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Five Keys to Improve Pass Protection vs. Rams

September 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons pass protection played poorly in their season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints last week. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked three times and saw pressure on 75% of the Falcons third downs, preventing the team’s ability to mount drives and score points.

The Falcons offensive line will face even more scrutiny this week as they face the St. Louis Rams, who have one of the better pair of defensive ends in the league in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Quinn is coming off a three-sack performance against the Arizona Cardinals last week, including stripping quarterback Carson Palmer twice on blindside hits. One positive for the Falcons may be that Long may not be 100-percent due to him nursing a hip injury. But regardless the Falcons’ line will need to step up this week to deal with that potent Rams’ pass rush.

Complicating matters is the fact that left tackle Sam Baker is questionable this week with a knee injury. It may force the Falcons to shuffle around their offensive line. Right tackle Lamar Holmes, who is coming off an abysmal game where he was readily worked over by Cameron Jordan may move to left tackle to face Quinn. Then newly signed right tackle Jeremy Trueblood may be inserted into the starting lineup. The Falcons may also have to consider starting undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder at left tackle, as he is Baker’s primary backup.

Even with a healthy Baker the Falcons would need to work extra hard to try and deal with the Rams’ pass rush. Now that he’s injured, it will have an even greater impact on the game. Here are five things the Falcons may do to try and offset these issues the best they can:

Personnel: More Max Protect

As Chad Walton indicated in his review of the Saints game, the Falcons did not make significant use of two-tight end sets (12 or 22 personnel). That should change this weekend as the Falcons will use more max protection sets to try and chip and slow down the Rams’ edge rushers. Max protect refers to protections that have at least seven blockers trying to protect the quarterback. But one of the drawbacks of max protect is that it limits how many receivers run routes, limiting the quarterback’s throwing options. This puts more emphasis on those receivers needing to separate from coverage. That could put the Falcons at a disadvantage this weekend since their two best “man beaters” on the outside in Julio Jones and Roddy White are nursing injuries, limiting their effectiveness. This will put more focus on Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas to step up their play.

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Six Falcons Starters Questionable vs. Rams

September 14th, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones (left), Roddy White

Yesterday, the Falcons released their injury report for Sunday’s matchup against the St. Louis Rams, the team’s home opener. On it, six Falcons starters were listed as questionable including: defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee), offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle). All six were limited in Friday’s practice. For Babineaux, Baker, and White, that was the only practice they participated in all week long. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice, but was limited on Thursday and Friday. While Samuel and Weatherspoon were limited throughout the week.

White and Samuel’s injuries stem from the preseason, while the others were suffered in the Falcons’ Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Earlier this week, Falcons head coach Mike Smith indicated that White is expected to play this Sunday after spending the season opener in a limited role and mainly as a decoy. That led to increased reps for wide receiver Harry Douglas. With Jones also limited, the Falcons may count more on fourth wide receiver Drew Davis this week as well.

Samuel missed the season opener, and the team had Robert McClain start in his place. Rookie cornerback Robert Alford was promoted into McClain’s vacated nickel cornerback spot.

Babineaux is the team’s starter at right defensive tackle, which leads to him also getting work at defensive end in the multiple fronts employed by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. His primary backup is Travian Robertson, who was inactive last week. Although if he’s unable to go it will likely fall upon Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews for increased reps. They combined for only 14 snaps last week against the Saints (per Pro Football Focus). Peria Jerry would like get the start.

In the case of Baker, the Falcons have been getting newly signed tackle Jeremy Trueblood up to speed in preparation for the possibility that he starts this weekend. Trueblood was signed over a week ago and could make his debut at right tackle. That could potentially slide starting right tackle Lamar Holmes over to left tackle, the position he played as a rookie and while in college at Southern Miss. It could also mean playing time for undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder, who is the team’s primary backup at that position.

Weatherspoon’s injury could lead to increased reps from Joplo Bartu or Paul Worrilow. Both are undrafted rookies and played solely on special teams in their NFL debuts last week. If Weatherspoon was to miss the game, Stephen Nicholas would likely be start at weakside linebacker, as he did in the preseason when Weatherspoon was limited by a finger injury. That would likely lead the Falcons to utilize defensive end Kroy Biermann more as a strongside linebacker than defensive end. Nicholas did not play a single defensive snap last week due to the Falcons ability to play Biermann as well as their reliance on the nickel subpackage.

Also listed on the Falcons’ injury report as probable were safety Thomas DeCoud (knee), Jerry (knee), and Matthews (neck). All three players were limited in practice on Wednesday, but fully participated in both Thursday and Friday practices.

Notable injuries for the Rams include: tight end Cory Harkey (probable/knee), defensive end Chris Long (questionable/hip), cornerback Quinton Pointer (out/thigh), running back Daryl Richardson (probable/foot), and safety Darian Stewart (doubtful/thigh).

Falcons add help at tackle in Trueblood

September 3rd, 2013 Comments off

 Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Jeremy Trueblood

The Falcons announced a few roster moves earlier today, signing offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Trueblood replaces Terren Jones, who was waived by the team. The team also released guard Phillipkeith Manley, who was on the practice squad, with an injury settlement. It is likely that Jones will be replace Manley there if/when he clears waivers tomorrow.

Trueblood originally entered the NFL as a second round pick in 2006 out of Boston College. He would start 61 games at right tackle over the next four seasons. He would start the first six games of the 2010 season, but a knee injury forced him out of the lineup and he would lose the job to James Lee. However he did get one more start at the end of the season when Lee himself was out with injury. Trueblood would regain the starting position in 2011 after re-signing with the Bucs following the lockout, starting 15 games that year. But his subpar play coupled with an early-season ankle injury cost him his starting spot in 2012 where he only appeared in 9 games, his only start coming in the season opener. He was signed by the Washington Redskins this past off-season where he was expected to compete for a backup spot with Tony Pashos and Tom Compton this summer. Compton won and Trueblood was cut this last week. He will likely be considered insurance at right tackle after a shaky preseason for starter Lamar Holmes.

Trueblood also worked briefly at right guard for the Bucs last season when injuries required them to shuffle around their lineup following the injury to Carl Nicks, adding some depth and versatility.

Jones did not have a great preseason and thus his retention on the team’s 53-man roster was a mild surprise. He was dubbed more in line with practice squad talent and likely will get that opportunity moving forward. Manley also came off as less than stellar in the preseason, after spending his rookie season in 2012 on the team’s practice squad and subsequently the roster in the second half of the season. He was surpassed by both Harland Gunn and Jacques McClendon at the backup guard positions this summer. Gunn made the Falcons roster, but McClendon was waived and claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Manley’s injury was not disclosed.