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  1. Falcons ranked #1 https://www.atlantafalcons.com/_mobileview/news/ranking-the-nfc-south-s-linebackers-falcons-panthers-boast-talented-units Ranking the NFC South’s linebackers: Falcons, Panthers boast talented units Will McFadden ATLANTAFALCONS.COM AP Photos The NFC South is home to two of the best linebackers in the NFL, and it added a pair of top-tier athletes at the position in this year’s draft. RELATED CONTENT NFC South rankings: WRs | RBs | QBs | TEs | OL | DL| DBs Linebackers have become more versatile and athletic as the game has evolved, and that is certainly true within a division that features Deion Jones and Luke Kuechly. With the Buccaneers and Panthers moving towards a 3-4 scheme this offseason, their linebacker units will look slightly different than in recent seasons, but that should only make them more interesting to watch. As a reminder, for the duration of these NFC South position group rankings I will be rating the groups on a 1-4 scale in five different categories with No. 1 being the best and No. 4 being the worst. For a refresher on what each category means, click here. AP/Bill Feig T-4. New Orleans Saints Average score: 3.4 Top player: Demario Davis Drop-off factor: 3 Group production: 4 Best player: 4 Consistency: 2 Depth: 4 The Saints have some really talented players on their defense, such as Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore, but their linebacker group is a relative weak link. Demario Davis, who had 110 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2018, headlines the group, and fellow starters A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone are back in the fold as well. That trio combined for 239 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and nine sacks last season, but there is very little depth behind those three. New Orleans used its final draft pick to select former Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss, but it’s unlikely he will make a major impact in his first season. Craig Robertson, who had 14 tackles and a sack in 2018, is the primary veteran backup for the moment. AP/Mark Humphrey T-4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Average score: 3.4 Top player: Lavonte David Drop-off factor: 4 Group production: 3 Best player: 3 Consistency: 4 Depth: 3 Tampa Bay’s linebacker corps has been fairly underrated for the past few seasons, but many of the players who made it so are gone as the Buccaneers transition to a 3-4 scheme. Lavonte David, the leader of the group is back, but Kwon Alexander and Adarius Taylor, who combined for 105 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and two sacks, are not. Their absence will be felt, but the Buccaneers are hoping to have found their linebacker of the future in Devin White, the fifth-overall pick in this year’s draft. Thus far, White has reportedly received rave reviews from his teammates and coaches, and it looks like he’s clearly in line to be a starter on Day 1. The Buccaneers added Shaquil Barrett and Deon Bucannon in free agency, but Bucannon is really a hybrid safety/linebacker whose role decreased last season in Arizona and Barrett is more of a rush specialist than all-around linebacker. Tampa Bay’s transition to a 3-4 makes their group a little tough to evaluate as defensive ends like Noah Spence and Carl Nassib could transition to an outside linebacker role. AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack 2. Carolina Panthers Average score: 2 Top player: Luke Kuechly Drop-off factor: 2 Group production: 2 Best player: 1 Consistency: 3 Depth: 2 The Panthers could make a strong claim for the top spot on this list. Not only do they have arguably the best linebacker in the NFL in Luke Kuechly, but they’ve added some quality pieces this offseason as they too start a switch over to a 3-4 scheme. Shaq Thompson returns alongside Kuechly as the Panthers’ primary inside linebackers, and the duo combined for 209 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Panthers legend Thomas Davis is no longer with the team after leaving in free agency, and his departure will likely be felt. But as Carolina transitions its defense to a new scheme, the Panthers have brought in some notable names to play on the outside. Bruce Irvin signed with the team in the offseason, and he seems to be a strong candidate to start at outside linebacker as a pass rusher. The team also used its first pick in the draft to select Brian Burns, an athletic freak out of Florida State who was billed as one of the top prospects in this year’s class. This group will look different than in year’s past, but there is undoubtedly talent there and Kuechly is still a legitimate All-Pro. 1. Atlanta Falcons Average score: 1.2 Top player: Deion Jones Drop-off factor: 1 Group production: 1 Best player: 2 Consistency: 1 Depth: 1 Losing Deion Jones for much of the 2018 season was perhaps the most significant injury the Falcons suffered last season, which speaks volumes about his importance given who else the team lost. Jones’ range, instincts and tackling ability are simply instrumental in everything the Falcons do defensively. During his Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2017, Jones recorded 138 tackles – fourth most among all NFL linebackers – 10 tackles for a loss, 10 pass defenses and three interceptions. But what earns the Falcons the top spot on this list is that the guys around Jones are really good, too. De’Vondre Campbell does not get the level of attention he deserves, partially because of who he’s playing next to, and he’s recorded 186 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and four pass defenses over the last two seasons. One of the best surprises for Atlanta in 2018 was sixth-round pick Foye Oluokun, a little-known player out of Yale. After Jones went down, Oluokun stepped up in a big way, earning 91 tackles despite starting just seven games. With veteran depth courtesy of Bruce Carter, Duke Riley and Kemal Ishmael behind a very good starting three, the Falcons are in great shape at linebacker.
