Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Falcons Show some Heart in Recent Weeks

The Falcons have now fallen to 3-10 on the year and are headed towards the worst finish in franchise history. Despite the dreadful record, the Falcons have shown some heart in the past three games.

In the Thursday night game against New Orleans, the Falcons showed hunger for a win which is something I hadn't seen from them since the week 7 win over Tampa Bay. Although Atlanta lost the game, the Falcons proved that they can play well against good teams despite all of the injuries that have come their way. For those wondering why Atlanta lost; poor tackling and lack of offensive production in the 2nd half.

After losing to New Orleans, the Falcons played their most impressive game of the year against the Buffalo Bills. After going down 14-0 early, the Falcons realized that they were about to get blown out in yet another game. That here-we-go-again attitude went away when Steven Jackson ran for a 27-yard touchdown late in the 1st quarter. I believe that run gave the team a spark that  they turned into a flame en route to a win in overtime 34-31.

To be brutally honest, the aforementioned run was the slowest 27-yard run I've ever seen from a professional running back.

That "flame" the Falcons had in Toronto, against the Bills, died at the start of the 2nd half against Green Bay the following week. After getting a pick-6 to end the 1st half with a 21-10 lead, the team failed to stop the Packers from scoring and failed to score on the offensive side in the 2nd half. The Falcons that people have seen all season returned. Atlanta ended up losing the game 22-21.

Despite losing 2/3 games I've mentioned, the Falcons showed some bright spots. Rookie wide receiver, Darius Johnson, showed everyone that he has some great hands and great speed against New Orleans and Buffalo with 8 catches for 83 yards. The Defensive line showed that they can get to the quarterback with 5 sacks against Green Bay. Linebacker, Paul Worrilow, has continued to impress and is slowly becoming a fan favorite. He reached a total of 30 tackles in the 3 games mentioned here. Safety, Zeke Motta, stepped in for Thomas Decoud against Green Bay and showed that he has plenty of potential. He's the type of player of goes with his gut; and his gut instincts are pretty spot-on. I think, with more experience, Zeke can be a great safety that will force opponents to do extra film study.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Falcons to Embrace the Role of "Spoiler"

If it hasn't hit you yet...this is it. The Atlanta Falcons are mathematically disqualified from playoff contention and Tony Gonzalez is going to play the last 6 games of his career in the next 1 and 1/2 months. During halftime of the Falcons-Bucs game, Michael Strahan said the Falcons look like they just wanted to get this season over with. I believe him.

The Falcons didn't just lack good defensive play, good offensive execution (when it mattered), and good mental decisions; they lacked heart. The Falcons played as if they just gave up on football. For most of theses guys, this is uncharted territory. Guys like Matt Ryan, Harry Douglas, Sean Weatherspoon, Thomas Decoud, and William Moore have never experienced a regular season in which Atlanta lost 8 or more games. In fact, Weatherspoon has never had a season in which Atlanta hasn't WON less than 10 games. With that being said, I can understand their frustration and desire to get 2013 over with.

But think about this: veterans like Roddy White, Jonathon Babineaux, Tony Gonzalez, and Steven Jackson have been on teams that were just awful. More specifically, Steven Jackson has NOT been on a team that won at least 9 games since 2005. These are the guys that the entire Falcons' locker room need to turn to in order to stay positive in a very negative season. These guys need to step up and make sure the team prepares for the last 6 games the same way they did for the first 2 or so games of this season.

Preparing properly is very vital this week because the Falcons host rival New Orleans on Thursday. It's not possible for Atlanta to win the NFC South this year but they can spoil the seeding of whoever the new NFC South champ is. At this point in the season, it's either New Orleans or Carolina. With a match-up against the Carolina Panthers in week 17, who knows what Atlanta could spoil in that game. Of course, this implies that the Falcons have to play well enough to win. And to be honest, if Atlanta continues to play the way they have since beating Tampa Bay on Oct. 20, they won't get another win.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Falcons fall to 2-7 and Mike Smith "going nowhere"

After losing to the Seattle Seahawks 33-10, the Atlanta Falcons are at their worst 9-game start to a season since 2003. 2003 is the year Michael Vick broke his leg in the 3rd game of the preseason and did not return until week 14 of that year. Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner combined for a 2-10 record in Vick's absence. Ten years later, the Falcons are facing a similar problem: injuries to key players.

