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Found 46 results

  1. Sounds like JJ actually wants Goodell OUT as commish but knows he can't pull that off. So he's leading a group of owners who want to stop a contract extension for Goodell. Arthur is the head of the committee trying to get the extension done.
  2. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones continued with the one-game-at-a-time mantra, but he knows the stakes are about to get higher. The last thing Jones and the Falcons wanted was to go into their first NFC South game of the season riding a four-game losing streak. They won't have that burden to carry after squeaking by the New York Jets on Sunday. Now at 4-3, the Falcons still find themselves behind the New Orleans Saints (5-2) and the Carolina Panthers (5-3) heading to Charlotte, North Carolina, next Sunday. "You know what? I'm looking forward to playing Carolina because they're the next team we play," Jones said. "I mean, we're going to handle that. Every game is the same for us. We don't need to make things up for it." But doesn't coach Dan Quinn always preach, more than anything, handling business in the division? "Most definitely he does," Jones said. "But we're not going to treat this game differently than we treat other games. You see what I mean?" Jones always is cool and calm in his approach, so no situation or opponent fazes him. But collectively, the Falcons understand they have to turn the intensity up a notch and play sounder football heading into division play. They have yet to play their best game, although the defense certainly elevated its effort against the Jets, particularly against the run. And seeing Jones and Tevin Coleman break loose for 50-plus-yard plays, and having Mohamed Sanu make spectacular catches, is more the type of offensive explosiveness most anticipated from the Falcons coming into the season. Now the challenge is to sustain any momentum from the win over the Jets against a Panthers defense fresh off holding Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to three points. The Panthers, who boasted the league's third-best overall defense going into Week 8, have 27 sacks, 10 more than the Falcons. Julius Peppers, the 37-year-old veteran, has 7.5 sacks. "We'll be ready next week," right tackle Ryan Schraeder said. "It's going to be a fistfight, so I'm excited. I think everybody's got a good attitude right now." Pulling out a win and ending a losing skid will do wonders for morale. "Outside there was a lot of noise, but not inside," Quinn said. "That kind of resiliency and that kind of toughness is what this group stands for. And they support one another like crazy and that's the times you do lean on one another and that's what you want, them leaning on each other when it's not going well. So I wasn't surprised to see them lean on each other, it's what I expected and I admired it." The Falcons started 3-0 against the NFC North and then went 1-3 against the AFC East. The road trip to Carolina is one of two division games in November along with a home matchup with the Buccaneers on Nov. 26. The last four weeks of the season are all division games, with road trips to Tampa and New Orleans sandwiched between a Week 14 Thursday night home game against the Saints. The season finale is on New Year's Eve against the Panthers. The Falcons are 2-3 in their past five games played against the Panthers in Charlotte. "It'll be exciting to get back into the division," Quinn said. "We started within the conference early and then took this trip up to the East, which did not go well for us. So as we're now getting back into our own conference and our own division, we're definitely looking forward to that."
  3. On a lighter note... ATLANTA -- Pro wrestling legend Ric Flair flashed a smile Thursday night when he was asked to recall how he became close to Atlanta Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones. Flair said he was driving his Formula boat on Lake Lanier two years ago when two guys riding Jet Skis approached, asking if he would like to race one of them. "He blew by me," Flair said. "And I'm like, 'S---, this guy is a nut.'" Former professional wrestler "Nature Boy" Ric Flair says of the Falcons: "They are a great bunch of guys." AP Photo/John Bazemore That "nut" Flair encountered was Jones, as he learned after the race. "I said, 'You're kidding me,'" Flair said. "He came back over, and hence the relationship." It's funny how Flair and Jones forged their relationship at the same place where Jones made headlines for losing his $150,000 earing. "He didn't tell me, but I heard about that," Flair said. Jones extended Flair an open invitation to visit the team. Flair last came out in May, which fired up not only coach Dan Quinn, but the entire team. "I talk to Julio on a regular basis," Flair said. "I'm such a fan. I honestly have done a lot of stuff with sports teams, but the Falcons treat me with more respect than anything. They are a great bunch of guys. Julio is just unbelievable. So is [Devonta] Freeman. Matt Ryan is a **** of a guy." Flair appreciated when Jones and fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu wore cleats to honor him. "That was awesome," Flair said. "That tribute was just awesome." Flair fell ill in August and spent 10 days in a coma. He was given a 20 percent chance to live because of various health complications but survived. Flair had a select few hospital visitors because of his condition, but he appreciated Jones sending text messages of encouragement throughout the ordeal. Jones just wanted to make sure his friend pulled through. "When you care about and someone is a good friend, that's just stuff you do," Jones said. "There's no thinking behind it. It's not like I'm going out of my way to do something that I wouldn't do. I just appreciate him as a friend and his legacy. "Ric, I feel like he hasn't changed up for no one. He's been the same since Day 1, since he was in the limelight as a pro wrestler. Even now, just his mentality and who he is: Find who you are and just be that. He's always being him. That's what I admire the most about Ric Flair." Flair is back to watching football every week now, cheering on Jones and the Falcons. "He's the best receiver in football," Flair said of Jones. "Anybody who doesn't believe that one, watch the catch he made last week. And the thing about him, too, you know he's going to get double coverage. And Sanu is good. Why the **** are they not moving it? I don't know. You get a 17-point lead and don't score in the second half against Miami? "These guys, they've got to turn it around. They're a great bunch of guys. ... I'm confident they're going to turn it around this week."
  4. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen, one of the designated "chiefs" of the team, said there's no need for a players-only meeting in the midst of a three-game losing streak. The 3-3 Falcons took such a measure two seasons ago following a four-game losing streak then proceeded to lose the next two after the meeting and finish 8-8 without making the playoffs. "No, we don't need one because we're grown men and we know what we've got to do," Allen told ESPN. "We understand: We're not winning games. We understand we've got to tighten up. That's point blank, period. It's not like a surprise. We understand what we're messing up. Safety Ricardo Allen on Atlanta's three-game losing streak: "... we made it to the Super Bowl after a 4-3 start. I'm going to take the positive." AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File "It's not like we're just going out there and all s--- is just going bad. It's small things, and those small things come back to haunt you. We've been here before. We've lost games before because of doing that s---. But we also have gotten it right before and started winning. That's all we have to do." The Falcons started 3-0 but then dropped three straight to AFC East opponents: Buffalo and Miami at home, then New England on the road. They play their fourth consecutive game against the AFC East on Sunday at the New York Jets (3-4). Defensively, the Falcons have been like a sieve against the run, getting gashed up the middle while allowing the Bills, Dolphins, and Patriots to run for 117, 138, and 162 yards, respectively. The Falcons also wiped away two interceptions with roughing the passer penalties and lead the NFC which three such fouls. Offensively, the Falcons converted just 38 percent on third down against the Bills and only 22 percent against the Patriots. They are 4-of-9 in the red zone during the losing streak. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the "bear is not loose" regarding matters spinning out of control. During "Tell the Truth Monday" the team aired out all issues, as is the case following games. "We always tell the truth," Allen said. "We didn't get in there and it was a brouhaha. It was another meeting that said, 'Get you s--- right, and you know what we have to do.'" Allen is confident this team won't allow the current issues to mount into something like the six-game losing streak that occurred in the first year under Quinn. "And then things went up last year," Allen explained. "If you're going to look back two years, you can also look back one year. If you look at history, we made it to the Super Bowl after a 4-3 start. I'm going to take the positive. I'm going to go off that." The Falcons believe they have leadership in players such as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Allen, and now veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon who just re-signed this week. Allen said he doesn't need to pull anyone aside for a pep talk. "They know," Allen said. "You can look at their faces, and you can tell they know. Just body language, just the sense of urgency around here. You don't see nobody pointing fingers. Everyone knows they have to do it themselves because I'm not perfect. I've got to play better, too. "If I go around him pointing fingers and telling everybody I'm perfect and I'm a god, things are going to start going wrong on me, too. People understand what to do. You're in the league for a reason."
