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Falcons 2014 Training Camp: Day 5 Report

July 30th, 2014 No comments

From AtlantaFalcons.com

Devonta Freeman. From AtlantaFalcons.com

Let’s take a look at the various tweets, articles, reports, news and rumors that surfaced from the fifth day of Atlanta Falcons training camp:

It was a much more hospitable day for the Falcons second consecutive day of padded practice. There just seemed to be something special in the air.

The big news emerging from early in the day was that running back Steven Jackson was held out of practice for undisclosed reasons. Those would later to be revealed because Jackson suffered a hamstring injury on Monday and will be out for the remainder of the summer. In other injury news, linebacker Pat Angerer also went down with a right leg injury early in practice, although we received no such update on his injury status after practice. It should be noted that Angerer did have microfracture surgery on his right knee this offseason.

In Jackson’s absence, Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman continues to impress.

Jay Adams breaks down his normal five takeaways from practice, including the play of Freeman, linebacker Tyler Starr, defensive tackle Travian Robertson and the fact that the Falcons will get tomorrow off from practice.

There’s video of quarterback Matt Ryan speaking to the media after practice on various topics including: Julio Jones, Jake Matthews and Levine Toilolo.

The Falcons got a visit from SI.com’s Peter King, whose big takeaway from camp was about the beef added to the Falcons defensive line.

While the competition for the nickel cornerback position appears to be wide open, some have noted that Josh Wilson might have taken an early lead.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 2 Matt Ryan

July 24th, 2014 No comments

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with second-ranked player: quarterback Matt Ryan.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 91/100

Last year’s rank: 1
Player Grade: 84/100
Teams he is starter: 24 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 24 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +5

Ryan held the top spot last year and his slip in this year’s rankings had to do with so much happening in 2013 that exposed too many of his weaknesses.

Ryan has never been blessed with great arm strength and thus the vertical element of the team’s passing attack has always been limited. Like most quarterbacks not named Roethlisberger, Ryan also has a tendency to shy away from contact. Hitting him early and often can significantly quicken his trigger leading to a lot of checkdowns, making it even harder for the team to find the big passing plays necessary to excel. Ryan certainly took his fair share of heavy contact last year. Hopefully with the upgrades made on the right side of the offensive line with Jon Asamoah and Jake Matthews, it should eliminate that problem.

Last season it became clear by year’s end that Ryan was not the sort of quarterback that could significantly elevate the marginal receive talent he was given. Ryan is much more cerebral than someone that will fly by the seat of his pants. Unfortunately after wide receiver Julio Jones went down last year, the Falcons needed more of the latter style of play from their quarterback.

In 2012, Ryan acted as a distributor of the football, wheeling and dealing and letting his receivers: Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez make plays. In 2013, without that caliber of talent on the receiving end of his passes, the Falcons offense struggled to put points on the board.

Ryan had a great deal of trust in Gonzalez to win in traffic. Now the Falcons appear to be saddling him with Harry Douglas as his third option, a player that has routinely struggled to win in traffic. Newly added wide receiver Devin Hester was never a reliable receiving option in Chicago, and it’s unlikely that will change in Atlanta. And tight end Levine Toilolo is very unproven as a receiving option. Essentially, the Falcons still have a ways to go before Ryan’s supporting cast beyond Jones and White is worth writing home about.

Ryan’s main strengths are his intelligence, decision-making and ability to win before the snap at the line of scrimmage. Ryan can diagnose mismatches very well, and it’s why the Falcons offense is most effective when the team operates out of the no-huddle. It’s not a coincidence that in the middle of the season when injuries at wide receiver forced the team to scrap the no-huddle, Ryan struggled mightily. If Jones, White and Douglas remain healthy, the Falcons shouldn’t have any issue running the no-huddle this year. However, if one or more of them is injured, it remains to be seen if Hester, Toilolo and the rest of the receivers are ready to fill any void.

Ryan is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and more than capable of bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Atlanta. If the Falcons want Ryan to excel at the highest levels, they need to do a much better job surrounding him with not just better, but the right kind of talent. He needs bigger, faster receivers and strong offensive line play. A stronger ground attack would also relieve much of the stress of Ryan having to carry the offense with his arm. That way if future injuries sap the team’s ability to run the no-huddle, the team can rely on the run game to keep the offense afloat.

While the Falcons have made several strides in these areas in 2014, they haven’t yet reached their full potential. Until they do, there’s going to continue to be a degree of disrespect directed Ryan’s way.

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FalcFans Weekly – July 20, 2014

July 20th, 2014 No comments
US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones

Once again recapping the highlights that was the past week of the Atlanta Falcons.

In case you missed anything on FalcFans.com this past week, here are all the links to catch you up:

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 14, 2014

July 14th, 2014 No comments
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was snubbed from the NFL’s annual player-voted top 100 list. Ryan ranked 17th on the list a year ago following a career-best season in 2012. But after a dismal season from the Falcons in 2013, Ryan fell completely off the list. It marks the second time in three seasons that Ryan has not been elected by his peers as one of the league’s best 100 players.

As I wrote a year ago, I’ve never been a big fan of the top 100 because I think there is a clear bias in the voting. The fact that Ryan failed to be listed indicates one of those biases, which penalizes good players on bad teams. Exactly half of the players voted on the list played on one of the dozen playoff teams in 2013.

Several positions are poorly represented, indicating another bias. Last year, only six offensive linemen made the list. This year, that number increased to 10, but that still is far too few given the importance of impact blockers. There is still too much of a bias towards “fantasy” players, with 43 of the top 100 being either quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers or tight ends.

