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  1. It’s hard to find positives in a 4-10 season, especially after surrendering a 17-0 lead against a divisional opponent in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the Atlanta Falcons do have an opportunity this week to evaluate some talent and test some of their building blocks for next season, and to do so against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Here’s a closer look. What can the Falcons get out of Ito Smith? Coach Raheem Morris announced Monday that Smith would be taking over as the "lead dog runner." Smith rushed for only 25 yards on six carries against the Bucs, but he did average 4.0 yards a carry against the league’s top-ranked rush defense. This week, it’s a different type of test in that department, with the Chiefs surrendering 123.5 yards per game and 4.61 yards a pop. An even bigger question though, will be if the Falcons stay committed to the run long enough to see results, which would help keep the Chiefs from teeing off against Matt Ryan. Part of the problem in the fourth quarter against the Bucs was that Tampa Bay knew they were going to pass, which allowed them to turn Devin White loose. “They did a really good job on defense of locking in on the fact that we couldn’t run the ball, and have been a little bit deficient in that all year,” Morris said of the Bucs. “They took advantage of that and were able to come back and get a win.” QB protection against more blitzes The Falcons’ offensive line actually looked strong in protection through three quarters, but struggled in the fourth quarter. Left tackle Jake Matthews produced a pass-block win rate of 93.9% against Pro Bowlers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, allowing neither to get home with sacks. Where they ran into trouble was when Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles blitzed White in the fourth quarter. Todd Gurley, who’s struggled at times this year in blitz pickup, failed to account for White on a B-gap blitz for a 7-yard loss. Then with 5:34 to go in the fourth quarter, White took on Keith Smith before bouncing inside to chase down Ryan. The Falcons will want to have their protection issues corrected this week as the Chiefs are another blitz-heavy team who won’t hesitate to bring the whole house. In fact, the Chiefs have used more Cover-0 (no deep defender) than any other team in the league this year, with 46 dropbacks. They don’t necessarily need to deploy extra resources for pressure, though. The Chiefs sacked Drew Brees four times this past week, and only once did it come on a blitz. Calvin Ridley is enjoying his best season yet, with 77 catches for 1,192 yards and nine touchdowns. AP Photo/Ashley Landis Keep building with Calvin Ridley and the play-action passing game The Falcons used a lot of play-action against the Bucs, and it paid off in multiple explosive plays and arguably their best effort there this year. Ryan completed 14 of 16 dropbacks (87.5%) of his play-action passes for 215 yards. Where they ran into trouble was when the Bucs began two-manning their receivers in the second half, although it’s interesting because Ryan’s had a lot of success targeting Ridley against 2-man looks this year. “They changed their coverages,” Ridley said. “They doubled a little bit more, two-man. I think they figured that was starting to work. They stuck with it throughout the second half.” But they’ll face a much greater test this week against a Chiefs squad that has been among the league’s stingiest against explosive play-actions, giving up just 734 passing yards off play-action this season -- second-fewest in the NFL. How will Ridley and Gage fare against Charvarius Ward and Tyrann Mathieu, especially if Bashaud Breeland can’t play? What’s next for Matt Gono with Kaleb McGary back? Gono, who looked strong filling in for McGary against Joey Bosa last week, had a 72% pass-rush win rate against the Bucs, with his one error being that he allowed Barrett to get a hand on Ryan from behind, helping collapse the pocket for White’s sack for a 6-yard loss with 2:40 to go. Even so, he’s making a case for some type of role next season. “We’re pleased with the way Matt Gono’s playing in Kaleb’s absence,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “If nothing else, we’ve really developed some depth at tackle.” What more can they get out of A.J. Terrell? Can the Falcons’ 16th overall pick, who’s been one of the team’s bright spots this season, rebound after surrendering nine catches on 12 targets, with eight first downs to the Bucs? He’s faced a gauntlet of receivers this year with Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Jerry Jeudy, Michael Thomas, DK Metcalf, Allen Robinson and Keenan Allen, with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman up next. https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/35972/falcons-priority-should-be-developing-their-2021-building-blocks
  2. Thinking about the future, as far as Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is concerned, is a waste of time. Unless it's the next practice or the next game. A day ahead, a week ahead, he'll go there. But whether Ryan thinks he'll be back next season? Speculating is useless and does nothing but clutter his mind, so why bother? "There will be time for that at some point, but we've got [nine] games to go," Ryan said. "We've got some good football teams that we've got to play, some really good defenses in front of me. I think that if I worry about what's going to happen in four months, five months from now as opposed to getting ready for the [opponent] this week, I'm not giving our team the best chance to win, and so I don't go there. "I focus on what's in front of me, and I think that's one of the perks of being a veteran is that you've gone through a lot of different things in your career, and it hardens you and made you better for it. You've learned what works for you, and worrying about that kind of stuff doesn't work for me. Focusing on this week does, and that's what I'm going to continue to try and do." "I love Atlanta. I want to be here," Matt Ryan said. "I want to be a part of this organization, but I don't worry about noise outside our building." Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images He might not spend time thinking about it, but Ryan's future is one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- issues for the Falcons in the next six months. Once a new general manager and head coach are in place, their first decision will be whether to stick with the 35-year-old Ryan to try to squeeze a few more productive years out of the franchise's all-time leading passer -- or to move on. It's not an easy decision, and for more reasons than Ryan's contract, which includes salary-cap figures of $40 million-plus and significant dead-money figures the next two seasons. First, let's get this out of the way: Ryan might not be playing at the level he did in 2016 when he was the league's MVP, but he's pretty darn close. He leads the NFL in passing yards (2,181) and has thrown 12 touchdown passes to only three interceptions, and he's actually averaging more passing yards per game (311.6) than he did in 2016 (309). Ryan has thrown for 709 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in the Falcons' past two games, including a season-high 371 yards and four TDs in their victory over Minnesota two weeks ago. That was Atlanta's only win this season, which is why the Falcons are searching for a new GM and head coach. Despite that, Ryan is playing well enough to win games. The defense, however, isn't. The Falcons rank 31st in total defense and pass defense and have given up a league-high 19 touchdown passes, which is one of the main reasons the team is 1-6 heading into Thursday's game against the Carolina Panthers (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox). "You could still win a bunch of games with Matt. He's not the problem in Atlanta," ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said. "But you could also justify -- I think this is the case for a couple veteran quarterbacks -- you could justify them deciding, 'You know what? It’s time for us to move on and start anew,' and it has more to do with everyone else but the quarterback." That's the case now, but it might be irrelevant to a new regime, and owner Arthur Blank said earlier this month that he was going to let the next GM and head coach decide whether Ryan stays. They may be leery about relying on a quarterback who will turn 36 in May, especially if things continue in the direction they're headed and the Falcons own a top-five draft pick. Per ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Falcons are currently fourth in the draft order. That would put them in position to draft a quarterback. They wouldn’t be able to get Georgia native and Clemson star Trevor Lawrence unless they either traded up or somehow ended up with the No. 1 pick; there's significant competition, because there are 12 other teams with two or fewer victories, including the entire NFC East. But Ohio State's Justin Fields (another Georgia native) and North Dakota State's Trey Lance, among others, are certainly in play. It's not out of the question Ryan could end up in a Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers or Rodgers-Jordan Love situation. Or maybe even doing what Ryan Fitzpatrick did in Miami, holding on to the spot until a rookie is ready. "It’s very simple for me: If they've got a top-five pick, they're more than likely moving on from Matt," Orlovsky said. "I would imagine the new head coach that they hire is going to want their quarterback, and there's going to be three coming out this year that are going to be really, really, really intriguing guys. If they have the seventh, eighth, ninth pick of the draft, I can see them going, 'OK, we’re going to keep Matt' and try to make a little bit more of a build-around-him, so to speak." That could be a smart approach because Ryan shows no signs age is catching up to him. He's on pace for a career-high 4,985 yards, and he could tie Peyton Manning's NFL record for 10 consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons. That kind of consistency is remarkable, but also unsurprising if you've been around Ryan for a while. "That's a given," teammate Julio Jones said. "As long as you're where you need to be for Matt, he's going to deliver the ball. That's our job, just to be open in the time of the play, and Matt delivers us the ball anywhere." Here's the thing about moving on from Ryan and starting anew, if that's what the new regime were to decide: It's going to be very, very costly. Ryan and the Falcons agreed to a five-year, $150 million contract extension that included $100 million guaranteed. The contract runs through the 2023 season and includes salary-cap figures of $40.9 million and $41.7 million over the next two seasons. Those are the second-highest cap figures for quarterbacks in 2021 and 2022. The dead money hits in 2021 are astronomical: $49.9 million if he's cut before June 1 and $23.4 million if he's cut after June 1; $44.4 million if he's traded before June 1 and $17.9 million if he's traded after June 1 (which would save the Falcons $23 million). A trade this season, by the way, would be a little more economical, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last Saturday per sources that the Falcons will not trade Ryan or Jones before the Nov. 3 deadline. So, essentially, Ryan is in limbo. He's playing well, but the team isn't winning and he has no idea who's going to be in charge next year -- or where he'll be taking snaps. That is why he's not spending any time thinking about 2021. It would be, he said again, a waste of time. "You know, I don't worry about that stuff," he said. "I don’t think about it. My job is to get dialed in for Thursday night. I've said it all along: I love Atlanta. I want to be here. I want to be a part of this organization, but I don’t worry about noise outside our building. "I try and focus on week to week getting myself ready to go. I've said it. I want to be here, and hopefully that'll be the case." https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/35787/matt-ryan-stays-in-present-as-change-swirls-around-falcons Regardless of what the future brings, there is no doubt in my mind MR is the best QB this franchise has ever had. Its just a shame all 3 phases couldnt work together to bring home a championship...
