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2013 Key Player: Steven Jackson

June 13th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson’s rushing ability could take pressure of Matt Ryan

Yesterday, I discussed the type of role running back Steven Jackson could have with the Falcons. Jackson hopes to show the world that he still has something left in the tank and will help add physicality to the Falcons ground attack that was lacking a year ago. The more the Falcons get from Jackson, the better served they will be in 2013.

I compared Jackson potentially in 2013 to running back Corey Dillon and what he provided the New England Patriots in 2004. Dillon looked washed up in Cincinnati, as years of playing on a bad team took their toll in 2003. He lost his starting job to Rudi Johnson that year and finished the season with 541 rushing yards on 138 carries (3.9 avg) and 2 touchdowns, all career lows. Dillon had a reputation then as being a malcontent, openly pouting over the Bengals losing ways for years. But he had a resurgence with the Patriots, rushing for 1,635 yards on 345 carries (4.7 avg) and 12 touchdowns, all of which represented career highs. And helped lead the Patriots to what currently is their last Super Bowl win in that year. The Patriots went from one of the weaker rushing attacks a year prior under Antowain Smith, who previously had been their workhorse in two previous championships, to one of the top rushing units in the league in 2004.

Jackson hopes to do the same in Atlanta. The major difference between Jackson and Dillon is the perception about their character. Dillon was seen as a risky gamble by Bill Belichick bringing in a player that had been labeled as a bad guy. There is no such risk with Jackson, who is considered one of the higher character players in the NFL. Jackson had moments of immaturity early in his career, but has since developed into the type of player that owners and coaches don’t mind fronting their franchise, as he did for years on bad St. Louis Rams teams in the post-Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk Era. Jackson comes from a Rams team that has eight consecutive seasons where they missed the playoffs. The only time Jackson has smelled the postseason was his rookie season when he was a reserve behind Faulk. That gives Jackson great motivation here in Atlanta as he likely gets his first opportunity to showcase that he can add value to a winning team, not just be the lone bright spot on a bad one.

Similarly to the 2003 Patriots, the 2012 Falcons were one of the league’s worst rushing teams. That year, the Patriots ranked 27th in the league in rushing offense and 30th in average yards per carry. The 2012 Falcons were similarly bad in those categories, respectively ranking 29th in both last year. Dillon helped improve the Patriots to 7th and 18th in those respective categories in 2004, and the Falcons hope to get sparked by Jackson for similar improvement. The Falcons had to rely almost solely on their passing attack last year to effectively move the ball, rushing the ball on only 37% of their offensive plays, the seventh lowest percentage in the league. None of the teams that finished lower than the Falcons had winning records. In fact, the Falcons were only one of three teams (the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts being the others) that were below the league average of having 42.3% of their total offensive plays being runs and finish with a winning record. It goes back to the old adage of “throw to score, run to win.”

The Falcons didn’t need to run the ball late in games when they held leads largely due to the prolific nature of their passing attack. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez all played at elite levels in 2012 for much if not all of the year.  When you have your four best players all playing the best they’ve played in four or more years, the need for balance isn’t necessary. But despite the likelihood that all four continue to play well in 2013, the Falcons probably can’t realistically expect a repeat of that performance.

That’s where Jackson and the ground game should come in handy to try and pick up any lost slack. In an ideal world, the Falcons will be able to generate earlier leads in games, and then use Jackson late as a hammer to finish off their opponents with his physical, hard-nosed rushing style. Last year, in the second halves of games, the Falcons ran the ball on 38.8% of their offensive plays, a percentage good enough only to rank them 23rd in the league. The next lowest playoff team were the Indianapolis Colts at 42.7% and 18th ranked.

Jackson’s ability to contribute both as a pass protector and pass catcher will also make him valuable when building those early leads. The Falcons aren’t going to suddenly not be a pass-first team, but if there can be a couple of games throughout the year here and there where the Falcons can feed Jackson and get good production, it will greatly help. Michael Turner had only 2 100-yard games last year. He’s had 8 in the past two seasons, but in 5 of those games he had at least one carry for 40 or more yards, making up the bulk of his production. The Falcons would like to see a handful of games where Jackson reaches the century mark, particularly games where Jackson’s can rush the ball 20 or more times, indicating that the Falcons were able to effectively control the line of scrimmage and play with a lead.

