounding the Atlanta Falcons this week centered on rumors about whether the team would trade up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Reports swarmed that the Falcons could swap picks with the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 draft.

On Friday, Clowney worked out for the team in what wasn’t quite a normal workout, rather a biomechanical “force plate” test. Pro Football Talk has the scoop on what exactly went down. It appears that the test used on Clowney is far from a new development with the Falcons.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN indicates that the Falcons won’t make the trade up. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC is also suggesting that a trade up isn’t smart on the Falcons behalf as it may be a smokescreen.

In a related article, CBS Sports’ Will Brinson writes about the economics of trading up for the No. 1 pick.

***

The 2014 regular season schedule was also announced this week, and the Falcons are set to open up the season at home against their biggest rival, the New Orleans Saints. The war of words has already begun as Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan had some choice words for the Falcons offensive line.

When it comes to the Falcons-Saints matchup on September 7, in the immortal worlds of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait!

***

Podcast co-host Allen Strk analyzes the schedule for Pro Football Spot.

***

The Falcons offseason program began this week. Mike Smith, Matt Ryan, Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore all spoke to the media on Tuesday and Wednesday and the official site provides the video.
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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 61 “You Know They’re Gonna Draft Another Fullback Right?”

March 24th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by FalcFans forum member Ryan Lounsbury, to talk about the Falcons offseason moves. Ryan has a bit more positive outlook on the additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson to the roster than us. We give our takes on the Falcons’ latest moves of signing Javier Arenas and Devin Hester, re-signing Peria Jerry and cutting Bradie Ewing. We discuss Scott Pioli’s takeover of the front office, whether overpaying for free agents is a necessary evil of the offseason, if the Falcons’ interest in another free agent blocker means they lack an overall vision for the future, if the team should trade up for Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor Lewan’s fit in Atlanta and the recent news made involving DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and Matt Schaub.

Episode 61: You Know They’re Gonna Draft Another Fullback Right? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Ryan can be found on twitter: @RyanLounsbury

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

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 58 “Is Matt Ryan Elite? Regardless Get Clowney!”

February 19th, 2014 Comments off

I was joined by long-time Atlanta Falcons fan and season ticket holder Danny Lanier to discuss whether quarterback Matt Ryan is elite and if he’s not, then what he and/or the team need to do in order for him to take that next step. We discuss the lack of signature moments for Ryan as a pro and Danny questions whether the team needs to refocus its identity around improving the defense by acquiring a trascendent star. I wonder if Ryan is too cerebral and compare the Falcons’ 2013 season to their playoff loss to the New York Giants in 2011. Danny weighs in on his thoughts on the Falcons planned personal seat licenses (PSLs) at the new stadium, as well as whether Ryan could benefit from the departure of Tony Gonzalez. We both give our expectations for the upcoming season at the end of the episode.

Episode 58: Is Matt Ryan Elite? Regardless Get Clowney! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Danny wrote a pair of articles for the Falcholic which can be found here:

Feb. 4: Has the Super Bowl Window Already Closed on Matt Ryan and the Falcons?
Feb. 10: So…What Does Matt Ryan Need To Do To Become an “Elite” QB?

And don’t forget Allen Strk 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

Falcons Announce Extensions for McKay, Dimitroff, and Smith

January 27th, 2014 1 comment

The Atlanta Falcons today announced that they have reached contract extensions with the three principal figures within the organization: team president Rich McKay, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. McKay’s deal adds four years to his contract, while both Dimitroff and Smith add another year to their deals. McKay’s deal now runs through 2019 while the latter two are signed through 2015.

McKay last received an extension at the end of the 2009 season. He joined the Falcons in 2003 as the team’s general manager but was relieved of those duties following the team’s disastrous 2007 season. He was then replaced by Dimitroff, and assumed duties solely as team president. In those duties, he has been instrumental in the team’s attempts to build a new stadium, and his extension likely is indicative that owner Arthur Blank intends him to continue those duties through the construction of the stadium. Ground has yet to be broken on the stadium, which is projected to cost in excess of $1 billion, but it is expected to open in 2017.

Dimitroff and Smith appear joined at the hip, and Blank made comments earlier this month that indicate that expectations are for the team to get back on track and have a winning season and playoff berth after a disappointing 4-12 campaign by the Falcons in 2013. Both Dimitroff and Smith received contract extensions following the 2010 season, extending their deals through 2014.

Smith’s extension is pivotal as concerns over his lame duck status have been an underwritten subject this offseason.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 “2013 Awards Extravaganza!”

