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  1. A one hour round table discussion with Jeff Schultz-Athletic, Dave Choate-Falcoholic, Aaron Freeman and Matt Karoly. An hour long but lots of info here.
  2. Credit to Etherdome for posting this first in NFLDraft&FreeAgency, in the "2018 NFL Draft Prospects the Atlanta Falcons have shown interest in" Thread: but I thought this was interesting enough of a take to warrant its own discussion thread:
  3. Ole Pudge (Aaron Freeman) has a pretty decent and long article on his website today. As always, if you like the author's work then help him out and give the link to his article a click. http://falcfans.com/how-do-the-falcons-improve-their-red-zone-defense-in-2017-24970 How Do the Falcons Improve Their Red-Zone Defense in 2017? Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe could be critical for Falcons defensive improvement in 2017 Posted By: Aaron Freeman June 7, 2017 The number of areas where the Atlanta Falcons, the 2016 NFC Champions, proved to be the worst team in the league were few and far between. But one of those rare areas was their league worst red-zone defense, allowing opponents to convert 71.6 of their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns a year ago. If there was one area of the Falcons roster considered objectively bad and perhaps their greatest vulnerability, it would have been their red-zone defense. That comes in spite of the obvious improvement the Falcons made over the second half of the 2016 season. Head coach Dan Quinn took over play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Richard Smith beginning in Week 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs last year. Over the eight-game span helmed by Quinn that culminated in a Super Bowl appearance, the Falcons defense improved. After allowing 27.4 points in the first 11 games of the 2016 season, the Falcons allowed just 22.4 in the final eight, including the postseason. They also managed to create far more turnovers, finishing plus-13 in turnover margin over the final eight games versus the plus-three they were for the first 11 games. Yet the red-zone defense only showed marginal improvement down the stretch. In the final eight games of the year, the Falcons allowed touchdowns on 66.7 percent of their opponents’ red-zone trips. During the first 11 games that number was 75 percent. Albeit a slight improvement, 67 percent still would have ranked among the league’s worst red-zone defenses last year, as the Cleveland Browns ranked 29th with the same percentage allowed throughout the entire season. A much healthier percentage would have been 50 percent or better, a rate achieved by the team just five times throughout 2016. Those occurences came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers (in Week 16) and Seattle Seahawks during the playoffs. While going back in looking at those five performances to evaluate what went right for the Falcons red-zone defense, it was somewhat disheartening to discover that a lot of it was due to subpar play from the opposing quarterbacks. The Falcons were able to take advantage of mistakes by rookie passers like Paxton Lynch and Carson Wentz against the Broncos and Eagles, respectively. They also benefited from the scattershot accuracy from veteran quarterback Cam Newton in the late-season matchup against the Panthers. Yet those occurrences bring up an important issue when it comes to red-zone success or failure: quarterback play. There is a fairly strong correlation between teams that are successful converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns and those with solid quarterback play when things become confined. Seven of the teams that finished in the top 10 in red-zone efficiency last year also finished in the top 10 in terms of quarterback rating inside the red zone. And the three exceptions finished 11th, 12th and 14th, respectively. So one could conclude that in order to become stingier in the red zone on defense, a team must do a better job affecting the quarterback. And few teams did that worse than the Falcons a year ago. Falcons Failed to Affect the Quarterback in the Red Zone The Falcons only collected one sack on 97 pass plays in the red zone in 2016, with only the Dallas Cowboys having a lower sack rate thanks to having just one sack on 98 pass plays. However what is noteworthy is that the Falcons, at least when using defensive passer rating as the metric, weren’t altogether bad in the red zone last season. Their defensive passer rating inside their own 20-yard line was 93.6, which actually ranked 13th best in the entire league. Part of that owes to defenders in the secondary making plays on the ball, as the team had three interceptions in the red zone, tied for the second-highest total around the league. So one could argue that the Falcons could easily make a significant leap in terms of their red-zone defense if they get better performances up front. Which speaks to why the team invested so much in their defensive front seven during the offseason by signing free-agent defensive linemen Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford as well as using their first two 2017 draft picks on defensive end Takk McKinley and outside linebacker Duke Riley. Poe is the headliner in that group, coming from a Kansas City Chiefs defense that was among the league’s best in terms of getting red-zone stops a year ago. The Falcons are optimistic that Poe was the catalyst for that success and his presence rubs off in a positive way here in Atlanta. Discovering how much Poe and the others can help the Falcons red-zone defense in 2017 required extensive review of the All-22 from a season ago. Breaking Down the All-22 of the Falcons Red-Zone Defense in 2016 In going back and looking at several red-zone plays against the Falcons defense in 13 different games, roughly 70 percent of all their red-zone snaps, I saw a mixed bag of problems. But one thing was clear, the bad outweighed the good. Reducing the Falcons’ red-zone woes to one systemic problem last year is difficult since the team seemed to be routinely plagued by a multitude of issues: poor run defense, ineffective pass rush, missed tackles, coverage breakdowns, questionable play-calling and poor communication. Essentially the Falcons checked all the boxes of things not to do in order to consistently get stops in the red zone a season ago. However it does seem that some of those issues could have been mitigated with stronger play up front. Obviously good run defense and an effective pass rush start up front. But additionally coverage breakdowns can be reduced with stronger play up front. After all, it’s easier to mask poor coverage with effective pressure than vice versa. But in going back and looking at the All-22, it wasn’t all bad. Let’s first examine several plays early in the season that showcase both good and bad performances of the Falcons’ red-zone defense in their Monday Night performance against the New Orleans Saints in Week Four. This first play shows the Falcons giving up a touchdown to Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas on a rub/pick route. However later in the game, the Falcons were able to capitalize on the Saints by giving them a similar look and baiting quarterback Drew Brees, resulting in a 90-yard interception returned for a touchdown by linebacker Deion Jones. That is a mark of a solid coaching adjustment by the Falcons: The Falcons are matched up in man coverage near the goal line. The Saints capitalize on this by running a rub/pick route to WR Michael Thomas (13) off a stack concept at the top of the screen. The pick by Brandon Coleman (16) prevents the inside CB Brian Poole (34) from closing quickly enough on the quick slant to Thomas for a three-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Later in the fourth quarter, the Falcons show a similar look with their cornerbacks playing off. The Saints assume that they will be able to utilize the same rub/pick route to the bottom of the screen with slot WR Brandin Cooks (10) potentially drawing CB Brian Poole (34) away on the corner route, opening up Michael Thomas (13) to win on another slant. However, the Falcons play zone instead of man, allowing Poole to sit on the slant. Poole is able to break up the pass and Falcons LB Deion Jones (45) is able to pick it off before returning it 90 yards for a touchdown. However the play-calling in that Saints game wasn’t always superb. There was a series in the third quarter where the Falcons made a baffling decision with their defensive line alignment, creating a massive hole for the Saints to easily exploit in converting on a run up the middle to fullback John Kuhn: The Saints three interior offensive linemen are uncovered, leaving an easy hole up the middle on a run to Saints FB John Kuhn (29). Center Max Unger (60) is able to climb easily to second level to block MLB Deion Jones (45). While LB Sean Weatherspoon (56) makes a quick read and valiant effort to make the stop, he’s unable to making the wrap tackle to prevent the score. This play illustrates another common issue that the Falcons faced throughout the 2016 season, which was the ability of opposing teams to spread them out with multiple-wide-receiver sets. This often led to the Falcons being exploited against the run in the red zone. Opponents Exploited Falcons in Red Zone By Spreading Field In re-watching the film, one of the things that became clear was just how much opposing teams used their “11” personnel and other “spread” formations against the Falcons as they inched towards the goal line. That might seem counterintuitive to some, as one might suspect opposing teams would prefer to use “beefier” personnel groupings with more tight ends or blockers to try and ram the ball down the defense’s throats. However upon further contemplation, it’s not so counterintuitive. One of the problems teams face when they get into the red zone is the shrinking size of the field. Defenders don’t have to cover as much space in the red zone as they do elsewhere in the field. NFL teams can often counter this by trying to spread defenses out as much as possible with three and four-wide receiver sets. Last season, 63.1 percent of all plays inside the red zone had personnel groupings that featured three or more wide receivers. That’s not far below the 66.8 percent of plays featuring multiple wide outs on all plays regardless