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  1. Get PFF updates in your inbox Sign Up Skip to MainSkip to Navigation PRO COLLEGE FANTASY Search (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images) BEST REMAINING DRAFT PROSPECTS FOR DAY 3 PFF ANALYSIS TEAM11 HOURS AGO With Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft in the books, the Pro Football Focus analysis team takes a look at the top remaining players on our draft board. Edge defender Carl Lawson and wide receiver Dede Westbrook are among the highest-ranked prospects headed for Rounds 4–7. 1. Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn Big Board Rank: 14 Position Rank: 4 The pass-rushers in the SEC last season kept a good number of quarterbacks up late on Friday nights. Lawson registered nine sacks, 13 hits, and 42 hurries in 2016 on only 364 pass-rushing snaps. Lawson wins the edge on offensive tackles as much as anyone in this class and makes them worry about getting out of their stance quickly with his first step. He pairs that up with some of the strongest hands I’ve seen in the class that keep him in control of interactions. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 2. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma Big Board Rank: 43 Position Rank: 4 Westbrook was one of if not the most productive receiver in college football last season, winning the Biletnikoff Award as well as getting an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony as a nominee. While it’s easy to dismiss Westbrook as a product of the wide-open Big 12 offense of Oklahoma, he’s much more than that. Westbrook is more than just fast, he’s incredibly quick out of his breaks and knows how to run every route. He knows how to set up routes with double moves and head fakes, and once he has a step on a defender they probably aren’t catching him. He’s got great hands, and is very impressive after the catch. While on tape he seems to play bigger than he is, his size may force him into the slot early in his NFL career. But watching him play outside, he definitely has the potential to move out there in the future. — Bryson Vesnaver, @PFF_Bryson 3. Joe Mathis, Edge, Washington Big Board Rank: 46 Position Rank: 11 Mathis is the wild card of this edge class. His games against Oregon and Stanford were of first-rounder quality, but a foot injury suffered in that Oregon game cost him the majority of his senior year. In those two games, Mathis racked up 14 QB pressures, which is more than he averaged in his previous two full seasons at Washington. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 4. Caleb Brantley, Defensive Interior, Florida Big Board Rank: 53 Position Rank: 3 Brantley’s college production, or lack thereof, was based predominantly on limited exposure rather than quality. In his first three years at Florida, he managed just over 1,100 snaps, never seeing more than 48.3 percent of reps in any season. Like the other members of the top three, Brantley’s skill-set is ideal for the modern NFL. His quick hands and rapid first step ensure that linemen consistently fail to tie him up effectively. Brantley is a zone scheme’s kryptonite; his fast-twitch style makes executing reach blocks nearly impossible. Although he failed to register a high volume of QB pressures (only 29 total as a junior), Brantley amassed that total on just over 190 snaps. Even in a rotational role as a rookie, he could dramatically improve any defensive line. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John 5. Vincent Taylor, Defensive Interior, Oklahoma State Big Board Rank: 63 Position Rank: 5 The first nose tackle to crack the list, Taylor’s intriguing potential will likely see him selected some time on Day 2. Although far from perfect, his flashes of brilliance are hard to ignore. Taylor ticks the boxes for size, athleticism and production. His length is instantly noticeable, particularly on first contact. Centers have a difficult job at the best of times, and Taylor compounds the problem with his capacity to overwhelm blockers heads up. If there is one weakness, he might be overly-reliant on dominating early in reps. He does not always win his duels if the first contact is neutral, and he can be vulnerable to chips from a second blocker as well as genuine double-teams. Those concerns are mitigated somewhat by the dual-threat he represents. Taylor moves extremely well for a man his size, helping him generate pressure with finesse as well as power. He is a potential Day 1 starter. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John 6. Desmond King, CB, Iowa Big Board Rank: 64 Position Rank: 14 King was the victim of one of the most notable plays during Senior Bowl practice, with East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones leaving him in the dust on a double move, but that one play shouldn’t overshadow an outstanding college career. Impressive in coverage and one of the nation’s best run defenders among defensive backs, he has recorded 14 interceptions and 24 pass breakups from the 182 passes thrown into his coverage since 2014. — Gordon McGuinness, @PFF_Gordon 7. Corn Elder, CB, Miami Big Board Rank: 66 Position Rank: 15 Elder spent time at both outside and slot cornerback for the Hurricanes, but his skill-set transitions best as a slot corner in the NFL. He allowed a mere 0.33 yards per coverage snap from the slot last year, and missed just four of the 70 solo tackles he attempted, so he really shouldn’t slip beyond Day 2 of the draft. — Gordon McGuinness, @PFF_Gordon 8. George Kittle, TE, Iowa Big Board Rank: 70 Position Rank: 5 While Kittle may not possess the size to become a reliable, in-line blocker, his sound technique, willingness to block and above-average athleticism make him a great No. 2 tight end in a “move” role. He’s one of the best in the class at blocking on the move, where he can use his athleticism and instincts to take advantage of angles and leverage. Kittle possesses the quickness and speed that should make him a versatile receiving threat capable of running routes from multiple positions, as well. At the very least, he’ll be a reliable underneath threat capable of gaining yards after the catch and moving the chains. — Billy Moy, @PFF_Billy 9. Deatrich Wise Jr., Edge, Arkansas Big Board Rank: 71 Position Rank: 15 Another “tweener,” Wise’s best position is likely as a 3-4 defensive end. He had some issues holding up to double teams at Arkansas that limited his playing time, but he was incredibly productive on the 488 snaps he saw see as a senior. Then at the East-West Shrine Game, he utterly dominated, racking up two sacks, a hit, and five hurries. He’s still very raw, but Wise has some freakish tools to work with in the NFL. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 10. Roderick Johnson, OT, FSU Big Board Rank: 72 Position Rank: 4 Johnson wins the “looks the part” award, measuring in at 6-foot-7 with 36-inch arms. He’s also demonstrated the ability to utilize that length in pass protection and execute every block in the run game. That being said, he’s at No. 4 on this list because he’s still very raw. Johnson has a bad habit of overextending, and he’ll need a ton of work in pass protection. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 11. Xavier Woods, S, Louisiana Tech Big Board Rank: 77 Position Rank: 7 Woods has had three years of strong grading, and he showed the skills to make an impact at both free safety and while covering the slot. His 85.0 coverage grade ranked 16th in the nation in 2016. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 12. Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama Big Board Rank: 79 Position Rank: 8 Jackson is a converted cornerback with the size and athleticism to be a versatile coverage defender at the next level when healthy. He offered little in terms of run support at Alabama, however, as he managed just one tackle and no stops on 66 snaps lined up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage in 2016. — Josh Liskiewitz, @PFF_Josh 13. Ejuan Price, Edge, Pittsburgh Big Board Rank: 80 Position Rank: 18 Most 5-foot-11 players simply can’t hold up on the edge in the NFL. There’s good reason to think Price is different. His balance and pass-rushing repertoire are both superb. His 29 combined sacks and hits were the second-most in the country last year. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 14. Tanzel Smart, Defensive Interior, Tulane Big Board Rank: 81 Position Rank: 7 Although shorter than ideal at just a shade over 6-foot, Smart monopolizes that advantage in leverage consistently. Sufficient length offsets his height deficiency significantly. A low center of gravity and powerful arms combine to facilitate probably the best bull-rush in the class. It is a joy to watch Smart tossing and toying with lineman who are helplessly hoping to re-anchor against the tide that is the former Green Wave product. Attempts to blow him off the ball in the ground game are also fruitless. In fact, Smart is much more likely to win his battles against the run. He flashed astounding ability to change direction in the backfield, consistently regaining his balance to fly to the football and generate tackles for loss. Smart could stand to improve as a tackler, but he represents one of the more consistently disruptive interior defenders in the class. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John 15. Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado Big Board Rank: 82 Position Rank: 9 Thompson was statistically the most impressive coverage safety in the country this year, although his lack of top-end speed and athleticism pushes him down the list of draft-eligible prospects at the position. He tallied seven interceptions and seven pass break-ups in 2016, and gave up completions on just 40.3 percent of passes thrown into his coverage. — Josh Liskiewitz, @PFF_Josh 16. Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech Big Board Rank: 88 Position Rank: 6 Standing at 6-foot-6 with out-of-the-stadium leaping ability, Hodges should step in and become a red-zone weapon for an NFL offense. He has minimal experience lining up with his hand in the dirt, and doesn’t offer a whole lot as a run blocker or pass protector, but he’s capable of lining up both in the slot and out wide, and he’s productive at all three levels. Hodges’ limited ability as a blocker, paired with his limited ability to create yards after the catch—he averaged just 3.0 yards after the catch last season—will likely cap his role within an NFL offense, but in terms of being a big-bodied target, he has a lot to offer. — Billy Moy, @PFF_Billy 17. Chad Hansen, WR, California Big Board Rank: 95 Position Rank: 9 Hansen was never considered to be an elite or even a much above-average college wide receiver, yet whenever the ball went his way, he kept making plays for Cal in 2016. Even though Hansen does not necessarily have the measurables (6-2, 202 pounds) and ran a 40-yard dash of just 4.53 seconds, he excelled at catching deep passes and winning contested catches last year. Perhaps most impressively, the wide receiver did not drop any of his 16 deep targets at Cal. The fact that he can high-point passes and go up and outmuscle defensive backs for the ball makes him very effective in coming down with contested catches in close coverage. The biggest knock on Hansen is how he was used and the lack of experience he has running different type of routes as he lined up almost exclusively on the right side and 73.6 percent of his targets came on screens, hitches and go routes. — Bryson Vesnaver, @PFF_Bryson 18. Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech Big Board Rank: 97 Position Rank: 10 Ford is one of those guys who does a lot of things well, but just doesn’t seem to have enough pieces to be a No. 1 receiver. What he is good at, though, is using his hands while running routes to create separation, which is good because he isn’t really fast enough to separate on speed alone. He’s not the strongest receiver, but he has good body control that allows him to haul in contested catches even when the ball isn’t thrown perfectly. He also has a very good release off the line of scrimmage, which helps him consistently beat press coverage. Ford may not have what it takes to be the No. 1 guy on a team, but he should be able to provide a very valuable complementary role wherever he ends up. — Bryson Vesnaver, @PFF_Bryson 19. Vince Biegel, Edge, Wisconsin Big Board Rank: 98 Position Rank: 20 Biegel is a freakishly talented athlete, but unrefined football player at this point. He also packs very little punch, and may have to move to an off-ball role in the NFL. Still his movement skills make him intriguing, as he racked up 52 QB pressures on only 255 pass-rushing snaps last year. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 20. Nathan Gerry, S, Nebraska Big Board Rank: 99 Position Rank: 12 Gerry is most effective in the box, as he is a solid run defender and can make plays against the pass underneath with his excellent feel for the game. In three years of play at Nebraska, he gave up a completion percentage of just 51.5 percent and picked off 13 passes, but his limited change of direction and playing speed could make him a liability in man coverage at the next level. — Josh Liskiewitz, @PFF_Josh 21. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma Big Board Rank: 100 Position Rank: 9 Perine has seemingly become the forgotten player after being surpassed by Mixon in Oklahoma’s offense, but his lesser role should not be indicative of what kind of impact he could have in the NFL. Perine is a big, physical back that shows impressive balance through contact. He’s most effective as a downhill runner, and while he could handle a full workload, he’s probably best suited as a power back that is paired with a more dynamic player to handle part of the workload and passing situations. — Matt Claassen, @PFF_Matt 22. Mack Hollins, WR, North Carolina Big Board Rank: 101 Position Rank: 11 Hollins is a sleeper prospect here with not a lot of college production to back him up. But he’s ranked this high because of what he can do when he’s on the field. At 6-4 and 221 pounds, Hollins is one of the biggest receivers in the class. But he also has phenomenal straightaway speed. He effortlessly blew by defenders throughout his career, evidenced by his 20 career touchdowns on just 71 receptions. Hollins was also a workhorse on special teams, a captain who played on every single unit. There are certainly issues with Hollins, such as a very limited route tree and the mystery about lack of production for a receiver with his tools. But watching his tape you can see that Hollins can play. With the natural size and speed he has, if Hollins can develop his route-running and show the ability to compete in contested catch situations, it’s not such a crazy stretch to say that Hollins has No. 1 receiver potential. — Bryson Vesnaver, @PFF_Bryson 23. Chase Roullier, C, Wyoming Big Board Rank: 103 Position Rank: 2 Roullier, as much as any center in this class, has shown the ability to execute any block asked of him in the run game. Whether it’s pulling to the edge, reaching a shade, or tracking down a linebacker on the move, Roullier did it all at Wyoming. The change in competition level will be drastic for Roullier, and it may take him awhile to develop into an NFL starter. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 24. Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA Big Board Rank: 104 Position Rank: 5 If you turn on McDermott’s tape against Texas A&M and Myles Garrett, you might not even draft him. In that game, he allowed a ridiculous 11 total QB pressures, including four hits and a sack. He would only allow seven total QB pressures the rest of the season, but the damage was done. McDermott moves like an NFL tackle, but with how much he struggled against power, the former UCLA Bruin will still need to put on considerable strength to start in the NFL. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 25. Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh Big Board Rank: 105 Position Rank: 5 The best quarterback during the week at the Senior Bowl, Peterman showed an impressive combination of big-time throws and intermediate accuracy during the 2016 season. He also had one of the highest percentages of turnover-worthy throws, and his natural tools don’t jump off the tape, but there’s a lot to like about Peterman’s game. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 26. Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU Big Board Rank: 106 Position Rank: 10 Williams is a physical, aggressive runner who plays bigger than the 212 pounds he weighed in at at the combine. He gains more yards after contact than other backs his size, and utilizes stiff arms and spin moves to extend runs. He may not have the speed to turn as many runs into long ones as he did in college, but is a solid rusher capable of running inside and gaining more than what his offensive line provides. — Matt Claassen, @PFF_Matt 27. Elijah Qualls, Defensive Interior, Washington Big Board Rank: 107 Position Rank: 10 Qualls has good quickness off the ball and moved around the formation to pick up four sacks, two QB hits, and 29 hurries on 324 rushes in 2016. His short arms are less than ideal, as he’ll get engulfed at the line of scrimmage, but his quick hands allowed him to grade at a solid 84.3 in the run game last season. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 28. Jake Butt, TE, Michigan Big Board Rank: 110 Position Rank: 7 Expecting Butt to be the complete package as an NFL tight end is probably asking too much. He has blatant limitations as a run blocker, both at the line of scrimmage and as he moves up the field. Butt isn’t overly-athletic, but he doesn’t mess around with the ball in his hands; he turns up field as soon as he’s secured the catch and looks to squeeze out as many yards as he can. Big plays are going to be few and far between for Butt in the NFL, and he isn’t going to have much success creating separation when manned up in coverage, but his penchant for finding the holes in zone coverages—especially in the short-to-intermediate range—and getting upfield will help an offense move the chains. — Billy Moy, @PFF_Billy 29. Jaleel Johnson, Defensive Interior, Iowa Big Board Rank: 112 Position Rank: 11 Grade-wise, Johnson does not stand out, but his dependability is a feature of all quality interior defensive linemen. He is one of the best in the class at avoiding negative plays, even if he is also one of the least likely to make a play in the backfield. For some schemes, a run defender who consistently holds his ground and plays his gap, despite occasional double-teams, will be ideal. In contrast, Johnson can be relied upon to make splash plays as a pass-rusher. He fires off the ball, and then reaches into a bag of moves so varied it is the envy of the class. Once Johnson reaches full speed, he can deliver the full force of his frame, demolishing centers on stunts, in particular. A disappointing workout might see him fall, but the focus should instead be on his game-defining performance against Michigan. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John 30. Ryan Glasgow, Defensive Interior, Michigan Big Board Rank: 114 Position Rank: 12 Ryan Glasgow is a rare prospect capable of aligning almost anywhere on the defensive front. He played nose tackle at Michigan, but could plausibly have played the three had Jim Harbaugh not built a defensive line rotation filled with NFL-level talent. Glasgow illustrated an adaptable skill-set with the tools to succeed at the next level. A player with few weaknesses, he combined a stout anchor with surprising quickness to make plays throughout his college career. Glasgow also stands out because of his instincts; he rapidly diagnoses run and misdirection concepts. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John 31. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami Big Board Rank: 115 Position Rank: 6 When throwing within the flow of the offense, Kaaya looks like a reasonable quarterback, able to make good decisions and get the ball out of his hand with solid short-area accuracy. He doesn’t have great zip to drive the ball downfield, and most concerning about his game is how much he drops off when pressured, illustrated by his completion percentage falling from 68.5 percent in a clean pocket to 32.9 percent when under pressure. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 32. Danny Isidora, G, Miami Big Board Rank: 116 Position Rank: 5 Isidora played in a pro-style scheme at Miami and has already excelled in pass protection. He allowed fewer than 10 total QB pressures as a senior. Isidora has rare physical traits for the position, but needs to add strength, as evidenced by him repeatedly getting bull-rushed at the Senior Bowl. — Mike Renner, @PFF_Mike 33. Blair Brown, LB, Ohio Big Board Rank: 119 Position Rank: 5 Brown is an outstanding tackler who consistently defeats blocks despite his size because of his instincts. He consistently blows run plays up because of his ability to read blocks and beat them to the point of attack; that ability reflected in the fact he finished third among FBS inside linebackers last season in run-stop percentage. While his short-area quickness and aggressiveness serve him well against the run, his speed and size issues are very apparent in coverage. While he is likely a two-down run defender at the next level, he is still worth an early Day 3 pick because he is so proficient against the run, and his competitiveness suggests that he can develop into an top contributor on special teams as well. — Josh Liskiewitz, @PFF_Josh 34. Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M Big Board Rank: 120 Position Rank: 15 For teams looking for deep threats in the middle rounds, Reynolds might be the guy. He’s a long strider, which means he likely won’t develop into an underneath receiver, but his deep speed and tracking ability, coupled with his great hands and contested catch ability, works in his favor. His 2.35 yards per route run mark last year was ninth-best among SEC receivers. — Bryson Vesnaver, @PFF_Bryson 35. Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State Big Board Rank: 121 Position Rank: 11 McNichols has experience in both zone and gap blocking schemes, though the latter may be a better fit. He had a below-average line in 2016, and sometimes cut away from the intended point of attack before it was necessary as if he wasn’t trusting his blockers. McNichols has good balance through contact and plays bigger than his size at times. He may fit the definition of “jack of all trades, master of none” more than any other back in the draft class. He was an above-average receiver out of the backfield, and that may be where he contributes most in the NFL early on. — Matt Claassen, @PFF_Matt 36. Justin Senior, OT, Mississippi State Big Board Rank: 122 Position Rank: 7 Senior showed continued improvement at Mississippi State before allowing only 14 total QB pressures on 473 attempts in 2016. He has technique issues to iron out in both the run and pass game, but he’s worth a look in a developmental role. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 37. Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech Big Board Rank: 124 Position Rank: 16 Taylor will find a role as a slot receiver right out of the gate thanks to his high-level quickness and incredible hands. His 3.28 yards per route run out of the slot last year was the second-most in the country. He knows how to get open against different coverages and that will be a huge advantage for him at the next level. — Bryson Vesnaver, @PFF_Bryson 38. Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State Big Board Rank: 125 Position Rank: 19 While size and speed are less than ideal, Kazee has a good feel for zone coverage and he excelled in San Diego State’s scheme that had him playing off coverage the marjority of the time. He picked up seven interceptions and four pass breakups in 2016 while allowing a passer rating of only 43.7 into his coverage. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 39. Kenneth Olugbode, LB, Colordao Big Board Rank: 128 Position Rank: 6 Olugbode broke out in 2016 to finish sixth overall among the nation’s linebackers with an 88.1 overall grade. He flies to the ball in the run game and shows good range in zone coverage, and he should at least compete for snaps in sub-package sets at the next level. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 40. Grover Stewart, Defensive Interior, Albany State Big Board Rank: 129 Position Rank: 14 Stewart is a massive human being, strong enough to win with bull-rushes and fast enough to win with athleticism. He possesses an elite combination of production (albeit against lesser competition), size and athleticism (23.5 career sacks, 33.5-inch arms, 30 bench press reps at 225, and a 7.65-second 3-cone). Being such a shallow interior class, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Stewart drafted very early on Day 3. — Jordan Plocher, @PFF_Jordan 41. Robert Leff, OT, Auburn Big Board Rank: 130 Position Rank: 8 Leff put up solid grades in Auburn’s scheme, particularly in the run game, where his 81.9 grade ranked 12th in the nation. There’s a natural learning curve coming from Auburn’s offense into the NFL, but Leff can make a roster on the back of his run-blocking potential as he develops in pass protection. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 42. Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida Big Board Rank: 131 Position Rank: 12 Mack is one of the most athletically talented running backs in the draft class and always a threat for a big play. He gained 52 percent of his rushing yards on his 15 runs of 15-plus yards, the fourth-highest breakaway percentage in the draft class. He has issues with bouncing runs and fumbling too often, but if he can curb those bad habits, he could turn out as one of the best backs in the draft class. — Matt Claassen, @PFF_Matt 43. Jon Toth, C, Kentucky Big Board Rank: 132 Position Rank: 4 Toth brings good size to the position, and he ran Kentucky’s offense well, grading among the nation’s top centers for three straight years. He took a slight step back in 2016, allowing 10 pressures and ranking 30th in the draft class in pass-blocking efficiency, but he’s a solid option in a downhill run scheme. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 44. Howard Wilson, CB, Houston Big Board Rank: 133 Position Rank: 20 Wilson broke out with a strong 2016 season, finishing with five interceptions and eight pass breakups on his 80 targets, good for an 85.4 overall grade that ranked 22nd in the nation. Opponents recorded a passer rating of only 44.6 when targeting Wilson. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 45. Jacob Hollister, TE, Wyoming Big Board Rank: 134 Position Rank: 8 Hollister showed continued improvement in college, putting together a strong 2016 that showed off his playmaking ability. He’s a nifty route runner who can go up and make plays in traffic, and he did a fine job after the catch, averaging 7.1 YAC/completion in 2016. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve 46. DeAngelo Brown, Defensive Interior, Louisville Big Board Rank: 135 Position Rank: 15 A surprise Senior Bowl and combine omission, Brown could legitimately start in a base package as a rookie. He is one of the best prospects in this class against double-teams. Brown displays tremendous technique against multiple blockers, sinking his powerful lower body to deny lineman vertical movement. Even when initially unbalanced, he displays a consistent capacity to re-anchor and earn a draw at worst. Admittedly, Brown is unlikely to emerge as a nickel pass-rusher, yet a mid-round investment is almost certainly worthwhile for a valuable member of any defensive line rotation. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John 47. Carlos Watkins, Defensive Interior, Clemson Big Board Rank: 136 Position Rank: 16 Clemson produced three prospects capable of contributing on NFL rosters in 2015. The fourth member of that starting front will follow suit this season. Watkins is more solid than spectacular, especially for a three-technique, but his versatile skill-set will appeal to the majority of pro teams. He’s a player built on length and strength, working through blocks, rather than around them, to make plays. While Watkins rarely embarrassed offensive lineman as a pass-rusher, he restricted the pocket frequently enough to represent a threat to opposing quarterbacks. Containing some of the athletes at the position in the NFL can be simplified significantly by Watkins’ deployment. He may have been overshadowed at times by Clemson’s freakish athletes, but Watkins is a fine player in his own right. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John 48. Austin Carr, WR, Northwestern Big Board Rank: 137 Position Rank: 17 Carr was incredibly productive last season, finishing as our highest-graded receiver at 89.5 overall. He runs smart routes out of the slot and has good hands to finish with. He could develop into a reliable security blanket for an NFL QB much like he was with Northwestern last year. QB Clayton Thorson had a rating of 118.6 when targeting Carr and 77.6 when targeting any other receiver. — Bryson Vesnaver, @PFF_Bryson 49. Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma Big Board Rank: 138 Position Rank: 7 Evans is a frustrating player to watch on film because he is an excellent athlete but doesn’t finish nearly enough plays because he lacks physicality. He is frequently in position to make plays because he uses leverage well to defeat blockers and can win with speed, but he missed 12 tackles last season and finished just 108th in tackling efficiency at the position. His athleticism serves him well in coverage, which will likely be his primary responsibility at the next level. — Josh Liskiewitz, @PFF_Josh 50. Channing Stribling, CB, Michigan Big Board Rank: 139 Position Rank: 21 Stribling doesn’t have great athleticism, but had a strong 2016, allowing a passer rating of only 22.7 into his coverage, good for second-best in the nation. He got his hands on 15 passes (11 pass breakups, four interceptions) while allowing only 19 receptions into his coverage. — Steve Palazzolo, @PFF_Steve https://www.profootballfocus.com/draft-best-remaining-draft-prospects-for-day-3/
  2. Secret Superstar: Jon Asamoah Michael Renner | May 28, 2013 When looking purely at statistics, it’s no surprise that the Chiefs finished the season 2-14 in 2012. They were outscored by a league-leading 13.4 points per game, finished second to last in quarterback rating (63.8), and last in quarterback rating against (99.9). Those last two are an absolutely deadly combination in the NFL and no matter how well you can run or stop the run you will ultimately be doomed with those numbers. The problem is that their record doesn’t quite reflect the sum of their parts. Kansas City sent six players to Hawaii and had three players selected to PFF’s AFC Pro Bowl squad. Looking over their roster there is talent almost everywhere, even beyond those Pro Bowlers. Tamba Hali, Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Brandon Flowers, and Branden Albert are all fairly big-name players that have had great seasons in the past. The biggest problem was that the Chiefs were a team built to run the ball, not pass. One of their strongest positional units is the offensive line, a group that graded 20th in pass blocking and eighth in run blocking in 2012. Over the course of the season, Kansas City had to overcome injuries at left tackle and left guard, but the right side of the Chiefs’ line was steadily one of the best in the league. There wasn’t a gap on the right side of the line that the Chiefs running backs didn’t run for at least 4 yards per carry through and both players graded in the Top 10 at their position. One was former Chief Eric Winston and the other is the Chiefs’ Secret Superstar Jon Asamoah. Promising Career Out of high school Asamoah was a fairly undersized two-star recruit. He chose to go to the University of Illinois and after his senior year he was named a second team all-Big Ten selection. The Chiefs obviously liked the way his athleticism would transfer to the NFL and former GM Scott Pioli made him the second guard taken in the 2010 draft (Round 3, 68th overall). That season, Asamoah was able to sit and learn behind six-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters. Waters was released prior to the 2011 season and Asamoah was starting Week 1. From the beginning he had his struggles in run blocking. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound guard isn’t built like a traditional road grading guard. He doesn’t have the bulk of a Carl Nicks or Mike Iupati to consistently overpower defensive lineman in the running game. What Asamoah did excel at that season though was his pass blocking. In 2011 he had the seventh-best pass blocking efficiency among all guards and was amazing down the stretch, allowing only two pressures in his last eight games. In 2012 the Chiefs’ right guard regressed slightly in his pass blocking success. His PBE dropped from 98.3 to 96.4 although he still only allowed three sacks on the season. The encouraging news for Chiefs fans though was that he stepped up his run blocking immensely. He harnessed his athleticism to his advantage in the Chiefs zone blocking scheme and graded out 14.9 points higher. Running through the holes on Asamoah’s left and right, Chiefs running backs averaged 4.8 yards per carry. That number was a pitiful 3.1 yards per carry in 2011. He isn’t quite on a Pro Bowl level yet, but he was good enough to be PFF’s 10th-highest graded guard in all of football last season. Putting It All Together If you were to take Asomoah’s 2011 pass-blocking grade and combine it with his 2012 run-blocking grade, he would have been the fifth-highest graded guard last season. The fact that he’s shown prowess in both the pass and run blocking disciplines is very promising. That sort of potential makes the Chiefs’ prospects on the offensive line for 2013 downright scary. A hypothetical starting lineup at this point could look like this: LT Branden Albert, LG Geoff Schwartz, C Rodney Hudson, RG Jon Asamoah, and RT Eric Fisher. Four of the five have shown the ability to be above-average starters in the NFL (and Fisher, of course, enters with the pedigree of a top overall pick), but there are more than a few question marks there as well — Fisher’s transition into the league and position switch and the fact that Schwartz and Hudson played less than 200 snaps last season. With all that uncertainty, a legitimate anchor in the middle of their offensive line is invaluable for Kansas City. Asamoah provides that and that is why he is our choice for the Chiefs’ Secret Superstar.