  5. Living in NY I rarely get to hear anything about Atlanta on the radio unless it's a passing mention. This morning however, 98.7s (which is ESPN radio here) Mike and Mike in the morning discussed the issue with Atlanta along with Booger McFarland. Golic mentioned the loss of Shanahan being one of the issues and Sark still trying to get comfortable with the play calling, with the biggest issue of not getting Julio involved more. Booger agreed but than said something I haven't heard/thought of but worries me if true. He said it seems like Atlanta doesn't seem to be playing as a team but are playing for themselves. He mentiones the roughing the passer on Grady when Jones made the pick. He (Booger) said it seemed as if Grady wanted to make sure his name was mentioned in the defensive meetings for a great hit instead of having the coach say something like "great pressure created there by the line, that Jarret should have been happy with the pressure forcing the turnover. I didn't think this would be an issue but I also heard during the game that Quinn mentioned that there was a lack of emotion in the Buffalo game. It seemed as if the team came out on fire in th3 first half but started to regress as far as intensity and unity in the second half. Has this been mentioned at all in Atlanta? Do you guys think it could be one of the issues?
  6. With a quarter of the season in the books, Falcons QB Matt Ryan identifies his team's goals moving forward. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Naturally, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wants to clean up the turnovers after committing six already. But there's another area of emphasis for Ryan as the team returns to action off the bye. "One, I think we can be better on third downs, myself included," Ryan said. "When we have opportunities to keep drives going, especially in that third-and-6-to-10 range, we can be better than we've been. I can be better than I've been up until this point. That's probably the No. 1 thing of all the things that we look at that can help us win games right away. "So if we can be a little bit better there, if I can be a little bit better in that part of the game, I think that's going to help us." Going into Sunday's matchup with the Miami Dolphins (2-2), the Falcons (3-1) actually rank No. 8 of the 32 teams in third-down offense, converting 43.2 percent, which is one percent better than they finished last season. But on third-and-6 or longer, the Falcons are converting 28 percent, just below the league average of 28.3 percent. Ryan, on third-and-6 or longer, has completed 13-of-21 passes for 154 yards with no touchdowns, an interception, three sacks taken, and a passer rating of 64.4. Four of those third-and-long pass plays have occurred in the red zone, and only one has led to a conversion and touchdown: a third-and-16 to Devonta Freeman for 18 yards against Detroit that resulted in Ryan's four-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu. Of course, success on first and second down can set up shorter third-down situations. The Falcons have converted 70.6 percent of opportunities on third-and-4 or shorter, which ranks seventh. The league average is 58.6 percent. As for the turnovers, Ryan said after a loss to the Buffalo Bills that he planned to clean those up after the bye. Not all were his fault, however, with some tipped and dropped balls. Whatever the case, the Falcons have six giveaways and just two takeaways, giving them a minus-4 turnover ratio that ranks tied for 28th in the league along with NFC South front-runner Carolina. "It's one of those things, sometimes it happens," Ryan said of the turnovers. "That's part of playing the game. Sometimes you have tipped balls. Sometimes you have some plays that don't go your way. But it's about being resilient. "It's about being mentally tough and continuing to stay aggressive; doing the things that we've done to be at our best and trusting that that process and the routine and deal that we have is the right one. And I really believe it is. I think it will start to go our way. We just have to keep working at it." Ryan said the Falcons have to keep working on hitting the deep balls. On passes he's thrown of 30-plus air yards, he has completed 2 of 10 for 127 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a passer rating of 72.9. Last season he was 10 of 22 on such passes for 496 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 131.6. One of those completions was a ball thrown 36 yards to wide-open tight end Austin Hooper, who stiff-armed the rest of the way for an 88-yard touchdown in Chicago. The other completion was thrown 32 yards to running back Tevin Coleman for a 39-yard pickup. Ryan is 0 of 8 when targeting his primary deep threats, Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel, on balls thrown 30-plus yards. Some of that might have to do with not getting a lot of time to work with them leading into the season, as Jones recovering from foot surgery and Gabriel from a lower leg injury. "It's definitely an area we can be better," Ryan said of taking those shots. "We've been close. We just haven't hit them. We've got to keep taking our shots when they're there. And when they're not there, making good decisions with the football." Getting Jones back totally healthy from a hip flexor injury will be key in connecting on those long balls. Ryan hopes the Falcons can find other ways to create explosive plays as well, like giving Jones, Gabriel, Coleman, and Freeman the ball in space to go make plays. Ryan also might have more opportunities to create big plays with better protection, and right tackle Ryan Schraeder is to return to the lineup after missing two games with a concussion. The Falcons certainly will be challenged this week by a strong Dolphins defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake.
  7. Good read, but heartbreaking...especially as a father. ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Young often thinks about the joyful times he had with his son Colby, a kid who had a passion for football and a knack for cooking. He also remembers the sadness that overwhelmed him when he uttered his last words to his teenage superhero. "I told him just how much I appreciated his courage and his resilience," Young said as his voice cracked. "And I told him I love him. I told him how much I was proud of him, for the young man to go through something like that." Bryant Colby Young died of pediatric cancer at age 15 on Oct. 11, 2016. Bryant Young knew every day without his son would be difficult, but especially days such as Colby's birthday on Aug. 19 and the anniversary of Colby's death. "Every day has its own challenge," Young said, "but when you're going through the first of everything -- the first birthday, the first year of him passing -- and actually the day before, too, just anticipating what the day would be like. I definitely always want to remember him in a special way." Colby was known as a delightful, vibrant young man. His family never imagined a day of throbbing pain would result in sorrow for years to come. Unexpected news It was 2014, and Colby was an eighth-grader playing football in Charlotte, North Carolina. He came home one day complaining of a headache. Young, a Hall of Fame nominee who played 14 seasons on the San Francisco 49ers' defensive line, figured he knew what the issue was with his son. "I thought he got dinged," Young said. "But he was like, 'No dad, I didn't get dinged.'" Young saw that something was off when Colby woke up on a Wednesday morning in excruciating pain with no desire to eat. There was a middle school retreat the same day, one Colby eagerly packed for the night before, but the pain drained him of his enthusiasm. He couldn't sit up at the dining room table, so Young's wife, Kristin, took Colby to the pediatrician. "The doctor looked at him and thought at the time, he was 13 and was going through puberty, and that's pretty common for a kid that age to possibly have migraines, as growing pains," Young said. "So she prescribed him medication for migraines." The pain never subsided throughout the remainder of the day. Colby began to vomit. The pain intensified by the next morning. "He was bald at the time, but he was trying to pull his hair out of his head, so we knew it was something more serious," Young said. The Youngs returned to the pediatrician. The prescription for the migraine changed. But before leaving this time, Colby underwent a CAT scan, which finally revealed