  3. https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/35476/facing-the-goat-falcons-defense-must-respect-but-not-fear-tom-brady FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen has a simple message to his young defensive backs now that Tom Brady has joined the NFC South with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Go make a play on him. Allen doesn't care that Brady is arguably the best quarterback of all time. He doesn't reflect on how Brady erased that 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. And Allen doesn't dwell on Brady's 6-0 career record against the Falcons (including the postseason). Allen simply wants his younger teammates to look at Brady as a quarterback to disrupt and create turnovers against in 2020. "As young dudes, you're so used to watching guys like Brady and seeing him on TV, so sometimes you have to tell younger dudes, 'All right, I know that's the guy you looked up to, but now you've got the opportunity to go against him,'" Allen said. "I tell them, 'If he was your favorite player or whatever, wouldn't it be cool to go make a couple plays on your favorite player?' Sometimes, you have to calm these dudes down when it comes to playing against guys like Brady -- or even Julio [Jones] and Matt [Ryan] in practice. You've got to realize that this is what some of these guys have been dreaming about their whole lives and they're really into these dudes." Maybe the younger Falcons would be a little awestruck if they had to face Brady in the season opener. As the schedule played out, the Falcons won't encounter Brady as a Buccaneer for the first time until Week 15 at home (Dec. 20), and then they will face him again two weeks later in the season finale at Tampa (Jan. 3). By then, new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris should know what he has in his secondary and his defense as a whole. The start of training camp has been a positive sign. First-round cornerback A.J. Terrell has consistently made plays on the ball, and returning cornerback Isaiah Oliver seems extra motivated in competing with Terrell for a starting spot. Veteran safeties Keanu Neal and Allen have worked well in unison coming off injuries. Newcomer Dante Fowler Jr. has shown he could be the secondary's best friend with his menacing pass-rush skills. Having one of the best defensive tackles in the game in Grady Jarrett playing along with a top-flight middle linebacker in Deion Jones certainly helps the Falcons' chances of improving upon last year. They started the 2019 campaign 1-7, and they finished 6-2, thanks in large part to dramatic strides by the defense in the season's second half. The Falcons surrendered 31.3 points per game through the first eight contests. They allowed 18.6 points over the final eight while seeing their third-down defense go from allowing a 53% conversion rate to 25.8%. Probably the best defensive effort of last year came in a 26-9 win at the New Orleans Saints, as the Falcons sacked Drew Brees six times and held his offense to 3-of-12 on third down. Brees is always going to be a problem, regardless. And now comes Brady -- eventually. As mentioned, the Falcons don't face the Bucs until Week 15. "It is way too early to talk about Tom Brady when you've got to get A.J. Terrell ready for Russell Wilson, which is Week 1," Morris said. "But with Tom Brady, you're talking about a future Hall of Famer. You're talking about a great quarterback that we all respect but we don't fear. And we look forward to the challenge. "When you play this game and coach this game, you want to coach and you want to play against the best and their highest levels. That's what we all do it for. So when that game comes -- I believe it's Week 15 -- we'll have a body of work on tape. I can't wait for the challenge." The Falcons will face top quarterbacks all season, including Brady and Brees within the division; Wilson, Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter of the season; and reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes sandwiched between those two late matchups with Brady. And in the Buccaneers, Atlanta also will battle two highly regarded wide receivers coming off 1,000-yard seasons in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans and the always dangerous Rob Gronkowski at tight end. Deion Jones, the Falcons' one-time Pro Bowl linebacker, put it best when he said he was glad to see Brady in the division because it's always going to be a "brawl" in the NFC South. Some have touted the Buccaneers as the team to beat and that the Falcons and coach Dan Quinn are in a must-win season coming off back-to-back 7-9 showings. Winning any bout with the Buccaneers likely will depend on what type of pressure you get on Brady, and his ability to step up to avoid edge pressure calls for a consistent interior rush. Jarrett has that covered, along with Fowler running stunts. Brady isn't a long ball threat, but he'll pick you apart. "Everybody knows Tom Brady is a perfectionist and always diligent in working with his craft," Allen said. "Tom Brady, Drew, even Ice Man [Matt Ryan], those are quarterbacks that you're not going to trick. They know what their reads are. They know what you're going to try and do against them. They can see bluffs. They can see blitzes. They see things that most young quarterbacks haven't seen. "Brady's brain, it's like on another level. He's going to, nine times out of 10, throw the ball to the best spot, the best matchup. He's actually going to go through his read every time and throw it to the best spot that he thinks will win more times than not. He'd rather pick a winning throw than go for the gusto." New Falcons defensive back Darqueze Dennard faced Brady in December when Brady's New England Patriots defeated Dennard's Cincinnati Bengals 34-13. "He's just really smart with the ball, really don't turn the ball over," Dennard said. "So when you get opportunities to make a play, you've got to make a play." Like Allen said from the beginning.
  4. https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/35447/what-kind-of-impact-can-falcons-rookie-corner-a-j-terrell-have It didn't take long for A.J. Terrell to impress new Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. Morris knew their 2020 first-round pick had the measurables, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 190 pounds with length. Terrell’s speed and athleticism speak for themselves with his 4.42-second time in the 40 and 34.5-inch vertical. But what really caught Morris’ attention was the intelligence his new young cornerback displayed during the virtual offseason, when COVID-19 prevented in-person interaction between rookies such as Terrell and the coaching staff. “Going through a couple of weeks with us and listening to him talk to either [secondary coach] Joe Whitt or [defensive assistant] Chad Walker, he was able to teach back the defense, whichever one was asked of him,” Morris said. “I think A.J.’s attention to detail, his ability to listen and retain information and being able to spit it back out to coaches is what impresses us probably the most already. We all had tests. We all had different online things. We all had different ventures and different avenues of ways to test a guy, and his attention to detail was excellent. “I think by us setting his goals and his roles going into the 2020 season of playing hard, of being able to be an outside vertical controller and being able to really lock in on his fundamentals and techniques when he’s coached, I think those things will give him the confidence to be a really good player in this league." Morris and the Falcons are counting on Terrell being an integral part of a defense that struggled at times last season. The Falcons allowed 9.5 yards per attempt on passes to wide receivers last season, second worst in the NFL behind the Raiders (9.6). The Falcons hope the addition of Terrell -- along with beefing up the defensive line with Dante Fowler Jr. and Marlon Davidson -- will help those numbers. The Falcons cut ties with oft-injured cornerback Desmond Trufant, leaving 2018 second-round pick Isaiah Oliver and 2019 fourth-round draft pick Kendall Sheffield as the primary cornerbacks. Oliver and Sheffield, with 46 combined games and 1,767 combined defensive snaps, are still relatively inexperienced, although they’ll both be counted upon to make major strides this season. Then, in steps Terrell, a guy who played a major role for a winning program at Clemson yet slipped up in last year’s national championship game against No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow and LSU's array of talented targets. “Yeah, that was the game that he got criticized for the most and the one that we ended up talking about a lot,” Morris said of Terrell. “It was good because we had a good chance to go watch it with him, a good chance to go talk to him, evaluate and figure out what went wrong, why some techniques changed, what were the reasons. But it was a great learning lesson for him. He played at a high level in the championship game the year before with a pick-six. And this year, he didn’t play as well as he wanted to. He’s got both walks of life, and it’s helped him out a lot. “His resiliency -- in the game he did not play well, he kept fighting. And that’s a staple in our league. You watch every week. You see corners go out and sometimes you’re just outmatched and outplayed and outgunned, but that won’t define you." As the Falcons prepare for what is sure to be an unusual season thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Terrell’s development will be storyline to watch. You don’t draft a cornerback in the first round without the expectation that he’ll make an immediate contribution as a starter. The Falcons have touted Sheffield, with his speed and change of direction, as the corner they might rely on the most. And with so much nickel defense played these days, it would make sense for Sheffield to cover a lot in the slot, as he did last season, which would leave Terrell and Oliver outside. The one unknown is what the Falcons will do in their base defense -- will it be Sheffield and Terrell outside, Sheffield and Oliver outside or even Oliver and Terrell -- although it would be hard to imagine Sheffield off the field, considering how much he has been touted. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. was a little hard on the Falcons for selecting Terrell 16th overall, saying, “The Falcons reached for a need, plain and simple. ... He was way too inconsistent throughout the season, and he didn't play well down the stretch. He has a tendency to get grabby.” Fellow ESPN draft guru Todd McShay was much more positive in assessing what type of impact Terrell could have. “He's fluid in coverage, and he has the height and frame to help match up in that division,” McShay said, referring to wide receivers such as New Orleans' Michael Thomas and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, among others. “Terrell had some mental breakdowns at times, and he can be more consistent in run support. But he is a ball hawk when he is in position with his head around in time. Like many rookies, A.J. might hit some bumps in the road as he's fine-tuning his recognition skills and technique, but he absolutely has the tools to develop into a good starter.” ESPN analyst Matt Bowen, a former NFL defensive back, also sees the upside in Terrell as the youngster prepares for a division that also includes wide receivers such as Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin, Carolina's DJ Moore and New Orleans' Emmanuel Sanders. “If I’m defensive backs coach, I want him matched up against the best because that’s the fastest path to development in the National Football League -- to practice and play against the best,” Bowen said. “Now in practice, he’s going to get a ton of reps against top-tier guys in Atlanta [Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley]. “In terms of positioning, I want to see him up in a press position. I want to see him use his length. I want to see him use his physical hands at the line of scrimmage to impact the release and try to stick to the hips of wide receivers. It’s going to be a transition for him and every rookie this season because they haven’t been able to compete during OTAs and minicamp [due to the pandemic].” Morris fully understands how much of a challenge it will be due to the lack of on-field work, but he’s ready to get Terrell up to speed. Terrell already has gotten in some reps with a group of Falcons on a field in the Atlanta area, and one teammate said, “Looking good for sure, from what I saw.” Morris is eager to see more. “He wants to get on the field, where we’re able to touch [receivers], get our hands on them,” Morris said of Terrell. “To be able to go through those situations, I think, will only help him get better. “Overall, I’m really confident with our evaluation from our scouting department; from our GM Thomas Dimitroff; from Rich McKay, our president; from [head coach] Dan Quinn; from our coaching staff -- Joe Whitt, Chad Walker, Doug Mallory, Lance Schulters -- to myself, that we did a really good job of going out and seeking [Terrell] out in the draft and having him come to us when he did and being able to have a chance to develop him as a man -- and as a football player.”
