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2013 Key Player: Steven Jackson

June 13th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson’s rushing ability could take pressure of Matt Ryan

Yesterday, I discussed the type of role running back Steven Jackson could have with the Falcons. Jackson hopes to show the world that he still has something left in the tank and will help add physicality to the Falcons ground attack that was lacking a year ago. The more the Falcons get from Jackson, the better served they will be in 2013.

I compared Jackson potentially in 2013 to running back Corey Dillon and what he provided the New England Patriots in 2004. Dillon looked washed up in Cincinnati, as years of playing on a bad team took their toll in 2003. He lost his starting job to Rudi Johnson that year and finished the season with 541 rushing yards on 138 carries (3.9 avg) and 2 touchdowns, all career lows. Dillon had a reputation then as being a malcontent, openly pouting over the Bengals losing ways for years. But he had a resurgence with the Patriots, rushing for 1,635 yards on 345 carries (4.7 avg) and 12 touchdowns, all of which represented career highs. And helped lead the Patriots to what currently is their last Super Bowl win in that year. The Patriots went from one of the weaker rushing attacks a year prior under Antowain Smith, who previously had been their workhorse in two previous championships, to one of the top rushing units in the league in 2004.

Jackson hopes to do the same in Atlanta. The major difference between Jackson and Dillon is the perception about their character. Dillon was seen as a risky gamble by Bill Belichick bringing in a player that had been labeled as a bad guy. There is no such risk with Jackson, who is considered one of the higher character players in the NFL. Jackson had moments of immaturity early in his career, but has since developed into the type of player that owners and coaches don’t mind fronting their franchise, as he did for years on bad St. Louis Rams teams in the post-Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk Era. Jackson comes from a Rams team that has eight consecutive seasons where they missed the playoffs. The only time Jackson has smelled the postseason was his rookie season when he was a reserve behind Faulk. That gives Jackson great motivation here in Atlanta as he likely gets his first opportunity to showcase that he can add value to a winning team, not just be the lone bright spot on a bad one.

Similarly to the 2003 Patriots, the 2012 Falcons were one of the league’s worst rushing teams. That year, the Patriots ranked 27th in the league in rushing offense and 30th in average yards per carry. The 2012 Falcons were similarly bad in those categories, respectively ranking 29th in both last year. Dillon helped improve the Patriots to 7th and 18th in those respective categories in 2004, and the Falcons hope to get sparked by Jackson for similar improvement. The Falcons had to rely almost solely on their passing attack last year to effectively move the ball, rushing the ball on only 37% of their offensive plays, the seventh lowest percentage in the league. None of the teams that finished lower than the Falcons had winning records. In fact, the Falcons were only one of three teams (the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts being the others) that were below the league average of having 42.3% of their total offensive plays being runs and finish with a winning record. It goes back to the old adage of “throw to score, run to win.”

The Falcons didn’t need to run the ball late in games when they held leads largely due to the prolific nature of their passing attack. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez all played at elite levels in 2012 for much if not all of the year.  When you have your four best players all playing the best they’ve played in four or more years, the need for balance isn’t necessary. But despite the likelihood that all four continue to play well in 2013, the Falcons probably can’t realistically expect a repeat of that performance.

That’s where Jackson and the ground game should come in handy to try and pick up any lost slack. In an ideal world, the Falcons will be able to generate earlier leads in games, and then use Jackson late as a hammer to finish off their opponents with his physical, hard-nosed rushing style. Last year, in the second halves of games, the Falcons ran the ball on 38.8% of their offensive plays, a percentage good enough only to rank them 23rd in the league. The next lowest playoff team were the Indianapolis Colts at 42.7% and 18th ranked.

Jackson’s ability to contribute both as a pass protector and pass catcher will also make him valuable when building those early leads. The Falcons aren’t going to suddenly not be a pass-first team, but if there can be a couple of games throughout the year here and there where the Falcons can feed Jackson and get good production, it will greatly help. Michael Turner had only 2 100-yard games last year. He’s had 8 in the past two seasons, but in 5 of those games he had at least one carry for 40 or more yards, making up the bulk of his production. The Falcons would like to see a handful of games where Jackson reaches the century mark, particularly games where Jackson’s can rush the ball 20 or more times, indicating that the Falcons were able to effectively control the line of scrimmage and play with a lead.

