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Takeaways from Last Week – May 27

Rumors of Richard Seymour’s imminent arrival in Atlanta swirled this past week. First, we had reports that contract talks were ongoing, suggesting a move was right around the corner. Then we received word that no ongoing talks were occurring between Seymour’s agent, Eugene Parker, and the Falcons. The Falcons first showed interest in Seymour way back in March at the outset of free agency. But progress has been slow since then. If/when the Falcons sign Seymour, it will have to wait until after June 1, when $4.5 million comes off the books due to the release of Tyson Clabo.

Will Seymour be a good addition for the Falcons? Yes. He’ll help out the Falcons rotation. But don’t be mistaken in getting enamored by the name Richard Seymour. The player that embodied that name hasn’t really existed for three seasons.

Seymour is still a good run defender as he is still a very powerful player that is hard to move off the ball. But the quickness that made him a perennial Pro Bowler in New England is long gone.

Probably the reason for that is the bothersome knee injuries he’s had to deal with each of the past two years. It was ultimately a hamstring injury that landed Seymour on the injured reserve last December, after not playing since the beginning of November in Week 9. It was also a hammy injury that limited Seymour in 2010.

While I expect Seymour to ultimately land in Atlanta, I do think those injury concerns could be a sticking point for the Falcons. Simply put, Seymour hasn’t really been healthy since 2006, as nagging injuries have dogged him most years. At this point in his career, he really should be a situational player. Last year, he alongside Tommy Kelly appeared in roughly two-thirds of the Raiders pass-rushing snaps in the first half of the season. Meanwhile, Desmond Bryant appeared in less than half during that span. Bryant was Oakland’s best pass rusher, and the presences of both veterans really limited how effective the Raiders pass rush was last year. It was a unit that was largely ineffectual at pressuring quarterbacks until of course they faced the Falcons porous offensive line in Week 6.

Another factor in any impending contract negotiations is the likelihood that 2013 will be Seymour’s last year. As mentioned earlier, injuries have really sapped Seymour over the years and he’ll be turning 34 in October. I can’t tell you what is in Seymour’s head, as he may want to play two or three more years. But at least from the Falcons perspective, the odds that Seymour suits for them in 2014 are exceedingly low. Not unless he manages to stay healthy and is a highly productive role player in 2013. But given his injury history and ever-declining skill largely because of it, that would be a pretty bad bet to make.

Seymour has made a lot of money over the past few years largely due to his status as a potential Hall of Famer. But at this point in his career given his injuries, limited pass-rushing skill, and likelihood that he has little left in the tank, he really isn’t worth more than the veteran minimum.

Will Seymour accept that? I doubt that will be his preference, but if that is the best ofer he can get and he is keen on playing in 2013, then he’ll just have to bite the bullet.

The Falcons can free up roughly $900,000 against their 2013 cap by cutting Peria Jerry. At this point in his career, that’s about all I would be willing to offer Seymour, essentially making a lateral move as far as the cap is concerned.

Defensive tackle looks like it’s going to be a priority position next off-season. Jerry (if he is still on the roster), Jonathan Babineaux, and Corey Peters are all free agents. At this point, barring Jerry pulling a complete 180 this year, he is definitely not coming back to Atlanta in 2014. Babineaux is highly doubtful, given how the Falcons treated players like John Abraham and Tyson Clabo this past off-season. Even if Babineaux manages to have another productive season, at best he’ll be treated the same way Abe was after 2011 where the team played hardball and signed him to a three-year deal that they tore up after one season. Beyond this year, Babineaux is at best a year to year proposition, and thus it’s doubtful the Falcons are going to commit a ton of money to him, which likely results in him departing. That means that Peters by default is probably in a good position to be retained by the Falcons. Short of Travian Robertson or Micanor Regis really having a coming out party this season, Peters is the only starting caliber tackle that could be on the roster in 2014.