January 14th, 2014 1 comment

Allen and I get together once again to discuss our choices for various awards stemming from the Atlanta Falcons 2013 season. Included are our choices for the team’s most valuable player, offensive and defensive players of the year, most improved player, biggest disappointment, and most underrated and overrated players among several other individual honors. During the course of our discussion, I explain my hatred for Harry Douglas for the umpteenth time, and also where I rank Matt Ryan among the league’s top quarterbacks following his play in 2013. After divvying out our awards, we get into a discussion about the winners and losers from the second round of the playoffs, as well as our expectations for the upcoming conference championship games.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 2013 Awards Extravaganza! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 18 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

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 51 “A Weird, Bad Team”

December 11th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I discuss the Atlanta Falcons Week 14 loss to the Green Bay Packers, as well as preview their Week 15 matchup against the Washington Redskins. Some of the topics hit this week include: my newfound hatred for Harry Douglas, Mike Smith’s fourth down decision making, Corey Peters’ sack dance, debut of Zeke Motta, Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon’s play at linebacker, Jonathan Massaquoi’s improvement, Steven Jackson’s expendability, and Dirk Koetter’s potential departure. As usual, we discuss the rest of the league as well, including the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, and Rob Gronkowski’s injury.

Episode 51: A Weird, Bad Team [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 16 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

Takeaways from Week 14

December 9th, 2013 Comments off

Gary Kubiak fired by Houston Texans

Despite solid play, Steven Jackson remains expendable

Another week gone by and another loss by the Atlanta Falcons.

I’ve grown numb to it over the course of this season, as the Falcons dropping another game to a very mediocre Green Bay Packers team on Sunday barely affected me.

After feeling some small elation a week ago following Atlanta’s win over the Buffalo Bills, it’s back to the same old bitterness of defeat this week. It’s a feeling and situation very reminiscent of past Falcon teams, especially the Mora Era teams that never could ever really seem to build sustaining momentum.

I could sit here and sound like a broken record, but I’ll continue to stress that we saw another week where the Falcons were conservative offensively with their willingness to take shots downfield, and we saw another week where the Falcons offense struggled to move the ball and score points.

It just can’t be a coincidence that the Falcons put forth one of their best offensive games of the season a week ago against the Bills in a game where Matt Ryan took more deep shots than he did in the previous three outings combined.

And this week, they revert back to that dink and dunk offense with Ryan only taking one deep shot in the first 52 minutes of the game. The Falcons offense subsequently generated just seven points up to then if you don’t count the pick-six and the gift touchdown off a turnover that required them to move only 13 yards before they reached pay dirt.

Someone might retort that the wintry conditions prevented the Falcons from being more aggressive, which I don’t quite buy. In the game between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers, with similar conditions, both teams threw the deep four times in the first 52 minutes of that game.

I just think that maybe if the Falcons had taken two or three more shots downfield, they could have completed at least one of them, and that could have helped put at least three more points on the board, making the outcome potentially different.

But enough about the timidity of the offense, let’s move onto something a bit more interesting, which is the 2014 season.

Read more…

Takeaways from Week 11

November 18th, 2013 2 comments
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Blank

I said last week that an Atlanta Falcons loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the rock-bottom point of this dismal 2013 season. But perhaps I will be wrong as it may in fact be this week’s upcoming matchup against the New Orleans Saints. If the Falcons get eviscerated in a primetime game by a hated rival, that would be the lowest point of the year for many folks.

I don’t consider myself among them. The Falcons have been blown out by the Saints even in years that they were pretty good, just look at the 45-17 loss in 2011. I fully expect the Saints to crush the Falcons this week in the Georgia Dome, and I feel a great amount of sympathy for Falcon fans that will be on-hand to watch it.

For me, Sunday’ loss to the Bucs was the worst. The margin of victory was not accurately reflected in the 41-28 final score. The Bucs held a 32-point lead with two minutes left in the third quarter, and only thanks to them basically shutting it down for the final quarter and the Falcons finally showing a bit of pride did they shrink that margin to 13 points.

The Falcons offense continues to struggle with their very conservative game plan and play-calling. They are suddenly trying to be a run-first team because they’ve become abundantly aware of the fact that their passing attack stinks, for lack of a better term. But they really only have themselves to blame for that, because as I’ve pointed out numerous times, they opted to sign Brian Robiskie rather than making a “bold” move for a real NFL receiver six weeks ago.

And now the Falcons have resorted to trying to run behind one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. It’s the playoff loss to the New York Giants extrapolated over four games rather than just four quarters. The Falcons offense was shut out in that game because they built their offensive game plan around running with a declining Michael Turner behind a subpar offensive line. But at this point, the Falcons wish their offensive line was as good as that 2011 unit.