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Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Takeaways From Last Week – March 18

March 18th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson

My initial reaction to the moves the Falcons made this week weren’t overly positive. I thought the team overpaid Sam Baker and wasn’t a huge believer that running back Steven Jackson would help that much. After a few more days to mull it over, I’m singing a different tune about Jackson but still don’t love the Baker signing.

I believed re-signing Baker was the smart move for the Falcons. Baker is coming off his best season, and his solid performance in the NFC Championship Game proved that he was worth investing into. I just wish the Falcons had invested a little less. While Baker signed a six-year deal worth slightly more than $41 million with $18.25 million guaranteed, the deal really translates to be a three-year, $22.75 million contract. That is because after the third year, the contract is structured to a level where the team could potentially cut Baker. It’s not something I root for, but it’s hard to justify paying an offensive linemen $8.05 million (Baker’s 2016 cap hit) unless he’s a Pro Bowl player. Baker probably won’t be that due to his physical limitations: lack of strength and short arms. What we saw from him in 2012 is probably the best we can hope for and that wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber performance.

Baker got market value for his deal, as his three-year payout is comparable to those of Jermon Bushrod ($22.5 million) and William Beatty ($24 million). I didn’t think the Falcons made the right call when they gave Justin Blalock a six-year, $38 million deal following the lockout. Similarly, that was a market value at the time. I just wish the Falcons had only made a more modest two-year commitment to Baker. Blalock’s contract is structured similarly, and come 2015 he is set to count roughly $7.9 million against the Falcons cap. It will be hard to justify bringing a competent guard like Blalock back at that level unless he plays better in 2013 and 2014. It would have been a bit more congruous in my mind if both Baker and Blalock could have potentially been pushed out the door in the same year. I’ve never really thought the left side of the Falcons offensive line was a strength of theirs, and thus committing that sort of money to it doesn’t make great sense.

While I’m not sure Jackson is really going to be an impact runner as a lead back, I do think he will help the Falcons out as a situational back. The Falcons were terrible last year in short-yardage and goalline situations, and Jackson should be an upgrade there. He hits the hole a lot quicker and harder than Michael Turner did. The downside of Jackson is that he’s probably not going to be that valuable outside those situations. He can better help keep the Falcons offense on schedule by giving them far less 2nd & 8 situations that seemed to be the staple with Turner as the lead back. But he doesn’t quite have the skillset to make defenses pay for focusing too much of their attention on the Falcons receivers. He won’t generate big runs on the second level, which I believe could be extremely valuable for the Falcons offense as they continue to try and become more explosive. But if Jackson can be more effective at wearing down defenses between the tackles, that could open up greater opportunities for Jacquizz Rodgers as a change of pace runner. Quizz doesn’t possess great speed to run away from defenders, but his exceptional quickness can be dangerous when he gets outside. Jackson certainly will bring needed toughness to the Falcons offense.

Neither re-signing Baker nor adding Jackson were bad moves by any means, they just weren’t perfect.
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Falcons Gearing Up to Take Pass Rusher Atop Draft

March 15th, 2013 Comments off
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Bjoern Werner

The Falcons primary needs heading into this offseason were upgrading their running game, replacing/retaining Tony Gonzalez at tight end, securing the cornerback spot opposite Asante Samuel, and improving the pass rush. While there were certainly other areas of the roster that could be improved, those four spots seemed to be the primary needs where the Falcons couldn’t afford to stand pat upon.

Well after the first few days of the off-season, it seems that the Falcons have already addressed the majority of them except for the pass rush.

Steven Jackson was added to replace Michael Turner as the starting running back. While Jackson won’t fix the Falcons running ailments, he certainly should provide a short-term boost. He’ll also give the team another year to evaluate Jacquizz Rodgers to determine if he will have a say in the Falcons long-term answers at the position.

Tony Gonzalez was retained for at least one more year. While the Falcons certainly could be in the market for drafting his heir apparent this April, Gonzalez’s presence means it ceases to be a priority.

While the cornerback spot remains open, the market has been flooded with so many good veteran corners such as Antoine Winfield and Nnamdi Asomugha to join free agents like Brent Grimes, Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter, etc. that it seems impossible at this point that the Falcons won’t find someone competent to man the starting spot at least short-term. Worst-case scenario is the Falcons find a veteran seat warmer that at least prevents the Falcons need to use a very high pick looking for an immediate starter.

That just leaves the pass rush, which hasn’t been addressed yet following the release of John Abraham, by far the team’s best player in that category last season. And the market as of this writing doesn’t appear to be as favorable as the Falcons potential options in the secondary.