the cause of his painful episodes: a mass on his brain. "Hearing the news, he was scared. My wife was scared," Young said. "They diagnosed it as a pineal tumor. It was about the size of a golf ball in his pineal gland region [vertebrae brain]." Colby needed surgery. The surgeon performing it had completed the "risky" procedure in the past. "He felt pretty confident that with what he had seen before and had removed that it was going to be OK because it wasn't growing out and was contained," Young said. "He said he wouldn't know if it was non-cancerous until sampling the tissue and removing it. We thought we caught it." The surgery dragged on for four hours, which seemed like an eternity. Bryant and Kristin continued to cling to the doctor's words about it being an "operable" process. Then the surgeon emerged bearing news. "Just the look on his face, I didn't like it," Young said. "I just had this eerie feeling about it being bad news. So he gets us into a conference room and tells us that it was cancerous. It was an even bigger blow just to hear that." There were never any signs of Colby being sick while growing up. He played football and basketball without issue. After the surgery, which occurred on a Tuesday, Colby was back in school Wednesday of the following week. But he still had to endure chemotherapy once he recovered from the surgery. "Just what radiation and chemo do to you, it wrecks the body and makes you feel a certain way, and it was just hard seeing him go through that," Young said. "But throughout the whole process, he was strong. He had great support around him. "You hear about others going through stuff like that, and you support others that are going through it. But it's a tough deal when you're in the fire yourself." Coping with reality Young admired Colby's spirit during the bout with cancer and how determined he was to live life to the fullest. But during treatments at the MGH Francis H. Burr Proton Beam Therapy Center in Boston, Colby received more bad news. "He was emotional when he heard about cancer," Young said, "but I think even it hurt him, even more, when the doctor told him, 'Because of the radiation, the muscles in your neck will atrophy, and we highly recommend that you don't play football anymore.' That crushed him." Colby was a cover corner in football and also played outside linebacker. Now he could be only a spectator as he went through radiation treatment from October to the beginning of December 2014. "He was mature in a way that it hurt him, and it was a blow to his spirit, but he didn't let that keep him down," Young said. "So then he really focused on basketball once he went through radiation and recovered from that." Colby started chemotherapy at Duke University in January 2015. It was a four-month process. He relapsed, so the Youngs found a clinical trial at the University of Florida Shands Hospital that entailed immunotherapy, a process that involves using the individual's immune system to try to fight cancer. It wasn't enough to help Colby recover, though the family remained hopeful throughout the various forms of treatment. Kristin documented her son's grueling journey through her blog, chronicling how Colby's cancer grew and how the Christian-based family relied on God's will. The Youngs' other five children -- three daughters and two sons -- came up with T-shirts to support their ill brother, bearing a Superman-themed logo with a large "C" in the middle to represent Colby. Some of Young's former San Francisco teammates wore the shirts to a 49ers-Buccaneers game in October during the NFL's breast cancer awareness month. Young was grateful to have support from the entire 49ers organization and former team owner and NFL Hall of Famer Ed DeBartolo. "Bryant is a one-of-a-kind man with a wonderful and caring family," DeBartolo said. "They suffered so much with Colby all those years but never, ever wavered. I believe if you're lucky enough to be blessed with the ability to help, you have to do whatever you can. I would do anything for Bryant, Kristin or his family -- like a younger brother." The Youngs always emphasized to their children how important it is to give rather than receive. Colby took the message to heart with his "Change for Change" campaign. He wanted to collect $2,000 to donate to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation by placing change buckets around his town. Colby raised more than $50,000 thanks in large part to the help of his high school, Charlotte Christian. "He was going through it, and he came up with the idea of how he can bring awareness and have people be a part of something that affects so many kids and families," Young said. "It was incredible in terms of what he did." The Youngs also had a short documentary produced by a friend that captured some of Colby's fight as well as his living life to the fullest, including preparing meals such as steak and chicken stir-fry for the family. "Little did we know that we would use that video at his service, not knowing how things were going to turn out," Young said. "Part of what compelled us to share that was our story is not to be our own. We need to share that and allow people to understand the pains while sharing our faith through the process. "It was therapy for us, too, as a family, to be able to tell our story. To do that in the way we did it, I think, was a blessing for us and hopefully for others." After spending most of the last four months of his life in hospice care, Colby died at home on Oct. 11, 2016. "I tried to prepare emotionally for his moment of death, but there really is nothing that can prepare you for it," Kristin said. "Mixed in with the deep waves of grief and sadness on the day he passed away was also insurmountable joy and peace that his sweet soul was free again in heaven." In memory of Before every game, Young quizzes his defensive linemen on a variety of topics related to that week's opponent. Fifteen questions, to be exact. The players weren't aware, but there is a reason Young came up with that number. "Colby was 15 when he passed, so that's my way of just kind of intertwining him in all of that," Young said. "Colby loved football so much that he's a part of what I do with my job. He would be the biggest cheerleader of what we're doing here." Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the defensive line coach in San Francisco in 2003-04, when Young played for the team. Quinn remembers when a 2- or 3-year-old Colby would walk around with a No. 97 49ers jersey that read "My Dad" on the back. Quinn understands the pain the Youngs are going through still today. "I don't know if I helped them, but just being there," Quinn said. "We want to be up there to let Kristin and B.Y. know that, 'Hey, man, this is as tough as it gets. And we'll stand by you, stand next to you.' There are no words of encouragement to give during those moments. It's just, 'I love you, man,' and support." Young stepped away from coaching in 2013, the year before Colby's cancer surfaced. He was the defensive line coach at Florida -- brought there when Quinn was the Gators' defensive coordinator -- and at that time, he wanted to focus more on his family. Colby's health then became the top priority. Young had a coaching internship with the Falcons two seasons ago. Then he replaced Bryan Cox as the defensive line coach in February, following the Falcons' Super Bowl appearance. Returning to full-time coaching after his son's death wasn't a difficult decision. "It was time," Young said. "I wanted to get back. I kind of missed it in that way. We had been through so much. Time allowed that to happen. As things settled down, we took time to heal. And we'll continue to heal. I think football has been a distraction in a lot of ways to help me continue to move forward and live life." This Sunday's game against the Dolphins has been designated as the Falcons' "Crucial Catch: Intercept Cancer" campaign game, part of the NFL's initiative to bring more awareness to the fight against all cancers -- not just breast cancer, which was its previous focus. There is no doubt that Young's mind will be on Colby and the courageous, two-year battle fought by his son. "It put things in perspective," said Young, who plans to wear something special on Sunday to honor his son. "We think it's hard out here. We strain, and we grind, physically, to live another day. But to see firsthand and experience somebody's tough battle through a disease, it lets you know life is precious. "This is just football."