  3. The Atlanta Falcons are one of the teams in the NFC that wants to be making a push for the Super Bowl every season. Gone are the days when Atlanta couldn’t string together back-to-back winning seasons or consistently get playoff appearances. Now we’re looking at a team that needs to find a way to take the next step from good side to elite contender. That is obviously no easy task, but it’s one that may become easier if the New Orleans Saints suffer any kind of hangover from their Bountygate troubles, freeing up the NFC South a little more for the Falcons. Five Reasons to be Confident 1) Matty Ice Today’s NFL has become all about the quarterbacks and, as much as some people like to run down Matt Ryan, the Falcons do have themselves a legitimate signal caller capable of making all the throws at the most crucial of times. Maybe he has yet to do it in the playoffs on the biggest stage, but he has dragged the Falcons to more wins with clutch throws than people ever give him credit for. He has always graded better in PFF’s analysis than his raw numbers may suggest and while he may not be Aaron Rodgers, nor is he Blaine Gabbert or any of the other quarterbacks yet to show any evidence they are capable of winning consistently, let alone win the Super Bowl. 2) Samuel and Grimes in Coverage Brent Grimes has quickly become one of the league’s best cover corners. He missed some time last year, but when he was on the field his play was genuinely exceptional. The problem for the Falcons was that behind him they had problems. Dunta Robinson may be a big-money acquisition, but he has never come close to earning that contract or showing the kind of form he once had for the Texans before his injuries. The team acquired Asante Samuel from the Eagles after he became the odd man out in their stable, and whatever flaws Samuel has, he is an elite cover man in the kind of zone scheme the Falcons run. That now gives them a pair of extremely tough corners on the edge, and Robinson’s physical, headhunting style may be best suited to playing the slot these days anyway. The Falcons should be a whole lot tougher to pass on in 2012. 3) Abraham Has Been Looked After The Falcons have always done their best to keep John Abraham in top condition. They limit his snaps more than most defensive ends in the league, keeping him fresh for big games at the end of the season, giving him time off during the season while players like Jared Allen have to be virtually dragged to the sideline to get rest time. Abraham has also been allowed to roam a little in the Falcons front and also sees more time than most dropping into coverage. All this has meant that at his advanced age of 34, he has shown no real indication of slowing down, despite what some would call a down season in 2011 because his sack numbers weren’t eye-popping. Abraham still brings pressure with the best of them and will be a force again this season. 4) Reports of Michael Turner’s Demise Have Been Premature People will tell you that Michael Turner’s play fell off last season and that he is clearly too old and weary following an extremely heavy workload from the Falcons since becoming their feature back. Turner however led the NFL with 62 forced missed tackles last season (ten more than the next best runner), and added another five from his 17 receptions. Turner was the same rumbling, tough to tackle, yard-getter he has always been for the Falcons, but his statistics looked less healthy because the Falcons’ O-line struggled for the first time in a few seasons. The blocking in front of Turner was at fault in 2011, not Turner himself. He is still capable of being a feature back and carrying the load for this offense, but the increase in workload of Jacquizz Rodgers can only help as a change of pace. 5) The Emergence of Weatherspoon As a rookie Sean Weatherspoon struggled to find himself in the NFL. Known for vocal leadership and high energy, he was often out of position or making mistakes and generally looked like he was trying too hard to make an immediate impact rather than simply letting the game come to him and relying on what he was good at. His second season was something else entirely as he looked like one of the league’s best weak side linebackers. He has speed, instincts and the ability to play in all facets of the game, and will be the Falcons leader at linebacker this season. Five Reasons to be Concerned 1) The Offensive Line is Still an Issue, Especially at LT Last offseason the Falcons faced three of their linemen hitting free agency in the same year. That is an error of front office planning, and in the end it cost them Harvey Dahl, one of the league’s better blockers at guard, and it turns out, capable at right tackle as well. They plugged in Garrett Reynolds to the vacated spot and he looked completely out of his depth as a replacement. The line as a whole suffered and things became tougher for a Falcons offense that was just about primed to take advantage of its excellent blocking. To make matters worse, they have still no answer at left tackle where Sam Baker is firmly entrenched as a draft bust, and Ryan has no viable blind side protector. The line is now a large enough problem to be an issue for the entire offense. 2) Can Ray Edwards Play with John Abraham? Ray Edwards took a while to get going in Minnesota. He was drafted as an extremely young, raw prospect in the fourth round and it took a few years of play before he developed into an excellent DLE opposite Allen. The Vikings virtually never flipped their defensive ends so Edwards played almost every snap in the same position. In Atlanta, Abraham flips between left and right end in every game, and Edwards needs to move to accommodate that. In his first season with that being asked of him he was visibly struggling with the change (as well as an unreported injury), and was at his best in games where he got an extended, un-broken run of snaps at DLE. The Falcons paid Edwards a lot of money to bring an additional dimension to their defensive front beyond Abraham, but this is a big season for Edwards to prove he can be viable outside of his familiar role. 3) Replacing Lofton Maybe Curtis Lofton wasn’t the most complete linebacker in the game, and maybe he is even best suited to a two-down role in a defense, but it would be a mistake to focus only on his limitations and forget the things that he does extremely well. Lofton can come down hill and control the middle of the field for the first two downs, as well as be a legitimate leader on the field for his defense. It would be a mistake to assume that replacing him will be easy, and fans need to be aware that Akeem Dent has some significant shoes to fill at middle linebacker for the Falcons. It’s true to say that there is the potential for improvement there, but it is also true to say that there is a long way a team can fall from Lofton as their middle linebacker. Which side of that divide will Dent fall in 2012? 4) Drops, Drops and More Drops The only thing holding Julio Jones back from being one of the league’s most unstoppable weapons is the penchant he’s had throughout his career for dropping the football. He has unbelievable ball skills and the ability to make ridiculous catches, so one can only conclude that his drops fall into the least understandable category of simple lack of concentration and mental lapses. On the other side of Jones you have Roddy White, who last season led all WRs with a massive 15 drops, or just shy of one per game. Both players are game-breakers at any time, but both players need to eliminate the drops and if they could would become dramatically more dangerous players to a defense. 5) Where is the Depth? Ryan’s backup is Chris Redman, there are few legitimate receiving options after the starting receivers, the defensive line depth has had their struggles and the cornerback depth is a list of players who couldn’t get it done last season. The Falcons have a playoff caliber team when you look at their starters, but it wouldn’t take many injuries at all to throw this team into some serious problems. Often the teams that contend by the end of the season are those that were able to receive good play from their depth players. Can the Falcons expect to do that if they have to this season? What to Expect? The Falcons have found themselves in that ugly area of being an extremely good team, but one that seems unable to match the high-powered dominant sides each year, and comes unstuck every time they reach the postseason. They tried to address that by adding some more dynamic weapons on offense, and getting a little more talented on defense, but they have done so at the expense of the offensive line which until recently had been the foundation of an exceptionally reliable ball-control offense. Now they need those playmakers just to match the output they once had with steadier blocking. In the end, I think the Falcons will tread water this season – have another strong showing, and maybe make the postseason again, but fail to threaten the Lombardi Trophy. http://www.profootba...tlanta-falcons/
  4. After the Michael Vick scandal and the Bobby Petrino “era”, there really was only one way the Falcons could go when they lined up Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith to rebuild the franchise. Still, it came as something of a shock how quickly they were able to turn around one of the weakest rosters in the league into a team that would make the playoffs in three of the next four years while managing winning seasons each year. But how did they do it? We’re going to go through the 2008-2010 draft classes and give them the Draft Grader treatment. For those new to the concept that means every pick gets a grade between +2.0 and -2.0 (in 0.5 increments) that depends upon: • Where they were drafted • Their performance • Their contribution (how many snaps their team got out of them) • Other factors such as unforeseen injuries and conditions that could not have been accounted for Let’s take a look at how the Falcons have drafted. +2.0: You’ve just found Tom Brady in the 6th round Not quite in the sixth but … +1.5: Getting much more than you bargained for! Matt Ryan, QB (3rd overall pick in 2008): The pick that, in many respects, changed the fortunes of the franchise. Ryan still has the playoff defeats lingering over his head, but his performances for the Falcons (including a quite incredible rookie year and under-appreciated 2010) have been exactly what the team needed and more. He has finished in the Top 5 of our regular season QB ratings in three out of his four years in the league. Yes, he did stagnate a bit in 2011 and Atlanta is hoping a new offensive coordinator takes him to the next level. +1.0: The scouts nailed it! Curtis Lofton, LB (37th overall pick in 2008): Lofton has flourished as a two-down linebacker, becoming a tackling machine from the middle linebacker spot. In 2008, he finished with our highest grade of any ILB in run defense, and was third in 2009. He hasn’t quite reached those heights since, but is one of the league’s better middle linebackers even if he can be something of a liability in coverage at times. He recently signed with the Saints to augment their linebacking corps. Kroy Biermann, DE (154th overall pick in 2008): Took an unfair amount of criticism for the Falcons’ inability to get to the passer in 2010, losing his starting spot as a result. Responded with his worst season to date, but that shouldn’t take away from the consistent amount of pressure Biermann has generated. All in all, 126 combined sacks, hits and hurries in four years is great value for a fifth-rounder. Sean Weatherspoon, LB (19th overall pick in 2010): Had problems with performance and injury as a rookie, but bounced back with a splendid 2011. An exceptional athlete, Weatherspoon finished 2011 our fifth-ranked 4-3 OLB in the league. With room to improve (particularly in coverage), Weatherspoon could be one of the league’s best. +0.5: Never hurts to find a solid contributor Thomas DeCoud, S (98th overall pick in 2008): While DeCoud will never be one of the league’s top safeties, he is a solid starter who has managed 3,062 snaps for the Falcons and earned a +5.2 grade over that time. A good value in the third. William Moore, S (55th overall pick in 2009): Moore took over of the starting safety spots in his sophomore season. Despite missing time due to being hurt in 2011, he has developed into a playmaker. Moore is at times a little overaggressive and prone to being out of position. He’s a good complement to DeCoud in that respect. Vance Walker, DT (210th overall pick in 2009): Walker isn’t going to be going to a Pro Bowl any time soon, but the former seventh-rounder got on the field more than former first round pick Peria Jerry in 2011 and has acquitted himself well. Corey Peters, DT (83rd overall pick in 2010): The former late third round pick has been a starter since Week 2 of his rookie year. Peters has turned into a player capable of holding up to long stretches on the field while being able to make plays. He should contribute for a long time in the Falcons’ defense. Dominique Franks, CB (135th overall pick in 2010): Injuries forced him into the starting lineup last year and Franks actually coped with the demands placed upon him. Already having surpassed Chris Owens for the slot cornerback role, he’s a versatile player who provides good depth and a readiness to step onto the field. 