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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.

Read more…

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.

Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Scouting the Seahawks: How Atlanta Matches Up

January 11th, 2013 Comments off

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Marshawn Lynch is the foundation of the Seahawks attack.

I’ve watched quite a bit of Seahawks games on NFL.com’s Game Rewind to prep myself for this preview. I watched how they fared against New England’s and Buffalo’s offenses. I wanted to see how they did against a top quarterback with weapons (something they haven’t seen much of this year) and a dynamic wideout in Stevie Johnson who brings similar tools to the fold as Roddy White. I also looked at their Week 12 loss against the Dolphins, to see how the Dolphins pulled off that victory. I also wanted to see what the New York Jets did in Week 10 to cause Russell Wilson to have one of his worst games of the year. And of course I looked at their matchup last week against the Washington Redskins.

What I discovered was a very good Seahawks team that plays a style that is going to be a difficult matchup for the Falcons.

The key to Seattle’s success is their strong running game helmed by Marshawn Lynch and Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme. Lynch is one of the best after contact runners in the league, and the Falcons defense has struggled throughout this year with their tackling. If they aren’t swarming to the ball and Lynch gets too many one on one situations with our linebackers and safeties, the Falcons could be in for a long day.

Lynch’s running is the foundation of their offense. With it, they utilize a lot of play-action and read option with Russell Wilson. The Falcons have been fairly solid against those two, but have had their lapses. They’ve faced Carolina (twice) and Washington, both of whom utilized a lot of read option, so they will be prepared. However neither Carolina nor Washington used much of it in their early matchup. The only time the Falcons have seen a lot of it (and I suspect Seattle will use it quite a bit) was in their Week 14 loss to Carolina. During that game the Falcons did give up a pair of long touchdowns on read option on a Cam Newton run and a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams. But I feel somewhat confident that Mike Nolan may have fixed many of those kinks in the subsequent weeks.

If the Falcons can contain Lynch, it will be difficult for the Seahawks to overcome it because it might force them into playing a way they don’t want to play, which is a dropback passing game. Russell Wilson’s short stature has made it difficult for him to be your typical pocket passer at this level. He likes to get out on the move, using his legs and throwing downfield. In fact, it reminds me quite a bit of the Falcons circa 2002 with Michael Vick. It’s what makes Seattle so dangerous since Wilson is prone to breaking some long runs. The key for any defense against them will be to contain him to the pocket and force him to use his arm, not his legs. The former has not quite developed, and he still is prone to making some youthful mistakes against the blitz, similar to Vick.
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Falcons lose in finale against Bucs

December 30th, 2012 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Samuel walks dejectedly off the field.

The Falcons looked sluggish in a season finale loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 22-17. The Falcons opted to play the majority of their starters, but the offense stagnated early. While the Falcons were able to score some points late to make the game interesting, they could not overcome the early lead the Bucs built up. The Falcons finish the 2012 regular season with a 13-3 record, an NFC South title, and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Matt Ryan played the entire game, completing 28 of 44 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons running game did not do much, with Jacquizz Rodgers leading the team with 28 yards on 5 carries. Michael Turner added 18 yards on 6 carries and a touchdown. Rodgers also led receivers with 8 catches for 50 yards. Julio Jones (3 catches, 56 yards), Roddy White (5 catches, 42 yards), and Tony Gonzalez (5 catches, 41 yards). The lone passing touchdown was caught by Harry Douglas, who finished the game with 4 catches for 21 yards. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try from 28 yards out. Matt Bosher punted 6 times for an average of 50.8 yards, with 3 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Bosher had a punt blocked. Rodgers returned 3 kickoffs for 59 yards, while Douglas took over punt return duties from Dominique Franks and had 4 returns for 42 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons gave a decent effort, keeping the Bucs offense in check for most of the day. They allowed 366 total yards, including 144 yards on the ground which made the difference in the second half. The Falcons had held the Bucs to only 37 rushing yards in the first half on 12 carries, but thanks in large part to a 40-yard scoring run by Doug Martin, they could not slow down the Bucs ground attack in the second half. Sean Weatherspoon led defenders with 8 tackles. Thomas DeCoud (6 tackles); Akeem Dent (3 tackles); Stephen Nicholas (6 tackles); Corey Peters (3 tackles); Asante Samuel (2 tackles, 1 interception); and Vance Walker (5 tackles) had notable games.

