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Takeaways from Week 12

November 25th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff Will Face Greater Scrutiny in 2014

Last week, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank gave head coach Mike Smith a vote of confidence. That was followed up on Thursday, with further elaboration that Blank fully intends to bring Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff back for 2014. Then later on Thursday, the Falcons played their best game since Week 7.

Maybe, Blank should have backed Smith a month ago.

Blank indicated in Silver’s report that regardless of how the Falcons finish this year, the Terrible Twosome in Smith and Dimitroff will be back. I guess that nips my belief that if the Falcons were to finish 2-14 or 3-13 that Smith would be fired. Although never say never. The Falcons could revert back to getting blown out for the final five games, and I think Blank would have to strongly consider making a change.

But truth be told, I don’t want the Falcons to blow things up. Or at least, I don’t want to feel like the Falcons have to blow things up.

What is most concerning about Blank’s comments is that it may lead to this team not making major changes to their “process.”

For the most part over the years, I have backed the so-called “process.” But the problem with the Falcons process is that it represents very little progress.

Complacency, more so than Injuries are Falcons Downfall

The story of this season will center on injuries and complacency. This team has obviously suffered a number of injuries which have limited their ability to field a competitive team. My personal opinion is that the amount of injuries doesn’t explain how uncompetitive this team has been since the bye week, but I’m sure that is going to be what the Falcons chalk their struggles up to this off-season.

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Takeaways from Week 11

November 18th, 2013 2 comments
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Blank

I said last week that an Atlanta Falcons loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the rock-bottom point of this dismal 2013 season. But perhaps I will be wrong as it may in fact be this week’s upcoming matchup against the New Orleans Saints. If the Falcons get eviscerated in a primetime game by a hated rival, that would be the lowest point of the year for many folks.

I don’t consider myself among them. The Falcons have been blown out by the Saints even in years that they were pretty good, just look at the 45-17 loss in 2011. I fully expect the Saints to crush the Falcons this week in the Georgia Dome, and I feel a great amount of sympathy for Falcon fans that will be on-hand to watch it.

For me, Sunday’ loss to the Bucs was the worst. The margin of victory was not accurately reflected in the 41-28 final score. The Bucs held a 32-point lead with two minutes left in the third quarter, and only thanks to them basically shutting it down for the final quarter and the Falcons finally showing a bit of pride did they shrink that margin to 13 points.

The Falcons offense continues to struggle with their very conservative game plan and play-calling. They are suddenly trying to be a run-first team because they’ve become abundantly aware of the fact that their passing attack stinks, for lack of a better term. But they really only have themselves to blame for that, because as I’ve pointed out numerous times, they opted to sign Brian Robiskie rather than making a “bold” move for a real NFL receiver six weeks ago.

And now the Falcons have resorted to trying to run behind one of the weakest offensive lines in the league. It’s the playoff loss to the New York Giants extrapolated over four games rather than just four quarters. The Falcons offense was shut out in that game because they built their offensive game plan around running with a declining Michael Turner behind a subpar offensive line. But at this point, the Falcons wish their offensive line was as good as that 2011 unit.

Offensive Line or Wide Receiver Biggest Miscalculation?

That’s evidenced by the ability to convert in short-yardage situations. In 2011, there were 62 times where the Falcons ran the ball with 2 yards to go, and they were able to convert for a first down or touchdown on 47 of them, which is 75.8-percent. You could even discount the first 10 games of the season when Turner was actually good, before he seemed to hit a wall down the stretch and see a much better run-blocking unit. In the final 6 games of the regular season, the Falcons were still able to convert 15 of 19 of those short-yardage situations, still 78.9-percent. Compare that to the entirety of this year, where the Falcons have converted on 11 of 21 short-yardage situations, which is 52.4-percent.

But in truth, I don’t believe the Falcons offensive line is significantly worse than the unit from a year ago. In 2012, the Falcons converted on 29 of 48 short-yardage situations (60.4-percent). But obviously, the offense as a whole is significantly worse from last year. And it stems mostly from the fact that the “Big Four” in Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez have seen a sharp decline in their production this year.