  2. https://www.atlantafalcons.com/_mobileview/news/ranking-the-nfc-south-s-receiver-corps-falcons-boast-an-intimidating-group Ranking the NFC South’s receiver corps: Falcons boast an intimidating group Will McFadden ATLANTAFALCONS.COM By this point in the offseason we have a pretty good picture of what certain position groups look like around the NFL. Since there are still a couple of months remaining until training camps start firing up, let’s use this time to take a look around the NFC South and see how teams stack up at certain positions. Today, the wide receivers are the topic of focus. The NFC South features some of the top receivers in the league in Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Michael Thomas. But a successful position group requires more than just one star at the top of the depth chart. For the duration of these NFC South position group rankings, we will be rating the groups on a 1-4 scale in five different categories with No. 1 being the best and No. 4 being the worst. The five categories are as follows: Drop-off factor: The drop in production from the No. 1 receiver to No. 2 and No. 3. Returning production: Are the top producers from 2018 back with the team in 2019? Best player: OK, the No. 1 option does mean something. Consistency: How long have the main receivers been with the team and playing together? Depth: Taking the “drop-off factor” and applying it to the total depth chart. Now that we’re clear on the rules, let’s take a look at how the rankings panned out. AP/Mike McCarn 4. Carolina Panthers Aggregate score: 3.2 Top player: D.J. Moore Drop-off factor: 3 Returning production: 3 Best player: 4 Consistency: 4 Depth: 2 D.J. Moore was one of the top rookie receivers in the NFL last season, but he is easily the fourth-most proven No. 1 receiver in the NFC South. He and Curtis Samuel had their moments last season, combining for 94 catches for 1,282 yards and seven touchdowns, but the team lost No. 2 receiver Devin Funchess in free agency. They’ve got a good haul coming in with Chris Hogan, Terry Godwin and Aldrick Robinson, and the Panthers have Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright coming back, which helped their depth score greatly. There is upside for this position group to surprise in 2019 as Moore and Samuel continue to grow as players, but that lack of proven top-tier talent is what has the Panthers as the bottom team in these rankings. AP/Adam Hunger 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Aggregate score: 3 Top player: Mike Evans Drop-off factor: 2 Returning production: 4 Best player: 2 Consistency: 3 Depth: 4 The Buccaneers just barely edged ahead of the Panthers on this list, getting some help from Mike Evans’ proven production and star power. All told, however, this has been a tough offseason for the Bucs at receiver. The losses of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson will likely be felt next season, as they accounted for 117 catches, 1,590 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. Chris Godwin’s emergence as a reliable second option last season should bring some confidence in Tampa Bay’s top two options, but he and Evans might have to do a lot of heavy lifting. The combination of Evans and Godwin should be formidable in 2019 after a good 2018, but the Buccaneers will need some unproven players to step up around them. Tampa Bay’s receiving corps took the biggest step back this offseason. AP/Kevin Terrell 2. New Orleans Saints Aggregate score: 2.4 Top player: Michael Thomas Drop-off factor: 4 Returning production: 2 Best player: 3 Consistency: 2 Depth: 1 Led by Drew Brees, the Saints have one of the most potent passing offenses in the NFL. But Brees, one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks, distributes the ball everywhere on the field. Michael Thomas is a bon-a-fide No. 1 receiver, and Ted Ginn is an effective No. 2 when healthy, but there isn’t a ton of talent behind those two. Regardless, Brees’ ability to elevate those receivers he plays with is what earned the Saints the top depth score. They simply had the highest number of contributors at the receiver position. With a running back like Alvin Kamara returning, the Saints are always going to have options when throwing the ball. New Orleans’ receiving corps is nothing to sneeze at, but it isn’t the sole reason for the Saints’ offensive success. 1. Atlanta Falcons Aggregate score: 1.4 Top player: Julio Jones Drop-off factor: 1 Returning production: 1 Best player: 1 Consistency: 1 Depth: 3 The Falcons check pretty much every box you would want in a receiver group. An elite No. 1 receiver capable of creating numerous matchup problems – check. A reliable slot receiver who can win in a variety of ways – check. A young, dynamic playmaker with tantalizing upside – check. Atlanta’s starting trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley would rank right up there with any other in the league. The only area the Falcons can be knocked in this division is the depth behind those three, although that’s not in any way meant to disparage the reliability of Justin Hardy in spurts. Atlanta returns its top-two performing receivers for the third straight season, and Ridley’s emergence in 2019 makes this group not just the best in the NFC South, but one of the best in the NFL.
