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Takeaways from Week 16

December 23rd, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Does Atlanta have enough to slow down Colin Kaepernick?

We’ll get the chance to see the Atlanta Falcons tonight against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night football.

I don’t have particularly high hopes for the Falcons, although the last time I expected them to get blown out was in Week 12 against the New Orleans Saints. During that week, the Falcons had the factors of playing at home and against a familiar opponent in their favor. They will be in a hostile environment tonight against the San Francisco 49ers, particularly since it will be the final home game at Candlestick Park, assuming the 49ers and the other NFC wildcard team don’t make improbably deep playoff runs. And the familiarity of the 49ers just isn’t that strong. It was roughly 11 months ago that the two teams squared off in the NFC Championship game, so the Falcons won’t have to clean too much dust off their game plan to try and get an accurate read on the 49ers.

The 49ers since then haven’t changed that much. They are still an offense that is predicated on the run game and the vertical passing attack. But they aren’t as effective in either area this year as they were a year ago.

They were among the league’s best rushing team a year ago, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. They ran the ball on about 50.8 percent of their offensive plays in 2012. This year, their yards per carry has fallen to a much more mundane 4.2 yards per carry. They are running the ball more however, up to 53.3 percent.

That increase in runs is largely due to their inability to generate as many big plays in the passing game as they did a year ago. Colin Kaepernick led the league with a ridiculous 60.6 percent completion rate on passes of 20 or more yards (per Pro Football Focus). He’s still near the top of the league this year, but it’s down to a much more human 46 percent completion rate on those deep passes. Despite only starting roughly half the season, Kaepernick completed 19 of those 20-plus yard throws last year for a total of 595 yards. This year in nearly twice the playing time, he’s completed 19 for 632 yards. So in one sense, he’s been half as effective throwing deep.

Much of that centers on the lack of reliable weapons that Kaepernick has been asked to throw with Michael Crabtree being injured for most the year. In fact, no 49ers receiver besides Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and Vance McDonald have caught deep passes from Kaepernick this year. Boldin is certainly not a deep threat by nature, and McDonald is not quite as adept as Delanie Walker was a year ago. Last year, players like Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, and Kyle Williams all contributed there as well as Crabtree.

But will any of this matter against the Falcons? Probably not. The Falcons run defense is among the weakest in the league, and the 49ers absolutely dominated the Falcons in the trenches in last year’s NFC title game. With the Falcons run defense giving up 100 or more yards in 11 straight games, it is doubtful that streak is snapped this week.

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Takeaways from Week 15

December 16th, 2013 Comments off
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Osi Umenyiora is likely to become another expendable veteran player

The Atlanta Falcons offense sunk to new depths of ineptitude and ineffectiveness, despite defeating the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Against the league’s worst scoring defense, the Falcons offense was only able to mount two successful offensive series, and netting just seven points off those two drives.

Thankfully the Redskins turned the ball over seven times, which helped give the Falcons 20 points thanks to short fields and they were able to win the game.

But of course the key point of the game was Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to go for the win rather than settling for overtime. Shanahan called for a two-point conversion with the Redskins down a point with less than 20 seconds to go. Desmond Trufant broke up the throw to Pierre Garcon, and the Falcons were able to hold onto the lead and eventually gain the win. It was a ballsy, and in many eyes stupid call.

I don’t consider myself one of those people that would call it stupid. I generally don’t fault coaches or players for being aggressive. Obviously there is a thin line between being appropriately aggressive and stupidly aggressive. And I wouldn’t argue against anyone that said Shanahan crossed that line.

The reasons why it could be considered stupid is because the Falcons offense really did nothing all game. And thus in overtime, there’s no reason to think that the Falcons can mount a drive to win. The Redskins had marched the ball up and down the field for 476 total yards, and as long as they don’t cough it up, there’s every reason to believe Washington had the advantage if it went into overtime.

You know what I’m going to say. The Falcons didn’t have a single play of 20 or more yards, and it’s not a coincidence in my eyes that their offense really struggled. On those two aforementioned good drives, the Falcons were able to convert five of six third down tries but were zero for eight on their other seven possessions.