  5. https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/35391/better-worse-or-the-same-falcons-hope-new-look-d-line-creates-more-pressure Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris helped lead a midseason resurgence in 2019. The Falcons had a 6-2 finish following a 1-7 start after Morris was switched from coaching receivers to defensive backs. Now it’s up to the defense to carry that momentum into 2020, especially against quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater in the NFC South. Here’s a position-by-position look at whether the Falcons are better, worse or the same as the 2019 team on defense: Defensive line Additions: Dante Fowler Jr. (Rams), Charles Harris (trade, Dolphins), Marlon Davidson (second round/draft), Austin Edwards (undrafted), Sailosi Latu (undrafted), Hinwa Allieu (undrafted), Bryson Young (undrafted) Losses: Vic Beasley Jr. (Titans), Adrian Clayborn (Browns), Jack Crawford (Titans) Returners: Grady Jarrett, Takk McKinley, Tyeler Davison, Allen Bailey, Steven Means, John Cominsky, Deadrin Senat, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Austin Larkin Better, worse or the same? Better. Snaps played 2019: Fowler (844), Jarrett (765), Davison (532), McKinley (513), Bailey (488), Harris (397), Tuioti-Mariner (180), Cominsky (91), Senat (18), Larkin (6) The Pro Bowler Jarrett, a run-stuffer and pass-rush demon, anchors the line. But Jarrett needs help. The Falcons hope they found it in pass-rusher Fowler, who had 11.5 sacks with the Rams last season, and the rookie Davidson, who showed a high motor at Auburn. Against the run, envision Jarrett teaming with Davison inside with Bailey and Fowler or perhaps the rookie Davidson playing defensive end. Bailey and Davison don’t get enough credit for their ability to stuff the run. The Falcons obviously have to generate more pressure than the 28 sacks they posted last season. The pass-rush foursome seems destined to be Jarrett and the second-rounder Davidson inside, with Fowler and McKinley coming off the edges. Plus, the Falcons can rotate guys such as Means, Cominsky and possibly the newcomer Harris -- a former first-round pick -- to keep bodies fresh. Linebackers Additions: LaRoy Reynolds (Bengals), Mykal Walker (fourth round/draft), Edmond Robinson (XFL), Deone Bucannon (Buccaneers/Giants), Jordan Williams (undrafted) Losses: De’Vondre Campbell (Cardinals) Returners: Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, Ahmad Thomas Better, worse or the same? Worse, at least initially. Snaps played 2019: Jones (902), Oluokun (291), Bucannon (226), Reynolds (42) Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said he envisions Jones evolving into the best middle linebacker in the game. Jones has the speed to make plays sideline to sideline and keep up with division running backs such as Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. Jones grew accustomed to having Campbell by his side, but now Oluokun is expected to be Jones’ primary tag team partner. Oluokun might have to fill that role of covering tight ends that Campbell played well. Defensive end Fowler is likely to play the strongside 'backer role in the base defense on first down with Jones at middle linebacker and Oluokun as the weakside linebacker. The wild card in the linebacker equation might be the rookie Walker, who is expected to be a solid contributor but was not highly rated coming out of Fresno State. Cornerbacks Additions: A.J. Terrell (first round/draft), Josh Hawkins (XFL), Tyler Hall (undrafted), Delrick Abrams (undrafted) Losses: Desmond Trufant (Lions) Returners: Kendall Sheffield, Isaiah Oliver, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jordan Miller Better, worse or the same? Better long term. Snaps played 2019: Oliver (875), Sheffield (664), Wreh-Wilson (312), Miller (23) Expect the Falcons to be in nickel close to 70% of the time, so that would mean having Sheffield, Oliver and the rookie Terrell all on the field at once. Sheffield, a speedster and elite athlete who could evolve into the No. 1 corner, is most likely to work inside in those packages, and opponents have tried to put their best receivers in the slot against the Falcons in the past. In the base defense, the best two corners will be on the field, which likely would leave Sheffield playing outside, with Oliver and Terrell battling for the other spot. The relative inexperience of the trio means the Falcons should consider adding a veteran such as Logan Ryan or Aqib Talib, who both have ties to the Falcons' staff. Talib played for Morris in Tampa Bay; Ryan played at Rutgers when Falcons wide receivers coach Dave Brock coached at the school. The veteran Wreh-Wilson has the ability to contribute in spot duty, and Miller is a project who could provide depth after finishing the final three games of a four-game suspension. The emphasis for the entire group will be on creating more takeaways, as the Falcons had a minus-5 turnover ratio last season. Safeties Additions: Jaylinn Hawkins (fourth round/draft), Ray Wilborn (undrafted), Rojesterman Farris (undrafted) Losses: Kemal Ishmael (free agent), J.J. Wilcox (free agent), Johnathan Cyprien (free agent) Returners: Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, Sharrod Neasman, Jamal Carter, Chris Cooper, C.J. Reavis Better, worse or the same? Better. Snaps played 2019: Allen (901), Kazee (761), Neal (152), Carter (101), Neasman (8) This might be the most interesting dilemma facing the Falcons this season: How do you keep Allen, Neal and Kazee on the field at the same time? Allen is the defensive leader and like another coach on the field. Neal, coming off an Achilles tear after an ACL tear the season before, is a hard-hitting enforcer and Pro Bowl talent when healthy. And Kazee is the ball hawk with 10 interceptions in his past 29 games. The Falcons appear destined to use a three-safety look, perhaps with both Allen and Kazee down in the box and Kazee in the middle of the field. Neal could also play dime linebacker on occasion. Whatever the case, having three starting-caliber safeties is a good problem to have. The rookie Hawkins, listed as a strong safety, could be a surprise contributor despite not being highly regarded as a fourth-rounder. *The Falcons’ specialists include kicker Younghoe Koo, punters Ryan Allen and Sterling Hofrichter (drafted/seventh round) and long-snapper Josh Harris
  6. Hi #Falconsfam, I'd keep an eye on this guy TCU DT Ross Blacklock. Dude is rising. He was mocked 47 pick to our team. My first mock ever. I tweeted out 2 weeks ago on Twitter. And in my mind. Fits what the #Falcons need up front. I think he'd pair well with Grady Jarrett. And is becoming a viable legitimate option for #Falcons at 16. His stock and brand are picking up. http://www.nfl.com/m/share?p=%2Fvideos%2Fnfl-now%2F0ap3000001105458%2FRoss-Blacklock-describes-how-a-college-injury-made-him-a-better-athlete
  7. Hi #Falconsfam, checkout Pound 4 Pound ATL video. As J.R. Clark speaks on why #Falcons need to invest more in the secondary. To help the pass rush. If they can't bolster the d-line in 2020. Share your thoughts. #Riseup #InBrotherhood
  8. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/28648779/five-2020-offseason-moves-nfc-teams-bill-barnwell-predicts-trades-free-agency-cuts Just posting the Falcons part of the article. Atlanta Falcons Projected 2020 cap space: $6.1 million 1. Clear out cap space. The Falcons don't have much room to work with as they try to rebuild their defense. What's even worse is that they don't even really have all that much flexibility to create room; after converting $12.5 million of Matt Ryan's $20.5 million base salary into a bonus in January, there's no other massive salary they would feel comfortable turning into a signing bonus for space. The best Atlanta can really do is convert $10 million of Julio Jones' $11.2 million base salary into a signing bonus, which would free up $7.5 million in room. Instead, the Falcons are going to have to create room the hard way. They can start by cutting Devonta Freeman, who has failed to live up to the expectations he set while excelling under Kyle Shanahan. The team would be responsible for $6 million in dead money for Freeman, but it would free up $3.5 million in space. Adding Ty Sambrailo to the discard pile would free up an additional $3.7 million in room. Given that they still need to leave space to sign their draft picks, there's just not a clear path for the Falcons to add a couple of stars on the defensive side of the ball. They're more realistically looking at one star or a couple of depth pieces. And even that requires the Falcons to make a couple of tough choices ... 2. Let Austin Hooper follow Vic Beasley Jr. out the door. In a move I've never seen, the Falcons publicly announced before free agency even began that they weren't going to negotiate with Beasley. I was a bit surprised; they picked up Beasley's fifth-year option last year, and the former first-rounder racked up 6.5 sacks over the second half of the season. This is likely the right move, though, given Beasley's inconsistency. As tough as it might be, Atlanta needs to pursue the same track with its starting tight end. Hooper set career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) despite missing three games in 2019, but the Falcons already have too much committed on the offensive side of the ball. This is a team that already has four players making top-tier money at their respective positions in Ryan, Jones, Jake Matthews and Alex Mack (plus Freeman if he's not cut) and three recent first-round picks in Calvin Ridley, Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom. This team really needs to take the assets it has left and commit them to fixing the defense, and that means letting Hooper leave. I suppose it's possible the Falcons could franchise Hooper and try to work out a trade for a draft pick or a defensive piece, though it might limit what they can do in the early days of free agency or prevent them from making a move altogether if he signs the tag. The dream would be to negotiate a trade for a pass-rusher; Yannick Ngakoue comes to mind because of how thin the Jags are at tight end, though Atlanta would probably need to throw in a meaningful pick to make that deal work. 3. Find a No. 1 pass-rusher. The Falcons have to be considered candidates for each of the top available edge rushers, though they're going to need to get creative to compete for Jadeveon Clowney. This could be a landing spot for Dante Fowler Jr. or short-term options like Robert Quinn or Jason Pierre-Paul. Atlanta's late-season surge means it will be picking 16th in April's draft. The Falcons could move down and add extra picks, but it wouldn't be the worst idea if they ended up using their pick on an edge defender, too. 4. Add a nose tackle. The Falcons got by with former Saints backup Tyeler Davison in 2019 and could bring back Davison, but there's something to be said for adding an impact defender next to Grady Jarrett. The Falcons were much better against the run (14th in DVOA) than the pass (25th), but there's a chance for them to get even better against the run if they upgrade the nose and finally get a healthy season (or a healthier season) from safety Keanu Neal. The big names in this category could be fun. I'd love to see Jarrett next to Ndamukong Suh, who is among the free agents on the market. Michael Pierce is a brutally effective run defender who could fit in Atlanta. Danny Shelton was great for the Patriots in 2019 and might come at a cheaper price. This is also a spot Atlanta might address in the draft. 5. Draft a running back. If the Falcons cut Freeman, they would be left with one of the league's least-imposing running back rooms. The good news is that there's virtually an endless supply of useful running backs. Atlanta could easily add someone like Lamar Miller or Carlos Hyde on a one-year deal without significantly impacting its ability to address the defense. In the big picture, though, it makes sense for this team to look at drafting a running back in the middle rounds to take over. Atlanta has had success finding guys like Freeman and Tevin Coleman there in the past, and it can use the extra second-rounder it has from the Mohamed Sanu deal with the Patriots to trade down and grab extra selections.
