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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Defensive End

July 20th, 2014 No comments

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Tyson Jackson

The Atlanta Falcons are undergoing a revamp of their defensive fronts this year, and it will begin with the defensive end position.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have employed a multiple defense, which means it is not strictly a 4-3, nor is it a 3-4 scheme. It’s a hybrid between the two and for the most part over the two years that Nolan has been in Atlanta, it could be most accurately termed a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 principles.

But things might change in 2014 as the Falcons may flip it, opting for a 3-4 scheme with 4-3 principles instead. That change is signaled by the team’s expensive additions up front this offseason, including defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Jackson spent the past five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs playing in a 3-4 scheme, and is the second-highest paid defensive lineman on the roster behind only nose tackle Paul Soliai. Given that level of investment and the fact that Jackson has little experience playing in a 4-3, it does appear that at least for the team’s base packages, the Falcons will feature a lot more three-man fronts.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 23 Tyson Jackson

July 18th, 2014 No comments
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Jackson

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 23rd-ranked player: defensive end Tyson Jackson.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 52/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 58/100
Teams he is starter: 13 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 22 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +3

Jackson was one of the Falcons big, splash signings at the outset of free agency this year. He was brought in likely because he is an experienced 3-4 defensive end that he can beef up the Falcons run defense.

Jackson had a slow start to his career, and it would not be unfair to call him one of the bigger draft busts in recent memory. The Kansas City Chiefs envisioned their own version of Richard Seymour when they selected him third overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Jackson never lived up to that billing, struggling during his first two seasons when he got on the field. But things started to click by 2011 and he started to carry his own weight.

Now Jackson comes to Atlanta, where he’s presumably expected to be a bridge until players like Malliciah Goodman and Ra’Shede Hageman are ready to take on his role. The five-year contract he signed with the Falcons make it so that it’s unlikely he’ll make it to the third season when his cap hit bloats to $6.35 million.

In the meantime, the Falcons will likely expect Jackson to add value by his ability to shield linebackers from blockers and clog running lanes. His pass-rush ability is limited due to a lack of quickness and limited array of moves.

Ideally, and this was the case in Kansas City, he’ll be pulled off the field in nickel situations. Unfortunately, unless defensive tackle Corey Peters is healthy for most of the year, the Falcons may give Jackson a significant portion of pass-rush snaps because there may not be better options right now. Jackson would likely play inside in a four-man front next to Jonathan Babineaux in those situations, where perhaps what limited quickness he does possess might be functional against slow-footed guards.

But essentially Jackson is nothing more than a highly-paid role player, that is a good enough run stopper that he adds some value in a 3-4 scheme, but not enough where he is going to be as an essential piece of a good defense.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 16, 2014

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

Sean Weatherspoon

Once again, the Atlanta Falcons have lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to a major injury. This time it is for the rest of 2014 due to a torn Achilles heel which he suffered last Tuesday during practice.

There seems to be three presiding theories on what Weatherspoon’s impending absence will mean to the Falcons.

There’s the conservative theory that losing Spoon is not a huge loss. The presences of second-year linebackers in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu will allow the Falcons defense to navigate the loss of its leader to a competent level.

This theory makes sense given Worrilow and Bartu had to perform the same task a year ago as undrafted rookies. They certainly will be better prepared to fill Spoon’s shoes with a full year under their belts.

But it still does not adequately encompass the loss of Spoon on the field. Which creates the second theory: that Spoon’s absence will have a dramatic negative effect on the team’s defense in 2014.

That is also somewhat fair given the simple fact that neither Worrilow and Bartu are Sean Weatherspoon.

Falcons Have a Leadership Void That Needs to be Filled

Weatherspoon was the defensive leader for a reason. That being that he is one of the team’s best players on the field and has a natural outgoing personality that makes him capable of adopting a leadership role. Neither Worrilow nor Bartu are of Spoon’s talent level on the field, and while Worrilow especially, has shown solid leadership traits, he is not the defensive leader.

Leadership in the National Football League often comes simply from the fact that you’re the best player on the field. Leaders are supposed to rally the troops and when the team needs it and have to be the guys to step up in the face of adversity. Simply put, you can’t lead from the bench.

That being said, it would be more advantageous for the Falcons if Desmond Trufant was the second-year player that stepped up and took on a leadership role in Spoon’s absence versus either Worrilow or Bartu. Trufant was the team’s best defender a year ago and he’ll need to have possibly an even better second season to follow up. Other players like William Moore, Jonathan Babineaux, Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi will also have to step up in the locker room as well as produce on the field.