of positioning on the field. Teams are usually compelled to counter this strategy by bringing an extra cornerback on the field with their nickel defense, typically with a linebacker being substituted in exchange. This leaves defenses sporting softer fronts with only six defenders in the box, made up of four defensive linemen and only two linebackers. Offenses now can at the least break even in regards to the numbers game, often having six eligible blockers (five offensive lineman and a tight end) to block each defender. If a run is executed properly, it should lead to larger gains as the above touchdown to Kuhn shows. This is why it’s so important for a sound red-zone defense to win along the line of scrimmage, where athletic defensive linemen are put in more advantageous situations than undersized linebackers are against blockers. Yet that aforementioned inability to win up front was one of the biggest reasons why the Falcons struggled throughout last season, not just in the red zone but all over the field on defense. It’s also worth noting that the data suggests that opposing offenses opted to spread out the Falcons defense much more than most other defenses.In fact 80.3 percent of plays inside the red zone against the Falcons defense featured three or more wide receivers, which is significantly higher than the league average. That likely was specifically designed to exploit the team’s ineffective pass rush. Falcons Red-Zone Pass Rush Unreliable, But Effective In 2016 But there were multiple instances last year where the Falcons defense was able to win up front to help bolster their red-zone defense. Two prominent instances came against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs, where defensive Brooks Reed seemingly single-handedly elevated the Falcons red-zone defense with effective pressure. Here are two examples of excellent plays by Reed in that game: Falcons DE Brooks Reed (50) comes unblocked for a sack thanks to a Seahawks RG Rees Odhiambo (70) failing to make the adjustment on the change in protection issued by QB Russell Wilson (3) pre-snap. This play effectively pushed the Seahawks out of the red zone and two plays later, safety Ricardo Allen (37) was able to break up a potential touchdown to Doug Baldwin, forcing the Seahawks to settle for an early field goal. Reed (50) generates pressure on an inside spin move against Seahawks LT George Fant (74). This flushes Wilson out of the pocket with DT Ra’Shede Hagmean (77) giving chase and forcing him to throw it away. Now here’s what happened on the ensuing play where fellow Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney subbed in for Reed: Pressure from DE Dwight Freeney (93) forces Wilson to step up in the pocket and with DT Jonathan Babineaux (95) working as a spy, Wilson is forced to lob a throw into traffic, over the head of open WR Doug Baldin (89), resulting in the Seahawks settling for another late field goal. Those above plays marked times where the Falcons were able to thwart the Seahawks offense thanks to pressure creating opportunities for the defense. Even though Wilson still had a chance to throw a touchdown on the last example, his throw was rushed and inaccurate thanks to the corralling influences of Freeney and Jonathan Babineaux. On the same note, one of the few times the Falcons slowed down the New England Patriots offense in the red zone during Super Bowl 51 came thanks to pressure created by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett in one of his three sacks in that game: On the right, Falcons DT Grady Jarrett (97) beats Patriots RG Shaq Mason (69) with a swim move before chasing down QB Tom Brady (12) for the sack and a loss of five yards that forced the Patriots to settle for a 33-yard field goal. There were times last year where the Falcons created pressure early in a red-zone series, but were unable to finish. Here’s an example of one such series from the Broncos game: Broncos QB Paxton Lynch (12) misses a checkdown to RB C.J. Anderson (22) thanks to locking onto the crossing route by WR Demaryius Thomas (88) over the middle. Instead Lynch hangs onto the ball a beat too late and is wrapped up from beyond for a six-yard sack by the pursuit of DE Dwight Freeney (93) and DT Adrian Clayborn (99). However the Broncos realizing that missed opportunity by their young quarterback on the previous play, opt for running the same basic play on the ensuing down: The Falcons created pressure thanks to the looping stunt by DE Vic Beasley (44) on the right side, but Lynch (12) is now aware of the completion the checkdown to Anderson (22). Unfortunately CB Robert Alford (23) and LB Kemal Ishmael (36) aren’t quick enough to close, allowing Anderson to gain back nine yards. Then on the very next play, an inability to make the proper adjustment thanks poor communication costs the Falcons a stop: The Broncos run trips to the right. The motion out of the backfield by Anderson (22) prompts safety Ricardo Allen (37) to shift his coverage to the middle of the field. SS Keanu Neal (22) shifts back and LB LaRoy Reynolds (53) shifts to cover the slot. However none of the Falcons defenders recognize the screen quickly enough to prevent Thomas (88) from scoring on the three-yard play. That series represented one of the times where the Falcons youth, inexperienced and poor communication came back to bite them in the red zone despite a promising start due to effective play up front by the defensive line. Jalen Collins and Falcons Secondary Must Improve Awareness Those weren’t the only instances where questionable awareness hurt the Falcons defense. Another instance came against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, where second-year cornerback Jalen Collins got exposed multiple times thanks to questionable awareness and poor angles on the ball. The first play happens late in the third quarter: Here CB Jalen Collins (33) aligned at the top hesitates on the throw by Patriots QB Tom Brady (12) into the flat to RB James White (28). Collins’ hesitation is not necessarily the problem here due to the out pattern by TE Martellus Bennett (88) into the end zone. Had Brady opted for the latter, Collins would’ve been in perfect position to break on the throw for a possible interception. However once Brady makes the quick decision to check down to White, Collins takes a poor angle to the ball and White is able to make an easy juke to dive for five-yard score. Later in the fourth quarter, Collins is caught sleeping on a series after the Patriots run similar plays on consecutive downs: First the Patriots run a pair of double crossers at the bottom with WRs Malcolm Mitchell (19) and Danny Amendola (80). With the Falcons corners playing off, it’s the job of outside CB C.J. Goodwin (29) instead of slot CB Jalen Collins (33) to make the stop on the quick out to Amendola. Goodwin does, but doesn’t make the wrap tackle, allowing the Patriots wide out to gain eight yards. On the next play: In the slot towards the bottom, Falcons CB Jalen Collins (32) is beat on a speed out by Patriots WR Danny Amendola (80). Collins’ eyes linger too long in the backfield, perhaps partially due to the belief that like on the previous play, Goodwin will be there to cover his mistake. Instead Mitchell (19) runs a vertical route, forcing Goodwin to play deeper and Amendola’s speed is too much for that momentary hesitation by Collins. In defense of Collins, by the point the Patriots had reached the red zone on the latter set of plays, he had played close to 70 snaps on defense. That’s slightly more than a full game’s worth and likely fatigue had started to tax him of his mental sharpness. However the above plays against the Patriots as well as the aforementioned ones against the Broncos are examples of the Falcons youth and inexperience getting the better of them. The Falcons were extremely young on that side of the ball a year ago and hopefully the growing pains the unit collectively experienced will help them take the necessary steps in 2017 to improve. Yet regardless of their youth, there were far too many times last year where the Falcons’ proved “soft” up front, directly causing their ineffectiveness in the red zone. On 23 runs inside the five-yard line the Falcons gave up 13 touchdowns for a rate of 56.5 percent, the fifth worst in the league a year ago. No game exemplified the team’s struggles in the trenches than their worst loss of the season, a 24-15 beatdown at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10. That game saw the Falcons give up 208 yards on the ground. Eagles Line Dominated the Falcons In the Trenches Here is a series of plays against the Eagles that is very representative of the opposing offensive line bulldozing the Falcons defensive line: Eagles OG Isaac Seumalo (73) serves as an extra blocker on the left side and gets effective positioning on a down block against DE Ra’Shede Hageman (77), creating a seal. Center Jason Kelce (62) then does an excellent job pulling into the hole and putting MLB Deion Jones (45) on skates, creating an alley for RB Ryan Mathews (24) to gain six yards. Falcons DT Courtney Upshaw (91) then falls flat on his face, freeing up LT Jason Peters (71) and LG Stefen Wisniewski (61) to easily climb to the second level to pick up by linebackers. Jones (45) eventually works off his block to make the wrap tackle and drag Mathews (24) down after an eight-yard gain. The Eagles finish off the Falcons with Mathews (24) running virtually untouched on a four-yard touchdown. Thanks largely to the inability of DT Tyson Jackson (94) to handle the double team from RG Brandon Brooks (79) and RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai (72), with Brooks subsequently making the reach block on LB LaRoy Reynolds (53). These three plays are strong illustrations of how poorly at times the Falcons defensive tackles handled their run fits throughout 2016, but also signifies the struggles of the Falcons’ undersized linebackers in taking on offensive linemen at the point of attack. Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones especially was inconsistent at this aspect and was only further accentuated thanks to how relatively little he weighed throughout his rookie season. That is an issue that Jones hopes to correct this year by bulking up to 235 pounds. But the presence of a player like Poe should also benefit Jones in that regard. As the nose tackle for the Chiefs, Poe regularly took on and absorbed double teams from offensive linemen. Poe’s massive presence in the middle should help keep Falcons linebackers like Jones cleaner than the team’s tackles did a year ago, freeing him up to make more plays. Here is an example of Poe’s ability to eat up blocks for the Chiefs last year in the red zone: Dontari Poe (92) does an excellent job occupying the double team from Saints C Max Unger (60) and RG Jahri Evans (73). This prevents RB Mark Ingram (22) from hitting the hole as quickly as he wants. Then Chiefs LB Ramik Wilson (53) does a good job defeating the block of FB John Kuhn (29) to make the stop in the backfield for a two-yard loss. But even still, the above play illustrates the need for the individual linebacker to still have to win his blocks. But defeating a block from a 250-pound fullback like Kuhn is much less of a challenge for Jones than it would be facing down a 318-pound guard like Evans. One of the few times that the Falcons defense did create a stop in the red zone against the Eagles unsurprisingly came thanks to penetration by the defensive line, only further illustrating the importance of steadier play up front leading to success: Falcons DT Ben Garland (63) creates penetration on the right side, preventing pulling LG Stefen Wisniewski (61) from turning the corner on his block, which in turn prevents FB Isaac Seumalo (73) from hitting his block against LB Philip Wheeler (41), who comes free to make the one-yard tackle for loss. The Eagles subsequently settle for a 25-yard field goal. As some might say, “disruption is production,” particularly when it comes to defensive-line play. The Eagles game clearly showed that the Falcons defensive line wasn’t sturdy enough to hold up at the point of attack against the Eagles offensive line. Ironically it was an offensive lineman in Garland that made the most noteworthy positive play for the defensive front. Garland served double duty last year as key reserve at defensive tackle, particularly in goal-line sets, but also was the team’s top reserve at both guard and center on offense. Fortunately the Falcons may not have to be as reliant on Garland to make key stops in 2017 thanks to the improved rotation. The additions of Poe and Crawford, as well as the healthy return of Derrick Shelby should bolster the defensive interior. But not only will the Falcons need to be more disruptive in order to beef up their run defense, they also need to be more disruptive when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. That’s another arena where Poe could provide a significant boost as well, as evidenced by his performance against the Falcons a year ago. Poe Was a Red-Zone Force Versus Falcons in 2016 Poe made a significant impact in that Falcons loss to the Chiefs, creating pressure on two critical plays that led to the Falcons offense having one of its worst performances all year in the red zone. Dontari Poe’s (92) pressure against RG Chris Chester (65) along with OLB Justin Houston’s (50) against RT Ryan Schraeder (73) forces QB Matt Ryan (2) to step up in the pocket. Houston is able to finish the play for a sack and the Falcons are forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal. Another red-zone stop came thanks to Poe working over Chester once more: Poe (92) beats RG Chris Chester (65) with an arm over move, getting in the face of QB Matt Ryan (2) and rushing what turns out to be a high throw to an open WR Justin Hardy (16) in the end zone. For the second time in the first half, the Falcons are forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal. Those two pressures by Poe arguably took eight combined points off the board for the Falcons in a game that they ultimately lost by one point. Poe won’t single-handedly elevate the Falcons defense, but his presence should provide a big boost once the field constricts near the goal line. But the Falcons will need many of their young players to grow this year and be better able to make the necessary plays to make stops. Youth Will Help Falcons Red-Zone Defense Grow in 2017 Jarrett showed throughout the year his potential to be disruptive up the middle, and the added presence of Poe should allow him more opportunities to win one-on-one blocks as he showed in the Super Bowl. None of Vic Beasley’s 15.5 sacks last year came in the red zone, although there were many instances where he created pressure to flush quarterbacks or hurry throws. However if the Falcons want to go from ranking at the bottom of in terms of affecting the quarterback in the red zone, they will need their leading pass-rusher to make more stops. As the anchor in the middle of the defense the Falcons will also need to expect more out of Jones. The beefier defensive front should help keep him cleaner, but there still will be numerous instances where he’ll have to take on and defeat offensive linemen at the point of attack. The added bulk will help, but he will have to be far more aggressive in those instances if he hopes to improve there. The Falcons also need to get better play on the back end from corners like Collins. Recent quotes from new Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel suggests that Collins is by no means a foregone conclusion to fill the role as the team’s third cornerback behind starters Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. However that decision could be up to whether Collins polishes up his game to play with better awareness to be better able to make the plays he’s capable of making. The Falcons are wagering largely on the boost provided by veterans like Poe as well as the development of young defenders the team has acquired in recent years to upgrade the league’s worst red-zone defense from a year ago. It’s a far from a risky gamble, but a necessary one, if the team hopes to counter any potential regression from the offense this upcoming season. If the Falcons are going to be put in a position to win more lower-scoring affairs in 2017, then it’s critical that the defense is stingier in regards to giving up points in the red zone. Half of the Falcons’ six losses in 2016 came by three points or less, suggesting that just one more red-zone stop, turning a single touchdown into a field goal could’ve potentially won the Falcons the game. And of course just one more red-zone stop in the team’s six-point, overtime loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl could have dramatically shifted the result of that game in the Falcons’ favor. Therefore one could easily conclude that the most notable Achilles heel of the Falcons from last year wound up costing them immortality in the end. Avoiding a repeat of that conclusion could very well rest on just how much improvement the team shows in the red zone this season.
  4. This is a solid film breakdown of the ATL vs WAS game done over at the FalcFans.com website by Aaron Freeman, who some of you may remember as Pudge. One of the more interesting parts is the actual depth chart that was used instead of the "unofficial" depth chart that was touted. (Yes, this is me taking yet another opportunity to take a dump on the shenanigans that is the media-member-compiled depth chart passed off as something meaningful fiasco). Anyhow, I'll post the full article here for convencience. But don't just read the article here, give the link a click to help support his work. http://falcfans.com/breakdown-of-every-falcon-that-played-vs-redskins-23875 Posted By: Aaron Freeman August 14, 2016 Here is my review of what I saw from every single Atlanta Falcons player in the team’s preseason-opening win against the Washington Redskins. I do this every year and there’s occasionally some insights gleaned from it. For example, last year the Falcons somewhat foreshadowed the release of center Joe Hawley by how they were platooning him and Mike Person during the final few games of the preseason. We’re only one game into the preseason with three more remaining, so I won’t try to jump to any conclusions. But as the rest of the preseason unfolds, I’ll start to draw some firmer takeaways on how position battles and the roster picture is shaping up. Also one of the positives you can glean from these breakdowns is exactly how the team’s depth chart looks, which offers quite a bit of insight in how the coaching staff views certain players. While the Falcons released an unofficial depth chart last week, here’s what their actual depth chart looked like against the Redskins: Falcons actual depth chart vs. Redskins To check out the team’s current depth chart reflecting many of these changes, you can click here. As for the rest, we’ll go position-by-position with some tentative conclusions I’ve made about each group. Quarterbacks What I Saw: Matt Ryan got two series’ worth of action and failed to complete a pass. He should have had more opportunities since he threw a nice pass to Mohamed Sanu on the second series, but an interference penalty was not called on the breakup. That should have given the Falcons a first down and continued that series. Instead on the very next play, Ryan faced pressure, had to reset his feet and threw late to Aldrick Robinson, which was broken up. It was not an impressive performance by any means, but nothing that should get anybody’s panties in a twist. Then he gave way to Matt Schaub for the rest of the first half. Schaub played very well, looking poised and in control as a veteran quarterback. He had the two big plays to Robinson, but I thought Schaub’s work in the red zone stood out a bit more. He had two opportunities to throw touchdowns on his first series, but pressure in his face (allowed by Mike Person) caused an under throw to Sanu in the end zone that was broken up. Then a few plays later he was able to avoid pressure, get outside the pocket and find an open Devonta Freeman in the end zone. But Freeman dropped what should have been an easy touchdown. Sean Renfree got the bulk of the work in the second half. He hit on a couple of throws and missed on a few (the lob to Austin Hooper jumps to mind), but mostly was solid. He showed good poise despite the fact that he seemed to be dealing with less-than-ideal offensive line play. There was a little too much pressure and it seemed that whenever the Redskins blitzed at that point in the game, they were successful. Matt Simms got some late action and like Ryan failed to complete a pass. But like Renfree, that