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Scouting Report: Steven Jackson

June 12th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson

It’s time to look at the Falcons signature offensive free agent addition in running back Steven Jackson.

In fact, one could argue the Falcons made a mistake by not trading for Jackson at the trade deadline last fall, as the boost he could have potentially provided down the stretch could have meant the difference between the Falcons losing in the NFC Championship Game and going to the Super Bowl. The Falcons appear to believe that acquiring Jackson later is better than never. But let’s first look at Jackson’s skillset before talking about what exactly he could bring to the table in 2013. Once again, the grading system is based on a ten-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

SKILLS

Speed (5.0) – Jackson possesses good burst and hits the hole quickly. He however lacks the long speed to be particularly dangerous on the second level. He’s never been a back known for his ability to break long runs having 31 runs of 20 or more yards in his 9-year career. In comparison to Michael Turner, who had 45 in his 5 years in Atlanta and 29 between 2008-10. Jackson’s running style is more suited to being a volume back that can consistently get gains of 3-7 yards per run and wear down opponents over time.

Power (8.0) – Jackson runs with great authority, toughness, and physicality. He’s not afraid of contact and will consistently crave it. He consistently keeps his feet churning after initial contact and in traffic, allowing him to consistently add yards here and there. While not a player that is going to run over every defender, he does make it so that he’s not easy to bring down which can help wear down defenses. As a volume runner that can make him most effective in the fourth quarter.

Agility (6.0) – Jackson possesses good lateral agility and quickness, able to side-step defenders in the hole. He shows good burst out of his cuts, as he’s comfortable working inside and on the edge. His agility makes him an effective one-cut runner when working on stretch plays and other zone blocking runs. He is able to make a defender miss on the second level and bounce plays to the edge, although again his lack of ideal speed limits his ability to generate big plays in those instances.

Vision (7.0) – Jackson has good vision to the hole, able to run to daylight and due to his power, burst, and lateral quickness, he can exploit it. But his declining skill in those areas doesn’t allow him to always do so to the level he once did in the past. There will be many runs where he’ll run into traffic and use his size and power to make a hole where there is none.

Hands (7.0) – He possesses good hands and is comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. He’ll drop some passes on occasion, but considering his relatively high volume of targets and opportunities, it’s a fairly low percentage. He is able to secure the ball and then square his shoulders to get downfield to run hard after the catch.

Blocking (7.0) – He is an experienced pass protector having served in that role for the Rams for a number of years. His reps were cut down last year in part due to the presence of Daryl Richardson, and also do to the Rams new offense preferring to spread the field and limiting how much backs were asked to block. His size and physicality makes him more than capable of squaring up a defensive linemen coming off the edge or up the middle.

OVERVIEW

Jackson isn’t the player he once was. Five years ago, he was in the mix for being one of the top backs in the league a notch below players like Adrian Peterson. Similarly, Jackson possesses all the tools you look for in a top back, size, speed, power, pass catching ability, quickness, and agility. And despite languishing on bad Rams teams for years, he was be able to showcase these skills. So even while his production never matched that of a player like Michael Turner in his heyday in Atlanta, I always considered Jackson to be the superior back.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 25 “Free Agency Preview” Parts 2 & 3

March 12th, 2013 Comments off

Click here to listen to Part 1.

Part 2:

Allen Strk joins me to discuss the upcoming free agent market. We look at some possible signings the Falcons could make including pass rushers like Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett. We also look at possible running back options such as Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw, and whether improving the running game should be a priority. You’ll also hear ourr thoughts on Matt Ryan’s looming monster contract, as well as our opinions of some other Falcon players like Jacquizz Rodgers, Peria Jerry, and Vance Walker.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 2 [Download]

Duration: 35 minutes

Part 3:

Allen and I finish our discussion of free agency, by looking at some of the defensive tackles and tight ends the Falcons could be looking at both in March and April. We’ll break down what we see are the off-season’s priorities, as well as look ahead to 2013 to see what competition the Falcons will face and whether it culminates with a Lombardi Trophy in Flowery Branch.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 3 [Download]

Duration: 29 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. 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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 25 “Free Agency Preview” Part 1

March 11th, 2013 1 comment

I am joined once again by Allen Strk, to preview and discuss free agency. In this first of three-part episode, we discussed the Falcons free agent moves made on Saturday with the re-signings of William Moore and Garrett Reynolds. We also discuss the cuts the Falcons made a week ago by parting ways with Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner, and John Abraham. There is also discussion of impending free agents Sam Baker, Brent Grimes, among other Falcons that are set to hit the market.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 1 [Download]

Duration: 30 minutes

Click here to listen to Parts 2 and 3.