At this point, the best case scenario for the Falcons may be a lateral move in replacing Abraham with a similarly aged veteran like Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora. The Falcons could also choose to address their pass rush with a quick, interior presence but aren’t likely to find much help on the open market. Quality pass rushers like Henry Melton, Jason Jones, Desmond Bryant, Chris Canty, and Cullen Jenkins have already worked out deals elsewhere.

Given Thomas Dimitroff’s proclivities for needs-based drafting, it would seem likely that the Falcons’ off-season is setting them up to address that key need with their top pick. Whether that happens to be an edge rusher or interior disruptor remains to be seen, but it would be a major upset at this point if the Falcons top pick six weeks from now won’t be playing a position that makes it living chasing down quarterbacks.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 25 “Free Agency Preview” Parts 2 & 3

March 12th, 2013 Comments off

Click here to listen to Part 1.

Part 2:

Allen Strk joins me to discuss the upcoming free agent market. We look at some possible signings the Falcons could make including pass rushers like Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett. We also look at possible running back options such as Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw, and whether improving the running game should be a priority. You’ll also hear ourr thoughts on Matt Ryan’s looming monster contract, as well as our opinions of some other Falcon players like Jacquizz Rodgers, Peria Jerry, and Vance Walker.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 2 [Download]

Duration: 35 minutes

Part 3:

Allen and I finish our discussion of free agency, by looking at some of the defensive tackles and tight ends the Falcons could be looking at both in March and April. We’ll break down what we see are the off-season’s priorities, as well as look ahead to 2013 to see what competition the Falcons will face and whether it culminates with a Lombardi Trophy in Flowery Branch.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 3 [Download]

Duration: 29 minutes

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

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Falcons Needs: Special Teams

February 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons won’t be making many major changes here. Their primary goal, if any, at this position group will be upgrading their ability in the return game. The team lost Eric Weems last off-season, and their in-house replacements for him did not suffice.

Jacquizz Rodgers was a competent kickoff returner at times, but if he is going to carve a larger role on offense, they should have another player that can play here. If the Falcons do add a wide receiver or cornerback this off-season, it would make a lot of sense to find one that can also return kicks.

Dominique Franks struggled throughout the year to make any impact as the team’s punt returner. He was replaced late in the year by Harry Douglas, who did very little in his brief time. At this point, finding a competent punt returner would appear to be the biggest priority.

The Falcons probably will let players like Tim Toone and James Rodgers get opportunities to win either job next summer. But it makes sense to bring in more competition if possible via a free agent signing, a mid or late round draft pick, or do what the Falcons did a year ago and target a number of undrafted players that have return and special teams experience.

As for the other specialist positions, besides bringing another camp body there is no need there. Kicker Matt Bryant still seems to be going strong. His leg strength isn’t what it once was, but inside the Georgia Dome he’s about as good a kicker as they come. Punter Matt Bosher showed improvement in his sophomore season. Bosher’s big leg has the potential to really affect field position. He’s also a very good kickoff specialist.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a couple of miscues during his rookie season, but for the most part was solid to good. If any one of the three specialist deserve competition, it would be him, but it’s not really necessary. Other than that, the Falcons might want to kick the tires on an undrafted kicker just to get a look-see at the young talent that is out there given Bryant’s increasing age. Bryant turns 38 in May and has two more years left on his contract.

The teams’ coverage units took a step back in 2012 due to the absences of Weems and Akeem Dent, who were the team’s best cover guys in 2011. Dent got more work on coverage towards the end of the year. The team still has solid performers with players like Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith, Drew Davis, Robert James, and Chris Owens. Healthy seasons from players such as Bradie Ewing, Kerry Meier, and/or Shann Schillinger could also improve the unit. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews flashed ability as well late in the year, and the team needs to get a greater contribution from Charles Mitchell, who will be replacing Chris Hope in all likelihood as the top reserve at safety. Overall, the Falcons coverage was more than capable last year. If the Falcons target reserves at wide receiver, linebacker, or in the secondary this off-season, you can be sure they will be expected to contribute in this arena as well.

Falcons Needs: Running Back

January 31st, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Turner

After highlighting the Falcons needs at the quarterback position, it’s time to move onto running back. It seems likely that the Falcons will cut Michael Turner in the off-season, a move that will come a year later than it should have. That will make running back one of the more immediate needs of the team.