I expected there to be a drop-off in their production this year, as last season was a ridiculously good one from those guys. But I did not expect the drop-off to be as significant as it has been this year. And that is the  real issue with this year’s downturn. The Falcons have proven that they can get by with their subpar offensive line play, if they are getting premium production from their passing attack. And while I’ve discussed this teams miscalculations in regards to their offensive line changes over the years, what really has been the major miscalculation was the belief that the Falcons passing attack wouldn’t fall off a sheer cliff.

I’ve been saying for some time that the Falcons needed to upgrade their depth at wide receiver. And I’ll continually pound the table to suggest that the team’s failure to do so in the off-season and following Jones’ injury is a key reason for this team’s downfall. But even with that said, I never would have expected the Falcons offense to perform so poorly as it has without such a move. They still should be better than what they’ve been as of late this year.

And this is where the subject I really want to discuss this week comes into play: coaching.

Dirk Koetter may be Mike Smith’s Downfall

I won’t say that Mike Smith has no chance of saving his job, but I do think that following the loss to Tampa Bay, the chance that Smith is patrolling the sidelines in 2014 for the Falcons shrinks to under 10-percent. I won’t rehash too many of the reasons why I believe Smith’s time in Atlanta is nearing its end, as I discuss many of them in last week’s column and also in my article yesterday for the Bleacher Report.

But the main points are that, as I mentioned above, the Falcons have hit rock-bottom and haven’t been this bad a football team since the lowest point of 2007. That was a season which was arguably the lowest point of this team’s long history of mediocrity and certainly the lowest of Arthur Blank’s time as team owner. And it’s those reminiscent feelings that I think will prompt Blank to move on from Smith at the end of this year. You can’t be as bad a football team as the Falcons have been over the past four weeks and expect the head coach to keep his job, especially given the expectations that surrounded the Falcons going into this year, and will continue in 2014.

And if Smith does get fired, he may be ultimately taking the fall for Dirk Koetter. The fact that this team has Matt Ryan at quarterback, Tony Gonzalez at tight end, and a competent albeit unspectacular Harry Douglas at wide receiver means that the offense should be better than it currently is. I don’t expect greatness, but they should be better than this.

In reviewing the All-22, I’m not seeing a lot of things that I think could help improve the offense. The Falcons aren’t running enough play-action, nor are they taking any measured shots down the field. Last year, they often utilized max protect to offset the weakness of the pass protection to get those big plays downfield. I don’t see much of that nor enough of the “Four Verticals” that the Koetter offense is supposed to be predicated off.

There were unconfirmed rumors that following the 2006 season, one of the reasons why Jim Mora was dismissed was because he was unwilling to throw offensive coordinator Greg Knapp under the bus by firing him. I don’t know if that is true, but it would not surprise me that if Mike Smith is allowed to keep his job next year, it will be dependent on his willingness to cut Koetter loose.

And I’m not sure going with a familiar face like Bill Musgrave is going to cut it to replace Koetter. One of the reasons why I’m open to the Jon Gruden rumors, is because I’m confident that if Gruden was the head coach, it would result in a sharp improvement from the offense. The last time Gruden had a quarterback of Ryan’s caliber, it was Rich Gannon, and relative to his era, Gannon was arguably better than Ryan is to his.

Gruden Could Have Greater Success in Atlanta than Tampa Bay

A big reason why Gruden failed in Tampa Bay was instability at the quarterback position, but that wouldn’t be a problem here in Atlanta with him and Ryan working together for the long haul.

The big question surrounding Gruden is how much personnel power he is seeking. He had a significant amount in Tampa Bay once Rich McKay left at the end of 2003. One would hope that Gruden would be aware of the notion that Atlanta would present a unique opportunity for him. If you’re a high-profile coach like Gruden, Brian Billick, or Bill Cowher, you want significant pull if you’re going to depart your cushy broadcasting job to patrol the NFL sidelines again. But you also want a good quarterback as well since all of those coaches have shown that winning is much easier when you have one. And I don’t think you’re going to find many opportunities that have both a good quarterback and an organization also willing to defer personnel power. And while his respect within the Falcons fan base has diminished considerably, I do think Thomas Dimitroff is well-respected enough around the league that somebody like Gruden should be willing to work alongside him.

