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Will Trueblood’s Promotion Improve the Falcons Offensive Line?

October 5th, 2013 Comments off

Earlier this week, the word came that Jeremy Trueblood would take over at right tackle moving forward. After two lackluster starts by second-year player Lamar Holmes at the position, Trueblood was inserted into the lineup in Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins, and apears to be an upgrade. If the Falcons continue to move forward with Trueblood, will it mean better things for the offensive line?

Firstly, we must look at Trueblood individually to see what he brings to the table that is different than Holmes. One of those things is that Trueblood’s pass protection has been an improvement. Through the first two weeks, Holmes allowed 1 sack, 5 pressures, and 7 hurries (per Moneyball reviews). In the past two, Trueblood has allowed no sacks, no pressures, and 6 hurries. Now it should be noted that Holmes faced tougher competition than Trueblood in his two starts at right tackle, facing Cameron Jordan and Chris Long for the Saints and Rams, respectively. Cameron Wake is a formidable matchup, but a knee injury limited him in Week 3, and he faced Trueblood for little more than a half-dozen snaps in that game. Trueblood’s strong performance that week came mostly against Derrick Shelby, a former undrafted free agent in 2012. Although it’s not as if Shelby is chopped liver, having recorded sacks in each of his first two games before facing the Falcons. In Week 4, Trueblood faced Rob Ninkovich and struggled giving up all six of his hurries. A hurry is not nearly as detrimental to the offense as a sack or pressure, but it’s still a negative.

Does Trueblood’s poor game against Ninkovich signal problems down the road? It might due to Ninkovich’s quickness and speed off the edge. Trueblood looks a bit stiff in pass protection and trying to adjust in space against a speedster like Ninkovich gave him problems throughout the night. Against Miami, facing a player like Shelby who doesn’t have that great first step and relied on his hands and power to get past Trueblood was an easier matchup. It suggests that moving forward Trueblood might continue to struggle against smaller, quicker ends, while the more “traditional” left end might be an easier matchup for him.

In the ground game, Trueblood isn’t a great run blocker. He’s not a guy that is going to move defenders off the ball. Run blocking wasn’t really a major issue for Holmes during his time at right tackle, but it is telling that the lesser amount of missed blocks leads to a lot more positive gains for the Falcons ground attack. In Holmes’ two starts at right tackle, the Falcons were successful on 9 of 16 (56.3-percent) of their runs to the right side. In Trueblood’s two starts, they are successful on 16 of 27 runs (59.3-percent). Not a major improvement, which suggests that perhaps right guard Garrett Reynolds is the more important constant in the team’s rushing success to the right.

Watching the tape, I don’t expect Trueblood to be a great right tackle for the Falcons. But I do think he’ll be an improvement over Holmes, and he’ll likely be prone to less mental mistakes, issues with poor technique, and the conditioning problems that Holmes was prone to in the first few games. That doesn’t mean that the Falcons offensive line will suddenly transform into a top unit. But it should mean that the Falcons can be more reliant on their offensive line moving forward, as it’s a step in the right direction. If that happens, and the Falcons can get improved play at left tackle and center for the rest of the year, it should mean more positive things for the Falcons front.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 41 “Anonymous Osi”

October 3rd, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back with guest star Tom Melton to discuss the Falcons Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots. The questions we wish to answer this week are: 1) Are the Falcons approaching must-win territory in the coming weeks? 2) Will the Falcons youth movement in the wake of injuries is going to cost them this year? 3) Do the Falcons have enough balance on offense and can they turn things around in the red zone? 4) Just how awesome is Tony Gonzalez really? 5) How effective is the Falcons pass rush and whether the Osi Umenyiora signing is working out? 6) Was Mike Smith’s gutsy 4th down call the right move? 7) Did Mike Nolan’s scheme cost the Falcons the game? … We give our thoughts on the upcoming matchup against the New York Jets, as well as assess the play of the offensive line, receivers, young tight ends, and also look around the league at Josh Freeman’s situation in Tampa Bay.