was partially to blame on bad line play leading to one batted pass and another incompletion due to a drop. Simms can only blame himself for missing his first throw, but we’ll blame that on jitters. His biggest positive was the fact that he showed very effective wheels on an 18-yard run that was the read option. The Falcons managed to utilize read option at least four times from my count when Simms was in the game on the final two series, which makes me believe that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan hasn’t scrapped it totally from his playbook. Conclusions: Schaub had the strong start that I was hoping to see but I also thought Renfree did enough to keep pace. There are several more games to be played at this point before things are settled, but I’d say based off this first game, the chances that the Falcons keep two backups behind Ryan have increased. Ryan’s subpar performance is nothing worth losing sleep over. Running Backs What I Saw: Devonta Freeman had a nice couple of runs to start the third series when Schaub entered the game. He looked just like he did last year: perfectly fine. But his most significant play was the dropped touchdown. He seemed to signal to the sideline as he was jogging back that he lost track of the ball in the air, maybe from the lights or something. Tevin Coleman didn’t get much work, presumably because the Falcons didn’t want him to aggravate the foot injury he had been suffering from earlier in camp. But he had one nice run near the goal line. Brandon Wilds and Gus Johnson rotated at the running back spot thereafter and Wilds definitely looked better. But to be fair, he seemed to get better blocking, although he had his fair share of poorly blocked ones as well. The only real bad play from Wilds was his fumble. Wilds showed good straight-line speed throughout the night, looking comfortable when he could run north and south, but doesn’t quite have the lateral cutting on the second level that you’d prefer to see within the zone-blocking scheme. There were also a couple of times where Wilds’ pass-protection needed to be better. I never saw anything glaring, but it’s not quite to a level where I think the team would be comfortable playing him during the regular season like they often did Terron Ward last season as the third back. Johnson had a few nice runs, but very little daylight to run through. Ward did not play due to an ankle injury and Cyrus Gray was also held out. Conclusions: We didn’t really get an extended opportunity to see Coleman in order to gauge how much improvement, if any, he’s made in 2016. Between the backups, Wilds was the superior one, but his fumble leaves the door still open for Johnson and others to close the gap in the coming weeks. The battle for the third running back is wide open at this point. Fullbacks What I Saw: Neither Patrick DiMarco nor his backup, Will Ratelle, got a ton of work as the Falcons were utilizing three wide receivers for most of the night. From my count, a fullback lined up on the field on roughly a dozen plays. DiMarco was already a lock to make the team and Ratelle’s best chance was to show enough upside to earn a reserve spot, with the chance to play in the event that the former got hurt. But Ratelle missed too many assignments, making him a long shot to stick. That could be somewhat forgivable since he’s being converted from a college linebacker, but my expectation was that at least he’d look physical given that defensive background. That wasn’t quite the case. Conclusions: If DiMarco was to go down, based off this first preseason action, I’d be very confident that the Falcons would bring in an outside option rather than go with Ratelle. We’ll see if there is improvement from the latter over the course of the preseason. Wide Receivers What I Saw: Julio Jones basically was pulled after the first series, which has been the norm in these early preseason games the past few summers. Mohamed Sanu stayed in the game for a bit longer, staying in through the first three series and thus got an opportunity to be the featured option across from Aldrick Robinson when Schaub entered the game. What is most notable is that Justin Hardy got the start alongside Jones and Sanu but according to my notes, did not see a single snap inside in the slot while Sanu was playing. His one and only slot rep was at the outset of the fourth series when Sanu was pulled. I have had questions over whether Sanu would steal a significant portion of Hardy’s reps in the slot this year and at least based off how the team deployed them in this first preseason week, the answer is yes. Based off my count, Sanu played 18 snaps and was lined up in the slot on six of them. Robinson served as Jones’ backup and he along with Hardy and Nick Williams clearly rounded out the team’s top five receivers on the depth chart. Williams by my count had 21 snaps with 18 of them coming in the slot. That is very clearly his role with the team, but I do wonder how necessary it is. Jones, Sanu and Hardy all can play in the slot and even Robinson got some reps there against the Redskins. Rookie Devin Fuller is also experienced slot receiver dating from his days at UCLA. Unlike the others, Williams isn’t much of an outside receiver and I wonder if there really needs to be a roster spot reserved for a “slot only” receiver in Atlanta. But again, it’s very clear that Williams is the fifth guy on the depth chart as of now, so I actually expect him to stick despite my concerns. Robinson had the big plays in the game, showing his trademark vertical potential. The key moving forward is going to be getting him more reps with Ryan at quarterback to try and help build that rapport to better take advantage of that skill set during the regular season. After the top five, Eric Weems, Fuller and Jordan Leslie were the next players off the bench. Weems had the big catch on a go route. It was a nice play by Weems, but probably more the result of Redskins cornerback Jeremy Harris completely losing track of the ball in the air than anything special Weems did. Fuller didn’t do much in his debut but had a nice 17-yard grab on a dig route. Leslie also made a nice leaping grab on a 13-yard pass for his lone reception of the night. What impressed me most about Leslie was his blocking. Given he’s one of the few Falcons backup receivers that legitimately stands above six-feet tall, it makes sense that he was more effective than others when it came to getting position downfield. But still he seemed to consistently hit his blocking assignments. David Glidden, Corey Washington and J.D. McKissic all got work late in the game on the final two series but did little with it. That was mostly because the Falcons were focused primarily on running out the clock. McKissic dropped an opportunity on a screen and the one target to Washington was an off throw by Simms. Conclusions: If there were concerns over whether Robinson could make this roster going into this game, he silenced them quickly. The big question is going to be whether he can repeat this with more first-unit work later this summer. As far as roster battles go, I think Williams is really the only player of note to pay attention to at least in terms of their offensive potential. Everyone else such as Fuller, Weems, etc. are really is going to have to earn their way onto the team based on special teams ability more than anything else. I suspect Williams has the inside track on a roster spot, but as I mentioned earlier, there is some redundancy in his role. At least based off play on offense, I thought Leslie helped himself the most of any receiver. But he’s a roster long shot at this point and is basically fighting for a place on the practice squad. Tight Ends What I Saw: The Falcons rotated most of their reserves in and out of the game with a lot of reps given to Austin Hooper and Josh Perkins throughout the last three quarters. Jacob Tamme didn’t appear to get any work after the second series, which subtly signifies his grip on the starting spot. If Hooper is a potential challenger there, it was somewhat telling that he only saw the field after D.J. Tialavea did. Tialavea seemed to be getting the reps as the second blocking tight end that Levine Toilolo would have gotten had he been healthy enough to play. Tialavea was even taking Toilolo’s usual snaps on punt coverage too. There weren’t any real standouts from my eyes. Among the backups, they all seemed to have a few positive and negative plays. Perkins seemed to have the most struggles as a blocker, which was probably to be expected given how much lighter he is than the rest of the group. Conclusions: Hooper’s debut was not particularly memorable, but he should have plenty more opportunities to shine in the next three games. Toilolo entered this summer slightly on the bubble, with a player like Tialavea being a challenger to his role as blocking tight end. Tialavea barely stood out to me, but that might be a sign that he was simply doing his job at a competent enough level that I barely noticed him. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing in regards to Toilolo’s hold on a roster spot. But it’s certainly something that I’ll pay a bit more attention to in upcoming games. Offensive Line What I Saw: The starters got about three series of work or at least left tackle Jake Matthews, center Alex Mack and right tackle Ryan Schraeder did. Left guard Andy Levitre got pulled after the first series. I’m not sure if that’s an indicator that he has a firm grip on his roster spot or that he doesn’t. Mike Person stepped in to replace him for the next two series. Right guard Chris Chester was pulled in favor of Wes Schweitzer on the Falcons’ second possession, but went right back in on the third. That’s usually an indicator that the team wants to give both guys an opportunity with the starters, fueling the fire that Chester will have to earn his starting spot again. Schweitzer had some positive moments in his debut, looking better than I expected he would. But the competition isn’t even close between him and Chester, who I thought along with Schraeder was one of the more impressive of the team’s starting quintet on Thursday evening. Among the starters, I noticed Matthews seemed to struggle the most. Redskins outside linebacker Preston Smith seemed to win that matchup everytime they faced each other, effectively getting position against Matthews at the point of attack on run plays and also be able to get by him a couple of times on pass plays. I don’t think that deserves panic as far as Matthews goes, but rather might be a good indicator that Smith is poised to become really good in the near future. He did after all lead all rookies last year with eight sacks. To be honest, I thought Mack looked okay. There were some positives and some negatives, but he certainly didn’t live up to some of the hype that his presence would bring forth a tidal wave of greatness along the Falcons offensive line. It was notable to me that Schweitzer was “short-setting” guys in pass protection, which basically means he was going forward and attacking defensive linemen rather than going backward to create a pocket around the quarterback, as is most common for blockers. Short-setting is typically a way for less athletic blockers to compensate for that deficiency. It’s effective when used sporadically, but I’m not sure if many guys can succeed at this level if they rely on it consistently. That is going to be something worth monitoring with Schweitzer moving forward. As for his run-blocking, he had mostly positive moments although his power was a little lacking at times. Person and Ben Garland each got backup reps at both center and left guard. Neither were impressive in either role. Garland flashed some mean streak, playing beyond the whistle that was very reminiscent of Hawley but his snapping was inconsistent and he struggled too often with power. When Garland is able to get out on the second level, he’s very effective. But he’s too frequently controlled and loses at the point of attack. Person had a handful of really good blocks but a litany of bad ones. The notion that returning him to guard would lead him to looking much more comfortable proved false if simply judging from his performance against the Redskins. He struggled quite a bit in pass protection with bad feet and technique too often. Bryce Harris and Tom Compton got the backup work at left and right tackle, respectively. Harris played with the third unit as well and I don’t recall many moments where I thought he looked good. He really looked slow-footed in pass protection and it did not make me too confident that he’s poised to earn a roster spot. Compton on the other hand was more capable. Most of his issues were really minor compared to other backups I saw on Thursday night. There were a couple of plays where his athleticism to get out on the second level really stood out. For the third unit, I thought each guy had a couple of nice individual moments. Shahbaz Ahmed looked much more athletic on a couple of plays that I expected based off what little I saw of him at Temple. Michael Huey was solid and I thought showed good pop off the snap late in the game as a run blocker. He had a few mistakes, but he seemed the most consistent of the third team guys. Laurence Gibson also looked physical as a run blocker. Collin Rahrig showed very good mean streak and was really getting after guys on the handful of reps he saw. Jake Reed was adequate at center. Conclusions: While Levitre and Chester are reportedly in the midst of competition for their starting jobs, I didn’t see enough from either Person or Schweitzer to make me believe that the former two are in any real danger. We’ll have to see if that changes in the coming weeks. There were certainly positive moments for the Falcons’ reserves, but a few too many negative ones. Schweitzer and Compton both at least got off to relatively good starts this summer. But I need to see more reps from some of these players before I start to draw any firmer conclusions. Defensive Line What I Saw: The Falcons went with the base defense I think most of us had come to anticipated based off the training-camp reports, which featured Derrick Shelby, Grady Jarrett, Tyson Jackson and Brooks Reed. I thought Jackson probably was the most impressive of that quartet when defending the run, somewhat quieting my concerns about his move to defensive tackle. He only really played four snaps by my count, but he did exactly what you wanted for all four of them, creating leverage and consistently pushing his blocker into the backfield. None of the others really stood out. Shelby got a ton of work with the first-team nickel defense and Jarrett subbed into the nickel with the backups. Jarrett had a couple of nice plays, including a nice hit on the quarterback on the fourth series. I was honestly a bit underwhelmed with Shelby. Let’s just say I got much more of a Ray Edwards vibe than a Michael Bennett one. That’s certainly not being fair to Shelby and he had a few flashes, but nothing that stood out enough to make me think he’s poised to significantly move the needle as far as the Falcons’ pass rush goes in 2016. But he was no less effective inside than Jonathan Babineaux was in his brief action in the nickel. As expected, Shelby, Babineaux, Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley filled out the team’s four-man nickel front. Clayborn looked good, although he was going up against a backup offensive tackle in Ty Nsekhe rather than Trent Williams. Nsekhe is a journeyman that has been all over the Arena Leagues in recefnt years, so I’d be upset if Clayborn didn’t look dominant at times. Beasley had a couple of nice pass rushes, with a pressure during the second series that forced the Redskins to settle for a field goal. As far as the second unit base defense, I thought Ra’Shede Hageman and Joey Mbu performed well against the run. Malliciah Goodman even had a few moments while working as the “LEO.” Courtney Upshaw, working as the three-technique defensive tackle was hit and miss however. There were too many instances of him getting blown off the ball and he really struggled to handle double teams. However that is somewhat understandable given that Upshaw is new to playing defensive tackle. He had some positive moments, but for the most part looked like the one second-string reserve that didn’t quite measure up. One who did was Nordly Capi, who was able to impress with his first-step quickness as a pass-rusher in the team’s sub-packages. Capi is a bit undersized and on the handful of occasions when he tried to bull rush, he was easily knocked off his rush. But when he can use his speed to go around the tackle or set him up for an inside counter move, he’s effective. Chris Mayes also did nice work against the run in his brief action working with the third-string line at nose tackle. Cory Johnson struggled against the run, but did have a nice sack. Brandon Williams had a couple of nice reps, but is a bit of a “tweener:” not quite quick enough to be a truly effective pass-rusher, but not quite bulky enough to be a reliable force against the run. Ife Obada got some work in both the base and nickel defenses late in the game and looked exceedingly raw, particularly with his get-off and pass-rush technique. It’s certainly not a surprise that he’s only been playing football for a few years. Dwight Freeney was held out of action. Conclusions: When the Falcons’ base units were on the field, their run defense was mostly solid. Much of Washington’s success moving the ball on the ground came when they were facing the Atlanta’s nickel defenses throughout the night. Among the reserves, Capi was the most impressive pass-rusher. But Mbu and Mayes both had positive moments against the run. Goodman did some good things, but considering that he’s on the bubble, he’s going to have to do a lot more to stick. The pass rush was a little underwhelming from the starters, but Clayborn and Beasley both made plays when it counted. If you were one of those people that was questioning whether the addition of Shelby was going to do enough to enhance the Falcons pass rush, his performance on Thursday did little to boost your confidence. The transitions of Hageman and Jackson to their new positions looked promising as both seemed to take relatively well to their new positions in what limited opportunities they had. Upshaw is probably the most interesting player at this position because he appears to be a man without a true position. We’ll have to keep an eye on how much, if any, progress he shows playing inside over the course of the next three games. Linebackers What I Saw: The improved play of the linebackers was evident on Thursday night. Interestingly enough, Sean Weatherspoon got the starting reps at middle linebacker with Paul Worrilow playing beside him at weak-side linebacker. Both players were solid in two series’ worth of action in the first quarter. Weatherspoon was badly out of position on a 12-yard run by Matt Jones on the opening drive, not reacting to the run and instead dropping into coverage. Fortunately a holding call on Morgan Moses wiped out that gain. That was the only major blemish on Spoon’s stint in the middle. They alternated early series with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. I thought of the two rookies, Jones was the far more impressive. He looked a lot more physical than I expected he would, able to shed blockers and attack the ballcarrier in the hole on multiple occasions. Campbell made a number of “routine” plays, making some nice open-field tackles in the flat in coverage and making a few stops at or behind the line of scrimmage when he was completely unblocked and allowed to close on the ball. Those plays weren’t consistently made last year, but the fact that he made them aren’t really cause for celebration. There were too many instances where Campbell was playing on his heels, which was his biggest problem at Minnesota. What I mean by that is that he’s not reacting as rapidly as other linebackers are, so he’s not always putting himself in the best position to make plays. It was no doubt a solid debut, but he still has a ways to go before living up to the considerable hype he’s received through the early part of camp. Beasley got only two reps on the opening series at strong-side linebacker and not enough happened on either play to really properly evaluate him there. Philip Wheeler replaced him on the few other base downs later in the first quarter. Wheeler also got some late work as the weak-side linebacker. He seemed bit overaggressive in that role, seemingly looking to make a play and getting himself out of position on a couple of plays. Tyler Starr spent most of his time playing defensive end in the nickel rather than linebacker in the