The most notable of the Falcons injuries is Julio Jones being out for the year with a foot injury. Also, Roddy White has not been 100% as well as Steven Jackson. Offensive linemen, Mike Johnson's, leg injury has proved to hurt the Falcons offense more than most thought. Needless to say, the offensive line has played terribly most of this season; and I would like to think that having Mike Johnson would have helped Atlanta tremendously. Asante Samuel not being 100%, earlier this year, hurt Atlanta's sub-par secondary. Injuries to linebackers, Sean Weatherspoon, Stephan Nicholas, and Akeem Dent, forced two undrafted, rookie-free agents to start a number of games so far. I think the injury to Kroy Biermann is one of the most important. He was supposed to have a breakout season and be a force at defensive end. Without him, Atlanta has failed to create pressure against opposing quarterbacks. So, clearly, the injury "bug" has been inside the Falcons' locker room in 2013.

There has been plenty of talk about head coach Mike Smith possibly getting fired this year. After the loss to Seattle, general manager, Thomas Dimitroff, said that coach Smith is "going nowhere." This made quite a bit of fans upset. But why are they upset? The injuries I've pointed out are not coach Smith's fault, as well as Atlanta's lack of execution. Smith has made some terrible decisions this season, especially on 4th down. But those decisions should not overshadow that he's the winningest coach in Falcons history, he has led a team (who had never had back-to-back winning seasons) to 5 straight winning seasons that include 3 consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins, and he's pretty much the reason the Falcons are getting a new stadium in a few years.

So despite the demands of fans, Mike Smith will not be fired any time soon. Atlanta has found themselves behind the 8-ball with a plethora of injuries and a 2-7 start; but at least our quarterback isn't in prison.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Falcons Start 2-6 for First Time Since '07 "Welp..."

After having  a defecit of only 4 points at halftime, the Atlanta Falcons failed to score in the second half en route to a 34-10 loss to their NFC South rival, Carolina Panthers. This loss drops Atlanta to a 2-6 record for the first time since 2007. For those of you who may not know, the 2007 year was a dark one for the Falcons franchise. That was the season Mike Vick was sent to prison, head coach, Bobby Petrino, quit on the team in the middle of the season, and the Falcons lacked talent on offense and defense. The Falcons finished that year 4-12, which is tied for the worst finish in franchise history. The worst finish could be lowered if the Falcons continue to play the way they have in the past two weeks.

Atlanta played terribly on defense. Luckily, Cam Newton was not having the best day in terms of his accuracy or else this game could have been worse. Atlanta also allowed over 100 yards rushing for the 2nd consecutive week. Atlanta could not stop the screen plays and had too much trouble with guarding Greg Olsen. On a positive note: Congratulations to Desmond Trufant on getting his first career interception and Paul Worrilow did a great job tackling today with a total of 19 tackles. Also, Robert Alford's interception at the end of the first half was very impressive.

Offensively, today was an overall weak effort. Matt Ryan has thrown 7 interceptions (3 vs. Carolina) in the past two games. This is the first time Matt Ryan has thrown 3 or more interceptions in consecutive games. The offensive line played pretty poorly with too many penalties. Garret Reynolds holding penalty cost Atlanta a first-quarter touchdown that would have tied the game. The line also failed to get a push in the run game.

So what does Atlanta do now? Simple...keep playing football. As professional football players, they should never give up. In an interview following the loss to Carolina, Tony Gonzalez said, "You have to just go to  work." He's right; Atlanta just has to keep working and taking it one game at a time. Of course, that's easier said than done.