  3. https://www.atlantafalcons.com/_mobileview/news/ranking-the-nfc-south-s-running-back-groups-all-purpose-stars-lead-the-way Ranking the NFC South’s running back groups: All-purpose stars lead the way Will McFadden ATLANTAFALCONS.COM Although the running back position has become a bit marginalized in recent seasons, the NFC South boasts some of the league’s top young backs. RELATED CONTENT Tabeek: Why a healthy Devonta Freeman is key to Falcons' success Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey have been stars since entering the league in 2017, and Devonta Freeman should be healthy after missing much of the 2018 season. Continuing my NFC South position group rankings, I’ve dug into each team’s current crop of running backs to determine how they stack up. For a reminder of what I look for in each category, click here. AP/Jason Behnken 4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Aggregate score: 2.8 Top player: Peyton Barber Dropoff factor: 3 Returning production: 3 Best player: 3 Consistency: 1 Depth: 4 The Buccaneers had the worst rushing attack in the division last year, averaging 95.2 yards per game, which were the fourth-fewest among all NFL teams. Aside from the addition of Andre Ellington and the loss of JacQuizz Rodgers this offseason, Tampa Bay has pretty much stood pat at the position. Peyton Barber will return after leading the team with 234 carries for 871 yards and five touchdowns. Ronald Jones, the Buccaneers’ second-round draft pick in 2018, had a disappointing rookie season and gained just 44 yards and scored one touchdown on 23 carries. The team could be hoping for a breakout year with Jones, but the combination of him and Barber isn’t too frightening. 3. Atlanta Falcons Aggregate score: 2.6 Top player: Devonta Freeman Dropoff factor: 2 Returning production: 4 Best player: 3 Consistency: 3 Depth: 1 Tevin Coleman’s departure was one of the few key losses in free agency for the Falcons. The longtime backfield teammate of Devonta Freeman ran for 800 yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries last season while starting in place of Freeman, who missed all but two games due to injury. Freeman should be back healthy for 2019, and the Falcons are a better team with him on the field. But it remains to be seen, after he’s missed time each of the last two seasons, if Freeman can stay on the field. Behind Freeman the Falcons have a lot of different options to work with. Ito Smith carried the ball 90 times for 315 yards and four scores during his rookie season, and Brian Hill ran wild in a Week 16 game against the Panthers, gaining 115 yards on just eight carries. Atlanta also drafted Qadree Ollison and Marcus Green, further bolstering their depth. AP/Jason Behnken 2. Carolina Panthers Aggregate score: 2.4 Top player: Christian McCaffrey Dropoff factor: 4 Returning production: 1 Best player: 2 Consistency: 2 Depth: 3 Alvin Kamara has gotten plenty of attention during his first two seasons with the Saints, but Christian McCaffrey has been every bit as impressive in his first two years in Carolina. McCaffrey was both the Panthers’ leading rusher and receiver in 2018, gaining 1,965 total offensive yards and scoring 13 combined touchdowns. His importance to the Panthers’ offense can’t be overstated. Carolina’s main loss behind McCaffrey was veteran back C.J. Anderson. Cameron Artis-Payne is back after carrying the ball 19 times for 69 yards and a touchdown last season, and the Panthers added draft pick Jordan Scarlett and former Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield to the position group this offseason. Still, this is McCaffrey’s show. AP/Perry Knotts 1. New Orleans Saints Aggregate score: 2 Top player: Alvin Kamara Dropoff factor: 1 Returning production: 2 Best player: 1 Consistency: 4 Depth: 2 Losing Mark Ingram in free agency will certainly be felt next season, but the Saints’ decision to add Latavius Murray, who gained 578 yards and scored six touchdowns on 140 carries with the Vikings last season, will help mitigate that. Of course, with Alvin Kamara still around it doesn’t much matter who the No. 2 back is. Kamara gained 1,592 combined yards last season and scored 18 touchdowns. Since joining the Saints in 2017, Kamara has averaged over 5 yards per carry and has scored 31 touchdowns. Dwayne Washington also returns to the Saints’ backfield after carrying the ball 27 times for 154 yards last season. The combination of Kamara, Murray and Washington gives New Orleans a pretty complete backfield trio.