  9. https://es.pn/2sZdDYI 6:00 AM ET Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In a perfect world, the Atlanta Falcons would bring back tight end Austin Hooper next season as a pass-catching threat alongside wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The salary cap makes matters imperfect -- the Falcons currently have about $200 million in contract commitments for 2020 -- which is why Hooper’s future with the franchise is unclear. Best of NFL Nation Both general manager Thomas Dimitroff and team president Rich McKay said they are not concerned about the team’s salary-cap situation heading into 2020. And there’s been some restructuring already with the contracts of quarterback Matt Ryan and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to create a little more cap space. But that doesn’t mean the Falcons are prepared to offer Hooper a lucrative deal that resets the tight-end market, like what his camp is expecting. And the team is hesitant to go the franchise-tag route knowing it would mean a cap hit of about $10.7 million in 2020. Just imagine the financial demands Hooper could have made had a sprained MCL not thrown off his torrid pace. Through the first eight weeks of the season, he ranked fifth in the NFL among all receivers with 52 receptions. He finished the season with a career-best 75 catches for 787 yards and six touchdowns despite missing three games. "Austin has improved every single season, earned the first of many Pro Bowls [2018], and is coming off a career season at just 25 years old," said Steve Caric, Hooper’s agent who has yet to discuss an offer with the Falcons. “He’s a top-5 tight end in the NFL right now and his best football is in front of him. I expect an aggressive market for him." We’ll see how everything plays out for Hooper, who told the Atlanta media he would be open to returning to the Falcons depending on whether an offer is made. The chemistry Hooper has established with Ryan through their offseason workouts in California can't be overlooked. Whatever the case, Hooper is arguably the most intriguing of the Falcons’ pending free agents. Here's how things could play out: Austin Hooper, tight end Notable numbers: 75 receptions, 787 yards, six touchdowns, 96 targets, one drop, 313 yards after the catch, 41 first downs in 2019. 2019 earnings: $2.025 million Quoting Hooper: “I’m not going to speak on [the contract situation] too much. It’s a business. Obviously I would like to be here. I’m open to coming back here. But I know that I haven’t received an offer yet. If I do, I’d definitely like to be here." Projecting the outcome: The Falcons, with so much money tied up in top players such as Ryan, Julio Jones, Jarrett, and Deion Jones, will pass on signing Hooper to a lucrative extension and let him sign elsewhere. And Hooper will exceed $10 million per year with his new team. Meanwhile, the Falcons will see what they have in Jaeden Graham, who filled in nicely when Hooper was hurt this past season and is due to make $585,000 in 2020. The Falcons also will look hard at the draft class to find a potential pass-catching threat. Vic Beasley Jr., edge rusher Notable numbers: Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 sacks in 16 games through the 2016 season, recorded just 18 sacks in 46 games from 2017 to '19. He enjoyed a surge in the second half of 2019, with 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles through eight games. 2019 earnings: $12.81 million (fifth-year option) Quoting Beasley: “I’m excited. I’m at peace. I’m just going to continue to work. We’ll see [about re-signing with Falcons] when the time comes. Right now, I’m going to enjoy this offseason and just take it a day at a time." Projecting the outcome: The Falcons, who dangled Beasley before this past season’s trade deadline with no takers, will let him walk and start over elsewhere as they focus their attention on shoring up the pass rush via free agency and the draft. It might be a little hard to swallow for head coach Dan Quinn, considering Beasley was his first draft pick. Some in the front office actually had sights set on running back Todd Gurley in that draft, according to league sources. But Quinn will swallow the loss knowing Beasley just wasn’t consistent enough to warrant a lucrative extension or even another one-year "prove it" deal. De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker Notable numbers: Campbell led the Falcons in 2019 with 129 combined tackles, including 75 solos. He also led the team with three forced fumbles and had two sacks and six tackles for loss. Campbell also had two interceptions. 2019 earnings: $2.025 million Quoting Campbell: “I would love to be here. I'm used to the city. I just don't want to have to pick up and go figure out a new city, a new coaching staff. But if that's what I have to do, that's what I have to do. I know they appreciate me, but business is business. And sometimes, no matter how much you appreciate somebody, it doesn't always work out like that." Projecting the outcome: Sure, the Falcons would like to have Campbell back, and assistant head coach/linebackers Jeff Ulbrich has a strong affection for a guy he personally scouted during the draft process. But the Falcons would have to re-sign Campbell to a bargain deal, and power agent Drew Rosenhaus is going to get the most for his client and sell teams on Campbell’s size and production. Campbell’s confidence is through the roof but the knock has been his lack of instincts. Younghoe Koo, kicker Notable numbers: In eight games with the Falcons in 2019, Koo made 23 of 26 field goals with a long of 50 yards and made 15 of 16 extra points. He also handled kickoffs and showed a great proficiency with the onside kick -- not to mention he recovered a fumble. 2019 earnings: $570,000 base (prorated over eight games) Quoting Koo: “I’m grateful for the opportunity they have given me -- I think it was Week 8 -- and I just tried to capitalize on my opportunities whenever I got my name called. This is what you dream of. This is what I’ve dreamed about. Hopefully I can stay and just try to do my job as best as I can." Projecting the outcome: In the postseason news conference, Quinn said he would open up the kicking job to competition yet added how Koo made a strong case for himself. The Falcons won’t want to dig around for another leg knowing Koo is capable -- although they did not give his representatives any indication they'd re-sign him immediately. Having Koo return will be the best option for a team looking to rebound and make a playoff run in 2020.
  10. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/28348064/lessons-six-disappointing-nfl-teams-barnwell-went-wrong-next?platform=amp Atlanta Falcons (6-9) 1. They ignored the preponderance of evidence and believed their defense would be good. While the Falcons' defense was good during the 2016 and 2017 postseasons, Dan Quinn's unit ranked 26th, 22nd and 31st over the three seasons prior to 2019. The Falcons evidently wrote off 2018 as an injury-riddled, wasted season and essentially ran things back in 2019 with the same core of talent. General manager Thomas Dimitroff used two first-round picks on offensive linemen and didn't make any major additions on defense beyond defensive end Allen Bailey, who was signed in late July. You know how things went. Even though the Falcons have improved substantially since their bye, they rank 23rd in defensive DVOA and 25th against the pass. They have the league's worst pressure rate at 21.5%, and when they don't get pressure, they allow the league's third-worst QBR, with opposing quarterbacks going off for an 80.1 mark. Lamar Jackson has the best QBR in footballthis season at 82.1. I would not recommend this as a pass-defense strategy. The Falcons got about every step of this defense's offseason wrong. They let pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. play out his fifth-year option at $12.8 million despite the fact that his 15.5-sack season from 2016 looms as an obvious, unsustainable outlier on his career. A run of 6.5 sacks in his past seven games, three of which have come against widely sackedPanthers starter Kyle Allen, have pushed Beasley's 2019 total to eight. That's now his second-highest full-season total as a pro. Dimitroff devoted most of his resources this offseason to fixing the offensive line, first by signing Jamon Brown, James Carpenter and Ty Sambrailo, then by using two first-round picks on Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. The trade for McGary cost Atlanta its second- and third-round picks, and it didn't use a selection on a defensive back until drafting Kendall Sheffield with the 111th pick. While the Falcons had holes on their line, this was a spot in which they had already spent serious money on retaining Jake Matthews and signing Alex Mack. It's certainly fair to think that the Falcons signed those free agents not knowing they would get Lindstrom, but trading up for McGary with so many needs on defense was probably too aggressive, regardless of how McGary turns out as a player. I can't fault the Falcons for using the summer to re-sign their two best defenders in Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett, but many of their other big moves haven't worked out. Desmond Trufant hasn't been the same player since returning from a pectoral injury in 2016. First-round safety Keanu Neal, who tore his Achilles in September, hasn't been able to stay healthy, while fellow first-rounder Takkarist McKinley was disappointing in his first season as a full-time starter in 2018 before hitting IR himself. Safety Ricardo Allen was last seen being buried on one of the blocks of the year by George Kittle, although the Falcons eventually pulled out a 29-22 victory in one of their best performances of the season. Should the Falcons have seen this coming?Yes. Hoping that the defense would improve without making a significant investment was shortsighted. If they believed in the raw numbers that said that the Falcons were the eighth-best scoring defense in the league in 2017, the Falcons needed to be more curious and do a better job of self-scouting. (They were eighth only because they faced the league's fewest drives and inherited great field position.) How to avoid making the same mistake:Wholesale changes, which include replacing Quinn as coach. The Falcons have to let Beasley leave, late-season run be ****ed, and invest in improving their pass rush. They have their own first- and second-round picks and an extra second-rounder from the Patriots as part of the Mohamed Sanudeal; those selections need to go toward the pass defense. 2. Dirk Koetter didn't fix the offense. The Falcons seemed exhausted of Steve Sarkisian when they fired the former Washington head coach after last season. The offense took a step backward after the Falcons hired Sarkisian to replace Kyle Shanahan, and Falcons fans were certainly intrigued when Atlanta replaced Sarkisian with Dirk Koetter. The former Bucs coach had previously spent three seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator from 2012 to '14, with the 2012 offense finishing seventh in points per game and coming within one trip of making it to the Super Bowl. With Shanahan unavailable, Koetter might have been the next-best option. The most frustrating spot for the Falcons after Shanahan left was their performance in the red zone. After the 2016 Falcons averaged 5.2 points per red zone trip, the Sarkisian-led offenses failed to live up to that standard. The 2017 offense was a mess at 4.5 points per red zone possession and ended its season by failing at the goal line against the Eagles in the playoffs. When the same offense failed at the same spot in the season opener against the Eagles in 2018, the die had been cast. Even though Sarkisian's red zone offense went on a lengthy touchdown streak shortly thereafter and eventually averaged 5.0 points per red zone possession, Falcons fans wanted to see the Shanahan red zone offense make its return with Koetter in the fold. That simply hasn't happened. The Falcons have averaged 4.8 points per red zone possession this season, slightly worse than the Sarkisian offense we saw a year ago. They've done that with Devonta Freeman on the roster for a much larger portion of the season than he was in 2018, when Freeman played only 67 offensive snaps. And while injuries have hit the offensive line, Dimitroff's offseason investments have left the Falcons with a much deeper line than the one they used in 2018. Even so, the offense has been closer to good than great in the red zone. The hidden truth is that Shanahan's genius isn't really in the red zone, where performance is random from year to year. The 49ers, for one, had one of the worst red zone offenses in football under Shanahan a year ago. The San Francisco coach really makes his mark on first downs. The Falcons averaged 7.6 yards per play on first down in 2016, nearly a yard more than any other team in the league and the best first-down performance I was able to find going back through the mid-1990s. There's a good chance the 2016 Falcons were the best first-down offense in NFL history. Guess who leads the league in yards per play on first down in 2019? It's Shanahan's 49ers, who are averaging 6.6 yards per play. Under Sarkisian, the Falcons weren't able to keep up with that historical outlier of a season, but they averaged 6.4 yards per first-down play in both 2017 and 2018, ranking in the top five for offenses in both years. Koetter's 2019 offense is averaging 5.7 yards per play on first down, which ranks 11th. The Falcons fired Sarkisian after his offense finished eighth in DVOA last season, and Koetter's offense subsequently ranked 16th in DVOA this season through Week 15. Should the Falcons have seen this coming?Maybe? We know the ceiling for this offense is astronomical based on 2016, but the Falcons were very good on offense last season! They ranked 10th in points per game, but that was a product of their defense giving up long, methodical drives. They racked up only 165 meaningful possessions on offense, the fifth fewest in football, and inherited the league's third-worst average starting field position. The Falcons were sixth in points per drive and eighth in DVOA. If you assume that the offensive line improvements would have plugged the biggest holes in the offense, I can see a scenario where they do have a top-three offense, but just about everything has to go right for your offense to get there. How to avoid making the same mistake: The Falcons will likely move on from Koetter if they fire Quinn and overhaul their coaching staff.