Personally, I’d like to see Peters put together a complete season. He’s never played at a high level for longer than a handful of weeks. Without such improvement, the best contract offer Peters should receive would be a three or four-year deal that averages roughly $3 million per year. That’s about what the Falcons gave Kroy Biermann a year ago, who I personally think has been a much more effective player over the past three years than Peters has been. And I’m aware of many Falcon fans that believe that price tag is too rich for Biermann.

I think defensive tackle right now has the best odds for being the Falcons’ top pick next year.

***

The Chiefs appear to be moving on from Tony Moeaki at tight end. They signed Anthony Fasano to a four-year, $16 million contract this past off-season and then drafted Travis Kelce with the top pick in the third round.

It makes sense. Moeaki is entering his contract year and has been nagged by injuries since a strong rookie season as part of that special 2010 tight end class that included the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Jimmy Graham among others. Recent reports indicate that Moeaki has still not recovered from off-season surgery on his left knee, the same knee that he tore an ACL in at the outset of the 2011 season. Moeaki has also dealt with at least two concussions since entering the league.

It’ll be a shame if Moeaki can’t get healthy again, because he really is a good tight end. He is a player that reminded me quite a little of Tony Gonzalez when he came out in 2010. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s a capable blocker and is an athletic guy with excellent hands.

I mention it because he along with Jermichael Finley, Dennis Pitta, Brandon Pettigrew, Ed Dickson, and Tony Scheffler make up a pretty solid group of young tight ends set to hit unrestricted free agency next year. While the Falcons appear content to try and develop Levine Toilolo as the heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez, my expectations are that the Falcons should make a move to get another tight end in the fold next off-season since Toilolo likely won’t come close to picking up Gonzo’s slack.

If Moeaki can showcase later this summer or at the outset of the season that he is fully recovered from his knee injury, I think it could be a smart decision for the Falcons to potentially make a preemptive strike at the position before the trade deadline to acquire him.

I have no clue what the price tag would be for him, but given that the Chiefs appear to have zero interest in re-signing him 9 months from now, I don’t think it will be that steep (sixth round?). And given Moeaki’s injury history, the Falcons shouldn’t have to offer him a big contract to keep him in 2014 when he hits free agency. And if the 2010 version of Moeaki ever shows up in Atlanta, it would be a potential trade well worth it.

***

The Panthers are going to be an interesting team to watch in 2013. Their key to success will largely rest on their offense’s ability to get them over the hump. Their defense still looks to have several issues in the secondary. Things do not bode well for them if they intend on Drayton Florence, Josh Norman, Captain Munnerlyn, and D.J. Moore to anchor that unit. Florence and Munnerlyn are decent nickel corners, but shouldn’t be starting. Norman flashed potential last year, but he struggled quite a bit. They had no production from the strong safety position last year (as Haruki Nakamura can attest), and their best effort to upgrade him was Mike Mitchell, a backup in Oakland and one of Al Davis’ more infamous recent early-round reaches.

Thus the key for the Panthers success will be trying to prevent opposing teams from exploiting that secondary. That will require them to run the ball.

It appears they will be moving away from the read option-based rushing attack. That will be a good move for them, since it limited how effective DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were. The last time the Panthers were legit was back in 2008 and 2009 when those two were combining for over 2200 yards rushing. Last year, they had 1,073 yards combined. Part of that was because of Stewart missing half the season with injury, and Williams decline due to age. But those guys should be producing a lot more than that, and part of the blame must fall on the read-option. Running backs are a lot like shooters in basketball, where getting into a rhythm matters. But the read-option limits a back’s ability to get into that rhythm because he is not sure if he is going to get the ball on a called run, because Newton might keep it himself. The Panthers used less read-option at the end of the season, and I think it helped them win more games down the stretch.

Essentially, the Panthers are going to have to adopt a winning strategy comparable to the 2010 Falcons, which is built on ball control and a power running game to try and hide the flaws of their defense. I don’t think the Panthers are on the verge of a 13-3 season like the Falcons of that year, but they could make the NFC South divisional race interesting and compete for a wildcard if things go their way.