The simple fact that Ryan has only made the Top 100 list once in the past three years is very indicative of the lack of respect. Joe Flacco played very poorly last year, yet was voted 58th. We can say that is due to the Super Bowl bias. Simply put, because Flacco has a ring, he’s probably going to be grandfathered onto the list most years. After ranking 43rd in 2013, Eli Manning fell off the list entirely this year. So presumably if Flacco is once again terrible in 2014, then he might find his way off the list. But despite the widespread belief that Ryan is superior to Flacco as a quarterback, the Ravens team success allows Flacco to be among the top 60 players, while Ryan cannot crack the top 100.

But I can forgive that Super Bowl bias somewhat even though I disagree with it. But the one quarterback ranked ahead of Ryan that I struggle to grasp is Detroit’s Matt Stafford. Stafford has been voted onto the top 100 list for three consecutive years, and I’m just curious what his peers are seeing that the rest of us aren’t. Yes, Stafford has a rocket arm, one of the strongest in the league. But besides that, there isn’t much else to like about his game.

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FalcFans Weekly – July 13, 2014

July 13th, 2014 No comments
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones

I know I have not done much of these weekly recaps since the spring but given the dearth of football-related events at this point in the calendar year, it would be a good idea to bring it back. Here’s recapping some interesting Atlanta Falcons-related reads (and listens) I found this week:

In case you were wondering what Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters has been up recently, I conducted an interview of him on Falcons Central Radio on Pro Football Central.com.

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Grantland’s Robert Mays wrote a preview of the Falcons this year, with a focus on the 2011 draft-day trade for wide receiver Julio Jones. Mays states what I currently think about that trade, a change from a previous opinion, in that the trade had both a positive and negative impact on the team. Basically the Falcons would not have gotten as far as they did in 2012 without the trade, but also would not have sunk as low in 2013. It’s worth a read and also makes a key point towards the end, which is the Falcons’ success in 2014 seems to be firmly fixed on the health of Jones.

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ESPN’s Vaughn McClure assesses that the Falcons’ biggest key to success in 2014 is returning to being an offensive juggernaut. McClure writes that will be the team’s key to success for the upcoming seasons. And similarly, the health of Jones will matter there, but McClure also points out the offensive line upgrades made by the team this offseason in acquiring guard Jon Asamoah and tackle Jake Matthews will be key. Hard to argue against McClure’s conclusions. The Falcons defense isn’t poised to be anything more than above average this year (at best) and until the team makes a similar investment in upgrading their pass rush, it’s unlikely that will be the case in any season in the near future.

On ESPN, voters also expressed their opinion that Morten Andersen’s game-winning kick against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 NFC Championship Game that sent the Falcons to their first (and only) Super Bowl appearance is the greatest play in team history. It edged out Michael Vick’s impressive overtime run against the same team in 2002.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 7, 2014

July 7th, 2014 No comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas

The NFC South is expected to be one of the more competitive divisions in all of the football this season. But that is nothing new.

It’s a division so competitive, that no team in its 12-year existence has ever won the division in consecutive years. And I doubt that streak is broken in 2014.

The Carolina Panthers won the division in 2013, being carried by one of the league’s premier defenses and their ability to win a bunch of close games. After losing their two opening games last year by one score, the Panthers won all five one-score games in the second half of the season.

That ability to win close games is often the difference between whether or not you can win the division or not. The Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have benefited from it the most in the years where they have managed to win the division. In years where the Panthers won the NFC South (2003, 2008 and 2013), they have posted a combined 19-6 record in one-score games. The Falcons record is 20-6 in their three division-winning seasons (2004, 2010 and 2012).

Since the division’s creation beginning with the 2002 season, the Falcons have played in the greatest amount of one-score games (100) within the four-team group and also have the best winning percentage (56.5 percent). No team has benefited more from their ability to win close games than the Falcons under head coach Mike Smith.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 69 “Legion of Zoom”

June 27th, 2014 Comments off

logoAllen and I are joined by third wheel Rashad James to discuss all the big news from the month of June surrounding the Atlanta Falcons, including the injury to Sean Weatherspoon, pickups of Tim Dobbins and T.J. Yates, and their future appearance on HBO series’ Hard Knocks. Other topics include: Brandon Flowers, Matt Ryan, Harry Douglas, D-Block, NFL Top 100 players, San Diego Chargers fanhood, the best wide receiver duo in the league and the Miami Heat.

Episode 69 – Legion of Zoom [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 9 minutes

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

Rashad can be found on twitter with the handle: @100K_Jay.

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

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! For Android users, DoubleTwist is a good app to listen as well. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 9, 2014

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

Mike Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Atlanta Falcons Offensive Philosophy Is Flawed

May 22nd, 2014 4 comments
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons could Learn a lot from Bruce Arians’ style of play

If you were a regular reader of my Moneyball reviews of Atlanta Falcons games in 2013, you probably recall how much I harped on the lack of big plays in the Falcons offense.

Watching All-22 film of the games, it was clear to me that the Falcons offense stagnated without the explosive element to their offense. But how clearly the link between offensive success and big plays for the Falcons did not become fully realized until well after the season.

That was thanks to some research I did this spring to look at the number of 20-yard plays the team generated in 2013. In the time since, I’ve also done similar research for 2012 just to confirm that this past year’s results weren’t just a one-year aberration.

I looked at all the “big plays” (i.e. plays that gained 20 or more yards) the team has made over the past two years and drives upon which they occurred, to see if the Falcons managed to score points on those drives.

And there’s one clear conclusion: the chances the Falcons offense scores goes up significantly if they can generate big plays of 20 or more yards.

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FalcFans Weekly – April 27, 2014

April 27th, 2014 Comments off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Falcons offseason program began this week. Mike Smith, Matt Ryan, Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore all spoke to the media on Tuesday and Wednesday and the official site provides the video.
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