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Draft Needs: More Beef Needed on Falcons Defensive Interior?

April 30th, 2014 1 comment
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Malliciah Goodman

An offseason priority for the Atlanta Falcons was “toughening up” their team, with an emphasis on bulking up on both lines of scrimmage. The team did just that when they opened up free agency by signing defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

For many, it signaled that the Falcons were moving to a 3-4 scheme. Why else would would they guarantee $25 million to players that have spent the bulk of their careers playing in that defensive scheme? While Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has coached both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, prior to his arrival in Atlanta he had not coached a defense with a 4-3 as their base scheme in seven years. Nolan’s history signaled a clear preference for the 3-4 defense, and the signings of Soliai and Jackson appeared to be that preference finally coming to fruition in Atlanta after two years of a hybrid unit between the two schemes.

But Falcons head coach Mike Smith was quick to pump the brakes on those expectations, indicating that the team would still be utilizing a hybrid scheme. That makes sense given the team opted to bring back free agents Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry, who all were drafted by the Falcons originally to play in a 4-3 scheme.

Although it’s interesting that between the three of them, they are making less than $5 million in guaranteed money. So if money talks, then the Falcons will be tailoring their defense more towards the strengths of Jackson and Soliai, which should indicate more 3-4 “flavor” than 4-3 in their hybrid unit in 2014.

That should help a player like Malliciah Goodman, who has the ability to play in either scheme, but may project best in a 3-4 at defensive end. Goodman flashed good ability as a run defender as a rookie last year, and has reportedly bulked up considerably this offseason with the mindset of becoming a regular in the team’s base defense.

That development should benefit a player like Babineaux, who was the team’s top pass-rusher a year ago despite having a single sack. Per Moneyball game reviews which focus on All-22, Babineaux led the team with 13 “positive pass rushes,” which are sacks, quarterback hits and pressures combined. Babineaux also played the most of any Falcon defensive lineman last year with 924 snaps according to premium website Pro Football Focus. Only William Moore (1,064 snaps) and Desmond Trufant (1,022) played more on defense. Babineaux’s reps were the fourth-most of any interior defensive lineman in the league in 2013, and frankly way too much for a 32-year old player.

Goodman missed two games due to injury last season, but wound up playing 305 snaps. If he can carve a bigger role in the rotation, particularly on run downs, it will allow the team to streamline Babineaux’s playing time on passing downs. That could potentially cut his snap count in half, and thus keep him fresher for this year and give him a better chance to play out the remainder of what is expected to be his final NFL contract.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 62 “What’s Gonna Happen with the Pass Rush?”

March 31st, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are back to discuss some of the most intriguing moves made in free agency by the other 31 NFL teams not named the Atlanta Falcons. But before we dive deep into DeSean Jackson’s future and the horror that is the Oakland Raiders offseason, we invited the Falcoholic Dave Choate to share his thoughts on the Falcons offseason moves. Dave and I discuss whether the Falcons pass rush will be improved with the moves so far, as well as what the Falcons can do in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft to fix that problem. We also invite Macon-area Falcon fan Dylan Hoyt to describe an interesting week that saw him embroiled with a controversy on Twitter involving wide receiver Roddy White.

Episode 62: What’s Gonna Happen with the Pass Rush? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

Dylan can be found on twitter: @DHoyt77

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

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 61 “You Know They’re Gonna Draft Another Fullback Right?”

March 24th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are joined by FalcFans forum member Ryan Lounsbury, to talk about the Falcons offseason moves. Ryan has a bit more positive outlook on the additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson to the roster than us. We give our takes on the Falcons’ latest moves of signing Javier Arenas and Devin Hester, re-signing Peria Jerry and cutting Bradie Ewing. We discuss Scott Pioli’s takeover of the front office, whether overpaying for free agents is a necessary evil of the offseason, if the Falcons’ interest in another free agent blocker means they lack an overall vision for the future, if the team should trade up for Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor Lewan’s fit in Atlanta and the recent news made involving DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and Matt Schaub.

Episode 61: You Know They’re Gonna Draft Another Fullback Right? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Ryan can be found on twitter: @RyanLounsbury

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 Last Week – March 17, 2014

March 17th, 2014 2 comments
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Jackson

It’s not fun being so negative.

Which makes my negative reaction to the Atlanta Falcons initial free-agent moves doubly worse.

