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Vastly improved Ryan has Falcons poised to catapult Saints


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Vastly improved Ryan has Falcons poised to catapult Saints

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- For the first time in franchise history, the Atlanta Falcons have put back-to-back winning seasons together, and they appear far from satisfied.

And there's a quiet confidence building in Falcons training camp, a confidence I believe is warranted.

I think they're going to give the Saints all they can handle this season in the NFC South. The Falcons right now are poised to win that division, and they're talking like that very quietly, very humbly. But they can start to shout it because they're loaded, and the players returning are getting noticeably better, especially at the most important position: quarterback.

Matt Ryan has looked terrific in camp. He reminds me of Tom Brady when Brady came into the league. The Patriots QB was skinny and slow, just like Ryan was in his first two seasons in Atlanta. But Ryan's been locked in that weight room for the last six months, and it shows.

He's bigger, he's stronger, he's faster. He looked good on the bootleg when I saw him practice against the Jaguars on Tuesday. His deep ball is significantly better. He threw a 60-yard pass that Roddy White was unable to close on, demonstrating his new arm strength

Ryan told me that he has a lot of leeway running the Falcons' offense. "I can help move plays in and out of the lineup," he said. I think he and the Falcons are poised for a big season.

OBSERVATION DECK

» The offense, despite a rash of injuries last year, still ranked 16th. One of the Falcons' major points of emphasis this summer has been their first-down package. They were a top-10 third-down offense, but coach Mike Smith and Ryan both say the team needs to do a better job on the early downs.

» The Falcons have a plan if wide receiver Michael Jenkins -- the team's No. 3 passing option behind White and tight end Tony Gonzalez -- isn't available for the season opener at Pittsburgh. Brian Finneran is the answer for the No. 3 spot in Jenkins' absence, but the checkdown game to the backs is going to be featured more this year.

» Atlanta's pass defense was ranked 28th last year, but the Falcons have improved in this area on three levels. They will be better up front rushing the passer with the return of DT Peria Jerry, who missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury; the addition of rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon; and the offseason aquisition of cornerback Dunta Robinson.

» There's a big battle brewing at the corner opposite Robinson. Brian Williams isn't healthy enough yet to compete, but Brent Grimes and Chris Owens are going at it with no clearcut leader. The Falcons, who were in nickel and dime defenses 58 percent of the time last year, should be in those pass-defense situations with less frequency this season.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

Don't be surprised if ...

» ... Running back Michael Turner, who has never caught more than six passes in any of his six NFL seasons, is more involved in the passing game. He has made a big effort to improve as a receiver.

» ... There are several changes in the starting lineup by opening day, even though 21 starters return from 2009. There could be a few rookies breaking into the lineup, including Weatherspoon and DT Corey Peters.

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» ... The Falcons roll through more personnel groups in a game than most teams. I watched a 20-play team period against the Jaguars on Tuesday, and the Falcons used 12 different personnel groups.

ROOKIE REPORT

» Weatherspoon, the team's first-round pick, is working with the starting group with Mike Peterson sidelined, but he might never give the job back. He plays like he's been out there for a few years. Yes, the coaches are hard on him, but he flashes some rare speed and power. He also looks like he will stay on the field for third-down packages.

» Peters, taken in the third round, has the bulk to hold up against a double team and the quickness to penetrate. Coach Smith pointed out that Peters has the hips to get through a gap and work down the line.

» Mike Johnson, a guard taken in the third round, is playing in the shadow of the starters and is finding it hard to evaluate at this point.

» Joe Hawley, a fourth-round pick who played guard at UNLV, could be the heir apparent to Todd McClure at center down the road. He plays and practices with lots of intensity.

» Kerry Meier, a fifth-round wide receiver, is a very good route runner who is making enough plays at practice to gain the confidence of Ryan.

» Dominique Franks, taken in the fifth round, will compete for a job as a returner and backup corner.

LASTING IMAGES

There were many the day I watched the Falcons practice against the Jaguars, including:

» Turner running 30 yards for a touchdown on the first play of 9-on-7 drills, which is a period dedicated to the running game and the defense knows what's coming.

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» Weatherspoon keying and diagnosing a run play and meeting the running back in the backfield as he got the handoff.

» The Falcons' offense calling a "G" power play with Justin Blalock pulling from the left guard and fullback Ovie Mughelli blasting through the left side of the Jaguars' defense.

» Tackle Sam Baker blocking Jaguars linebacker Derrick Harvey and making him a non-factor as a pass rusher.

SAY WHAT?

"All I want to do is lead the NFL in receiving this year."

-- White

"I can match up with the top receiver, play on the left or right and the slot if they want me to. When I played on just one side, teams avoided me and I get bored."

-- Robinson

"No one knows how long we will all be together, especially great players like Tony Gonzalez. Our time is now."

-- Turner

EXTRA POINT

Last year seven starters missed games because of injuries, and the Falcons might have had the toughest schedule in the league.

The front office spent a lot of time this offseason thinking through the medical plan for all the injured players. It appears intent on not rushing players back, so don't expect to see a lot of injured guys playing in the preseason before they're completely healthy.

"I could go right now," said Robinson, who suffered a hamstring injury in the first week of camp and has missed several practices, "but they want me to take another week off."

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Turner is going to absolutely ball this year....

Glad to hear we might be getting him the ball through the air a bit more this season.

Would you like to be that 180 lb. cornerback being the first one to face The Burner after receiving a little swing pass from Ryan?