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. 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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Takeaways from Last Week – March 4

March 4th, 2013 Comments off
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think Flacco needs to be too concerned over car payments now.

With much of the details of Joe Flacco’s new record-breaking $120.6 million contract being released on Sunday night, we now have a blueprint for what Matt Ryan’s new deal will look like. The only real question is at what point does Ryan sign on the dotted line.

I wrote earlier that I figured that Ryan would be signed sometime this summer because I did not expect Flacco’s deal to get done so quickly. Kudos to Ozzie Newsome & Co. for speeding up the process. The Ravens have a number of good free agents that they need to re-sign this off-season, and avoiding the monster $20 million franchise tag that Flacco would have incurred should allow them to keep many of them. Now, Flacco’s cap hit in 2013 is reportedly around $6.8 million, essentially freeing up $13 million in cap space.

When the Ryan deal gets done, it’s likely that the Falcons will also reap cap benefits, although I’m not sure as much. Ryan is set to count $12 million against this year’s salary cap, but I would expect the first year cap hit of his new deal to be in the ballpark of Flacco, which probably means somewhere around $5-6 million savings.

The interesting things about Flacco’s deal are the payouts in Year 1 ($30 million), Year 2 ($51 million) and Year 3 ($62 million). The latter two figures exceed that of Drew Brees, although Brees was paid $40 million in the first year of his new deal. $52 million of Flacco’s contract is guaranteed, while the number was reportedly $60 million for Brees. Remember, Brees is represented by Tom Condon, who also represents Matt Ryan. It’s in Condon’s best interest to try and reclaim the biggest contract awarded to a quarterback, although that clearly may not be in the Falcons’ best interest. So likely a middle ground will need to be reached. And that could take time. Which makes me believe that we will see Ryan comes to terms later rather than sooner. It may not last until July at this point, but I’m not optimistic that a deal will get done before March 12, when those cap savings could be very beneficial to the Falcons as they shop for new players.

As of Friday, reports were that the Falcons had yet to engage in serious talks with Ryan.

The other news that the Falcons made on Friday was the release of three veterans in John Abraham, Dunta Robinson, and Michael Turner. The Turner move was expected, and was a long time coming. I was not convinced the Falcons would dump Dunta, as it leaves a pretty large hole at cornerback. Instead, I expected the Falcons to restructure Dunta’s deal to have him return in 2013 at a more cap-friendly price. Abraham was the surprise move, as it had been hinted at but I don’t think anybody expected the Falcons to actually part ways with him. Abraham was the team’s entire pass rush practically, and the team has already proclaimed that improving there will be an off-season priority. So on Friday, the Falcons essentially took a step back in order to take several steps forward.

I really don’t know what the Falcons “plan’ is going forward. I suspect they will be targeting pass rushers early in the draft, but does it mean that they will also be looking for free agents to sign?

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Falcons let go of Turner, Robinson, and Abraham

March 1st, 2013 Comments off

Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Falcons part ways with John Abraham

Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted early Friday morning that the Falcons are expected to make three bold moves today by releasing running back Michael Turner, cornerback Dunta Robinson, and defensive end John Abraham. The move has since been confirmed by the team’s official site. The move to cut Turner has long been expected after a lackluster 2012 season for the veteran runner. Robinson’s status seemed iffy, although the value of his play on the field didn’t appear to match the value that would be reaped in cap savings if cut loose. Abraham’s future seemed to be a bit less tenuous given he led the team in 2012 with 10 sacks. Per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC, the Falcons have now saved roughly $16 million in cap space for 2013. Brian McIntyre of NFL.com puts the cap savings higher, approaching $19 million.