Whether the feeling is mutual remains to be seen. But it’ll be interesting because I suspect the situation that may arise in Atlanta in 2014 may be similar to the situation that McKay was fleeing in Tampa Bay, where ownership forced a coach on the GM, and the latter ultimately lost the power battle. And one wonders in all these years that Blank and McKay have worked beside one another and had the latter whispering in the ear of the former, whether or not Blank is averse to that scenario.

But there’s still a chance that Mike Smith salvages his job. But it will stem from this Falcon team playing much better than it has over the past month. But at this point, I just don’t see it happening. After a certain point, it’s going to be too little, too late. For me, I think we’ve already reached that point.

Elsewhere in the NFL…

Not much I want to take away from this past week, besides the fact that four notable undrafted free agents and late round picks really shined this weekend. Two of them were rookies with the Oakland Raiders this past summer. The other faced the Falcons on Sunday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Antone Smith

Quarterback Matt McGloin came into Raiders camp as a fourth arm, as the Raiders appeared poised to go with Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor, and fourth round pick Tyler Wilson as their three quarterbacks. But the undrafted passer out of Penn State managed to quickly pass Wilson on the depth chart. And with Pryor’s unseating of Flynn, McGloin entered the season as the No. 2 for the Raiders.

I thought McGloin looked good in the preseason, but was not expecting him to have much success against the tough Houston Texans defense on Sunday. But he managed the game competently as he completed 18 of 32 passes for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns. It is enough to spark a potential quarterback controversy between him and Terrelle Pryor, who has struggled mightily over the past month.

The other Raider player was defensive end David Bass, who is now with the Chicago Bears. Bass was drafted in the seventh round by the Raiders out of Missouri Western State. He too popped during the preseason for the Raiders, but was cut and claimed by the Bears. He started last week for the Bears due to the injury to Shea McClellin, but this week against the Baltimore Ravens he got a pick-six which was pivotal for the Bears win. It occurred in the second quarter, and without those additional points, the Bears are unlikely to beat the Ravens in overtime. Bass is one of those late-round developmental ends that the Falcons have been so found of, but has enough quickness, burst, and athleticism to suggest he might develop into a capable rotational pass rusher down the road.

The other player is Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey. I was disappointed the Falcons didn’t claim Rainey back when the Cleveland Browns waived him last month.

The Bucs picked him up and it paid off with a 163-yard effort against the Falcons, following a 45-yard effort against the Miami Dolphins a week ago in the final three quarters once Mike James went down with an injury. Rainey is a player that first came upon my radar prior to the 2012 draft as a smaller, but skilled back at Western Kentucky. He went undrafted and was picked up by the Ravens, and continued to impress me on the handful of preseason games I saw of him. He began that year on Baltimore’s practice squad, but was promoted for a few weeks before a knee injury cost him the rest of his 2012 season. This summer the Ravens cut him, which drew the ire of Ravens fans everywhere.

The Browns picked him up, and while his production was subpar in six games (13 carries for 34 yards, 2.6 avg), I noticed when I was doing my homework on Josh Gordon, that Rainey still ran with the burst and quickness that I recalled seeing the year before. It reminded me a lot of Jacquizz Rodgers, thanks to their shared short, squat builds. And I had the feeling that if the Falcons picked up Rainey, they could potentially groom him into a better replacement for Jason Snelling than Josh Vaughan could be.

But the Bucs snatched him up, and it paid off for them on Sunday. Obviously, the Bucs had waiver priority due to their worse record back on October 22 when Rainey was cut. So maybe the Falcons did try to claim him, but couldn’t.

But my sadness over not getting Rainey was somewhat abated by the play of Antone Smith on Sunday. If Sunday’s game didn’t cement the thought that the Falcons need to have a screen package for Smith every week on offense, then I don’t know what will.

Takeaways from Week 10

November 11th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith’s seat is warming up

I’m pretty fed up with the Atlanta Falcons. For the third consecutive week, the Falcons offense looked pathetic.