0.0: It could have been worse Harry Douglas, WR (84th overall pick in 2008): After missing all of 2009 with an ACL tear, Douglas hasn’t quite developed into the receiver the Falcons thought they would have. Still, he did have an exciting rookie year. Robert James, LB (138th overall pick in 2008): James has bounced between the active roster, practice squad and reserved/suspended lists over four years. Thomas Brown, RB (172nd overall pick in 2008): Missed his rookie year with a torn abductor muscle and was then waived by the Falcons a year later. Keith Zinger, TE (232nd overall pick in 2008): Got on the field in 2009, dropping the one ball thrown his way, but is actually looking like a decent run blocker in 104 snaps. Lawrence Sidbury, DE (125th overall pick in 2009): While he hasn’t really been given much of an opportunity to shine, Sidbury has flashed pass rushing ability, particularly in 2011. His return of 17 combined sacks, hits and hurries from 127 pass rushes indicates the Falcons should look to get more out of him. William Middleton, CB (138th overall pick in 2009): You feel the Falcons wanted Middleton to develop with them (after the Bucs claimed him off waivers and then released him, they found a spot for him on their practice squad), but they couldn’t stop Jacksonville signing him to their active roster where he’s actually turned into a decent nickel corner. Spencer Adkins, LB (176th overall pick in 2009): 77 snaps on defense and nine special teams tackles. You could get a lot less for a former sixth round pick. Joe Hawley, C (117th overall pick in 2010): Was at times shaky when presented with a starting role at center and guard in 2011, but held up for the most part with six positively-graded games. Overall, Hawley needs to be better with his run blocking if he wants to be a long term starter. Kerry Meier, WR (165th overall pick in 2010): After a hot start to his rookie training camp, Meier tore his ACL and has been fighting his way back to health since. Shann Schillinger, S (171st overall pick in 2010): May never earn a spot on defense, but has notched 13 special teams tackles in two years. -0.5: That pick was not put to good use Chevis Jackson, CB (68th overall pick in 2008): The early third round pick got a chance to play as a rookie and sophomore, managing 802 snaps. Overall, he was largely disappointing and released after two years with the team. Wilrey Fontenot, CB (212th overall pick in 2008): Didn’t make the Falcons’ regular season roster after being cut as a rookie. Peria Jerry, DT (24th overall pick in 2009): What the Falcons have received out of Jerry would normally garner a lower grade, but the devastating injury he suffered in his second NFL game means the Falcons have not got (nor may ever get) the best out of him. Chris Owens, CB (90th overall pick in 2009): It’s telling that he has slipped further down the depth chart each year as the Falcons realize they overdrafted Owens in the third. 998 snaps on defense have resulted in a -15.0 grade in his short career. Garrett Reynolds, G (156th overall pick in 2009): Got his chance to start in 2011 and it did not go well. Finished the year with a -13.8 grade and doesn’t look like a starting-caliber player. Mike Johnson, G (98th overall pick in 2010): The former third-rounder has been something of a disappointment. Never far from the trainer’s table, Johnson was unable to beat out some pretty poor competition for the 2011 starting right guard spot. -1.0: What a waste! Sam Baker, T (21st overall pick in 2008): The more Baker has played, the more teams have exposed him. Granted, he has played through a back injury that has limited his performance. So far at this stage he’s been a waste of a first round pick, amassing a -52.5 grade in four years worth of action. -1.5: The scouts/ coaches failed, big time! Not here. -2.0: You just drafted the love child of JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf! No Russell/ Leaf hybrids in this draft. Summary You can’t buy yourself much more leeway than what the Falcons did in 2008 when they drafted a class that changed the fortunes of the franchise. Indeed, it’s extremely rare to find six players from one draft group to have played so much for a team, especially one that snared them a franchise quarterback. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag, with the 2009 group largely being disappointing and 2010 looking far more promising (especially on the defensive side of the ball). If there’s one criticism, it’s that Atlanta needs a bigger impact from some of its draft selections, as opposed to the solid, consistent type they’ve been getting. http://www.profootba...tlanta-falcons/
  5. To kick off our Free Agency preview, we’re diving right in and laying out exactly who we think are the best players available. That’s right, our analysis team got together, and–after an astonishing three-hour meeting that featured many a put down, the occasional swear word, and an awful lot of eye rolling–we finally decided on our Top 50 and how valuable each of them are. We’ve used some liberal criteria to determine that some players are not eligible for this list because they won’t be hitting free agency. That means turning a blind eye to restricted free agents Mike Wallace, Arian Foster, Michael Bennett and Lardarius Webb. It also means those players extremely likely to get tagged have been ignored; so, no Drew Brees, no Ray Rice or Matt Forte, and no Calais Campbell. Other than that? Well, all free agents are fair game in our Top 50. 1. Mario Williams, DE/ OLB There’s every possibility the Texans tag the first pick of the 2006 draft, but given how much it will cost to eventually re-sign him, they could just as easily stay to go with Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin who were part of an excellent defense last year. Williams would probably benefit from a switch back to the defensive end spot, though his start to life in the 3-4 suggests he could fit into either scheme. 2. Brent Grimes, CB With Lardarius Webb a restricted free agent, Grimes jumps to the top of our cornerback rankings, and up to second on our list of available free agents. One of the best cornerbacks in the league, Grimes has been exceptional over the past two years–breaking up 28 passes and intercepting six more in that time frame. 3. John Abraham, DE Abraham isn’t getting any younger, but then his production isn’t showing any signs of tailing off. You may not get many good years, but unless his play falls off a cliff you’ll still be getting a pass rusher who gets as much pressure as anyone. Has ranked among our top seven defensive ends in each of the last four years. 4. Carl Nicks, G The Saints may have invested in the wrong guard given how much better Nicks has been than Jahri Evans over the past two years, but if they can’t re-sign the former Nebraska lineman, that haste could be to the benefit of wherever Nicks lands. The mauling guard has finished first (2009), first (2010) and second (2011) in our rankings the past three years. 5. Cortland Finnegan, CB The Andre Johnson punching bag isn’t the most popular player in the league, and that kind of unpopularity can take away from what a good player he can be. This year, where he seemed less interested in antagonizing receivers, and more focused on shutting them down–may have been his finest year to date. Not just playing outside, but doing an excellent job in the slot, Finnegan may be the most versatile cornerback available. 7. Evan Mathis, G It’s one of the great mysteries of NFL scouting how a player like Mathis hasn’t been locked down before. One of the most technically sound and agile guards, Mathis may be 31 this year, but his low mileage makes him a safe investment. Only his limited body of work prevents him from going further. 8. Robert Mathis, DE He may be a one-dimensional pass rusher who has always had Dwight Freeney opposite him, but in a league where getting to the QB matters so much, Mathis is incredibly valuable. Last year was something of a down year, and even then he still picked up 48 combined sacks, hits and hurries. Possible franchise tag candidate. 10. Cliff Avril, DE The combination of Avrils’ age and speed sees his value shooting up to teams looking for a long-term stud. A talented pass rusher, Avril has yet to produce as consistently as some of the defensive ends above him on the list, so there is that question mark over him. Time very much on his side. 11. Brandon Carr, CB Some view Carr as the top corner on the market. Others see him as purely a No. 2 type. This ranking should tell you where we think he fits. Capable of playing very well, his best games tend to come against the worst quarterbacks. That is always a worrying trend. 16. Carlos Rogers, CB The concern with Rogers is that as good as he was for the first half of the season, his play slipped in the second half. Factor that in with his ups and downs in years gone by and Rogers is something of a question mark. Still, his talent and versatility makes him a gamble plenty of cornerback-needy teams could make. 17. Jared Gaither, OT After missing all of 2010, a false start penalty for Kansas City likely got the career of Gaither back on track, as the Chiefs cut him and he flourished at the end of the year in San Diego. The character and health concerns are there, but if you can look past that, you’re planting your eyes on a Top 5 left tackle. 21. Jason Jones, DT With Jones you almost have to completely discard his 2011 year where the Titans used him at defensive end. You go back to when he was used at DT and you’ve got a guy too quick for guards, making plays on every down. Put Jones back in the right scheme, and at the right spot, and you have one of the most explosive tackles in the league. 25. Ben Grubbs, G The Ravens’ Grubbs is a Top 10 guard in a league low on talented guards, but his ceiling isn’t such that he’ll have the impact to dramatically improve an offensive line. 29. Tyvon Branch, S Branch is better than his 2011 would suggest, with the Raiders being forced to use him a slot cornerback, and opting to send him on blitzes far too often. At his best, Branch is the kind of in-the-box safety who you can leave in man coverage–a very useful thing to have. 33. Curtis Lofton, LB The conversion of Lofton to an every-down linebacker has had its pros and its cons. On the plus side, we’ve seen him improve in coverage and become the quarterback of the defense. On the negative front, he’s failed to look like the impact run defender we saw as a rookie. A talented, but limited player. 34. Jeremy Mincey, DE It wasn’t really until Aaron Kampmann went down in 2010 that Mincey really got an opportunity to prove himself. Since then, he’s been on quite the tear, with a strong finish to 2010 as a starter, and then a starting role in the excellent Jags defense in 2011. Our 12th-ranked defensive end from last year can handle a lot of snaps (973 last year) and still produce on every down, so he should command a healthy market. 36. Paul Soliai, DT 2011 didn’t quite match 2010 in terms of production for Soliai who saw less playing time as the Dolphins got more sub packages involved in their defense. A valuable run defender who has shown some burst to get up field, Soliai is at the right age (28) and could fit into any defensive front. 41. Andre Carter, DE There are some big question marks with Carter coming off a season-ending injury and not getting any younger. But his production in New England, where he was comfortably the best player on their defense before injury, shows that if you get him in the right scheme (not a 3-4) he will make plays. Finished 11th in our defensive end rankings in 2011. 42. Demetrius Bell, T An intriguing player, Bell struggled before 2011, but in six games looked every bit the franchise left tackle. Is that body of work enough for a team to take a chance on him? We think not, but the ceiling is high. 49. Stanford Routt, CB The recently-cut Raider cornerback was always going to struggle to justify the contract the team gave him, and so it proved. He led the league in penalties (17) and touchdowns allowed (9) as he was tasked with filling the boots of Nnamdi Asomugha. He’s better than those numbers would suggest and could really benefit with a scheme that provides more help. Just picked a handful of interesting options out, full list is at: http://www.profootba...50-free-agents/
  6. The New Orleans Saints broke all sorts of records. The Atlanta Falcons broke down under the weight of expectancy. The Carolina Panthers broke out, thanks in part to Cam Newton. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Well they were broke heading into the season, we just didn’t realize how badly until they tried such advanced football concepts as tackling. This was a year in the NFC South when the haves continued to dominate the have-nots, despite the Panthers suggesting they could challenge, while the Buccaneers showed everyone how beating teams with losing records can come back to haunt you a year later, if you fail to invest wisely. Take note Falcon fans. So as we continue our look at some of the most notable individual performances of the 2011 season, let’s see what the NFC South has to offer, starting with those disappointed Falcons. Atlanta Falcons Most Improved Sean Weatherspoon: From -10.2 (2010) to +20.4 (2011) The Falcons were probably a little relieved when a non-serious injury meant they could afford to limit the amount of snaps they had to give Weatherspoon as a rookie. All too often out of place, he wasn’t able to put his physical talents to use in 2010. Fast forward a year and Weatherspoon looks like one of the best linebackers in the league. He could stand to improve in coverage, but his knack for making big stops and getting off blocks is impressive, and exactly what you’d expect out of a first round pick. Biggest drop off Kroy Biermann: From +12.7 to -10.1 You had to feel bad for Biermann. Here’s a player who constantly picked up pressure in 2010, yet the whole world seemed to be clamoring for his role to be reduced. It did with the arrival of Ray Edwards, and it led to the Falcons getting far less pressure on the other side of John Abraham then they anticipated for. Biermann didn’t seem to respond to the reduced role, and had something of a year to forget. On 92 fewer pass rushes, he picked-up 23 fewer QB disruptions. Would the Falcons have been better off keeping Biermann and not spending on Edwards? We’ll never know, but it’s a question their money men must be asking. More snaps needed Stephen Nicholas: +5.9 from 286 snaps Atlanta didn’t get as much production from their pass rush as they had hoped, especially in their sub package defense on 3rd-and-long. Part of the problem came the lack of push up the middle from anyone not named Jonathan Babineaux. One way to counter this would be to get a bit more creative and use more 3-3-5 alignments, as had seemingly become the norm in 2010. Nicholas, who missed time through injury as well, would fit in very handily as one of these three linebackers, as he and Weatherspoon displayed an ability to generate pressure off the edge. However they do it, the Nicholas’ play seems to dictate he should be a bigger part of the defense. http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2012/02/10/trending-in-the-nfc-south/
  7. Completion % 1. Revis 2. Ike Taylor 3. Grimes 4. Gamble 5. Sheldon Brown 6. Cromartie 7. Richard Sherman 8. Samuel 9. Haden 10. Brandon Carr http://www.profootba...e-2011-numbers/ Don't short change the man because he might leave us. For the last two seasons he has played as good as any corner not named Revis. I hope if he returns Nolan will match him up against the num. #1 guy unlike BVG.