Turner will leave a significant hole on the Falcons roster, as the lead back he was able to get about 250 touches this past year, even with a purposefully reduced workload. One of the issues that faced Turner in 2012 was the fact that his legs looked very worn and old. And thus it’s likely that the Falcons will opt for a runner with fresh legs. That leads one to believe the Falcons will opt for a draft pick instead of a free agent signing to fill Turner’s shoes.

While Jacquizz Rodgers flashed ability, the Falcons probably should not expect Rodgers to step up and be that lead back. Last season, Rodgers had 5 games in which he carried the ball 10 or more times. In those games, he rushed for a combined 202 yards on 51 carries with 1 touchdown. That’s good for nearly 4 yards per carry (3.96). But 65 of those yards came on two big runs: his 45-yard run against the Seahawks in the playoffs, and a 20-yard run against the Bucs in Week 12. Excluding those two runs, he was averaging about 2.80 yards on 49 carries. That’s not a figure that suggests Rodgers possesses the ability to be consistent if/when his workload doubles as the lead back.

Jason Snelling has shown himself to be a functional starter in the absence of Turner in past years. He looked relatively sharp when he was able to get a significant workload last year, but was rarely used until the final month of the season. Again, the Falcons can’t assume that either he or Rodgers will be able to step in and produce with an increased workload. The simple truth is that while both players flashed ability from time to time, their flashes were no less sporadic than Turner’s throughout the 2012 season.

Instead, the Falcons need to look for another back to at least split the workload with Rodgers and Snelling, if not surpass them as the lead rusher. The problem with signing free agents is that their window for production is much smaller because most are near the end of their primes, which ranges from about age 27 to 28 for NFL running backs.

One of the primary skills that the Falcons new running back should have is the ability to produce on third down. That was an area of weakness with Turner, and the Falcons should want their new runner to offer equal if not more value there than Rodgers and Snelling. Another area that the new back should excel in is his ability to generate explosive plays on the ground. During Turner’s early days in Atlanta, his explosiveness was a big key to his success and the offense’s success. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Falcons want a pure speed back, as they should be looking for someone that has the physicality to run effectively between the tackles and be able to take the pounding of getting 15-20 carries each week for a full season. All of those requirements likely lend itself to the Falcons drafting a back in the earlier rounds come April. The key is for the Falcons to have three largely interchangeable backs when it comes to their offensive attack, which will again primarily be a pass-first unit. But through at least competition, the goal will be that one player emerges as the go-to option that can be successful on early downs and help take pressure off the passing game on third downs and in the redzone.

Antone Smith is also a restricted free agent that will likely be retained due to his prowess on special teams.

49ers end Falcons Super Bowl hopes

January 20th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzalez leaves the field for possibly the final time.

The Falcons season ended with a 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons got off to a strong start, going up 17-0 at the outset of the game before a 49ers comeback ended their Super Bowl hopes. The Falcons had a last minute opportunity for a game-winning touchdown deep in 49er territory, but were unable to convert on fourth down. The Falcons end their 2012 season with a 14-4 combined regular season and postseason record.

Matt Ryan led the team passing for 396 yards while completing 30 of 42 passes for 3 touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Jacquizz Rodgers led rushers with 32 yards on 10 carries. Michael Turner also added 30 yards on 8 carries. Julio Jones had a dominant performance, catching a pair of Ryan’s touchdown passes for 182 yards and 11 receptions. Tony Gonzalez caught 8 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown as well. Roddy White (7 catches, 100 yards) and Harry Douglas (3 catches, 31 yards) also had notable performances in the air. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try from 35 yards. Matt Bosher had a pair of punts for an average of 45 yards with 1 placed inside the 20-yard line. Harry Douglas had three punt returns for a total of 6 yards. The Falcons offense looked sharp in the first half of the game, putting up 297 total yards including 271 in the air. But the offense had much less success in the second half, as only 180 total yards were generated with 125 coming via the passing game.

Defensively, the Falcons got off to a strong start, holding the 49ers to just 160 total yards in the first half. However the team’s inability to get stops in the redzone contributed to their loss, as San Francisco scored touchdowns on 4 of 5 total redzone trips. Their lone stop in the redzone came on a Michael Crabtree fumble at the 1-yard line. The 49ers running game was highly efficient, racking up 149 total yards on the Falcons. Thomas DeCoud and Akeem Dent tied for the team-lead with 8 tackles each. DeCoud also broke up a pass, and Dent had a tackle for loss. Jonathan Babineaux (4 tackles); William Moore (5 tackles, 1 pass defended); Stephen Nicholas (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Corey Peters (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defended); Dunta Robinson (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Asante Samuel (4 tackles); and Sean Weatherspoon (5 tackles) all had noteworthy games.

