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All-22 Breakdown: Falcons Offense Needs the Vertical Strike

November 1st, 2013 Comments off

One of the main topics I hit in this past week’s game review and podcast (roughly around the 40-minute mark) was the Falcons inability to stretch the Arizona Cardinal’s defense, and how that must change if the Falcons want to beat the Carolina Panthers this weekend. It’s one thing to read or listen to what I’m seeing, but thanks to the power of screenshots and photo-editing software, I can now show you what I’m talking about.

The Falcons have become a one-dimensional offense thanks to their inability to run the ball effectively. But that hasn’t been a new development in Atlanta, as they were one of the league’s weakest rushing teams a year ago. But they were able to compensate with an efficient passing attack, thanks in part due to the big play potential offered by Julio Jones and Roddy White. A year ago, that pair of receivers combined for 35 catches of 20 or more yards, and 9 catches of 40 or more yards.

While the Falcons generated five 20-plus yard plays against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sans Jones and White, that number fell to two against Arizona. One of the reasons why the Falcons were able to beat the Bucs despite the running backs rushing for a combined 30 yards, was because they were able to generate those big plays in the passing game. The rushing attack only got worse against the Cardinals, with backs combining for a pathetic 14 yards. And without the big plays to compensate, it resulted last Sunday in one of the worst offensive performances of the Falcons and Matt Ryan in years.

I want to outline two plays using screenshots from NFL Game Rewind’s All-22 view to illustrate what I mean by the Falcons inability to get big plays. I think these two plays, if the outcomes are different would have a vastly different impact on the outcome of the Falcons-Cardinals game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Falcons win the game, but they certainly would have made it much closer and more competitive. And more importantly, moving forward they have to do a better job of taking advantage of similar opportunities when they present themselves.

The first play I want to examine is the very first offensive snap the Falcons had in the second half. Had the Falcons executed on this play as I believe it was drawn up, it certainly would have started the second half with a bang and potentially made the game a one-score game rather than the three-score lead Arizona was able to build shortly after.

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Jackson to Return; White and Snelling Out in Week 8

October 26th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson

The Falcons announced their weekly injury report yesterday, indicating that wide receiver Roddy White and running back Jason Snelling will be out for this weekend’s matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. White (hamstring/ankle) and Snelling (ankle) both missed the entire week of practice thanks to their respective injuries. Also linebacker Stephen Nicholas (thigh) was held out of practice this week and will miss the game.

But the Falcons got good news as running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is expected to suit up for the Falcons for the first time since Week 2. Jackson was limited all three days of practice and was declared probable. Typically the Falcons only declare players that fully participate on Friday as probable, but Jackson’s status is indicative that his limited reps this week were more precautionary than necessary.

Also questionable will be offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee) and linebacker Akeem Dent (ankle). Baker and Dent were both limited in all three practices this week. If Baker is unable to go, Lamar Holmes will likely get the start at left tackle, a role he’s filled the past two games with Baker out of the lineup. Dent returned to the lineup last week after missing the Falcons Week 5 contest against the Jets due to the ankle injury he suffered the preceding week against the New England Patriots. Omar Gaither started at middle linebacker against the Jets in Dent’s absence.

Listed as probable on the injury report were cornerback Robert Alford (ankle), tight end Chase Coffman (knee), and defensive tackle Corey Peters (shoulder). Alford was limited on Wednesday, but fully participated in Thursday and Friday’s practices. Coffman and Peters were both limited on the first two days of practice, but saw a full workload on Friday. Alford supplanted Robert McClain as the team’s nickel cornerback last week and also replaced Harry Douglas on punt returns. But the team has indicated that they might look at other players in the latter role given Alford’s costly turnover last week on his lone punt return.

Notable injuries for the Arizona Cardinals include running back Rashard Mendenhall (toe), who is doubtful for the game. It will likely lead to backup Andre Ellington starting for the team on Sunday. Left guard Daryn Colledge (back) and outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (knee) are questionable. Colledge’s absence could lead to Nate Potter getting inserted into the lineup, a role he struggled in last week in Arizona’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) fully participated in all three days of practice and is listed as probable.