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Offense struggles again in loss to Panthers

December 9th, 2012 Comments off
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan is disappointed

The Falcons dropped their second game of the 2012 season with a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons record goes to 11-2. The Falcons looked lackluster with another poor offensive effort following a 10-day layoff from their last game. They were shut out in the first half, down 16-0, the first time that’s happened to the team since 2009, and the first time it has occurred with Matt Ryan at the helm.

Matt Ryan had a lackluster performance, despite completing 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Jacquizz Rodgers led the team with 21 yards on 4 carries. Michael Turner added 7 carries for 14 yards and a touchdown. Roddy White led receivers with 9 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez (8 catches, 61 yards), Rodgers (6 catches, 43 yards), and Julio Jones (5 catches, 66 yards, and a TD) also were key contributors. Matt Bryant attempted no field goal tries on the day. Matt Bosher punted 4 times on the Falcons first 4 possessions for an average of 42 yards, with 1 placed inside the 20-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers returned 2 kickoffs for 42 yards, and they returned neither of the pair of Brad Nortman punts for the Panthers. Offensively, the team struggled on 3rd down for the second week in a row, converting only 2 of 8 tries. The Falcons could not sustain drives early in the game, only possessing the ball for a total of 6 minutes in the first half.

Defensively, the Falcons could not get off the field on third downs. The Panthers wound up converting 9 of 15 third down tries and produced 475 yards of total offense, including 195 on the ground. The Falcons defense did do a good job in the redzone keeping the Panthers out of the endzone, forcing field goals on both of their redzone entries. But two big plays resulted in the Panthers two second half touchdowns, which helped put the game out of reach for the struggling Falcons offense. Stephen Nicholas led defenders with 9 tackles. Kroy Biermann (4 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (4 tackles); Akeem Dent (8 tackles); Robert McClain (8 tackles); Chris Owens (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass deflection); Dunta Robinson (8 tackles, 1 pass deflection); Vance Walker (2 tackles, 1 sack); and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles) had noteworthy games.

The game began with a long, 11-play, 77-yard drive by the Panthers that consumed over 7 minutes of the first quarter. Cam Newton hit Steve Smith to convert on a quick slant. Three plays later, Newton scrambled up the middle for a 6-yard gain. A reverse to Joe Adams on the next play was stopped by John Abraham a yard shy to set up 3rd & 1. But Mike Tolbert powered through a tackle on the next play for a 7-yard gain to convert the third down. Three plays later, Newton connected with Greg Olsen on a back-shoulder throw for a 25-yard scoring strike over Thomas DeCoud. The Falcons took a 7-0 lead. The Falcons followed up with Gonzalez getting an 8-yard catch on second down to convert for a first down. But Ryan would get sacked on the next play by Frank Kearse. Ryan’s next pass would be an overthrow to Antone Smith on a screen pass. He checked down to D.J. Davis for a 6-yard gain on 3rd & 18 to force Bosher’s first punt. A steady ground attack would get the Panthers in Falcon territory with another long drive to eat away the last 5 minutes of the first quarter. Newton ran up the middle for a 2-yard gain to convert a 4th & 1 to close out the quarter. Three plays later, Corey Peters would get penetration and get Cam Newton in the grasp on the sack, but Newton spun out, made a couple of defenders miss, and managed to run 14 yards for the first down on 3rd & 11. Two plays later, Louis Murphy would catch a Newton pass for 16 yards to put the ball inside the Falcons 10-yard line. Sean Weatherspoon would trip up DeAngelo Williams on the draw play on the next play. Newton would miss to Murphy in the back of the endzone on the next play. Then pressure would get to him as Mike Nolan dialed up a blitz and hwas forced to throw it away on third down. The Panthers would set for a 24-yard field goal from Graham Gano to go up 10-0. All in all, the Panthers had held the ball for over 9 minutes for 17 plays, and 72 yards on that scoring drive. The Falcons next series was a three-and-out as Ryan’s pass to Michael Palmer on 3rd & 5 came up a yard short of the sticks. Newton would hit Steve Smith on a crossing pattern for 20 yards on first down of the next Panthers drive. Smith would then beat Chris Owens on the next play for a 15-yard completion. Two plays later, Newton would get dropped by Vance Walker for the sack, putting hte Panthers at the Falcons 30-yard line. On third down, Newton would overthrow Steve Smith and once again Gano came on the field to convert a 41-yard field goal. The kick was good and the Panthers now had a 13-0 lead with just 5 minutes left in the first half. On the first play of the Falcons next series, Ryan would find Rodgers on a checkdown for 9 yards, breaking a couple of tackles. Three plays later, while trying to escape the pocket, Ryan’s checkdown to Rodgers would fall short. The Panthers blitzed on the next play, and Ryan hit his hot read in Tony Gonzalez, but he is easily stopped by D.J. Campbell for no gain to force the punt. The Panthers took over with 3:35 left in the half at their own 28-yard line. As the two-minute warning hit, Newton scrambled off the right side for a 21-yard gain on 3rd & 6. Louis Murphy would beat Dunta Robinson deep on a double move, but Newton would miss the wide open touchdown pass, overthrowing him. Two plays later, Steve Smith would beat Owens on the deep out for 19 yards. Five plays later with the Panthers having a 1st & 15 at the Falcons 19-yard line, Newton would hit Murphy along the sideline in the endzone. But Murphy was only able to get a single foot down inbounds resulting an incomplete pass. An incomplete pass to Olsen on the next play would set up a 3rd & 15. Newton’s pass to Murphy was stopped for just a 6-yard gain. And Gano would hit his third field goal of the game from 31 yards to close out the first half.

