Falcons head coach Mike Smith expects that Abraham, Moore, and Owens will also be able to suit up Sunday in the Falcons Divisional playoff matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
John Manasso of FOX Sports South first tweeted this morning that Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson was cleared to return to practice today. Later, Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com confirmed that Robinson did indeed participate in Friday’s practice. Robinson suffered a head injury early in the Falcons loss last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, missing the rest of the game. But he was cleared to return to practice as part of the league’s concussion protocol (meaning he must be cleared by team doctors through a series of tests) less than a week later. Previously, Robinson had suffered a concussion in 2010, and returned to practice after 15 days.
Alongside defensive John Abraham (ankle) and safety William Moore (hamstring), Robinson had sat out this week of practice. The team will also be without cornerback Asante Samuel, who has returned home to Florida to deal with the death of his mother. His mother passed away earlier this week after a long battle with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The Falcons expect all three players to return to practice next Wednesday.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated in his Monday press conference yesterday that he expects defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson to play in the Falcons second round playoff game on January 13.
Robinson left Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after six plays with a head injury. Smith updated his status indicating that he is part of the concussion protocol. Robinson suffered a concussion in October 2010, and missed two weeks, one of which was a bye before he returned to action. It took 15 days after the injury before Robinson was cleared to return to practice. Abraham was injured at the start of the fourth quarter when teammate Peria Jerry fell on top of him, getting his left leg bent underneath. Abraham was helped off the field and was carted into the locker room with an ankle injury. Smith’s appraisal of Abraham’s likely return jibes well with an earlier report that Abraham’s injury was not serious.
I for one will feel much better if or when I see that Abraham participates in next Wednesday’s practice.
The Falcons secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 31-18 victory on the road against the Detroit Lions. The Falcons record now stands at 13-2 and they will have home-field throughout the playoffs. The Falcons built an early lead against the Lions, and while the Lions made things interesting in the third quarter, the Falcons were able to pull away for the win.
Matt Ryan got off to a strong start, completing his first 12 passes of the night. He finished the game 25 of 32 for 279 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those scores tie him with Steve Bartkowski for the franchise record of 31 touchdown passes in a season, and also set a new career high for Ryan. On the ground, Michael Turner led rushers with 41 yards on 13 carries. Roddy White had a big game, catching 8 passes for 153 yards and 2 of Ryan’s touchdown passes. Julio Jones also had a good game with 7 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Michael Palmer caught Ryan’s other touchdown pass on his lone reception for a single yard. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try of 20 yards. Matt Bosher punted four times for an average of 41.8 yards with 2 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers returned a pair of kickoffs for an average of 24.5 yards, while Jason Snelling had a return of 9 yards. Dominique Franks had one punt return for 9 yards as well. For much of the night, the Falcons offense looked poised and efficient. They were able to convert 6 of 11 third down attempts, and also were able to get touchdowns on 2 of their 3 redzone trips.’
Defensively, the Falcons gave up a bunch of yards to the Lions who were playing from behind for most of the evening. They gave up 522 total yards to the Lions, including 443 in the air. But they also inhibited them on third downs, only allowing 5 of 14 attempts to be converted into first downs. They also forced three Lions turnovers. The team had little answer for league-leading receiver Calvin Johnson who caught 11 passes for 225 yards. Johnson was able to pass Jerry Rice on the evening, setting the new single season record for receiving yards in a season with 1892 yards. He also tied Rice for the fourth most receiving yards by an individual against the Falcons all-time. Dunta Robinson led the team with 10 tackles, as he and Samuel did their best to little avail to contain Johnson. John Abraham (2 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Thomas DeCoud (6 tackles); Akeem Dent (3 tackles); Chris Hope (7 tackles); Peria Jerry (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Robert McClain (5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Stephen Nicholas (5 tackles); Corey Peters (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Asante Samuel (5 tackles, 1 interception); and Sean Weatherspoon (9 tackles) all had noteworthy games.
