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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 25, 2014

August 25th, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Matthews

The biggest question marks surrounding the Atlanta Falcons entering this past Saturday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans centered on the team’s offensive tackle position.

But thankfully, both starting tackles: Jake Matthews and Lamar Holmes performed well against the Titans. Both players of course had their share of lapses, which comes with the territory of being a developing NFL player, but the Falcons should emerge with a good deal of confidence from that game based off their collective performance.

While Matthews missed a couple of blocking assignments against the Titans, he more than held his own against quality competition he faced in defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and edge-rusher Kamerion Wimbley. Casey is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, and while he had a solid overall performance against the Falcons, there were several times when Matthews was able to thwart and control him. Wimbley’s production has steadily declined since a nine-sack season in 2010, but outside one or two snaps was unable to get the better of Matthews.

Those are both positive signs. Compared to the play of the Falcons tackles from a year ago, there would have been very few instances where they would have managed to control the likes of Casey and would have looked overmatched almost every snap. The fact that Wimbley’s play has declined over the past three seasons is indicative of Matthews’ strong performance as well. It would have been more concerning had Wimbley gotten the better of him several times.

Matthews showed against the Titans that he indeed has a bright future ahead of him. While there will still be breakdowns and penalties from time to time, the Falcons should be confident in their ability to move forward with Matthews protecting Matt Ryan’s blindside. There certainly could be a number of games on the horizon where Matthews struggles, but the Falcons shouldn’t feel like the offense is going to be held back from having a rookie like him at left tackle.

That is a very positive development for not only the Falcons this season, but also moving forward. The Falcons just simply haven’t gotten a lot of good news when their offensive line has been involved over the past few years.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 18, 2014

August 18th, 2014 No comments
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2014 is another lost season for Sam Baker

The biggest concern emerging from the Atlanta Falcons 32-7 preseason loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday was the injury to left tackle Sam Baker.

Baker tore his patellar tendon in his right knee and is out for the season. It likely marks the end of Baker’s career as a Falcon.

The team drafted Jake Matthews to be their left tackle of the future and after Baker’s injury, the future is now.

There is a part of me that is glad the Falcons will be able to liberate themselves from Baker’s terrible contract, but at the same time, there is a larger part of me that is distraught that it had to end this way.

While Matthews’ presence made Baker the most expendable of their five projected starters, it does not mean that the Falcons won’t lose something.

That is because the Falcons may be forced to play either Lamar Holmes or Ryan Schraeder in the starting lineup this season. And thus far based off their play in the preseason, neither have shown any strong inclination that they are prepared for such an assignment.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 11, 2014

August 11th, 2014 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Falcons show toughness against Miami?

The Atlanta Falcons played their first preseason game on Friday night against the Miami Dolphins and won. That alone might be a cause for celebration and instill the belief that this year’s Falcon team is different from its predecessors.

That’s probably a stretch given the fickle and irrelevant nature of the preseason. The reasons why teams win preseason games are usually because some third-string player that is probably not going to make the team makes a big play or a mistake in the fourth quarter that decides the outcome. In the case of the Falcons-Dolphins game, the outcome of the game could be reduced to the tackle by Falcons safety Sean Baker that saved a touchdown, and the botched snap by Dolphins quarterback Seth Lobato. Two players with NFL careers that may just be footnotes in team media guides. Two instances that don’t quite apply to how the Falcons 2014 regular season is going to shape up. I’m certainly not expecting Baker to make a touchdown-saving tackle on a screen to Brandin Cooks Week 1.

Nonetheless, there are reasons to be positive if you so choose, and there are also reasons to be negative based off the Falcons first preseason action.

Some of the positives are that the Falcons’ play in the trenches was fairly strong. Working against the Falcons starting defensive line on the first two series, the Dolphins were successful on just two of seven (28.6 percent) running plays. That’s a sign that the added beef up front for the Falcons has improved. On the opposite side of the ball, the Falcons themselves were successful on four of their eleven (36.4 percent) runs with the starting offensive line. Not great by any means, but certainly competent.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways From Last Week – August 4, 2014

August 4th, 2014 No comments

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones (left) and Roddy White will have to carry Falcons offense this year

The Atlanta Falcons are practicing today against the Tennessee Titans. It will be interesting to see if any fights break out between the two teams. The Falcons have been a lot fiestier this summer, and I can’t help but think how Hard Knocks may be affecting things.