  11. https://www.espn.com/espn/now?nowId=21-41081830-4
  12. https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/34628/austin-hooper-could-be-the-next-falcon-to-cash-in There haven’t been many bright spots so far for the 1-3 Atlanta Falcons, but tight end Austin Hooper qualifies. Hooper, now in his fourth season, continues to evolve as a top pass-catching threat. Through four games, he leads the Falcons with 28 receptions, which ranks fifth-most among all pass-catchers in the league. Hooper has been targeted 33 times and has 307 receiving yards, two touchdowns, 14 first downs and 131 yards after the catch. Although the attention given to wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley opens up underneath opportunities for Hooper, it doesn’t diminish how great a weapon he's been for Matt Ryan. "I think Austin has played really well for us," Ryan said. "He’s been very consistent in the pass game. He’s very reliable. When we target him, he’s coming down and making plays with the ball. We’re happy with what he’s done, and I expect that to be the case all year, with the talented guys we have around." Hooper’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the front office, which is why general manager Thomas Dimitroff said signing the 2016 third-round draft pick to an extension is a priority. Austin is one of the next important players in line," Dimitroff told ESPN. "That said, however, we are not sure of the timetable." The Falcons have already rewarded extensions to wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones this year. The highest-paid tight end by average per year is veteran Jimmy Graham of Green Bay at $10 million per year. Three players average $9 million-plus per season: Jordan Reed of the Redskins ($9.35 million), Travis Kelce of the Chiefs ($9.195 million), and Kyle Rudolph of the Vikings ($9 million), with Zach Ertz of the Eagles right behind ($8.5 million). Taking into consideration that Hooper is 24 and has outgained Graham, Reed and Rudolph over the past two seasons, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Falcons make Hooper the highest-paid tight end now, before a significant jump in the market, with the possible extensions of the 49ers' George Kittle and Giants' Evan Engram coming after the 2019 season. Hooper, a one-time Pro Bowler in the final year of his rookie deal, isn’t focused on a contract extension. "It’s definitely an honor to even be having this conversation, that something could possibly happen, but I’m not really worried about it," Hooper said. "I’m in the middle of the season, doing my job. All that stuff will sort itself out over time. I’m just concerned about trying to help us win games. Right now, we need to step it up -- everyone, myself included." If the Falcons are going to turn things around, Hooper is expected to be a significant part of it from an offensive perspective. It certainly helps that he’s put in extra work to establish chemistry with Ryan. Connecting with Ryan Sometimes the trip from his home in the Bay Area to Southern California would take six hours, but Hooper never thought twice about it. He’d jump in his Mercedes at the last minute and make the drive, if that’s what Ryan wanted him to do. He catered to his quarterback’s offseason schedule knowing how much he would benefit in the long run. Hooper started having the one-on-one throwing sessions with Ryan in Southern California during the 2017 season, as Ryan worked with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux of 3DQB training. Those workouts intensified his past offseason, when Hooper and Ryan got together there on three separate occasions. "What has gotten me better? I’d probably say it was time I’ve spent with Matt," Hooper said. "You spend 1,000 reps working on the same thing. So, Matt and I are on the same page. I feel like that’s the biggest difference with me now. Like, I didn’t drop 3/10 off my 40 time this past offseason or anything like that." While working with Ryan, Hooper stayed at his younger brother’s apartment on the campus of UCLA. Justin Hooper, a 6-foot-8, 238-pound pitcher, was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 14th round, so his apartment was vacant for the summer. But despite having a place to lay his head, Austin Hooper still bounced between Northern and Southern Cali. Back at home in San Ramon, he worked with the same speed-and-strength coach he’s had since he was 12 years old: Dave Spitz of California Strength. Spitz is the senior international coach for USA weightlifting. "Just working on his athleticism," Spitz said. "He came out [of college at Stanford] so young, he was only 21 years old. We’ve just every offseason tried to improve as an athlete. I think you’re seeing the pinnacle of that expression on the football field now. He’s as good of an athlete as he’s ever been." Striving for perfection While reflecting on last week’s 24-10 loss to the Titans, Hooper didn’t mention catching nine passes for a career-high 130 yards. He didn’t reflect on his 28-yard reception in the first quarter that helped set up running back Ito Smith's touchdown. Instead, Hooper talked about a late first-quarter throw from Ryan that he didn’t come up with, a throw that seemed to be a bit behind him. I dropped a ball I definitely thought I could have had," said Hooper, who wasn’t credited with a drop on the official stat sheet. "That changed the game. And my holding penalty ruined a drive. It’s just one thing here and there. "Offensively, we just have to execute at a higher level. I’m definitely guilty of not doing that, at times. That’s why I’m challenging myself to be better. I’ve made tougher catches before. Every ball that’s thrown to me, I should catch." Hooper also has make a concerted effort to improve his blocking, something that wasn't his strength coming into the league. Focusing on self-improvement is why Hooper has gained the respect of his teammates and coaches alike. "I think Hoop has done a really good job of being where he’s supposed to be, catching the football, and running after the catch," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "Getting vertical and getting those tough, extra yards and splitting two defenders after contact, I think he’s done a really good job." Hooper isn’t content with being good. He strives to be elite. "Honestly, I don’t really concern myself with comparisons," Hooper said. “I just try to be a better version of myself, and let other people talk about [comparisons]. I feel like I’m competing against myself. I feel like if I continue to compete against myself, I’ll continue to develop. I’m not concerned with tight end rankings. I want to be the best version of myself to help us win games."
  13. https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/34600 Ricardo Allen was as emotional as anyone after he saw teammate Keanu Neal suffer yet another season-ending injury on Sunday, but the Atlanta Falcons free safety has learned not to dwell on the uncontrollable. Of course, Allen knows that Neal’s presence will be missed on defense for the remainder of the season following an Achilles tendon tear, which typically requires eight months for recovery. But Allen, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tear last season, isn’t about to let his fellow defenders use Neal’s injury as an excuse. "My message to the defense? Do your job. That’s all," said Allen, a team captain. "Whatever your job entitles, do that. Do it as hard as you can for your brothers. That’s it. We’re not asking nobody to be Superman. Just be who you are and what you’re supposed to be for this team. "Yeah, we understand it’s going to be 'mess-ups' here and there, but you’ve got to do it for everybody around you. If you do your job and they beat us doing your job, they deserve it. But if they beat us and we’re not doing what we’re supposed to, that’s on us." The 1-2 Falcons have to do a much better job on defense now without Neal roaming as the enforcer. The 27-24 loss to the undermanned Indianapolis Colts exposed some defensive flaws that could doom the Falcons if they are not corrected. Players were caught looking in the backfield, as Colts coach Frank Reich masterfully designed misdirection and play-action plays. If the Falcons were fooled by Andrew Luck's replacement, Jacoby Brissett, just imagine what type of issues could lie ahead with Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees in the next six games. That's not to mention the variety of looks the Falcons could see from offensive gurus Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan later in the season. The Falcons continue to have penalty issues, which point to a lack of discipline. Four of the 16 penalties they drew against the Colts came against the defense on third down, allowing the Colts to pick up first downs. The Colts had seven first downs by penalty in the game. It makes you wonder if coach Dan Quinn should take sterner action against repeat violators. One of those defensive penalties was too many men on the field, as the Falcons were caught switching personnel, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett couldn’t get out of the game. Quinn, as the defensive coordinator, didn’t feel good about the lack of communication but vowed to get the penalty issues fixed this week while having officials out for practice. The Falcons have done that regularly, but Quinn emphasized it this week in preparation for Sunday’s matchup with Tennessee. The Falcons are tied for 29th in the league in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 52.8% of the time. They are giving up 21.7 first downs per game, which is tied for 22nd. Their minus-five point differential, with the defense yielding 25 points per game and the offense scoring 20 points per game, ranks 22nd. I think it’s about the small details on defense," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "I felt like [against the Colts], it was more we were inflicting damage on ourselves than them beating us. I mean, they made some plays, but I think we’ve got to start with doing our job first, getting in position. ... We’ve got to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do." This week’s task likely means preparing for what Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is capable of accomplishing as a dual-threat quarterback and the power Derrick Henry brings in the running game. At the same time, the Falcons can’t be fooled into thinking it’s all about stopping the run because Mariota might try to go downfield to wide receiver Corey Davis or someone else. More thing anything, the Falcons can’t sulk about Neal not being in the lineup. Quinn talked about Kemal Ishmael stepping in to play some strong safety. But filling in for Neal might be by committee, with Quinn looking at all options. Safety Jamal Carter was elevated from the practice squad for depth. Nickelback Damontae Kazee played free safety last season. But it will be difficult for anyone to mirror Neal’s impact when healthy. "Just the way that he brings the pain, man, and the way that people have to account for No. 22," Allen said. "When they know he’s coming, people pull hands down. Tipped balls happen a little bit more. "That’s why I think we ended up winning that game on fourth down against the Eagles -- because they saw 22 coming and pulled that ball back. You understand when 22 is out there, he’s trying to get that ball. And if he’s not trying to get that ball, he’s trying to get you. He’s an enforcer, and we’re going to miss that. It’s a physical presence that’s hard to match when you take a guy like him off the field."