  8. Re-Focused: Falcons @ Panthers, Week 14 December 12th, 2011 | Author: Neil Hornsby Here it is, a classic game of two quarterbacks; both getting decent if not great protection, both getting great help from one of their wide receivers, but one looking as though the broadside of a barn door may not be big enough. That’s Cam Newton in a nutshell. We’ll go into it more detail later but in one game he’ll throw the ball with great accuracy and the next balls will sail further than the Cutty Sark. As you might expect Matt Ryan (+3.0) has had a far more consistent season and if he wasn’t exactly great in this game, he was very good and composed enough to put a mediocre second quarter to the back of his mind and bring his team back. While the Panthers try to build on positive strides, if not great results, over the next three games and understand how to best attack the offseason, the Falcons are still favorites to win a Wild Card berth, but they’ll need to improve in many areas to get beyond their first opponents, never mind Green Bay. Atlanta – Three Performances of Note It’ll be all White Early in the first quarter Roddy White (+1.5) pushed off Captain Munnerlyn and was flagged for offensive pass interference (as an aside it was nowhere near as flagrant as the one Tony Gonzalez got away with on his 18 yarder with 13:29 gone in the fourth quarter). After that he hardly put a foot wrong as he did everything to help Ryan and his team win, including reeling in the diving catch to allow the Falcons to run out the clock. He was particularly harsh on Munnerlyn after the penalty (4-of-4 for fifty yards and a touchdown) but did well against everyone except Chris Gamble (+2.7). Gamble is having a fine year and in that individual battle, despite how well White played overall, the honors went very much to the Panther; thrown at four times, only one catch allowed and getting his hands on two of the other three, knocking them down. First Round Bust, Free Agent Stop-Gap So what happens when your “franchise” left tackle eventually goes “pop”? You plug in your next best option, a guy you picked up as a free agent in 2009 and hope for the best. So far it’s gone better than hoped and while Will Svitek (-3.6) is giving up pressure it’s at nowhere near the rate, 2008 first rounder, Sam Baker had. Unfortunately there’s a reason Svitek was available to all and it’s started to show up and escalate over the last three games; his run blocking has been poor. Sure he gave up a sack and a pressure to Charles Johnson, but against a player of his caliber, on 44 pass plays, that’s a borderline win. The issue is the way he was handled in the running game. Jordan Senn twice got outside his blocks to make tackles but by far the worst example was with 10:41 left in the final quarter, Johnson rocked him back with such ease he was able to pick up Michael Turner and spear him for a one yard loss. For those who still think Baker might be a better option, seven snaps of pass blocking at right guard for Joe Hawley dispelled that notion. He was beaten for two sacks including a safety. Dunta Discrepancy On the back of a fairly bland season in 2009 with the Texans, Dunta Robinson (-2.8) somehow picked up a huge six year, $57 million contract with Atlanta. Last year he was hardly good value for money, but at least performed like he had the season prior. He certainly wasn’t giving the Falcons any less than they saw on tape, just no more. This year however his play has slipped and he’s currently among the graded corners we have. It could be a lot worse, but he’s always been a good corner against the run and that stops the situation being worse. He’s the type of player who seems to get reasonable position on a wide receiver but then give up the catch anyway; he’s often close but never close enough and that proved the case again here. Against Steve Smith (+3.1) he gave up 4-for-5 when was targeted (all first downs) and gave up 102 yards. In the past he was simply overpaid, but if he can’t turn a few of those close calls into pass break-ups soon, then his own salary may make him susceptible to more than yardage given up. Carolina – Three Things of Note Newton’s Law Isaac said “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Physicists everywhere cringe as having already screwed that I’m going to go even further add my own version: “For every great game that Cam Newton (-1.8) plays there is an equally appalling display just around the corner.” So as if by magic, hot off a superb showing at Tampa Bay, he decides in this game to single-handedly squander a 13 point lead. The two interceptions were some of the worst I’ve seen this year (and we’ve had some shockers) but when you start throwing left-handed and underarm you set new standards for this sort of thing. He is unique in two ways: a huge percentage of his bad throws are overthrows and when he does go astray, I’m not sure anyone misses by a bigger margin; the second interception must have sailed at least 10 feet over his target. The truth is if you take away his running he’s a bottom third quarterback, if you include it (which obviously you must) he’s at the bottom of the top third. If he can sort out the issues with accuracy and inconsistency he could go much higher than that. Playing with Fire If you look solely at James Anderson’s grade (+0.8) you’ll assume he had a fairly average day but sometimes the constituent parts of a rating simply don’t do the overall performance justice. Yes he got pushed around on occasion but he never missed a snap and played with a fire inside him for the whole game. He made 13 tackles, more than twice as many as the next defender, without missing one and seven of these constituted stops. In addition he notched a sack and a hit on seven pass rushes and also picked up a pass defense. The relatively average grade was the result of getting pushed about by Justin Blalock in the running game and having a few problems covering Gonzalez. He was also late getting across on Jacquizz Rodgers’ touchdown catch. In summary he had a fairly mixed day but one I enjoyed watching and wished had rated rather higher. Hardly Hardy Greg Hardy (-3.6) has had a pretty good year to date in his first season as a starter. Up until this game we’d never graded him lower than -0.6 but this was his worst showing by far. He only generated a couple of pressures on 43 rushes and was handled by tight ends in the running game. Perhaps it’s more reasonable to say he just got handled by one of the better pass-blocking right tackles around in Tyson Clabo (+3.9) and leave it at that but the underlying question is: “is he running out of gas”? He’s played 731 snaps to date or 88% of all snaps. In his rookie year he played 400 all year. Perhaps the last three weeks will give us an answer. Game Notes - Blitzing Ryan here didn’t work. On the 29 times he wasn’t blitzed he graded -1.3, on the 13 times he was +3.9 with a QB rating of 144.4 - Every starter in the Falcons back seven missed at least one tackle. There was 12 misses in total with Mike Peterson and Sean Weatherspoon both whiffing three times each. - After being elevated from the practice squad and playing in his first game since 2008, Jason Shirley picked up a sack and two hurries on 18 rushes. Not an inconsiderable return. PFF Game Ball The aforementioned Matt Ryan just ahead of Tyson Clabo.
  9. After a comfortable first half in which the Atlanta Falcons seemed to be headed to as easy a win as the matchup on paper would suggest, they made life difficult for themselves in the second stanza. The Falcons took their foot off the gas and allowed the Minnesota Vikings back into the game when they should have been cruising to a 7-4 record. One key offensive drive and an even more important tackle on the ensuing kickoff spared the Falcons blushes as their defense stood tall with a four and out inside their own five yard line. For Atlanta this was about getting another win and the second half malaise will likely have no long term effect, as they are unlikely to have such comfort in more important games. For the Vikings they at least showed some fight but at 2-9 are now boasting their worst record through eleven games since their inaugural season in 1960 and are now guaranteed back to back losing seasons for only the second time in 25 seasons. These two teams are clearly headed in opposite directions this season, let’s take a look at some key performances that set these teams apart. Minnesota – Three Performances of Note Quiet day at the office The calling card of the Minnesota Vikings’ defense this season has been pressure off of the edge. The combination of Brian Robison (-3.3) and Jared Allen (-3.2) has accounted for 21 sacks, 8 hits and 50 pressures, yet this week they could only account for one hit by Robison, which was nullified by a holding penalty (Q1 7:04). This was the first time Allen had been shutout as a pass rusher since Week 5 last season, and his matchup that week (D’Brickashaw Ferguson) was far less favorable than it was this week against Will Svitek. For Robison this was the first blank pass rushing stat sheet of his starting career and the Falcons were able to use this to allow Ryan to throw into the flats a few times. The Vikings got some pressure through the middle, but some help off of the edge may have allowed them to have more success in slowing Matt Ryan and Roddy White down. The one positive for Allen this week, if he sees a precipitous drop in his efficiency as a pass rusher as time goes by he should have a future as a long snapper. After filling in for the injured Cullen Loeffler his long snaps were all on the money with holder/punter Chris Kluwe not needing to adjust for them. A spine to the offensive line The Vikings’ offensive line has been poor for a number of seasons, but this season a couple of players have started to turn things around, with one in particular having a great season, that has come from absolutely nowhere. The center and guard pairing of John Sullivan (+2.4) and Joe Berger (+2.8) put in another pair of fine performances that are rapidly putting the rest of the offensive line, including the heralded Steve Hutchinson (-2.2) to shame. For the fourth straight week Sullivan yielded no pressure in pass protection and he was positively graded as a run blocker for the ninth straight game. Sullivan is displaying a consistency as a run blocker that we have not seen in the last two seasons and individual blocks such the one on Corey Peters during Toby Gerhart’s touchdown at 4:03 of the third quarter have only added to his game. Running game can’t go all day For the first time since Week 15 last season the Vikings were without Adrian Peterson and the running game simply could not cope with his loss this week. On the offensive line there was some solid blocking to the right side but all in all it was much the same as this season, not tremendously helpful to the back but not as big a hindrance as it was to Peterson in the last two seasons. The difference however was the man in the backfield, Toby Gerhart (-1.1) simply doesn’t have the same dynamism as Peterson in the backfield or the initial burst to get quickly to the line and challenge a defense. Gerhart had only one run of longer than ten yards and was not given all of the carries on the crucial goal line series late in the fourth quarter. The latter in particular may speak volumes about the belief of the Vikings’ coaching staff in his ability to move a pile in short yardage and the Vikings will be eagerly awaiting Peterson’s return in the coming weeks. Atlanta – Three Performances of Note Hooking up through the air Long before rookie Julio Jones (-3.3) was doing anything other than running routes for the University of Alabama it was Roddy White (+4.2) who was the go to target for Matt Ryan (+5.1). With Jones having a fairly sketchy performance this Sunday, it was White who once again came to the fore for the Falcons this Sunday. This was comfortably White’s best performance of the season and marked his first double digit catch performance since Jones’ arrival in Atlanta for the 2011 season after he had three such games in 2010. White was back at his best, working through the Vikings’ zone coverages to pick up receptions against six different defenders, whilst having his greatest success against Benny Sapp. The Falcons may still be waiting for Jones and White to hit it off in the same game but the way in which they are picking up for each other’s down games, or games they miss, should be of great encouragement for the Falcons. Taken back to school After a rather ignominious start to his career as an NFL starter deputizing for Todd McClure to start the season Joe Hawley had found some form at right guard in recent weeks, but that was brought crashing back to earth this week with his worst performance of the season (-4.9). Hawley faced easily his sternest test of the season coming up against Kevin Williams and failed. The Falcons RG was poor in pass protection and run blocking alike, yielding two sacks in pass protection (one to Williams and one to Everson Griffen) whilst also allowing defenders off his blocks to make three tackles for defensive stops. Hawley had made his greatest strides in his pass protection in his short time starting at guard but his two sacks along with a hold on Christian Ballard at 7:04 in the first quarter suggest there is still work to do. Return to form After a blip of a down week against Tennessee, Sean Weatherspoon (+4.1) re-discovered the fine form of his sophomore season with yet another strong game at WLB for the Falcons. Weatherspoon picked up six defensive stops for his work in the run and pass games, marking the fifth time he has reached this plateau in the 2011 season. Weatherspoon had his share of poor plays in the passing game, notably biting on a play fake to leave Percy Harvin open on a slant for 19 yard gain at 0:37 of the second quarter but his work in run defense and as a pass rusher overshadowed these poor plays. Weatherspoon beat three different Viking backs for pressure, beating Gerhart for a sack, making the most of those favorable matchups, and made four tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in coverage and defending the run. The WLB was expected to show this form from the start of his NFL career, but if he keeps it up Falcons’ fans and officials won’t be too disappointed by that rookie season for much longer. Game Notes - After a 104 yard return this week Percy Harvin has recorded more yards, 207, in his first and last kick returns this year than the 9 returns in between, 191 yards. - Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon both played all 56 defensive snaps for the Falcons this week. They have missed two and three snaps respectively, all of them in the Week 5 game against Green Bay. - Kevin Williams played on 67 of the Vikings’ 69 defensive snaps in this game, his highest snap percentage (97.1%) since his return from suspension in week three. PFF Game Ball The Falcons had a number of worthy recipients of the game ball this week but for his fine performance in the receiving game, beating six different Viking defenders for catches, Roddy White gets the nod on this occasion.
  10. November 23rd, 2011 | Author: Nathan Jahnke While the score looked close, the game was basically dominated by the Falcons who had a 13:58 time of possession edge. The Atlanta offense scored on their first three drives of the game, as well as the first two drives of the second half, showing how strong the coaching staff had game-planned here. On defense, the Falcons completely shut down the run game and only half the passes that were thrown by the Tennessee offense were caught. The only reason the margin of victory wasn’t larger is that Atlanta had to settle for field goals while the Titans offense had a few big plays that led to points. Prior to the Titans’ final drive the Falcons had a 400-214 yard edge when Michael Turner fumbled on the Titans’ 8-yard-line. It wasn’t the most exciting game you’ll ever see since the winning team rarely made a huge play. They just consistently made the plays they needed to as they kept the momentum the entire game. The Falcons are now a step closer to the playoffs while the Titans are a step further away. Tennessee – Three Performances of Note Starting in the Trenches In 2009 when Chris Johnson led the NFL in rushing, he had an offensive line that helped open up holes for him. Two years later, the run blocking hasn’t been as good as before, but they were ranked as the best pass-blocking team in the league. In this game, they couldn’t run block or pass block which is a surprise as head coach Mike Munchak was the offensive line coach last year and has a Hall of Fame bust in Canton. In the passing game, starting right tackle David Stewart (+0.3) sustained a calf injury late in the second quarter. This led to Mike Otto (-3.7) coming in to replace him and he gave up a sack, a hit and four pressures. On the other side, left tackle Michael Roos (-2.9) had his worst game of the year allowing a hit and five pressures as he struggled to contain John Abraham in particular. Matt Hasselbeck (+0.6) hasn’t been as good as he was in September and he struggled even more than usual against additional pressure. He completed just five of 13 passes for 40 yards and an interception when the Falcons came after him. They were equally bad in the run game. All five starters ended up with negative run block grades contributing to Chris Johnson running for just 13 yards on 12 carries. The runs for losses and short gains helped kill the first two drives. As a result the Titans were down 10-0 and were forced to start airing it out. The Titans simply don’t have the players in place to be a one dimensional passing offense and were ill-equipped to make a comeback. Why You Just Never Give a Quarterback Time to Throw… If you’re a believer that games are won and lost at the line, then this game was a great example to back up that opinion. Possibly the biggest key to stopping Matt Ryan is putting pressure on him. This season he had a +33.5 PFF rating when receiving no pressure, and a -1.0 rating when facing pressure. The Titans’ four starting defensive linemen combined for just one hit and five pressures all day. Only once did a blitz bring pressure, and the backup defensive linemen were rendered non-factors. Giving Matt Ryan that much time to throw will of course lead to the secondary having a rough day. Cornerback Jason McCourty (-2.3) was targeted the most with ten balls thrown his way. He allowed six catches for 104 yards and those numbers could’ve been worse had it not been for a dropped pass and overthrown ball. While we don’t know if McCourty would have performed so poorly if the pass rush played better it certainly couldn’t have hurt. Why Depth is Important The Titans saw four players go down with injuries throughout the game. While you would think injuries would hurt a team like it did at right tackle, it wasn’t all bad for Titans fans. At quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (+0.6) going down meant we got our first serious look at rookie Jake Locker (+0.5). Neither made a lot of throws that were hugely impressive and each had his problems overthrowing the ball. Locker did flash some ability in his snaps as shown on his 48 yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington. At middle linebacker, Barrett Ruud (-2.6) missed three tackles on just 27 snaps. His replacement, rookie Colin McCarthy (-0.3), had a better performance in the run game than we’ve ever seen out of Ruud. McCarthy had three tackles for losses and a forced fumble on just 25 run plays. The problem is McCarthy also allowed four catches for 54 yards, and had two missed tackles on pass plays. In reviewing this game, it seems like it’s time for the Titans to turn to some of their younger players. This would help them out in the future they may have just as good of a team, or possibly even better, at the moment. Atlanta – Three Performances of Note Matty Ice Is Back After a rough set of games, Matt Ryan (+7.7) has produced back to back great performances. On the first drive he had three straight passes to Tony Gonzalez (+1.7 pass) which culminated in a touchdown, and the Falcons never looked back. Time after time he picked up first downs which led directly to points. They didn’t need him to make the big plays, but that didn’t stop him from throwing a bomb to Roddy White for 43 yards during the first drive of the second half. He found the right place to throw it so White could get the ball instead of the cornerback or safety, which led to a touchdown soon after. He rarely was off target on his throws, and when he was, it just ended up as an incompletion and nothing worse. The Winning Babineaux As an older brother myself, it was good to see the elder of the Babineaux brothers have an excellent game. Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (+7.2) had two amazing stops in the first quarter, where he was able to make a move past the offensive linemen and stop Chris Johnson deep in the backfield. In the second quarter he would have had a third tackle for a big loss as he again forced his way past Jake Scott. Babineaux was held on the play which prevented him from finishing it off. In the pass game he also had his best game of the season, with five overall pressures which led to four incompletions as well as a batted pass. For the most part, the entire defense played well, but no star shined as bright as Babineaux. The One Exploited Weakness The nickel cornerback to start the game was Kelvin Hayden (-2.8 coverage). He allowed three catches in the first half which led to two first downs. To make it more embarrassing, he missed tackles on two of the three plays. In the second quarter he was injured and replaced by Chris Owens (-3.6 coverage) who didn’t play any better. Owens also missed two tackles in the pass game, as well as allowing both of the touchdowns the Titans scored. While they survived this game despite the poor nickel cornerback play, there are several teams in the NFC that are capable of taking advantage of the weakness. Games Notes - The Falcons used a 3WR-1TE-1RB set on every play in the first half except for their goal line play and the kneel down to end the half. 52 of their 76 total plays came from this formation. - Matt Ryan had 17 attempts in the middle of the field, 12 to the right, but just 2 to the left (one pass was thrown away). - Receiver Nate Washington accounted for 38.6% of the Titans’ offense. Game Ball Winning the battle of the Babineaux was Falcons defensive end Jonathan on this occasion. The penetration he created killed the Titans attempts to successfully execute their offense in the run game or through the air all day.
