Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to Goober Pyle in STPOTM
Younghoe Koo named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November
In the month of November, Younghoe Koo drilled all 10 of his field goal attempts and all 8 of his extra point attempts, chipping in a special teams tackle. That was enough to get the rising star his first Special Teams Player of the Month award, a well-deserved honor for a player who has turned into one of the most reliable kickers in football.
Koo is the first Falcon to win this honor since Matt Bryant back in 2016. After going 23 for 26 on field goals and 15 for 16 on extra points after taking over the kicker gig partway through the season, Koo is currently 29 for 30 on field goals and 22 for 25 on extra points, and he’s also handled kickoffs throughout the year. With a less reliable kicker, the Falcons’ offensive woes would be even more magnified, as Koo has repeatedly ensured Atlanta got out of messy drives with points.
Koo has a remarkable story, which makes him even easier to root for. Like Matt Bryant, a journeyman who surprisingly was cut from the Buccaneers in 2008, Koo took a while to find a home and blossom into a terrific kicker. Like Bryant joining Atlanta in 2009 in relief of a struggling Jason Elam, Koo came in partway through a season and immediately improving a shaky kicking situation, except in Koo’s case he had to replace Bryant, the best kicker in team history. Unlike Bryant, Koo didn’t have years of experience to build on, but just a single four game run with the Chargers where he hit three field goals and missed three field goals from 40-49 yards. Teams had him in for tryouts—including the Falcons—and the Patriots even had him on their practice squad before he wound up in Atlanta.
Koo grew up in South Korea and chiefly played soccer before moving to the United States in middle school, learning to play English and joining his New Jersey high school football, becoming an ace kicker who was great at Georgia Southern and once recorded this jaw-dropping video. His strong college career got him a shot with the Chargers, but chances are fleeting for young kickers and it had to be discouraging to find himself a free agent after just four games. It was beyond fortunate for the Falcons and Koo alike that he landed in Atlanta, where he’s going to be a priority re-signing for this team and has a legitimate chance to settle in as the team’s kicker for the next decade. He is, after all, just 26 years old and on track to shatter every single season kicking record in Falcons history.
I have to imagine the journey makes this even sweet for Koo. Our congratulations on the honor and let’s hope he finishes the season with a second consecutive award for December.
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to Vandy in We’re now seeing the Falcons - AJC
Wasn’t surprised we won, these were two fairly evenly matched teams. What was surprising was the score, of course.
People forget, if not for 3 serious situational coaching blunders....3 situations the falcons almost had to try and lose...they’d be sitting at 7-4 right now.
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to Goober Pyle in We’re now seeing the Falcons - AJC
by Mark Bradley for the AJC
If you care about the Falcons, Sunday’s was a game that made you laugh — and maybe cry. They were without two of their biggest names. They were coming off a loss in which they didn’t manage a touchdown. They were home underdogs against an opponent fighting to make the playoffs. They won 43-6.
You laughed because this was among the Falcons’ finest performances of their post-Super Bowl seasons. You wept, or maybe you just shook your head, because … well, where has this been? In the any-given-Sunday NFL, why did this team squander so many Sundays that it’s operating under an interim coach and minus a general manager?
Two of the the highest-salaried Falcons were ruled inactive Sunday. Without Julio Jones and Todd Gurley, the Falcons blended a measured offensive plan with a defensive effort that rendered an above-average offense null and void. Twice this season, the Raiders’ Derek Carr has matched the incomparable Patrick Mahomes almost pass for pass. On this day, the same Carr resembled former Falcons backup Tony Graziani — known in franchise lore as “Deer-in-the-Headlights-Graziani” — in his utter ineptitude.
“If I were in another stadium and saw this score on the board,” announcer Kevin Harlan informed his CBS audience, just as Younghoe Koo was about to add the Falcons’ 40th point, “I’d be stunned.”
Lest we forget, these Falcons started 0-5. In the any-given-Sunday league, they managed to lose every given Sunday — until Arthur Blank had mercy on all concerned and fired Dan Quinn. They’re 4-2 since. Their first three victories under Raheem Morris came against teams that are below .500. The Raiders were 6-4. Now they’re 6-5, although this egregious defeat had to feel like three L’s rolled (or rollled) into one.
Over their past three games, the Raiders averaged 33 points. Against the league’s 29th-ranked defense, they were held to two field goals, one per half. On the season, the Raiders averaged 369.4 yards per game. They had 243 on Sunday — 122 in the first half, 121 in the second. They were overwhelmed — yes, overwhelmed — from start to finish. The Falcons induced five turnovers, four by Carr. He was sacked three times. He lost three fumbles and dealt a pick-6 to Deion Jones.
