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  1. By Kevin Knight@FalcoholicKevin Apr 20, 2020, 3:00pm EDT Today, we take a closer look at safety. Atlanta largely kept the unit intact in free agency, bringing back a few depth pieces like Sharrod Neasman and Chris Cooper. This is a weird group for the Falcons, which in theory should be one of the strongest on the roster. However, with injury concerns surrounding Keanu Neal, this position could demand a pick investment sooner than later. Let’s examine the current depth chart. Current Depth Chart FS Ricardo AllenDamontae KazeeChris Cooper SS Keanu NealSharrod NeasmanJamal Carter When healthy, the Falcons have one of the best safety groups in the league. At FS, it’s unclear who the “starter” will be, although that designation may not be all that important. Ricardo Allen has the most experience is and the more technically sound player in both coverage and run support. He’s also a tremendous leader, both on and off the field, but he’s a fairly average athlete. Damontae Kazee is a excellent ballhawk and strong hitter with good range, but his coverage technique still needs work. Both are likely to play in three safety “big nickel” sets. Chris Cooper is a former UDFA and depth piece with experience at both safety and CB—he’ll get an opportunity to compete for a roster spot in camp. At SS, the Falcons have one of the premier talents in the league in Keanu Neal. When healthy, Neal is a tremendous enforcer and physical presence in the secondary who brings surprisingly solid coverage ability against TEs. However, Neal has struggled to stay healthy over the past two seasons, missing a ton of games due to season-ending injuries. Sharrod Neasman has played like a solid starter whenever called upon, but Dan Quinn seems to have an issue with playing him. Maybe he’s gotten over it, as the team re-signed Neasman this offseason. Former UDFA Jamal Carter spent the majority of the 2019 season on the Falcons active roster, appearing in 11 games. He’ll be competing for a depth role in camp. Is it a draft need? The safety group is a bit of an enigma because of the vast difference in the quality of play when Keanu Neal is in the lineup. With Neal on the field, Atlanta’s defense tends to look significantly better against both the run and pass. With Neal sidelined, things turn towards disaster. One of the biggest issues for Dan Quinn has been finding an adequate replacement for Neal when he misses time. That player would seem to be Sharrod Neasman—who generally fills in admirably whenever called upon—but for some unknown reason, Quinn never wants to start him. This has gone on for years, and has involved the Falcons trading for players like Jordan Richards (awful) and Jonathan Cyprien (IR after 1 game) instead of simply giving snaps to Neasman. It’s puzzling, to say the least. Knowing Quinn’s propensity for ignoring Neasman and Neal’s uncertain health situation, adding a talented SS to potentially take over for Neal in the future is certainly one of Atlanta’s draft needs. The bigger question would be how highly the Falcons would value such a player with their limited picks and other, perhaps more pressing needs. At FS, the team is in much better shape. Both Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee can start at FS—and both probably will start alongside each other at various times. They each have different strengths and weaknesses, but together they’re a very good tandem. Chris Cooper is a solid, if relatively uninspiring, depth choice who also offers some CB versatility. I doubt the team will be adding any draft selections here in 2020. What are your thoughts on Atlanta’s safety group heading into the 2020 NFL Draft? How highly would you prioritize adding a safety? Who are some of your favorite safety prospects for the Falcons? Good replies to this article: https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2020/4/20/21228048/falcons-pre-nfl-draft-position-breakdown-safety-2020-keanu-neal-ricardo-allen-damontae-kazee
  2. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2020/1/7/21051545/dan-quinn-could-be-the-longest-tenured-coach-in-the-nfc-south-soon Dan Quinn could be the longest-tenured coach in the NFC South soon 24 comments It all depends on whether the Cowboys can woo away Sean Payton. I woke up in a strange and uncertain world Monday. I didn’t do that because of ongoing unrest globally—though that’s a given—or because the Saints delightfully lost a Wild Card game at 13-3. That part was wonderful. The world I awoke to was just a world where Dan Quinn might go into the 2020 season as the longest-tenured coach in the NFC South, a division largely known for its coaching stability. Coming into 2019, this is what the divisional head coaching group looked like: Saints: Sean Payton, 13th year Panthers: Ron Rivera, 9th year Falcons: Dan Quinn, 5th year Buccaneers: Bruce Arians, 1st year Contrast that to, say, the AFC South: Texans: Bill O’Brien, 6th year Jaguars: Doug Marrone, 4th year Colts: Frank Reich, 2nd year Titans: Mike Vrabel, 2nd year Stability, or at least relative stability, has been part of the reason the NFC South has been one of the league’s best divisions for two decades. The cracks are starting to show, however. Start with the Buccaneers and Panthers. The Bucs mercifully moved on from Dirk Koetter after three seasons at the helm in favor of Bruce Arians, who just completed a somewhat encouraging first year in Tampa Bay. Carolina finally decided it was sick of underachieving under Ron Rivera, who had piloted the Panthers to back-to-back losing seasons, and fired him partway through this year. They’ll have a first year head coach, joining the Buccaneers as a team starting over with the coaching staff. The question is, will the Saints follow them? On one hand, it looks like an easy no. New Orleans has now lost in the Wild Card, Divisional, and NFC Conference Championship rounds in the last three seasons despite going a preposterous 37-11 over those three years, and Sean Payton is revered in New Orleans in a way few coaches ever get to be. He’s been there forever, piloted Drew Brees through a Hall of Fame career, won a Super Bowl way back in the distant past, and is perhaps the most well-regarded head coach not named Bill Belichick, at least in media circles. He’s good it good, and he’s got a long-term contract. On the other hand, Dallas might make things interesting. It’s noteworthy that they fired Jason Garrett after a week of hemming and hawing just hours after Payton’s Saints got bounced from the playoffs, and that Payton came from the Dallas staff all those years ago to New Orleans. Payton is going into 2020 with a Saints team that is carrying a big dead cap hit for Drew Brees regardless of whether or not he re-joins the team, still has real problems with secondary weapons on offense and in the secondary, and is slowly but steadily gaining a reputation as a team that is choking under pressure. If he goes to the Cowboys he’ll have to put up with Jerry Jones, but he’ll have a young franchise quarterback in place with a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, not to mention a chance to become a hero to a new franchise. The chances of it actually happening are probably remote—Payton doesn’t have enough compelling reasons to leave, I don’t think—but the mere possibility that Dan Quinn could soon be the tenured coach in the division is noteworthy and a little unsettling. Let’s see if Jerry Jones can coax his man away.
  3. How the Falcons have built their offense by position from 2015-2018 There have been notable trends that will likely hold up again this year. By Dave Choate Jun 24, 2019, 12:00pm EDT Dan Quinn has not been overly involved in the offense since arriving in Atlanta, and yet the offenses he’s presided over have tended to be built in a particular way, at least when it comes to the number of players at key positions. The Falcons of this particular era have sported some good-to-great offenses, and they’ve typically done it on the back of a robust corps of receivers, a tight but multi-functional group of tight ends, and a nice 1-2-3 punch at running back. The offensive lines have been a real mixed bag over that time, but the Falcons have tended to roll four deep with reserves. Let’s take a look at how the initial 53 man roster has tended to break down on offense. You’ll notice the trends I mention above hold up quite well. Falcons Offense Building 2015-2018 Year QBs RBs FBs WRs TEs OTs OGs OCs 2015 2 3 1 7 2 4 3 2 2016 2 3 1 6 4 3 5 1 2017 2 4 1 6 3 4 4 1 2018 2 3 1 6 3 4 4 1 The Falcons have had two quarterbacks, one fullback, and at least six wide receivers every season under Quinn, even though they’ve had two offensive coordinators. It’s fair to assume they’ll do much the same this year, because they never keep three QBs, they’ll have at least a nominal fullback in Luke Stocker, and they have five established wide receivers and interesting rookie Marcus Green to work with. From there things have fluctuated a bit more, but the team has always held on to nine offensive linemen regardless of the exact configuration, and aside from 2015 they’ve always carried three tight ends. The twist here is that Dirk Koetter is now in charge of the offense, and he is not necessarily going to have the same philosophy as Kyle Shanahan and Steve Sarkisian. The biggest change in my eyes is likely to be a possible reduction in the number of wide receivers and certainly at fullback in favor of tight end and running back, but things should still shake out pretty close to this when all is said and done. Koetter kept four tight ends, four running backs and no fullbacks in 2018 with the Bucs, though he did hold on to six receivers. In light of that the trends above and our expectations for Koetter, here’s an early crack at projecting who will make the initial 53 man on offense. This would give the Falcons 25 guys on that side of the ball, which would leave them room for 25 on defense as well. QB: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub RB: Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner WR: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Marcus Green TE: Austin Hooper, Luke Stocker, Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen OT: Jake Matthews, Kaleb McGary, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono OG: Chris Lindstrom, James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Wes Schweitzer OC: Alex Mack Emphasis mine. There were no worthy RBs at TB in 2018.
