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Free Agent Focus: Charles Tillman

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Tillman

Next on my list of impending free agents that I want to take a deeper look at is Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

Tillman just turned 33 last weekend and is coming off a rough, injury-shortened season. But that advanced age coupled with his injury makes me believe that Tillman is going to be undervalued this offseason in free agency. It is similar to Charles Woodson a year ago, who missed nine games in 2012 at age 36. It led to Woodson garnering almost zero interest last offseason until the Oakland Raiders scooped him up at the end of May.

The Raiders were rewarded with the 28th-ranked safety in the league last season according to Pro Football Focus on a relatively modest one-year deal. I believe the odds are fairly good that a similar windfall could come for the team that signs Tillman.

It’s also interesting because there is talk that Tillman should move to safety at this point in his career, which centered around Woodson two years ago. Although I’m confident that Tillman will be able to make that transition and extend his NFL career a couple of seasons by doing so like Woodson has, I’m not sure that move is yet needed. Tillman has already indicated his reluctance to move to a new position.

He spent much of last season nursing knee and groin injuries, as he was unable to fully participate in a practice for the Bears between Weeks 2 and 9 last season. Then he tore his triceps once he managed to recover from those injuries, and finished the season on injured reserve.

The injuries definitely limited him. He gave up a couple of big plays when healthy to A.J. Green in the season opener, but also had a pair of interceptions in that game. He then battled injuries and got exposed quite a bit by the quicker Antonio Brown in Week 3. But once he was healthy again, he showcased his stuff against Calvin Johnson in Week 10.

Strengths:

  • Has good size and length, making him a very effective press corner
  • Physical run defender that will deliver hits and make open field tackles
  • Has a knack for creating turnovers with good ball skills

Weaknesses:

  • Diminished speed causes problems when defending the deep routes
  • Has a history of getting safety help over the top due to Bears defensive scheme
  • Durability is a concern due to advanced age

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Team Needs: Falcons Need Size and Experienced Depth at Cornerback

February 7th, 2014 1 comment

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford (23) and Desmond Trufant (21)

The recent release of Asante Samuel has created a hole at cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons when there wasn’t one before. That hole should be filled with a veteran corner that can upgrade the unit with some much-needed size.

As the team sits today, only two cornerbacks are under contract: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, both entering their second seasons. Well, technically Jordan Mabin and Saeed Lee are both also under contract, although neither are expected to figure significantly into the team’s plans in 2014. Mabin and Lee probably can only be expected to compete for the fifth cornerback spot, indicating that the Falcons will need to add at least two more cornerbacks this offseason.

One of those spots almost certainly will go to impending restricted free agent Robert McClain. McClain is a valuable reserve due to his ability to play in the slot, as well as the fact that he played well as a punt returner late last season. McClain also is the team’s most accomplished cornerback in terms of run support, an area where both Trufant and Alford were inconsistent during their rookie seasons.

But in terms of pass coverage, Trufant certainly was far from inconsistent. By year’s end, his play had become the steadiest of anybody on the defensive roster. Alford had his fair share of ups and downs, but showed enough promise that the team is confident that he can enter 2014 penciled in as Samuel’s replacement in the starting lineup.

The Falcons might opt to keep Dominique Franks, an unrestricted free agent, as the fourth cornerback. However, the team should be able to find a better option than Franks this offseason. While Franks has shown the ability to play in the dime sub package in the past, he would be an inferior option to McClain in such a role, and also is a very limited contributor on special teams. Franks has flashed ability in the past as a reserve on defense, showing the capability that he is at least competent there. That makes his primary value only worthwhile in the event of an injury to one of the starters, where he’d likely be promoted to the nickel role.

Such an injury is likely given the Falcons history, as the team has not had two corners start all 16 games in the same season since Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose did in 2001. If that trend continues, then it’s imperative the team attempt to upgrade their depth in 2014.