Atlanta hosts the Seattle Seahawks next week in a rematch of last season's divisional playoff game. I'll be the first to say it; this game WILL NOT go as it did last year. Take that however you want it.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Atlanta Falcons October Recap

First, I would like to apologize for not posting in a while. I mean to post my thoughts on each Falcons game after the games conclude but, obviously, I haven't done that in a while. Here's my quick thoughts on each game Atlanta played after facing the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.

Jets @ Falcons
I missed this entire game because I was serving as a counselor at a school-sponsored camp. From watching the highlights and reading the stats, I concluded that the defense played awful. How do you allow a rookie QB to come into your house and throw 3 touchdowns? To make things worse, this game was on Monday Night Football; that means the entire nation watched Atlanta play terrible defense (I use the term "defense" lightly).

I did see some positive things. Matt Ryan threw for 319 yards, Jacquizz Rodgers played solid at the running back position, and Julio Jones played outstanding despite having only 99 yards. Unfortunately that was Julio's last game of the year.

Bucs @ Falcons
The bye week seemed to be very helpful for the Falcons. The defense played hard and the offense showed everyone that no Roddy White, no Julio Jones, and no Steven Jackson equaled no problem. In fact, Matt Ryan posted the best passer rating of his career with a 148.4. It did not surprise me that Harry Douglas had a great game. He's a very talented player who's overlooked because he plays alongside Julio Jones and Roddy White.

Falcons @ Cardinals
The Falcons signed Steven Jackson to be an upgrade from Michael Turner; but it seemed as if the spirit of 2012 Michael Turner took over Steven Jackson. Everyone, except Jonathon Babineaux, played terribly! Matt Ryan almost made me miss Michael Vick (okay I'm exaggerating, but he played awful), and the defense made want John Abraham back on the Falcons' sideline.

So now the Falcons stand at 2-5 and head to Carolina this week to take on Cam Newton and the 4-3 Panthers. My prediction? I have no idea what to expect from the Falcons; they've been so inconsistent this year that I just can't foresee anything.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Patriots vs. Falcons Week 4 Thoughts

For the first time since 2009, the Atlanta Falcons have lost back-to-back games. This is also the first time Matt Ryan has lost in the Georgia Dome to an AFC team since 2008. After 1/4 of the 2013 season, the Falcons are 1-3; their worst start since 2007.

Besides the records, the 2013 Falcons and 2007 Falcons have absolutely nothing in common. The Atlanta Falcons of 2007 was a team who had just witnessed their franchise quarterback go to prison for dog fighting and they replaced him with a talentless quarterback. They also featured a coach who would quit on them half way through the season, and a hopeless Roddy White. The 2013 Atlanta Falcons feature a franchise quarterback who behaves nicely off of the field, a coach who has led the team to plus-.500 record seasons since being hired, and an all-star Roddy White with an electrifying partner. So what's the problem?

Last night's game against the Patriots highlighted the problem(s).

First problem-injuries:
On paper, the Atlanta Falcons look stacked on offense and the defensive potential is through the roof. During the offseason, I said the only thing that could mess this team up would be injuries.

Atlanta signed Steven Jackson to fix the running game; but Jackson has only played just over one game as a Falcon due to a thigh injury. Credit Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers for filling in for Jackson nicely, but defenses aren't as intimidated by those two backs as they would be of Steven Jackson alone.

The undisputed leader of the cornerbacks, Asante Samuel, was out yesterday due to an injury as well. The Patriots had rookie receivers on the field, and Atlanta countered with rookie cornerbacks. Rookie receiver, Kenbrell Thompkins had 127 yards receiving against rookie corner, Desmond Trufant.

Linebacker Akeem Dent also left the game with a knee injury. The linebacker corp cannot afford any more injuries.

Second problem-redzone offense:
Once again, the Falcons failed to score touchdowns in the red-zone. I am beginning to call the red-zone the "dead-zone" or "kryptonite" because that's exactly what it appears to be. On the opening drive of the game, the Falcons drove the ball inside the 20-yard line. They ended up with a 1st and goal from the 6-yard line and ran three pass plays in shotgun formation. I do point some blame on offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, but the offense has too much talent to not be able to punch it in for a touchdown.