  8. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Center Alex Mack paused when asked to reflect on how his 3-1 Atlanta Falcons fared through the first quarter of the season. "It's a good start," Mack said. "You want to win all the games at home, so coming off this loss (at home to Buffalo) is not what you want. Sucks to have that sad feeling all bye week. I think we can turn that into the positive. Every team is hard, and it's going to be a battle every week. With that knowledge going into the last three quarters of the season, it's going to be a grind every day, every week." The Falcons and Carolina Panthers both stand at 3-1 in the NFC South. After this week's bye, the Falcons continue a four-game stretch against AFC East opponents following their loss to Buffalo with games against Miami (1-2), New England (2-2), and the New York Jets (2-2), the latter two on the road. Then division play starts with a Nov. 5 meeting with the Panthers in Charlotte, and coach Dan Quinn always emphasizes winning the division first. "It's in the mind, and it's important that you need to win the division," Mack said. "It's a very real thing. But really, it's about winning each week. You can't control what other teams do. You can't control how everything else shakes out. If you play the best of your ability and you take care of each game each week, you'll put yourself in the best position." The Falcons certainly have some issues to fix once they return from the week off. Here's a look back at how they fared in all areas through the first quarter of the season. OFFENSE: The Falcons averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game a year ago and are currently sixth at 26 points per game while going 8 for 13 in the red zone. Devonta Freeman sits third in the NFL with five touchdowns, Tevin Coleman ranks third at 6.3 yards per rush, and the Falcons average a league-best 6.69 yards per play. Although reigning MVP Matt Ryan ranks in the top 5 at 8.2 yards per pass play, he has five interceptions to go with five touchdowns and has a passer rating of 87.5 -- 22nd among quarterbacks. On passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field, Ryan is 3 of 15 for 161 yards with a touchdown, an interception, and passer rating of 66.3. Julio Jones, though leading the team with 19 catches for 295 yards, doesn't have a touchdown. He is currently banged up along with Mohamed Sanu. Eleven different Falcons have receptions, and nine have at least three or more. The Falcons are 13th in sacks allowed per pass attempt, which could be worse considering starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion) missed the last two games. Quinn talked about the positives as well as areas in need of improvement with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. "The part that I like is the ability to utilize guys in different ways," Quinn said of Sarkisian. "I’ve loved seeing the packages where we’ve featured both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman together, creating opportunities for guys in space to make plays. I’ve been encouraged that we’ve been a really committed running game. "For sure we want to improve on our chances when we can take some shots down the field. Sometimes that comes with a little more time, but to be at our best, that’s where some of the explosive plays happen on some of the play-action plays, so I think that part can come, but I have been impressed by his utilization of the guys." DEFENSE: The Falcons, without reigning NFL sack champ Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring) the last two games, are tied for third in the NFL with 12 sacks, led by Brooks Reed with three. They ranked 13th in total defense in allowing 318.3 yards per game, down from last year's average of 371.2. Opposing teams are scoring 22.3 points per game against the Falcons, though offensive turnovers have contributed to that total. The defense has created just two turnovers, part of the reason they rank 28th in the league in turnover ratio at minus-4, with those five interceptions and a fumble lost on offense. The Falcons are tied for fourth in goal-to-goal defense and tied for 15th in red-zone defense. Missed tackles have been an issue, with rookie linebacker Duke Riley being a primary culprit. But Quinn said Riley is on the same missed-tackle pace Deion Jones had at the start of last season before finishing third in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Jones leads the team with 27 combined tackles, followed by Brian Poole and Keanu Neal with 24 each. Quinn assessed new defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, who installed some new red-zone defensive coverages this season. "Man, I’ve been impressed by him in game," Quinn said of Manuel. "He’s really clear-headed. The calls are in quickly, and here’s why I called it. Sometimes we’ll talk in between a series and he’s able to have good recall on what happened and here’s what I’d like to do based on that. I’ve been impressed by that so far." SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Matt Bryant is 9 for 9 on field goals, with a long of 53 yards, and is 11 for 11 on extra points. He's tied for fifth in the NFL with 38 points. Return man Andre Roberts' 181 kickoff-return yards stands sixth in the league, with a long return of 61 yards against Buffalo. He's averaging 10 yards per punt return. Punter Matt Bosher has a net average of 41.6 yards and has seven fair catches on 12 punts. Fullback Derrick Coleman leads the team in special-teams tackles.
  9. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Just last week, Atlanta Falcons linebacker De'Vondre Campbell ended practice with an interception, generating a collective roar from his defensive mates. His day wasn't complete. As most players exited toward the locker room, Campbell sought out linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and lined up across Ulbrich in the far back corner of the practice field. Campbell spent about 10 minutes working on hand drills. "Every single day after practice, he's out there with me working," Campbell said of Ulbrich. "Whether it's pass rush or Plan D stuff, that's extra. That's something that he doesn't have to do. But he's out there doing it with me. It just shows that he believes in me. He knows that I'm right there with him." The "Plan D" Campbell referred to is a concept the Falcons strongly stand by. It's part of a "development" plan coach Dan Quinn brought to the organization when hired in 2015. Although it often involves coaches giving individual instruction to practice-squad players, it encompasses more than just that select group of players. "It’s not just a practice-squad consideration at all," Quinn said. "Often times it’s players that we feel need some real work to take their game to a new spot, and we identify probably between 12 to 18 or 20 players that we’re going to really put the extra work in to see if they can make a big push. "One day, it’s devoted to special teams. Another day is devoted just to your skill work. A third day is devoted to doing some matchups against one another. During that team day, we feel like you can really gain skill development, and that’s where we want to push it really hard. We have a big staff of coaches. Some of their primary roles are before practice or after practice to spend that extra 10 to 15 minutes every day. You keep stacking in minutes and minutes, and before you know it, you’ve had three, four, or five hours of extra skill work to help yourself get really improved." Quinn often talks about how players should make a significant jump between their first and second seasons. Well, Campbell certainly has. The 2016 fourth-round draft pick from Minnesota has stood out through the first three games. He is tied for third on the team with 17 combined tackles, and he has a sack, two quarterback hits and two passes defensed. The 6-foot-3, 234-pound Campbell is seeing the field better after offseason Lasik eye surgery, and he's utilizing his speed and length to his advantage while covering speedy running backs as well as taller tight ends. Campbell credits Plan D, which went into full effect around training camp as Campbell made the transition from weak-side linebacker to strong-side linebacker. "We'd just be out there doing stuff for 10 minutes, and it pays off," Campbell said. "(Ulbrich) is one of my biggest critics. And I feel like if he weren't, then it would show he doesn't really believe in me. So every time he does get on me, I know it's coming from a good place. It might not be what I want to hear sometimes, but it's what I need to hear." Campbell said Ulbrich always preaches sticking to technique when you're tired, and Campbell certainly is spent by the time Plan D sessions start. Working on his get-off always is an emphasis, with the Falcons always developing Campbell's pass-rush skills. Another drill involves Campbell working on either moving in for a strip sack or running after a quarterback who steps up and extends the play -- an element the Falcons will need to be aware of for the third straight week this Sunday with Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo Bills. Campbell was superb in covering Lions tight end Eric Ebron last week but feel that area still needs to improve through practice and Plan D. He knows he might draw some tough, tight end assignments in upcoming games with the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham, and rookie O.J. Howard. "I'm getting better," Campbell said of covering tight ends. "I'm not where I want to be, and I notice that. But that's the reason for being here, to get better. I have really good players to practice against in (Austin) Hooper, (Joshua) Perkins, and (Eric) Saubert. Going against them, it prepares me for anything." Campbell is sure to keep improving in all areas, provided he sticks to the plan.
  10. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Coming off his second consecutive Pro Bowl season, Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman vowed to improve every aspect of his game. One of the elements in question was Freeman's blocking, considering he missed picking up linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the fourth quarter of February's Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. It led to Matt Ryan being sacked and losing the ball, which resulted in a momentum-swinging touchdown in the Patriots' 34-28 overtime win. Freeman said missing that block was "a scar" that he would overcome. So it was interesting this week to see Freeman working extensively on blocking technique one-on-one with coach Dan Quinn. Freeman was attentive as Quinn offered hands-on coaching on how to attack the opponent in such a situation. "We were talking cut blocks," Quinn said. "If you throw [the block] earlier, you can see it. If you throw later, that's where you beat a guy to the punch. It was a good topic for us. ... I wouldn't say it was real scientific coaching." But one could tell Freeman learned from it based on his facial expressions and back-and-forth conversation with Quinn during the demonstration. "That's a good connection," Quinn said of the relationship with Freeman. "I love what he stands for as a player. Every time out on this field, he goes for it. And that's what a true competitor does. He loves ball. He's willing to put out and go for it every single day, and I love that about him." Freeman's play has stood out at training camp thus far as he awaits a contract extension. He appears to be even faster with his cuts and explosiveness up the field. He still possesses great hands catching the ball out of the backfield. "I just want to take it to that next level," Freeman told ESPN regarding his goals for 2017. "How can I get to that next level? What do I need to do to get to that next level? You know what I mean? "I'm going to study film harder. I'm going to work harder. I'm going to prepare better. I'm going to eat cleaner, just to get to that next level. I need to be on that next level. That's with anything, especially when it comes to football."