Ep. 41: Anonymous Osi [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Tom Melton can be found on twitter: @TMeltonScouting, and also writes for his own draft blog and contributes to Draft Headquarters.

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 4

September 30th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

‘Sad Arthur Blank’ should be a meme somewhere

Last week, I tried to make the compelling case for why the Falcons 1-2 start wasn’t as dire as many believed.

I’ll have a much harder time trying to make the same argument now that the Falcons are 1-3.

Honestly, losing to the Miami Dolphins on the road wasn’t that shocking to me. Losing to the Patriots at home, however was. I just expected the Falcons to play much better than they did on Sunday night.

Their looking out of sync against the Dolphins, I chalked up to the injuries and being on the road. I can still partially blame injuries for their looking out of sync against the Patriots, but they typically look much sharper at home.

My immediate reaction won’t be to write off the Falcons this season. From the research I did (called Pro Football Reference), 109 teams in the “Parity Era” (1995-2012) have started the season 1-3, and only 17 of them went on to make the playoffs, giving the Falcons about a 15.5-percent chance. Given that you have a 37.5-percent chance to begin win that is not promising.

One of those teams that did manage to make the playoffs despite a 1-3 start was the 2002 Falcons. After their 1-3 start, they didn’t lose their next eight games (seven wins, one tie) to get into the playoffs on a wildcard. Two of their three opening losses came against playoff teams.

Currently, all three of the Falcons losses come against teams that I suspect will make the playoffs, as the chances a team that starts the year 4-0 makes the playoffs is 82.6-percent over the Parity Era. And we know at least two of our opponents, depending on the result of the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints game tonight will be 4-0. And it’s loser will still be in the driver’s seat to finish the year strong and be playing in January.

The Falcons definitely have some work to do. And the honest to goodness truth is that this team is not nearly as good as we thought they would be. They still have the capacity to be a good team, but time is running short.

Their offense needs to get in sync, and their defense got exposed thoroughly for the first time against what had been a struggling Patriots offense.

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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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Takeaways from Week 3

September 23rd, 2013 Comments off

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan and the running game give Atlanta hope

I have become increasingly aware of the fact that over the years part of my duties as a Falcons blogger is being able to talk my fellow fans down from the ledge.

Under Mike Smith, losses by the Falcons are relatively rare and thus it seems that the negativity is magnified during the weeks following a loss. People have to get all the negativity that they are used to getting out over a 12-loss Falcon season in less than half as many games. Also it seems like after every single loss that Falcon fans want to take a referendum on the season and use that individual game to determine whether the Falcons are going to or capable of winning a Super Bowl.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But the only game that determines whether a team is able to win a Super Bowl is the Super Bowl itself. And that game is a long ways off. Thus nobody should be trying to figure out February in September.

Look, I’ll admit the stats aren’t that promising since teams that start the season 1-2 aren’t exactly known for making deep playoff runs. But here’s something that should provide you a bit of solace. Five of the twelve playoff teams last year did start the season 1-2. That might be the most ever, although I only checked back to about 1990 or so before my eyes glazed over. In 2010, none of the playoffs teams got off to worse than a 2-1 start. What does that mean? I don’t know. It could be a one-year aberration or a sign that parity is rising in the NFL. But more importantly, it’s supposed to illustrate to you that a 1-2 start doesn’t end your season just as it did not for Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, and Washington a year ago.

Also, the 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants both started the year 1-2 and ultimately won the title. Sure, two out of twelve doesn’t exactly fill you with an abundance of confidence but it should illustrate to you that an NFL season is not defined by what happens in Week 3.

If I’m making the argument for why the Falcons are going to turn around their season then that argument is going to be based off the fact that both losses came in the final minute. A play or two here and there, and the Falcons could easily be 3-0. The fact that the Falcons’ are pretty beat up at this point in the year also could play into their favor later on. It’s getting a lot of younger players reps to the point that several of them might wind up stepping up. It is noteworthy that without contributions from rookies like Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Michael Johnson, the Giants may not have made it to the Super Bowl back in 2007.