The only way the Falcons could win this game, or so we figured, was if their quarterback banished the memory of his Sunday in the Superdome and conjured a vintage Matt Ryan performance. Turned out Matty Ice needed only to be Matty the Game Manager. He passed for 185 yards, a season low. The Falcons managed but 304 yards, 77.9 below their average.
And yet: 43 to 6! See what can happen if you just do the basics — play defense, move the chains, make your field goals, fall on the ball when the other guy lets it slip? Forty-three points on a day when J. Jones and T. Gurley do nothing but watch, letting lesser lights like Brandon Powell and Christian Blake and Ito Smith do the lifting. See what can happen if you play smart, as opposed to the often out-of-control fast & furious ways of DQ?
Said Morris: “This is how games should end when you’ve got control of them.”
Yes indeed. Even the historically ham-handed Falcons had to strain to blow the Dallas and Chicago games, not to mention the one against Detroit, which happened under Morris. Flip two of those three losses and this team — this team of not inconsiderable talent, we stress — would be 6-5 and very much in playoff contention. We’re not saying these Falcons would have been in the class of the Steelers or Chiefs, but there was no way this team should have been in the conversation regarding Trevor Lawrence’s next home.
“We can be a great defense,” Deion Jones said. “We can be a great team.”
The Falcons stopped themselves from having a realistic chance to do anything of significance this season. They showed Sunday what can happen if they keep the pressure on an opponent and step aside as that opponent falls to pieces. They made a decent Raiders team look downright indecent. Even as the lead was mounting and we were starting to make jokes about how even the Falcons mightn’t be able to blow this game, they kept building on it. They built until Jon Gruden took pity on his addled quarterback and pulled Carr with 10 minutes remaining.
“Someone told me we’re 4-0 after we miss practices because of crazy circumstances,” Ryan said, meaning COVID-driven facility closures. In the final days of Quinn — sorry for belaboring this point, but the point does need making — this team seemed incapable of dealing with anything. Ergo, 0-5.
But under Morris, 4-2. This time it was Raiders who kept tripping themselves, turning first-and-goal from the 3 into second-and-goal from the 23, three times extending Falcons drives with roughing penalties – twice on Ryan, once on Koo after he finally missed a kick. Those three possessions culminated in 17 points. How much fun was it, just this once, to see to the other team doing all the silly stuff?
Yes, the Falcons would almost surely have to win out to have even a sniff at the playoffs, and that’s too much to ask. But it is heartening to see that we weren’t completely crazy in believing this team coulda/shoulda been a contender. A month ago, if someone had said a team would break 40 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Nov. 29, we’d never have guessed it would be the home side. But that just happened. Two or three more wins and it’ll be tough not to see what this team under Morris could do in 2021.
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to FalconsIn2012 in Beautiful Story on Falcons Possible Next GM: Rick Smith
"𝑴𝒀 𝑯𝑬𝑨𝑹𝑻 𝑰𝑺 𝑵𝑶𝑾 𝑶𝑷𝑬𝑵: 𝑯𝑶𝑾 𝑮𝑹𝑰𝑬𝑭 𝑹𝑬𝑺𝑯𝑨𝑷𝑬𝑫 𝑴𝑬"
The entry for Jan. 31, 2019 in Rick Smith’s journal begins:
My wife took her last breath at 10:11 a.m. She is free.
Tiffany Smith, 49, was pronounced dead about two hours later. She had been unconscious for a couple of days. Her husband had been sitting by her side, waiting, praying, doing what he could to bring her comfort.
A little more than a year earlier, Rick was the executive vice president and general manager of the Houston Texans. He was a man who seemed to have it all, including a vibrant wife and three beautiful children, Rob, now 16, Avery, 12, and Christian, 8.
After becoming the youngest general manager in the NFL in 2006 at age 36, Rick drafted stars like Duane Brown, J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Jadeveon Clowney and Deshaun Watson. He was widely respected in league circles even though his teams had mixed results. Rick’s Texans had made four playoff appearances but never advanced past the divisional round.
By 2017, Rick and Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, who had been hired three years earlier by owner Bob McNair with input from Rick, were having differences about how the organization was being run.
When Tiffany was diagnosed with breast cancer, Rick decided his wife and their children needed him more than the Texans, so at the end of the 2017 season, he took a leave of absence that was supposed to last a minimum of 12 months.
After Rick was out of the way, McNair gave most of Rick’s authority to O’Brien. Rick says McNair called him to his office six months later and told him he no longer saw a place for him in the organization. They agreed to revisit the situation after the season.
During his leave, Rick dedicated himself to his wife and her burdens. They opted mostly for alternative treatments, which seemed to be working. In February 2018, doctors told her the tumor was half the size it had been when it was discovered.
But in December 2018, things took a turn. Tiffany was coughing and experiencing pain and swelling in her abdomen.