Turner is coming off a year where he led the Falcons in rushing, but only had 800 yards on 222 carries (3.6 avg) and 10 touchdowns. For his career, Turner played five seasons with the Falcons, rushing for 6,081 yards and 60 touchdowns, placing him second all-time on the team’s rushing yards list, and first on rushing touchdowns. Turner was the Falcons first major move of the Dimitroff-Smith Era back in 2008, being signed by the team at the start of free agency. He proved to be the foundation of the Falcons offense for the next three years, but with the continued growth of Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing game began to take a backseat on offense in 2011. That ultimately culminated with a 2012 season where many believed that his backup, Jacquizz Rodgers was the better option in the starting lineup. The Falcons freed up about $6 million in cap space by cutting Turner.

Robinson had a bit of a resurgent year in 2012 after struggling in 2011. But he still had issues in coverage, despite being able to make more plays vs. the run and as a blitzer off the edge. Robinson was signed by the Falcons in 2010 to one of the biggest contracts given to a corner. He was expected to be a No. 1 corner for the team, helping solve the issues that plagued a porous secondary in recent years. But in 2010, Brent Grimes emerged as the team’s de facto top corner, and Robinson had mediocre production. Grimes is now a free agent, and the potential of his return is possibly helped by Robinson’s release. Previous reports indicated that the Falcons would free up roughly $6 million by releasing Robinson, although Ledbetter indicates that number is closer to $4 million.

Abraham first joined the Falcons in 2006, when the team parted ways with their No. 1 pick to acquire him from the New York Jets. His first year in Atlanta was an injury-plagued season where he only played in 8 games. He rebounded the following year, and led the team in sacks both in 2007 (10 sacks) and 2008 (16.5). He had a down 2009 season where he only had 5.5 sacks, but bounced back in 2010 with a 13-sack season, once again being the leader on the team. He has led the team in each of the past two seasons. Over seven years in Atlanta, Abraham has collected a total of 68.5 sacks, which ranks only behind Claude Humphrey on the team’s all-time list. Ledbetter indicates the Falcons freed up nearly $6 million in cap space by cutting Abraham.

It’s possible that the Falcons could re-sign any of the trio back to much cheaper deals. Although one could expect all three players will test the market in order to see where their statuses lie. Given his recent production, it would seem likely Abraham probably stands the best odds to sign a lucrative deal elsewhere. The Falcons have been linked to a number of potential free agents that could be replacements for either.

Rams running back Steven Jackson has been rumored to be on the Falcons radar. Pass rushers like former Colts end Dwight Freeney has also been connected to the Falcons.

Falcons Needs: Running Back

January 31st, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Turner

After highlighting the Falcons needs at the quarterback position, it’s time to move onto running back. It seems likely that the Falcons will cut Michael Turner in the off-season, a move that will come a year later than it should have. That will make running back one of the more immediate needs of the team.

Turner will leave a significant hole on the Falcons roster, as the lead back he was able to get about 250 touches this past year, even with a purposefully reduced workload. One of the issues that faced Turner in 2012 was the fact that his legs looked very worn and old. And thus it’s likely that the Falcons will opt for a runner with fresh legs. That leads one to believe the Falcons will opt for a draft pick instead of a free agent signing to fill Turner’s shoes.

While Jacquizz Rodgers flashed ability, the Falcons probably should not expect Rodgers to step up and be that lead back. Last season, Rodgers had 5 games in which he carried the ball 10 or more times. In those games, he rushed for a combined 202 yards on 51 carries with 1 touchdown. That’s good for nearly 4 yards per carry (3.96). But 65 of those yards came on two big runs: his 45-yard run against the Seahawks in the playoffs, and a 20-yard run against the Bucs in Week 12. Excluding those two runs, he was averaging about 2.80 yards on 49 carries. That’s not a figure that suggests Rodgers possesses the ability to be consistent if/when his workload doubles as the lead back.

Jason Snelling has shown himself to be a functional starter in the absence of Turner in past years. He looked relatively sharp when he was able to get a significant workload last year, but was rarely used until the final month of the season. Again, the Falcons can’t assume that either he or Rodgers will be able to step in and produce with an increased workload. The simple truth is that while both players flashed ability from time to time, their flashes were no less sporadic than Turner’s throughout the 2012 season.

Instead, the Falcons need to look for another back to at least split the workload with Rodgers and Snelling, if not surpass them as the lead rusher. The problem with signing free agents is that their window for production is much smaller because most are near the end of their primes, which ranges from about age 27 to 28 for NFL running backs.