  4. Don't know how to eliminate the spaces. Deal. Here is the link: https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/10/26/18018410/foye-oluokun-deadrin-senat-and-damontae-kazee-are-pushing-for-2019-roles One of the most crushing blows the Falcons have been deal this season have been in the form of injuries to Deion Jones, Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal, and the short-term ailment for Grady Jarrett, whose absence was keenly felt. The only upside, if you can call it that, has been the opportunity afforded to young defenders in the wake of those injuries. Duke Riley hasn’t exactly thrived—he has been better in more limited snaps the last two weeks than he was as a full-time starter—but we’ve seen Foye Oluokun show some promise in a more expanded role. Damontae Kazee has been solid-to-excellent depending on the game in his new role as the team’s full-time free safety, while Deadrin Senat has been extremely solid in the opportunities he’s received. That’s no small thing for a Falcons team that has some tough decisions coming up. The Falcons will bring back Grady Jarrett but still are searching for a nominal full-time starter next to him, especially after 2019 when Jack Crawford’s contract is up. They’ll be bringing back Ricardo Allen slowly and could use all the impact players they can find in the secondary, to put it mildly. And they aren’t locks to bring back De’Vondre Campbell and look quite thin at linebacker if that happens. What kind of roles can they reasonably expect when everyone’s healthy next year, though? Deadrin Senat: Rotational defensive tackle Senat’s a relatively easy projection. The Falcons already like his run-stopping acumen, and Terrell McClain won’t be in Atlanta in 2019 to get in his way. Jack Crawford is likely to remain as the team’s best pass rushing option, leaving Senat with an early down role in his second season unless he takes a big step forward in terms of chasing after quarterbacks. He should have no competition for that role, though, as the Falcons are much more likely to promote Justin Zimmer or bring in a late round draft choice than to sign a nominal third defensive tackle. Foye Oluokun: Starting weakside linebacker Atlanta uses three linebackers pretty sparingly, and if De’Vondre Campbell returns or the team invests a high draft pick in 2018, Oluokun isn’t going to have a ton of playing time. But I have little doubt he’ll go into the year as the team’s nominal starter at the position, given that the coaching staff has been in love with him since he was drafted and he’s outplaying Duke Riley in an expanded role at the moment. The team has too many holes to plug to draft more competition on the weakside, methinks. There’s a small chance Oluokun could be in play on the strong side as Campbell’s replacement, but that’ll depend on how far he comes and whether Riley can show the team more the rest of the way. Once Deion Jones returns, he’s in for reduced playing time this year, so he’ll need to keep making his case over the next couple of weeks. Damontae Kazee: Starting free safety, then third safety The chances of Ricardo Allen coming back completely healthy and ready to assume his starting role in Week 1 seems a little slim at the moment, and I’m projecting Kazee will start the year as the team’s, well, starter. He’s certainly done enough to merit a long look there, though I anticipate he’ll go back to being the team’s third safety once Allen is totally healthy. His physicality and playmaking ability should ensure that he finds his way on the field regardless, as Dan Quinn intended before the injury train hit the Falcons full force. While we’re going to have to endure more growing pains the rest of the way for all three players, it’s very possible that they’ll prove to be a major part of the future on defense here in Atlanta. We’ve suggested time and time again that the Falcons cannot hope to be a contender for very long if they don’t continue to hit on draft choices, and getting three starting-caliber players out of a third rounder, fifth rounder and sixth rounder would go a long way toward keeping this team relevant in the years to come.
  5. The Falcons are just two weeks away from whittling down the bigger roster for something smaller, more compact, able to drive into the regular season. We can contemplate and guess exactly who will fill what spots in the final count, though we already know most of it. Guys are battling for inactive spots right now, with maybe a special teams contribution gig up for grabs that could lead to minor on-field contributions to mix things up. That’s why this year’s surprise addition could come in the form a defensive tackle; DTs Justin Zimmer and Jon Cunningham, to be exact. Zimmer came over to Atlanta in April pre-draft and meets the team’s measurement liking, as described here by “@freetrain24” on Falcons Twitter (who’s a great follow, by the way). His 78.4 Pro Football Focus score smacked me in the face like a halibut fresh from the fish market and makes him one of the key figures to watch as these next two preseason games go on. Now, it’s not that Zimmer was scoring this against top talent, but PFF doesn’t just hand out grades like this on the fly. If you’re going to score close to 80 for them, you’ve had to have done something right. Another name to watch right now is UDFA Jon Cunningham of Kent State, who’s been earning some first half reps in the preseason. The Falcons Wire’s Andy Gallagher, another delightful follow on Tweeter, shared this about Cunningham back in May, which seems to be lining up with what he’s doing in August. The defensive tackle group right now is quite set with Grady Jarrett a star and Terrell McClain, Deadrin Senat and Jack Crawford all looking like quality contributors, but if the team likes what they see from either Zimmer or Cunningham enough to where they don’t want to lose either guy, we might have one of these faces pop up come roster day that will potentially be groomed for more later. After all, McClain’s a free agent next spring. So, as you consider who to zoom in on Saturday as the latter strings begin to get their play, key in on Zimmer and Cunningham. They could be with us for longer than expected.
  6. The Sarkisian question. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/8/24/17765054/atlanta-falcons-offense-steve-sarkisian-matt-ryan-2018 The Atlanta Falcons have been a predominantly offensive minded team since they drafted Matt Ryan in 2008, despite having two head coaches with defensive backgrounds in that time period. The talent Atlanta has possessed on that side of the ball has just been too overwhelming for the team’s identity to be anything other than offense. While the Falcons have made great strides defensively, and hope to step into being a top-five overall defense in 2018, they will once again go into the season having an unimaginably talented offensive unit. This is, in my opinion, the most talented offense in Atlanta Falcons history, and probably the most talented team in general in franchise history as well. The usual suspects We all know the familiar faces on the offensive side of the ball, who help make this team what it is. Matt Ryan is a top-five quarterback in the NFL and is just a year removed from winning the MVP award. Julio Jones is an elite wide receiver and complete mismatch against every cornerback in the league — he must consistently be double teamed and game-planned around. Devonta Freeman is among the five best running backs in the NFL. To have just those three players and some backups around a good offensive line would be enough to make the Falcons an incredibly formidable offense, but it goes beyond even that for Dan Quinn’s team. A stellar line and supporting cast The offensive line is not only good but elite. Alex Mack is among the three best centers in football. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are rocks at the tackle positions. Andy Levitre is a reliable veteran who has done everything asked of him at the left guard position. Atlanta’s weak link in 2017, right guard Wes Schweitzer, has been replaced by a reliable and sturdy veteran presence in Brandon Fusco. Pro Football Focus ranks the Falcons’ offense line second in all of football. Atlanta’s secondary playmakers take this offense over the top. Mohamed Sanu is one of the most reliable WR2s in all of football. Calvin Ridley was a first-round pick and is expected to make an immediate contribution and Austin Hooper is fully expected to take that next step into being one of the league’s better tight ends. Hope surrounding the performances of Ridley and Hooper this season is growing following a superb showing by both of them in Atlanta’s second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Sarkisian question The operative word in this article, however, is “should” and not “will.” Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who struggled in his first season with the Falcons, is expected to take a step forward with his play calling with continuity in his corner and Greg Knapp there to help him out. The Falcons, who had one of the most talented offenses in the league last season as well, averaged only 22.1 points per game in 2017, good for a mediocre 15th in the NFL. Nobody is expecting them to get back to their 2016 form, when they averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game, but a comfortable medium between these two spectrums must be found if Atlanta’s offense is going to carry them to new heights. There will be mismatches all over the field for the Falcons’ offense in 2018; it’s up to Steve Sarkisian to put the players in position to exploit those mismatches, and it’s up to the players to execute. Atlanta’s pass catchers recorded 30 drops in 2017, which was the most in the NFL. A repeat of this would be unacceptable, and thankfully, is unlikely. Likewise, if this offense averages anything less than 26 points per game in 2018 (a mark which was sixth best in the NFL in 2017), then some very difficult questions will be asked of Steve Sarkisian and the offensive braintrust. Very few teams possess a defense which can keep up with Atlanta’s high-flying attack, if any. I’m not interested in hearing anymore excuses for why the offense isn’t performing. To have a repeat of the 2017 season would be to waste a year of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ prime, and that’s just unacceptable.
  7. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/8/22/17762814/falcons-preseason-weeks-1-2-review After the Jets game, a lot of commentary in the media and on the internet wrote it off with comments that the team was flat, that it’s only preseason and doesn’t matter, that the team stayed vanilla and didn’t “open up” and tip off their playbook, and similar themes. The Atlanta Falcons went 0-4 in the 2017 preseason, yet went 10-6 in the regular season and advanced to the Divisional Round of the postseason. This year’s team is shaping up as the finest roster Atlanta has seen in a long, long time, and yet they are 0-2 for the preseason. Preseason games do matter, but it’s not the score that’s important. What counts is who plays well, who doesn’t, keeping everyone healthy, and whether the issues that show up are things that are easily corrected. And this leads to the single most important thing to remember about the Jets game, the Chiefs game, and all four preseason games from last year: for the most part, the players who “lost” those games are NOT the players you will see in the regular season. Why the Falcons struggle in preseason If you’re looking for a simple explanation for Atlanta’s ongoing preseason losses, it’s that Dan Quinn and his staff like to play the prospects early and often. Other teams have prospects play a significant number of snaps, too, but Quinn will routinely go so far as to have undrafted rookies facing the other team’s starters. We also have more of them — the Falcons entered the second preseason game with a league-leading 32 rookies on the 90-man roster. The main downside to this approach is that you’re taking key reps that could be going to your first and second-unit players (the guys who will actually be playing in September) and using them on guys who probably won’t even make the roster. But it’s terrific experience for the prospects, and it really does give the coaching staff some good film. Fans simply have to be aware of it, as throwing likely practice squad defensive backs against Carson Palmer (which Atlanta did last year with exactly the results you’d expect) doesn’t bode well for the final score. Key Falcons barely saw the field against the Jets Take another look at that Jets game. Atlanta’s starting defense put up a three-and-out, and that was the end of the night for the first-unit secondary (including Brian Poole, who only played one snap) plus linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. Linemen Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Takk McKinley played one brief rotation after that, giving Jarrett five snaps on the night with only four total snaps for Takk and Beasley. In other words, the 10 most important