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Why Asante Samuel is Worth Keeping in 2014

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

 Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Asante Samuel’s status for 2014 doesn’t look promising

If you happen to be a regular listener to the FalcFans Podcast or one of my followers on twitter, then you probably know of my strong feelings about Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel and how his value to this team is underrated.

Samuel is likely to be released this offseason. While there have been no obvious indicators of his impending release, many signs points toward it. Samuel is set to cost the team between $5.1 million (according to the AJC) and $5.7 million (according to SpotRac) in cap space in 2014 (another says $5.25 million). For the record, the discrepancy in Samuel’s exact 2014 cap hit is based around conflicting reports on the size of the roster bonus(es) Samuel is set to receive this fall. Regardless of the exact amount, the cost isn’t quite so prohibitive, except for the fact that . Thus paying nearly $6 million for a player that might just be a backup is jarring.

Samuel is entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed with the Falcons upon his acquisition via trade before the 2012 season. And dependent on that source, his release will free up between $4 and $5 million in cap space this year. Samuel just turned 33 at the beginning of January and there aren’t very many cornerbacks over the ages of 31 and 32 that are playing at a high level Throw in the fact that Samuel was benched for the final four games of the 2013 season to make way for young up and comers like Robert Alford, it makes a lot of sense why Samuel will be cut.

Alford is an up and coming player and the Falcons have batted 1.000 when it came to their second round picks becoming starters in their second seasons. Samuel’s presence on the roster could inhibit the Falcons chances to get Alford on the field. Although I think that might be a bit overrated, but more on that later.

But first, let’s remove Robert Alford from the equation. Because how good a player he is has nothing to do with assessing Samuel’s real value. And that value is significant.

There is no doubt that Samuel is coming off a down year. His Pro Football Focus grade was -0.2, with a coverage grade of -2.0 last season, indicating slightly below average production. It clearly wasn’t a very productive year. After recording five interceptions and 19 pass breakups in 2012, that production fell to one and three, respectively, in 2013.

But one of the issues that raises is the difference between production and ability. What sites like Pro Football Focus really measure is production, not ability. Ability is better gauged watching and reviewing games. In terms of production, there was a steep drop for Asante in 2013. But in terms of ability, that drop was negligible.

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Categories: News Tags: , , , ,

2013 Year-End Superlatives: Rookie of the Year

January 16th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant

After earning defensive most valuable player, cornerback Desmond Trufant is an obvious choice for Atlanta Falcons rookie of the year.

Not only did Trufant’s season far exceed any and all expectations for a rookie, but it also was a stellar season by veteran standards. He was constantly around the ball and finished the year with an official tally of 19 pass deflections, matching the production of Asante Samuel from last year, and the most by a Falcons cornerback since Brent Grimes had 23 in 2010.

Trufant showed top-shelf ball skills and was able to match wits with some of the league’s premier wide receivers like Vincent Jackson and Steve Smith, even earning the latter’s respect.

Other potential contenders would have been linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu. Frankly, Worrilow had the sort of season that would be universally considered rookie of the year material (127 tackles, 2 sacks) if not for exceptional play of Trufant.

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

2013 Year-End Superlatives: Defensive MVP

January 15th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant

My choice for the player most deserving of the most valuable player on the Atlanta Falcons is cornerback Desmond Trufant. Safety William Moore was my initial choice during the first half of the season.

Choosing Moore was difficult back in November since he was marginally the best among an unimpressive group of individual defensive performances. The choice didn’t get that much easier by the end of the year because again there wasn’t too many stand-out defenders in 2013 for the Falcons.

Other players under consideration were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who had a very underrated season due to the fact that he only finished with one sack. He was far and away our best defensive lineman over the course of the entire season, but the perennially underrated Babineaux likely won’t get credit for that. Even cornerback Asante Samuel was considered, since I thought he was the better of the two corners when both he and Trufant shared the starting lineup.