One of the primary skills that the Falcons new running back should have is the ability to produce on third down. That was an area of weakness with Turner, and the Falcons should want their new runner to offer equal if not more value there than Rodgers and Snelling. Another area that the new back should excel in is his ability to generate explosive plays on the ground. During Turner’s early days in Atlanta, his explosiveness was a big key to his success and the offense’s success. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Falcons want a pure speed back, as they should be looking for someone that has the physicality to run effectively between the tackles and be able to take the pounding of getting 15-20 carries each week for a full season. All of those requirements likely lend itself to the Falcons drafting a back in the earlier rounds come April. The key is for the Falcons to have three largely interchangeable backs when it comes to their offensive attack, which will again primarily be a pass-first unit. But through at least competition, the goal will be that one player emerges as the go-to option that can be successful on early downs and help take pressure off the passing game on third downs and in the redzone.

Antone Smith is also a restricted free agent that will likely be retained due to his prowess on special teams.

Takeaways from Championship Weekend

January 23rd, 2013 2 comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan deserves a new deal.

I was late in posting the recap of the Falcons-49er game partially because of my attendance at the game didn’t really give me access to a computer afterwards. That was followed up by my car breaking down Monday on my return trip to North Carolina, which consumed all my energy then and the following day. All in all, it was not a great weekend for me.

But I really needed some time and energy to digest the loss. I was never distraught over it, but it was highly disappointing. While some may label the Falcons as chokers, I don’t see it that way. Did they blow the game? Yes. They had a lead, didn’t hold it, but they had an opportunity at the end of the game to win it. They just didn’t. I’m not going to sit here like many have done over the past 72 hours and try and find a scapegoat. The 49ers were widely considered to be a better team than the Falcons, and thus their win over the Falcons is not a surprise. The Broncos were 10-point favorites over the Ravens. Their loss was a chokejob especially given the outright impossibility of the now infamous Rahim Moore blown coverage. The Broncos played uncharacteristic in that game. Peyton Manning looked a little gun shy, Champ Bailey looked old, and they even got a pair of special teams touchdowns, which had never happened in a playoff game. Teams with a pair of special teams touchdowns since 1970 are 31-7 in games. That was a chokejob.

With the Falcons being the underdogs in the game, I don’t think they choked. They had ample opportunities to win the game, they did not.

It’s more disappointing because of what I wrote about in mid-November. This was likely the Falcons best chance to be in the Super Bowl in the foreseeable future. I still believe that. Matt Ryan played the best football we’ve seen him play. What’s interesting to me is that after posting that piece, I think we started to see a significant decline in Ryan’s game, and he sort of “reverted” back to his older self as opposed to playing at the MVP level he was for the first half of 2012. I think that reversion began with his 5-interception performance against the Cardinals. Now don’t get me wrong, a “reverted” Matt Ryan is still a Top 10 quarterback, so if you hear or see any Falcon fans complaining about Matt Ryan, then my suggestion is to punch them in the face. Matt Ryan may not be as good as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady, but anybody that is unsatisfied with his performance over the past five years or this past season is a lunatic. Anybody that is still questioning Ryan’s ability to win in January, should only look at those four quarterbacks and their recent playoff success (or lack thereof). Even the great ones play poorly in January, and Ryan certainly outperformed those elite guys this past January.

Ryan certainly deserves to get a big-time extension this off-season. And my expectation is that it will make him one of the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. That likely will exceed $16 million per year, and possibly approach $18 or $19 million per year, which would put him just behind Drew Brees ($20M/yr.) and Peyton Manning ($19.2M/yr.) (per Spotrac) as the highest paid QBs in the league. His guaranteed money will probably be in the $40 to $50 million range. It’s a very high premium, but when you think about the stability it potentially provides the Falcons for the next 5-7 years it is well worth it in my opinion. And it actually should help alleviate cap space for the Falcons as Ryan’s cap hit of $10 million in 2013 could potentially be cut in half if the Falcons structure the new deal appropriately.

The downside of such a deal means that the Falcons cap space will be limited in future years, and thus they will have to recommit to the draft which they have not done in recent years. They have traded a first or second round pick in each of the past three drafts. That can’t happen, as the Falcons won’t be able to spend as much on the open market in future years due to the high price that will be annually paid to Ryan. But that is not too much of a downside, because I think that’s exactly how Thomas Dimitroff likes it. It just means that the margin for error grows even smaller, and the Falcons can’t have any more Peria Jerry picks.