  11. This match-up between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons has become one of the best rivalries in the NFL and once again this game did not disappoint with plenty of entertainment from start to finish. There were equal measure of excellence and ineptitude to keep just about everyone interested along a call from a head coach sure to provoke discussion for the rest of the week after it proved decisive in the Saints’ victory. The Falcons do not take the victory from this game but can still take a measure of optimism, planted on their own five yard line with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter they were able to drive down the field and tie the game. They were helped on their way by some questionable play calling from Greg Williams with the Saints defensive coordinator giving Matt Ryan some easy hot reads (which were hit wide open to rapidly take the Falcons into the Saints’ half of the field). Similar execution in the red zone could have given the Falcons a victory that seemed unlikely only four minutes earlier in the fourth. There is an air of familiarity around this matchup now as both teams have changed so little in recent seasons that the two teams have a grasp of what the other is doing and can counteract that. Both teams now have their sights firmly set on the post season knowing that they both have areas of grave weakness that need fixing if they are to trouble the Packers on their current offensive form. Let’s take a look at some of them and more. New Orleans – Three Performances of Note Just keep rolling right along In an atmosphere where so few stocks and shares are reliable the one thing that everybody should be investing in is Drew Brees (+8.6) and the New Orleans Saints passing game. Even when he isn’t at his spectacular best the consistency of Brees is astonishing. Brees was able to boss the intermediate throws this week, with his 9-of-12 for 145 yards on passes aimed between 10 and 19 yards helping the Saints’ offense tick. The only thing it didn’t do was force the Falcons to back off and create space for the running game; the Saints simply couldn’t get that on track this week. With Jimmy Graham struggling with drops early on it was Marques Colston (+3.5) who was the focal point of the passing game this week, registering his second 100 yard game of the season. With the running game inconsistent, by execution and play calling, and the defense doing its best to sabotage the offense at times, by execution and play calling, the weight of the Saints’ expectations is likely to remain on the shoulders of Brees and the passing game through the second half of the season. A shining beacon for any offense to target How the Saints persist with such a terrible group of linebackers is baffling at times, yet no more baffling than what they ask of a group that seems to struggle to do the very basics well most of the time. Even with the entirely underwhelming Jonathan Vilma on the sideline the Saints managed to field a trio that put in terrible performances. Jonathan Casillas (-3.7) was the highest graded Saints linebacker this week, getting the only positive grade for any facet of the game with a marginal +0.3 grade for his run defense. The trio of Casillas, JoLonn Dunbar (-4.9) and Scott Shanle (-6.3) managed to find the imperfect blend of looking completely lost, taking poor angles and terrible tackling to achieve the holy trinity of poor linebacking play. Their comical defense of Jason Snelling’s touchdown reception at 5:18 in the third quarter was just the tip of the iceberg of their awful display. Meager returns for aggressive pass rush Saints defenders rushed the passer or blitzed on pass plays a sum total of 270 times in this game. From those 270 individual pass rushes on 58 Atlanta pass plays the Saints only managed to record 14 total pressures (one sack, three hits and 10 pressures). That is good for only one pressure every 19 pass rushes, or one in every four times Matt Ryan dropped back to throw. That is a frankly pitiful return and against an Atlanta line that has struggled to gel this season that comes into even sharper contrast. With the number of blitzes and the array of blitzes Greg Williams throws at opposing offenses this output is poor and left defenders in bad situations in key situations. Familiarity certainly plays a role, but his aggression in his play calling left him caught cold on the final drive of regulation. With the Falcons at their own five yard line (Q4 1:55) the Saints left Harry Douglas completely uncovered to get the Saints out of the shadow of their own goalposts. Aggressive blitzes is one thing but showing a rather cavalier attitude, leaving one of your opposing QBs favorite targets uncovered from the slot, is quite another thing. Atlanta – Three Performances of Note Nearly but not quite Staring a double digit deficit in the face midway through the fourth quarter the Falcons went to the air and Matt Ryan (+6.2) once again answered. He closed that gap in regulation but couldn’t make the same plays in overtime to give the Falcons their comeback victory. Ryan showed his innate ability to beat the blitz exploiting the play calling of the Saints’ defense on their two minute drive. However it was perhaps the touchdown drive that was as impressive from Ryan, showing the touch that has not always been there this season. Back to back throws at 4:25 and 4:18 in the fourth quarter took the Falcons from the Saints’ 39 yard line to the endzone. First of all hitting the perfect spot to beat the coverage of Malcolm Jenkins and Jabari Greer off of a double move to Roddy White up the right sideline, and then dissecting Jenkins and JoLonn Dunbar on the following play to put the Falcons back within a score. This game however also showed Ryan’s limitations. But for Roman Harper’s inexcusable dropped interception with 33 ticks left on the clock the headlines today would have been about Ryan throwing away the Falcons’ chance at overtime. Even in the extra period Ryan spurned a difficult, but clear, opportunity to find Harry Douglas on their fateful final drive. It is these plays that were going for the Falcons last season but Ryan is just missing by a hair this year. Without Jones White failed to pick up the slack So far in 2011 the Falcons decision to go after Julio Jones has drawn dividends for the Falcons. Jones has had some massive games and when he has had down games or been absent Roddy White has backed him up and picked up the slack. This week however (-5.4) that was not the case as White had comfortably his worst game of the past four seasons. Three penalties didn’t help matters but two drops as well as an interception on seven passes thrown his way marked out a bad day for White. Harry Douglas was there to pick up the slack this week beating the Saints’ blitzes but the Falcons need more consistent displays from White this year who has shown some of his best form, but not on a consistent basis whilst having to share the spotlight with Jones. Clamping down on the running game In terms of run defense it doesn’t get a whole lot better than what the Falcons were able to do, making the Saints running game a complete non-factor, but they just couldn’t close out the victory. Only one of Atlanta’s starting front seven players, Corey Peters (-2.1), graded negatively for run defense and they only allowed on rush of more than ten yards in the entire game. An even greater mark of success, considering the history of this season, was their work in shutting down the Saints’ substitution for part of their running game; the short passing attack to Darren Sproles. Sproles was targeted a season low six times, catching four of those but for only two yards. Game Notes - New Orleans Saints linebackers yielded 262 yards in coverage in this game; by comparison their defensive backs gave up only 89 yards. - After giving up only 24 yards on seven targets this week, Sean Weatherspoon is now giving up only 5.3 yards every time a pass is thrown into his coverage. - After two further drops this week, both failed third down conversions, Jimmy Graham has now dropped more passes in the last two weeks, three, than he did in the first eight weeks of the season, two. PFF Game Ball Pinpoint accuracy and another almost faultless performance from Drew Brees. Any other season and he would be at the center of MVP discussions. Unfortunately for him there is a certain Mr. Rodgers and a Mr. Brady playing rather well this season.
  12. I suspect it’s my lack of status within my own organization that sees me dumped with both the Dolphins game last week and the Colts this. That said, a week ago today, after watching Miami take a pretty decent Giants team to the wire, I remarked in reference to the Andrew Luck Derby, “Down the stretch, when faced with the type of stiff opposition that Indianapolis Colts can bring to bear, my bet is they’ll fall well short of the required standard to win that race.” Far be it from me to toot my own non-too-sizeable horn but by about half-time in this encounter I was cursing myself for not being vehement enough in my assessment. Boy, do the Colts STINK! Big time, and Bill Polian should feel thoroughly ashamed of himself. There was hardly a single unit that looked like it could compete with any other NFL team and I came to the stark realization that Peyton Manning has almost certainly been the MVP of every season he’s ever played. If he can make this team competitive; never mind taking them to the play-offs year-in, year-out, he is clearly the best player who ever walked onto a field. As for the Falcons, well let me put it this way, when grading we don’t factor in the quality of the opposition because we believe, when you take into account the whole season, this will even itself out. The Colts push that assumption to breaking point and I think you’ll need to caveat the comments below (and indeed most other similar views this year) with the phrase “but it was only against the Colts”. Atlanta – Three Performances of Note Back to his best Jonathan Babineaux has had a strange season. A partial MCL tear midway through the week one game against Chicago saw him sit out 3 weeks before he returned with a rather underwhelming performance against the Packers. The estimate on the injury was three to five weeks so perhaps he had pushed himself back too early. Next up, against the Panthers he seemed more like himself and got consistent pressure on Cam Newton before then looking sub-par against the Lions the game after. So how would he go here? Pretty well, (+4.3) as it turned out. He got pressure against both guards (although his sack was just of the “mop-up” variety) and also beat both of them regularly in the running game. His best play for me came at the end of the second quarter, with the Colts backed up and trying to run out the clock (1:31 remaining) he beat Mike Tepper to the inside with such speed he was able to get back and across to submarine Donald Brown for a one yard loss. The Colts scorer, who all game was as inept as his team, gave the tackle to Curtis Lofton. Coverage woes cracked? After a rather lackluster rookie campaign Sean Weatherspoon (+2.5) is rounding into the player the player the Falcons thought they had drafted. He made six tackles; all of them stops, and was particularly good in coverage. In one three play spell (starting at 11:11 left in the third) he broke on a ball to almost intercept it, knocked another pass out of Austin Collie’s hands and then tackled Jacob Tamme short of a first down. Three and out, all courtesy of Mr. Weatherspoon. It wasn’t all roses as he over-pursued once, was blocked by a crawling Mike Tepper on another occasion and was caught out of position on a couple of pass plays, but outside of that his Pro Bowl credentials are starting to look very genuine. Lies and Damned Lies Matt Ryan (+2.1) had a superb QB rating of 120.7 but (as often is the case with him) the numbers were not indicative of his performance. As the game wound down, Ron Pitts (who was doing play by play for Fox) remarked “he had been nearly perfect for most of the game”. Most of the game clearly didn’t include the last drive of the first half, where he could have been intercepted on back to back throws after overthrowing Roddy White so badly a vendor in the stands had a better chance of making the completion than his veteran wide-out. It certainly didn’t take into account his awful interception that was returned for six or the fact that a lot of his downfield throws, that were caught, required leaping efforts from his receivers to get them. Add to this that he didn’t complete a single pass when under pressure and a more accurate picture comes into view. The bottom line is his stat line was mostly a result of good play from his receivers and he was lucky Colts rush was so anemic. Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note If it looks like a linebacker … Along with Indianapolis, someone else not having a great game was commentator Jim Mora. He seemed to have done as much pre-work as my nine year old son before he went to his first NFL game a few weeks ago. Referring to most people other than the stars by their positions and having a penchant for simply reading out stats he also came up with this in reference to Pat Angerer (-5.1): “This guy’s fun to watch, look at the tattoos on the arm, he’s got what looks like an American flag. This guy loves to play football. That’s what you want a middle linebacker to look like right there”. But, as my good friend Khaled Elsayed pointed out, not what you want one to play like. That may be a little harsh on Angerer on the basis of his general play this year (which has been just below average) but in the context of this display it was more than more than fair. He missed a season high three tackles (now 14 on the year), was pushed about by Todd McClure at the second level and badly lost the battle with FB Mike Cox in the hole; the first Falcons offensive play of the game being as good an example of this as any. He needs to up his game to match his ‘grading in the green’ appearance. Curtis falls flat This was by some margin Curtis Painter’s (-5.9) worst game of the season and that’s not damning with faint praise as he’d already built himself up quite the portfolio of worthy competition in earlier weeks. His numbers look bad but if anything he was worse and nothing tells this more than the fact his QB rating without pressure was 44.3. He served up a huge plethora of overthrows, forced the ball into coverage but was probably at his worst when throwing behind his receivers as he did on his interception. Only luck saved him from more picks and he was eventually benched at the start of the fourth quarter. Pat on the back It would not be entirely unreasonable to look to another awful display as my third “performance of note” given the vast array of options. However, if any Colt fans have made it thus far that could be deemed cruel and unusual punishment so I’ll focus on one of only two areas of quality in their entire performance – the punting and kick-offs of Pat McAfee (+4.1). He was excellent throughout with a net punting average of 45.8, a long of 60 and having both his kick-offs drilled deep (very deep) for touchbacks. However the highlight was probably his 53 yarder that went out at the 1 yard line and led to the only Colts points of the day. Game Notes - Was Pat Angerer injured or benched? Adrian Moten took over with three plays left. - Someone certainly not benched was Jeff Saturday (+2.3) who played well but was rested in garbage time and missed his first snaps of the year giving way to Mike Pollack with 4:10 left. - William Moore left the game with an injury after 12 defensive plays. He was replaced by James Sanders who played pretty well. His stat line read thrown at once, zero passes allowed , two throws defensed. PFF Game Ball According to our editor I’m supposed to have made reference to our game ball winner earlier in the piece. Well I didn’t think you’d mind as I’m sure nearly everyone has already seen the reason why I’m giving this to Julio Jones (+3.2) a few times already on every highlight show going. What they won’t have shown you was some pretty good run blocking thrown in for good measure.