I’ve been saying for some time that the Falcons need to be more aggressive offensively and try to generate big plays. And they continue to do the opposite by being increasingly conservative and it isn’t getting results.

The common excuse is that the offensive line doesn’t give Matt Ryan enough time for them to go deep. And that certainly is a valid excuse. But it’s not as if other teams don’t find ways to compensate and still generate the big plays. There’s no rule that says you can’t take shots downfield if you have a bad offensive line. It certainly means that you’ll take more sacks, but I’d rather see an offense that gives up five sacks but gets five 30-yard plays, as opposed to an offense that gives up two sacks and only gets two 30-yard plays.

Falcons Can Only Blame Themselves For Offensive Lull

The real issue is that the Falcons aren’t even trying to take deep shots. Clearly, you cannot complete those passes when you don’t even attempt them. Ryan is at the bottom of the league in terms of the percentage of passes thrown beyond 20 yards. And when they have taken deep shots, it has come after they are well-behind on the scoreboard and have no other choice.

A year ago, the Falcons weren’t a dynamic, vertical offense, ranking 27th in the NFL in percentage of passes that resulted in gains of 20 or more yards. But they took measured shots downfield, often utilizing play-action and max protect and sending receivers deep.

These things aren’t happening in 2013. Now most people would contend that because of the Falcons lack of a running game, it makes play-action less effective. And they would be right to a certain extent. The better your rushing attack, the easier it is to run play-action. But even the league’s worst rushing team doesn’t mean that play-action should be non-existent.

Despite having one of the league’s worst running games in 2012, Matt Ryan still attempted 97 pass attempts off play-action and completed 69.1-percent of them. That mark ranked sixth in the league last year and was a higher rate than Robert Griffin III, who operated an offense that was predicated off play-action in Washington. On those 97 throws, Ryan threw 9 touchdowns (putting him in the Top 10) and had the league’s third-best passer rating of 121.5 off play-action.

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Takeaways from Week 9

November 4th, 2013 Comments off
http://www.sportingcharts.com/dictionary/nfl/adjusted-net-yards-per-pass-attempt.aspx

How Much of the Falcons struggles are on Matt Ryan?

It’s the halfway mark of the season and the Falcons sit at 2-6. The 2013 season is clearly upside down, as I projected before the season that they would be 6-2 at this point.

The Falcons were competitive on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers through three and a half quarters, but things got away from them in the final nine minutes. The final 34-10 score was not quite an accurate reflection of the game in its entirety.

This was definitely a winnable game for the Falcons. Through the first 51 minutes of the game, there was only 2 minutes where the Panthers held anything more than a one-score lead. But the Falcons offense could not really get anything going throughout the game. They had a total of six possessions where they could have taken a lead and failed to do so.

Three of those drives were three-and-outs, two ended on Matt Ryan interceptions, and one resulted in a field goal that should have been a touchdown but for a holding call on Garrett Reynolds negating a Steven Jackson touchdown run.

Throw in the multiple first downs that the Falcons gave up on defense on penalties and 3rd-and-longs, and the Falcons seemed to keep getting in their own way.

The Falcons aren’t a well-coached team right now as they are playing with little passion and fire. They look like a bad team as opposed to a good team that is playing badly.

There still is a little semblance of hope in the forms of the expected returns of wide receiver Roddy White and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in the near future. Hopefully White comes back next week against Seattle, and Weatherspoon the following week against Tampa Bay.

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Takeaways from Week 8

October 28th, 2013 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

How Much Change Will Arthur Blank Demand in 2014?

The big question last week was whether or not Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay was because they caught a bad team on the verge of collapse or because the Falcons were finally showing signs of life after a disappointing start to their 2013 season.

Well, judging from their performance on Sunday in their 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the latter.

The Falcons season appears to be done as the team now falls to 2-5 and with upcoming matchups against better teams than Arizona in Carolina, Seattle, and New Orleans over the next four games, they will be hard-pressed to get back to .500. While anything is possible on any given Sunday, the Falcons would need so many things to go their way to pull victories over those teams. And very little has gone the Falcons way this year.