The Falcons announced their weekly injury report this afternoon, earlier than normal due to the fact that they will host the New Orleans Saints tomorrow on Thursday Night Football. On the report, cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive tackle Peria Jerry were listed as questionable after sitting out all three days of practice this week. Samuel was nursing a bum shoulder, which he has been limited with in recent weeks. He re-injured the shoulder last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and missed the fourth quarter. Jerry is nursing the same quadricep injury that kept him out of last week’s game. He’s dealt with thigh and knee injuries already this year which have curtailed his reps in recent weeks. Both could get welcome rest after this week’s game, as they will receive an extra three days of rest as they will not play again until December 9. If Samuel is unable to go, then Robert McClain will likely take reps at left cornerback, while Chris Owens plays in the nickel. If Jerry does not play, then Vance Walker and Travian Robertson are likely to see an increase in reps. A week ago, both players saw season-high snaps with 49 and 16, respectively.
Also appearing on the injury report listed as probable were tackle Sam Baker (groin), wide receivers Kevin Cone (groin) and Harry Douglas (ankle), safety Charles Mitchell (calf), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (knee), tight end Michael Palmer (back), cornerback Dunta Robinson, defensive tackle Vance Walker (ribs), and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle). Besides Robinson, all of the players were limited in practice this week due to the short week. Robinson was added to the report on Tuesday, after missing practice due to an illness.
A key injury for the Saints is right tackle Zach Strief, who was listed as questionable with a groin injury. Strief was limited in practice all week after missing three games. If he does not go, then Will Robinson will be expected to start at right tackle. Robinson is the Saints fourth string right tackle, and was only signed to the roster on November 20.
Out this week for the Saints are defensive end Junior Gallette (ankle), wide receiver Courtney Roby (shoulder/ankle), tackle Charles Brown (knee), defensive tackle Tom Johnson (back), and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (concussion). Tight end David Thomas (knee) and cornerback Corey White (knee) are questionable. Cornerback Elbert Mack (concussion) is probable.
Despite scoring only 19 points, I was impressed with how the offense performed against the Cowboys. Breakdowns in pass protection and their inability to run the ball in the early part of this game prevented them from finishing some drives. But for the most part, the Falcons had little issue moving the ball against the Cowboys defense.
Matt Ryan had an excellent game despite not throwing a touchdown. Roddy White and Julio Jones for chunks of this game appeared uncoverable to Dallas defenders. The Cowboys only effective way of slowing down the Falcons passing attack was with pressure, something they got regularly in the first three quarters. But when things counted late the O-line stepped up, protected Ryan, and opened some running lanes for Turner.
I think Turner may have looked the most like his former self in this game, running hard, and breaking a number of tackles. The Falcons goalline and short-yardage blocking has been abysmal this year, so it was nice to see Turner pound it in from 3 yards out for the team’s lone touchdown on the night. In previous efforts, it might have taken the team 3 or more plays to run it in from that distance. Konz got the key block on that play, and had a much improved effort than he did last week. Clabo continues to struggle in pass protection despite not giving up any pressures or sacks. I counted five “hurries” he gave up, which I’ve previously explained are times when pressure happened but did not result in an incompletion, or there was light enough pressure where the QB had to rush a throw or move off his spot. The rest of the line combined for just two hurries. So while Baker’s earnings were less, I think he had the better game among the tackles. Overall, a subpar effort up front which has been a regular occurrence this season.
The team cut Lousaka Polite this week. You might make the case that this was his strongest lead blocking effort of the season, but that isn’t really saying much since he was fairly poor in all other games. The dropped pass, missed assignments, and poor pass protection combined to force the team’s hand. Personally if I was calling the shots in Atlanta, I would just move Snelling to fullback. Cox is largely serviceable, and probably won’t be a Falcon next year (due to Ewing’s return), thus I’d try to find some developmental guy to use his roster spot on. Or perhaps give Matthews or Massaquoi more reps on gameday with the extra spot. But it’s fairly inconsequential. And who knows, maybe Cox actually helps improve the ground game down the stretch.
Rodgers really came through with two critical third down conversions. I really want to see the Falcons do a better job integrating their entire receiver corps with Harry Douglas being largely an afterthought. I have no answers to offer them. I think one of the issues for Douglas in this particular game was the quality of Dallas’ corners, and his continued struggles with beating press and tight man coverage.