  11. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Vic Beasley Jr., the reigning NFL sacks leader, has heard before that tweaking his pass-rush stance might lead to even greater success. It wasn’t that the Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher ignored those suggestions. But to listen to such advice coming from a guy who played 12 NFL seasons, collected 138.5 career sacks, and was named to nine Pro Bowls just put more emphasis behind those words of wisdom. So when Beasley took the field at Stanford University for the first annual Von Miller pass-rush summit in June, Beasley listened intently as former Dallas Cowboy and Denver Bronco DeMarcus Ware shared a wealth of knowledge. "DeMarcus was giving me tips here and there," Beasley said. "He was telling me normally my feet are back too far so a majority of the time, just replace my hand with my first step. And he said if I kind of coil up and put my butt up in the air more and take that first step that I'll step out a longer distance. "I've heard coaches at the [Falcons] facility tell me the same thing. But to hear it from DeMarcus Ware -- from former player to current player -- definitely paid off a lot." Over the course of one full day, Beasley did enough studying to earn his Master's in the art of pass rush. Attending the summit was something he had discussed for a while with his buddy Miller, the one-time Super Bowl MVP and the guy Beasley bested by two (15.5 to 13.5) for last year's sack title. Beasley also tied Oakland's Bruce Irvin for the league lead with six forced fumbles as he developed a knack for the strip sack. "It was interesting to see the moves of each different individual," Beasley said. "You can take that and apply that to your game." During the summit, each rusher was asked to stand in front of the classroom and break down his best pass-rush moments. Beasley studied plenty of Miller in the past, and Miller's slippery moves were reinforced at the summit. Beasley saw how effective Oakland's Khalil Mack is in using his long arms and great lower-body strength. He watched how Kansas City's Dee Ford capitalizes on his hands and speed. And Beasley observed how Seattle's Cliff Avril relies on power to complete his moves. Beasley even developed a new bond with Olivier Vernon of the New York Giants. "Great guy," Beasley said of Vernon. "Just being able to talk to him and just hearing his insights ... his game is very different from every other player in that room. He's not really the speed guy. He's not really the get-off guy. He's just a guy that can work his hands very well and can slip off things, similar to Von." Beasley, known for his speed off the edge, hopes to put all those lessons to good use as he chases another sack title and tries to lead a vastly improved Falcons defense. He seems to be playing with a higher level of aggression so far throughout training camp. Although the Falcons have not yet re-signed his mentor from last year, seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney, the team has surrounded Beasley with more defensive-line talent. First-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley, who had been limited at camp coming off March shoulder surgery, is expected to provide a boost off the opposite edge. Two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe was signed to push the pocket on the interior alongside ascending Grady Jarrett. And the wild card is Jack Crawford, a high-energy, strong, versatile lineman who came over from Dallas and has already impressed the coaches. Those additions all could help free up Beasley, who has started to attract added attention and basically got frozen out by the Patriots in the Super Bowl. "It's going to help me tremendously," Beasley said. "The guys that we have up front, we’re just blessed with so much depth this year. Just having that depth will definitely take pressure off me. And guys such as Poe and Crawford, those are great players that people kind of underestimate." Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a pass-rush expert who learned a lot of lessons from being around Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, commended Beasley for making the extra effort to enhance his skills. Quinn talked about the next phase in the development of Beasley, the No. 8 overall pick in 2015. "With Beasley, there's oftentimes a big jump for a player from Year 1 to Year 2. I think there's another one that takes place from Year 2 to Year 3," Quinn said. "You have to go through some experiences to understand, 'How do I deal with this situation?' 'How does this technique work or not work?' and the call of the defense. 'What can I do in this call?' or 'What can't I do in that call?' When you get to that spot and now you really start learning the smaller nuances of it. "For the early player, I really emphasize the stance and some of the basic fundamentals. As you get further along, we try to find new levels that you can go to. He's off to a good start so far." Like the lessons learned at the pass-rush summit, Beasley takes Quinn's advice to heart. "Last year, I did make a lot of improvements and did have a lot of success," Beasley said, "but now the next level of my game is just being more aware of the whole defense is capable of on each play, what defense is being called, and what the cornerbacks are doing and the safeties are doing and linebackers are doing. It's not just simplified as just the defensive line, but [knowing] the whole defense."
  12. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In case anyone forgot that Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can do more than just run the ball, both Atlanta Falcons running backs have given spectators friendly reminders throughout training camp thus far. Whether it was Freeman beating Deion Jones down the right sideline Sunday with a double move or Coleman darting across the and securing a pass in traffic earlier in camp, quarterback Matt Ryan knows both backs have the ability to be big-play threats as receivers. The running back duo combined for 883 yards on 85 catches with five touchdowns last season, so their dual-threat ability is not a new revelation. But again, watching them in practice reinforces how much talent Ryan has to work with outside of All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones. "The two guys -- Tevin, Devonta -- they're so versatile for us," Ryan said. "When you watch those guys compete this offseason, the way that they've practiced the start of camp, catching the football out of the backfield, it's going to be critical for us. I think those guys are two of the most talented guys in the league and are three-down backs. They catch the ball really well for us. They run the ball in between the tackles, outside the tackles. And they pass protect for us really well. So we're lucky to have both those guys." Freeman came to the Falcons with soft hands and the ability to run routes like a receiver. He had 73 receptions (for 578 yards) in 2015, second on the team behind Jones, who had 136 catches. Coleman really started to improve as a pass-catcher last season after he got over some of the fumbling issues that plagued him as a rookie. His breakout performance as a receiver came last year against Denver, when he won his one-on-one matchups against linebackers and caught four passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. Health will factor into Coleman's productivity moving forward, as he's dealt with his share of nagging injuries. "The goal is to just finish the season without being injured," Coleman told ESPN. "I had a couple injuries in my past two years, and I just want to finish this season without any injuries." Meanwhile, Freeman, who continues to wait for a contract extension, wants to play at an even higher level than the one that has earned him Pro Bowl selections the past two seasons. "It's another level I can go to," Freeman said. "It's always another level I can go to." New Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who took over for Kyle Shanahan, said one of the tweaks he planned to make was to find even more ways to use his dynamic running back tandem. "I think, first and foremost, we have two really electric tailbacks, and they are bad matchups on defenses," Sarkisian said. "Just making sure we're putting those guys in the best position to be successful -- whether it's separately on the field, whether it's being on the field together."
