Monday, November 17, 2014

Falcons Telling us that it's Raining

"Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining!"

That's a phrase you don't hear everyday. In fact, I'm not sure you'd hear it once a month, but I digress.

If you're not familiar with the phrase, it simply means "do not give me one thing and try to tell me it's another, because I can see right through your little game." And I'm talking to you, Atlanta Falcons.

After Sunday's victory over division rival, Carolina Panthers, the Falcons are in first place in the NFC South... with a 4-6 record. If the season were to end today, the Falcons would be the 4th seed in the playoffs and hosting the current 5th seed, Green Bay Packers.

This is, of course, if the Falcons can hold on to make the playoffs.

The next four games, in order, are: VS Cleveland (6-4), VS Arizona (9-1), @ Green Bay (7-3), and VS Pittsburgh (6-4). Still think the Falcons can hold on to this division lead?

The only other competitor in this NFC South race is the New Orleans Saints. I'm going to count the Panthers out because they are a frustrated team and Ron Rivera doesn't seem like the coach to start a "1-0 this week" campaign. They also have Thomas Decoud at safety. That other NFC South team in Florida isn't worth mentioning.

Back to the Saints who have only 2 games remaining against teams with winning records: VS Baltimore (6-4) and @ Pittsburgh (6-4). If they can play the way they did against Green Bay (44-23 win in week 8) the Saints can win out, which would give them the 4th seed and possibly a second home game against Green Bay.

The Saints have been inconsistent at home this year, but have the leadership to turn that around while the Falcons have only beaten their division rivals, but do have some momentum after 2 road wins. So it's hard to make a prediction right now, but it will be an exciting finish in the NFC South this year.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Bulldogs connected?!

This one is for Nate Butler (@ATLSportsNate on Twitter).

I'm not completely sure when this hysteria started, but I've noticed that many fans of "Atlanta" sports-UGA is in Athens- have stated that the Atlanta Falcons and the University of Georgia football team are somehow, someway connected. After years of observation, I agree. So earlier, I tweeted, "There's no more denying it. The Falcons and UGA have a supernatural connection that can't be stopped." This prompted a response from Nate Butler. I asked if he would like me to lay out my theory and he responded with "Preach brethren." So, I'm putting on my conspiracy theorist cap to "prove" that these two footballs teams are intertwined. Here we go.

Exhibit A: The bitter endings to the 2012 football season.
Playing in the SEC Championship, The Georgia Bulldogs were in a battle against the Alabama Crimson Tide. With just mere seconds left in the ball game, the Bulldogs had the football inside the Alabama 10-yard line. With the clock running under 15 seconds, Aaron Murray completed a short pass, but UGA had no timeouts and the clock expired. UGA lost the game 32-28. If they had won, they would have possibly played in the BCS National Championship, therefore, you can call the SEC Championship from 2012 the semi-championship game.

Only a month later, the Falcons were in the semi-championship game (NFC Championship) hosting the San Francisco 49ers. Atlanta had the ball inside the 49er 10-yard line and failed to score a touchdown on four attempts, losing the game 28-24.

Coincidentally, both games were played in the Georgia Dome. Also, the Falcons and Bulldogs failed to get into the exact same end zone which cost them the game.

Exhibit B: 2013 season.
Both the Falcons and Bulldogs started their 2013 campaigns on the road, in very difficult venues. The Bulldogs played at Clemson while the Falcons were in New Orleans. Both the Falcons and Bulldogs lost. The following week, both teams returned to Georgia and won their home openers.

The Bulldogs and Falcons were also missing explosive wide receivers and had  terrible defenses that year.

Exhibit C: Beginning of 2014 season.
In their first games of this year, The Falcons and Bulldogs hosted- and defeated- the same teams they visited to open up the 2013 season. In their second games, both teams went on the road to lose in sickening fashions. In their third games, both teams returned home and laid the smackdown on their opponents.

So there you have it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Who are the 2014 Atlanta Falcons?