To start the third quarter, the Falcons went into no huddle mode. Ryan hit Roddy White for his first two receptions on the opening two plays for a combined 28 yards. But three plays later, on 3rd & 7, Ryan tried stepping up in the pocket but wound up overthrowing Harry Douglas. And the Falcons fourth possession ended in a punt. On the third play of the Panthers series, Mike Tolbert bust up the middle for a 5-yard gain to convert on 3rd & 1. On the next play, Cam Newton kept the ball and rushed virtually untouched 72 yards down the left side for a touchdown. That quick score put the Panthers up 23-0 with 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter. A 6-yard handoff to Jacquizz Rodgers started the next Falcons series. Ryan then converted on second down with a 9-yard comeback to Julio Jones. That was followed by a 5-yard run by Rodgers. Ryan hit Gonzalez on the next play for a 16-yard gain to put the ball in Panther territory. White, Gonzalez, and then Rodgers would touch the ball on the next three plays to put the ball inside the Panthers redzone. On second down, Ryan missed Jason Snelling in the flat on an overthrow. Pressure got to Ryan on the next play, and his out pass to Gonzalez on 3rd & 4 fell incomplete. The Falcons opted to go for it on 4th & 4 from the Panthers 13 yard line. Ryan hit Snelling on a shovel pass and he rumbled 5 yards to convert. Two plays later, Ryan hit Roddy on a crossing pattern for the 4-yard touchdown pass. The Falcons got on the board for the first time of the game with 4:50 remaining on the third quarter clock. Steve Smith gained 16 yards on a Newton pass to start the next Panthers series. DeCoud would wrap up DeAngelo Williams in the backfield for a 2-yard loss on the next play. Two plays later, Newton would overthrow Smith on 3rd & 4 and the Panthers would be forced to punt for the first time. The Falcons now took over at their own 20-yard line with 2:38 left in the quarter. Ryan hit Roddy for a 14-yard gain on 2nd & 7 on the third play of that series. Ryan took a deep shot to Roddy, but the receiver stumbled and the ball was overthrown. Two plays later, Ryan would find White again for an 18-yard completion on a deep comeback. To close out the third quarter, Ryan would hit Julio Jones who made an excellent diving grab over the middle for a 21-yard gain. Ryan took another shot at Jones on the next play, but Jones cannot secure the fingertip grab going out of bounds. The Falcons would convert their first third down of the day two plays later with an 11-yard completion to Gonzalez. That put the ball at the Panther 11-yard line, which the Falcons took advantage of with a bubble screen to Julio Jones who scored thanks to a couple of good blocks by Todd McClure, Justin Blalock, and Harry Douglas. The Falcons went for two following the score, hoping to make it a one score game with 14 minutes left. Ryan sprint out on the play and found Roddy White going out of bounds. What looked to be a catch was ruled incomplete due to the ref indicating that White bobbled the ball as he was going to the ground. The play was challenged by Mike Smith, but the refs did not overturn the highly questionable call. And thus the Falcons were still down 10 points, 23-13. The Panthers began to try and run out the clock with 2 runs for 8 yards on their next series. But Newton again would convert on 3rd down with a 7-yard pass to Smith. He would then hit Olsen on the next play for 18 yards on a pass over the middle. Two plays later, Louis Murphy would drop a pass along the sideline near the sticks. But Ron Rivera challenges the ruling, and it’s