I also think less read option will be beneficial for Cam Newton’s development, and help him become a more efficient passer. Newton is as solid as anybody that has ever played the quarterback position, but tucking it to run 120 times takes a toll on you. Newton was sacked 36 times, but if he’s taking a hit on half of his 127 carries last year, then he’s essentially taking the same amount of punishment as a quarterback that is being sacked 100 times. That’s got to have a negative affect on his passing.

Obviously a player with Newton’s ability, you don’t want to completely remove the threat of his running from the offense (as the Falcons defense can attest, it is quite effective), but you probably want to do a better job of picking and choosing your spots. Short-yardage and in the redzone are ideal opportunities for Newton’s running, with some read-option and designed runs interlaced between.

And if the Panthers can pound the rock, that’s going to open up the play-action passing. Last year, Newton completed 63% of 171 passes out of play-action and had the third highest yards per attempt (10.4) in the league according to Pro Football Focus. He completed just 55% of his non-play-action throws for a YPA of 6.8, among the worst in the league. Newton is not going to be a high efficiency thrower. His strength has always been his ability to drive the ball downfield. Not to mention, the play-action makes his reads easier which will help him since he’s not the most cerebral passer.

They also have a lot of speed at wide receiver. They picked up Ted Ginn in the off-season, who already goes with Brandon LaFell, Joe Adams, and David Gettis. The mistake a lot of people make is thinking one of those guys has to emerge as a consistent pass-catcher opposite Steve Smith. No, one of those guys has to emerge as an occasional vertical weapon opposite Steve Smith. Smith averaged 16.9 yards per attempt (YPA) on his vertical targets (20 or more yards) last year (per PFF), which was among the Top 10 in the league. LaFell was solid there last year with a YPA of 13.3 on his deep balls, good enough for the Top 25. But that number should be higher if the Panthers offense will reach its full potential.

Just for the sake of comparison, both Roddy White (15.9) and Julio Jones (14.7) were in the Top 20 in terms of their YPA on deep balls.

Now all that said, these are what the Panthers should do. But will they do these things to make their team better? I doubt it. I just don’t put any stock in Ron Rivera’s ability to maximize the potential of that team, so it’s likely going to be another sub-.500 season in Charlotte. The bigger question will be whether or not the Panthers new coach in 2014 will do these things.

***

Speaking of receivers going deep, the 49ers lost Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles this week which is a huge blow to the 49ers. As I noted in the run-up to the NFC Championship Game, with Kaepernick in the lineup Crabtree was arguably one of the Top 5 receivers in the league. Kaepernick’s rapport with Crabtree was a huge part of his success, as his passer rating when throwing to Crabtree in the six games leading up to the NFCCG was 153.2, while it was 62.6 to all of his other receivers in that span.

The 49ers will lose something with Crabtree’s demise. How much will largely depend on Kaepernick developing a rapport with those other receivers. Having a sure-handed player like Anquan Boldin that can make plays in traffic will certainly help. Mario Manningham is still coming back from injury, and unlikely to be a big factor this summer trying to build that rapport as he tries to rehab. That means the 49ers will be leaning heavily on A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton to step up. Jenkins did nothing as a rookie, and while an explosive player, I don’t think is anywhere in the caliber of player that Crabtree was. Patton is a sure-handed guy, but is he the sort of explosive guy after the catch that Crabtree was, which was a huge part of the latter’s success in 2012? I doubt it.

Now people shouldn’t make the mistake of writing off the 49ers this year. They still have a dominant running game with the best offensive line in the league. And their defense will continue to be among the best. Assuming they don’t have any more huge injury issues, they are going to be a playoff team that will still be in contention for the top team in the NFC.

What really is at issue, is whether or not losing Crabtree regresses their offense back to more what it looked like under Alex Smith, which wasn’t as explosive in the passing game as it became under Kaepernick. That Smith-led 49ers team was still 6-2-1 and widely considered among the best teams in the league last year. It’s just that the presence of Kaepernick and his ability to hit the deep ball was a key factor that took the 49ers from “very good” to “super” last year.

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Author: Aaron Freeman

Aaron is the founder of FalcFans.com.

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