Falcons defenders made brief cameo appearances, got a stop against New York’s starters, and left with the game scoreless. Giving up 17 points in the first half was disappointing, but that came from a mix of second and third-unit players, with Duke Riley as the only potential starter who got extra playing time. On offense, seeing the first series get derailed by two penalties was a big letdown. But those are easily correctable items. Fullback candidate Ricky Ortiz shifted in the backfield with another player in motion, and Justin Hardy (not really a starter anyway) wasn’t able to avoid getting into the back of a defender. That was the end of the night for Ryan, Coleman, Sanu, and four of the starting linemen. Austin Hooper and both right guard candidates (Fusco and Schweitzer) were out soon afterwards. Julio and Freeman didn’t play at all. Neither did swing tackle Ty Sambrailo, who was banged up and held out of that first exhibition. Key point: Even in the first quarter of the game, Matt Schaub was depending on the No. 4 and No. 5 offensive tackles for pass protection. Sure, the offense was flat, but outside of that first series (with 7 yards called back and 15 yards assessed on penalties) it wasn’t the first unit. Is anyone all that surprised Atlanta couldn’t score in the second quarter with Justin Crawford running behind a mix of second and third-unit linemen, the top receivers out of the game, and an undrafted rookie protecting Schaub’s blind side? When prospects face starters, ignore the score The mismatches were truly obvious in the Chiefs game, as Andy Reid had already made it clear that Kansas City would play the starters for the entire first half. The first-unit offense connected on a bomb at the end of the first half for a 69-yard score — against Atlanta’s THIRD-unit secondary.The Chiefs opened the second half with veteran Chad Henne gaining 40 yards by targeting fourth-string defensive backs Chris Lammons and Secdrick Cooper before a rookie mistake by Isaiah Oliver handed KC the easy score. And those were the only touchdowns allowed by the Atlanta defense. It’s actually impressive that the Falcons gave up as few points as they did. The first and second-unit offenses consistently moved the ball and put up two touchdowns on the Chiefs’ starting defense. They failed on two fourth down attempts in likely field goal range — but with kicker Matt Bryant still out and both Quinn and Sarkisian emphasizing the importance of playing the rookies and evaluating players in key situations, it makes perfect sense to pass up the points and get the players that experience. Note that both of the plays focused on the rookies, showing exactly what Sark had meant about calling preseason plays specifically for certain players rather than necessarily going with the best choices. All in all, the first and second units put up a 14-3 lead, kept Kareem Hunt in check, and came off the field without any serious injuries. That’s a great game. Many, many positives so far So ... forget the 0-2 record. Outside of two penalties on that opening offensive drive against New York and Oliver inexplicably releasing his receiver to an imaginary safety against Kansas City, the performances (at least for the players that matter the most) have been solid. The first and second units have been quite strong, and a few of the prospects are separating themselves from the pack as well. Particularly noteworthy: After the Atlanta TV crew named Damontae Kazee as the top Falcons player against the Jets, Kazee said in a post-game interview that no, he didn’t have as good a game as the announcers had thought, and that he needed to work more on his tackling. With that dedication and attitude, it’s easy to understand how he has come so far from his rookie year to this year. Since the first defensive series against the Jets only involved one play in the nickel package, Brian Poole was essentially making his preseason debut against the Chiefs. He made his presence felt with solid coverage and a backfield tackle on Kareem Hunt. It wasn’t all that long ago when we had to sweat it out wondering if Chris Owens or Dominique Franks could develop into a serviceable nickel back. Now we have two outstanding nickel players in Poole and Kazee. It’s a great time to be a Falcons fan. Jonathan Celestin has been the surprise star of preseason. What makes his campaign even more impressive is that he wasn’t even with the team for minicamps or OTAs. The Falcons signed him three days into training camp. He’s still scrambling to learn the system and his assignments, yet he put up a sack, 3 TFLs and a QB hit against the Jets and then led the team in tackles against the Chiefs. Kurt Benkert’s struggles came against the second-unit Kansas City defense while playing with third and fourth-unit players on offense. He was frequently under pressure and unable to get comfortable in the pocket. That’s not surprising for a rookie. Think back to the preseasons of John Parker Wilson and Dominique Davis. They were good enough to make the roster, but neither one of them ever gave the offense the same kind of spark that Benkert did against the Jets. For that matter, the last time I can recall any Falcons third-string quarterback having that kind of on-field presence was D.J. Shockley against the Bills in 2007 — the game where he blew out his knee. Late-rounder Russell Gage will likely spend the year on special teams, the inactive list, or on the practice squad, but he joined the fun on offense with a fine sideline reception against the Chiefs’ starting defense (he was covered by CB Kendall Fuller). It was a well-run route and a tremendous grab that showed his potential as a receiver. But what made that play even more important for the Falcons is that Matt Schaub was the one who threw the pass. Schaub hasn’t played all that many snaps in the last two preseasons, and his passes have mainly been short ones. Seeing our 96-year old backup zip a pass 18 yards downfield and to the far sideline (meaning the ball traveled over 40 yards through the air) on target and without it being intercepted is reassuring. After the Jets game, radio announcer David Archer said we should not be so quick to jump to conclusions on several plays that looked bad for Duke Riley. In particular, Riley was working in tandem with safety prospect Tyson Graham in coverage, and Archer thought it might have been Graham that missed at least one assignment rather than Riley. After watching the Chiefs game, Archer’s observations make sense. Riley looked much better working with other first and second-unit players while Graham, Marcelis Branch and the other deep backups continued to have miscues. Free agent signing Brandon Fusco is likely to win the starting right guard spot, but Wes Schweitzer has shown that he’s continuing to develop and is at the very least a solid backup. It’s easy to forget that Schweitzer is only 24 years old, while fellow backup guard Sean Harlow is only 23. At some point I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both started cross-training at tackle, as both played left tackle in college. With Ty Sambrailo out, Matt Gono played left tackle with the second unit line against the Jets and then switched to right tackle with the third unit. His performance may have put him above Austin Pasztor on the OT totem pole, as it was Gono rather than Pasztor who paired with Sambrailo on the second unit line against the Chiefs. As an undrafted rookie, Gono obviously has full practice squad eligibility. But watch for him to get a lot of snaps in at least one of the two remaining games, as the coaching staff is likely considering him as a candidate for a possible tenth overall OL spot. Free agent DT prospect (and ex-UGA player) Garrison Smith helped his cause against the Chiefs with a sack and two QB hits. Given the defensive makeup over the last three seasons, the door is open for Smith or one of the others to win a job as a fifth defensive tackle. They may be 0-2 in exhibition games, but this Falcons team is shaping up to be something really special. Emphasis mine.
  8. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/8/21/17763844/falcons-53-man-roster-projection-preseason-week-3-kurt-benkert-ricky-ortiz-matt-gono-2018 I can chew some cud on this. We’re all done with the Kansas City Chiefs and the second week of preseason. It’s now full steam ahead into preparation for the “dress rehearsal” against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Saturday’s game should be a perfect test for the offense against one of the NFL’s premier pass defenses, and a chance for the Falcons’ defense to prove themselves against a strong running game but a shaky QB. If you’d like to see the previous iterations of this projection, you can find them here: Entirely-too-early Edition There were a lot of interesting takeaways from the Chiefs’ game. Let’s take a closer look at how the second week of preseason affected my 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad!) for the Falcons. OFFENSE - 26 QB - 2 QB Matt Ryan QB Matt Schaub Ryan looked lights out in brief action against the Chiefs’ defense. He should be penciled in for a better year statistically, assuming Sark’s playcalling is also improved. Schaub showed why the Falcons have kept him around all these years: he’s solid and has a good command of the offense. With Benkert disappointing in his second preseason outing, it may be safer than previously thought to move the young QB to the practice squad. RB - 4 RB Devonta Freeman RB Tevin Coleman RB Ito Smith RB Malik Williams Freeman didn’t play, but that didn’t make much difference for the offense outside of some short yardage situations. Tevin Coleman looked phenomenal—he’s truly a great fit in the offense and offers a lot in the passing game. Ito Smith had a middling performance, but looked improved from a shaky debut against the Jets. Malik Williams remains the most impressive reserve RB, despite the team giving Justin Crawford more reps with the 2s. This is a battle that could go down to the wire. FB - 1 FB Ricky Ortiz Ricky Ortiz was clearly the better FB option after two weeks of preseason play. He threw several good blocks in the running game and in pass protection, and showed off his hands on two receptions. The Falcons bid goodbye to Luke McNitt and brought in the recently-cut Jalston Fowler to compete with Ortiz. Fowler has legitimate talent, but has struggled with injuries throughout his career. TE - 3 TE Austin Hooper TE Eric Saubert TE Logan Paulsen Both Austin Hooper and Eric Saubert looked like dangerous receiving options at TE. Hooper provides a reliable, short-to-intermediate target, while Saubert can stretch the defense and generate some yards-after-catch. Paulsen remains the best blocker, and he’ll certainly factor in heavily on early downs. WR - 6 WR Julio Jones WR Mohamed Sanu WR Calvin Ridley WR Marvin Hall WR Justin Hardy WR Russell Gage No change in the names, but a change in the order has arrived. Marvin Hall appears to have seized control of the WR4 job from Justin Hardy, and is still the favorite to be the team’s returner. Calvin Ridley looked great in his second preseason performance, showing instant chemistry with Ryan and putting on a show with his route running. Gage had a nice contested catch as well, showing that he can contribute on offense if called upon. OL - 10 LT Jake Matthews LG Andy Levitre C Alex Mack RG Brandon Fusco RT Ryan Schraeder C/G Ben Garland G Wes Schweitzer G Sean Harlow T Ty Sambrailo T Matt Gono A significant shake-up in the offensive line make-up...at the very bottom of the depth chart. It seems that Brandon Fusco has either officially won the starting RG spot, or is at least poised to win the starting role following the third preseason game. That’s good news, as Fusco has looked more poised than Schweitzer in their work with the first team. Garland is dealing with an injury, which should give more work to Schweitzer, Harlow, and Jamil Douglas—who has been quietly decent at C. As much as I wanted Pasztor to return to his pre-injury form, he seems to be the weakest of the tackle options currently on the roster. Sambrailo hasn’t been significantly better, but the team has invested draft capital in him. Matt Gono is the most intriguing of the bunch—he’s legitimately looked like the best reserve tackle thus far. He’s currently the “at-large” favorite for the final roster spot. DEFENSE - 24 EDGE - 5 EDGE Vic Beasley EDGE Takkarist McKinley EDGE Brooks Reed EDGE Derrick Shelby EDGE J.T. Jones No change in this group, but J.T. Jones’ job is nowhere near secure. Beasley and Takk have looked good, while Reed and Shelby have done good work in the base package. Jones has been playing a new position in addition to his usual work at EDGE and still looks quite raw there, but the team clearly thinks he could have a future at SAM. Anthony Winbush could easily end up winning this spot if he has a more impressive finish to the preseason. DT - 4 DT Grady Jarrett DT Jack Crawford DT Terrell McClain DT Deadrin Senat We’ve seen good things from Jarrett, McClain, and especially Deadrin Senat through the first two preseason