Even at the end of the game, the Falcons get into the red-zone, needing a touchdown to tie the game, and failed to score again.

Head coach, Mike Smith, can say that the red-zone offense will be fixed all he wants to; but the offense isn't scoring in the red-zone and this makes Mike Smith look like a liar. I know it sounds harsh, but is what I'm saying false?

Third problem-lacking the sense of urgency through the ENTIRE game:
In an interview with Rodney Harrison, Roddy White said that Atlanta lacks a sense of urgency. Right before last night's kickoff, Tony Gonzalez said that Atlanta needs to finish and play with a sense of urgency. This shows me that the players are aware that they need to step up in the 2nd half of ball games and play as if the season is on the line. So why aren't they doing those things? Honestly, I don't know. However, I do know that Falcons fans are frustrated with the way the Falcons are playing right now.

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P.S- I will be counseling at a school-sponsored camp for the first half of next week (Oct. 7-9.) Therefore, I cannot make a blog immediately following the Falcons' game vs the New York Jets. Right now, I'm thinking about doing a blog wrapping up the Falcons 2013 campaign heading into the bye week. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Atlanta Falcons VS. Miami Dolphins Week 3 Thoughts

The Atlanta Falcons visited the Miami Dolphins in a late afternoon game for week 3 of the 2013 regular season. Ryan Tannehil led the Dolphins down the field for a late game touchdown drive which led to a victory over Atlanta, 27-23. How did this happen? Falcons blew it. Plain and simple. Atlanta had the lead and let it slip right through their fingers (sound like a familiar situtation?).

This loss is sour. Starting from the game against Seattle in last season's divisional playoff game, Falcons games have gone in this pattern: Falcons start fast and play a solid first half. The second half starts and the opponent plays better as the Falcons play weaker. Falcons got away from Seattle and St. Louis; but couldn't sneak away with a win against San Francisco, New Orleans, and, most recently, Miami. I'm not going to completely break down each phase of the game. Today, I'm going to, flat out, tell you what happened.

There was no reason Atlanta should've lost this game. Atlanta got into the redzone and was forced to kick field goals. Give credit to the Dolphin's defense, but the Falcons are way too talented of an offense to be kept out of the endzone. On most offensive drives, Atlanta played great. They had a great balance between run and pass. The rotation of Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers in the run game was working almost perfectly and Julio Jones was a monster today. With the exception of 2 drives, the Falcons got inside the 20-yard line and the offensive production stopped. Matt Ryan's interception at the end of the game was, totally, unlike him.

Defensively, we played great, except for Thomas Decoud. The defense applied pressure to Ryan Tannehil and racked up 5 sacks. The pressure from the defensive line also led a to bad pass that, consequently, led to a William Moore interception. Decoud, on the other hand, played terrible pass coverage late in the game and had terrible pursuit angles when in it came to tackling. It's almost a complete turnaround from his performance last year.

Ultimately, special teams is a big reason the Falcons lost the game. Harry Douglas fumbled the ball on a play that should have never happened; and Matt Bryant missed a field goal that proved to be fatal.

I am very disappointed in the Falcons. We played pretty solid and still lost the game. This should be a wake-up call that we need to get better in the redzone and learn to play consistently throughout all 4 quarters.  

The Falcons host the Patriots next Sunday night on NBC. The whole country will be watching; so I hope the Falcons don't embarrass themselves.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rams vs Falcons Week 2 Thoughts

After coming so close to beating their rival, the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons returned to the Georgia Dome for their 2013 home opener vs the St. Louis Rams. One of the biggest stories coming into the game was the story of Steven Jackson, Atlanta's big offseason acquisition, facing his former team. Jackson is the franchise leader in rushing for the Rams and also the best active running back in the NFL, statistically. Yes, better than Adrian Peterson; don't waste your time researching it. Another big story heading into the game was how Atlanta would improve upon their performance against the Saints. Atlanta's offensive line played abysmal in the 2nd half of last week's game and I think that was a big reason the Falcons lost the game.