Time for the Youth Movement

We’ve reached the point in the year where the main focus is going to be evaluating much of the young talent on the roster. But thanks to the plethora of injuries the Falcons have suffered this year, they already are evaluating a lot of their younger players. Players like Jonathan Massaquoi, Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford are now logging serious reps on defense. And the Falcons are going to get long looks at their young receivers such as Drew Davis, Darius Johnson, and Levine Toilolo going forward. The positive is that the experience gained by these players should make them better NFL players. Unfortunately for the Falcons, that likely won’t really pay off until 2014 and beyond.

But the Falcons will need to start mixing in other young players more. I’d like to see Ryan Schraeder get mixed into the lineups on game day. He shouldn’t supplant any starter, but he should be given a couple of series here and there. Let’s face it, Jeremy Trueblood is not a long-term option for the Falcons. As explained two weeks ago, due to price tag and draft status, the Falcons have a vested interest in Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes, respectively, seeing the field. But that is not the case with Trueblood even though he hasn’t been the weakest link among the Falcons starting five, he is the most expendable of the group. The Falcons should try to give Schraeder a couple of series in the coming weeks, and see how he handles going up against players like Charles Johnson, Chris Clemons, and Cameron Jordan as an important evaluation tool on his future.

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Takeaways from Week 7

October 21st, 2013 1 comment
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Holmes could be a major difference maker next week

The Atlanta Falcons won on Sunday. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t exactly the stiffest competition in the world, the fact remains that the Falcons won. It seems like it’s been forever since the Falcons won a game.

It’s been five weeks since one of these takeaways columns followed a Falcons win. Such a winless drought hasn’t happened under Mike Smith. And while five-plus years of Mike Smith is small relative to a lifetime, particularly when you’ve been following the Falcons for over two decades like myself, it seems to be forever ago when the Falcons were bad enough where losing three straight games was common.

The hope is that this win against the Bucs is a sign of that things are going back to how they used to be under Smith. It’s certainly easier to be more confident following a win, although I’m not sure what we’ll see in the coming weeks. We’ve really reached the point where you honestly have to take it week by week with this Falcon team. And despite a win on Sunday, the Falcons 2013 season remains on life support. They go on the road against the Arizona Cardinals next week in another winnable game. But with the way the Falcons have played thus far this year, it’s by no means a guaranteed win.

In previous years, you could always count on the Falcons finding a way to win, even if they don’t play their best football. One only has to look at last year’s win over the Cardinals to see exactly that. Matt Ryan threw five interceptions, but thanks to the ineptitude of the opposing quarterbacks John Skelton and Ryan Lindley, who combined for a pathetic 70 passing yards, the Falcons won.

While new Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer isn’t having a great season thus far, he’s certainly more than capable of topping 70 yards should the need arise. And the Cardinals defense hasn’t really dropped off that much from a unit that was among the best in the league a year ago.

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Takeaways from Week 6

October 14th, 2013 Comments off
(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Mike Smith (AP Photo)

I’ve heard a lot made about Mike Smith’s poor game management decisions over the past week in light of the Falcons disappointing 30-28 loss to the New York Jets last Monday.

I personally believe it’s overblown, although I’ve found that few agree with me as people have already made up their minds that Smitty is poor at managing the Falcons on gameday even when there is compelling evidence staring them in the face that says otherwise.

Sure, you can criticize Smitty for not taking the points at the end of the first half against the Jets, deciding to go for the touchdown. But Smitty’s decision is more than defensible, and arguably the right call. At least if you believe in things like Advanced NFL Stats’ Win Probability metric. Using their calculator, the numbers suggest that as long as the Falcons believed there was a 33-percent chance of converting on 4th-and-1 from the Jets’ 1-yard line, they were right to roll the dice and go for it. The numbers suggested that the average NFL team should convert 68-percent of the time, more than double the allowable percentage and the Falcons had already converted on 50-percent of their 1-yard-to-go situations up that point in the game. Throw in the factor that the Falcons had been plagued by red zone inefficiency this season where they were unable to convert touchdowns, it made perfect sense why Smitty would elect to be aggressive in that scenario rather than settle for three points (again). Complaining about Smitty being overly aggressive is really a matter of philosophy, not science. Really no different than the belief that an offensive tackle that stands 6’3″ versus 6’5″ is incapable of being successful in the NFL.