games. Crawford has gotten work in the nickel, but has had a relatively quiet start. Overall, this unit looks strong against the run—but the interior pass rush is a question mark until someone proves they can generate pressure opposite Grady Jarrett. LB - 5 LB Deion Jones LB De’Vondre Campbell LB Duke Riley LB Foye Oluokun LB Kemal Ishmael Jonathan Celestin continues to impress against deep reserves, but I’m not sure that will be enough to earn him a roster spot. Campbell and Oluokun have been the early risers, but Riley looked much more settled against Kansas City. Ishmael has been a solid, if unspectacular, contributor with the second team. Oluokun and Riley got plenty of snaps with the starters, and this battle for the starting WILL role is set to continue against the Jaguars. CB - 6 CB Desmond Trufant CB Robert Alford CB Brian Poole CB Isaiah Oliver CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson CB Justin Bethel The starters looked good and the reserves looked shaky against the Chiefs. It’s going to be hard to keep Poole off the field, as his open-field tackling ability is such a boon to the defense as a whole. Blidi Wreh-Wilson might be the third-best cover CB on the roster at this point, and I think he’s secured his roster spot with a strong preseason performance. Isaiah Oliver has had his rookie struggles, but I still expect him to get some snaps in “match-up” situations against bigger WRs—perhaps against Devin Funchess in Week 2. Bethel has been a disaster in coverage, but he’s here to play special teams. S - 4 SS Keanu Neal FS Ricardo Allen S Damontae Kazee S Ron Parker The Falcons safety group looks absurdly strong. Neal and Allen are potential Pro Bowl-caliber players, and Damontae Kazee has been the highest-rated CB in the preseason. Atlanta will have a hard time keeping Kazee off the field, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him getting snaps as the nickel CB/big nickel S to start the season. Ron Parker has played very little in the preseason, but he’s a steady veteran that provides starting-caliber depth. SPECIAL TEAMS - 3 K Matt Bryant P Matt Bosher LS Josh Harris We’ve yet to see Matt Bryant in the preseason, but he should be back for Saturday’s game against Jacksonville. Bosher has been great thus far, with some fantastic punts and well-placed kickoffs. He’s an under-appreciated weapon for this team. Josh Harris continues to be his solid, mistake-free self, and you gotta love his hustle on coverage units. PRACTICE SQUAD - 11 TE Alex Gray - International Exemption player. Gray hasn’t gotten much work in the preseason, but the Falcons get to carry him for “free” through the NFL’s International Player Program. C/G Jamil Douglas - It’s unclear to me if Douglas is available to join the practice squad (this will be his third season in the NFL), but if he is available he’s got a spot almost locked up. The Falcons have tried Douglas at C, where he’s looked solid at times. The team has no true back-up C behind Alex Mack, so keeping someone like Douglas close by makes sense. DB Tyson Graham - Graham has been up-and-down this preseason, but he’s had the most positive plays of any of the CB/S prospects the Falcons have brought in. Quinn loves versatile players, and Graham is yet another in the CB/S hybrid mold. EDGE Anthony Winbush - Winbush and J.T. Jones will likely be battling for a spot on the 53-man roster, with the loser given a practice squad spot. Jones has the edge due to his experience with the team, but Winbush is close behind him. I wouldn’t be shocked if the players switch places by the end of the preseason. DT Jon Cunningham - Cunningham wasn’t quite as impressive in his second preseason outing, but once against showed off good power and penetration ability against the run. I like his long-term potential as a base package 3T. DT Justin Zimmer - an athletic marvel (4.85-forty, 33.5 in. vertical, 7.01 3-cone, 9ft 9in broad) at 300 pounds, the small school standout Justin Zimmer simply hasn’t put it all together yet. He had an encouraging performance against the Chiefs, which could convince the Falcons to keep him around as a developmental lineman. A potential weight drop into the 285-range could position Zimmer for the DE/DT hybrid role that the Falcons love. LB Jonathan Celestin - by far the most impressive of the UDFA LBs, Celestin had another good game against Kansas City. He’s looked solid as a tackler, had some good moments in coverage, and picked up a sack on a blitz against the Jets. Celestin isn’t on the athletic level of the Falcons starters, but he’s a solid player that could provide Kemal Ishmael-level depth down the road. QB Kurt Benkert - Benkert’s less than inspiring second performance might have the beneficial side-effect of making him “safe” to stash on the practice squad. It obviously carries some element of risk, but unless Benkert blows it up in the remaining two preseason games, he’s likely going to be just fine sitting on the squad for a year. RB Justin Crawford - I think the Falcons like Malik Williams and Justin Crawford enough to keep both around—particularly with the specter of Tevin Coleman’s potential exodus in 2019 on their minds. We’ve also seen that RB injuries come fast and without warning in the NFL, and having some extra players close at hand is never a bad thing. TE Troy Mangen - Mangen has been the “best of the rest” of the TEs, which isn’t really saying much. He’s looked serviceable and has been called upon to block frequently. With the Falcons keeping only 3 TEs, it seems likely that they’ll keep an extra body on the practice squad. We could also easily see the team go with a veteran option if injuries should strike. WR Devin Gray - with Benkert struggling, Gray and the other UDFA receivers didn’t get to put on a show like they did against the Jets. Gray, Reggie Davis, and Dontez Byrd have been the standouts thus far, but I’ll still give the edge to Gray on the strength of his performance against the Jets. As you can see, there weren’t many changes to the 53-man roster after the second preseason game—though that’s mostly the product of the Falcons having almost every starting battle settled at this point. The poor performance by Benkert may actually be a blessing in disguise, giving the Falcons the flexibility to stash him on the practice squad. In his place, the team is able to keep the intriguing Matt Gono—who has been the best reserve tackle on the roster. Meanwhile, the defense stays essentially the same, with the battle between J.T. Jones and Anthony Winbush providing the biggest potential for a shake-up. The third preseason game will set much of the roster in stone, but the battles for the practice squad likely won’t be fully decided until after the fourth contest against the Dolphins. What are your takeaways on this projection of the Falcons’ roster? Any players you’d move around? Who are some UDFAs or low-key FA additions that have impressed you thus far?
  9. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/8/19/17755286/atlanta-falcons-look-like-contenders-versus-kansas-city-chiefs-preseason-2018 The Atlanta Falcons took the Kansas City Chiefs to town Friday night when it counted. Boy howdy, do the Dirty Birds look good right now. Real, real good. But remember when they looked bad last week? What on Earth am I supposed to feel right now? Well, you feel that inescapable pang of preseason, when the dreamlike euphoria of watching Matt Ryan and crew drive down with ease without Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman on a decent-enough Kansas City Chiefs defense collides with the sight of watching a Deion Jones-less Falcons defense trounce an Andy Reid/dual-threat QB attack. If this is what the Falcons can do without three of their best players, what are the capable of when those guys get back? The responsible prognosticator would tell you to bump the brakes a bit on thinking this is the end-all-be-all version of what Atlanta will look like, just as the irresponsible rabble-rouser will dance around the room to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” while decorating in advance for a Super Bowl party. The truth is, you find the balance, you find the proper excitement. An Offense on the Rise No, Friday’s promising performance doesn’t foretell postseason glory, but it does hint that, indeed, this offense has evolved from what it was in 2017, and that Steve Sarkisian is beginning to get more creative with his play calling. It shows that Austin Hooper and Eric Saubert are both beginning to grow into respective roles and that Atlanta might finally have a tight end tandem to lean on with talent alone. It shows that Brandon Fusco might have been the missing link to a cohesive offensive line. It shows that the addition of Calvin Ridley and the maturation of Marvin Hall might give this receiving core its 2016 depth once more. It shows an offense that can drive the ball, be witty when they need to be and score points. If they can do this consistently every week, you’re right to get giddy. Once Julio and Devonta get back, this might be the most talented personnel group they’ve fielded. A swarming Falcons defense Don’t forget that defense, which stomped down on rookie Patrick Mahomes and the dangerous bevy of weapons Kansas City has at their disposal. The interior defensive line in particular looked mighty fine, with Grady Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Deadrin Senat and Jack Crawford all showing real talent. After all the hand-wringing over the defensive tackle group in the spring, the team might’ve just done the trick to patch up the loss of Dontari Poe. McClain looks comfortable in the 4-3 front, just as Senat is already showing real power. He looks to be no friend of opposing centers. Safety Damontae Kazee continued his madcap preseason explosion with a pick, and cornerback Brian Poole looked like a heat-seeking missile with his tackling and play diagnosis. Both of those guys began to lose momentum for their role with the team once Isaiah Oliver came town and it became apparent the team was to extend Ricardo Allen. Both secondary players will have defined roles this season; Poole the slot man and sure tackler, Kazee the dangerous third safety. Heck, even put-upon LB Duke Riley looked like he was beginning to come into his own at times. Once Jones is back to man his spot, look for Riley’s play to continue to trend up. We certainly hope so, anyways. What’s Next? So, you know, get excited and stuff, people. The Falcons put the Jets performance behind them to really drive home the idea they’re meant for more in the NFC this season. They’ve got a ridiculously talented bunch of Birds this year, and if the offensive coaching can take the uptick, this might be the most complete Falcons team in forever, ever (forever ever, forever ever?). But don’t let this make you think they’re totally ironed out for September. Next week’s bout with the Jacksonville Jaguars will be a test of tests, their defense one of the most ferocious in football. If the Falcons regress a bit, it’ll create some worry. But let that be a lesson. Preseason is no time to crown kings or size rings; it’s expected to be an up-and-down experience where no one is actually trying to get the win. Though, for this up, the Falcons looked quite, quite up, the kind of up that sticks.
  10. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/8/20/17721006/why-im-excited-about-the-atlanta-falcons-this-season The list of reasons not to be excited about this Atlanta Falcons team is extremely short. There’s injury, some worry over the depth of the defensive end rotation, some small questions with Duke Riley and Austin Hooper, and the possibility that Steve Sarkisian won’t be up to snuff as a play caller. Otherwise, the arrow is pointing way up for the Falcons. I feel pretty spoiled—and it also feels a little surreal—to be contemplating a great Falcons team. While there are rebuilding teams and bad teams and borderline contenders who will be answering this prompt from SB Nation with whatever reasons they can scrounge up. It’s a lucky team that can answer, in all honesty, that the reason they’re excited about their favorite team is because their favorite teams looks great. The Falcons have the best quarterback they’ve had in franchise history, most would agree, plus one of their better running back tandems, wide receiver corps, offensive lines, defensive front sevens and secondaries ever. They have talent, good coaching (though I pause a little bit on that one, at times), and young players with ability ready to step in in the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years. They’ve never been better positioned for success in the here and now and in the future, I’d wager, and that makes this Falcons team worth celebrating. In summary, I’m excited about the Atlanta Falcons because they’re exciting. If this isn’t one of the best Falcons teams of all-time, I will be surprised. We’ll remind you of that as often as we can here at The Falcoholic, because life is short and fragile and the Falcons rarely give us something this interesting to celebrate. I second this.