Matt Ryan had his worst game of the season. The interceptions didn’t really bother me. Two were due to pressure. I don’t really get bothered by picks when a QB is being aggressive and taking a shot downfield. That was the second INT to Jones. Ryan felt pressure as Garrett Reynolds did not do a good job picking up Shaughnessy on the trap block. And I think Jones is probably more at fault than Ryan for that pick. Since his hand injury, I haven’t seen Julio attacking the ball as aggressively as I think he should be. A player with his sort of size/athleticism, should win every time the ball is in the air. And if/when he develops that singular trait, where Ryan can throw the ball up and know that either Julio is going to catch it or nobody is going to catch it, will be the point where Julio will have lived up to his draft status and become an elite receiver.
I really can’t even be mad at Ryan in this game. Because the offensive line got straight owned in this game. In recent games, not only have I’ve been counting sacks and pressures, but also hurries. Basically hurries are times when there is pressure, but the QB still manages to complete a pass. Also count instances where there is a semblance of heat in the pocket (like enough to make the QB move off his spot). The Falcons gave up 10 pressures, Ryan was sacked once (although I think he was culpable for that), and I counted 12 hurries. Now some of those pressures/sacks/hurries overlap, as there were multiple guys that gave up pressures/hurries on the same play. But given that Ryan had 38 dropbacks, even factoring in overlap, it’s safe to say that on half of his dropbacks Ryan saw pressure. Clabo and Reynolds really struggled in this game. Clabo gave up 4 pressures and 5 hurries from my count, Reynolds was 3 pressures and 2 hurries.
The ground game started well for this game, with Turner earning $4 on his first 4 carries. But then after that it disappeared. Turner’s post-game comments expressing his frustration over his usage is understandable. He started the game well, but then the Falcons went away from him. Now part of that was because the line couldn’t create any push or space. Part of that was because the Falcons basically stopped running the ball. And a small part of that was because Turner just didn’t run as well. The instance that sticks out in my mind was the goalline run after the Edwards fumble recovery, where he had an opportunity to run it in but he was stonewalled. Now the play was not blocked perfectly, as Baker missed his assignment. But still a running back with Turner’s size and supposed power should have been able to get that ball to cross the plane just by leaning forward.
Roddy played well, when Ryan had time to find him. Gonzo had a quiet game, and Julio did some nice things early but then was a non-factor in the second half for the most part.
This game boils down to the offensive line’s struggles. From their two previous matchups, I saw an Oakland Raiders front line that looked mediocre. But apparently during their bye week, Dennis Allen fired up the boys and Lamarr Houston, Tommy Kelly, Richard Seymour, and Matt Shaughnessy to play excellent football and punk our front five. I hope Mike Smith and Pat HIll can do the same for our front during our bye week. Otherwise, this offense is going to be fairly mediocre.
Typically these previews consist of two parts, the first detailing how the Falcons upcoming opponent could beat them, and the second consisting of what the Falcons can do to counter that. But this week, I just couldn’t really find enough material to write up how the Oakland Raiders could beat the Falcons this week.
Not to say it’s not possible, but it really is just a repeat of what I’ve said the past two weeks with the potential gameplans of the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins. The Raiders will rely on a ground attack to keep the explosive Falcons offense sidelined, and try to generate some big plays offensively, as well as create turnovers on defense and try to get a boost on special teams. Not exactly a ground-breaking formula, as it’s going to become the norm for most teams that play the Falcons this year.
But as the Panthers, Redskins, and Raiders all try to adopt the same gameplan/formula for beating the Falcons, unfortunately for the Raiders they are the weakest team of the three. And thus, it will be hardest for them to execute such a plan. See, in the cases of both Carolina and Washington, they had a couple of playmakers on either side of the ball that if things went their way they could really challenge the Falcons. And to a certain extent, things did go both teams’ ways, which is why the Falcons had to come from behind in both games to pull out the victory.