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Moneyball 2013 – Week 2 Review

September 17th, 2013 Comments off

This was one of the more one-dimensional offensive efforts I can recall seeing from the Falcons. There have been plenty of times the past few years where the Falcons running game was virtually non-existent, but it never seemed this bad. One measly yard in the first half? And as I mentioned yesterday, when the Falcons (and frankly most NFL teams) are this bad at running the ball, they find it hard to win.

Yet the Falcons did, and that was mainly due to the performances of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, who were outstanding in this game. The Falcons made ample use of Jones’ ability on screens, as I counted five screens to him in this game. In truth, only two of them were effective (tallying 38 combined yards), but they contributed to scoring drives. And of course, Jones’ 81-yard catch was also pivotal in this game. As it truly was the Falcons’ lone big play of the game, as they had to rely on a lot of short and intermediate throws due to the lack of the running game and poor pass protection.

On the subject of pass protection, once again another poor performance for tackles Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes. Baker really struggled in the first quarter vs. Robert Quinn, giving up three of his hurries, one of his pressures, and his only missed block in that quarter. Relatively, he played better the rest of the game giving up only a sack, pressure, and hurry over the final three quarters. Holmes’ struggles came in the second quarter, giving up three of his four hurries to Chris Long in that quarter.

It was no surprise that either struggled, since Quinn and Long are arguably one of the two or three best pairs of pass-rushing ends in the league. I’ll give Baker a bit of a pass because he was dealing with a knee injury and he seemed to adjust somewhat to Quinn’s speed after the first series. I will be a little harder on Holmes because many of his struggles came on instances where his technique was poor. Too often it was if he didn’t understand that you are allowed to punch and use your hands. Holmes also got away with a false start on the opening series that was instead called against Chris Long for an offsides. Without that missed call from the refs, the Falcons likely would have begun the game with a three-and-out rather than eventually scoring a touchdown, and it might have been a drastically different game.

As for the rest of the line, they were relatively solid. Blalock had the best game. He missed a block on the first play of the game, but after that he did a pretty good job despite giving up a sack to Eugene Sims. Reynolds gives a bit too much ground than I would like in pass protection. Ryan’s quick trigger has not made that an issue yet, but there may be a game down the road against a good defensive tackle where that will become a problem. But Reynolds is doing good things as a run blocker. Konz has not been having the sort of performances that I was expecting after a strong preseason. He had his hands full with Michael Brockers throughout the game. He hasn’t been playing poorly by any means, but he is far from dominant, which he seemed to flash during the summer.

The line gave up pressure on five of the 13 third down attempts, which is an improvement from last week. So that’s a positive I guess since they basically cut last week’s number in half.

The running game was limited mainly due to blocking, but there were a few carries by Jacquizz Rodgers where he did not hit the hole hard. In the future, the Falcons may try to avoid running him up the middle. He just was a bit too tentative, and if the team wants him to be an effective runner, they should stick to the counters and stretches that were more effective last year. But more of his runs were stopped because of poor blocking than his own poor running.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
ST
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$21$0$0$0$0$0$21.00
Julio Jones$0$0$11$0$0$0$11.00
Jason Snelling$0$5$4$0$0$0$9.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$2$3$0$0$0$5.00
Steven Jackson$0$0$3$0$0$0$3.00
Garrett Reynolds$0$0$0$3$0-$1$2.00
Bradie Ewing$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$2$0$2.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Roddy White$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Drew Davis$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Kevin Cone$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3-$2$0-$1$0.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Levine Toilolo$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0-$1-$2.00

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 36 “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”

August 28th, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by Steve Cohen once again to recap and discuss our observations from the Falcons-Titans games. We discuss some of the problems that plagued the Falcons, notably their pass protection … Discussion of the overall strength of the Falcons roster … Do they need to add help at WR, S, and OL … How is Robert Alford performing … Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes, and who are the weak links up front … Roster cuts and impending decisions … Who will stay or go? … What we want to see in the preseason finale vs. Jacksonville.