But eventually I went with Trufant due to his consistency over the course of the entire season and strong play down the stretch when Samuel was benched in favor of the team’s defensive youth movement. Whatever inconsistencies Trufant had early in the season were largely eradicated over the course of the final weeks where he was far and away our best defensive back. He became the team’s most (and arguably only) reliable playmaker as the season wore on.

Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 “2013 Awards Extravaganza!”

January 14th, 2014 1 comment

Allen and I get together once again to discuss our choices for various awards stemming from the Atlanta Falcons 2013 season. Included are our choices for the team’s most valuable player, offensive and defensive players of the year, most improved player, biggest disappointment, and most underrated and overrated players among several other individual honors. During the course of our discussion, I explain my hatred for Harry Douglas for the umpteenth time, and also where I rank Matt Ryan among the league’s top quarterbacks following his play in 2013. After divvying out our awards, we get into a discussion about the winners and losers from the second round of the playoffs, as well as our expectations for the upcoming conference championship games.

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 55 2013 Awards Extravaganza! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

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

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Takeaways from Wildcard Weekend 2013

January 6th, 2014 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones stands alone in Falcons offense

I got into an interesting Twitter conversation on Sunday in regards to the Atlanta Falcons identity. Or rather, lack there of.

This isn’t a new issue, and the team’s identity crisis really all started when the team mortgaged a good deal of its future to trade up for Julio Jones. After being initially critical of that trade, I have now embraced it following Jones’ transcendent play in last year’s playoff run.

But when Atlanta first made the move, I made comments about the Falcons adopting a new identity signaled by the team’s decision to trade away all those assets for Jones. And the reality is that the Falcons have failed to assume that identity.

The buzz word in 2011 was “explosive” and the Falcons have been anything but that since making the Jones trade. Essentially the team stood pat afterward that move, believing that Jones’ presence alone would be the difference in transforming their offense and leaving behind their run-dominated identity headlined by Michael Turner from 2008-10.

After finishing dead last in the NFL in 2010 in terms of percentage of passing plays that were completions for 20 or more yards, the Falcons made improvement to 18th in 2011. But then fell back to 27th in 2012, and were once again in the cellar this past year at 31st. Only the Washington Redskins fared worse in 2013.

If there is a silver lining, it was that the Falcons weren’t always that bad this year. If you only consider the first five weeks of the year when Jones was healthy, the Falcons ranked 20th. But that still is below average. So while one can say Jones has definitely helped make the Falcons more explosive, they have yet to cross the threshold that indicates a rise above mediocrity. In fact when one looks at the numbers collectively over the past three seasons, the only teams that have been less explosive than the Falcons are ones that have been plagued by poor quarterback play and/or no weapons at wide receiver.

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Moneyball 2013 – Week 17 Review

January 2nd, 2014 Comments off

This was a hard loss for the Atlanta Falcons to review.

And that was mainly because of how poor the offensive line performed. Throughout the year, I have been adamant in the belief that the Falcons haven’t been aggressive enough in terms of their offensive game-planning to try and generate big plays. And I have consistently heard that the Falcons can’t throw down the field because their offensive line is too porous. Well, this was in fact the first game where I saw that belief was a reality. You may recall both of my reviews from Panthers games last year, where I made note of how the Falcons front got whooped. It was the same again this year, but even worse.

I had to check the notes I’ve been keeping since Week 9, but the 23-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez was only the third time since then where the Falcons attempted a deep pass on their opening drive. And the Falcons then tried to go down the field on the second play of their next series, but Roddy White was doubled on a deep in and Matt Ryan settled for a five-yard checkdown to Steven Jackson. Two designed deep plays in the first quarter? That hasn’t happened once since Week 9.

But going back to the protection issues, that latter play was an instance where the Falcons used max protect, with eight blockers to help Ryan. But pressure still got to him on that play, as Greg Hardy was able to beat Lamar Holmes and deliver a hit on Ryan from behind. That wasn’t the only instance where the Falcons used max protect and the Panthers pass rush still managed to beat it.