Offensive Line or Wide Receiver Biggest Miscalculation?

That’s evidenced by the ability to convert in short-yardage situations. In 2011, there were 62 times where the Falcons ran the ball with 2 yards to go, and they were able to convert for a first down or touchdown on 47 of them, which is 75.8-percent. You could even discount the first 10 games of the season when Turner was actually good, before he seemed to hit a wall down the stretch and see a much better run-blocking unit. In the final 6 games of the regular season, the Falcons were still able to convert 15 of 19 of those short-yardage situations, still 78.9-percent. Compare that to the entirety of this year, where the Falcons have converted on 11 of 21 short-yardage situations, which is 52.4-percent.

But in truth, I don’t believe the Falcons offensive line is significantly worse than the unit from a year ago. In 2012, the Falcons converted on 29 of 48 short-yardage situations (60.4-percent). But obviously, the offense as a whole is significantly worse from last year. And it stems mostly from the fact that the “Big Four” in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez have seen a sharp decline in their production this year.

I expected there to be a drop-off in their production this year, as last season was a ridiculously good one from those guys. But I did not expect the drop-off to be as significant as it has been this year. And that is the  real issue with this year’s downturn. The Falcons have proven that they can get by with their subpar offensive line play, if they are getting premium production from their passing attack. And while I’ve discussed this teams miscalculations in regards to their offensive line changes over the years, what really has been the major miscalculation was the belief that the Falcons passing attack wouldn’t fall off a sheer cliff.

I’ve been saying for some time that the Falcons needed to upgrade their depth at wide receiver. And I’ll continually pound the table to suggest that the team’s failure to do so in the off-season and following Jones’ injury is a key reason for this team’s downfall. But even with that said, I never would have expected the Falcons offense to perform so poorly as it has without such a move. They still should be better than what they’ve been as of late this year.

And this is where the subject I really want to discuss this week comes into play: coaching.

Dirk Koetter may be Mike Smith’s Downfall

I won’t say that Mike Smith has no chance of saving his job, but I do think that following the loss to Tampa Bay, the chance that Smith is patrolling the sidelines in 2014 for the Falcons shrinks to under 10-percent. I won’t rehash too many of the reasons why I believe Smith’s time in Atlanta is nearing its end, as I discuss many of them in last week’s column and also in my article yesterday for the Bleacher Report.

But the main points are that, as I mentioned above, the Falcons have hit rock-bottom and haven’t been this bad a football team since the lowest point of 2007. That was a season which was arguably the lowest point of this team’s long history of mediocrity and certainly the lowest of Arthur Blank’s time as team owner. And it’s those reminiscent feelings that I think will prompt Blank to move on from Smith at the end of this year. You can’t be as bad a football team as the Falcons have been over the past four weeks and expect the head coach to keep his job, especially given the expectations that surrounded the Falcons going into this year, and will continue in 2014.

And if Smith does get fired, he may be ultimately taking the fall for Dirk Koetter. The fact that this team has Matt Ryan at quarterback, Tony Gonzalez at tight end, and a competent albeit unspectacular Harry Douglas at wide receiver means that the offense should be better than it currently is. I don’t expect greatness, but they should be better than this.

In reviewing the All-22, I’m not seeing a lot of things that I think could help improve the offense. The Falcons aren’t running enough play-action, nor are they taking any measured shots down the field. Last year, they often utilized max protect to offset the weakness of the pass protection to get those big plays downfield. I don’t see much of that nor enough of the “Four Verticals” that the Koetter offense is supposed to be predicated off.

There were unconfirmed rumors that following the 2006 season, one of the reasons why Jim Mora was dismissed was because he was unwilling to throw offensive coordinator Greg Knapp under the bus by firing him. I don’t know if that is true, but it would not surprise me that if Mike Smith is allowed to keep his job next year, it will be dependent on his willingness to cut Koetter loose.

And I’m not sure going with a familiar face like Bill Musgrave is going to cut it to replace Koetter. One of the reasons why I’m open to the Jon Gruden rumors, is because I’m confident that if Gruden was the head coach, it would result in a sharp improvement from the offense. The last time Gruden had a quarterback of Ryan’s caliber, it was Rich Gannon, and relative to his era, Gannon was arguably better than Ryan is to his.

Gruden Could Have Greater Success in Atlanta than Tampa Bay

A big reason why Gruden failed in Tampa Bay was instability at the quarterback position, but that wouldn’t be a problem here in Atlanta with him and Ryan working together for the long haul.