And I would find it troubling if someone had unkind words to say about Smitty’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Jets’ 18-yard line in the fourth quarter down six points with about four minutes to go in the game. Again using ANS’ 4th down calculator, had the Falcons failed on that attempt, they would have still increased their chances of winning than settling for three points. Which makes perfect sense when you consider a turnover on downs would have given the Jets the ball at the 18 instead of the likely scenario that would have given them the ball at the 20 after a field goal and touchback on the kickoff. Regardless the same scenario comes about where in order for the Falcons to get another chance to take the lead (or tie it post-field goal), the Falcons need a defensive stop. A touchdown is much better than a field goal, and the Falcons aren’t going to have a better chance to score a touchdown than they had deep in Jets’ territory at that point. Let’s say they kick the field goal, kick off to the Jets and get a three-and-out and force a 40-yard punt, you’re taking over around your own 30-yard line likely with the two-minute warning nearing. According to ANS, the chances you make a field goal and tying the game on a drive starting at your own 30 are about 11-percent, while you wind up with a 49-percent chance of scoring a touchdown if you convert on fourth down at their 17-yard line.

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Takeaways from Week 5

October 7th, 2013 Comments off
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Coughlin might be out of a job soon

For some silly reason I have picked the New York Giants to cover three times this year. Each time they have failed to do so. No more. This Giants team is headed for a coaching shake-up if they don’t get their act together.

I think Tom Coughlin is a good coach and doesn’t really deserve to be fired. But the simple truth is that if Coughlin didn’t have two Super Bowl rings, he would have gotten axed a long time ago. Assuming there is no epic turnaround this year, it will mean that the Giants have only made the playoffs once in the past five seasons under Coughlin. Over their past 16 games, the Giants sport a 6-10 record. Their defense has given up 30 or more points every game this year, and did so in two of their three final games last season. They’ve now turned the ball over 20 times in their first five games, more than the 19 the 2012 Chiefs gave up in that same span, and the most since the ’97 Saints.

Next week the Giants face the Bears, which probably will be a loss. But if they don’t reel off three straight wins after that point against teams like the Vikings, Eagles, and Raiders, then I think Coughlin has to go. Super Bowls don’t buy you that much leeway especially when there are long-time rumors that Bill Cowher wants the job.

The Houston Texans are a fascinating team with coaching questions as well. Going into this week, they ranked 1st in the league in total defense, but 23rd in the league in scoring defense. I’ve never heard of that since usually it’s the opposite. They have been a “break but don’t bend” defense, with one of the league’s premier passing defenses, yet they give up points rather easily. Like Coughlin, Gary Kubiak’s job security is very tenuous at this point.

Kubiak’s problem is that while his Texans teams have been successful the past two years, he had five seasons where he built very little credit league-wide. Houston was an average team for those five years under him, and after ascending into one of the better teams in 2011, expectations now are much higher. This is a team that I expected to be competing with Denver for the best record in the AFC this season. But the Texans suffer from questions about their quarterback, a very conservative and predictable offense, and an underachieving but talent-laden defense.

The fact that they just suffered their second shellacking of the season on the road doesn’t help things. Losing to the 49ers by 31 on Sunday, after a 21-point loss to Baltimore two weeks ago is not the sign of a championship-caliber team. In between, they choked away a 20-3 halftime lead against Seattle last week.

In terms of coaches on the hot seat, it’s really not about the wins and losses, rather it’s about how good you look. And for the Texans and Giants, both teams have looked really bad in their losses. The best word to describe it is inept. Those sort of performances are what we expect out of teams that win 3 or 4 games all year long. The Giants were a team that looked capable of winning 8-10 games this year, while the Texans were a team that should have skated to at least 11 wins this year. If the Giants are only a 4 or 5-win team this year, that’s dramatic underachieving. If the Giants were able to get their season back on track and get to 6 or 7 wins, you might be able to excuse that and keep Coughlin around.