This game was essentially the Greg Hardy Show. Hardy was a pass deflection away from hitting for the “pass-rushing cycle,” a distinction that Cameron Jordan achieved in Week 12. Hardy finished with four sacks, two pressures, two hits, and a hurry. Almost no blocker was immune from the Wrath of the Kraken, with Justin Blalock being the only member of the starting five that did not get beat by Hardy. Lamar Holmes and Tony Gonzalez were routinely beaten with Holmes getting beat for a sack, hit, pressure, and hurry and Gonzalez giving up 1.5 sacks and half a hit. Gonzalez’s issues signaled poor protections by the Falcons in which there were too many instances where he was asked (along with a chipping running back) to try and block Hardy, and I don’t think it worked once. It was a rough way for Gonzalez to finish his career, being overused as a blocker and performing poorly at it.

I’m ready to give up on Peter Konz. It’s not the fact that Konz was exceptionally bad in this game (he fared worse a year ago). But the skills and tools simply aren’t there with Konz. He’s stiff with poor footwork and hand usage and he just appears to be moving in molasses. It was a complaint I once had for Lamar Holmes last summer when he was coming off injury and a rookie. Konz just doesn’t have an excuse to be as slow as he is. Harland Gunn is by no means a good guard, but he’s much better than Konz because he isn’t slow and makes up for his lack of size and strength with aggression.

Joe Hawley is the goat for this game for his botched snap at the end, although he didn’t have too bad a performance relative to the other blockers. But that probably is because he was the only one not to give up a sack. Ultimately for this game it’s degrees of crappiness, with Hawley and Blalock’s crap doesn’t smell as bad as the other starters.

Offensively, I thought the Falcons did a good job using screen passes to supplement their running game. None of the plays went for more than seven yards, but they were often utilized on first downs instead of running it into the teeth of a good Panthers defensive line. And given our blocking issues, I think that was a smart call on Dirk Koetter’s part.

Roddy White got credited with three drops, which matched his season total up until now. The critical one came in the fourth quarter with the Falcons driving. It happened on a 3rd-and-10, forcing the Falcons to settle for a 37-yard field goal that put them down 21-20. White was running a slant, and the safety was in position to make the tackle before he reached the first down. It was possible he could have broken the tackle and gotten the first, but my bet is that he would have been stopped a yard or two shy. But it begs the question, would Mike Smith had gone for it on 4th-and-1 down four points with 7:14 on the clock? The outcome of that potential decision changes the narrative for this game somewhat, especially if Smitty had opted to kick. The right decision in that situation (at Carolina’s 19-yard line) would have been to go for it. But given all the questionable decisions Smith has made this year, I’m not confident at all that he would have made the right call.

As for the pick-six, I’ll blame both Ryan and Harry Douglas. But that play really signaled exactly what I was referring to a few weeks ago when I discussed the poor rapport of Ryan and Douglas. Ryan stared down the throw from the jump, allowing Melvin White to read it easily. But Douglas clearly was not expecting the ball to come out quickly with White in off-coverage. By the time he turned around to wait for the pass, the ball was already behind him and White made an easy play. I’m sure we’ll continue to hear a lot of things out of Flowery Branch about how Matt Ryan is really comfortable with Harry Douglas but the proof is in the pudding. After two months of him being a primary target and six years of working together, their rapport is worth no more than the pile of crap that the offensive line was. Tom Brady had a great rapport with Wes Welker, but then Julian Edelman emerged this year. That is something that the Falcons should consider when they are making the decision about whether Douglas is worth keeping in 2014.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$11$0$0$0$0$0$11.00
Steven Jackson$0$5$5-$0.5$0$0$9.50
Jason Snelling$0$5$2$0$0$0$7.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$5$0$0$0$5.00
Roddy White$0$0$2$1$0-$1$2.00
Patrick DiMarco$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Harland Gunn$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00
Joe Hawley$0$0$0$1$0-$2-$1.00
Lamar Holmes$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00
TEAM$0$0$0$0$0-$1-$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$1-$2.5$0$0-$1.50
Ryan Schraeder$0$0$0-$2$0$0-$2.00