Atlanta bounced back this week and defeated the Rams 31-24. I will break down what I saw on offense, defense, and special teams.

The Falcons offense came out with a purpose to start the game. Matt Ryan led the team down the field on a nice 80-yard drive that, quickly, put Atlanta up 7-0. Although, Atlanta should thank Ram's defensive end, Chris Long, for being offsides on the first 3rd down of the game. That penalty changed a 3rd and 12 into a 3rd and 7 and made it way easier for Matt Ryan and the offense to convert. After getting inside the Ram's 10 yard-line, Atlanta had to make sure Steven Jackson got a chance to score against his former team. He did so on an 8-yard swing pass. Unfortunately, Jackson suffered a thigh injury on that play and never returned to the game.

Julio Jones played very well! He recorded his longest career touchdown on an 81-yard catch and run. He also set a career high for receiving with 182 yards. All those people who called Falcons general manager, Thomas Dimitroff, crazy for giving away many draft picks to get Julio Jones in 2011 are either quiet or praising Dimitroff for his move.

The first half offense and the second half offense were two totally different offenses. The Falcons must learn to keep their foot on the gas pedal throughout the entire game. This was Atlanta's problem in the playoffs last year. They got away from Seattle, but couldn't finish the job against San Francisco. No disrespect, but St. Louis is not that good of a football team. If Atlanta had kept their foot on the gas pedal though the entire game, this would have been a blowout victory.

The offensive line also showed fatigue in the second half as they did last week in New Orleans. This is what I think coach Mike Smith should do; have Lamar Holmes play 2 1/2 to 3 quarters and then put in Jeremy Trueblood to relieve Holmes for the rest of the game similar to a relief pitcher in baseball.

Just like the offense, the defense in the first half and the defense in the second half were two different defenses. The Falcons defense only allowed 3 points in the first half, but then went on to allow 21 points in the second half. I understand that Asante Samuel, Sean Weatherspoon, and Kroy Biermann did not finish the game; but injuries are a part of football, and the next guy has to step up.

Joplo Bartu stepped up! He had 6 tackles and a couple of those were tackles for loss. It's hard to believe that this guy was not drafted!

The Defensive line also did a good job putting pressure on Sam Bradford. They were in his face most of the game and they got their hands up to deflect some passes. One of those deflections went straight into Osi Umenyiora's hands for an interception that Osi took 68 yards for a touchdown.

However, I am disappointed in the tackling during the game. Thomas Decoud missed a few tackles, including one on a slow runner in Sam Bradford. Rookie cornerback, Robert Alford, continuously tried to shoulder tackle and go for the ball in attempt to force fumbles. In the NFL, you need to wrap-up and bring the ball carrier to the ground. Arm and shoulder tackles should not be used because they rarely work. Akeem Dent also missed some tackles that, normally, he would have.

Speaking of tackling, William Moore's spine-busting tackle of Mike Mcniell in the 3rd quarter was crazy! This is why he's called the Missouri Hammer. I usually won't give a link to a highlight; but this play must be seen by everyone. http://www.nfl.com/videos/atlanta-falcons/0ap2000000244315/WK-2-Can-t-Miss-Play-Moore-power-slams-McNeill

Special Teams:
Matt Bosher did an excellent job punting in the game. He punted 6 times for an average of 53 yards per punt and no touchbacks. He also had a career best 63 yard punt.

The Falcons punt coverage team also did a good job containing Tavon Austin. Austin is arguably the fastest player in the NFL and he is very dangerous in open space.

Here's one thing I didn't like; guys were getting very close to blocking some of Bosher's punts. The same thing happened in New Orleans. The guys have got to block better or ,one of these games, Bosher's punt(s) will get blocked.

Wrap-up: It was an ugly win. By no means am I satisfied by it and I know head coach Mike Smith is not satisfied either. The Falcons have way too much talent and depth to be in close games against teams like the Rams.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Falcons vs. Saints Week 1 Thoughts

The Falcons opened up the 2013 regular season in New Orleans against a Saints team that had plenty to prove. A year ago, the Falcons were mere yards away from going to the Super Bowl, while the Saints were, statistically, the worst defense in NFL history. But in the Falcons-Saints rivalry, none of that matters.