Dent May Return vs. Bucs

October 19th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report yesterday, where four Falcons players were ruled out for Sunday’s Week 7 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Questionable on the Falcons injury report is linebacker Akeem Dent, who returned to practice after missing the Falcons Week 5 loss to the New York Jets with an ankle injury. Dent suffered his injury the preceding week against the New England Patriots. In his absence, Omar Gaither has filled in at middle linebacker. Dent was limited in practice on both Thursday and Friday after missing practice on Wednesday.

Among the players listed as out were wide receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson, both out with hamstring injuries. White had been suffering from a high ankle sprain that had him limited in the Falcons early games this season, but injured his hamstring late against the Jets. Jackson has been injured since the Falcons Week 2 win over the St. Louis Rams. Original reports suggested that Jackson was expected to return this week from that injury, but he was unable to practice this week. Neither did White.

Offensive tackle Sam Baker (knee) and tight end Chase Coffman (knee) were also ruled out this week. Baker will miss his second-consecutive game, and third of the season with his knee injury. He started the Falcons Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots, but quickly exited that game after re-aggravating his knee injury that was bothering him since Week 1. Coffman will miss his second game due to injury, suffering his knee injury during practice in the week leading up to the Falcons-Jets matchup. Like Jackson and White, neither Baker or Coffman were able to practice this week.

Also on the Falcons injury report is running back Jason Snelling, who should play as he was listed as probable this week. After suffering a concussion against the Jets, Snelling was able to fully participate in all three practices this week.

Notable injuries for the Bucs include guard Carl Nicks (foot) who is out due to surgery stemming from a MRSA infection. Wide receiver Mike Williams (hamstring) and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers (toe) are questionable. Both players were limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but fully participated in Friday’s practice.

Categories: News Tags: , , , , , ,

Why Trading for Josh Gordon Is a Smart Move for the Atlanta Falcons

October 9th, 2013 2 comments
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Gordon

The Falcons are in a dire predicament in light of the news that Julio Jones is likely out for the season. Their offense is now without a No. 1 receiver, at least until Roddy White and his ankle and hamstring are fully healed. In the meantime the Falcons will have to be reliant on Tony Gonzalez to carry the offense from the tight end position. Not too dissimilar from the days under Michael Vick when Alge Crumpler was the de facto top option in the Falcons passing offense.

Can the team win that way? Perhaps, but it will be extremely difficult. In those days, the Falcons were able to get away with that style of play because it was buoyed by having one of the league’s premier rushing attack. Currently, the Falcons rank 25th in rushing yards per game and 17th in yards per carry. Much closer to average than back in 2004-06 where they led the league in both categories in each of those seasons.

Crumpler was also a much more effective vertical threat than Gonzalez currently is. In 69 games played with the Falcons thus far, Gonzalez has 23 receptions of 20 or more yards. In his final 62 games in a Falcon uniform, Crumpler had 50. That ability to provide big plays makes a dramatic difference in whether or not a receiver can carry an offense.

Even with the healthy returns of Roddy White and Steven Jackson, the best-case scenario for the Falcons offense over the remainder of the 2013 season will be reminiscent of the 2010 Falcons offense. It’s certainly possible, but given the state of the Falcons offensive line, that is more wishful thinking than anything. That 2010 rushing attack was dominant against some opposing fronts (4 games of 150+ rushing yards that season), but effective against most (12 games of 85+ yards). The Falcons have eclipsed 85 yards only twice this year: in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, thanks largely to a 50-yard run by ackson, and against the Miami Dolphins. A healthier Jackson isn’t going to suddenly morph Garrett Reynolds and Jeremy Trueblood into Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo in their primes.