The Falcons offense roared to a brilliant start, generating a 7-play, 80-yard drive at the outset of the game. Matt Ryan was able to complete 2 of 3 pass attempts for 29 yards to help move the Falcons into 49er territory, before hitting Julio Jones who got behind the defense for a 46-yard score. That gave the Falcons a quick 7-0 lead just three and a half minutes into the game. The Falcons defense stepped up big and forced a 49er three-and-out on their opening possession, limiting their opponent to just 1 yard of offense. Ryan found Jones three times on the next Falcons series for a total of 41 yards. Overall, Ryan completed 6 of 8 passes for 64 yards on a 12-play, 65-yard drive for the Falcons. Ultimately the Falcons settled for a 35-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to go up 10-0, after Navorro Bowman broke up a throw in the flat to Jacquizz Rodgers on 3rd & 4 from the 49ers’ 17-yard line. Again, the Falcons defense held the 49ers without a first down on a three-and-out, where they generated just 3 total yards of offense after Corey Peters sacked Colin Kaepernick on third down to force an Andy Lee punt. The Falcons took over with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter at their own 43-yard line. Michael Turner got a pair of carries for a combined 14 yards before Ryan hit a streaking Roddy White on a deep post for a 23-yard gain on the final play of the quarter. On the very next play to start the second quarter, Ryan found Jones again on a 20-yard scoring grab. Jones was able to make a clean catch over 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown in the back corner of the endzone, tapping his feet in bounds for the score. The Falcons now had a 17-0 lead with 3 quarters left to play. But the 49ers offense finally got into gear on their next drive, as running back Frank Gore started them off with four consecutive carries for a combined 20 yards. Then Kaepernick hit four short passes to get the ball into Falcon territory before a delay of game penalty set them up for a 3rd & 7 at the Falcons 42-yard line. But then Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis, who beat DeCoud for a 27-yard gain. Two plays later, the speedy LaMichael James ran off the right side virtually untouched for a 15-yard scoring run to get the 49ers on the scoreboard for the first time. The Falcons offense followed that up with a four-and-out and Bosher punted for the first time on the day. On the opening play from their own 18-yard line, Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis for a 25-yard gain, but it was called back due to a holding call on guard Mike Iupati. But two plays later, Davis would break free again for a 19-yard gain on a Kaepernick pass. Two plays later, Kaepernick would scramble down the left sideline for a 23-yard gain to put the ball in Falcon territory. Davis came up big again two plays later with a 25-yard gain to put the ball at the Falcon 4-yard line. On the next play, Kaepernick hit an open Davis in the flat for the 4-yard scoring pass and catch. The 49ers had now cut the Falcons lead to 17-14 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half. But the Falcons offense would respond with a 7-play, 80-yard drive to go up before the half ended. The drive began with Ryan hitting Roddy White for a 15-yard gain, followed by the team going into their no-huddle attack. Ryan would complete 3 of his next 5 passes for a total of 44 yards to get the ball inside the redzone. Tony Gonzalez would catch a pair of passes to end the drive, including a 10-yard touchdown catch working against double coverage to cap off the drive. The half would end after a LaMichael James 1-yard run, as the Falcons now had a 24-14 lead going into the intermission.