As for what the Falcons do in the off-season, nothing really has changed in terms of assessing how the year ended. We’ve known all year long that the Falcons need to become a more balanced offense by improving the ground attack. Michael Turner is likely gone. The Falcons should look to replace him with some fresh legs in the draft. The offensive line held up better down the stretch than I certainly expected after a fairly lackluster regular season. So the Falcons don’t need to make sweeping changes there. They should look to get a new right guard, as I still think Peter Konz is better suited to playing center. Maybe they can find someone in free agency, such as Buffalo’s Andy Levitre. They need to find a young replacement for Tony Gonzalez, which we’ve known for several years was a move that was inevitable.

Defensively, the Falcons need to upgrade their pass rush. Their inability to cover tight ends probably also means they need to look into getting a good coverage linebacker. Stephen Nicholas did an admirable job, but similar to Curtis Lofton he’s just not cut out to be an everydown player. But ever since Darren Sproles made Sean Weatherspoon look silly, we’ve known we needed upgrades there. And the Falcons will need to make a decision about the relative futures of Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. Grimes is a free agent and Robinson is due a high $8 million salary, $3 million of which becomes guaranteed if he’s on the team as of the fifth day of the new league year (approximiately March 16). Do the Falcons want to keep either one or go in a new direction with another young corner? I think Robert McClain had a good season, but I don’t think the Falcons should turn over a starting position to him just yet. Considering that Asante Samuel is also up there in age, I think McClain instead should be groomed as his long-term replacement. McClain is a restricted free agent following 2013, and dependent on his performance this upcoming season will determine if he’s in the long-term plans of the team. Again, given Samuel’s age, probably the smart strategy is try to get younger. The free agent market isn’t overly strong, so it probably behooves the Falcons to look for a corner on either the first or second day of the draft come April.

Of their own free agents, William Moore and Sam Baker are the two guys that they probably cannot afford to let walk. Alongside Spoon, Moore is the only impact player on the defensive side of the ball that is in the prime of his career. Baker has played well enough to earn a new contract. I’m not 100% sold that he won’t revert back to his subpar pre-2012 form, but I think his play certainly merits a new deal. And the Falcons can still develop Lamar Holmes as an insurance policy, and give him the much-needed time I believe he needs before he’s ready to be a starter.

Those are basically the needs the Falcons need to address this off-season. Will they be able to solve all of those problems this off-season? Probably not. I personally would prioritize upgrading the offensive line at right guard, but it would not surprise me if the Falcons instead opt to make additions at running back and tight end bigger priorities offensively given they could probably live with a combination of Konz, Hawley, and/or Mike Johnson at center and right guard next year. Defensively, their priority is going to be upgrading the pass rush which could be either by adding a young edge rusher as the heir apparent to John Abraham, or an interior presence to succeed Jonathan Babineaux. Babineaux and Corey Peters are both entering the final years of their contracts, while both Abraham and Biermann have two years left. So don’t be surprised if the Falcons are more interested in defensive tackles this spring in the pre-draft process than edge rushers.

Scouting the 49ers: How Atlanta Matches Up

January 18th, 2013 Comments off
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Colin Kaepernick runs away, over, and through the Packers defense

As I did a week ago in preparation for the Seattle Seahawks matchup, I went back and watched several San Francisco 49ers games over the past two days. I really wanted to take a more in-depth look at the team that most of the football-watching world feels will be the NFC representative in this year’s Super Bowl XLVII.

For much of this year I have considered the 49ers to be the premier team in the NFC, even ahead of my beloved Falcons. And from watching the film, my opinion has not changed.

Yes, I’m saying the 49ers are a better team than the Falcons. But that is not the same as saying the 49ers will be a better team on Sunday, nor is it is saying they will beat the Falcons. The 49ers are a team that are very similar to the Seahawks, except probably better in a lot of the same areas. The Falcons playing Seattle last week was probably the best possible preparation for this game as they won’t have to drastically change their gameplan from a week ago due to many of those similarities between the two teams. But the 49ers do present a number of interesting challenges for the Falcons.