  13. Devonta Freeman on Matt Ryan's Top 100 spot: 'It ain't real' Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer MIAMI -- Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman spoke up for quarterback Matt Ryan in discussing the NFL Network's recent segment of the league's Top 100, as voted by the players. Ryan, coming off an MVP season, was revealed at No. 10 on the final night. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who defeated Ryan and the Falcons in the Super Bowl, earned the top spot. Von Miller, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Khalil Mack, Aaron Rodgers, Ezekiel Elliott, Odell Beckham Jr. and Le'Veon Bell, in that order, ranked ahead of Ryan. "You know, that ain't no facts," Freeman told ESPN, regarding Ryan being ranked No. 10. "That ain't no facts to that. It's all about 'he say, she say.' I might like [you], so I'm going to say I like you over such and such. You know guys got their own opinions and feel some type of way about guys. But, you know, it ain't real." Ryan led the league with a passer rating of 117.1. His 9.3 yards per pass attempt were the most since Kurt Warner averaged 9.9 in 2000, according to Pro Football Reference. Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Ryan also surpassed 4,000 passing yards for the sixth consecutive season. "Look at his numbers," Freeman said. "I'm a numbers guy. I don't care about all that politics and 'he say, she say' stuff. Who's the MVP of the league? How is he No. 10 if it was real? How is he No. 10?" Freeman was asked if he believes, in general, Ryan gets the respect he deserves from around the league. "I respect Matt, so I give Matt the respect he deserves," Freeman said. "I feel like our team do. I feel like our organization do. And that's all that matters, because it's us against anybody. It's the Atlanta Falcons versus anybody. As long as everybody on the team respects Matt and the coaches respect Matt, and the owner of the organization and all that, that's all that matters. Everything else is just clutter and talk." Ryan is one of five nominees for Best NFL Player at the ESPYS, hosted by Peyton Manning (8 p.m. ET Wednesday, ABC). Freeman was ranked 41st on the Top 100, right behind teammate Vic Beasley Jr. At No. 3 on the list, Jones was voted the league's top receiver.
  14. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- De'Vondre Campbell clearly sees the difference. Last year, the Atlanta Falcons linebacker had trouble making out letters while reading without his glasses. Those issues translated to the football field. "Like when I was looking at the scoreboard, I couldn’t even read it, really," Campbell said. "I had terrible vision." Campbell didn’t wear contact lenses while playing, yet strolled through the locker room wearing glasses on a regular basis. So he decided to address his vision problems by having Lasik eye surgery this offseason. "A lot kind of went into it ... really just the fact that I needed it," Campbell said. "It's a tremendous difference. I can notice it. On the scoreboard, I can see everything clearly on it now. That's how I knew my vision was better." Campbell, last year's fourth-round draft pick out of Minnesota, went through the typical growing pains of a rookie after being thrust into a starting role. He was set back by a severe ankle sprain that caused him to miss four games and missed another game because of a concussion. But in regards to his vision problems, Campbell refused to use that as a crutch for any bad plays throughout last season. "I wouldn't say it affected me," Campbell said. "I would say, though, (having the surgery earlier) definitely could have helped me." Having clearer vision certainly can help when you’re trying to see the ball, react to plays, and dissect hand signals from teammates. Falcons coach Dan Quinn offered his thoughts on Campbell deciding to have the Lasik surgery. "I think it will help, because he didn't use his corrective lenses when he played," Quinn said. "He played for years without them, but wore glasses full time. So I was glad he thought (the surgery) would be an edge for him. We supported that decision to get the vision corrected, for sure. When you wear them all the time and don't wear them just for when you play, I think that's a difference, for sure. ... I am excited for him." Campbell consulted with others before having the procedure. "It was something I kind of looked into myself, because I heard some guys talk about how they got it and how it helped them out tremendously," Campbell said. "Not anybody here, but just some people I know, personally. They said it could help. You don't have to wear contacts. You won't need glasses anymore. They say it last for like 10 years, so I was like, 'Yeah, I’ll check it out.'" The Falcons are counting on Campbell to take another step in his second season. He played weakside linebacker last season next to fellow rookie and middle linebacker Deion Jones, who finished third in the balloting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The Falcons drafted inside linebacker Duke Riley, a former teammate of Jones at LSU, in the second round this year, which could lead to more time at strongside linebacker for Campbell. "Is there a big adjustment? Not really," Campbell said. "There are a couple different wrinkles that the strong side has that the weak side doesn't, but it's not a huge adjustment. They're both interchangeable positions. I think the biggest difference is, playing on the strong side, you're more up closer to the line of scrimmage, which is a little bit different, but it's not a huge adjustment. So I'm kind of glad that I'm making the transition now in OTAs so that way, by the time we get to training camp, it will kind of just start flowing." The Falcons count on Campbell to cover tight ends because of his speed and length. As part of the transition to strongside linebacker, Quinn wants Campbell to develop into a better blitzer. "I think I have all the tools it takes to be a really good blitzer," Campbell said. "I think it just starts with a mentality and us doing it more and getting more reps at it. The more you do it, the better you get at it." Having clear vision of the quarterback should help Campbell's cause as well.
  15. Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr., the NFL leader last season with 15.5 sacks, said he'd be willing to travel anywhere to meet Denver's Von Miller for some offseason training. Well, the one-time Super Bowl MVP Miller has a place in mind. "We'll get it done, for sure," Miller said recently. "We’re going to do it in San Francisco. We'll get him out San Francisco. I got a house. I don't like going places and being uncomfortable, especially when I'm working out." Miller promised Beasley would be comfortable there. "I got a nice house in San Francisco," Miller said. "Plenty of room to get done what we want to get done." Miller even suggested the two run some "sand dunes" during the training session, which he referred to before as a "pass-rush summit." We'll see if Miller gets other pass-rushers involved. "I love talking to young guys about the pass rush, the league," Miller said. "Vic, that's one of my guys. We'll get that done and it'll be great." Said Beasley, "Oh, it will help me out a lot. The attention that Von gets year in and year out is unbelievable. They respect him as a pass-rusher, and I'm headed in that direction. So I can learn a lot from him in that case." The Falcons are in the midst of organized team activities, which started this week. The Falcons and Broncos have mandatory minicamp from June 13-15. Then the players have about a month off before training camp begins, leaving Beasley and Miller some time to collaborate. New Falcons defensive line coach Bryant Young, who played all 14 of his NFL seasons in San Francisco with the 49ers, offered his thoughts on Beasley teaming up with Miller. "I think that's great," Young said. "If guys can have a chance to work with other good rushers in the league and be able to share different things, I think that's great. You see receivers and quarterbacks working out with each other across the league. Why not have defensive guys do the same thing? That's good for them."