If the Falcons have any chance of turning their season around and making a late push towards a wild card slot, they need to rely on the arm of Matt Ryan. But that arm will be limited if the Falcons do not have a vertical threat in the offense that can affect how opponents play the Falcons. Julio Jones’ mere presence of the field makes defenses play the Falcons differently. They have to respect the deep ball on all plays because of Jones. Jones forced defenses to bracket him with safety help over the top, because he is capable of running past every corner in the NFL.

In recent weeks, NFL teams have devised a new way of playing the Falcons which is by doubling Gonzalez as well. Coupled with the bracketing of Jones, defenses are forcing a beat up White, Harry Douglas, and the rest of the Falcons unproven receivers to beat them. And it clearly has worked against the Falcons. Without Jones to help keep defenses honest, it will only get worse.

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Julio Jones likely out for the year

October 8th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jones makes a one-handed grab on a 46-yard play vs. Jets

FOX Sports Jay Glazer reports that the Falcons are fearful that wide receiver Julio Jones is out for the remainder of the 2013 season with an undisclosed foot injury. Both the team and Jones are hoping for a better prognosis with a second opinion but are pessimistic.

Jones exited last night’s loss to the New York Jets in the fourth quarter for an undisclosed injury for a few snaps, but was back in the game on the next series. Which included a 46-yard grab with five minutes remaining to set up a Falcons score.  He was targeted only once for the remainder of the game. It was reported by NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington last night that Jones was limping badly from an unknown injury to his lower right leg after the game:

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White is already ailing from a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. He injured his hamstring late in the game, shortly before Jones’ own exit from the game.

The Falcons are off this week due to a bye. In the absence of Jones, the Falcons will have to rely on Harry Douglas and a potentially recovered White to carry the Falcons passing attack at wide receiver. Kevin Cone made his first career catch against the Jets, while fourth receiver Drew Davis has been shut out with only a single target this year. Jones currently leads the NFL in receiving yards (580) and is second in receptions (59) behind only Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts (62). Any rumors of the Falcons potentially making a trade before the October 29 deadline will certainly pick up in the coming days. There have been rampant reports in recent weeks that the Cleveland Browns are listening to offers for wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon missed the Browns first two games of the year due to a suspension by the league for their banned substances policy, for allegedly an accidental ingestion of banned cough syrup. In the three games since, he’s caught 18 passes for 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Categories: News Tags: , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 41 “Anonymous Osi”

October 3rd, 2013 Comments off

Allen and I are back with guest star Tom Melton to discuss the Falcons Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots. The questions we wish to answer this week are: 1) Are the Falcons approaching must-win territory in the coming weeks? 2) Will the Falcons youth movement in the wake of injuries is going to cost them this year? 3) Do the Falcons have enough balance on offense and can they turn things around in the red zone? 4) Just how awesome is Tony Gonzalez really? 5) How effective is the Falcons pass rush and whether the Osi Umenyiora signing is working out? 6) Was Mike Smith’s gutsy 4th down call the right move? 7) Did Mike Nolan’s scheme cost the Falcons the game? … We give our thoughts on the upcoming matchup against the New York Jets, as well as assess the play of the offensive line, receivers, young tight ends, and also look around the league at Josh Freeman’s situation in Tampa Bay.

Ep. 41: Anonymous Osi [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Tom Melton can be found on twitter: @TMeltonScouting, and also writes for his own draft blog and contributes to Draft Headquarters.

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

Baker, Samuel and White Questionable For Week 4 vs. Patriots

September 28th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their Week 4 injury report yesterday, listing offensive tackle Sam Baker (foot/knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle) as questionable. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is out as a previous report indicated. Both Baker and White missed Wednesday’s practice and were limited on Thursday and Friday. Jones was limited all week, while Samuel was added to the injury report just yesterday after fully participating the previous two days.

With Baker out of the lineup last week against the Miami Dolphins, the Falcons started Lamar Holmes at left tackle and replaced him at right tackle with Jeremy Trueblood. It remains to be seen if the Falcons will go with that combination again this week. Baker missed two days of practice due to a knee injury prior to the team’s Week 2 bout against St. Louis, was listed as questionable but managed to play. He wound up starting, but did not play the last few snaps after suffering the foot injury that kept him out last week.