overturned. Instead, the play is ruled a fumble by Murphy instead of a drop, and the Panthers convert the first down. Chris Owens gets credit with the forced fumble on the play. Two plays later the Panther drive stalls on third down thanks to Dunta Robinson breaking up a pass to Smith. The Panthers punt is fair caught by Dominique Franks at the 10-yard line. Ryan went back to the Roddy well on the next series, hitting him on the two opening plays for a combined 21 yards. Harry Douglas would get into the act with a 19-yard grab on the next play. Turner rushed for 5 yards on the next play. But then on 2nd & 5, Greg Hardy would sack Ryan. Ryan would check down to Rodgers on 3rd & 12 to get 4 yards back to try and set up a makeable 4th down try. Pressure would flush Ryan out of the pocket, and throwing off his back foot, he could not get enough on the ball. That allowed Thomas Davis to step in front of the pass to White for the interception, essentially ending any hopes of a miracle finish for the Falcons with 6:19 to go. The Falcons defense would get a stop on their next series, with a Newton pass to Armanti Edwards going for only 4 yards on 3rd & 9. But Robinson would be called for defensive holding against Edwards, giving the Panthers a first down near midfield with about 5 minutes to go in the game. On the next play, Newton would hit the screen to DeAngelo Williams, who with help from a couple of missed tackles would run 53 yards for a touchdown icing the game. The Panthers took a 30-13 lead with 4 minutes left in the game. Ryan would try and take a deep shot to Jones on first down of the ensuing Falcons series, but it would be overthrown. Jones would extend high in the air to make an excellent grab in traffic for a 17-yard gain on the next play. Ryan would hit Tony Gonzalez on a pair of 6-yard plays, followed by a 10-yard pass to Douglas, and then a 11-yarder to Chase Coffman. Two plays later, a checkdown to Rodgers for 8 yards would give the Falcons another first down with the two-minute warning hitting. Ryan’s pass out of the break was a 17-yarder to White that put the ball at the Panthers 1-yard line. Ryan took a shot to Jones in the endzone, but it was knocked away by Josh Thomas. Ryan’s next pass went over the head of a crossing Kevin Cone. On the third down, Ryan tried a quick slant to Gonzalez that was incomplete, but Captain Munnerlyn was called for pass interference. That gave the Falcons a first down at the 1, and on Turner’s second rush he was able to score the 1-yard plunge. With less than a minute left in the game, Bosher’s onside attempt was easily covered by Jordan Senn. The Panthers opted to kneel on the ball on the last two plays and the game was over.

Next week, the Falcons will be hosting the New York Giants. Their last contest against the Giants was a rough one, a 24-2 loss on the road in last year’s playoffs. The Falcons have lost 7 straight home games against the Giants going back to 1981, and three straight in the Georgia Dome. Overall, the Falcons have lost four straight against the Giants. Their last victory was a road win in 2004 by a score of 14-10. Prior to the arrival of Mike Smith, the road team won the Falcons-Giants matchup 12 straight times going back to 1982. Since Smith’s arrival in 2008, the Falcons have lost both contests against New York, both of them coming on the road. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 8-0 in home games following road losses. They have won 11 straight games following losses of any kind, and are 19-3 overall under Smith under those circumstances.

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