  16. This was informative for me. I hope you enjoy it. You basically get the full coaching bio in a 5 minute read. LINK Falcons' Marquand Manuel groomed by greats to coordinate defense By Vaughn McClure Ray Rhodes saw all the qualities years ago. The former NFL head coach and longtime defensive assistant recalled how a kid named Marquand Manuel, who played under Rhodes when he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle, used to arrive at the facility well before anyone else to dissect film. Rhodes remembered how Manuel, a safety from Florida, would remain on the field after practice trying to perfect his skills. And Rhodes remembered how Manuel wasn’t afraid to keep teammates afterward to make certain they understood the nuances of the defense. So it came as no surprise to Rhodes when Manuel, at age 37, was named the new defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons under head coach Dan Quinn. "He was always very studious and very serious about football," Rhodes said. "He studied extremely hard. And he demonstrated the same on the field. And he was one of those guys who understood the game. I saw a young man that I knew would be a coach at some point. Heck, he was a coach back then." Rhodes’ endorsement of Manuel didn’t stop there. In reflecting on Super Bowl XL -- a game the Seahawks dropped to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10 -- Rhodes emphasized just how important Manuel was in the grand scheme. Manuel, the starter after Ken Hamlin’s nearly fatal beating outside a Seattle nightclub, got injured tackling Hines Ward in the second quarter and didn’t return. He was replaced by former practice-squad player Etric Pruitt. "My worst moment was when we were playing the Super Bowl and Marquand got hurt because it hurt the team that he wasn’t in there," Rhodes said. "Had Marquand been in the game, I really felt like we would have won the Super Bowl. For me as a defensive coordinator, I felt that good about him and his ability to execute the defenses. He understood everything. He was like a quarterback on the field." Manuel, who addressed the media Tuesday for the first time since being named coordinator, was quick to credit Rhodes for helping guide him to this point in his career. Manuel also praised his other coaching influences, including defensive mastermind **** LeBeau, his first NFL head coach in Cincinnati and currently the defensive coordinator in Tennessee; John Fox, the head coach when Manuel played for Carolina and now the head coach of the Chicago Bears; and Quinn, who was the defensive coordinator in Seattle when Manuel got his first defensive assistant job in 2013. Manuel played for six different NFL teams during his eight-year career and also learned under coaches such as Marvin Lewis, Gunther Cunningham and Leslie Frazier, among others. Manuel said LeBeau was the one who explained things in a calm, gentle manner. He said Rhodes was the one who "put his elbow in you" and taught him about devising game plans and making sure the players make the playcalls come to life. Frazier taught him about studying the demeanor of opponents and keeping calm under pressure as a playcaller. And standing next him on the sideline the last two seasons certainly prepared Manuel to see the game in the same manner as the defensive-minded Quinn. "I always tell the players I’ve been blessed because a lot of people look at me as a journeyman, but actually was blessed in the process of having some great coaches," Manuel said. "Then I go to Ray Rhodes, who collectively put it all together. He put the **** LaBeau with the Gunther; he put everybody together for me. Then I went to John Fox and [Mike] Trgovac. In those guys, there’s a piece that you took away from each one of them. "And me and Dan [Quinn] always talk about it from that standpoint of I’ve played in every defense known to mankind." Now for Manuel, it’s about simplifying things so his players can perform at a high level on Sundays. Of course, Quinn will have a big influence with his defensive coordinator background and after taking over the defensive playcalling from former coordinator Richard Smith at the end of last season. But Quinn, who had the top-ranked defense as the coordinator in Seattle, said Manuel will get ample opportunity to call plays. "No. 1, [it's] utilizing your staff and the preparation that we did throughout the week," Manuel said. "No. 2, understanding the tendencies of an offense and a coordinator in a game. ... I always tell the players this: I cannot adjust on Monday. It's too late. I've got to be able to do that on Sunday." The Falcons finished with the 25th-ranked total defense last season, allowing 371.2 yards per game. They were 28th against the pass (266.7 yards per game), 17th against the run (104.5 yards per game), and dead last in red zone defense, allowing opponents to convert 72.7 percent of the time. That same defense showed remarkable improvement as the season progressed, although it was the league’s top-ranked scoring offense that led the Falcons to the Super Bowl. The challenge for Manuel is getting a defense led by returning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., onetime Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant and Defensive Rookie of the Year finalist Deion Jones to take another step, particularly against an NFC South that improved with the additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard in Tampa, Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, and Adrian Peterson in New Orleans. "Getting DeSean in Tampa, it's understanding how he fits in their offense," Manuel said. "That's the first thing that you have to think about. Adrian Peterson? How does he fit in their offense? The weapons that they picked up as far as the draft, how do they fit in their offense? How is Jameis [Winston] going into this third year? "And I think that's the part of, we got better, too. A lot of people don't want to see that. We went and tagged some holes. Not only did we get better, but we also have our second-year guys that are coming back that now have experience they didn't have the first time. ... When you look at the division, the division has gotten better. It's going to take one week at a time, playing at our standard."
  17. I've linked the entire article, but have cut and pasted the Falcons portion... What went right? The Falcons continued to add pieces to their front seven. While Atlanta's speedy young defense jelled in time for its postseason run, it's also worth noting that the Falcons weren't a very good defense for most of the season. They finished the season 27th in DVOA and 29th against the run, a problem teams weren't able to exploit because the dominant Atlanta offense kept getting out to leads. Players such as Deion Jones and Ra'Shede Hageman should continue to improve, but the Falcons lost Jonathan Babineaux to retirement, and Vic Beasley Jr. is exceedingly unlikely to repeat his 15.5-sack campaign, given that he knocked down opposing quarterbacks only 16 times. Atlanta didn't need to overhaul its defense, but the first (and maybe only) spot it needed to address was that front seven. The Falcons made two big additions to upgrade their defense. When defensive tackle Dontari Poe's market failed to materialize, Atlanta executive Scott Pioli swooped in for a player he once drafted in Kansas City. Poe's one-year, $8 million deal is an excellent contract for a player who made the Pro Bowl twice during his rookie contract and is still just 26. Poe's pass-rush ability hasn't returned since undergoing back surgery two years ago, but he's still an effective run-stopper. It also helps that the Falcons used their first-round pick on UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley, who should be part of a deep rotation at defensive end. It's hard to dislike McKinley, both for his motor on the field and his public display of appreciation for his grandmother during the draft. The one frustrating part for the Falcons is that they had to trade their third- and seventh-round picks to move up five spots and jump ahead of the Cowboys and Steelers to grab McKinley in a draft in which edge rushers were plentiful. When you consider that the Falcons have been able to find useful contributors such as Tevin Coleman and Austin Hooper in the third round of recent drafts, the hidden cost of trading up for McKinley might be missing out on a useful player at another position. They locked up Desmond Trufant. Atlanta's defense broke out, surprisingly, with its star defensive back on the sidelines. Trufant has been an excellent cornerback for years now, with teams mostly avoiding throws to the left side of the field with him in the lineup. It's hard to compare Trufant to Richard Sherman because Trufant has just seven interceptions over four professional seasons while Sherman has racked up 24 during his first four campaigns, but he's about as close as coach Dan Quinn is going to get to his former charge. Trufant's deal is worth $41.5 million over its first three seasons, slightly more than what Janoris Jenkins ($39.7 million) and A.J. Bouye ($40 million) recently picked up in free agency and just below the deal handed to Stephon Gilmore ($42 million). Don't be fooled: Trufant would have gotten more if he had been allowed to hit unrestricted free agency, as the Falcons were able to leverage a relatively cheap fifth-year option at $8 million into a friendlier contract. What went wrong The offensive line might be a concern. The Atlanta offense spiked last season after the addition of star center Alex Mack, who was the fulcrum on one of the league's best starting fives. Crucially, the Falcons were healthy up front; they went 80-for-80 with all five starters answering every regular-season game. Tackle Jake Matthews missed a few snaps, and Mack eventually suffered a fractured fibula that limited him during the Super Bowl, but the Falcons were able to rely on their best linemen in a way no other team in the league could match. The line is unlikely to be as healthy in 2017, simply by sheer regression to the mean. It's too difficult to expect five linemen to stay healthy for four months of football. The Falcons also lost underrated guard Chris Chester to retirement and don't have an obvious replacement. Rookie fourth-round pick Sean Harlow is likely to compete with 2016 sixth-rounder Wes Schweitzer, who has yet to take an NFL snap after sitting out inactive his entire rookie season. Neither is likely to be as effective as Chester, and the only other veteran the Falcons have on the bench is utility player Ben Garland. Atlanta could be in the market for a backup lineman during camp. What's next? Work on a deal with Devonta Freeman. The Falcons might find it difficult to find a fit on salary with Freeman, given the number of players already making massive amounts of money on the roster. Their successful run of draft picks on defense over the past couple of seasons, however, might have cleared out a window for the Falcons to pay Freeman to be their starting running back. Freeman will look to top the $19 million Lamar Miller picked up on the first three years of his deal with the Texans last offseason, although this year's cold free-agent market should be a reminder that most teams still aren't paying a premium for halfbacks. Grade: B+