I’m a firm believer that you win by what happens on the field. Something may or may not be a distraction in the summer just can’t be used as an excuse for not being able to make plays in October. Losing a loved one could certainly be that type of distraction, but having a few cameras in your face is not.

If Robert McClain struggles against Victor Cruz of the New York Giants in early October, can he really blame Hard Knocks for distracting him in August? In August, McClain wasn’t thinking about Cruz. He was thinking about competing to be the nickel cornerback or trying to learn the safety position. If Hard Knocks was going distract him from anything, it would be to that. McClain isn’t supposed to really think about Cruz until the Monday before the game since it’s a week-to-week mentality in the NFL.

That’s why I’m not saying that Hard Knocks will negatively impact the regular season, but I certainly think it can have a significant impact on training camp and the preseason.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 28, 2014

July 28th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant is the rare impact rookie in NFL

Atlanta Falcons training camp has begun. And all the prognostications and analysis that has occurred over the past six months of the NFL offseason are basically thrown out the window at this point as things will soon be decided on the field.

It’s one of the reasons why football is great because of its unpredictably. As I noted last week, it’s one of the most unpredictable of the major American sports. And it’s for that reason, what I do is somewhat meaningless.

Like so many others, for the past six months I have made a bunch of educated guesses as to what I thought the Falcons would do this offseason, in the draft, and ultimately how that would lead to a successful or unsuccessful 2014 season.

What will ultimately happen this season is completely beyond me. If I knew, then I’d get on the first plane to Las Vegas and bet it all.

There are always several surprises in not just the regular season, but in training camp. There is always a player or two that winds up making the Falcons roster that I’m fairly dumbfounded as to why it happened. There’s always a promising prospect that doesn’t make the cut which disappoints me. There’s always a player that I had exceedingly low expectations on entering the summer, but manages to blow those out of the water. And then there’s the opposite, a player that disappoints greatly during the summer months. It all adds up to an eclectic mix that will eventually make up the Falcons 2014 roster.

One of the things that typically emerge during the initial days of camp reports and observations is how promising much of the new blood added to roster in the offseason is looking.

For instance, one can make the argument that after cornerback Desmond Trufant the best player on the Falcons defense last year was defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. And it’s very possible that he may hold that title going into 2014. But you probably won’t hear very much about Babineaux this summer during camp practices because he’s old news. Unless Babineaux is schooling one of the young kids like Malliciah Goodman or Ra’Shede Hageman on the intricacies of the position, there won’t be a lot of buzz surrounding him. Yet given that he’s the best player up front, he probably is a player that practices the best as well.

But nobody wants to hear how Babineaux still looks solid in the various camp reports you’ll find over the next several weeks. It’s more about how those young guys like Goodman and Hageman are looking and likely to contribute significantly in 2014.

So pardon my cynicism, but that’s the nature of the beast. People tend to get caught up in what is shiny and new rather than what appears old hat.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 21, 2014

July 21st, 2014 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Falcons will be essentially the Julio Jones Show in 2014

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp later this week, signaling that the NFL offseason is over. While there are still 46 days until the regular season kicks off, it now feels like football is finally right around the corner.

One of the best things about the NFL is the unpredictability of every season. Of the three major American sports, it is the most unpredictable from year to year.

Which brings me to the Falcons and what will happen in 2014. A lot can happen, which again reflects the uncertainty surrounding all 32 NFL teams. While I feel like there is a very large spectrum representing what can happen this year, the 2014 Falcons season could fall anywhere on that spectrum.

The worst-case scenario appears to be a Falcons season similar to the one we just suffered through in 2013. In that scenario, injuries continue to plague the team and/or many of the young players expected to step up this season do not do so.

But the best-case scenario likely sees the Falcons earning a playoff berth, most likely as a wildcard team. While I’d like to believe that the Falcons can win the NFC South, the rest of the division appears too tough for this team to reach that level.

And that’s because, while I think the Falcons can be good, I don’t expect them to be great. This is not a team like that 2012 team that has the potential to be special.