  13. Is there tension starting to build in Detroit? Have they become aware of the season that they’re having? And as a result are they now starting to play tight? After a post-game scuffle with the 49ers and a pre-game scuffle with the Falcons this week the Lions aggression appears to be starting to spill over. Once again this was used against them, playing a crucial role in a disappointing defeat. Sure, the Lions had the chances to take this game into overtime, but unlike earlier season comeback victories they couldn’t make the plays when it counted. For Atlanta this was a real statement win, as they executed on the formula that led them to the NFC South crown last year. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was plenty effective and they’re now able to head into their bye week with momentum. Let’s look at how this one went down. Atlanta – Three Performances of Note He’s no Harvey Dahl Finances are finances, and in the condensed free agency period we had this year Harvey Dahl was able to escape Atlanta leaving the Falcons short on talent at the spot. Garrett Reynolds (-7.1) has replaced Dahl, only missing 14 snaps against the Packers, and has failed to play up to anywhere near the level of Dahl’s performances. This week against Detroit marked the sixth time he has graded negatively all season with this performance being comfortably his worst. He started badly by giving up a sack to Ndamukong Suh early in the first quarter, saved only by Suh trying to take Matt Ryan’s helmet off by the face cage, and followed that up with two further pressures (both to Suh). Of as much concern as anything else will be his trio of false start penalties, including two on back to back plays. Whether down to noise or the knowledge that he needed a good first step to match Suh, these were drive killers that the Falcons offense could do without as they pushed the Falcons out of field goal position and cost them points. Another rounded performance A week after a spectacular interception on a screen Corey Peters (+2.2) came up with another strong all round showing, outshining his fellow defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Peters was stout in run defense, providing difficulties for Rob Sims at times (standing him up on two occasions at the line, including the first snap of the game at 14:54 in the first) and Dominic Raiola. Peters also showed that he is not only a load in the middle but, as with last week against the Panthers, flashed his ability in space. Last week he pulled off an interception, while this week he was able to cut down Matthew Stafford for a sack in the right flat on third & goal and then, most crucially, picking up a pass defense on the Lions final drive of the game that preventing a pass interference call on third down. The Falcons have been looking for some time for a player to go with Babineaux in the middle of their defense, so when Babineaux rediscovers his best form Atlanta could have a fine pairing at defense tackle. Missing tackles in bunches This week’s game marked the fifth time in the last two seasons that William Moore (-1.9) has missed multiple tackles in a game. Not exactly what you’re looking for in a safety. Moore missed three tackles this week, two in the running game and one in the passing game, to mark his worst day tackling since he missed four in an abysmal performance last season in Tampa Bay. Not executing your tckles are a problem anywhere on defense but deep in the secondary it tends to lead directly to bad things and that was the case for Moore this week. Pursuing to an in route by Calvin Johnson late in the third quarter Moore failed to secure his tackle on Johnson, falling off and allowing Johnson to scamper away to a 57 yard score. The coverage may not have been Moore’s but the missed tackle led directly to the score. The Falcons need better tackling from Moore who has failed to deliver on his draft stock for Atlanta. Detroit – Three Performances of Note Balanced display In a game in which his discipline was called in to question Ndamukong Suh (+2.6) put forth one of the more balanced displays of his NFL career to date. Suh showed his customary ability to get up field, registering his first sack since week three, but also showed more discipline in his penetration registering two tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage while only wildly over-running one draw play in the game. As would be expected after the 49ers success last week the Falcons ran a fair deal of traps, down blocks and pulls on the line but Suh (for one of the first times in his career) showed an ability and willingness to fight these plays rather than take the bait. He didn’t manage to bust one up but he was able to disrupt the play enough or stay close enough to his gap that the Falcons weren’t given a clean run at the second level. But for his facemask on Ryan and over-running one draw play this would have been Suh’s highest graded game of the 2011 season. Willing blocker but not executing The tight end position may be the position that has changed the most in the last 10 to 15 years, transitioning from blocker to receiver. In the shape of Brandon Pettigrew (-2.8) the Lions thought they were getting one of the rare all round players but this season Pettigrew is really struggling as a run blocker. Whilst the former Oklahoma State player may have registered three first downs in the receiving game his work as a blocker was extremely poor, surrendering one pressure in pass protection and failing to register any positive grades for his run blocking. This marks the third straight week Pettigrew has graded negatively as a run blocker and the fourth time during the 2011 season. Pettigrew has gone through similar slumps with his blocking before (during the middle of the 2010 season he recordied negative grades as a run blocker for seven straight games from week 6 onwards), so this is a trend that really needs to sort itself out if the Lions are to become less reliant on the speed of Jahvid Best to get outside. It’s an overlooked, but key contributor to their lack of consistency in the run game. Trouble bringing down the ball carrier The Lions missed a season high 12 tackles this week, with only one of those coming from someone who didn’t start the game. After missing 8 tackles last week the Lions have now missed 20 tackles in the last two weeks have missed only 25 in their first five games of the season. That is an alarming increase and unfortunately for Detroit it isn’t just one player hitting a poor spell of form who can be taken out to solve the problem. Instead it is an affliction seemingly hitting the entire Detroit defense with every member of the Lions’ starting back seven missed a tackle in yesterday’s game. Two of these came together on the play on which Jacquizz Rodgers closed out the game as the Falcons’ rookie running back showed outstanding second effort to pick up the first and the win. An apt example of the impact of missing tackles, and one that was extremely costly for the Lions. Game Notes - MLB Stephen Tulloch was the only Detroit Lion defender to play all 80 defensive snaps. - Nate Burleson had more drops (two), than yards and receptions (each one). - Kroy Biermann recorded the lowest snap count of his entire career with Falcons, getting on the field for only eight snaps. Bettering by one his lowest snap count of nine during the Falcons week five visit to Green Bay in 2008. PFF Game Ball Sean Weatherspoon (+3.2) continued his fine season, grading positively in every facet of the game as he recorded a sack and two other defensive stops. Weatherspoon has only missed three snaps all season on defense for the Falcons and has made huge strides in his sophomore year.
  14. Another week of coming close for the Panthers. This game reinforced what we already knew, in that Cam Newton does not like losing. Unfortunately, as impressive as he has been for Carolina so far as a rookie, he is starting to have to get used to it. In an all-NFC South encounter, the Falcons traded punches with the Panthers for most of the game before pulling away in the fourth quarter, with a final score of 31-17 that flattered the victors. Indeed a few plays here and there is really all that separated these two teams, as the gulf between 2010’s owner of the best and worst records in the NFC never materialized. So we, much like Carolina, are left to reflect on this game. For Cam Newton himself, the reality is he does an awful lot of things well, but this game showed his less refined side. Poor accuracy and decisions with the football cost his team, and though he made some plays with his legs, it wasn’t enough to get it done. Carolina – Three things of note Missing Otah With Jeff Otah missing the game hurt the Panthers started Byron Bell (-5.8) at right tackle. Bell did not have a good day. He was beaten for a sack, a hit and three more pressures, gave up two penalties and didn’t fare any better as a run blocker. Ray Edwards has had a mixed start to his season as a Falcon but he was feasting on Bell all day long, especially around the edge. Bell left the game for two snaps on the Panthers’ final drive and his replacement Lee Ziemba managed to give up a pressure to Edwards too in that time, so perhaps Edwards was back to his best form. On the other hand, perhaps neither Bell nor Ziemba were capable of manning the right tackle spot. Soft Middle The Panthers have been struggling at the defensive tackle for a few seasons now, and this year they elected to go with youth and take their lumps. Unfortunately, they are still taking them, as neither Sione Fua (-2.7) nor Terrell McClain (-1.2) have really shown they can get the job done inside. The pair combined for a single hit and no other pressure on 33 total pass-rushes. They didn’t manage to record a tackle in the run game either, though McClain did net a missed tackle. The pair are both rookies, so you have to expect some growing pains, but at some point the Panthers have to expect some better returns or they need to start looking for a Plan B. Ryan Kalil “establishing himself” At the top of this broadcast John Lynch made the comment that Ryan Kalil (+3.1) had “established himself as the premier center in the NFL”. I wondered how many other NFL centers we had tragically lost without my knowledge earlier in the day for this to be true, but based on this game, the comment wasn’t all that ridiculous. I don’t think Kalil is in the class of a Nick Mangold, but this was an excellent game for the Panther, and one Mangold would have been proud of, with Kalil posting a perfect game in pass protection despite 43 snaps pass-blocking. He also helped open holes for both Panthers running backs by working to the second level and taking on the Falcons linebackers. Best center in the NFL? Not sure I’m buying that, but maybe this week. Atlanta – Three things of note Ray Edwards – Opposition or familiar surroundings? Ray Edwards (+5.8) hasn’t looked himself for much of this season since arriving in Atlanta. I have wondered how much of that is asking him to play a position (right side defensive end) more than he ever did in Minnesota. (this year he has played 114 snaps there, whereas he played 5 in all of 2010 for the Vikings). This game saw Edwards play just six snaps on the right side and 43 on the left and he responded with a sack and four more pressures on the quarterback, as well as a strong showing in the run game. It’s fair to say that the opposition certainly helped, as he was facing a backup right tackle (and very briefly the backup’s backup), but Edwards does seem to be visibly more comfortable coming from his familiar left side of the line. Brent Grimes showing up Brent Grimes (+2.7) was only thrown at four times, and he allowed just a pair of receptions for 28 yards, both to Steve Smith, while he also grabbed himself an interception in the end zone after a batted pass that was intended for Smith. Grimes has been comfortably Atlanta’s best cornerback this season, dramatically outperforming Dunta Robinson, who has never really looked the player he once was before injuries. Grimes may not be the biggest cornerback, but he does make the opposition earn every completion with tight coverage and a good understanding of how to contest throws. He showed this well when he broke on a slant pattern intended for Greg Olsen with 7:23 left in the 3rd quarter. Olsen, often seen as a matchup problem when split out wide, was given no chance of a catch because of the coverage from Grimes. Corey Peters has a strange day Falcons defensive tackle, Corey Peters (-0.4) may have graded out just below average, but his grade was anything but average when you break it down. He struggled badly in the run game, earning himself a -2.6 grade by getting pushed around by the Carolina O-line, with all three members of the interior getting the better of him at least once. He did however redeem himself with a spectacular read and one-handed interception on a screen pass intended for DeAngelo Williams that really set up the win for the Falcons and put a hammer blow to the Panthers’ chances of a comeback. Game Notes - Michael Turner topped 5 yards per carry for the game (5.1) thanks in no small part to forcing 9 missed tackles from Panthers defenders. - Between the three Panthers rushers (counting Cam Newton) they averaged 6.0 yards per carry. DeAngelo Williams was bottom averaging 4.3 yards a pop … why pass? - Cam Newton may have been neck and neck with Matt Ryan in the Total QBR, but he was more than 25 points shy in PFF’s QB rating (62.93 vs. 88.22). PFF Game Ball So his opposition wasn’t great, but as they say you can only beat what’s in front of you. That’s exactly what Ray Edwards did in this one. http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2011/10/17/re-focused-panthers-falcons-week-6/