I’d be surprised if the Texans don’t get to at least to 8-8 this year. And if they can get things back on track, a 10-6 record seems achievable. But both teams are ripe for change along the sidelines if things don’t change, and don’t so quickly.

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Takeaways from Week 4

September 30th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

‘Sad Arthur Blank’ should be a meme somewhere

Last week, I tried to make the compelling case for why the Falcons 1-2 start wasn’t as dire as many believed.

I’ll have a much harder time trying to make the same argument now that the Falcons are 1-3.

Honestly, losing to the Miami Dolphins on the road wasn’t that shocking to me. Losing to the Patriots at home, however was. I just expected the Falcons to play much better than they did on Sunday night.

Their looking out of sync against the Dolphins, I chalked up to the injuries and being on the road. I can still partially blame injuries for their looking out of sync against the Patriots, but they typically look much sharper at home.

My immediate reaction won’t be to write off the Falcons this season. From the research I did (called Pro Football Reference), 109 teams in the “Parity Era” (1995-2012) have started the season 1-3, and only 17 of them went on to make the playoffs, giving the Falcons about a 15.5-percent chance. Given that you have a 37.5-percent chance to begin win that is not promising.

One of those teams that did manage to make the playoffs despite a 1-3 start was the 2002 Falcons. After their 1-3 start, they didn’t lose their next eight games (seven wins, one tie) to get into the playoffs on a wildcard. Two of their three opening losses came against playoff teams.

Currently, all three of the Falcons losses come against teams that I suspect will make the playoffs, as the chances a team that starts the year 4-0 makes the playoffs is 82.6-percent over the Parity Era. And we know at least two of our opponents, depending on the result of the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints game tonight will be 4-0. And it’s loser will still be in the driver’s seat to finish the year strong and be playing in January.

The Falcons definitely have some work to do. And the honest to goodness truth is that this team is not nearly as good as we thought they would be. They still have the capacity to be a good team, but time is running short.

Their offense needs to get in sync, and their defense got exposed thoroughly for the first time against what had been a struggling Patriots offense.

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Takeaways from Week 3

September 23rd, 2013 Comments off

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan and the running game give Atlanta hope

I have become increasingly aware of the fact that over the years part of my duties as a Falcons blogger is being able to talk my fellow fans down from the ledge.

Under Mike Smith, losses by the Falcons are relatively rare and thus it seems that the negativity is magnified during the weeks following a loss. People have to get all the negativity that they are used to getting out over a 12-loss Falcon season in less than half as many games. Also it seems like after every single loss that Falcon fans want to take a referendum on the season and use that individual game to determine whether the Falcons are going to or capable of winning a Super Bowl.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But the only game that determines whether a team is able to win a Super Bowl is the Super Bowl itself. And that game is a long ways off. Thus nobody should be trying to figure out February in September.

Look, I’ll admit the stats aren’t that promising since teams that start the season 1-2 aren’t exactly known for making deep playoff runs. But here’s something that should provide you a bit of solace. Five of the twelve playoff teams last year did start the season 1-2. That might be the most ever, although I only checked back to about 1990 or so before my eyes glazed over. In 2010, none of the playoffs teams got off to worse than a 2-1 start. What does that mean? I don’t know. It could be a one-year aberration or a sign that parity is rising in the NFL. But more importantly, it’s supposed to illustrate to you that a 1-2 start doesn’t end your season just as it did not for Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, and Washington a year ago.

Also, the 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants both started the year 1-2 and ultimately won the title. Sure, two out of twelve doesn’t exactly fill you with an abundance of confidence but it should illustrate to you that an NFL season is not defined by what happens in Week 3.

If I’m making the argument for why the Falcons are going to turn around their season then that argument is going to be based off the fact that both losses came in the final minute. A play or two here and there, and the Falcons could easily be 3-0. The fact that the Falcons’ are pretty beat up at this point in the year also could play into their favor later on. It’s getting a lot of younger players reps to the point that several of them might wind up stepping up. It is noteworthy that without contributions from rookies like Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Michael Johnson, the Giants may not have made it to the Super Bowl back in 2007.

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