Jones has been limited in nearly every practice since suffering his knee injury in Week 1, but has been no worse for wear on gamedays. He is currently leading the NFL in receptions (27) and receiving yards (373).

Samuel being added to the injury report suggests his thigh injury has regressed somewhat. He missed the season opener and played only seven snaps against the Rams. He managed only one day of practice last week but only missed a single snap in Week 3 against the Dolphins. In his absence earlier in the season, slot corner Robert McClain got the start at left cornerback and slid back back inside in the nickel to make way for Robert Alford on the outside.

White has yet to fully participate in any practice this year, as he grits through a high-ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. He has played every game, but been essentially splitting reps with Harry Douglas opposite Jones.

Jackson’s absence will mean that Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling will carry the load at running back for Atlanta for the second week in a row.

Also appearing on the injury report as probable were: center Peter Konz (knee), cornerback Robert McClain (knee), guard Garrett Reynolds (knee), and running back Josh Vaughan (ankle). Both Konz and Reynolds were limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but fully participated in practice on Friday. McClain and Vaughan both fully participated in all three practices this week. McClain and Vaughan both suffered their injuries against the Dolphins and exited the game. Konz had the same practice schedule and was nursing his knee injury a week ago. Reynolds suffered his injury against the Dolphins, but was not removed from the game.

For the Patriots, wide receiver/special teams player Matt Slater (wrist) was listed as out. Notable players that are questionable were wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), cornerback Kyle Arirngton (groin), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot), and running back Leon Washington (thigh). According to reports cited by WEEI’s Mike Petraglia, Amendola and Gronkowski are unlikely to play this week.

Why Mike Smith Should Not be on the Hot Seat

September 23rd, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith

Ninety-seven percent.

That’s the chances that an NFL kicker makes a field goal inside 25 yards. It also represents the chances that an NFL team wins a game in which they are plus-4 on turnover margin.

And it is the chances that the Atlanta Falcons do not win the Super Bowl this season.

I have been seeing and hearing a lot in the past twelve or so hours since the Falcons’ 27-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins on how the Falcons need to get rid of Mike Smith. And while I doubt many of those people are calling for an immediate dismissal of Smitty, they are likely expecting the Falcons to make a move later if Atlanta does not win a Super Bowl this year.

I can understand that frustration because the Falcons have given you, one of their fans, quite a bit to be frustrated over. But firing Mike Smith simply because the Falcons haven’t gotten off to the fastest start or don’t appear to be a Super Bowl team in Week 3 is going a step too far.

Yes, the Falcons have struggled to finish games this year. They have outscored their trio of opponents 47-26 in the first half this year. Meanwhile, they are getting outscored 24-48 in the second half of games. The Falcons have found success early in games, outscoring opponents 31-0 in the first quarter of their three games this year. They have combined for 40 points in the other three quarters this year, but have allowed 74 points.

Let’s compare that to the Falcons after their 3-0 start a year ago. In the first quarter of their first three games of 2012, the Falcons outscored their opponents 26-3. But in the second quarter, they were able to outscore opposing teams 34-21. In the third quarter that score margin was 21-3, and 13-21 in the fourth quarter.

There are some clear conclusions here. Both the Falcons’ offense and defense are underperforming compared to last year’s results.

These aren’t indicators that the Falcons are poorly coached by Mike Smith. It’s just an indicator that this year’s team is not quite as good as the 2012 group was at the start of last season. There are obvious reasons for that, and it starts with injuries. With Roddy White out of the lineup, the Falcons are struggling to sustain drives. Just look at the Falcons ability to convert third downs by quarter over the first three games of 2012 and 2013:

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Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Takeaways from Week 3

September 23rd, 2013 Comments off

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan and the running game give Atlanta hope

I have become increasingly aware of the fact that over the years part of my duties as a Falcons blogger is being able to talk my fellow fans down from the ledge.