But I don’t expect the Raiders to get such luck. While Darren McFadden presents a challenge to the Falcons defense, I don’t think he presents as much as DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Alfred Morris did. The Raiders run a zone-blocking scheme similar to what the Redskins have, but they are not quite as good upfront, and McFadden has not quite gotten the hang of the Greg Knapp offense. Outside a 64-yard run against the Steelers in Week 3, McFadden is averaging 2.4 yards on his other 57 carries. That run, and another are the only gains he’s had of the year longer than 10 yards. Morris has been one of the better runners after contact in the league this year, while McFadden is more of a finesse, speed guy. I don’t expect Falcons defenders to have as much trouble getting him down as they did against Morris.
Today, the Falcons announced their injury report for this weekend’s home game against the Oakland Raiders. Tight end Michael Palmer (shoulder) and running back Antone Smith (hamstring) were both declared out for the game, as neither player practiced this week. Palmer will miss his third consecutive game after suffering his shoulder injury in the first quarter of the team’s Week 3 win over the San Diego Chargers. Smith missed two games due to his hamstring injury in Weeks 3 and 4, but returned to practice last week and suited up for the Week 5 matchup against the Redskins. But he reaggravated the injury and will also miss his third game of the 2012 season due to injury.
Also on the injury report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (groin) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (ankle) as questionable. Babineaux was limited in all practices this week. Nicholas was limited in Thursday and Friday practices after missing Wednesday. Nicholas suffered his injury late against the Redskins last weekend. He was replaced by Mike Peterson in the lineup. However middle linebacker Akeem Dent took over his role in the team’s nickel defense. If Babineaux does not suit up or has his role reduced, it will likely result in Vance Walker getting a start and/or Travian Robertson seeing increased reps. Robertson has been active for every game thus far this season, but has only garnered playing time late in the team’s Week 3 blowout of the Chargers.
Players that appeared on the injury report but were listed as probable for the Raider game include: wide receivers Kevin Cone (knee) and D.J. Davis (knee); defensive tackle Peria Jerry (thigh), center Todd McClure (pectoral), safety William Moore (hip), guard Garrett Reynolds (back), and cornerback Dunta Robinson (shoulder). All seven players fully participated in Friday’s practice. Cone, Davis, and Robinson also were full participants on Thursday.
This was not Ryan’s best game at least in terms of how he started, as he had 5 poor throws on the first two series. I think the slick conditions could be a culprit, but I noticed the majority of those missed throws were downfield ones. The deep ball to Jones on the first series was almost counted as a drop, but it wasn’t clear that Jones would have come down in bounds, so ultimately it was chalked up by another poor throw by Ryan. But after the pick-six, Ryan seemed to settle in and play at his usually high level this week.
Tony Gonzalez had an excellent game, winding up with 7 of the Falcons 19 passing first downs in this game, which doesn’t include his touchdown. Jones had a nice bounce-back game, although part of it seemed to be that there was a concerted effort by Ryan and Koetter to get him the ball in the first half. 11 of his first 15 targets came before halftime. Roddy White didn’t get a ton of work, but he made the most of his opportunities.
Turner had a nice game on the ground despite a limited workload. The blocking up front was solid given how many times the Falcons dropped back to throw, and there were holes created on the ground. It’s extremely rare in games where Sam Baker stands out as a run blocker, but he did a good job in this game with a pair of key blocks (including a good one on Turner’s TD run). McClure had his trademark struggles in pass protection vs. the 3-4 nose tackle, but he did a fairly solid job run blocking at times. There were really no bad performances by the Falcons blockers up front despite only modest earnings by all except Baker. Giving up only 4 pressures/sacks in 53 dropbacks is rock-solid. There were a couple of times where they gave up some pressure, but Ryan was able to move around the pocket and still find an open receiver. Baker and McClure were usually the culprits on those plays. But for the most part they gave Ryan ample time to find open receivers, and I did notice Ryan took more shots than normal downfield, which is also a testament to added time in the pocket.
The Joe Hawley Experiment at fullback/tight end did not really work out in the passing game. But their jumbo package with Hawley and Johnson on the field did seem to be quasi-effective in opening run lanes. I’m sure most people groaned when Hawley dropped those two passes, although I found them humorously inept. Against a better opponent in a tighter game, it might have been more irksome, but for now I can shrug it off as a one-game outlier.