  14. https://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/34392 FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Vic Beasley Jr. isn’t oblivious to the criticism. Skeptics wonder why the Atlanta Falcons' defensive end hasn’t been nearly near as productive the past two years (10 sacks combined in 2017-18) as he was during his 15.5-sack 2016 season. His decline has turned the 2015 first-round pick into a punchline on talk radio and the subject of angry rants from fed-up fans. Beasley knows the only way to silence the doubters is to perform at a high level every week, which is what he intends to do. "I know I'm a good player," Beasley said. "There's a lot of things that I can work on, but I know that I'm a good player. For me to remain in this league and to be the great player that I want to be, I have to be consistent. “I just have to do better. Humans make mistakes in life. You have to make it up in your mind that you're going to do better. A lot of times when you strive to be great, sometimes things don't go your way. But you continue to remain optimistic in those situations." Beasley set the bar high in his second NFL season, when he topped his buddy Von Miller (13.5 sacks) of the Denver Broncos for the NFL sack title. Everything appeared to align right for Beasley in ‘16 as he used his speed off the edge to create havoc. Not to mention he drew a couple favorable matchups, such as squaring off against current teammate and former Bronco Ty Sambrailo on an afternoon Beasley recorded 3.5 sacks along with two forced fumbles. Once the calendar flipped to 2017, the buzz around Beasley faded. He didn’t have a sack in the Falcons' three postseason games tied to their Super Bowl run. Then during the ‘17 regular season, Beasley finished with just five sacks in 14 games -- and three of those sacks came in the first six games. Beasley missed time due to an early-season hamstring injury but never used the injury as an excuse for his drop-off -- just like he never pointed to the torn labrum in his shoulder during his rookie campaign. Plus, Beasley took on more coverage responsibilities while playing strongside linebacker in ‘17. Then last season, Beasley, back into more of a pass-rusher role, had just five sacks as the Falcons finished in the bottom 10 of the league with 37 sacks. According to ESPN's pass rush win rate powered by NFL Next Gen, Beasley beat his blocks in 2.5 seconds on 26.9% of pass rushes, which ranked 23rd in the NFL among players with at least 300 pass rushes. He didn’t force any fumbles, something he showed a knack for when he tied Bruce Irvin with a league-high six forced fumbles in 2016. "Again, it’s just consistency," Beasley said of last year’s woes. "That's what keeps you around this league: consistency. You had one great year. You have to get back to that. Any player in this league, if they're not consistent, how do you gain trust with that individual?" The Falcons expressed some amount of trust in Beasley by picking up his fifth-year option worth $12.81 million this season. They have not, however, made a long-term commitment after this season. Irvin, who played with the Falcons last season, thinks Beasley can play. "I think Vic can ball," Irvin said. "I just think Vic needs an older guy to push him. And I think he really needs DQ [Falcons coach Dan Quinn]. DQ is really the perfect coach for Vic."’ So far through training camp, Quinn seems intent on getting the best out of Beasley’s freakish athleticism, whether that means rushing off the edge, setting the edge against the run, or dropping into coverage. Quinn, doubling as the defensive coordinator, vowed to spend more time trying to bring out the best in Beasley. Those one-on-one teaching moments have come during camp since Beasley opted to train on his own during the offseason program. "I thought in the run game, those fundamentals, I thought that's been an improvement," Quinn said of Beasley’s play in camp. "We've worked hard, for him, in the pass rush. I won't get into all the specifics but some things: counters, what to set off with. So we've spent a good bit of time on that. ... He's off to a good start.’’ Now, it’s about the finish. The Falcons need him to be a strong edge rusher along with Takk McKinley on the other side, with tackle Grady Jarrett being one of the best interior rushers in the game and others such as Adrian Clayborn, Allen Bailey, and John Cominsky bringing some pass-rush ability. Beasley wouldn’t reveal exactly what elements of his pass rush he’s working on, but he continues to study the Broncos’ Miller because of their similar builds. Beasley still relies -- maybe too heavily -- on his speed rush yet has shown flashes of counters such as dipping inside or working more diligently with his hands. Asked if he needed to play with a little more nastiness, the soft-spoken Beasley responded, "I feel like everybody has an angry side to them. If somebody was to attack your mom, what are you going to do? Are you going to turn the other cheek? You never know what you're going to do until you're put in that situation. "As far as being an aggressive, angry player, I guess that's not necessarily my mold, my build, my personality. But if someone was to push me, I can't just sit up there and say I'm going to turn the other cheek.’’ Beasley has to worry more about turning the page on those down seasons and becoming the player he expects to be. Those expectations remain rather high: nothing short of double-digit sacks through a full season. "For me, it is about double-digit sacks because I'm not just a guy, you know what I'm saying? I'm a good player," Beasley said. "For me and the person that I am, consistently for me, that's what I need to do."
  15. NFL CBA quirks that could have a big effect on the 2020 offseason Its a long article.. You can read it at the link but here is a summery IF A NEW CBA DEAL IS NOT SIGNED BY NEXT OFFSEASON 1.In a normal year you can use either the franchise or transition tag on 1 player per team... Next year in 2020 you can usage both the franchise and transition tag on players (so you have 2 tags) 2.There is no No post-June 1 designations next year... Since there is no guaranteed year after next year.. If we cut a player next all season the team would have to take the full charge 3. The 30% rule (Which can make Grady contract a little difficult or any big time FA) ... "So if a player signs a five-year contract this offseason, and his 2020 salary is $10 million, the rules state his scheduled 2021, 2022 and 2023 salaries can't be higher than $13 million, $16 million and $19 million, respectively" 4.
  16. I'll just post what ESPN, Bill Barnwell said about the Falcons. The link is below. http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/25966875/five-2019-offseason-moves-nfc-team-make-bill-barnwell-predicts-trades-free-agency-cuts
  17. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/33656/ex-falcon-roddy-white-believes-julio-jones-can-catch-jerry-rice FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Roddy White knew his standing as the Atlanta Falcons' all-time leading receiver would be in jeopardy sooner than later with Julio Jones still on the roster. But as Jones sits 381 receiving yards from surpassing White's franchise mark of 10,863, White has much loftier goals set for his close friend and former teammate. "The pace that he's at right now, he can not only be the all-time leading receiver in Falcons history, to me he has enough talent to be the all-time leading receiver in the NFL," White said of Jones. "That's if he plays long enough." Hall of Famer Jerry Rice is the league's all-time leading receiver with 22,895 yards. Rice, who retired at age 42, accomplished the feat in 20 seasons while playing 303 games. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald is second with 16,108 yards. Jones, 29, snickered when told of White's thoughts about him catching Rice. "I don't know what's wrong with Roddy, man," Jones said. "Jerry played, what, 20 years? You know what I'm saying? Jerry played a long time." In the same breath, Jones seemed to ponder the thought as a very realistic challenge. "What that says about Roddy is he knows the work ethic, everything I've been through, the way I work ... it's very achievable," Jones said. "But for me, I'm not a numbers guy. I didn't even know when you said that's next for me as far as surpassing Roddy. I didn't even know if I was close or not. I just play ball." Jones, who has 10,483 yards through 108 games, has the highest per-game average for receiving yards in league history at 97.1. Rice averaged 75.6. So, essentially, Jones could break the mark by keeping the same average over 128 more games -- or eight more seasons. He would have to stay healthy, of course. Jones has dealt with his share of nagging injuries and played in only five games during the 2013 season after suffering a foot fracture. The Falcons already announced intentions to address Jones' contract situation with two years remaining after making an adjustment to this year's salary. "I can't tell you how long I want to play," Jones said. "For me, right now, I feel great. I still feel like I'm 17, 18 years old right now. I don't hurt. I can run. I can stop. I can do everything. I can do whatever I want to do. I feel great and I've played eight years. So if I feel like this, I know I can play at least eight [more] years. "But with family and stuff like that, a lot of things happen. That's why I don't like to speak on stuff down the road. I'm one year at a time, and whatever comes." Jones marveled about how Rice was able to play into his 40s and still have an impact. At age 40 in 2002, Rice caught 92 passes for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns for a Oakland Raiders team that went to the Super Bowl. "Yeah, 22,000 is a lot," Jones said. "I have a lot of respect for Jerry Rice. The way he works, his work ethic, everything about him. He wasn't a guy who was going to wow you with his physical ability. But the way he works, he's going to outwork you. You're not going to outwork Jerry Rice. He's going to make you suffer." Jones has developed a reputation for his relentless work ethic, too, on top of being blessed with tremendous physical size and incredible athleticism. The 2011 sixth overall draft pick, who achieved 10,000 receiving yards faster than any receiver in league history (104 games), reached another milestone this past Sunday when he became the first player in NFL history to post five straight 1,400-yard seasons. Jones leads the league with 1,429 receiving yards on 94 receptions, and that's despite drawing double-team attention regularly. True to his usual modest self, the five-time Pro Bowler dismissed it as no big deal when asked what the accomplishment meant to him. "Nothing," Jones said. "I'm trying to find a way to win. All that stuff is always nice, but I'm trying to find ways to win." The 4-9 Falcons take a five-game losing streak into Sunday's matchup with the 3-10 Arizona Cardinals. With three games remaining, Jones would need to average 127 yards per game -- 17 yards better than his season average -- to break White's franchise mark this season. It's attainable with the Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the final three opponents. Jones' career-high for a game was 300 against the Panthers, and he's gone off for 253 against the Buccaneers and 189 against the Cardinals. "Will he get the [franchise] record this year? Yes. Definitely," White said. "He ain't playing no world-beating secondaries where he can't catch no balls. "Just him getting to 10,000 yards, that's a big feat, especially in this league. When you hit that mark, that means you're playing at a high level in the NFL. The guys that are on that list, frankly, a lot of them are Hall of Famers. To get to that point a good eight years into the league, that's a tremendous accomplishment."