  4. Okay, before I make fun of the Saints tears of joy again, I want to bring up some little stats nobody is paying attention to. So are you ready? This is gonna be interesting! The Rams win in OT in New Orleans was the first time in 25 years the Saints lost a home playoff game, which snaps a 7 home playoff win streak for the Saints. The 1993 Eagles in January 1994 were the last team to win a playoff game in New Orleans before the Rams yesterday. Of course that also meant the first time Brees and Payton ever lost a home playoff game too. The 2018 Rams played the AFC West this year, just like the 2017 Eagles, 2016 Falcons, and 2014 Seahawks. Remember from 2006-2012 when all the teams out of NFC who made it to the Super Bowl played the AFC East, which did not favor the Falcons at all since we are usually horrible playing eastern divisions, well those days are over. The Rams advancing to the Super Bowl was the 4th time in 5 years the team out of the NFC who made it to the Super Bowl had the AFC West on their schedule. All of these teams had to face the AFC West and the NFC West (well the '14 Seahawks & '18 Rams in their own division). The Saints played the AFC North this year, and they lost the NFC Championship, which means a team out of the NFC playing playing AFC North still hasn't been to the Super Bowl since the 2004 Eagles. Only the 2002 Bucs and 2004 Eagles made it to the Super Bowl playing the AFC North (and those teams played the NFC North as well). The 1999 Rams last won the Super Bowl in Atlanta against the Titans when they went 13-3. 19 years later, the 2018 Rams are 13-3 in the Super Bowl, going to the Super Bowl in ATLANTA, the same place where the Super Bowl was last time they went! That's interesting, but at the same time, it's a rematch of the 2001-02 Super Bowl match up against the Patriots. The Patriots were 11-5 in 2001 when they beat the Rams, and this time the Patriots are 11-5 playing the Rams again in the Super Bowl....
  5. This is going to be a very detailed post by me. I fan-posted this on the Falcoholic as well and I would like to share this with everyone on the Falcons boards. These are officially my thoughts on the Falcons 2018 season so far. That top 10 in scoring D we had last year was Dontari Poe, Adrian Clayborn, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Ricardo Allen coming together and leading the other guys on defense. Robert Alford, Desmond Trufant, Brian Poole, and other guys were probably better and up'd their game because of the leadership of Rico and Debo on the field. Jarrett and Takk definitely helped too of course. Our defense came TOGETHER as a collective group with all of those guys from the 2017 unit. When we got rid of Poe and Clayborn this off season, our D-line took an immediate step back and we saw that throughout the preseason. Once Debo, Neal and Rico went down, we were minus 5 major guys from last season's defense. Add the fact that Takk is banged up and even Grady too. You can't overcome that much and expect to be any better than last year, but when your defense is historically bad just because of 3 guys being out, even if they were major pro bowlers, our defense was already thin with lack of depth. I understand those 3 injuries aren't just any injuries, it's 3 injuries to your MOST IMPORTANT and GAME CHANGING GUYS on defense. With that being said, we still have way too much talent on both sides of the ball to be a 1-4 team the first 5 weeks of the season, our worst start since 2013. Look at other teams around the league who have better depth than us and better coaching than us, there are no excuses for them. People keep saying it's all about the 3 major injuries defensively, but the Falcons have A LOT more problems than this. 1. Offensive play calling not clutch enough. Our coaching is very poor in CLUTCH moments when it matters most. Our offense may have fixed its red zone issues from last season, but the few times our thin defense gives our offense a chance, we can't do anything. For an example, against the Saints we get the ball back up 14-13 before the half and we could have gotten 3 points and led 17-13, but instead we have an immediate 3 & out deep in our own territory and the Saints immediately drive down the field and take a 16-14 halftime lead, and that was a SIX point difference swing right there that came back to hunt us. We were tied at 37 against the Saints before OT and the Falcons still had a chance to get in field goal range and win, and we did NOT get it done when we knew our defense wasn't stopping the Saints. Against the Bengals we had a few opportunities offensively and we didn't get it done. Against the Steelers when it was 13-10 for AWHILE, our defense gave us opportunities throughout the 2nd & 3rd quarters but our offense couldn't do anything before the blowout began. We wait until it's too late or when we're trailing by a deficit to finally do something offensively and I get tired of this. 2. Blowing late leads continue to be a problem Our defense keeps blowing leads in the 4th quarter and this goes back to 2016 of course. I don't understand what it is with our coaching staff not having a sense of urgency late in games. Even in our only win against the Panthers, we were up 31-17 late in the game and we give them a quick TD, and then we had to stop them in the red zone to survive 31-24 and could have easily blown that one. We were up 12-10 on the Eagles and lost 18-12. We were up 37-30 on the Saints and lost. We were up 36-31 on the Bengals and lost it. This pattern didn't start this year, it's been an ongoing problem with Dan Quinn and even the whole Matt Ryan era when Mike Smith was our head coach. 