That could be considered manslaughter in some jurisdictions. :)

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cant wait to see that play action pass come back to life this season.

Ryan killed w it as a rookie.

I am also glad to hear the checkdown and swing pass is getting some use. I would be even more excited if Norwood could be sturdy enough to use in those situations. I just remember him as a rookie against NE in the preseason when we used the swingpass and screen a few times with him. It was amazing what he did.

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Vastly improved Ryan has Falcons poised to catapult Saints

» ... The Falcons roll through more personnel groups in a game than most teams. I watched a 20-play team period against the Jaguars on Tuesday, and the Falcons used 12 different personnel groups.

Does this quote make everyone else feel as warm and fuzzy as is does me. the past two years we kept hearing about how experienced our rookies are, how much game time they've seen and how far ahead of the curve they are. i personally have read many many reports talking about how our third year guys this year play well above there level and have done so since they got here. I have this statement above to credit for this.

Smitty and co have been rotating in rookies and younger guys each play throughout the season to garner them experience. Instead of sending in a bunch of rookies, it's one here one play, one there the next. This way they get that valuable game experience, and our primary guys (Like Abe for instance) stay rested and don't get tired early. This way they are fresh and there when we need them the most.

I attribute the maturity and beyond there years play of our young guys to that model and philosophy employed by Smitty and co

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Does this quote make everyone else feel as warm and fuzzy as is does me. the past two years we kept hearing about how experienced our rookies are, how much game time they've seen and how far ahead of the curve they are. i personally have read many many reports talking about how our third year guys this year play well above there level and have done so since they got here. I have this statement above to credit for this.

Smitty and co have been rotating in rookies and younger guys each play throughout the season to garner them experience. Instead of sending in a bunch of rookies, it's one here one play, one there the next. This way they get that valuable game experience, and our primary guys (Like Abe for instance) stay rested and don't get tired early. This way they are fresh and there when we need them the most.

I attribute the maturity and beyond there years play of our young guys to that model and philosophy employed by Smitty and co

Also, you have to credit Dimitroff (as well as Smitty) for selecting good crops of rookies with strong work ethics.

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Turner is going to absolutely ball this year....

Glad to hear we might be getting him the ball through the air a bit more this season.

Would you like to be that 180 lb. cornerback being the first one to face The Burner after receiving a little swing pass from Ryan?

That could be considered manslaughter in some jurisdictions. :)

If Turner catches 25-30 balls out of the backfield, not only is that 25-30 times he's getting hit by LBs and CBs rather than DTs and LBs, so much less wear and tear. But, if the D has to respect the dumpoff pass to Turner, the middle of the field opens up for Jenkins/HD and/or Meier.

It also means that the falcons can have a 2 back set and still have a killer passing game.

They could also have a devastating 3 receiver package with Turner, White, some combo of Jenkins/HD/Meier/Weems/Finn and Gonzo.

Or you could replace Turner with Norwood

Or go from a 2 back set to an empty backfield. Imagine- the D lines up to stop a running play, then the falcons empty the backfield, confusion ensues on the D, Ryan finds whoever is open..

Or they could run a reverse from the empty backfield- can you imagine Turner on a reverse?

Or they could open in an empty backfield and go to a 2 back set

Or, well, I gotta go to work, but I could go on and on

Mularkey and Ryan must be drooling with all the toys to play with.

I'm grinning ear to ear just thinking about it.

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I think one thing that is going to greatly help out the offense is going to be the return of HD. I felt like when we got Gonzo last year, that HD was going to benefit greatly from it and when he got hurt, that was something our offense was greatly missing. I'm excited to see how we do this year and can't wait for the season to start!

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Turner is going to absolutely ball this year....

Glad to hear we might be getting him the ball through the air a bit more this season.

Would you like to be that 180 lb. cornerback being the first one to face The Burner after receiving a little swing pass from Ryan?

That could be considered manslaughter in some jurisdictions. :)

Gawd yeah!! Imagine having Clabo, or Dahl, Hawley, Reynolds, as a lead blocker for him. I saw a pic. of Hawley in a pulling situation from yesterday and the jags def. backs really did look just like dwarfs in comparison.

Can you feel it? I'm starting to feel it guys ! :ph34r:

RISE UP DIRTY BIRDS

TO H3LL WITH THE STANKS

GO FALCONS !!!!!!!!!!!!

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Once the season starts, it will be interesting to see how balanced our offense will be. Will the Falcons be run heavy with PA or will we see more single back or shotgun on the early downs? How will the Falcons utilize no huddle with different player packages? We'll have to wait and see how this offense takes shape but no doubt, these Falcons have weapons.

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Three things got me giggling like a school girl:

1. Ryan having a DEEP BALL!!!! **** YES!

2. Blalock and Ovie BLASTING through the Jags defensive line (POWER BALL! **** YES PART 2)

3. And Baker handling his opponent like he was a non entity.

Dominating. Power MUTHA F*****G Football! YEEESSSSS!!!! FINALLY!!!!!!!!! Time to smash teams in the mouth. Time to stop being a **** door mat. Now its RESPECT TIME FROM ALL WHO HAVE DISSED US ALL THESE YEARS!!!!!!!! PAY BACKS ARE A *****!

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2. Blalock and Ovie BLASTING through the Jags defensive line (POWER BALL! **** YES PART 2)

3. And Baker handling his opponent like he was a non entity.

Love hearing the good news about the oline!! I just hope we can keep it up against more dominant defenses when the season comes around

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