Ep. 36: Beggars Can’t Be Choosers [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 16 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Steve can be found on twitter: @SteveInBrooklyn

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 Last Week – August 26

August 26th, 2013 Comments off
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Could Lamar Holmes make or break the Falcons Super Bowl chances?

The big story from the weekend is the fact that the Falcons offensive line looked very suspect against the Titans on Saturday.

In fact, calling their performance suspect is about as nice as I can be. They got whooped. And if I could travel back in time and run into myself from a year ago and told him about their efforts against the Titans, my past self would tell the future self, “No duh.”

Frankly, the Falcons front five got whooped quite a bit in 2012. And by quite a bit, I mean that I can count on one hand how many games where they could be considered the victors of the battle in the trenches. And if their performance against the Titans is any indicator, that will not change in 2013.

It’s no small wonder. The Falcons replaced long-time fixtures at center and right tackle in Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo. They are still in a plug and play mode at right guard with Garrett Reynolds, in the hopes that third time is a charm with Reynolds as far as his production goes. If I ran into my past self, he’d call me naive if not downright stupid for thinking there would be significant improvement up front considering what the Falcons did this past off-season.

The offensive line certainly is going to be a work in progress. And in truth it may be several years before things get fixed up front.

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Reactions to Falcons-Titans

August 25th, 2013 Comments off

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure Mike Smith will find a lot to like upon review

One of the more interesting takeaways I had from this Tennessee game may be the fact that Mike Smith refused to use any of his timeouts at the end of the game. The Titans got the ball back with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Falcons had all three timeouts. By not using those timeouts, Smith let 93 seconds bleed off the clock between plays to get down to the two-minute warning. The possibility existed that had he used those timeouts and the defense had made a stop on third down, he could have gotten another possession to evaluate his young players on offense. But he chose not to.

It’s hard to try and infer what that means. It would seem that he was a little bit disgusted with the Falcons play on the evening (I don’t blame him) and just wanted to get out of Nashville as soon as possible. But I do feel for the young offensive players who may find themselves unemployed over the next 48 hours without getting that last opportunity to showcase their skill.

Here are my positional thoughts on the performances in the game:

Quarterback

What I Saw: I thought Ryan handled himself fairly well given all the pressure he saw. He seemed lock into Julio Jones for the most part, and it’s not hard to see why. Jones was open quite a bit working against Alterraun Verner for much of the night. There was a couple of poor throws by Ryan, but given that the Falcons play-calling was fairly vanilla, he didn’t have Roddy White, and the pass protection broke down consistently on third down, there’s really not a lot he can do. Dominique Davis continues to frustrate me. He has talent and he made a couple of good throws and reads in this game. But he continues to be very erratic with his accuracy on downfield throws. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Davis has shown more than enough ability to merit being kept on this roster as a developmental backup. But he has not yet shown anywhere close to the ability I expect in a No. 2 quarterback. Now part of that may be because I hold backup quarterbacks to a slightly higher standard than most. And it’s clear to me that standard is much higher than the Falcons have given the likelihood that Davis will enter the season as Ryan’s top backup. As a method of comparison, only 2 of Ryan’s 8 incompletions were the results of poor throws. For Davis, 5 of his 7 incompletions were because of his own inaccuracy.

Conclusions?: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Falcons divide reps next week against Jacksonville. Traditionally the Falcons let one quarterback handle the entire game, with Davis being the likeliest candidate. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons try to mix Renfree into the game to get him some extra work, or will they be content to let him hold a clipboard this year. If I was to wager, I would expect Davis to play the entire game, since he is the guy that needs the most amount of work.

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