The Saints played inspired as they had their coach, Sean Peyton, on the sideline with them for the first time since a divisional playoff game in January of 2012. The Saints also had more confidence, defensively, because they hired Rob Ryan as the defensive coordinator over the offseason. 

It was a hard fought game- which is typical for a Falcons-Saints matchup- but ultimately, the Saints held on to beat the Falcons 23-17. Falcons head coach, Mike Smith, is a strong believer in the "24-hour rule"; This means that everyone on the team should be over the previous game within 24 hours of its conclusion whether it's a win, loss, or a tie. I'll break down what I saw from the Falcons in each phase of the game (offense, defense, and special teams.)

Matt Ryan and the offense were, clearly, a little nervous on the first possession of the ball game, but they looked really well on their second possession. Harry Douglas had a great catch and run for 50 yards. Due to an ankle injury, Roddy White wasn't 100 percent healthy, so Harry Douglas had to step up to the plate. Also, Tony Gonzalez made a very athletic play on the goal-line for a touchdown that put Atlanta up 7-0. 

The Falcons did a good job of taking advantage of the great field position on their next drive. That drive started from the Saints 45-yard line. I'm sure they would've prefered a touchdown, but settling for 3 points is better than getting 0 points. 

Julio Jones' fumble was very uncharacteristic of him. He did the same thing in 2011 at New Orleans as well. He knows he's got to hang on to the ball, don't expect Julio to "cough it up" any time soon. Although, he made up for the fumble with a 4-yard touchdown catch in the 2nd half. 

Steven Jackson did a good job as well. He showed everyone why the Falcons signed him in the offseason. He showed his explosiveness through running and receiving for a grand total of 122 yards. 

Now on to the things that Atlanta must work on:
The offensive line showed fatigue and the Saints took full advantage of it. The Saints were in Matt Ryan's face all day and ended up with a few sacks. The Falcons' offensive line needs to work on its stamina. No disrespect, but the Saints defense is not that good. The Falcons have to play the Panthers (twice), Seahawks, 49ers, and Packers. All of those defenses are good at getting to the quarterback, therefore, offensive line coach, Pat Hill, needs to get his group in better shape or this will be a long season.

Atlanta was also terrible on converting 3rd downs.

The red-zone and goal-line offense needs to improve immediately! Atlanta had reached goal-to-go downs three separate times and only scored one touchdown. In fact, the Falcons were in the same situation as the NFC Championship game last season- time running out, Falcons down by less than 7 points, ball inside the opponent's 10 yard-line. The Falcons are now 0/2 in this situation. Give Rob Ryan and the Saints credit for playing good defense with the game on the line, but the Falcons know they let that game slip right through their fingers.


The Saints' offense is stacked with weapons. Drew Brees is great quarterback and he's undoubtedly the leader of that team. The Brees can air it out and burn your defense with big plays; Atlanta did a nice job of limiting those. Asante Samuel was inactive with a thigh injury and the other defensive backs had to step up. Robert McClain had a nice pass break up in the first half. Rookie corner, Desmond Trufant, showed decent tackling skills, as well as his ability to cover. Although, I was most impressed by the Falcons other rookie corner, Robert Alford. On a very deep pass by Brees, Alford had a great deflection to force an incompletion. He also came away with his first career interception while defending a good wide receiver in Marques Colston.

Our defensive line had its moments during the game. They had a few sacks, but at times, they gave Drew Brees way too much time in the pocket.

Akeem Dent played very well and showed that he can be a dominant force at linebacker.

Special Teams:

Bosher punted the ball very well and the coverage team tackled very well. Darren Sproles is a speedy guy, and, if he has a lane, he can burn your coverage team for a touchdown.

Thanks for reading this blog. Follow me on Twitter @lovemyatl! The next blog will be published after the Falcons take on the St. Louis Rams at home this Sunday!