On September 14, the Atlanta Falcons, mostly, failed to have positive offensive production against a stiff Cincinnati Bengals defense. They lost the battle on the offensive and defensive fronts, couldn't take advantage of three missed field goals, couldn't protect Matt Ryan, were dominated by the Cincinnati running game, and allowed Andy Dalton to carve up the secondary without AJ Green on the field.

In just three days, the Atlanta Falcons found a way to turn all of that around.

Leading up to the Thursday night match-up against Tampa Bay, people continued to ask the question, "Who are the Atlanta Falcons?" In my opinion, the Falcons answered that question with the utmost authority; they also got rid of some demons too:

The Falcons defense recorded their first sacks of the 2014 season. For the first time since 2012, the Falcons had a pick-6 from a defensive back. For the first time since 1998, the Falcons scored at least 50 points. For the first time since 2010, the Falcons returned a punt for a touchdown.

Speaking of punt return, it was an undeniably special moment to have Devin Hester break Deion Sander's record for most return touchdowns with Sanders in the Georgia Dome.

The Atlanta Falcons made easy work of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Atlanta scored 35 points before Tampa Bay even recorded a first down. The score was 56-0 entering the 4th quarter. This showed that Atlanta has the ability to keep their foot on the gas pedal. (Back in 2011, Atlanta lead Tampa Bay 42-0 in the second quarter and then let their foot of off the pedal; they only scored 3 points in the second half en route to a 45-24 win). Going back to 2014, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were simply playing catch totaling for 161 yards and 2 touchdowns. Most impressively, the Falcons defense found a way to slow down their opponents running game. Just in case it went unnoticed, Roddy White didn't even play.

Despite the plethora of positives, there were a few negatives. There were a couple of special teams penalties that could have been avoided. There were a couple of fumbles. Plus, Devonta Freeman really has to work on his blocking skills because he was blown up on a play that led to a Tampa Bay sack.

I'm curious, though, as to how the Falcons move forward from here. They have an extended time period to prepare for the Minnesota Vikings. Will the Falcons stay focused? Can they put on this type of performance without being beaten badly the previous week?

Even though there are still questions to be answered, the answer to "Who are the 2014 Atlanta Falcons?" is becoming clear. They are a team with an explosive offense that will give defensive coordinators nightmares (as long as Matt Ryan is protected). They have the ability to run-up the score on opponents and can also prevent opponents from scoring, if focused and prepared.

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Instant Classic in Atlanta

The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have faced off in the opening weekend of the NFL season eight times. The most recent meeting, easily, has become one of the most memorable of the bunch. Per usual with recent years, this matchup became a back-and-forth, high scoring contest that gave the feeling of two people engaged in an intense game of Madden.

The Falcons fell behind the 8-ball early after the Saints capitalized on a Julio Jones' fumble and increased their lead to 13-0. The Falcons answered with a touchdown on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that was extended due to a Saints penalty. The Saints increased their lead back to 13 following a touchdown drive that ran the clock down to 20 seconds left in the 2nd quarter; Matt Bryant then kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to make the score 20-10.

Whatever was said to the Falcons during halftime proved effective because the Falcons ameliorated their defensive performance by preventing Drew Brees and company to score on 3 out of their first 4 possessions of the second half; including an interception by Robert McClain in the endzone. That play showed that the Falcons, despite having their backs against the wall, are able to keep up the intensity; something they failed to show during most of last season.

The Falcons found themselves in a true shootout late in the third quarter. The Falcons had taken their first lead of the contest after touchdown catches by Levine Toilolo and Antone Smith respectively. The Saints responded with a 6:35 touchdown drive, giving them a 27-24 lead. A couple drives later, Jacquizz Rogers used the analog stick to juke his way to a 17-yard touchdown run, giving Atlanta the lead back at 31-27.