Under Mike Smith, losses by the Falcons are relatively rare and thus it seems that the negativity is magnified during the weeks following a loss. People have to get all the negativity that they are used to getting out over a 12-loss Falcon season in less than half as many games. Also it seems like after every single loss that Falcon fans want to take a referendum on the season and use that individual game to determine whether the Falcons are going to or capable of winning a Super Bowl.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But the only game that determines whether a team is able to win a Super Bowl is the Super Bowl itself. And that game is a long ways off. Thus nobody should be trying to figure out February in September.

Look, I’ll admit the stats aren’t that promising since teams that start the season 1-2 aren’t exactly known for making deep playoff runs. But here’s something that should provide you a bit of solace. Five of the twelve playoff teams last year did start the season 1-2. That might be the most ever, although I only checked back to about 1990 or so before my eyes glazed over. In 2010, none of the playoffs teams got off to worse than a 2-1 start. What does that mean? I don’t know. It could be a one-year aberration or a sign that parity is rising in the NFL. But more importantly, it’s supposed to illustrate to you that a 1-2 start doesn’t end your season just as it did not for Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, and Washington a year ago.

Also, the 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants both started the year 1-2 and ultimately won the title. Sure, two out of twelve doesn’t exactly fill you with an abundance of confidence but it should illustrate to you that an NFL season is not defined by what happens in Week 3.

If I’m making the argument for why the Falcons are going to turn around their season then that argument is going to be based off the fact that both losses came in the final minute. A play or two here and there, and the Falcons could easily be 3-0. The fact that the Falcons’ are pretty beat up at this point in the year also could play into their favor later on. It’s getting a lot of younger players reps to the point that several of them might wind up stepping up. It is noteworthy that without contributions from rookies like Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Michael Johnson, the Giants may not have made it to the Super Bowl back in 2007.

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Baker, Jackson Out vs. Dolphins

September 20th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced their injury report for Sunday’s road matchup against the Miami Dolphins today. On it, offensive tackle Sam Baker was listed as out with knee and foot injuries after a week of not practicing. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is also out, although his absence was known earlier this week.

Baker will likely be replaced at left tackle by starting right tackle Lamar Holmes. In Holmes’ stead, Jeremy Trueblood will be elevated to the starting lineup at right tackle. Holmes was Baker’s primary backup at left tackle as a rookie in 2012, but moved to right tackle this year after the departure of Tyson Clabo. Holmes has struggled thus far at right tackle this year, as Baker has at left tackle. The Holmes-Trueblood combination was inserted for the final three snaps of the Falcons’ win over the St. Louis Rams last week.

Questionable on the team’s injury report are wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), defensive tackle Cliff Matthews (neck), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), and wide receiver Roddy White (ankle). Both Jones and Matthews were limited in all three days of practice this week with their respective injuries. Samuel sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices, but was limited on Friday. White missed practice on Wednesday, but was limited the remaining two days.

Jones was questionable a week ago, but still managed to match career-highs of 11 catches and 182 yards against the Rams. Matthews also was limited last week by his neck injury and exited the game early after re-aggravating the injury on special teams, but later returned against the Rams. Samuel missed the season opener against the Saints with his thigh injury, and was pulled early against the Rams. In his absence, Robert McClain and Robert Alford have been working at left cornerback. Roddy White has been limited in both of the Falcons’ first two games, with the bulk of snaps opposite Jones being performed by Harry Douglas.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux missed Friday practice with a non-injury related absence. Linebacker Akeem Dent fully participated today after after being limited the two previous days with a shoulder injury. Similarly, center Peter Konz was limited two days with a knee injury before fully participating today. All three of them were listed as probable on the team’s injury report.

For the Dolphins, cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) and nose tackle Paul Soliai (knee) were declared out this week on their injury report. Safety Chris Clemons (hamstring), quarterback Pat Devlin (ankle), linebacker Koa Misi (knee), center Mike Pouncey (ankle), and wide receiver Mike Wallace (groin) were declared questionable. Notably, quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder) was listed as probable after being limited early in the week, but fully participating on Friday.