As Rick’s wife was becoming gravely ill, the Texans officially fired him on December 31. “It created a tremendous amount of pressure on me, right when things were starting to go downhill,” he says. “My concern was about health insurance and having to transition everything to Cobra.”
He wasn’t happy about the way things ended, and he let it be known to Cal McNair, who succeeded his father after Bob died in November 2018.
A section of Rick’s journal entry on January 3 reads:
I emailed Cal. I feel better. I feel better. There was something therapeutic about expressing this and releasing it.
The entry for January 7 begins:
What a day. This has been Tiff’s toughest day. I explained to her that my concern is the progressive way in which she experiences new issues.
His entry for January 11, reads, in part:
I told my mom that I just had to put my hands up last night in worship and tell God I can no longer do this alone. I can no longer do this by myself. I surrender. I surrender ALL. ALL.
On January 23, he wrote:
This situation, circumstance, this journey, whatever, or however it is best described, is the most challenging of my time here on the planet. I am calling on every experience and lesson I’ve learned for all 49 years. God is calling me deeper. I hear that. I see that. I am doing that.
Still, neither he nor his wife grasped what was happening.
A little more than one month before her death, Rick and Tiffany danced at her friend’s wedding at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico. Two weeks before her death, Rick had never contemplated anything but a return to health for Tiffany. One week before her death, they didn’t even understand they needed to have a nurse come to their house to help tend to her.
Then, quickly, Tiffany was free.
Rick was anything but.
Rob Smith walked to the lectern at Wheeler Baptist Church, paused, and looked at the large photograph of his mother. “God, she was beautiful, wasn’t she?” he said.
Then he began a eulogy that moved many in the standing room only congregation.
Cal McNair was there with a large Texans contingent that included Hopkins and many teammates. Among those in attendance were Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones, Giants owner John Mara, Falcons president Rich McKay, Ravens exec Ozzie Newsome, and former head coaches Marvin Lewis and Jeff Fisher, all of whom served with Smith on the NFL competition committee. Others in the crowd included Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who played with Smith at Purdue, ESPN insider Adam Schefter, and Rob’s entire high school football team.
Rick asked that instead of flowers, donations be made to Bo’s Place, a bereavement center that offers grief support. Fifty thousand dollars was contributed.
“What I remember most is how I felt supported,” he says a year later as he pulls out a large box from under the couch in his office. In it are hundreds of letters with heartfelt notes. “I felt lifted up, loved. It was tangible.”
Still, the burden was heavy. The yoke Rick had shared with his wife now was all his.
Tiffany was Rick’s first love, and his first loss.
“Tiffany was a force, man,” Rick says. “She was a force. I don’t want to say she was everything. But she was everything. She was a partner. She was a friend. She was an advocate. She was fiercely loyal. She was smart as ****. She was funny.”
He pauses to gather himself. A tear streams down his right cheek and disappears beneath his upper lip. “Yeah, she was all of that. People loved her. If she didn’t like you, you knew it. There was no secret about it. And she was cool with you knowing that. In fact, she preferred it. She was clear. She taught me about boundaries, man. She taught me about loyalty. She taught me about what it is to love and how to love. Yeah, she was just… that’s what she was. I miss her, man. I miss her.”
In the great room just off the front door in the Smith house in Houston is a large photograph of Tiffany over the fireplace. Beneath the picture is a lovely cream and caramel-colored urn with her remains. To the left, a large gong. Sometimes Rick finds peace in this room.
Down the hall through their bedroom, past the bed where she took her last breath and into their closet is another space he considers sacred. In the back corner of the closet is a small shrine to Tiffany. Her wedding ring is there. So is the candle that was burning when she died, and other mementos of significance from their relationship.
Rick’s shrine to Tiffany. (Dan Pompei / The Athletic) Another candle that belonged to Tiffany is nearby. It has the word “Love” on it. He hasn’t lit it, but there are times when its aroma — orchid with a hint of citrus — fills the room. “When she’s here, she blows that scent to me,” he says. “I don’t smell it any other time except when she’s here.”
Rick can show you a Franklin Planner for each of the last 28 years. Planning was a part of who he was. But there could be no planning any of this.
His new reality? Pancakes on the griddle in the morning and salmon on the grill in the evening. Registering for the kids’ classes and shopping for school supplies. Drop-offs and pickups. Making sure the water bowl was filled for Gracie the Goldendoodle.
There were those uncomfortable firsts to get through. Birthdays, their wedding anniversary, vacation, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.
There was a period he barely could get out of bed, a “dark night of the soul,” he calls it.
Losing his wife was one thing. Losing his job was another. It was, he says, like “two deaths.”
He would not deal with loss passively.