The big question surrounding Gruden is how much personnel power he is seeking. He had a significant amount in Tampa Bay once Rich McKay left at the end of 2003. One would hope that Gruden would be aware of the notion that Atlanta would present a unique opportunity for him. If you’re a high-profile coach like Gruden, Brian Billick, or Bill Cowher, you want significant pull if you’re going to depart your cushy broadcasting job to patrol the NFL sidelines again. But you also want a good quarterback as well since all of those coaches have shown that winning is much easier when you have one. And I don’t think you’re going to find many opportunities that have both a good quarterback and an organization also willing to defer personnel power. And while his respect within the Falcons fan base has diminished considerably, I do think Thomas Dimitroff is well-respected enough around the league that somebody like Gruden should be willing to work alongside him.

Whether the feeling is mutual remains to be seen. But it’ll be interesting because I suspect the situation that may arise in Atlanta in 2014 may be similar to the situation that McKay was fleeing in Tampa Bay, where ownership forced a coach on the GM, and the latter ultimately lost the power battle. And one wonders in all these years that Blank and McKay have worked beside one another and had the latter whispering in the ear of the former, whether or not Blank is averse to that scenario.

But there’s still a chance that Mike Smith salvages his job. But it will stem from this Falcon team playing much better than it has over the past month. But at this point, I just don’t see it happening. After a certain point, it’s going to be too little, too late. For me, I think we’ve already reached that point.

Elsewhere in the NFL…

Not much I want to take away from this past week, besides the fact that four notable undrafted free agents and late round picks really shined this weekend. Two of them were rookies with the Oakland Raiders this past summer. The other faced the Falcons on Sunday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Antone Smith

Quarterback Matt McGloin came into Raiders camp as a fourth arm, as the Raiders appeared poised to go with Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor, and fourth round pick Tyler Wilson as their three quarterbacks. But the undrafted passer out of Penn State managed to quickly pass Wilson on the depth chart. And with Pryor’s unseating of Flynn, McGloin entered the season as the No. 2 for the Raiders.

I thought McGloin looked good in the preseason, but was not expecting him to have much success against the tough Houston Texans defense on Sunday. But he managed the game competently as he completed 18 of 32 passes for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns. It is enough to spark a potential quarterback controversy between him and Terrelle Pryor, who has struggled mightily over the past month.

The other Raider player was defensive end David Bass, who is now with the Chicago Bears. Bass was drafted in the seventh round by the Raiders out of Missouri Western State. He too popped during the preseason for the Raiders, but was cut and claimed by the Bears. He started last week for the Bears due to the injury to Shea McClellin, but this week against the Baltimore Ravens he got a pick-six which was pivotal for the Bears win. It occurred in the second quarter, and without those additional points, the Bears are unlikely to beat the Ravens in overtime. Bass is one of those late-round developmental ends that the Falcons have been so found of, but has enough quickness, burst, and athleticism to suggest he might develop into a capable rotational pass rusher down the road.

The other player is Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey. I was disappointed the Falcons didn’t claim Rainey back when the Cleveland Browns waived him last month.

The Bucs picked him up and it paid off with a 163-yard effort against the Falcons, following a 45-yard effort against the Miami Dolphins a week ago in the final three quarters once Mike James went down with an injury. Rainey is a player that first came upon my radar prior to the 2012 draft as a smaller, but skilled back at Western Kentucky. He went undrafted and was picked up by the Ravens, and continued to impress me on the handful of preseason games I saw of him. He began that year on Baltimore’s practice squad, but was promoted for a few weeks before a knee injury cost him the rest of his 2012 season. This summer the Ravens cut him, which drew the ire of Ravens fans everywhere.

The Browns picked him up, and while his production was subpar in six games (13 carries for 34 yards, 2.6 avg), I noticed when I was doing my homework on Josh Gordon, that Rainey still ran with the burst and quickness that I recalled seeing the year before. It reminded me a lot of Jacquizz Rodgers, thanks to their shared short, squat builds. And I had the feeling that if the Falcons picked up Rainey, they could potentially groom him into a better replacement for Jason Snelling than Josh Vaughan could be.

But the Bucs snatched him up, and it paid off for them on Sunday. Obviously, the Bucs had waiver priority due to their worse record back on October 22 when Rainey was cut. So maybe the Falcons did try to claim him, but couldn’t.

But my sadness over not getting Rainey was somewhat abated by the play of Antone Smith on Sunday. If Sunday’s game didn’t cement the thought that the Falcons need to have a screen package for Smith every week on offense, then I don’t know what will.