  18. Falcons will consider keeping Freeman-Coleman tandem together http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/33644/falcons-will-consider-keeping-freeman-coleman-tandem-together FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- At the end of last season, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he could envision a scenario in which the team would re-sign running back Tevin Coleman, even after inking starter Devonta Freeman to a long-term contract. That scenario remains a possibility, according to coach Dan Quinn. As the 4-9 Falcons dig deeper into the process of evaluating the roster approaching the offseason, it's fair to wonder how the running back situation will come together in 2019. Asked Monday if he thought there was a chance of Freeman and Coleman being the team's backfield duo of the future despite Coleman being in the last year of his rookie deal, Quinn didn't rule it out. "Yep. For sure," Quinn said. "Everything's on the table. When we're in the scenario that we're in, which we're not very pleased at, you evaluate anything and everything. So, yeah, we're certainly going to consider every single option in every way." Devonta Freeman, left, and Tevin Coleman have combined to score 64 TDs for the Falcons during their careers. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Whether it all plays out that way remains a question mark, if not doubtful. Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowler, signed a five-year, $41.25 million extension ($22 million guaranteed) through 2022. But he knows nothing is certain about his future with the team despite the deal, especially when folks start throwing around trade scenarios. Freeman played in just two games this season and remains on injured reserve following groin surgery. He is eligible to return for the Dec. 23 game at Carolina, although there is no guarantee he'll be activated despite the optimism Quinn expressed last Friday. "For us, the No. 1 thing is keep making progress," Quinn said of Freeman's status. "When we do that, then we'll cross the bridge of what's next in terms of him playing. But keep making progress, first." Freeman has had a variety of injuries, including multiple concussions and knee problems, which had left some league executives wondering about his durability. But the Falcons, ranked last in the league at 81.2 rushing yards per game, obviously would have fared much better with Freeman's elusiveness and aggressiveness in the lineup. Not to mention Freeman runs routes like a receiver when asked to line up against linebackers. He has 37 touchdowns in 63 career games. "Another player had said, 'At the end of runs, he lets 'em know,' and I thought that's a clear illustration where he's able to drop his shoulder on a guy to finish a run over his pads and downhill," Quinn said of Freeman. "I think I love the fact that at the end of runs, he can really get downhill and finish. The 4-yard run goes for 8 yards. I'd say it's his change of direction. When somebody is ready to size him up thinking they got the hit, the foot goes in the ground and he explodes. ... He brings a lot of energy to the team." Quinn said all that without directly addressing if he has any concerns regarding Freeman's long-term health. At least one opponent believes the absence of Freeman has had a major effect on the Falcons. "I think he's an X factor for them," said Sheldon Rankins, a star defensive tackle for the rival New Orleans Saints. "I think his ability to run as well on the edges as well as he does inside between the tackles, and his ability in the passing game, kind of takes the offense to a whole new dimension. Without him, they had to kind of go to a committee-type role, and you kind of saw they kind of threw the ball a lot more. "And I think when that team is really rolling, you've seen in the past, is when they can feed their running backs and they can gash teams with the run game, the play-action pass, get Julio [Jones] deep and those guys. So I think [Freeman]'s an X factor for them, and they've obviously missed him this year. I know they'll be happy whenever they can get him back." There are mixed reviews about Coleman around the league. One AFC head coach said back in February, "He's a great complement to the starter, and he could fill the role of a starting running back because of his great speed and athleticism. Can't discount his ability to score the football." Meanwhile, an NFC executive said recently he was surprised Coleman hadn't shown a lot more fire and taken full advantage of starting in place of Freeman, which might indicate he is not ready to assume a starting role. Coleman has rushed for 559 yards and two touchdowns on 138 carries while starting 11 games. For his career, Coleman has 27 touchdowns in 53 games. Coleman said during the season that he wants to remain with the Falcons. His agent, Adisa Bakari, is the same agent who represents Pittsburgh Steelers running back holdout Le'Veon Bell. So, it would be hard to imagine Coleman accepting a bargain deal if the chance exists for him to secure more money in free agency. The Falcons have rookie fourth-round pick Ito Smith sharing the load with Coleman, and Smith gives the team a change-of-pace back who can get into the end zone (team-leading four rushing touchdowns). Smith, however, isn't a guy anyone envisions being the Falcons' workhorse back. The Falcons have drafted a running back in four of the past five drafts -- Freeman in 2014 (fourth round), Coleman in 2015 (third), Brian Hill in 2017 (fifth) and Smith in 2018 (fourth). The last free-agent running back the Falcons signed who made a significant impact was Michael Turner, who signed a six-year, $34.5 million deal ($15 million guarantee) in 2008. Turner had three 1,000-yard seasons and rushed for double-digit touchdowns in each of his five seasons with the team. Quinn reiterated how important the running game is to success moving ahead, regardless of which players are carrying the load. "It has to be a part of our identity -- and a big part of that," Quinn said. "I think it adds to the overall circle of the toughness of your team. But it also so clearly sets up the line of scrimmage like we'd like for the run game and the play-action to balance off of one another. Our identity is tied into that." The other important element, of course, is the play of the offensive line. In all fairness to both Coleman and Smith, the holes haven't been there consistently this season, in large part, due to poor blocking. And if the Falcons plan to have success running the ball beyond this season, they'll need to make sure they have linemen physically capable of getting the job done. They'll probably need to address both guard spots, and the benching of Ryan Schraeder leaves doubts about the right tackle situation. "There's always things we can do to improve," said center Alex Mack. "If we just block everybody, you could be back there. Unfortunately, [defenses] are good. That's when you need a running back who is making people miss. Some of the runs are 100 percent on those guys doing really good things and making people miss. "The better we can do to block people, the more space we can open up, the more we can run the ball." ESPN Saints Reporter Mike Triplett contributed to this story
  19. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/33587/falcons-offense-fails-at-wrong-time-of-season ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons were supposed to be carried by an explosive offense this year. Sure, it would have been a tall task to ask the Falcons to duplicate what they accomplished during the Super Bowl run in 2016, when they led the league at 33.8 points per game. But when you have a one-time MVP in Matt Ryan, a five-time Pro Bowler in Julio Jones, an electric rookie in Calvin Ridley, and a host of other capable weapons, points are supposed to come a little easier. Such hasn't been the case for the Falcons over the last 22 days during a four-game losing streak that put any playoff talk to rest. They've averaged just 17 points per game over that span while dropping to 4-8. This week's 26-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravensmagnified all that has gone wrong for the Falcons on the offensive side of the ball. They knew they had a challenge against the league's top defense in the Ravens, but no one would have expected the Falcons to gain 131 net yards, their lowest total in a game since managing just 106 in a 26-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 12, 1999. Ryan, sacked three times and hit seven times by the Ravens, threw for 131 yards on 16 of 26 passes -- a career-low when he has attempted 20 or more passes, according to ESPN Statistics and Information. And once again, the Falcons failed to put together any semblance of a running game with 34 yards on 15 carries, averaging 2.3 yards per carry. During the current four-game skid, the running back combo of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith has combined for 159 yards on 54 carries (2.94 yards per carry). It emphasizes how much Devonta Freeman (groin surgery) is missed. Say what you want about the Ravens dominating the time of possession against the Falcons, which they did with having it almost 20 minutes longer. The Falcons didn't take advantage of their opportunities when they did have it, going 2 for 9 on third down and driving into the red zone just once. "It was a point of emphasis for us to get the run game going. We didn't do a good enough job," Ryan said. "We didn't execute as well as we needed to. "We had some [opportunities] that were closer than they might have looked. But consistently, when you're not making first downs, you're not moving the chains, it's hard to get that [run game] going." Going down the field with passes didn't work well either, whether it be due to drops or poor passes. Give Ryan credit for pointing blame at himself for overthrowing Coleman on a wheel route early in the game that might have led to a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal. "I'd love to have that one back," Ryan said. "Just throw it a yard or two shorter and let him kind of take it to the house. You never know if momentum changes from that point." The Falcons have lost a lot of steam, and coach Dan Quinn has noticed. Quinn talked about the effort being their but there being moments where he saw the energy of his team dip. It would seem to be even harder to maintain a high level of energy over the final four games, starting with next week's trip to Green Bay. The Falcons don't have much to play for. "Early on you have that moment where it's `OK, we will get it turned,'" Quinn said. "So I think when you hit the reality where you're fighting to get to .500, yeah, that stinks. And that hurts. ... It's never a group of guys that has been like, `Let's back off and step away.' We're way more of, `Wow do we go about improving and fixing what we need to get done?'" Matt Ryan had the fewest passing yards in a game in which he started and finished in his career on Sunday. John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports Seeing Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones return to the lineup for the first time since right foot surgery and post 15 total tackles and a sack was a positive for the Falcons to build upon, as was seeing quiet first-round pick Vic Beasley Jr. returning a Grady Jarrett forced fumble 74 yards for a touchdown. It was the team's first fumble recovery of the season despite forcing six fumbles. But from an offensive perspective, the Falcons have plenty of work to do to feel positive moving forward. Critics will continue to point to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian when they see failed run plays up the middle or a pass by Mohamed Sanu out of the Wildcat sail incomplete on third-and-1. But, as Ryan said, there are plays where the players have to execute, and the Falcons didn't. And Quinn continues to support Sarkisian, just like owner Arthur Blank continues to support Quinn. The Falcons already made one change on the offensive line with inserting Zane Beadles at right guard ahead of Ben Garland. The change didn't necessarily keep Ryan off his back or open up holes in the run game, though the blame does not fall directly on Beadles. The line, as a whole, has to do better. And the backs have to pick up blitzers. Ryan has sounded like a broken record in talking about the mindset the Falcons have to possess moving forward. But there's not much else to say. "We've got to get back to work," Ryan said. "We've got to find a good way to win. As far as stay together, I think we have a good group of men in our locker room, coaching staff, and front office that are willing to work."
  20. Despite 4-7 record, Falcons owner Arthur Blank supports coach Dan Quinn http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/25352056/atlanta-falcons-owner-arthur-blank-says-supports-coach-dan-quinn NEW ORLEANS -- Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank gave coach Dan Quinn a vote of confidence after Thursday's 31-17 loss to the Saints dropped the Falcons to 4-7 and all but ended their playoff hopes. Blank expressed total faith in Quinn, who guided the Falcons to the 2016 Super Bowl. "Absolutely. We love our coach," Blank told ESPN. "Our coach is not the problem." Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were rewarded with three-year extensions in July. They are signed through 2022. The Falcons have been inconsistent throughout this season, starting 1-4, winning three straight to even their record, then dropping the past three games. Injuries have been an issue, with six starters placed on injured reserve, including Pro Bowlers Devonta Freeman, Keanu Nealand Deion Jones. Falcons coach Dan Quinn is under contract through 2022. AP Photo/Bill Feig "It's a reason, but it's not an excuse," Blank said of the injuries. "That's what the coach would tell you. That's what the players would tell you. There have been some crippling injuries, but other guys have stepped up and played the best they can. Some cases, that's good enough. In some cases, not quite." Blank saw a simple reason behind the implosion in another loss to the rival Saints. "I thought it was pretty obvious tonight: We had a few turnovers, which are always brutal," Blank said. "To have four of them, it's nearly impossible to win. And we couldn't run the ball tonight; couldn't stop the run. That's the story of the game." Quinn implied on Thursday that there could be changes coming to the offensive line after a bad performance against the Saints. As far as any coaching changes, Quinn has expressed confidence in both offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel throughout the entire season.