  18. Nothing but love from Goober for Devonta!! FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman reiterated that he has no plans to hold out for a new contract and said business will take care of itself as he approaches the start of the 2017 season. "It ain’t hard at all, because I’m good," Freeman said Tuesday about maintaining his focus amid his contract situation. "I play football because I love it. … I spoke to other guys about being in similar situations that I’m in right now. The main thing I can do right now is focus on my business, and my business is being the best Devonta Freeman I can be. And business will get taken care of outside of what I do and what I bring. I can just focus on me. When it happens, it happens. It’s going to be a surprise. I’m just patient." Freeman is in the final year of his rookie deal and scheduled to make $1,797,000 in 2017 based on an escalator in the deal. The two-time Pro Bowler’s agent, Kristin Campbell, has had talks with the Falcons regarding a new contract and said during the Super Bowl that she wants Freeman to be paid like an "elite" back. Fifteen running backs are scheduled to make $4 million or more in 2017, led by Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell with the franchise-tag figure of $12,083,000. Freeman is well aware of other players who have gone through contentious contract negotiations. "I just always wanted to be that guy that never wanted to hold out and leave my guys out there working," Freeman said. "I understand it’s a business, 100 percent. But I know what I signed up for at the same time. It’s that business, you’ve just got to be patient and take care of yourself. "(I) feel like you can’t walk around and act sad and have an attitude. That ain’t good for the team, especially when a lot of guys are looking up to you. You have to come in and be a pro on and off the field about it." One of the players Freeman spoke with was All-Pro teammate Julio Jones, who signed a five-year, $71.25 million extension back on Aug. 31, 2015. What advice did Jones offer to Freeman? "A lot of stuff," Freeman said. "Personal." Freeman expanded a little bit on their conversation. "One great (piece of) advice that he did tell me was just make sure whatever I do, just to come in and work and compete and try to get better," Freeman said. "That’s what I call my business, my little own, personal organization; make sure I’m healthy, make sure I’m getting the proper rest, eating right and I’m paying attention to my weight. … If I can take care of that, everything else is going to take care of itself." Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he’s had productive talks with Freeman’s agent. Dimitroff also implied a new deal with Freeman could get done by training camp, based on his history with the timing of such negotiations with a player going into the final year of his contract. Owner Arthur Blank also expressed a desire to see Freeman locked up for the long term. "We love Devonta," Blank told ESPN during Super Bowl week. "We plan on him being a Falcon for a long period of time." Freeman said he put on about five pounds of muscle already this offseason in preparation for the season. He also plans to run with a more "disrespectful" style toward opponents in order to run through tackles. Freeman again downplayed any friction between himself and backup Tevin Coleman, insisting they are brothers. Freeman was asked about the organization having to decide which running back to invest in for the future. Coleman’s rookie deal runs through 2018. "That’s way too far down the line for me," Freeman said of the Falcons choosing one back over the other. "I’m aware of everything that goes on, of course, but that’s not my business. I stay in my lane and get better." Freeman said holding out isn’t even in his vocabulary. "I’m going to play," Freeman said. "Like I said, business is going to get handled regardless of what, so I just come to work. I’m going to play regardless. "I love football. I love to compete. It doesn’t matter about what I did last year, how many Pro Bowls I got, a thousand yards. I want to do it again and even get better, hopefully one day be a Hall of Famer. I want to leave a legacy. And holding out, that’s not going to leave a legacy, because if I hold out, I’m behind. I don’t want to be behind. I want to gain."
  19. FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman always runs with a purpose. But the Atlanta Falcons running back wants opponents to feel him even more in 2017. In talking about things he plans to do to enhance his game, Freeman gave opposing defenders a warning. "Just little things like breaking arm tackles, running through," Freeman said. "I feel like that's what I can get better at helping the offensive linemen out because those guys, they bust their butts. They don't get to rotate. The only time they get a break is if we score a touchdown, then when the defense goes on the field. But if we have an 18-play drive, they're on the field all game. So helping those guys out by giving them a blow by breaking a big tackle. "Last year, I left some runs out there. Also in the open field, continue to make guys miss, punishing guys. I just want to be real disrespectful this year when it comes to football." Freeman finished ninth in the league in rushing last season with 1,079 yards on 227 carries with 11 rushing touchdowns. He had 350 yards after contact, which was 18th among runners with 160-plus carries. Miami's Jay Ajayi led the league with 656 rushing yards after contact, followed by Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott with 632. In 2015, Freeman had 404 of his 1,056 rushing yards after contact. But the Falcons had a much better run last season in making it all the way to the Super Bowl.
  20. Falcons looking even faster on defense after first two picks play May 3, 2017 Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer LOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One NFL executive made an interesting observation after seeing the Atlanta Falcons select pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley and LSU linebacker Duke Riley on the first two days of the NFL draft. 2017 NFL DRAFT | Philadelphia "They have put together one of the fastest defenses in the league," the exec said. "You'll be hard-pressed to find a defense with that many fast people." Dan Quinn vowed to build a fast and physical defense from the moment he was named the Falcons' head coach in February 2015. Each of his first two draft picks the last three years have been defensive players: reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. and cornerback Jalen Collins his first year, strong safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones last year, and now McKinley and Riley. Folks marveled how fast the Falcons looked during last year's Super Bowl run, with middle linebacker Jones, with his 4.38 speed, orchestrating the defense and Beasley, with his 4.53 speed, chasing down quarterbacks from behind. And that run was completed without injured Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant (pectoral surgery) and his 4.38 speed on the field opposite fellow cornerback Robert Alford (4.39). Now the Falcons add the 6-foot-2, 250-pound McKinley, who ran a 4.59 at the NFL combine, and the 6-foot, 232-pound Riley, who ran a 4.58. Quinn talked Thursday about the relentless style and passion McKinley brings to the defense as an edge rusher and a perfect complement to Beasley. Then on Friday, Quinn gushed about having Riley in the fold to help enhance the defense. "The toughness, the speed that he plays with, fits terrifically into our style," Quinn said. "We clearly know how to feature him in that role. So we're pumped to have him on board. I can wait to get him here and get started with him." Quinn said Riley "will likely start off" as a weakside linebacker, although the inside linebacker spots in the Falcons' defense are interchangeable. Quinn is all about versatility and getting the best combination on the field. With that in mind, playing Riley alongside former LSU teammate and starting middle linebacker Jones likely would mean a switch to strongside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who worked more often at weakside linebacker last season. The trio of Jones, Campbell and Riley certainly would cover a lot of ground. It also would leave open some options in the nickel package in terms of which pair of linebackers plays together, depending on matchups. Although Riley made his mark at LSU on special teams before becoming a full-time starter on defense his final season, Quinn said the Falcons didn't just draft him to run around on special teams. "No, 100 percent not," Quinn said. "I see all three of them playing (on defense)." Maintaining a fast defense is even more imperative now for the Falcons considering some of the offensive improvements teams around the NFC South have made through free agency and the draft. Tampa Bay gave quarterback Jameis Winston two new weapons in speedy veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson and talented rookie tight end O.J. Howard along with rookie receiver Chris Goodwin. Carolina and Cam Newton added all-everything running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel. And the Saints gave quarterback Drew Brees a couple more weapons in former MVP Adrian Peterson and rookie running back Alvin Kamara. "This time of year, you definitely look out for your division," Quinn said. "That's what certainly comes across my radar first. All three teams in the division, as you would expect, have (draft picks) that we liked as well. It will be more of that over the next couple days. It's how each of the three teams change and, 'OK, how will they feature that player? What role will he have?' So that's definitely a big part of it." Based on the way Quinn is building his team, the Falcons certainly should be up to speed to defend their division title.