When Tiffany was ill, Rick was prediabetic, dealing with regular flareups of gout. He eliminated sugar and flour and tried intermittent fasting. He stopped taking all pharmaceutical drugs, even aspirin. Now he’s 20 pounds lighter and has more energy and flexibility and less inflammation than he’s had since his college days.
Tiffany had seen an acupuncturist who recommended they visit the Shaolin Temple. Rick has made going there a habit, studying Chi Kong and Tai Chi from a 31st generation monk. He works with a yogi who opens up his centers.
He committed to one year of grief counseling and therapy.
He became consistent about journaling and started writing a book on his experiences. Reading helped — there was A New Earthby Eckhart Tolle, The Untethered Soul by Michael Allen Singer, and Becoming Supernatural by Joe Dispenza.
All of it has reshaped him.
“You don’t go through the experience I just went through and come out on the other side the same,” he says. “It’s a transformational experience. My thought process, my self-awareness, all is exponentially better. I have a new perspective on almost everything, and it enhances all the skills I had before. I have a more global perspective. I have a richer view of life that will enhance whatever I do.”
That includes how he parents, how he takes care of himself, and maybe, how he will run a football team.
January 31 was the first anniversary of Tiffany’s death. To commemorate it, the family dedicated a memorial bench to her near their house.
They released balloons and prayed, then went home with a few friends. They cooked tacos, which Tiffany loved to do. Rick and the kids had written letters to Tiffany and placed them in a box. After nightfall, they started a fire in the firepit, and placed the box in it, releasing their sentiments to the skies.
It wasn’t closure. Grief like this has no closure. But it was graduation, one phase to the next.
Through his sadness, his glorious sadness, life began again for Rick. “The grief broke me open, wide open,” he says. “My heart is open now. My ability to connect with people is so much more enhanced. I’ve got more empathy, I’ve got more love. That has greatly enhanced my ability to see life for what it is and to know who I am.”
Death, as always, begetting life.
Around Thanksgiving 2019, Smith received a call from Cal McNair. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, had contacted McNair to see if Smith would be interested in getting back in the game. Smith grew up in Virginia as a fan of Joe Gibbs and the Hogs, and his parents still live there.
Snyder and Smith met twice in the Bahamas, but no offer was made.
Returning to the NFL would mean uprooting his children at a time Rob, Avery and Christian could be vulnerable.
The morning after Smith met with Snyder the second time, he found a letter on his desk from his daughter, telling him she and her brothers should not be the reason he turns down a job. “I want him to do something that he likes to do,” Avery says. “Even though he likes taking care of us, there is something else he can do that makes him happy.”
The family bonds have been strengthened. “Moving isn’t an issue for me,” Rob says. “I’ll follow him wherever he goes. Whatever he does, I’m doing.”
It is likely more interview requests will be coming. The 2019 Texans — a team he still refers to as “we” — reflected well on him. The five captains who took the field for the coin toss in their playoff game against the Chiefs — Watson, Watt, Johnathan Joseph, Nick Martin and Bernardrick McKinney — had been acquired by Smith.
On the day of the draft in 2017, Smith was intent on drafting a franchise quarterback. He ranked Watson first, Patrick Mahomes second and Mitchell Trubisky a distant third, he says. “I walked away from the national championship game convinced Deshaun could lead the franchise,” he says. “I thought he could be a top quarterback in this league for a long time.”
He knew Watson would not last until the Texans’ 25th pick in the draft. He thought he would have to trade up to the sixth pick, so he polled the others in the draft room to see if anyone was interested in making a move. Nobody else was. The price was prohibitive anyway.
Then the Chiefs traded up to the 10th spot to take Mahomes. Watson was still on the board, and a trade up with the Browns to the 12th spot was possible. Smith asked the others in the room if anyone would give up next year’s first-round pick to move up to 12 for Watson.
“Not one person said they would,” he says.
He typically values consensuses. Not this time.
Smith leaned over and quietly spoke to O’Brien.
Smith: “If he’s there at 12, I’m gonna go get him.”
O’Brien: “If you have a feeling in your gut like that, do it. I’ll coach him up, and we’ll be good.”
And with that, Smith stood up and announced to the room, “Sometimes you just got to go with your gut.”
And so he did, trading up to the 12th spot and selecting Watson.
It took Smith awhile to get the quarterback he wanted. He inherited David Carr, traded for Matt Schaub, then signed three free agents over three years — Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler.
The Osweiler signing was the most regrettable because the Texans gave him a contract worth $72 million over four years. Osweiler clashed with O’Brien, set the team record for interceptions and was benched late in the season. In what Schefter said may have been the most creative trade in NFL history, Smith then packaged Osweiler with a second-round pick and dumped him on the Browns.
“You are going to make mistakes in this business,” Smith says. “Either you admit them and find a solution, or sit in them.”