People will continue to blame the subpar play of the offensive line for why the Falcons struggle to generate those big plays, but as the win over the Bills showed two weeks ago, having a leaky front doesn’t preclude you from taking shots downfield.

The real problem the Falcons have is that they lack the weapons that can create those plays down the field. Matt Ryan attempted just three deep passes in the entire game, with Roddy White being the lone receiver to reel in one. White had a 19-yard catch on the opening series, the longest play of the day for the Falcons. Again, probably not a coincidence that was the one drive where the Falcons offense managed to move the ball and finish with a touchdown.

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Takeaways from Week 14

December 9th, 2013 Comments off

Gary Kubiak fired by Houston Texans

Despite solid play, Steven Jackson remains expendable

Another week gone by and another loss by the Atlanta Falcons.

I’ve grown numb to it over the course of this season, as the Falcons dropping another game to a very mediocre Green Bay Packers team on Sunday barely affected me.

After feeling some small elation a week ago following Atlanta’s win over the Buffalo Bills, it’s back to the same old bitterness of defeat this week. It’s a feeling and situation very reminiscent of past Falcon teams, especially the Mora Era teams that never could ever really seem to build sustaining momentum.

I could sit here and sound like a broken record, but I’ll continue to stress that we saw another week where the Falcons were conservative offensively with their willingness to take shots downfield, and we saw another week where the Falcons offense struggled to move the ball and score points.

It just can’t be a coincidence that the Falcons put forth one of their best offensive games of the season a week ago against the Bills in a game where Matt Ryan took more deep shots than he did in the previous three outings combined.

And this week, they revert back to that dink and dunk offense with Ryan only taking one deep shot in the first 52 minutes of the game. The Falcons offense subsequently generated just seven points up to then if you don’t count the pick-six and the gift touchdown off a turnover that required them to move only 13 yards before they reached pay dirt.

Someone might retort that the wintry conditions prevented the Falcons from being more aggressive, which I don’t quite buy. In the game between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers, with similar conditions, both teams threw the deep four times in the first 52 minutes of that game.

I just think that maybe if the Falcons had taken two or three more shots downfield, they could have completed at least one of them, and that could have helped put at least three more points on the board, making the outcome potentially different.

But enough about the timidity of the offense, let’s move onto something a bit more interesting, which is the 2014 season.

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Takeaways from Week 13

December 2nd, 2013 Comments off
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Roddy White’s resurgence is a big reason for Falcons offensive success vs. Bills

I feel somewhat vindicated, as the Atlanta Falcons dialed up the deep pass several times and put forth the best offensive game by putting up a season-high 34 points against the Buffalo Bills defense.

According to the official stats from the gamebook, Matt Ryan completed 4 of 10 deep passes for 94 yards, which doesn’t include a deep pass to Harry Douglas at the end that drew a 15-yard penalty. Ryan’s four deep completions came on four separate drives, all of which led to points for the offense, accounting for 24 points. The correlation between the Falcons being able to generate big plays leading to points is fairly obvious right there. Roddy White was the recipient of all four deep catches, and for the first time this season looked like the all-time great that we’ve come to know, love, and respect over the past eight years.

Falcons Are Aggressive, and Rewarded for it

This newfound aggressiveness has been something I’ve been calling for since the Falcons Week 8 loss to Arizona, where I felt the Falcons first failed to capitalize on the deep-ball opportunities they had in that game.

One of the bigger obstacles the Falcons have faced in the weeks since has been the concern surrounding their pass protection. It’s led to questions whether the Falcons offensive line could protect Matt Ryan long enough to allow him to throw down the field. Well, against the Bills Ryan was sacked six times. giving Buffalo a league-leading 43 sacks on the year.

One conclusion is that it really doesn’t matter whether or not the Falcons offensive line is good enough to protect Matt Ryan for all of the plays, just as long as they protect him for some of them. The Falcons lost 39 yards on those six sacks but the 94 yards on the deep throws more than makes up for the yardage lost.

While six sacks allowed will look bad on the stat sheets, it really didn’t have as huge a negative impact on the game because the Falcons offense was able to generate big chunks of yardages and create turnovers on defense, both of which have been rare occurrences this season since Julio Jones’ injury.

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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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