  11. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/8/18/17745250/falcons-vs-chiefs-2018-snap-counts-richard-jarvis-marcelis-branch-garrison-smith Snap counts! During the season, they help to illuminate who is dominating snaps and who is limited to special teams after you’ve watched the game, and provide us an opportunity to look for trends. In preseason, they tell us who the Falcons are serious about getting an extended look at. Let’s break down this week’s snap counts for Falcons vs. Chiefs. Offense T Matt Gono: 33 G Ben Garland: 33 T Ty Sambrailo: 33 RB Ito Smith: 29 TE Eric Saubert: 27 G Jamil Douglas: 23 G Wes Schweitzer: 23 QB Matt Schaub: 23 TE Logan Paulsen: 19 WR Calvin Ridley: 19 WR Reggie Davis: 19 C J.C. Hassenauer: 19 G Sean Harlow: 19 WR Devin Gray: 18 WR Justin Hardy: 17 QB Kurt Benkert: 15 WR Russell Gage: 14 T Jake Matthews: 14 T Ryan Schraeder: 14 C Alex Mack: 14 G Brandon Fusco: 14 QB Matt Ryan: 14 FB Ricky Ortiz: 13 WR Marvin Hall: 12 WR Mohamed Sanu: 11 RB Justin Crawford: 10 TE Austin Hooper: 10 RB Tevin Coleman: 10 T Austin Pasztor: 9 G Salesi Uhatafe: 9 WR Christian Blake: 9 T/G Daniel Brunskill: 9 WR Dontez Byrd: 8 TE Jaeden Graham: 8 TE Troy Mangen: 7 WR Lamar Jordan: 5 FB Luke McNitt: 3 WR Cody Pearson: 3 RB Malik Williams: 3 RB Terrence Magee: 2 The Falcons have all but decided the fullback battle, by all appearances, which is perhaps the biggest takeaway here. Luke McNitt barely played, while Ricky Ortiz made the most of his 13 snaps, coming away with two receptions and some nice blocks. The Falcons also mixed up their offensive line quite a bit last night, giving Matt Gono a surprising number of snaps ahead of Austin Pasztor. I thought Gono played pretty well, all things considered, and he should be in line for a practice squad spot if he keeps that up. The team may not carry four tackles, but they’ll need a de facto one around if something happens to a starter. It’s also noteworthy that Marvin Hall got far fewer snaps than other receiving options Friday night, and yet still managed to post the third-highest receiving total on the night. There’s an odd reluctance in some corners of this fanbase to accept it, but I think the Falcons have more or less decided he’s on the roster. Defense S Marcelis Branch: 47 DB Secdrick Cooper: 43 LB Anthony Wimbush: 33 S/CB Chris Lammons: 33 DT Garrison Smith: 33 DE J’Terius Jones: 28 LB Jon Celestin: 27 CB: Blidi Wreh-Wilson: 27 DT Jon Cunningham: 25 DE/DT Mackendy Cheridor: 25 LB Emmanuel Smith: 24 LB Duke Riley: 24 CB Deante Burton: 24 CB Isaiah Oliver: 23 CB Leon McFadden: 23 LB Richard Jarvis: 22 LB Foye Oluokun: 22 DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 21 DT Jordan Zimmer: 21 LB Kemal Ishmael: 19 S Ricardo Allen: 18 CB Robert Alford: 18 S Keanu Neal: 18 CB Brian Poole: 16 DT Grady Jarrett: 13 LB De’Vondre Campbell: 13 DE Derrick Shelby: 10 DE Takkarist McKinley: 10 DT Terrell McClain: 9 DE Brooks Reed: 9 DT Jack Crawford: 9 CB Desmond Trufant: 9 DE Vic Beasley: 9 DT Deadrin Senat: 8 LB Emmanuel Ellerbe: 6 S Tyson Graham: 6 CB Justin Bethel: 5 DB Ryan Neal: 4 S Damontae Kazee: 2 S Ron Parker: 1 The Falcons decided to take a long look at the likes of Wimbush, Branch, Lammons, Smith and Cooper. That was probably to give these guys a shot to prove themselves, by and large, and Lammons looked solid, Branch decent in spurts, and Smith had a couple of legitimately nice plays. I’d say that Cooper, like Graham last week, probably hurt his chances of making this roster with his performance. The Falcons are trying to figure out back ends of position groups at the moment, and a guy like Garrison Smith set himself up nicely to be the fifth defensive tackle, while Lammons is pushing hard for a practice squad spot in a crowded secondary. It’s fair to say that the deep reserves did not have a good night overall, but a small handful of players did help themselves, and I’d put those two guys at the top of it. One note: Justin Bethel barely played, and at this point it’s fair to wonder whether that’s because he’s an easy roster pick or if it’s because he might be losing ground given the special teams value shown by guys like Marvin Hall and Russell Gage. We’ll see if the Falcons address it this week, but I’d still bet the former Special Teams Richard Jarvis: 12 Isaiah Oliver: 11 Marcelis Branch: 10 Foye Oluokun: 9 Russell Gage: 9 Ricky Ortiz: 9 Matt Bosher: 8 Ito Smith: 7 Eric Saubert: 7 Emmanuel Ellerbe: 6 Damontae Kazee: 6 Ron Parker: 6 I listed everyone with five or more special teams snaps, because there were several dudes with just one or two. This tells a story in and of itself. If you’re not guaranteed a starting job, as is the case for the likes of Oluokun, Gage, and Saubert, you need to prove you belong on special teams. Oluokun is an excellent tackler, Gage an outstanding special teamer in general, and Saubert’s blocking is improved in his second year. Kazee and Parker will, of course, find plenty of time as well. Also interesting: Jarvis and Branch, who got very long looks on defense, also led the team in special teams snaps. Branch is a good athlete who hung around all last year and may be a practice squad candidate once more, while Jarvis showed himself to be a physical, (overly) enthusiastic run stopper against the Chiefs. If the Falcons liked what they saw on special teams, it can only help their chances of hanging around in some capacity for the 2018 season.
  12. Over at AtlantaFalcons.com, Matthew Tabeek rounded up ten things the team’s editorial staff has learned after 10 days of training camp. The anecdotes here range from amusing (the offensive line’s fake tattoos are something The Falcoholic staff should emulate) to legitimately noteworthy (Jack Crawford’s health, which we’ll touch on later). But the one that jumped out to me was the praise for Marvin Hall. Hall, you’ll recall, was signed as an undrafted free agent and managed to hang around all of last year, even getting a little run as a receiver and special teamer and finishing up the year with two receptions, 60 yards and a touchdown. He’s now competing for one of the last wide receivers spots on the roster and a returner job, and he has a legitimate shot at becoming the team’s kick and punt returner and fifth receiver. Not bad for a former undrafted free agent, no? But it appears the 25-year-old may be in line for even more than that, if Matt Ryan’s very interesting comments about him hold true. “Marvin is having a really good training camp,” Ryan said. “I think he’s having a great offsesason. He was really, really good for us in terms of training, attention to detail, his work during OTAs. He was excellent and he’s kind of continued that for the first week. I think he’s going to be a good reserve guy for us behind when you talk about those first three guys. Marvin is right behind that. He’s got great top ... speed.” What’s really noteworthy here is that Ryan said behind when you talk about those first three guys. That could have been careless speech, but Ryan’s not often guilty of that, and it may indicate that Hall is working his way past Justin Hardy for the fourth receiver gig. Hall isn’t as sure-handed as Hardy and he doesn’t, by all accounts and observations, have the former’s blocking skills. He is faster and potentially more dynamic, however. There are no guarantees, but these comments are a strong indicator that Hall’s an early favorite for a roster spot at the receiver position, and he may well be able to carve out a small but vital role in this team’s passing attack if his strong summer continues. No matter what order they show up on the depth chart in, a set of reserves as strong as Hardy, Hall and rookie Russell Gage would be very welcome. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/8/5/17653716/marvin-halls-strong-summer-may-earn-him-a-roster-spot-atlanta-falcons-training-camp
  13. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/7/29/17626426/atlanta-falcons-training-camp-day-two-recap-devondre-campbells-pass-rushing-practice You don’t expect the second day of training camp to be fruitful, news-wise, and yet there is a ton to talk about even if you set aside the (hopefully) minor injuries for Calvin Ridley and Takkarist McKinley. The second day featured De’Vondre Campbell getting work on the defensive line as a pass rusher, Wes Schweitzer getting the nod as the first-team right guard for the second straight practice, and an affirmation that Damontae Kazee is going to find his way onto the field despite the team’s overwhelming secondary depth. Let’s start with Campbell. De’Vondre’s day The Falcons have consistently talked up De’Vondre Campbell’s pass rushing ability, but they haven’t necessarily found a way to consistently allow him to rush the passer. Campbell has always been remarkably strong and physical for a linebacker, to the point where lining him up on the defensive line at times seems perfectly sensible. The Falcons tried that in practice on Saturday, giving them an extremely nasty-looking line in nickel and dime sets. If the Falcons are truly planning to get Campbell more involved as a pass rusher and get him some time on the line, they must be feeling good about Duke Riley’s ability to potentially step in next to Deion Jones. If Campbell is as good at chasing down the passer as he was at times last year, and if the Falcons actually commit to using this front at times in 2018, there are going to be a lot of offensive lines with troubling nightmares in the months to come. Schweitzer’s last stand After the Falcons inked Brandon Fusco to a multi-year deal, it seemed obvious that Wes Schweitzer was going to lose the right guard job. I still think that’s the obvious outcome, but it’s very clear that Schweitzer is not exactly going to go down without a fight. Schweitzer has been getting first team work in minicamp and training camp, and while some of that can be chalked up to him being the incumbent starter, it’s worth remembering that he held down the starting spot for 18 games last season and nearly fought his way into the lineup in 2016 as a rookie sixth rounder. While I’m sure Atlanta wouldn’t be exactly thrilled if Fusco didn’t earn the starting gig, given the money they invested in him, they’re going to give Schweitzer a long look and it’s not impossible that he wins the job. Kazee’s killer versatility There’s a long way to go yet, but Damontae Kazee is showing early in camp why he figures to be a valuable member of this secondary in 2018, despite the lack of an obvious role for him. Kazee can—and did—play safety, and he’s also a capable enough cornerback that it’s little surprise to see him getting some time there in practice. Ron Parker wasn’t signed to sit on the bench and Brian Poole should be the fourth cornerback once Isaiah Oliver gets rolling, but even if Kazee’s the de facto fourth safety and fifth cornerback, he’ll find his way onto the field thanks to injury, players needing breathers, or just Marquand Manuel’s desire to get his physicality onto the field. Watch Kazee the rest of the summer to see if he can push his way up the depth chart at either cornerback or safety, but now’s the time to start thinking of him as a super sub given that Ricardo Allen is headed for a new contract and the team is ridiculously loaded at cornerback. If he can be a great one, this team’s in great shape. Let’s see what the third day brings for us.