If Smith finds himself running a team again in the future, he will do some things differently, he says.
He believes football organizations aren’t as efficient as possible in player development. He would lead his team in a way NFL teams typically aren’t led, with an emphasis on the whole person and not just the player.
“We spend so much time, resources, energy, attention on draft evaluation,” he says. “We have huge dossiers on these players, where they are from, how they learn, personal lives, social skill set, scores, their history, everything. After the draft, all that information about that player we learned doesn’t get integrated into his onboarding. I think that’s a mistake. You can onboard players and utilize all that information to put a plan together that gives them a chance to give them a better chance to be a better man, better member of the organization, and a better football player. There is a holistic approach to player development we are missing.”
Smith isn’t interested in being a de facto personnel director who only is in charge of acquisitions and roster management. He wants to be the man who provides the vision for a franchise.
Leadership always has come naturally. Smith was class president in elementary school. In driver’s ed, he was the No. 1 driver in the No. 1 car. He was captain of his high school football team and his college team at Purdue, where he was a strong safety who energized his team with hits that could be heard all over the stadium and an infectious laugh.
“Rick Smith was a leader for the Texans in some of our most transformative years,” Cal McNair said in a statement from the team last month. “I respect the sacrifices he made during an extremely difficult time for his family and I’ve always thought he would go on to be a success in anything he chose to do.”
Leadership may be more of a strength than ever now.
In a league that currently has only two African American general managers, Smith is a candidate who every owner with a high-level front office opening has to consider.
With the Texans, Smith dedicated himself to filling the pipeline with qualified minorities. He increased the number of African Americans in football operations to 16 from six, not including coaches. Of those 16, seven were in leadership positions, defined as assistant director or higher. With a new team, Smith would intend to do the same.
His grandfather, Frank Smith, was a sharecropper in Virginia who sweated away his days tending to cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and sweet potatoes. He was a dignified, reserved man, and he wore a suit to church every Sunday. Frank’s son and Rick’s father Franklin Sr. was the chief school officer in Washington, D.C.
On one wall in Smith’s office is a plaque with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Below it is a plaque with clippings from the June 4, 2008 edition of the Houston Chronicle announcing Smith signing a contract extension and Barack Obama clinching the Democratic presidential nomination.
“There’s obligation,” Smith says. “It’s right there [on the wall]. I understand it. I feel it. And I’ve got a legacy on the other side. I don’t know that it’s limited to the National Football League, but I know the National Football League gives me a platform and opportunity to really demonstrate that we are capable, that we should have a seat, and we need to have more representation.”
That being said, Smith doesn’t feel a need to return to the NFL to complete unfinished business, or to prove anything. “What’s important to me is to be present every moment of every day, and to support these kids and to share the gifts God has given me,” he says. “If that means my vocation is back in the NFL, then that’s what I’ll be doing. I know I have a lot to offer the NFL. If it’s another calling, that’s what I’ll do. I will stay obedient to God’s guidance and direction.”
Smith’s perspective is rare in NFL front offices, where deep thought usually is limited to play dissection.
So the question becomes: is there a place in the NFL for a man like him?
“What I do know and what I can tell you is I am not changing,” he says. “I’m moving further and further into my practice and my awareness of who I am. I do believe there is a place in the NFL for light and love and joy and abundance and peace, grace, wisdom, intelligence, forgiveness, all those God qualities. How that manifests itself in that environment, I’m not sure. But that’s what I’m expressing.”
The argument can be made that pro football needs him more than he needs pro football.
He may be running an NFL team in the near future again. He may not be.
What matters now is Rick Smith is free.
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to BlazerSlayer in Just gonna leave this here...
I've been grateful for MR his whole time here because he has proven himself continually. The worst thing is to have no franchise QB because you'll never have a shot at a SB, unless you manage to build an all time unit on other parts of your team. Getting a franchise QB is the hardest part. We have one, and it's a shame he wasn't given enough of a defense at any point. But there's some with an agenda on these boards.
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to WhiskeyBruh in Just gonna leave this here...
Blair: We must savor Matt Ryan, who is putting together one of the better statistical seasons of his career on a three-win Falcons team. He might be easy to overlook, but QBs of his pedigree are exceedingly difficult to find. Just ask owners of Derek Carr stock.
Be glad Matt Ryan is your quarterback... I know I am.
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to Goober Pyle in Falcons need more here: 5 players who are crucial to their second-half success - The Athletic
by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic
We took a look back at the first nine games of the season last week and graded out almost every single layer of the Falcons’ starting offensive and defensive units. Now, with the bye week behind us, it’s time to look ahead to the second half of the season.
Interim coach Raheem Morris said the focus of the bye week for the offense was figuring out how to maintain leads late in games. He said the Falcons (3-6) discussed how they can’t get so confined in a box “that you limit yourself.”