Are the Falcons a better team after signing guard Jon Asamoah, defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson? Aboslutely.

Are they a significantly better team? No, not really.

At least not in some areas. Sure, they beefed up the run defense. But was the run defense that huge a need? Perhaps it’s selective memory, but outside Bobby Rainey’s Week 11 romp, I don’t recall that many instances where I felt like the defense getting the ball run down their throat.

I do remember the Falcons getting run on and run on a lot, but it never felt like it was something “out of control” to the degree to prompt swift and decisive action at the outset of the free-agent market. I think a lot of the poor run defense had more to do with the fact that they were so young at linebacker, coupled with shoddy tackling in the secondary. It seemed more like long runs were killing the Falcons, evidenced by the 28 runs of 15 or more yards they gave up last season, which was tied for the fourth-highest total allowed in the league.

Not to suggest that upgrading the run defense shouldn’t have been a priority for the Falcons, just not the priority.

I try not to be the guy that acts like the “armchair GM” that all his decisions are the right decisions. I’m very aware that I’m often wrong about things, and that there are several methods to the madness that is building successful NFL teams.

So when looking at the Falcons’ moves, I always try to see them from the team’s perspective. And if I can follow their logic and thinking, then I can usually accept, if not approve their decision-making.

So from the team’s perspective, it’s very clear they wanted to upgrade both lines. They re-signed two offensive lineman in Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson and added Asamoah. They went after defensive linemen by re-upping Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux while adding Soliai and Jackson.

It’s clear that the focus was on the interior of both lines, to add beef and “toughen up” the unit just like they had indicated was their plan all along. I mentioned Soliai as a potential target back in February, albeit with the expectation that he’d be a relatively cheap addition.

So on the face of things, I cannot fault the Falcons. In fact, I applaud them. They correctly identified the two biggest weaknesses of the team in both lines and addressed them with upgrades.

But once you go beyond that superficial layer, things start to fall apart.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 60 “We Just Love Misery”

March 16th, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are back to recap and review the first week of free agency in the NFL and whether or not the Atlanta Falcons’ moves to bolster the offensive and defensive lines were good or bad. We break down each move and player, indicating what we like about the decisions to bring back Joe Hawley, Jonathan Babineaux and Mike Johnson; as well as discussing the pros and cons of newcomers Jon Asamoah, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. During the course of our discussion, I explain the “Hampton-Hoke Fallacy” and the negative ripple effects that can occur when teams overpay for players.

Episode 60: We Just Love Misery [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for 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

Falcons Load Up Lines to Open Free Agency

March 13th, 2014 Comments off
Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Paul Soliai

The official opening of free agency started with a bang for the Atlanta Falcons who brought in three additions and re-signed another to bolster their offensive and defensive lines. The Falcons added offensive guard Jon Asamoah and defensive end Tyson Jackson, both formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, along with ex-Miami Dolphin defensive tackle Paul Soliai,  and re-signed center Joe Hawley.

The influence of new assistant general manager Scott Pioli was apparent with the team’s decision to sign Asamoah and Jackson. They were both drafted by Pioli during his time in Kansas City as general manager.

Asamoah signed a five-year contract worth $22.5 million, and had been rumored to be a favored target by the Falcons during the “legal tampering” period prior to Tuesday’s start of free agency. He served as the Chiefs starting right guard for most of the past three seasons, starting a combined 41 games, and will presumably play the same role in Atlanta.

Jackson was Pioli’s first-ever draft selection in Kansas City, originally selected as the third overall selection in 2009. The underwhelming start of his career earned him the “bust” label, but his improved play this past season allowed him to shed that distinction. Jackson started 45 games over five seasons with the Chiefs, with improved production the past two years as he combined for 77 tackles and seven sacks. He signed a five-year deal worth $25 million and will likely play defensive end, replacing free agent Peria Jerry in the starting lineup.

Rather than Pioli, Soliai owes his Falcon benefactor to be defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Soliai and Nolan along with current defensive line coach Bryan Cox spent time together in Miami in 2010-11. He was another player that was linked to the Falcons prior to signing with the team. He spent seven seasons in Miami, starting the past four at nose tackle in their predominantly 3-4 defense. Soliai landed a five-year contract worth $33 million.

Hawley joins Jonathan Babineaux, Mike Johnson and Corey Peters as current Falcons that were re-signed. He signed a two-year deal worth $6 million to stay with the team. Hawley started the final seven games at center last year as a replacement for an underachieving Peter Konz.