  14. Lewan signs $80M/$50M guaranteed five year extension. Going into training camp, the Falcons made it clear they wanted to get long-term deals done for Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett. Both are under contract for just 2018 and are promising young talents with bright futures. It’s always looked like Matthews would be the first to get a deal, and the extension that Taylor Lewan just received is the new bar that Jake and his agent will be aiming for. For some reason, this has been a hotly debated topic with fans split on the idea of paying Jake Matthews. While many will argue that Lewan has made it to the Pro-Bowl, others will point out how difficult it is to acquire and keep quality left tackles in the NFL. Case in point: The Panthers gladly paid Matt Kalil 55M to be their new left tackle. Good luck finding a football fan that thinks Kalil is even a mediocre talent at this point. While Matthews has not turned out to be the next Joe Thomas that fans wanted (which is a ridiculous expectation), he has gotten better every year in the league and is a quality player. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/7/27/17621348/taylor-lewan-contract-sets-the-bar-for-falcons-deal-with-jake-matthews-pay-the-man What are your thoughts on the new market for paying a left tackle in the NFL?
  15. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/7/18/17576522/there-are-eight-days-until-falcons-training-camp-so-here-are-eight-new-additions-to-watch There are some good comments there. Believe it or not, but we’re juuuust over a week away from the start of training camp. As we gear up, one of the most exciting things to watch will be the newest additions to the team, those who just joined through the draft or free agency and will be competing for roles large and small with the team this summer. With that in mind, here are eight new Falcons to keep an eye on in July, August and beyond. RB Ito Smith No matter what the team says about Smith’s fortunes and keeping the band together at running back, he’s the odds-on favorite to become the team’s #2 back in 2019. Tevin Coleman isn’t likely to come cheap once he hits free agency next year, and the Falcons aren’t exactly going to be flush with cap space next year and beyond. So it’ll be interesting to see how Smith fares early and how much of a role he can carve out in his first season. The Falcons will keep expectations and snap counts fairly low for the promising young back, but if he can show the kind of rushing and pass catching prowess he did in college, he’ll step right in for Coleman a year from now. WR Calvin Ridley Ridley’s not going to push out Mohamed Sanu this year, and it’s possible he’ll still be sharing a field with his veteran counterpart next season. But he’s the future of the receiver position, even so, and he could be a major asset as soon as this year given the level of refinement to his game. You’ll want to watch Ridley to see if he’s as ready as advertised this summer, and to see if he can carry that over to the regular season. WR Russell Gage The Falcons have tinkered with Gage at cornerback and receiver, and it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll actually wind up. The team has more advanced talent at receiver with Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis lined up there, but Justin Hardy’s contract is up a year from now and Gage has the deep speed to be a problem. At cornerback, meanwhile, the Falcons have their top three locked in but will confront a 2019 season without Brian Poole, Justin Bethel and Blidi Wreh-Wilson if none of those men re-sign. Watch to see where Gage plays, as it’ll be a sign for where he’ll end up a year from now, even if his 2018 should be limited purely to special teams. G Brandon Fusco The veteran guard has been pretty good throughout his career, and he’ll be asked to be pretty good in Atlanta as the team’s presumptive starting right guard. If he can’t create a lot of distance between himself and Wes Schweitzer this summer, however, he may wind up making Atlanta his home for only a short time. I’ll be looking to see the run blocking that is supposed to make him a significant upgrade over last season’s incumbent. DT Garrison Smith The door is open for a player like Smith, given that the Falcons have eight players locked into roster spots along the defensive line but no settled depth beyond that. If the former Seahawk can enjoy a strong summer, he could latch on as the ninth player. It’s not a very exciting role, but the Falcons will need additional depth in case injuries or poor performance strike up front. LB Foye Oluokun One of my favorite players from this draft class, Oluokun has the athleticism and smarts to be an immediate asset on special teams, and the upside to be a plus reserve for Atlanta down the line. Kemal Ishmael’s on yet another one year deal and Duke Riley has to prove he’s a long-term solution at the position, so Oluokun may carve out some real opportunity for himself earlier than later. CB Isaiah Oliver We’ve hyped up the second rounder enough, I think, but he should be pretty good immediately. The only question is how well he’ll hit the ground running, and what role he’ll be stepping into in his first season. If he performs well this summer I fully expect him to play outside opposite Desmond Trufant in nickel sets, which means a lot of playing time. S Ron Parker There’s a little bit of mystery surrounding Parker, a starting-caliber safety who Atlanta landed for cheap. He seems exceedingly unlikely to actually earn a starting spot, but he should find snaps as a reserve and special teamer right out of the gate. If he’s looking good this summer and the Falcons are willing to trot out more three safety sets, Parker could walk into a larger role. What other new additions do you have your eye on? Emphasis added.
  16. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/7/13/17563166/there-are-14-days-until-falcons-training-camp-so-here-are-14-battles-to-watch It should be a lively summer, even with most roster battles already settled. By Dave Choate Jul 13, 2018, 8:00am EDT We’re nearly to training camp. As of today, we’re just two weeks away from July 26, when the Falcons open up their summer of practices and position battles in the sweltering sun. As you know, this roster is pretty settled, with the team returning something along the lines of 19 out of 22 starters from the 2017 squad. That doesn’t mean that the remaining battles for starting jobs will be boring, or that players bitterly fighting (not literally) for roster spots won’t provide some intrigue. With that in mind, here are 14 battles to keep an eye on when camp does finally, mercifully open up. Matt Schaub vs. Kurt Benkert Schaub’s the heavy favorite here, but the Falcons may actually have something in Benkert, a project with a great arm and flashes of legitimately brilliant play in college. If Benkert picks things up quickly, there’s a small but non-zero chance he could knock off Schaub, and even those slim odds bear watching. Luke McNitt vs. Daniel Marx vs. Ricky Ortiz It’s a three man battle for the fullback position, featuring two undrafted free agents and a former undrafted free agent. All three are young players, and while McNitt’s my early pick, it’s the only legitimately wide open battle on this list. While fullbacks should have a relatively small role in this Falcons offense, adding another capable blocker to the ground game is key, and this one might go down to the roster cutting wire. Calvin Ridley vs. Mohamed Sanu Who is the true #2 in 2018? Sanu would seem the favorite, given his reliability and mastery of the offense in 2016 and 2017, but Ridley has sky-high potential and comes into the league as a very polished prospect. Both will get a ton of playing time and both will line up opposite Julio Jones at time, but Ridley has an opportunity to be the #2 in more than name if he can make a strong early push. Marvin Hall vs. Russell Gage vs. Reggie Davis and so on It’s very possible that the Falcons will only have one roster spot behind Julio Jones, Ridley, Sanu and Justin Hardy. If that’s the case, it’s going to be a free-for-all between all the young, interesting players the Falcons have assembled at the receiver position. Hall showed some promise a year ago, Davis shone in preseason 2017 (despite a couple of errors), and Gage was drafted this year with early special teams value very much in mind. Gage is the favorite as a recent, talked-up draft selection, but Hall and Davis aren’t going to go quietly, and one of them should make the roster outright if the Falcons elect to keep six receivers. Eric Saubert vs. Logan Paulsen Can Saubert block well? If the answer to that question is yes, after a 2017 where he received few opportunities to show anything, he might bump Paulsen down to the nominal third tight end. Saubert has loads of promise, and it would be very nice to see the Falcons trot out two tight ends who can actually consistently catch the football. It’ll all come down to how much improvement Saubert shows in his second summer. Ty Sambrailo vs. Austin Pasztor vs. Matt Gono Swing tackle matters. Keeping your starting tackles healthy for a full 16 game slate is no easy task, regardless of how durable Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder have been in the past, and Atlanta has been way too content to trot out the likes of Jeremy Trueblood in years past. Sambrailo was merely whelming in the role a year ago and should receive a legitimate challenge from a now-healthy Pasztor and intriguing UDFA Gono for the gig. Brandon Fusco vs. Wes Schweitzer The Falcons aren’t simply going to hand Fusco the job, though he’s the easy favorite to win right guard duties. Schweitzer did start 18 games a year ago with (again) whelming play and some quality stretches, and it’s conceivable that he could push hard for the gig again after doing so in 2016 and winning it outright in 2017. The Falcons are going to have a very capable veteran backup at the position, no matter who wins. Sean Harlow vs. roster limits We named Harlow as a player to watch in training camp for a couple of reasons. He has athleticism and drew enough interest from Atlanta to become their 2017 fourth round selection, for one thing, and he’s a legitimate candidate to get cut, for another. The Falcons have plenty of capable options on the interior of the offensive line, and Harlow will need to shine to hang on and hopefully make a push for a real role in 2019. Jack Crawford vs. Terrell McClain vs. Deadrin Senat The Falcons will rotate heavily at defensive tackle, but the nominal starter next to Grady Jarrett has not been decided yet. Crawford’s returning from an injury but offers some pass rushing chops, McClain has a track record as an early down asset, and Senat looks like he could become at least a solid starter in the NFL in relatively short order with his strength and history of collegiate production. It’ll be interesting to see if Senat can seize the job outright from his veteran colleagues, even if he’ll cede plenty of snaps to them along the way. J’Terius Jones vs. Garrison Smith The Falcons seem likely to carry nine defensive linemen, given their proclivity for rotation and how tight a four man rotation at defensive end and defensive tackle feels. What we don’t know is whether that player is going to be chiefly a DE (and here I’m thinking of Jones) or a DT (and here I’m thinking of Smith). There are other players in the mix here, but Smith’s a veteran with some upside and Jones stuck all last year after an impressive summer, and one of them seems likely to emerge as that ninth player. Blidi Wreh-Wilson vs. Justin Bethel and roster limits Wreh-Wilson was an asset in limited opportunities in 2017, but now the depth chart at corner is ridiculously deep. He’ll likely need to beat out Bethel, a special teams ace, or play so well that the Falcons seriously consider carrying six cornerbacks (plus Damontae Kazee, a nominal safety who can play some corner as well). It’s a tall order. Damontae Kazee vs. Ron Parker If you want to put three safeties on the field, are you throwing Kazee or Parker out there first? It may prove to be a moot question, with the Falcons electing to use both in turn, but it seems likelier that one player will emerge if Dan Quinn and Marquand Manuel want to tinker with some interesting defensive sets. Kazee flashed real physicality in 2017 and he has some legitimate coverage chops as a part-time cornerback, but Parker has been an average-to-above average starting safety for a while now, with a somewhat disappointing 2017 depressing his market value to the point where Atlanta was able to sign him on the cheap. I like Parker’s chances, but man is this group of defensive backs strong. Isaiah Oliver vs. Brian Poole Another battle that is a battle in name only, but still bears watching. Poole has been one of the team’s most effective blitzing defensive backs and a wonderfully physical corner over the past two seasons, and as good as Oliver promises to be early, the veteran isn’t simply going to roll over and cede the job. It’s possible, though not probable, that Poole fends Oliver off and the rookie comes off the bench early on. The field of potential returners vs. themselves There are too many players to list here who could be in the mix, but they include Hall, Davis, Gage, Justin Hardy, Oliver, and maybe even Parker. The fact that the Falcons haven’t chained themselves to a veteran option here means a surprising choice could emerge, and that player will ultimately likely be the fifth or sixth option at either wide receiver or cornerback. It truly seems wide open at the moment. What other battles will you be watching?