Yes, it’s true this team is stronger in a number of areas than that 2012 team. The offensive line play should be stronger this year with the addition of right guard Jon Asamoah.

While an addition like Jake Matthews will almost certainly upgrade the Falcons front from a year ago, I’m not sure it’s fair to expect Matthews to come in right away and be better than Tyson Clabo was in 2012. That year was by no means the best season Clabo had in a Falcon uniform, but he still played at a fairly high level for a large chunk of the year. That would be a tall order for a rookie tackle like Matthews.

But it’s those types of the things that have me considering what are the biggest keys to success for the Falcons 2014 season.

The aforementioned play of the offensive line is certainly one, but the biggest key has to be the health of Julio Jones.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 14, 2014

July 14th, 2014 Comments off
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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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – July 7, 2014

July 7th, 2014 Comments off

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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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 30, 2014

June 30th, 2014 Comments off
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson could be a factor in Atlanta’s future

The Atlanta Falcons made a move this past week, signing wide receiver Courtney Roby. But Roby should instead be referred to as a special teams player, because that is what his role, if any, will be with the Falcons this season. Roby is basically a direct challenger for Drew Davis’ roster spot.

Davis has gotten by over the past few years on his ability as a special teams player. While Davis has made a handful of plays at the wide receiver position, he’s clearly shown to any that are paying attention that he is not a viable candidate to be a significant contributor on offense.

The most important skill that an NFL wide receiver can possess is the ability to separate from coverage. And the simple truth is that Davis has rarely done that in his few years with the Falcons. Most of his catches are the result of broken coverages rather than instances where he simply beat an opposing corner and made a play.

Frankly, that important skill-set has been missing from the majority of Falcons receivers over the years. In truth, only Roddy White and Julio Jones have possessed it in abundance. Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas are decent at it, but by no means special in that regard. Both can do separate, but not on a consistent enough basis that makes them more than quality reserves.

Brian Finneran, Marty Booker, Eric Weems, Darius Johnson and Kevin Cone have also all struggled with this issue during the past six seasons. This issue isn’t helped by the fact that besides Jones, the Falcons have invested very little in terms of the draft in the wide receiver position. Since drafting Douglas in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the Falcons have drafted just two wide receivers since: Jones and Kerry Meier. That is a league low when the average NFL team has drafted roughly six (5.8 to be exact) wide receivers over the past six drafts.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 23, 2014

June 23rd, 2014 Comments off
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

The Atlanta Falcons made the somewhat bold move to trade for Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates earlier this week.

It’s a bold move in the sense that the Falcons saw a weakness on their team and went about addressing it. That weakness was their backup quarterback situation where Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews sat behind starter Matt Ryan. Between the three of them, they only have one game and seven pass attempts’ worth of actual NFL experience.

If one was power-ranking the Falcons backup quarterback situation, it would have been in contention for dead last in the league with that of the Chicago Bears.

Following the departure of Josh McCown, who is now expected to start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears featured Jimmy Clausen, Jordan Palmer, David Fales and Jerrod Johnson behind starter Jay Cutler. The Bears signed Clausen earlier this month to add some much-needed experience. Clausen played poorly, but at least started 10 games as a rookie with the Carolina Panthers in 2010. Before his arrival, their sole experience came from Palmer, who attempted 15 passes over three years with the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-10).

Johnson was cut this week, as was Davis for the Falcons. Teams don’t often carry five quarterbacks on the roster, and it was clear that Yates’ arrival was going to push Davis out the door.

That’s unfortunate for Davis, who despite my frequent criticism of his skills, did have some potential to develop. Davis’ problems were that the same issues that plagued him during his days at East Carolina did not improve to a significant enough degree to merit the team’s continued investment. Davis’ accuracy and mechanics were erratic during his time in college and were the main reasons why teams passed on drafting him. Davis’ arm strength and athleticism were pluses, two things that helped him shine as an undrafted rookie during the 2012 preseason. But even then he showed the flashes of erratic play that hurt him in college.

In a sense, Yates is his polar opposite. Accuracy, footwork are two of Yates’ strengths, while arm strength is probably his biggest weakness. After the move to get Yates, I went back and looked at his limited play last season and in his playoff loss against the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 to see how much, if at all, Yates had really developed since his days at North Carolina.

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