base. I’ve always thought Starr looks more natural and comfortable rushing the quarterback with his hand on the ground than playing upright at linebacker. Nothing I saw on Thursday night changed that opinion. Ivan McLennan also had the same role as Starr, but I thought McLennan looked a little bit more lost in terms of his awareness on the handful of reps he had at linebacker. He also wasn’t much to write home about as a pass-rusher on passing downs despite getting the game-sealing sack at the end. LaRoy Reynolds was competent as the team’s third-string middle linebacker, working mostly with Wheeler before the latter gave way to Matt Wells on the final two series. Wells had a nice open field tackle to start, but then missed on another tackle trying to go for the big hit. Given his fairly brief time working with the team, such inconsistency is to be expected. Conclusions: The two best linebackers on the field were Weatherspoon and Jones if you ask me.If I was basing it entirely off one preseason game, I’d like to see some combination of Spoon and Jones starting this year at linebacker. Although Worrilow played well, we are already well-versed in what he is and isn’t. And even if Worrilow is significantly better as a weak-side linebacker instead of playing in the middle, we know he’s not really the future of this team at either spot. Reynolds and Wheeler probably have significant leads on the rest of the group for roster spots, although neither is guaranteed anything at this point. Starr also finds himself on the bubble and is either going to have to do a lot more as a pass-rusher or more as a run-defender at linebacker to strengthen his chances of sticking. After a bit of hype this offseason and some promising tape at Washington State, McLennan was a bit underwhelming in his debut. Hopefully he’ll improve as the rest of the summer unfolds. Cornerback What I Saw: One of the issues I noticed in this Redskins game and it also dates back to last summer as well, is how hard it is to evaluate Falcons cornerbacks. Part of that is not having access to the All-22, which makes evaluating defensive backs so much easier but also it’s partially due to the scheme the Falcons run. It’s a scheme that doesn’t really lead to the corners being tested that often in the preseason. Without opponent-oriented gameplans, opposing teams aren’t consistently putting their receivers in position to win against the Falcons’ Cover-3 scheme. So that makes it harder for me to evaluate the Falcons corners in the preseason. It’s easy to see when someone is especially bad, but harder to tell if/when someone is doing especially well unless they’re breaking up passes or contesting catches. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both got one series of action and really don’t need anymore. Akeem King and C.J. Goodwin replaced them starting on the second series. Both players had their lapses in the game, but it was by no means poor performances on their part. King got beat by Vernon Davis on what should have been a touchdown if Davis had not dropped the ball. Goodwin got beat a couple of times because he has a tendency to give up too much cushion. Also given that he’s making the transition from wide receiver, it makes sense that his awareness, technique and footwork aren’t quite up to par. One thing I’ll say positive for Goodwin is that he was much more physical and effective in run support than I would expect from a former wide receiver. He forced a fumble and had a touchdown-saving tackle at the goal line. However neither King nor Goodwin inspired the confidence I’m looking for in order to be comfortable with either opening the regular season as the team’s nickel cornerback. But there is still time. Speaking of nickel cornerback, it was Brian Poole that got all of the reps playing in the slot during the first half of the game. He did his job there but I question how much should be read into that since Kevin White had a similar role starting off last summer but wound up being released by the team. DeMarcus Van Dyke and Devonte Johnson got the second-half reps in the slot. Jalen Collins worked most of the second half at right cornerback, while a combination of Van Dyke, Johnson, Goodwin and Jordan Sefon played on the left side. None of them really got challenged all that much, although Sefon got beat twice on back-shoulder throws. So there isn’t a whole lot of conclusions to draw from this single game in regards to any of the backups. Conclusions: As mentioned before, it’s hard to draw too much from this game. Poole’s work with the first team is probably the biggest takeaway, but it’ll be interesting to see if he continues to get that work. It’s hard to imagine that the Falcons would feel all that comfortable starting the season with Poole as their primary nickel option. But I’m not sure there is another better candidate currently in Atlanta. Safeties What I Saw: Kemal Ishmael and Robenson Therezie had to pull a lot of extra weight given the injury to Keanu Neal. Ishmael played the entire first half at strong safety and did some good things against the run. Therezie got quite a bit of work at free safety once Ricardo Allen exited the game after three series. Therezie didn’t have quite as good a game, as he had one or two missed tackles. Therezie still doesn’t seem to have that same knack for playing centerfield that Allen has, who played well in limited action. Damian Parms and Sharrod Neasman alternated series for a bit in the second half at strong safety, and Therezie got some late action there on the final series. Parms popped a couple of times on tape in run support, but other than that, neither player really stood out. Poole’s second-half playing time came at free safety on the final three series. Conclusions: Honestly, there isn’t much mystery at this position as the four players that are going to make the team: Neal, Allen, Ishmael and Therezie, are fairly known up to this point. The question is really about whether Neasman, Parms or Poole are going to do enough to compel the team to keep a fifth safety. Poole’s versatility to play cornerback probably gives him a lead in that regard, but there’s still time for the others to emerge. Special Teams What I Saw: If there was any concern over whether Nick Rose would unseat Matt Bryant, that was mostly erased on Thursday night. Rose missed back-to-back field-goal attempts, but only one of which counted on the official stat sheet due to a penalty on the first. Good snaps, good holds, so the mistake were purely kicker error in both cases. The kicker battle isn’t completely over, but Bryant would have to be especially bad hereafter to give Rose even much of a chance to reverse course. Matt Bosher boomed his punts and was his usual self, particularly when it came to coverage when he was very effective stopping returns. The Falcons obviously weren’t trying to kick touchbacks so that their kickoff coverage team could get some work. Bosher needed to be effective because the Falcons were trotting out a number of new faces on kicking coverage as Robenson Therezie, Eric Weems, Justin Hardy and Robert Alford were the only regulars from last season that opened the game. Notably Brian Poole, C.J. Goodwin and Sean Weatherspoon were also working on that unit. I think that bodes very well for Poole and Goodwin’s chances of making the roster, although I’m not quite sure what it says about Weatherspoon. While I doubt Weatherspoon is going to be cut, it does suggest that the team might see him as a backup rather than a starter on defense and making him a regular on their kickoff coverage is laying the groundwork for the eventuality that either Deion Jones or De’Vondre Campbell surpass him on the depth chart. Weatherspoon did work on Arizona’s special teams units last year, which I believe was the first time he had extended work there since his rookie season in 2010. It also could be the possibility that Weatherspoon volunteered to play on special teams this summer as a way of showing the team that he’s fully committed to helping the team. I can only speculate, but that seems exactly like the sort of thing Weatherspoon would do. Both rookie linebackers got work on both kickoff and punt coverage, which is another reason I can’t draw too big a conclusion from Spoon’s presence on teams. Paul Worrilow also made his triumphant return to the starting punt coverage and did very well there.Worrilow hasn’t seen much of any special-teams reps since the start of 2013. I think Worrilow’s presence on special teams could go a very long way to compensating for the loss of Nate Stupar this offseason. The Falcons tried three different combinations of gunners on punt coverage, all of them newcomers to the team. The fact that Goodwin and Poole were the “starters” again is a good sign for their roster prospects. DeMarcus Van Dyke also got work there, as did Devin Fuller, Aldrick Robinson and J.D. McKissic. It makes sense for the Falcons to try new guys there, since they already have a season’s worth of evidence in how players like Hardy, Therezie, Jalen Collins and others work there. Notably Sharrod Neasman was the lone other player to get work as a personal protector on punts besides Weems. The former did well for the most part in covering punts. On the return front, obviously McKissic’s big kickoff return was the highlight of all the special teams action. He ran untouched for the 101-yard score, with a nice alley created by good blocks from Campbell, Akeem King and Josh Perkins, among others. On punt returns, there was nothing overly notable. McKissic had a nice 14-yard return when Redskins punter Tress Way outkicked his coverage, which allowed the young returner to get good yardage. Conclusions: Special teams is going to be a massive factor in deciding some roster spots but it’s still too early to tell how things are going to play out. I don’t think McKissic’s big return puts him in the driver’s seat as far as being the Falcons’ opening-day return specialist, since I believe the team really wants Fuller to win that spot. But it certainly does narrow the gap, transforming McKissic from an afterthought to a legitimate contender. I don’t believe anybody else made as strong a statement when it came to coverage units. Although I do think the presences of Poole, Goodwin and LaRoy Reynolds on the “starting” coverage units is a good sign that they are in prime position to earn roster spots.