  21. A little something positive in this season http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/33430/gunshot-survivor-now-in-falcons-brotherhood-thanks-to-austin-hooper ATLANTA -- If he could walk, Louisiana native Kyron Greenup probably would strut into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday, proudly wearing his custom-made Atlanta Falcons jersey. If he could move his hands freely, Greenup probably would pump his fist every time the Falcons score a touchdown, especially if his new friend, tight end Austin Hooper, is the one crossing the goal line. But Greenup can't perform the simplest movements -- not with multiple bullet fragments still lodged in the back of his head. He's in a wheelchair and has been since 2014. That year, a dispute he had no part of, according to a police report, resulted in random shots being fired around his Reserve, Louisiana, neighborhood, an area known for gun violence. The shot that pierced his skull altered his life. "I've come from not being able to talk, not being able to move nothing at all," Greenup said with optimism. "I had a feeding tube. I had a catheter. But it's all eliminated now. I'm working on standing. I'm doing squats. I've come a long, long way." The shooting occurred less than a year after Greenup's younger brother, Kyrian Gray, was shot and killed by gunfire during a graduation party 30 miles west of New Orleans. Doctors have told Greenup that he has a chance to walk again, but they won't put a timetable on his recovery, so three or four days a week, he turns what are supposed to be one-hour rehab sessions into three-hour grinds. His relentless spirit not only caught the eye of his therapists at Atlanta's Shepherd Center, where Greenup has spent time since exiting two nursing homes. It also drew the attention of Hooper. After hearing Greenup's story, Hooper made a few calls to Falcons' staff members and helped arrange for Greenup to be a guest at the Saints-Falcons game in Week 3. The organization took matters a step further, designating Greenup an honorary game captain. "It was good that everyone rallied to make Kyron's day," Hooper said. "If he can go through life the way he does, with such a positive attitude, what are our everyday problems? Little things that you go through, they're meaningless. Kyron's outlook is the way more people should be." Greenup, 25, grew up in Louisiana rooting for Deuce McAllister and the Saints. But the generosity displayed by Hooper and the Falcons made him switch sides. He'll cheer for the visiting team when the Falcons (4-6) battle the Saints (9-1) on Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). "I'm a Dirty Bird," Greenup said. "I like the Falcons. Those are my brothers. I'm in the brotherhood for life now." Nothing short of a miracle One person was killed and another wounded Tuesday evening in St. John the Baptist Parish. That was the lead of the news story posted on a Louisiana television station's website on May 7, 2014, the day after Greenup was shot. "I was the one dead," Greenup said. "They had pronounced me dead." According to a St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff's report, Greenup, then 20, was found slumped over near the side of the street in a "pool of bright red blood" as a number of men and women screamed for help. Another victim, a 15-year-old boy, had been shot in the leg and survived. Deputies on the scene discovered 15 bullet casings and one live round on the ground near Greenup, who remembered none of it. "I wasn't even paying attention when the shots were fired," Greenup said. "It was broad daylight, and I had just come from work at the warehouse. I still don't remember that day vividly or visually. All I can tell you is when I woke up, I was in a hospital." From what a friend told Greenup, the shooting occurred after a stranger drove into the neighborhood, was stopped and questioned by one of the residents, and then engaged in an argument with that resident. Shortly after, shots were fired. An ambulance arrived, and one of the paramedics, Tony Grandolfo Jr., performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Greenup. Grandolfo, now a patrol officer, remains a family friend to this day. "He was the one who saved my life," Greenup said of Grandolfo. "He told me, 'I actually felt your heart stop. I did all I could. After that, you just kept fighting.'" Greenup was transported to River Parish Hospital in LaPlace, Louisiana, then airlifted to University Hospital in downtown New Orleans. He was treated by neurosurgeon Gabriel Tender. "I'm glad that he's alive, and I'm very happy that he's going to walk again," Tender said. "He came in in really bad shape. I'm surprised he's still alive, to be honest with you. But the fact that he's going to walk again is nothing short of a miracle, with the type of damage he had and the shape he was in." Greenup, who was on a ventilator for an extended time, had to undergo a decompressive craniectomy, a procedure in which part of the skull is removed to allow a swelling brain to expand without being squeezed. After the swelling subsided, Tender inserted an artificial skull graph. The bullet traveled from one side of Greenup's head to the other. Tender opted not to remove the bullet fragments because doing so could have punctured the superior sagittal sinus, which, when bleeding, becomes nearly impossible to stop. "We risked killing him by trying to take those out," Tender said of the fragments. The bullet penetrated the motor cortex, which controls the movement of the arms and legs, on both sides of Greenup's brain. The damage left him in a wheelchair. But, as Tender explained, surrounding areas of the brain attempt to compensate and assume functions, which is why Greenup is on the path to walk again after recovering his speech. Michelle Greenup, a mother of five boys and one girl before the murder of her son, Kyrian Gray, moved to the Atlanta area in an attempt to start a new life after she received the call about Kyron. She knew the hostile atmosphere in Louisiana was no good for her family, which is why she had moved to Jacksonville, Florida, years before. She left Kyron and Kyrian with their grandmother so they could finish high school. "I just prayed, cried and was like, 'I'm not going to see a body. I'm going to see my child,'" Michelle Greenup said of her emotions upon hearing the news on Kyron. "When I got to the hospital, he was disfigured. But I was glad just to know he was still here with us, laying up there living." Two men were arrested the week after the shooting. The one who shot Greenup, Jontrell Cosey, initially was charged with attempted second-degree murder but eventually plead guilty to aggravated battery and aggravated criminal damage to property. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Michelle asked to meet with Cosey following the trial. "I forgave him," she said. "I truly forgave him. It wasn't for the public or nobody else. I forgave him because I had to go on. Seeing him have life [in prison] or hating him, it wouldn't have changed my baby's situation. He's still in a chair. And that's just me. I'm going to show love, however. I love God for real. So showing compassion was not a problem." Police concluded that there was no motive behind the shooting. They were surprised Greenup was hit because witnesses said he was nowhere near Cosey. Cosey, who lived in the neighborhood, was someone Greenup had known since childhood. "He wasn't my best friend or anything, but I'd speak to him," Greenup said of Cosey. "I've known him all my life. They were just shooting. That's it. It wasn't gang-related or anything, just shooting. "What would I say to him now? I have nothing to say. We don't have anything to talk about. He can't change my situation. I can't change his situation. Just go ahead with your life, and I'm going to do the same." Part of the Falcons' brotherhood Greenup beamed as he directed his eyes toward the signed white football bearing the Falcons' logo sitting on his living room shelf. It was a birthday present from coach Dan Quinn, who added a team beanie in the surprise package. On the ball is the following message from Quinn: "Kyron, Happy birthday. We admire your toughness & resiliency. In Brotherhood." For Greenup, the gift serves as a daily reminder of his moment as the Falcons' honorary captain. The surprise was supposed to be revealed to him the Friday before that Sept. 23 Saints-Falcons game. But Greenup's therapist let the secret out Tuesday of that week. "She wasn't going to be there Friday, so she wanted to see my facial expression," Greenup said. "She told me about it, and I was like, 'Wow, are you serious? Y'all playing.' And she was like, 'Nah, I'm serious. Guys are going to come to get you that morning. So be ready.'" He was. Greenup could barely control his excitement while he was shuttled to the stadium. When he arrived on the sideline for warm-ups, he met Hooper. "He came over and gave me some dap," Greenup said of Hooper. "He was like, 'It's nice to meet you, man, but let me go ahead and get back over here to warm-ups before I get in trouble. We can talk more after the game.'" Greenup, wearing his No. 1 captain's jersey, posed for pictures with Falcons owner Arthur Blank. He sat in awe as Quinn came over and addressed him. "He really gave me some motivational words," Greenup said of Quinn. "He was just telling me to keep working and don't give up because anything is possible. He was like, 'You're in the best place for rehab. You're going to see the outcome at the end of it all.' His message was just to not give up." Greenup was wheeled to midfield for the coin toss alongside Falcons game captains Tevin Coleman, Robert Alford and Justin Bethel. Across from him stood Drew Brees and Cam Jordan, but he didn't mention growing up a Saints fan. Greenup was hoping for a Falcons victory, but the Saints pulled off an overtime thriller 43-37. Regardless, Greenup came away a winner. Hooper made good on his promise to catch up afterward. He invited Greenup to a friend's home that night for steak fajitas and to watch the Sunday night game between the Patriots and Lions. "We actually, actually hung out after the game," Greenup said. "It felt really good. I was like, 'Wow, I'm really hanging out with Austin Hooper. I got him to sign a ball and that hat you see right up there." Hooper brought a couple friends with him: five-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mackand defensive end Derrick Shelby. Both Mack and Shelby walked away impressed by Greenup's upbeat demeanor. "It was just cool to hang out and tell stories, and I know he really appreciated it," Mack said. "I know his life is difficult, and he has a great attitude. The things that you think are easy, like taking a sip of water, is, like, a struggle. But he's really working hard, and it's cool to see that." Said Shelby, "Just visiting with people that are going through hard times, it uplifts their spirits and helps them not think about the situation. You just try and treat him like he's one of the guys and have fun." Greenup and Hooper have maintained their friendship. Hooper recently sent Greenup a bed for his new apartment, which he moved into three weeks ago. Greenup's mother and younger brother, Kyree, live 30 minutes away but sometimes stay the night to help him get around. Otherwise, Greenup gets assistance from a certified nursing assistant. Hooper also checked into getting Greenup into Thursday night's game in New Orleans, but Greenup said his family's plan to spend the holiday in Louisiana changed. Maybe one day, Greenup will walk the sideline by himself prior to a Falcons-Saints game. "They just told me I'm going to have to put in the hard work and that it's 'going to be up to you' when I walk again," Greenup said. "I just don't give up. Never."
  22. http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/33383/even-brian-urlachers-eager-for-falcons-deion-jones-to-return FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones has picked up quite a few fans during his 32-game NFL stint. Brian Urlacher is among them. Urlacher, the Hall of Fame middle linebacker who starred for the Chicago Bears, didn't hold back on the superlatives when discussing Jones' likely return to the lineup from early-season foot surgery. "That's a bad mother f-----," Urlacher said of Jones. "Is he coming back? I know he got hurt the first game of the year. I like that he can come back from [injured reserve] later in the season. That's a good move. "He's already a star, dude. He's the fastest middle linebacker in the NFL. He can cover anybody. He's great in the run game. He's so athletic. He's one of the guys I really love watching play." The Falcons (4-5) would love to watch Jones makes plays rather than run ladder drills on a side field. Coach Dan Quinn reiterated Monday that the team will take things "step by step" with Jones despite Jones being eligible to return off IR for Sunday's matchup against the Dallas Cowboys (4-5). Quinn said he won't put Jones back out there until Jones' repaired broken right foot is completely healed. But the return of Jones would be critical for the Falcons' playoff hopes, with the NFC picture far from undecided. The Falcons' struggling defense sorely needs him. A 28-16 loss to rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns emphasized how much the Falcons miss Jones in the middle of the field. Speed erases mistakes, and Jones is a 4.38 40-yard dash guy who could track down a running back before a 92-yard touchdown. He has developed into a solid tackler, and missed tackles have been a glaring issue for the Falcons. Plus, Jones knows how to find the ball with seven career interceptions -- including two pick-sixes -- and a forced fumble. If Jones returns this week, he'll be counted upon to help slow down Ezekiel Elliott, the league's second-leading rusher with 831 ground yards. If Jones doesn't return until the Thanksgiving night showdown against his hometown New Orleans Saints, then he'll give Drew Brees something to think about, with three interceptions of Brees in four meetings. Not to mention the Falcons had trouble defending running backs out of the backfield such as Carolina's Christian McCaffrey (14 catches, 102 yards) and New Orleans' Alvin Kamara (15 catches, 124 yards), something Jones could help minimize the second time around with his coverage skills "I know Deion as a person and I know he wants to be out there with us," fellow linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said. "The fact that he can't be, it kills him. I let him know, 'Maybe this was a sign from God that you needed this rest.' "Him coming back, that's huge for your defense in general. He's the captain of the defense. He's the Mike. He's does some things really well that not a lot of people can do. Just having him back is going to be huge in general." Said pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr.: "It's going to be awesome to get Deion back. He's a great player, a great leader for our team. We're looking forward to having him back and we're excited for him." The Falcons enter Sunday's Dallas game ranked second-to-last in the league in third-down defense (51.9 percent conversion rate), yards allowed per play (6.54), and yards allowed per rush (5.19). They lost starting safeties Keanu Neal (ACL) and Ricardo Allen (Achilles) to season-ending injuries, and Jones hasn't played since the season opener in Philadelphia. The Falcons, who have placed six starters on IR, are allowed to designate two players to return. Jones' return appears imminent, and the Falcons could bring back two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman from groin surgery for the Carolina game (Dec. 23).
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