Much has been made about Colin Kaepernick and the read-option as he absolutely ran circles around Green Bay’s defense last week. Although I think as it applies this week, it has been much ado about nothing. This will not be the Falcons first rodeo when it comes to the read-option, unlike the Packers. The Falcons have now faced Cam Newton twice, Robert Griffin, and last week saw Russell Wilson. The Panthers, Redskins, and Seahawks did not appear on the Packers schedule this year. They were ill-prepared for what Kaepernick and that play could do against them. The Falcons will have no such excuses. Only the Dallas Cowboys have played as many games (5) against read-option teams as the Falcons. The Falcons haven’t shut down the read-option, but with the stakes this high it would be a major surprise if it’s a deciding factor in the game as it was a week ago against Green Bay.

Kaepernick is a dangerous quarterback because he specializes in big plays. He is one of the league’s best vertical passers, completing a league-high 60% of throws over twenty yards, and anybody that saw only the highlights of last week’s game knows how deadly he can be with his legs.

That is where he is most dangerous, with his legs. He is blessed with deceptive speed due to his long strides. If he can get to a corner, your defense is going to be in trouble because he’s going to run right by you. Often times watching the 49ers on tape, he’s 10 or 15 yards downfield before the defense can even react to him. The Falcons employed a lot of zone against the Seahawks last week due to the fact that they wanted most of their defenders to keep their eyes on Russell Wilson, to try and defend against his scrambling ability. Wilson presented similar challenges, but not all running quarterbacks are built the same.

Due to Wilson’s shorter stature, he struggled throwing from the pocket. It was important for the Falcons defense to try and contain him to the pocket. That is really not the same challenge that Kaepernick presents. If you confine him to the pocket, he’s going to pick you apart because that is not where he struggles. He’s very tall and has no issues locating throwing lanes unlike Wilson. Surprisingly, getting Kaepernick outside the pocket seemed to work well for defenses from what I saw on tape. His shoddy footwork and mechanics causes him to struggle to reset his feet and square his shoulders when throwing on the run, resulting in a lot of off-target passes. So there’s a bit of a risk-reward. If you can flush him, it can make him into a much less efficient passer, but also it increases the risk he gets to the outside and uses his legs for a big gain.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Mike Nolan tries to deal with that. I don’t think you can really mush rush Kaepernick quite like you could with Wilson. While you definitely don’t want to get out of your lanes with him as he can easily step up and run for big yardage, I do think you want to make a much more concerted effort to get pressure on him. Against the Rams and Seahawks, it seemed like edge pressure really gave him fits at times. John Abraham is sporting a bum ankle, and there’s no doubt that he will play in this game. But there’s also no doubt that he won’t be at full strength. Basically you’re crossing your fingers at this point that Abe pulls a gutsy performance and manages to make an impact in this game basically on one leg.

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Moneyball 2012 – Week 19 Review

January 15th, 2013 Comments off

This was a solid performance by the Falcons. The Falcons were able to get off to a fast start, something they’ve been inconsistent doing throughout the regular season. Because of a lack of a run game, this team is better as front-runners. But the surprising thing about this Seahawk game was that the Falcons were very effective running the football.

Michael Turner did a good job breaking tackles and getting yards after contact, something he has been doing less and less with time. But Turner has done this a couple of times this year, where he has a good game the weeks following when people are most down on him. Jacquizz Rodgers also had a good game, with his 45-yard jaunt being one of the highlights of the game. The blocking was solid as the Falcons did a much better job than expected creating push up the middle, but they also did an excellent job attacking the edges, with both Rodgers and Turner having some good gains off cutbacks. This was the best game I’ve seen Peter Konz play as he was fairly effective going one on one with the likes of Red Bryant and others.

The offensive line also did an excellent job in pass protection, with myself counting only 1 hurry (on Gonzalez) and 1 pressure. I figured the loss of Chris Clemons would play very well into the Falcons favor, and basically the Seahawks pass rush was a non-factor in this game.

Matt Ryan had a very good game, thanks to his receivers winning for him on the outside and the solid pass protection. Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez all did a great job, with Harry Douglas and Chase Coffman making some money catches.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$15$0$0$0$0$0$15.00
Michael Turner$0$12$0-$1$0$0$11.00
Roddy White$0$0$6$1$0$0$7.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$5$0$1$0$0$6.00
Julio Jones$0$0$5$0$0-$1$4.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$5$0-$1$4.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$2$1$0$0$3.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$2$0-$1$1.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Chase Coffman$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$1$0$0$1.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$1$0$0$0$1.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00

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