The 49ers started the second half with a four-minute, 7-play, 82-yard scoring drive. Kaepernick completed all 3 of his pass attempts on the drive for a combined 58 yards, while Frank Gore pounded the ball for 4 carries and 24 yards. That included a 5-yard scoring run off the right side to cap the drive to cut the Falcons lead back to three points. On the Falcons ensuing drive, Ryan found Gonzalez on his first two passes for 14 yards each. But then as the Falcons had just moved the ball into 49er territory, his pass to Roddy White was intercepted by Chris Culliver after White slipped on the comeback pass allowing the defender to jump the throw. The 49ers took over at their own 44-yard line. On the very next play, Kaepernick hit Davis for a 31-yard gain after he beat linebacker Stephen Nicholas. But after that play, the Falcons defense held a few plays later on 3rd & 5 thanks to a pass breakup by William Moore on a pass from Kaepernick to Chad Hall. David Akers came on the field to attempt a 38-yard field goal, but it hit off the left upright for the miss and the Falcons retained their lead. The Falcons looked to try and establish their ground attack on the next drive. Jacquizz Rodgers carried the ball 3 times for a combined 18 yards while Jason Snelling had a single carry for 12 yards. After the next play, Ryan tried to go for it all on a deep pass to White but Carlos Rogers broke up the pass. Two plays later, Jones was able to convert on 3rd & 10 with a 13-yard grab. After a 1-yard run by Rodgers, Ryan muffed a shotgun snap which Aldon Smith was able to fall on for a second straight Falcon drive ending in a turnover. The Falcons defense looked to hold as Kaepernick’s 3rd & 7 pass to Vernon Davis fell incomplete. But the refs threw a flag on Cliff Matthews for roughing the passer for a blow to the head of Kaepernick giving San Francisco new life and a fresh set of downs at the Falcons 45-yard line. After a 2-yard run by Gore, the fourth quarter began. To start the quarter, Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree on a crossing pattern who broke a couple of tackles for a 33-yard gain. That put the ball at the Falcons 10-yard line. Following a 5-yard run by Gore, Kaepernick found Crabtree again on a quick slant, but Dunta Robinson was able to strip the ball before he could reach across the goalline and Stephen Nicholas was able to recover at the 1-yard line. However the Falcons had little success moving the ball out of their own territory and had a three-and-out on their subsequent possession. After a 42-yard punt by Bosher was returned 20 yards by Ted Ginn, the 49ers had very favorable field position to start their next drive, beginning at the Falcons 38-yard line. The 49ers ran the ball four straight times for a combined 21 yards to put the ball at the Falcon 17-yard line. Crabtree caught an 8-yard pass to get inside the 10, which was followed by a 9-yard run by Gore for another score. That gave teh 49ers their first lead of the game, 28-24 with 8:23 left in the game. On the third play of the next Falcon series, Ryan looked for Jones deep but the pass was broken up by Tarell Brown. Ryan would complete his next three passes for a combined 16 yards to get the ball to midfield. Then Ryan found a wide open Harry Douglas down the right sideline for 22 yards, however Douglas slipped on the turf on what might have been a possible scoring play had he managed to keep his feet. The 49ers challenged the catch on the play, but the call was upheld upon review. The Falcons had 1st down at the 49er 28-yard line with under 4 minutes left. After a pair of Rodgers runs for 10 yards and another Ryan pass to Douglas for 3 yards, the two-minute warning hit. The Falcons now had the ball at the 49er 15-yard line on 2nd & 9. Pressure forced Ryan to check down to Jason Snelling on second down for a 5-yard gain. On 3rd & 4, Ryan’s pass to White was broken up by linebacker Ahmad Brooks. On 4th & 4 from the 49ers 10, Ryan’s pass to White fell incomplete. There was contact between White and NaVorro Bowman, but no flag was called on the play and it was a turnover on downs. Now the Falcons needed a quick stop with 1:09 left in the game and only a pair of timeouts. They were able to get it with a three-and-out, but without the third timeout the clock bled down to just 13 seconds when Andy Lee came on the field for his third punt of the game. Douglas lost a yard on his return, leaving just 6 seconds on the clock with the Falcons having the ball at their own 41-yard line. Ryan took a deep shot to Jones which was completed for 24 yards, but 35 yards shy of the endzone as time expired.

The 49ers will face the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl, who defeated the New England Patriots 28-13 following the Falcons defeat.

Categories: News Tags: , , , , , ,

Scouting the 49ers: How Atlanta Matches Up

January 18th, 2013 Comments off
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Colin Kaepernick runs away, over, and through the Packers defense

As I did a week ago in preparation for the Seattle Seahawks matchup, I went back and watched several San Francisco 49ers games over the past two days. I really wanted to take a more in-depth look at the team that most of the football-watching world feels will be the NFC representative in this year’s Super Bowl XLVII.

For much of this year I have considered the 49ers to be the premier team in the NFC, even ahead of my beloved Falcons. And from watching the film, my opinion has not changed.

Yes, I’m saying the 49ers are a better team than the Falcons. But that is not the same as saying the 49ers will be a better team on Sunday, nor is it is saying they will beat the Falcons. The 49ers are a team that are very similar to the Seahawks, except probably better in a lot of the same areas. The Falcons playing Seattle last week was probably the best possible preparation for this game as they won’t have to drastically change their gameplan from a week ago due to many of those similarities between the two teams. But the 49ers do present a number of interesting challenges for the Falcons.