“We’d like to come out and be more aggressive, come out in a personnel group that fits us best,” Morris said. “Do some of the things that we do better.”
When discussing the defense, it’s the other side of that maintaining-leads coin.
“When you’re talking about defense, you just want to talk about how you get better at owning those moments in the two-minute, catch-up type of ball,” Morris said. “Those are the moments that have hurt us the most in the beginning half of the season, so those are the moments we want to improve on and get better at and getting after the passer.”
Morris said if the Falcons could get those two specific areas corrected, it would be something they’d “be really jacked up about.”
So here are five players who have meant the most to the Falcons this season and what the team needs from them in the second half.
Oluokun entered the season knowing this was his chance to really make his mark. The starting spot beside Deion Jones was open, and Oluokun knew it was open for him. A former safety at Yale and the 200th pick in 2018, Oluokun has said for a while that he plays with a chip on his shoulder as a linebacker in the league.
“Everything I did,” Oluokun said, “I had to prove to them.”
Oluokun was more of a role player in 2019, and because of that, he never wanted to mess up. He was aware of the limited chances he had, which made him more cautious.
He said at the beginning of training camp that he was coming in with new confidence. So, that cautious player in 2019 is not who the Falcons have gotten this season.
“He’s everywhere right now,” Jones said Monday.
The new blitzing packages the Falcons have used in recent weeks have highlighted the strengths of Jones and Oluokun and allowed the defense to look at times more disruptive because of the blitzing opportunities afforded these two players. Expect this to continue as the Falcons have found some much-needed success in their ability to get the quarterback off his spot with Jones and Oluokun.
The difference between Jones and Oluokun, however, is Jones’ importance within this defense was expected. Oluokun had to prove he was an important piece of the defensive puzzle. Now, as one of the highest-graded linebackers in the league, he’s showing what defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich hoped he would.
“It’s just been really fun to watch him progress and become the player that he is starting to become,” Ulbrich said. “I really hope that the league starts to take notice of him because I think he is very deserving of the credit of being one of the better linebackers in this league now.”
More offenses in recent weeks have started to take notice of the kill zone: the area right in front of the linebackers and behind the defensive line. It’s a spot Ulbrich said opponents should fear catching the ball. But during the past two years, he said that hasn’t really been the case — it hasn’t been a fear-inducing area. That is, until recently.
“People are starting to peek around, and people are starting to drop balls in that area,” Ulbrich said. “People are starting to be aware that he is roaming somewhere.”
“He” is Neal.
No one was really sure what this season would hold for Neal. The injuries that plagued him in 2018 and 2019 were extensive, but Neal is back after essentially two years of rehabbing, and opposing offenses are starting to take notice.
“It’s rare that guys come back from that sort of layoff, but he’s starting to get back into form,” Ulbrich said. “You’re really starting to feel him on Sundays.”
Neal only has gotten better as the season has progressed. He would be the first to say the game was moving quickly for him early as he adjusted. He’s settled and has shown how he can add a different element to the defense.
Morris said he didn’t know what it would take to get Neal back into form, but Morris knew it would happen eventually. The power and the pop of the old Neal have now returned, and that’s good news for the Falcons.
“We need to see him continue to play that way,” secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. “For us to continue to have success as a defense, as a team, he has to be a guy that we win because of. You have certain guys you win with, and you have certain guys you win because of, and that’s one thing that I’ve talked to (Keanu) about a couple weeks ago, and he’s been doing that. He’s been a reason we’ve won two of these last three.”
The Falcons could use an entire defensive line made up of Jarrett clones. If they had that kind of group, any conversations about the defensive line’s inability to affect the quarterback would be nonexistent.
All offenses can do is try to hold off Jarrett long enough to get a throw off. They double team him. They slide the protection toward him. They have linemen bounce off to help whoever Jarrett is matched up with. Every offensive coordinator knows where Jarrett is at all times … because they have to. He’s a nuisance and a mismatch. He’s what the Falcons need more of.
“Although he doesn’t necessarily have the measurables from a height standpoint or length standpoint, he’s got the intangibles that are so unique and so special in the way that he works and his toughness,” Ulbrich said. “He’s got unbelievable lateral quickness and anticipation and instinct.
“He’s an absolute leader in every way. We are very fortunate to have him.”
If only the Falcons had more of him.
Lindstrom is the lone offensive player to make the list for two reasons: 1) because it’s the Falcons’ defense that needs the most help right now; and 2) because on an offense with the likes of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Todd Gurley, Lindstrom isn’t talked about enough. One of the top-graded guards in the league, Lindstrom has been a shining star as the offensive line has looked better protecting Ryan. There is still room for improvement in run blocking, but the first nine games of this season were a step up from where this offensive line was last year.