  5. This was a long read and the article goes way more in depth. Whether you read the whole thing or not, at least give the link a click for the author. People saying that it would take 9 million dollars a year to get Benjamin I don't think are being very realistic. For the record, the contract they have him projected here I'm not a fan of. I think we should go a little bit more bargain hunting for the #2 WR since Shanny doesn't use him all that much. Use that cap space for the defense. Anyway, enough of my opinions, here's a TATF friendly portion of the article for everyone. http://falcfans.com/projecting-travis-benjamins-contract-with-the-falcons-22850 Comparing the Top Contracts of Free-Agent Wide Receivers As I’ve done in the past, I wanted to examine three different ways of looking at the five aforementioned player contracts. The first is the annual per-year average over the life of the entire contract. Annual Per-Year Average Michael Crabtree – $8.5 million DeSean Jackson – $8 million Eric Decker – $7.25 million Golden Tate – $6.2 million Emmanuel Sanders – $5 million Crabtree’s contract is arguably the upper limit of what a No. 2 receiver can expect to make on the open market. I suspect Benjamin’s deal will fall into a range somewhere between Tate and Jackson. The next way of examining the contracts is to take a look at guaranteed money. And as mentioned when breaking down Trevathan’s deal, guaranteed money is tricky because it can be “misreported.” In this case, I’m going to be including all the guaranteed base salaries and any bonuses included in the deal as guaranteed money. Even though in reality, much of those guarantees aren’t really guaranteed at all. Guaranteed Money DeSean Jackson – $20.25 million Michael Crabtree – $19.5 million Eric Decker – $15 million Golden Tate – $13.25 million Emmanuel Sanders – $6 million Again the likely range for Benjamin is probably going to be something north of Tate’s deal, but probably come in under $20 million. Now let’s look at the total money due in the first three years of each contract. Three-Year Payout Michael Crabtree – $24.25 million DeSean Jackson – $24 million Eric Decker – $21.5 million Golden Tate – $18 million Emmanuel Sanders – $15 million Crabtree once again represents the upper limit of what a quality No. 2 receiver can receive. Again, Benjamin should hit Tate’s number, but how much higher he goes than that remains to be seen. Breaking Down Benjamin’s Possible Contract Projected terms: 5 years, $37.5 million with $21 million guaranteed
  6. I'm copying and pasting a portion of the article because it's a very long article. Please at least give this guy credit by clicking the link. http://falcfans.com/projecting-danny-trevathans-contract-with-the-falcons-22824 Comparing the Top Contracts of Free-Agent Linebackers This time I wanted to pay close attention to three different metrics in comparing these contracts. The first is the annual per-year average: Annual Per-Year Averages: Luke Kuechly – $12.36 million Bobby Wagner – $10.75 million Lavonte David – $10.05 million Donald Butler – $7.4 million Mychal Kendricks – $7.25 million While it would be lovely to be able to get Trevathan at a deal more comparable to that of Butler and Kendricks, I think it’s probably a good bet that the market will push his contract into the realm of Wagner and David’s deals. It’s highly unlikely that Trevathan will come close to Kuechly’s deal. The next area to look at is the payments in bonuses and salaries over the first three years of the contract. As I’ve explained before, the majority of free-agent deals tend to last just a few seasons because of the nature of backloading them. Thus it’s important for players to maximize how much money they get relatively early in the deal. Total Payout in the First Three Years Luke Kuechly – $40.96 million Lavonte David – $21 million Bobby Wagner – $20.5 million Donald Butler – $19.8 million Mychal Kendricks – $15.5 million As you can see, Kuechly’s deal is just on a completely different level thanks in large part to two-tiered bonuses that equal $25 million paid out in the first two years of his contract. Notably Butler’s deal is more in line with the deals of David and Wagner, suggesting that something north of $20 million is a very competitive figure for Trevathan. Lastly, let’s talk about guaranteed money. Often guaranteed money is tricky and often reports are misleading because it depends wholly on language. Some payments are fully guaranteed while others are guaranteed only in the event that a player gets injured. Sometimes bonus money, even that which is unlikely to be paid out, is counted among guaranteed money. For the sake of this, I went with the most liberal interpretation of guaranteed money, which is all that is fully guaranteed, guaranteed for injury and also includes any bonus payments in the first four years of each contract. Guaranteed Money Luke Kuechly – $34.36 million Lavonte David – $25.56 million Bobby Wagner – $23.48 million Donald Butler – $23.15 million Mychal Kendricks – $16.55 million Again Kuechly outpaces the rest with David, Butler and Wagner giving us a relatively tight range that suggests Trevathan’s guarantees to could approach or exceed $25 million. I also should note that the Falcons have typically utilized signing bonuses, per-game roster bonuses and base salaries to pay out their guaranteed money in recent long-term contracts to players like Paul Soliai and Julio Jones. When breaking down Trevathan’s contract, I will follow a similar approach. So let’s get to it! Breaking Down Trevathan’s Possible Contract Projected Terms: 5 years, $51 million with $26 million guaranteed. When crafting this deal, I based it heavily off the four-year, $43 million extension that Bobby Wagner signed with the Seahawks in 2015. Why? Firstly, because Wagner’s deal included per-game roster bonuses that the Falcons have also often utilized. Secondly, since Trevathan’s role in Atlanta’s defense should be comparable to Wagner’s in Seattle, it made sense to borrow heavily from that deal. This hypothetical Trevathan deal includes $15 million guaranteed at signing, which is made up of a $12 million signing bonus (Wagner’s deal included an $8 million signing bonus with an additional $4 million second-year option bonus) and $3 million in fully guaranteed base salaries due in 2016 and 2017. The remaining portion of the guaranteed money is built on per-game roster bonuses totaling $4.5 million from 2016-20 and Trevathan’s 2018 base salary of $6.5 million being fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster to start the 2018 league year. 2016 Base Salary: $1 million (fully guaranteed at signing) Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million 53-man Active Roster Bonus: $31,250 (for annual total of $500,000) Cap Hit: $3.9 million 2017 Base Salary: $2 million (fully guaranteed at signing) Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million 53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million) Cap Hit: $5.4 million 2018 Base Salary: $6.5 million (fully guaranteed if one roster on opening day of league year) Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million 53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million) Cap Hit: $9.9 million 2019 Base Salary: $12 million Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million 53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million) Cap Hit: $15.4 million 2020 Base Salary: $13 million Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million 53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million) Cap Hit: $16.4 million Assuming Trevathan is on the roster for every game between now and 2018, his deal pays out $24 million over the first three years. That well exceeds that of Wagner’s deal. When looking at the high, backloaded cap hits this deal has in 2019 and 2020, it essentially works out to be a three-year, $24 million contract. By 2019, when Trevathan is on the verge of turning 29, the Falcons will have to make a decision about his future. They’ll have to make one of three choices: 1) cut him 2) restructure his deal or 3) give him a brand new one. While on the surface, 29 years old seems fairly young, it should be noted that New England Patriots middle linebacker Jerod Mayo just retired a few weeks ago just shy of his 30th birthday. James Laurinaitis and Curtis Lofton are two players that just completed seasons at the age of 29. Laurinaitis was released last week by the Los Angeles Rams and Lofton is considered expendable by the Oakland Raiders. So 29 is a fairly advanced age for linebackers, where the Falcons might be staring at Trevathan being on the verge of a downward trend.
  7. POSTED BY: AARON FREEMAN FEBRUARY 12, 2016 Little more than four years ago, I wrote an article discussing why the Atlanta Falcons should move on from running back Michael Turner, and today I have done the same for wide receiver Roddy White. When arguing why the Falcons should move on from Turner, I focused on the steady decline in ability that he had shown in each of his first four seasons in Atlanta. By 2011, Turner had increasingly become a player that was prone to either break a long run of 10 or more yards or would run for minimal gains of one or two yards. So the argument went that type of intermittent production could be overlooked and tolerated for an explosive home run threat like Chris Johnson, but for a back like Turner, such sporadic play was counterproductive. That’s because Turner was relied upon to carry a significant portion of the offense, given the sort of ball-control style that the Falcons employed at the time. Extrapolating his four-year decline into a fifth year where Turner was set to turn 30 and count around $7.5 million against the Falcons 2012 salary cap, the team needed to cut bait. At the very least, they should’ve reduced his salary to mesh better with the expectation of his impending decline. Michael Turner However in the case of Turner, the argument for keeping him in 2012 could have been laid out as thus: Even acknowledging the reality that he was on the decline, there was still reason to believe that he could still be a productive running back in the NFL capable of reaching 1,000 yards in 2012. He was coming off a 2011 campaign that saw him rank third in the NFL with 1,340 rushing yards. Even with a 25 percent dropoff in production, that would’ve still put his production at 1,005 yards. And a 1,000-yard rusher still has value in the NFL, especially when you were considering the state of the Falcons heading into the 2012 season. The team was just one year removed from making their “all-in” trade for Julio Jones and was in the mindset of reaching the Super Bowl. While the team may not have expected to be able to rely on Turner to carry as much of the offense as he had done in previous seasons, he still could potentially impact in spots, particularly in short yardage and near the goal-line in critical red-zone situations. What actually ensued was a 40 percent drop in production for Turner in 2012, as he finished the year with 800 rushing yards and the Falcons ranked dead last in the NFL in short-yardage conversion on downs with one or two yards to go. Tough break, I guess. But this situation contrasts greatly with the Falcons current predicament heading into 2016 with White. White isn’t coming off a year similar to Turner’s 