Much has been made about Colin Kaepernick and the read-option as he absolutely ran circles around Green Bay’s defense last week. Although I think as it applies this week, it has been much ado about nothing. This will not be the Falcons first rodeo when it comes to the read-option, unlike the Packers. The Falcons have now faced Cam Newton twice, Robert Griffin, and last week saw Russell Wilson. The Panthers, Redskins, and Seahawks did not appear on the Packers schedule this year. They were ill-prepared for what Kaepernick and that play could do against them. The Falcons will have no such excuses. Only the Dallas Cowboys have played as many games (5) against read-option teams as the Falcons. The Falcons haven’t shut down the read-option, but with the stakes this high it would be a major surprise if it’s a deciding factor in the game as it was a week ago against Green Bay.

Kaepernick is a dangerous quarterback because he specializes in big plays. He is one of the league’s best vertical passers, completing a league-high 60% of throws over twenty yards, and anybody that saw only the highlights of last week’s game knows how deadly he can be with his legs.

That is where he is most dangerous, with his legs. He is blessed with deceptive speed due to his long strides. If he can get to a corner, your defense is going to be in trouble because he’s going to run right by you. Often times watching the 49ers on tape, he’s 10 or 15 yards downfield before the defense can even react to him. The Falcons employed a lot of zone against the Seahawks last week due to the fact that they wanted most of their defenders to keep their eyes on Russell Wilson, to try and defend against his scrambling ability. Wilson presented similar challenges, but not all running quarterbacks are built the same.

Due to Wilson’s shorter stature, he struggled throwing from the pocket. It was important for the Falcons defense to try and contain him to the pocket. That is really not the same challenge that Kaepernick presents. If you confine him to the pocket, he’s going to pick you apart because that is not where he struggles. He’s very tall and has no issues locating throwing lanes unlike Wilson. Surprisingly, getting Kaepernick outside the pocket seemed to work well for defenses from what I saw on tape. His shoddy footwork and mechanics causes him to struggle to reset his feet and square his shoulders when throwing on the run, resulting in a lot of off-target passes. So there’s a bit of a risk-reward. If you can flush him, it can make him into a much less efficient passer, but also it increases the risk he gets to the outside and uses his legs for a big gain.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Mike Nolan tries to deal with that. I don’t think you can really mush rush Kaepernick quite like you could with Wilson. While you definitely don’t want to get out of your lanes with him as he can easily step up and run for big yardage, I do think you want to make a much more concerted effort to get pressure on him. Against the Rams and Seahawks, it seemed like edge pressure really gave him fits at times. John Abraham is sporting a bum ankle, and there’s no doubt that he will play in this game. But there’s also no doubt that he won’t be at full strength. Basically you’re crossing your fingers at this point that Abe pulls a gutsy performance and manages to make an impact in this game basically on one leg.

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 19 Review

January 15th, 2013 Comments off

This was a solid performance by the Falcons. The Falcons were able to get off to a fast start, something they’ve been inconsistent doing throughout the regular season. Because of a lack of a run game, this team is better as front-runners. But the surprising thing about this Seahawk game was that the Falcons were very effective running the football.

Michael Turner did a good job breaking tackles and getting yards after contact, something he has been doing less and less with time. But Turner has done this a couple of times this year, where he has a good game the weeks following when people are most down on him. Jacquizz Rodgers also had a good game, with his 45-yard jaunt being one of the highlights of the game. The blocking was solid as the Falcons did a much better job than expected creating push up the middle, but they also did an excellent job attacking the edges, with both Rodgers and Turner having some good gains off cutbacks. This was the best game I’ve seen Peter Konz play as he was fairly effective going one on one with the likes of Red Bryant and others.

The offensive line also did an excellent job in pass protection, with myself counting only 1 hurry (on Gonzalez) and 1 pressure. I figured the loss of Chris Clemons would play very well into the Falcons favor, and basically the Seahawks pass rush was a non-factor in this game.

Matt Ryan had a very good game, thanks to his receivers winning for him on the outside and the solid pass protection. Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez all did a great job, with Harry Douglas and Chase Coffman making some money catches.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$0$0$0$0$0$15.00
Michael Turner$0$12$0-$1$0$0$11.00
Roddy White$0$0$6$1$0$0$7.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$5$0$1$0$0$6.00
Julio Jones$0$0$5$0$0-$1$4.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$5$0-$1$4.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$2$1$0$0$3.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Chase Coffman$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00

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Will Turner impact against the Seahawks?