  17. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/7/8/17542196/one-big-question-at-the-defensive-end-position-will-takk-mckinley-live-up-to-the-hype In allowing Adrian Clayborn and Courtney Upshaw to walk this offseason, the Falcons signaled that they were ready to turn the keys over to Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley full-time at defensive end. The team has made its living rotating heavily in recent years, but with a slimmed-down rotation in the making and Clayborn in New England, there’s little question the pressure to produce falls on the team’s young stars. That’s why the big question with defensive end doesn’t have much to do with depth, and everything to do with whether Takk McKinley is going to prove to be every bit the breakout candidate he’s being identified as this offseason. For the record, I believe he will. Takk is big, powerful and fast, and he’s going to start the season doubling his early 2017 snap counts (at least), so the opportunity will be there. As long as he has a good offseason and is healthy, I’d expect him to challenge for the team lead in sacks and make more than a few tackles look foolish along the way. If Beasley also does well, this will be one of the league’s premier duos. But of course, there are no guarantees, and the Falcons don’t have a particularly compelling Plan B if Takk isn’t a monster. If Takk doesn’t take the huge step forward everyone seems to be anticipating, the Falcons are almost certainly going to struggle to generate a ton of pressure off the edge. Vic Beasley is a bounceback candidate in his own right, but Brooks Reed is more solid than anything else as a pass rusher, Derrick Shelby is more of a run stopper, and nobody beyond that quartet is particularly proven. It’s fair to say the team has a lot of eggs in Takk’s basket, and they’d need a fortunate roster cut from another team or an unexpected boost from a player like J’Terius Jones to mitigate that. Fortunately, again, Takk has the talent and opportunity to put it all together and make this question look very silly in short order. One of the nice things about this year’s Falcons is that most of the questions seem likely to be answered in a positive way than any year in recent memory, and we’ll hope that Takk is every bit the star the Falcons need him to be.
  18. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/6/18/17471654/the-post-minicamp-atlanta-falcons-53-man-roster-projection Looks to me that backup MLB (206lb Ishmael.),OLB and OT depth are lacking, but I see the reason for four OGs. I like the look of the DL rotation. Here is the article: Training camp tends to swiftly make fools of all of us when it comes to roster predictions, but that will never stop us. To predict is to be human, and I’m feeling particularly human today. Here’s my best crack at a 53 man roster at the moment, one that does it best to take advantage of the team’s depth at certain positions by keeping a lot of guys around. That includes wide receiver, where the Falcons get to hold on to three talented young options, and guard, where the Falcons can let 2017 fourth round guard Sean Harlow marinate one more year in the hopes that he’s able to step into a larger role in 2019, when Andy Levitre’s contract is up. Review mine, sound off, and share yours! QB Matt Ryan QB Matt Schaub RB Devonta Freeman RB Tevin Coleman RB Ito Smith FB Luke McNitt WR Julio Jones WR Mohamed Sanu WR Calvin Ridley WR Justin Hardy WR Russell Gage WR Marvin Hall TE Austin Hooper TE Logan Paulsen TE Eric Saubert T Jake Matthews T Ryan Schraeder T Ty Sambrailo G Andy Levitre G Brandon Fusco G Wes Schweitzer G Sean Harlow C Alex Mack C/G Ben Garland DE Takkarist McKinley DE Vic Beasley DE Brooks Reed DE Derrick Shelby DE J’Terius Jones DT Grady Jarrett DT Jack Crawford DT Terrell McClain DT Deadrin Senat DT Garrison Smith OLB De’Vondre Campbell OLB Duke Riley OLB Foye Oluokun MLB Deion Jones LB Kemal Ishmael LB Emmanuel Smith CB Desmond Trufant CB Robert Alford CB Isaiah Oliver CB Brian Poole CB Justin Bethel CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson FS Ricardo Allen FS Damontae Kazee SS Keanu Neal S Chris Lammons K Matt Bryant P Matt Bosher LS Josh Harris
  19. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/6/16/17463652/four-legitimate-2018-breakout-candidates-for-the-falcons-austin-hooper-isaiah-oliver With minicamp wrapping up and a few players standing out extremely early, I got to thinking about one of my favorite topics: Breakout players. It’s not one of my favorite topics because I typically get my selections right, but because on a roster this talented, it’s difficult to come up with just a handful of choices who legitimately qualify as breakout players. You could say that Grady Jarrett or Keanu Neal is set to break out, I guess, but they’re already borderline stars and don’t have that far to go to get here. Here’s four players on my list for 2018. Austin Hooper Depending on your appetite for risky predictions, you could even toss Eric Saubert’s name in the hat here, given that he’s looked great in camp and should be able to leapfrog Logan Paulsen for snaps if he shows himself to be a capable blocker this spring and summer. But if we’re being honest, Hooper’s the obvious candidate here. He didn’t quite break out last year, putting together a solid second season that was marked by a handful of mistakes that followed him around all year. He’s about as quick and well-rounded a starting tight end as the Falcons have had since Tony Gonzalez—not that he’s in the same league as a player—and now Hooper just needs to put the pieces together and make more of his opportunities. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the kind of season I predicted for him a year ago (approaching double digit touchdowns, 600-800 yards) a season later. De’Vondre Campbell The timing is right for Campbell, who is heading into his third NFL season and has shown remarkable growth already in his short NFL career. The Falcons took Campbell “early” because they believed in his ability and appeared to believe the many knocks on his awareness were fixable or overblown, and Campbell rewarded them by becoming a very good linebacker in his second season. Deion Jones is already a star, but Campbell still hasn’t hit his ceiling and could form a lethal tandem with Debo this year if he’s gotten even a little bit better. Isaiah Oliver Oliver’s only a rookie, but I think he can legitimately leap onto the scene. Calvin Ridley has that kind of talent, too, but he’s in a passing attack loaded with weapons and it’s not clear how much playing time (and how many targets) he’s going to get initially. Oliver, meanwhile, should play a ton with the Falcons being so fond of nickel sets. As a rangy, plus athlete (you’re sensing a theme, here) with ball skills who should see most of his snaps outside, Oliver will be challenged by legitimately talented receivers right away, but he’s good enough to give them ****. If he can hold his own in coverage and make plays on the ball, he’ll turn some heads early. Takkarist McKinley This choice is too obvious, but I’m not one to ignore the obvious. Takk turned in a six sack rookie season that was notable for how good he looked in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, and he’s so fast and powerful I’d be surprised if he didn’t build on that rookie season. On a quietly strong defensive line and with several weak tackles on the schedule, don’t be shocked if Takk pushes for double digit sacks, and he’s already very good against the run. Who would be your breakout picks?
  20. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/6/11/17445322/pff-falcons-wr-julio-jones-named-third-best-player-in-nfl-for-2018 Behind Brady and Donald. Seems fair.
  21. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/6/6/17427998/falcons-2017-defense-had-two-of-teams-best-run-defenders-in-half-decade-grady-jarrett-keanu-neal The Falcons are in a very good place with their run defense, if Pro Football Focus’ Atlanta-centric Twiter count has any say in it. We’re not really used to writing about quality Atlanta run defenses. You’ll see fun names from Falcons’ past (shout out to Lawyer Milloy), but two of those names, Keanu Neal and Grady Jarrett, are current Birds, and will be fixtures to the team’s defense for years to come. As you see, Neal posted up an 89.3, while Jarrett notched in an 87.7 for his grade. Neal and Jarrett are monsters at whatever they do, and it’s wonderful to see them hold this kind of history. To be rather blunt, the Falcons’ run defense has stunk for years, so for them to be in a time of revival in that department is too encouraging. Sure, losing Dontari Poe won’t help going forward, but the tandem of Terrell McClain and Deadrin Senat should at least make up some of the ground. Guys like Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, Ricardo Allen and Kemal Ishmael all help out against the run, too, and the corners help when they can. This is one of the best groups of run defenders the team has had in quite some time, with Neal and Jarrett leading the charge. It’s honestly a bit bewildering to even consider “Falcons” and “good run defense” in the same sentence, but this is the Dan Quinn era of Falcons football. We’re allowed to do that now! It’s pretty cool, to be honest! Be thankful we’ve got this lineup, which only stands to get better as time goes on. We can’t wait to see what this defense is capable of in 2018, particularly with the running back groups in the NFC South looking fairly strong going at the moment.
  22. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/6/1/17414070/matt-ryan-has-better-odds-of-winning-mvp-than-qb-drew-brees-rb-cam-newton-52-point-9-percent Matt Ryan has better odds of winning MVP than QB Drew Brees, RB Cam Newton 23 comments With gambling legalized just in time for us to get out of this really bad hole, we’ve been looking at some betting lines. The offseason is a terrible, terrible place, but you can get in early on betting with all these locks guaranteed to pay out money. Oh, actually I’m told by our attorneys that none of these are locks, and you will probably just lose a bunch of money on stupid bets. I like to see where the Vegas odds have the Falcons, and found a few interesting stats from Sports Betting Dime. The best? Matt Ryan has the 5th best odds of winning league MVP, but he was somehow edged out by an injured Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson, who has the league’s sport’s worst offensive coordinator. Who isn’t in the top five? Saints quarterback Drew Brees slots in after Ryan, followed by RB/OW Cam Newton. Coolest bet for MVP? Aaron Donald at 85/1 odds. Falcons have 12/1 odds for the league’s top scoring offense, meaning Vegas likes Steve Sarkisian way more than the comments on the Falcoholic. Calvin Ridley has 32/1 odds of winning offensive rookie of the year. Those two could actually go hand in hand. Atlanta’s Super Bowl odds are at 26/1 right now, which feels about right. Vegas isn’t showing much respect for Atlanta’s defense, but it’s hard to fault them too much for that. If Atlanta succeeds in 2018, it’s going to be due to these offensive categories. That last sentence just isn't right.