3. Special Teams Our special teams have been bad, specifically our kick coverage and punting. We haven't had a good returner since Devin Hester for that little time. However, it seems like the few times we get a good return, it's always illegal block in the back for us. What's up with Matt Bosher's blocked punts 2 out of the last 3 games which were highly costly? It came back to hunt us against the Saints. It started the Steelers blowout on us late in the 3rd quarter. Keith Armstrong has to get it together or I don't know if he should still be our special teams coordinator. 4. Penalties and O-line The boneheaded penalties at the worst possible times in the world drive me insane, in fact, we are the most penalized team in the league I believe. That falls on the entire coaching staff. Last but not least, our O-line pass blocking and pass protection have completely crashed, and it showed against a Steelers defense that had been struggling. I understand the season ending injury to Andy Levitre and that's very unfortunate, but once again we have A LOT more problems than just major injuries at multiple positions. Which I will continue on here. 5. Problems against the AFC Dan Quinn's failures against AFC opponents are clear as day and night. I understand NFC games are more important in terms of playoff seeding and tiebreakers, but AFC games still count for your overall record. We have now lost 8 out of our last 9 AFC games going back to the Chargers in 2016. After the Bengals loss we are now 1-6 at home vs. AFC opponents under Dan Quinn as the head coach, 1-10 overall since 2013 though. The Falcons also has a 6 game losing streak to AFC North teams since 2014 even though we only play the division once every 4 years. AFC North teams are outdoor teams built with big physical guys up front and they grind you out, similar to how the Eagles are built who have always been a bad match up for the Falcons. If you CAN'T beat an AFC opponent, then you don't deserve to go to the Super Bowl anyway. 6. Has our defense ever been elite in the Dan Quinn era? Back to my point about the Falcons struggles against opponents with big grinding teams up front. Dan Quinn's philosophy has always been speed & quickness over big guys and strength right? This is Dan Quinn's 4th year now, and after 4 years despite the injuries on defense for this year's team, our defense is still mediocre at best and you should have better depth across the roster built up in 4 seasons. You are a defensive minded coach. Take out 2017 when we were top 10 in scoring D, and then look at our poor defensive numbers in 2015, 2016, and 2018. The 2015 Falcons had an easy schedule and let backup QB's beat them, and they were last in the league in sacks. The 2016 Falcons defense improved in the pass rush and takeaways, but the secondary was still weak and our defense struggled most of the season against above average offenses, and we know our high powered offense carried that team. Don't fool yourselves. We've never had an elite defense in the Dan Quinn era like we thought we would have by now. Yes, we've had talented players making plays, but we've always had the bend don't break style. Maybe it's the scheme, IDK. Someone help me out on this. Even the 2017 defense wasn't elite because we couldn't force turnovers and despite being top 10 in scoring D, we still struggled in yards per play apparently. The 2018 Falcons defense is HISTORICALLY BAD despite 3 major injuries to pro bowl players. Like I said before, our defense this year is last year minus Poe, Clayborn, Neal, Debo, Rico, and Takk & Grady being banged up. 7. Is it time to hold Dan Quinn accountable? You are what your record says it is. Good teams find ways to win close games and eventually have a blowout win down the road. Bad teams find ways to lose close games and eventually have a blowout loss down the road, which is who we are right now. Dan Quinn has to realize this, but he believes that "we're find with what we have" or "we're better than what our record says" when we are clearly NOT. Elite head coaches would say "we are NOT a good team right now!" or say "we are NOT there yet!" and gets their team motivated. Watch Penn State head coach Jame Franklin's postgame speech after their loss to Ohio State in college football. That's a great example of an elite head coach and a motivator. Quinn also has said week after week "our issues are fixable and we will fix them", and it hasn't been fixed. We keep having missed tackles and poor technique week after week. We continue to have an excessive amount of penalties, and so forth. Anyone recall the 2010 Packers who had 18 players on IR and they didn't use any of that as an excuse. None of the "woe it's me" attitude. They must have had better coaching. Anyways, I'll leave the rest for y'all to analysis this. What do you believe is the problem with this year's Falcons so far?