January 12th, 2013 1 comment
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Turner

The Falcons have had an extra week of practice, and thus the capacity to add some new wrinkles to the offense this weekend. My hope is that the extra time allowed the Falcons to really come up with a winning gameplan against the Seattle Seahawks. And as previously noted, I think that should include more Jacquizz Rodgers and less Michael Turner.

The Falcons offensive line has struggled to create push this year. It has been one of the main reasons why Michael Turner has been a non-factor. The other main reason is that Michael Turner over time has diminished in ability. Father Time still remains undefeated. With all of the hits that Turner has taken over the years with the Falcons, he no longer has the burst, quickness, or lateral agility that he once did. Turner was never a guy that shined in those areas as the majority of his success from 2008-10 with the Falcons was because Turner was an elite after-contact runner. But over time, Turner is no longer that force of nature after contact. And his skills in those other areas has gone from average to poor. And basically that means he needs a lot more space to run, something the Falcons front five have had increasing difficulty creating since the loss of their top run blocker, Harvey Dahl, in 2011.

The strength of the Seahawks run defense is the middle, where they have a lot of beef in Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and Alan Branch. It’s no secret that center Todd McClure is not a power blocker. Right guard Peter Konz while a capable run blocker, is neither consistent nor powerful enough to push a 320-pounder like those three off the ball. And that’s also never really been left guard Justin Blalock’s game, as he too is not consistently a “plus” run blocker. And while Mike Cox has done a solid job this year lead blocking, he’s not the guy that can clear a hole quite like Ovie Mughelli could in his heyday. If the Falcons intend to run a lot into the teeth of the Seahawks defense, they are playing to Seattle’s strength and their own weakness.

Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Jacquizz Rodgers

Instead, the Seahawks will be playing a 250-pound Bruce Irvin nearly every snap due to the injury to Chris Clemons. Greg Scruggs will be rotating in as well. Greg Who? Exactly. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, the Falcons best run blocker should be matched up quite a bit with Irvin, who normally plays left end. The smartest thing for the Falcons will be to attack Irvin wherever he lines up on the field when they want to run the ball.

And the simple truth is that if the Falcons do attack the edges on the ground, Michael Turner is not their best candidate. Both Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, while underused, possess a better skillset to get out on the edge than Turner. If the Falcons intend to run the ball, and trying to maintain some semblance of balance will be beneficial for the Falcons, it plays to their strength to feature a lot more Quizz and/or Snelling, and a lot less Turner. Rodgers, smaller stature, outstanding quickness and lateral agility means he doesn’t need as much space to work with as Turner. He can find creases, cutbacks, and do a better job finding daylight not only on the edge, but also up the middle if/when the Falcons do decide to try and pound it.

Not to mention the fact that the Falcons are a pass-first team, that will likely try to tire out the Seahawks front four with a lot of no-huddle. Rodgers has overwhelmingly been their featured guy in the no-huddle due to his solid pass protection skills, as well as his ability to make impact plays in the passing game. While Turner is a capable pass protector, he is really a weak link when it comes to catching the ball. A four-yard pass on a checkdown to Rodgers has a chance to go 20 yards. The chances Turner drops that checkdown are much higher than the chances he turns it into a big gain.

Turner still should be the go-to guy for the Falcons in short-yardage and near the goalline. But on the majority of snaps, whether it’s a run or pass, having Rodgers on the field gives the Falcons the best possible matchup against the Seahawks.

What I’m afraid will happen on Sunday is the Falcons being overly “loyal” to Turner. I thought the Falcons should have gotten rid of Turner this past off-season. I think they did not because of the hope that he still had something left in the tank, and it would have not looked great dumping a guy that had had the four-year run that Turner had in Atlanta outright. And I think at certain points this year, the Falcons have continued to put Turner as a big part of their weekly gameplans out of that same loyalty, when it’s been fairly clear since the middle of the year that the offense functions better when Rodgers is on the field. I just hope the Falcons don’t get into that same mindset where they are giving Turner unnecessary reps Sunday over some gooey feelings for the guy. The bottom line is the Falcons need to win on Sunday. I believe that Rodgers gives them the best chance to do that. And I hope that Dirk Koetter has devised a plan of attack that reflects that.

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