  23. Good read. Give some clicks, this is great. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/5/29/17400154/enjoy-this-moment-in-atlanta-falcons-history-folks Enjoy this moment in Falcons history, folks For all the hand-wringing around X, Y, or Z, we should all be more thankful for what we’ve got. By Cory Woodroof@CoryWoodroof47 May 29, 2018 As the umpteenth pointless controversy and backup debate rages on to quench our summer thirst for anything football related, part of me wanted to just sit the entire Falcons fan base down and just make sure everyone’s on the same page. Do you all realize how good we have it right now? When you take a magnifying glass and survey the states of other teams in the NFL, you begin to think, “y’know, we’re in a pretty great spot right now, like, a really, totally great one.” Just look at the Buffalo Bills. The Bills are about to go into their season with Josh Allen under center, a patchwork offensive line, and a passing offense whose best option just might be Charles Clay. Poor LeSean McCoy. The defense is better, but has yet to have a second season to cement Sean McDermott’s success. They literally might go 3-13, and plenty of NFL heads don’t think Allen will be the guy. If he’s not, that sets this team back about a half decade, so Bills fans will see their team be largely irrelevant if the kid from Wyoming doesn’t cut it. That...is not ideal. Or, think of the Browns. They’ve won two games in the last...two seasons. A win a year! Or, the Raiders. The Raiders haven’t been relevant since 2002, and they brought back a coach who wants to take them back to 1998. Or, the Jets, who literally were responsible for the Butt Fumble, and have done nothing of note since their quarterback literally ran into and was technically tackled by another teammate’s butt. Or, the Cowboys, who will fail to do anything important until Jerry Jones retires. Or, the Saints, who won a Super Bowl in part by cheating in 2009, and gave us the ample opportunity to make 7-9 jokes at them for nearly a half decade, until last season, where their magical run was quite literally ended by a last-second touchdown in the divisional round of the playoffs. They are very good, except for that the best player on their team is nearly 40 years old. Or, the Dolphins, who peaked in 1972. Or, the Bengals, who peaked in “let’s bring a football team to Cincinnati!” Or, the Washington football team, who really don’t have a justifiable reason to still exist. Right now, you could say that only the Eagles, Patriots, Rams, Texans and maybe Vikings are in equal-to-better shape than Atlanta for the next few years. DeShaun Watson still has to withstand the sophomore slump, and Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff...uh, aren’t Tom Brady. So...really...just the Eagles and Patriots. And, the Patriots could lose both Brady and Belichick at any point from here on out. And, the Eagles have to pay Wentz in a few years, and when they do, they’ll have to shed a lot of these lucrative contracts. Maybe the Packers? But we still need to see that defense get better. The Bears? Still a lot in the air there. The Niners? They won like six games. The Steelers? Big Ben is 100 years old. Do you realize how well off the Falcons are? Yes, the Atlanta Falcons. The team you cheer for. They’re one of the most stable, talented, well-coached teams in the NFL. Their star QB just signed a major extension, locking him in for the likely duration of his career. Now, look, Steve Sarkisian worries you a bit, but heck, even if he’s just marginally better than last year, isn’t that all you need? The team heads into 2018 with a third-place schedule and a team that could easily compete with a first-place schedule. They’ve got their most talented roster in years, aren’t coming off the most awful Super Bowl loss of all time and, have a young, hungry team that isn’t going to let the most awful Super Bowl loss of all time hold them back more than it has to. Do you realize how good the Falcons have it right now? Now, things can change, and moments fade. But, while you’re in one of the good moments, enjoy it. If you just want to be Ebenezer Scrooge and call every season without a Super Bowl a failure, then that’s your right. But, for the rest of us cheery civilians, really begin to appreciate what the Falcons have built, and how fun 2018 is going to be, no matter the outcome. And, probably, how fun 2019, 2020 and 2021 will be. The Falcons are built to succeed, and while I can’t guarantee a ring for you, I can guarantee you’ll probably have a really good team to cheer for in that stretch, and perhaps even after. So, take a second and breath it in. This is what it’s like to be one of the good teams that don’t have a lot to worry about. Don’t let this moment slip you by. Revel in cheering for something good, and don’t leave yourself kicking your own butt on the day we stink again for not appreciating what you had before it was gone. Because, trust me, that day will come sooner or later. Better enjoy the sunny days before the clouds roll back. Sun’s in the forecast for a good bit. How special is that. How thankful we should be.
  24. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/5/21/17358022/anything-less-than-a-super-bowl-victory-will-be-falling-short-for-the-2018-falcons It’s a saying which you continuously hear when it comes to elite teams in the National Football League, the saying that brings about the greatest of expectations for the greatest of teams: “Super Bowl or bust.” When a team’s fanbase makes this type of proclamation, they make it known that anything less than a Lombardi Trophy will be a failure. This saying is often exaggerated. Most teams don’t really have to win it all to have a successful season, and even great teams sometimes don’t come away with the big win. The 2018 Atlanta Falcons will be one of those rare cases where the season will look like a disappointment if they don’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy amidst the confetti on the first Sunday in February. You don’t need me to tell you that the Atlanta Falcons have never won a Super Bowl, you’ve probably heard that factoid enough in your lifetime. The Super Bowl this season will be played in Atlanta, and the birds will have a chance to be the first ever team to play in the big game in their home stadium, but that’s not the reason why they have to win it all this year. The Falcons are in the middle of their window of contention, and the window has never been so open for this team, no matter how tough the NFC South and the NFC are. No other Falcons team in franchise history has ever had this much talent going into a season: not in 1998, not in 2004, not in 2016. The talent On the offensive side, the star quarterback is in place. The team features arguably the most potent running back duo in the game. The receiving trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley is poised to be the best in football. The offensive line, while not elite, looks like it’ll be above average to very good after having its weakest link in Wes Schweitzer replaced by a very solid Brandon Fusco in free agency. Even at tight end, the team is looking for Austin Hooper to make that big step in his third season. The defensive side of the ball, meanwhile, is littered with rising stars and playmakers all around the field. The only slight concern is with the second defensive tackle position next to a star player in Grady Jarrett, but the team brought in two competent replacements for the departed Dontari Poe in third-round draft pick Deadrin Senat and late free agency addition Terrell McClain. The LB corps, led by Deion Jones is fast and versatile regarding their skillset. I also doubt that there’s a single team in the league that boasts four CBs as good as what Atlanta has in Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole and second-round pick Isaiah Oliver. Keanu Neal is a rising star at strong safety, and Ricardo Allen is an incredibly capable free safety. Maybe the most exciting part of the defense is the fact that the team has two legitimate pass rushers for the first time in over a decade in the form of Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley. To put it in simpler terms, this roster doesn’t have any real holes that other teams will be able to exploit. With the team’s back toward the wall when it comes to the salary cap, as well as the extensions for a number of core players looming, the Falcons are likely to lose some playmakers in the coming offseasons. With Julio Jones also about to enter the back end of his prime, that Super Bowl window of opportunity may never be more open than it is right now. What’s different from last year? Last season, a bunch of excuses were cultivated for why the team struggled. A new offensive coordinator ruined the offensive chemistry; the Super Bowl hangover loomed over the entire season like a dark cloud. They were legitimate excuses, but they aren’t there this season. Barring catastrophic luck with injuries, this team has no excuse for not winning it all aside from fierce competition from the NFL’s finest. The coaching continuity is there, the Super Bowl hangover isn’t as prevalent anymore, the talent is there and the experience is now also there. To be honest with you, I don’t think that this would be a “Super Bowl or bust” type season if not for the memories of Super Bowl 51. This team has to win the big one at least once so that they can overcome that blown lead in Houston, both for their own sake and for the sake of the fanbase. You can look toward the misery of the Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings fanbases as a warning of what’s to come if our lasting memory of this brilliant core ends up falling short of what we all expected. I’m not saying that the window won’t still be open in the 2019 season, but it probably won’t be as open as it will be this year. Unless a catastrophic injury that derails the campaign occurs, then this entire season will be a failure unless Matt Ryan, Dan Quinn and Arthur Blank are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the Benz when all is said and done.
  25. https://www.thefalcoholic.com/2018/5/22/17375560/what-we-know-about-the-2018-draft-class-after-one-day-of-otas-and-rookie-minicamp We don’t yet know how the rookie class is going to fare for the Falcons, and we’re a long way from seeing them in any meaningful game action. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some hints here in May about how the team is planning to deploy their newly minted rooks, however. Here, in no particular order, is what we’ve learned thus far: Rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun gave us a strong confirmation of what we already expected: That he’ll be a deep reserve at linebacker, but a key piece of Atlanta’s 2018 special teams. He told Will McFadden at the mothership that he intends to play on kick returns, punt returns, and kickoffs, either blocking or tackling. The fact that he then mentioned that he’d be “learning his role on defense” at the linebacker position suggests to me that he knows his role, he’s comfortable with his role, and he’s been told by Keith Armstrong that he’s going to be involved. Considering how shaky Atlanta’s special teams were in 2017, this should be a good thing. Calvin Ridley will be involved in special teams, too, though in a different role. Ridley figures to be one of the major players in Atlanta’s returner competition, which could also involve rookies Isaiah Oliver and Russell Gage, receivers Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis, and perhaps even Robert Alford. With his quality hands, savvy and speed, Ridley has to be considered an early favorite. Russell Gage is indeed going to keep getting some time at cornerback and wide receiver, with the Falcons in no particular rush to settle him down at either position. Like Oluokun, though, he’s going to be primarily a special teamer, with the team at least discussing getting him involved as a returner and certainly getting him involved as a gunner. He’s no stranger to the work, having been a special teams standout in college. We also know that Isaiah Oliver impressed in rookie minicamp and that Deadrin Senat is going to be a big part of the defensive tackle rotation, but we don’t yet know where they’re going to play. The coming days and weeks will give us a much better idea, however.
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