The Falcons didn’t have Lindstrom at their disposal much last year after he was injured in Week 1. But his return and continued good health this year have benefitted Atlanta, especially in the past month as Lindstrom — similar to Neal — has settled in.
“When you draft a guy like Chris (in the first round), obviously the expectation level is extremely high for him, so it’s unfortunate that he had to miss so much time in his rookie season,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “But Chris is playing exactly how we felt like he would play when we watched his college tape at (Boston College).”
Koetter mentioned Lindstrom has tapped into some increased strength through extra work in the offseason. Mentally, he has found his voice.
“Chris is also developing as a leader and as a talker and as a guy who will speak up when things need to be said,” Koetter said. “We’re real happy with how he’s playing.”
Morris said he has been pleased with the improvements this group has made in regards to protecting Ryan, and Morris said Lindstrom is the type of player “you want to go out and get at every single position with the style and the mentality of play that he has.”
“He’s certainly a guy that’s big in our plans (right now),” Morris said. “And big in our plans moving forward.”
Dennard played one heck of a game in Week 3 against Chicago. He had six tackles, broke up a couple of important passes and made one of the best plays of the week with an interception in the end zone. But that was it for Dennard for a few weeks as the veteran defensive back was put on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He was only just recently activated onto the active roster the week before Atlanta’s last game against Denver.
The story of the secondary in the first half of the season was how beat up it was, with Blidi Wreh-Wilson one of the only secondary players not to miss time because of injury or COVID-19-related issues. The Falcons finally have a deeper secondary rotation, and getting Dennard back is one of the biggest plusses for this group.
“It’s really exciting when you talk about getting people healthy,” Morris said. “We’re at a stage halfway through the season where you have a bunch of people healthy. It’s a credit to our athletic training staff and what they’ve been able to do to get these guys back onto the playing field, particularly in Dennard. Dennard went out with a pretty significant injury and for him to be able to fight back and to come back and claw back and be ready for his team is huge for us.”
Atlanta knows it needs more production and consistency from its secondary in the second half of the season. The workload only increases for this group, too. Even though New Orleans will be without Drew Brees on Sunday, there are still high-caliber quarterbacks on the schedule in the coming weeks. Seeing what the likes of Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford were able to do to this secondary, particularly late in games, doesn’t bode well for this group. But maybe with a full stock of reinforcements, this group can make a much-needed change.
That change starts with Dennard.
“I think Dennard getting back healthy really helps us on defense, really helps us play sticky man coverage,” Morris said after the win over Denver. “We like that.”
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to atljbo in That Boy Hayden Hurst
Hayden Hurst 9 games: 37 rec, 411 yards, 3 TDs
Mark Andrews 9 games: 33 rec, 358 yards, 6 TDs
Darren Waller 9 games: 50 rec, 393 yards, 4 TDs
Hunter Henry 9 games: 37 rec, 387 yards, 2 TDs
Austin Hooper 7 games: 23 rec, 216 yards, 1 TDs
This Hurst trade looks like a good one even tho i hopped it was for a 3rd rounder..Ive been seeing some ravens fans/reporters discuss how he is missed this year... Dude is putting up probowl numbers (as of now).. He is currently the 3rd ranked TE in receiving yard.
What i like most is that we have him under contract the next 2 years for dirt cheap.
2021: 1.9 mil
2022: 6-7 million
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to FalconsIn2012 in Falcons’ midseason defensive grades: A lot of room for improvement - The Athletic
Isaiah Oliver is 4th on the team with 34 solo tackles, just 3 behind Debo. Also has 5 PD, 3 TFL, 1 sack & 1 QB hit. He plays very well around the LOS. Not the bumb many around here claim
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to vel in Falcons’ midseason defensive grades: A lot of room for improvement - The Athletic
Yall are real quiet about AJ Terrell being a terrible pick...
Jumpin Jehosaphat reacted to Goober Pyle in Falcons’ midseason defensive grades: A lot of room for improvement - The Athletic
by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic
After a winless start through five games that ended with coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff being let go, the Falcons have looked better in recent weeks under interim coach Raheem Morris. The Falcons are 3-6 after going 3-1 the past four weeks. During the bye week, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the first nine weeks of the season, giving out grades for a number of key players.