The second half ended quite similar to the first. The Saints scored a late touchdown to give them a 34-31 lead. Matt Ryan, then, lead the Falcons down the field to set up a Matt Bryant field goal that sent the game into overtime. One would think that New Orleans realized that Matt Ryan only needed 20 seconds at the end of the first half to score; they gave him 80 seconds at the end of the second half.

Once in overtime, the Falcons defense made a statement by forcing a fumble in Saints territory. This led to a third Matt Bryant field goal, giving the Falcons a 37-34 victory.

As the Atlanta defense played decently, the offense played superlatively well. Matt Ryan set a franchise record for passing with 448 yards complemented by 3 touchdowns. The first of those 3 touchdown passes went to Roddy White; this lifted White to 2nd place on the franchise record sheet for touchdown receptions. The other wideouts on Atlanta's depth chart put up impressive numbers as well. Julio Jones lead the receiving corp with 7 catches for 116 yards. New addition, Devin Hester, showed that he's much more than a tremendous returner with 99 yards receiving. And Harry Douglas gained 69 yards with 6 receptions. Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Devin Hester each averaged over 11 yards per reception.

The Falcons' running back corp also contributed nicely with 108 combined rushing yards. Matt Ryan added 15 yards with his legs bringing the team total to 123 yards rushing.

If the Falcons offense had the ability to put up such great stats, then the offensive line clearly played well enough silence doubters. Before and after Jake Matthews exited the game (ankle injury), the line gave Matt Ryan plenty of time to throw the ball.

What I truly liked from Atlanta's performance was Mike Smith using his depth chart at the skill positions. The Falcons have four legit running backs that ,ultimately, will tire a defense out; and four great wide receivers that will spread a defense out. I'm glad to see that Mike Smith realized this. This offense will have defensive coordinators losing sleep during the 2014 season. They just need to avoid penalties.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sam Baker out for the comes Holmes

The Atlanta Falcons are in Houston squaring off against the Texans for the second preseason game of 2014. The game clock reads 9:57. The Falcons have the ball at their own 20-yard line. It's Atlanta's fourth drive of the game. Quarterback Matt Ryan is under-center as the rest of the offense is lined up in the I-formation. Matt Ryan takes the snap, drives off of his left foot, turning his back towards the defense. He extends his arms towards running back, Antone Smith, and quickly draws them back. He immediately snaps his upper body around, looks up the field in the north-east direction, and throws the football 13 yards towards wide receiver, Julio Jones. Jones, pushing off his left foot, leaps into the air while extending his arms. He opens up his hands, grabs the football, and pulls it in close to his body. Almost immediately, Texans defender, DJ Swearinger, lowers his right shoulder and uses his momentum from sprinting to knock Jones down. The sounds of the officials' whistles begin to blow as Jones stands himself up and tosses the football to the referee on his right side. Then the sounds of blowing whistles come again, and the game clock stops at 9:38. Offensive tackle, Sam Baker, is sitting on the ground with his right foot flat on the grass and both hands grasping his right knee. He (along with the rest of Falcons players, coaches, and fans) don't know it yet, but, Baker has just torn his patella; and in just 19 seconds, the Falcons have a plethora of question marks about their offensive line after working tirelessly to eliminate question marks in the offseason.

So Baker's now out for the 2014 season with a right knee injury. This injury follows up Baker injuring his left knee during the 2013 season. Let's not forget that Baker signed a 6-year contract with  $18.25 million guaranteed in March. Obviously this has general manager,Thomas Dimitroff, and owner, Author Blank, shaking their heads.

What makes me shake my head is that Lamar Holmes is currently the starting right tackle after 1st rounder, Jake Matthews, was officially moved over to cover Baker's spot. Holmes admitted to being out of shape during the 2013 season. To me, whether he's in shape or not, Holmes can't preform on an NFL level. The popular video game, Madden NFL, makes numerous players seem better than they are in reality; but even EA Sports can't make Holmes look decent. Holmes is simply a poor linemen. Can he improve? Yes, of course! Will  he improve? Uh...

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