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 53 “Harry Douglas Ruins Dreams”

December 31st, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by another Falcoholic contributor, the ever-optimistic Jeanna Thomas, to discuss the Atlanta Falcons last two games of the year against the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers in Weeks 16 and 17. Topics we hit include the battle between Steven Jackson and Donte Whitner, the problems that plague the offensive line, the refusal to play Antone Smith, and the outlook of some young players: Peter Konz, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford. We also discuss how injury will affect the future of Corey Peters, as well as the possibility that the team’s good intentions sabotaged Tony Gonzalez’s final game. We end the show discussing some of the things we saw around the league in Week 17, as I gloat over Allen about the Eagles win over the Cowboys. We each give our predictions about which teams could emerge in the first round of the playoffs to make a legit run at the Super Bowl in February.

Episode53-Harry Douglas Ruins Dreams [Download]
Duration: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Jeanna writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @jeannathomas.

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

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Gonzalez Bids Farewell in Falcons 21-20 Loss to Panthers

December 29th, 2013 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons owner Arthur Blank honors Tony Gonzalez at halftime

The Atlanta Falcons finished a disappointing 2013 season with a disappointing 21-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers at home. The Falcons record fell to 4-12, their first losing record under head coach Mike Smith in six seasons. The home loss also marked the farewell game of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who heads to retirement after 17 Hall of Fame-worthy seasons in the NFL. Gonzalez played his last five here in Atlanta after a dozen in Kansas City with the Chiefs. He finishes his career as the all-time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns for tight ends.

Matt Ryan got off to a good start and finished the game completing 28 of 40 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Steven Jackson led rushers with 41 yards on 13 carries, and also added five receptions for 53 yards. Roddy White led receivers with eight grabs for 91 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown. Jason Snelling snagged Ryan’s other touchdown pass on a nine-yard score, and finished the game with a pair of catches for 15 yards. Gonzalez finished with four catches for 56 yards, while Harry Douglas added seven catches for 58 yards. Matt Bryant connected on both of his field goal tries from 42 and 37 yards. Matt Bosher punted five times for an average of 48.4 yards, placing two of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain had a trio of punt returns for 34 yards, while none of the Panthers kickoffs were returned thanks to four touchbacks. The Falcons was able to generate 307 total yards, but were limited by nine sacks allowed. It marked the largest sack allowance since December 2001. Ryan’s interception also gifted Carolina seven points due to an eight-yard return on a pick-six by Panthers cornerback Melvin White. The Falcons were unable to score touchdowns on two of their three red zone trips, but did manage to convert 44 percent of 16 third-down conversion tries.

Defensively, the Falcons were sharp, only allowed 283 total yards by the Panthers. However, 134 yards came on the ground as the Falcons struggled to handle the scrambling ability of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Newton led his team with 72 yards rushing. The Falcons did generate two turnovers, with William Moore intercepting a tipped pass and Desmond Trufant recovering a fumble by DeAngelo Williams. But the Panthers were able to convert both of their red zone trips into touchdowns and converted 47 percent of their 15 third-down attempts. Paul Worrilow led the team with 13 tackles and tallied the team’s lone sack and hit on the quarterback on the day. Robert Alford (three tackles, one forced fumble); Jonathan Babineaux (four tackles); Joplo Bartu (six tackles, two tackle for loss); Peria Jerry (three tackles, one tackle for loss); Jonathan Massaquoi (four tackles); Cliff Matthews (four tackles); William Moore (two tackles, one interception); Stephen Nicholas (four tackles); and Desmond Trufant (five tackles, one pass deflection, one fumble recovery) had noteworthy performances.

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