Midterm grades are in; let’s dive into them. We started with the offense on Wednesday, so now we’ll look at the defense:
Defensive tackle: B-minus
PFF grades: Grady Jarrett 84.9 (10th of 118), Tyeler Davison 55.0 (89th of 118), John Cominsky 64.1 (61st of 118), Marlon Davidson (N/A; hasn’t seen enough action)
Standout: Jarrett with 2.5 sacks | 32 combined tackles, six for loss | 13 quarterback hits
If we were just grading individuals within the defense in the same way we did for the offense, Jarrett would be the highest-graded player without question. If this is just Jarrett we are grading, he gets an A. But it’s not. We’re taking a look at the entire position group, and as much as Jarrett builds this group up, he only could get it to a low-B status. Cominsky had to miss two games while on the COVID-19/reserve list, but he has been emerging quite nicely since the start of training camp. If he can remain healthy, he likely will continue on that upward trajectory through the second half of the season, and the Falcons will need him to. So, it’s Davison who the Falcons need more production from in this group. Through the years, he has not been the game-wrecker Jarrett is, but with Davison having only nine tackles this season, the Falcons could use something from him. Without Jarrett, the group may be in D-territory.
Defensive end: C-minus
PFF grades: Dante Fowler 53.3 (94th of 111), Charles Harris 57.0 (79th of 111), Steven Means 56.4 (80th of 111), Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 56.2 (81st of 111), Allen Bailey 50.4 (102nd of 118)
Standout: Fowler with 2.0 sacks | 17 combined tackles | three tackles for loss | six quarterback hits | one forced fumble
Overall, the Falcons just need more disruption from this group, which needs to affect the quarterback a bit more in the second half of the season than it did in the first half. And these players have their work cut out for them: They know they face Drew Brees and Tom Brady twice, and don’t forget about Patrick Mahomes. So, it’s only going to get tougher. Cutting ties with Takk McKinley this week was a start. Getting Fowler back and healthy after the bye week will be good for the group. He played through an ankle injury throughout the first few weeks of the season and most recently had to miss the Denver game with a hamstring issue. That’s where the rest of this group comes in. Bailey and Means started against Denver in the absence of Fowler and McKinley, but it was Tuioti-Mariner who had the best day of the group. The Falcons will just have to see more consistency at this position from the top down.
PFF grades: Deion Jones 67.6 (15th of 85), Foye Oluokun 66.2 (17th of 85) and Mykal Walker 64.4 (20th of 85)
Standout: Oluokun with 1.0 sack | 64 combined tackles (more than he had last year) | three tackles for loss | four quarterback hurries | three forced fumbles | one interception
Yes, Jones is a higher ranked linebacker league-wide and has looked really good this season, especially recently. But it’s Oluokun who is Jeff Ulbrich’s pride and joy. Oluokun has been the defense’s main disrupter and at times one of the only good things this group had going for it early. Oluokun finally broke into the starting lineup because of De’Vondre Campbell’s departure, and he hasn’t disappointed yet. Don’t forget about the smaller but still impressive role of Walker. The rookie has flashed at times and like Oluokun could see more improvements to his game the more action he sees. All-in-all, outside of Jarrett, this linebacker group is the best part of this defense right now, and these players are playing like it. But sadly for the Falcons, they can’t do it all.
PFF grades: Ricardo Allen 62.0 (42nd of 88), Keanu Neal 65.7 (29th of 88)
Standout: Neal with 1.0 sack | 58 combined tackles | six tackles for loss | three quarterback hits
This position group has been through a lot the past few years and this year, too. For the third year in a row, a Falcons safety has torn his Achilles. This year, it was Damontae Kazee and the Falcons already announced he will be out for the remainder of the year like Neal and Allen before him with the same injury. The group also had to play without Allen for a time with an elbow injury. The good news for this group is that it seems Neal has gotten his groove back. After missing nearly two whole years with injuries, Neal was looking forward to getting back in 2020. He said he was a little hesitant in the beginning, just trying to catch back up to the speed of the game in the first weeks of the season. But he has turned a corner recently and has started to look like the old Neal again. With Allen stepping up and making some plays in recent weeks, too, this group is looking better, but the secondary as a whole is giving up too many yards, and that’s why even with Allen and Neal playing better this group doesn’t get a better grade.
PFF grades: Blidi Wreh-Wilson 49.1 (96th of 116), A.J. Terrell 70.0 (21st of 116), Isaiah Oliver 62.0 (46th of 116), Kendall Sheffield 34.3 (114th of 116), Darqueze Dennard 68.7 (27th of 116)
Standout: Terrell with 34 combined tackles | one tackle for loss | one quarterback hit | one interception
The play of Terrell and the fact that Dennard is back off the injured reserve kept this group out of failing territory. It hasn’t been a good year for this group at all. It has been burned a number of times this season. The players know it. Secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. knows it. Everyone knows it. It’s now about seeing how much different this group can look from one half of the season to the next. Last year you saw someone like Sheffield emerge more consistent in the second half of the season, but can he do that again? He’ll need to bring Oliver along with him. We all knew going into the season that this group would experience its share of growing pains, but it has a long way to go as it is one of the lowest-ranked groups in the league.