  15. Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan talked a good game last week about how last year’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers was in the rear view mirror. Things started off so promising during this game for the Falcons that they almost had me believing them. “Last year was last year,” Ryan had said. “New season, new teams.” All true, but unfortunately for the Falcons…the same result. Momentum seemed to change early in the second half as the Packer defense made it clear that they were not going to let the Falcons sustain drives or get into scoring range. Then, with injuries piling up in the Atlanta secondary, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense started to get into a rhythm. It was quickly apparent that Atlanta’s two touchdowns would not be enough to hold on for a victory. Coming into this game, the Packers’ defense had been surrendering yards to their opponents at an historic level. Only their strong red zone defense and penchant for turnovers had saved their bacon. That held true against the Falcons. After surrendering a total of 140 yards and two touchdowns on Atlanta’s first two possessions, Green Bay only allowed 111 yards and forced a shut out the rest of the way. Rodgers (+7.1) turned in another masterful performance, sidestepping pressure, delivering pinpoint accuracy and spreading the ball around to 12 different receivers. The Falcons’ coverage wasn’t horrible, Rodgers was just too good. The scary thing is that the Packers offense could have been even better. If not for a rash of dropped passes, five in total, by their receivers, the Packers could have put this game away much earlier. . Green Bay – Three Performances of Note 1) Another good hair day To the casual observer, Clay Matthews’ (+4.3) one sack on the season might suggest a drop off in performance. This is a perfect example of why the standard statistics just don’t tell the full story. First of all, Matthews was overrated last year. He wasn’t even in the running for our 2010 Defensive Player of The Year, an honor that went to DT Kyle Williams of the Buffalo Bills. In fact, he only graded out as sixth best among 3-4 outside linebackers. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but certainly demonstrates how long flowing hair can lead to significant hype. This season, even without all the sacks, he’s ranking at about the same position among his peers and continues to have a significant impact against the run and rushing the passer. So far, no drop off is evident. This game was no different, with Matthews leading the defense on three QB hits and a pressure. Matthews also delivered a flurry of impact plays in the fourth quarter, including a batted pass, with the game still on the line. . 2) Interior supermen not bulletproof The Packers interior offensive line had their first sub-par game of the season. Up until this week, OC Scott Wells (-3.4) and LG T.J. Lang (-1.6) had been impeccable in pass protection and consistently doling out the hurt in the run game. Both took steps backwards against Atlanta, giving up a sack and five pressures between the two of them. Wells in particular, had trouble in the run game where he tended to get hung up on his initial blocks and was a step slow getting to the second level. . 3) Trial by fire… Nobody burned Green Bay suffered a huge blow when veteran LT Chad Clifton (-1.4) went down with what is being described as a “significant hamstring injury.” With second-year man Marshall Newhouse (+1.9) already filling in at RT for an injured Bryan Bulaga (knee), things looked dire for the Packers offense and Rogers’ safety in particular. Newhouse, in his second start as a pro, was shifted over to LT and the Packers plugged their rookie first round pick Derrek Sherrod(+0.4) in on the right. Sherrod had been rather underwhelming during the preseason and there’s no question that Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy were worried. McCarthy initially used lots of maximum protection to assist his young tackles and had his tight ends help out with chip blocks. Rodgers even seemed uncomfortable at first, looking skittish in the pocket as he anticipated pressure from the edges. For the most part, it never came. Both players held up remarkably well, giving up just one hit and three pressures, allowing McCarthy to take off the training wheels, open the offensive game plan back up and go on to win the game. Bulaga is expected back for next week’s game against St. Louis, but it looks like Clifton could be out for an extended period of time. With this pair’s performance, they look to be in good shape to absorb the loss. . Atlanta – Three Performances of Note 1) Center… folds On the other side of things for the young players was Joe Hawley, (-3.1) who didn’t experience the same level of success making the start at center for injured long-time starter, Todd McClure. Hawley couldn’t match the strength of the Packers’ interior, especially in the run game. Green Bay DT BJ Raji stood him up several times at the line of scrimmage and was able to shove him to the side to limit the running back to little or no gain. Hawley’s performance and an apparent ankle injury to RG Garrett Reynolds, has got to have the Falcons concerned about the overall health of their running game. . 2) How do you like your stops, spoonfed? Atlanta LB Sean Weatherspoon (+3.2) struggled through a pretty rough 2010 campaign as a rookie, but is really starting to put it together this season. Weatherspoon notched six stops (solo tackles that result in an offensive failure) and now leads all LBs in the league with 26. He was the primary culprit for Wells’ rough outing; on multiple occasions slipping past Wells’ block attempts to stop Packer RBs in their tracks. Weatherspoon's aggressiveness might have played a part in the Packers’ success with the play-action pass and he did have one ugly play in coverage where he fell down to leave a wide open Jermichael Finley charging down the seam – but so far, a promising start for the young player. . 3) Corey’s Story Another defensive standout for Atlanta, and also a member of their 2010 draft class, was DT Corey Peters (+3.2). Peters has provided the Falcons with a formidable inside pass rush presence – something they’ve been failing to get consistently from any of their defensive linemen. During the 2010 season, Peters didn’t offer much in rushing the passer. So far this year however, he’s been grading positively and has already tallied a sack, a hit, and five pressures. His early third-quarter sack against Lang was a thing of beauty. As Lang reached his hands out to engage the charging Peters, Peters knocked Lang’s hands down with such force that by the time the stunned LG had recovered, Peters was driving Rodgers into the turf. . Game Notes ● Atlanta only sent extra pass rushers on 23% of Aaron Rodgers’ drop backs. Maybe they should have blitzed even less. Rodgers stat line against the blitz was 8 – 9 for 167, two touchdowns and a NFL QB Rating 158.3. ● Michael Turner (-0.4) rushed six times for zero yards towards Clay Matthews side of the field, either behind our outside of his RT. He logged seven carries for 30 yards at 4.3 yards per rush otherwise. ● Sam Shields (-1.2) drew the assignment on rookie WR Julio Jones (-0.9) for most of the night. Jones was targeted only four times and caught one pass for 16 yards. . PFF Game Ball Marshall Newhouse, OT, Green Bay Packers We have officially run out of superlatives for Rodgers so we’ll give the game ball to one of his linemen who really upped his game from week 4. Marshall Newhouse was humbled in his first career start by Von Miller but rebounded this week, kicking over to left tackle part way through the game and keeping the Falcons under performing defensive ends quiet in a solid display deputising for the injured Chad Clifton.
  16. With most of the buzz before the start of the game mostly centered around Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta, in the end, it was backup quarterback Mike Kafka who gave the Philadelphia Eagles a chance to engineer a beautiful comeback. . The game can really be split into three segments; the Atlanta Falcons started off quickly and exploited the Eagles’ mistakes; Vick then managed to get Philly back into the game by giving them a 10 point lead; and finally Matt Ryan conjured up a trademark fourth quarter comeback for the win, leaving both teams with a 1-1 record. . . Philadelphia Eagles – Three Performances of Note . 1. Trent Cole; the Phenom We’ve given Trent Cole some pretty positive grades over the years, but he played at an unbelievably high level on Sunday night. The Falcons might as well have played without a left tackle seeing as how Cole generated a sack, two hits and nine pressures on 31 rushes. His run defence (+2.6) was very impressive too, as he finished with a +10.8 overall grade. . 2. A mixed night for the young rookie centre The Eagles have been intent on starting sixth round pick Jason Kelce from the outset, and after a positive performance against the Rams in week one, he took a slight step back in his second game as a pro. Kelce allowed a hit and a pressure on 44-drop backs, and generally had problems in the run game especially against Peria Jerry. . 3. Soft at safety It was a difficult matchup for Kurt Coleman (-1.7) and Jarrad Page (-2.8) going against a future hall of famer in Tony Gonzalez, but that doesn’t excuse how poorly they played. Coleman gave up a touchdown to Roddy White, while Page allowed four of his five targets to be complete for 59 yards (44 to Gonzalez) and a touchdown. Neither player stood out against the run, but Page was particularly poor, as White blocked him too easily on too many occasions. He also made a crucial mistake on Michael Turner’s 61 yard run. . . Atlanta Falcons – Three Performances of Note . 1. The Comeback King Once again, Matt Ryan showed us why he is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. He wasn’t perfect, but rarely is any quarterback who finds themselves under pressure on 15 of their 33 drop backs. Against that pressure, Ryan was a solid six of eleven for 85 yards, one touchdown and one interception, which gave him a 72.2 QB rating. His 7.7 YPA was better than the 6.5 he amassed with a clean pocket. . 2. Todd McClure needs to return soon While he may have struggled in pass protection, Todd McClure is an important cog in Atlanta’s run first offense. His replacement, Joe Hawley (-3.5), is playing poorly in his stead. While Hawley was one of the few Falcons to save face in the passing game (he allowed just a single pressure on 33 drop backs), he struggled in the run game against both Cullen Jenkins and Casey Matthews. Hawley also committed two holding penalties in the game. . 3. Searching for an answer at safety With Thomas Decoud now limited to red zone snaps, former Patriot James Sanders (-4.7) got a chance to prove himself to Atlanta’s coaching staff. Judging by his grade, you can probably tell how he did. Sanders was consistently a step late in coverage, giving up long completions to Jason Avant and Steve Smith. Next to him, William Moore (+0.2) played better, but still gave up a long completion toBrent Celek. . . Game Notes ● Lesean McCoy really struggled in pass protection, giving up two hits and a pressure on just ten blocks ●Undrafted free agent rookie Philip Hunt recorded a pressure on his first NFL rush ●John Abraham dropped into coverage six time on his 55 snaps ● Cornerback Kelvin Hayden blitzed five times on 22 snaps . . PFF Game Ball Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia Eagles Cole was simply peerless in this game, one of the finest performances we have ever seen from a defensive end. Sam Baker will be having nightmares about this encounter with Cole for weeks to come.
  17. It seems as if the Green Bay Packers might have permanently broken the Atlanta Falcons in last season’s playoffs. Atlanta are winless since, and never really looked like they were threatening to win this one. Chicago spent most of the off-season trying to figure out ways of repairing their offensive line to try and keep some of the pressure off Jay Cutler, who at his best, is capable of some genuinely special play. But how successful were they? They coughed up five sacks, but they weren’t all on the O-line and in traditional pocket-passing situations, and while they had problems, it was far from the disaster of 2010. As for Atlanta, things weren’t as ugly as the score line would suggest and there really are positives to be taken from the game, albeit not many on offense. In the end the game came down to turnovers and when the ball hit the deck, the Bears came up with it. Turnovers will always swing the outcome of a game, but they don’t necessarily tell you the story of what happened, but let’s try and do that a bit more with our things of note. Atlanta – Three Things of Note 1) Account for Abraham If you’re going to run the ball in the vicinity of John Abraham, it’s probably a good idea to actually get a body on him and make sure he can’t knife through the line and blow it up before it’s begun. The Bears didn’t get that memo on Sunday and Abraham tore through the line on more than one occasion to wreck things in the run game. Oh, and in case you’d forgotten during a long summer of lockout, he’s a pretty special pass-rusher too. He recorded a pair of sacks, a pressure and a batted pass and made life difficult for J’Marcus Webb on the edge. The Falcons also kept him to just 35 snaps in the game, ensuring he was fresh enough to be a constant thorn in the Bears’ side. 2) Dunta Robinson didn’t hold up Brent Grimes didn’t have the best game in the world, and Chris Owens certainly had his struggles too, but when bad things were happening in coverage, it was likely Dunta Robinson in the middle of it in this game. Robinson was thrown at six times, and allowed five receptions, for 119 yards. That’s 19.8 a clip. This number gets skewed a bit by Devin Hester’s bubble screen where Robinson wasn’t able to get anywhere near the play, but he was beaten by Johnny Knox, Roy Williams and Matt Forte too, ending with Cutler having a rating of 118.8 when throwing at Robinson. The Falcons need him to come a little closer to justifying his salary for them to be able to slow teams down through the air. 3) The O-line woes Last season the O-line was a strength for the Falcons. It was always likely to deteriorate heading into 2011 when they found themselves looking at the off-season with three starters heading for unrestricted free agency. They retained two of them, but Todd McClure’s stand in for this game, Joe Hawley, was an issue. Garett Reynolds didn’t have a great game himself, coughing up a sack and a pair of hits, but he was much more effective in the run game than Hawley, who was constantly abused at the point of attack. In this game the line was an issue, but with McClure back at C it shouldn’t be an issue for the season over the long-haul. Whether this was a schematic problem or a symptom of new members of the line needing to gel, the Falcons were beaten all day by simple stunts by the Bears, seemingly unable to orchestrate passing off linemen between blockers. That needs fixing. Soon. Chicago – Three Things of Note 1) The Offensive Tackles I was curious to see how these two players would do in this game and despite giving up a pair of sacks and earning a -1.9 PFF grade overall, I think J’Marcus Webb can hold his head up high. It doesn’t come much tougher than trying to contain Abraham, especially when the Falcons are keeping a pitch count on him and making sure he is always at the peak of his powers. Webb was downright awful for much of last season on the right side, but this was a big step up and if he can continue this way in 2011, he just might be viable as a blindside protector. Gabe Carimi had a bit of a rookie day, allowing a sack and a pair of pressures, and holding his own for much of the day. When he was beaten though, it tended to be ugly. The performance of these two will be interesting to watch this season and they likely hold the key to the Bears’ season in many ways. 2) Running is his Forte Matt Forte has quietly moved up the PFF gradings over the past couple of seasons, and he finished this game with a +5.0 grade. He has always been an accomplished receiver and his grade is nearly evenly split between rushing and receiving for the game. He hit the hole well and confidently and he was able to make people miss on more than one occasion. The Bears actually looked capable of opening up some holes in front of him too, which will always help. If the Bears can get Forte going and protect Cutler too this season, things become immeasurably easier on offense. 3) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on D Henry Melton had a very good game. The stats will tell you that, but he graded well also, and was a constant irritant to the Falcons’ offense in rushing the passer. Perhaps the best news is that despite playing just a dozen snaps against the run, he wasn’t grading poorly there either. Nick Roach ended the game with a -2.6 PFF grade, and that is thanks largely to the multiple occasions where he, realizing he mis-read the play initially, turned and simply ran at top speed away from the line of scrimmage. He did this seemingly without any real course in mind, but as if he had to get as far downfield as possible before a bomb went off. It certainly didn’t seem to pay dividends on the plays in question, and this was both the bad, and the ugly on D! Game Notes Pressuring Matt Ryan with just four rushers was big. When blitzed Ryan had a QB rating of 118.8, but when pressured it tumbled to just 37.5. Get pressure, but don’t give him an easy out. Kroy Biermann was thrown at once in coverage. He allowed one reception, for one yard, for one touchdown, but also recorded himself one interception and one touchdown of his own. The game of one. Michael Turner rushed 10 times for 100 yards at 10.0 per rush. . http://www.profootba...s-bears-week-1/
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