2011 season where he was one of the league’s top producers. Based off Pro Football Focus‘ yards per route-run metric, White was in fact the worststarter in the NFL, ranking 85th among wide receivers that played on at least 25 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. In fact, White’s unproductive 2015 campaign historically is one of the least productive seasons for a starting wide receiver ever. Over the past 20 years, only 24 receivers have managed to start all 16 games in a season and fail to eclipse 45 receptions as White finished this past year with 43 grabs for 506 yards and a single touchdown. Like Turner, there’s absolutely no reason to think that White’s production is going to rebound. He too has been on a steady decline in production over the past four seasons. That has been partially induced thanks to injuries in 2013 and 2014 that limited his effectiveness, but it’s ridiculous to think that White is going to somehow reverse time and become a better receiver at age 35 in 2016 than he was at age 34. The other part of the equation is that the Falcons aren’t “all-in” going into 2016. There is no “Super Bowl or bust” mentality with this current regime, or at least there shouldn’t be. The Falcons certainly will strive to make the playoffs this upcoming season, but there is a significant gap between where they are today and being a favorite for a title. Trying to “keep the band together” for one last push made sense in 2012, but makes little in 2016. The Falcons are in the throes of rebuilding their roster in the image of new head coach Dan Quinn. Frankly that image shouldn’t include a 34-year old receiver named White. Especially now that position coach Terry Robiskie has headed to Nashville to be the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator. Robiskie was instrumental in helping White develop into the player that he was for the bulk of his career in Atlanta. A lot of Robiskie’s energy was likely wrapped up in trying to keep White on the straight and narrow, something he promised he would do to White’s mother in 2008. White also owes a huge debt for his development to veteran receiver Joe Horn, who helped mentor White back in 2007. Horn helped show White that great receivers simply don’t just show up, but rather that they put in the necessary work on and off the field to achieve their status. White struggled his first two years in the NFL because he was talented but immature. He didn’t watch film, he spent too much time in the club, ate poorly, essentially everything you’re not supposed to do if the goal is to be good. Horn and Robiskie were prominent figures in course-correcting White to the eventual path that led him to breaking all the Falcons receiving records. One oft-heard argument for why White deserves to be kept is that he could potentially “pay it forward” and be that same guiding hand for another young receiver. But that first requires the team to add a receiver with the same combination of talent and lack of maturity that White had 10 years ago. That isn’t exactly ideal. Wouldn’t it be better to add a talented receiver that doesn’t have those issues? After all, the Falcons did exactly that when they picked up Julio Jones and Justin Hardy. Julio Jones It would certainly be nice to have a veteran like White there in the event that some young rookie receiver is lackadaisical in his approach this year to show him the better way of doing things, but it’s not necessary. It’s not as if Jones himself cannot provide excellent mentorship. After all, he is undisputedly the best wide receiver in the NFL. Jones is one of the hardest working players in the league and changed his diet, providing exactly the same sort of role model that any immature wide receiver would need. White at best is the cherry on top, but not essential. The other part of the equation is that keeping White hurts the development of Hardy. After riding the bench for the first seven games of 2015, Hardy played primarily as a slot receiver over the second half of the year. He spent 68 percent of his snaps playing inside over the last nine games of the year. While a small sample size, Hardy’s production was significantly better on the inside than it was on the outside: Justin Hardy Slot vs Outside (2015) Statistics are provided by Pro Football Focus. YPRR = Yards Per Route-Run; YPT = Yards Per Target Category Routes Targets Catches Yards TDs YPRR YPT Slot 150 26 17 154 0 1.03 5.92 Outside 71 8 4 40 0 0.56 5.00 Meanwhile thanks to his declining production, White has increasingly become more of a slot-only receiver than an effective weapon on the outside. Here are White’s yards per route-run stats in the slot versus outside since 2007: Typically in the NFL, a quality starting receiver is going to average about two yards per every route run. White hasn’t been that sort of receiver since the tail end of the 2013 season, when he averaged 2.23 yards per route-run over the final five games, which was the ninth best of any receiver in the league during that span. Now let’s examine Roddy’s production in the slot versus the outside over the past three seasons versus the previous three: Roddy White Slot vs Outside (2010-15) Statistics are provided by Pro Football Focus. YPRR = Yards Per Route-Run; YPT = Yards Per Target Category Routes Targets Catches Yards TDs YPRR YPT 2010-12 (slot) 283 76 53 554 4 1.96 7.29 2010-12 (outside) 1550 404 254 3482 21 2.25 8.62 2013-15 (slot) 348 57 36 442 4 1.27 7.75 2013-15 (outside) 1356 226 150 1696 7 1.25 7.50 White’s overall effectiveness as an outside receiver versus a slot receiver is practically indistinguishable over the past three years, which was not the case from 2010 to 2012. And his production as an outside receiver is far below what should be considered “starting caliber.” Justin Hardy The best way to use White moving forward is by making him primarily into a slot receiver, where his veteran savvy will be more effective against lesser nickel corners. He lacks the ability to stretch the field that is ideally suited to playing outside. He’s lacked that ability for a number of years, and it’s unlikely to magically return at age 35. You’re simply not going to be able to maximize White’s ability moving forward as a slot receiver, while simultaneously being able to develop Hardy for the same role. Another common defense of White is excusing his steep drop in production in 2015 by blaming Kyle Shanahan. It’s an easy target since Shanahan isn’t well liked by the fan base and White has “legendary” status among the same group. That premise is built upon contrasting White’s production in 2014 versus 2015 and thinking the catalyst is Shanahan. Again, it’s an easy leap of logic, but yet it’s a false one. Because it doesn’t address the more likely possibility that White’s drop in production stems more from age rather than play-calling. Such a drop happens frequently in the NFL for older receivers like White. Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston all experienced this in 2015. Donald Driver Donald Driver is another great example that saw it happen to him in 2010 when he hit the age of 35. The previous year, Driver had comparable production as fellow wide receiver Greg Jennings as the Packers’ “co-lead” receivers. Driver finished 2009 with 70 catches for 1,061 yards and six touchdowns while Jennings recorded 68 catches for 1,113 yards and four scores. The next season, Jennings saw his production increase while Driver’s dipped to 51 catches for 565 yards and four touchdowns, which was on par with the team’s third wide receiver James Jones (50 catches, 679 yards, five touchdowns) that year. That dynamic is comparable to what we saw in Atlanta this past year with Jones being highly productive, but White’s production being eclipsed by third receiver Leonard Hankerson for a significant chunk of the year. What happened the following year in 2011 was another down year for Driver (37 catches, 445 yards and six touchdowns) when he was also eclipsed by Jordy Nelson, who leapfrogged the others as the No. 4 to becoming the No. 1 option. Then in his final NFL season in 2012, a 37-year old Driver limped to a measly eight catches for 77 yards. It’s worth noting that Driver was also the Packers’ primary slot receiver over his final years, which was their best method to try and get maximum usage out of him. Driver eventually retired after 2012 just shy of his 38th birthday. Now the argument for keeping White likely shifts to a similar track as Driver. Forget the stats, forget the numbers, you keep White because he’s a Falcon for life just like Driver was in Green Bay. I think I’ve made a compelling case so far as to why cutting White is the right “football” decision based off logic and reason. But it’s next to impossible for me to make a case that given all that he has done for this franchise and city over the years, cutting him makes sense from an “emotional” standpoint. But I’ll give it my best shot. Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Roddy White (right) We all want Roddy to retire a Falcon. That certainly was the case back in 2014 when the Falcons were working on a contract extension and I still believe it’s the case now. However that extension is the main point I want to bring up. Back in July 2014 after roughly half a year of working towards locking up White one final time, the Falcons gave him a little bit extra on the eventual four-year extension. A few days earlier, I projected that White would sign a three-year extension that would pay him $12 million in guaranteed money over the first two years of the contract. What ensued was a four-year extension that included a two-year payment approaching $18 million if you include escalators. Ultimately White has made slightly more than $14 million over the past two seasons because he failed to hit the benchmarks to trigger those escalators. Compare that to Golden Tate, who four months earlier had signed a five-year contract with the Detroit Lions that included $13.25 million payout in the first two years. Tate was 25 years old at the time of his signing. Also compare that to the deal that DeSean Jackson signed with the Washington Redskins that same offseason when he was coming off the most productive season of his career at age 27. Jackson’s deal included a two-year initial payout of $16 million. The point I’m making is that White was already been rewarded financially for his leal service to the Falcons franchise over the years when the team threw a bit extra on his last extension. He got paid in line with guys that were in the primes of their careers. That was the team essentially giving him a “thank you” for his years of production by giving him a deal that went over what the market might have dictated. They’re not obligated to give White another $4.25 million in base salary and roster bonuses that he is due in 2016 on top of what they’ve already given him. Cutting White is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s the right medicine for the Falcons if they want to move forward. http://falcfans.com/why-the-falcons-must-let-roddy-white-go-22614
  8. http://falcfans.com/breakdown-of-the-falcons-preseason-week-1-vs-titans-21004
  9. Click the link to view the breakdown: http://www.thefalcoholic.com/2015/5/30/8691355/falcfans-breaks-down-new-falcons-offensive-lineman-chris-chester
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