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Good Read On 2012 Atlanta Falcons And 2013 Team Needs By Rotoworld

The Dirty Bird

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Rotoworld's Nick Mensio is watching every football game from the 2012 season and taking notes. Bang it here for Arizona Cardinals Tape Review.

Next up in Mensio's offseason Tape Review series: The Atlanta Falcons.

The Offense: The Falcons were one of the most passing-minded teams in the league and could beat defenses in a variety of ways through the air. Although they didn't run a high volume of play-action, Atlanta excelled at it whenever playcaller Dirk Koetter dialed it up. The Falcons' play-action efficiency was somewhat surprising because the run game was so lackluster. My main complaint about the offense is that it often stalled and would go quiet for long stretches during games. That was especially evident in Week 13 against the Saints, when the Falcons went three-and-out six times in the second and third quarters, allowing New Orleans to get back in the game. We also saw it in the playoffs after Atlanta jumped out to big leads. The offensive line was an average blocking bunch, but compensated by rarely making mistakes. The 2012 Falcons were the least penalized team in NFL history.


Matt Ryan: There really isn’t anything Ryan doesn’t do well. Although perceived to have a mediocre arm, he can make any throw on the field. ... Two touchdown passes stick out as evidence of Ryan's arm talent and ball placement at the intermediate level. The first came on second-and-13 in Week 5 against the Redskins. Fading away, Ryan threw off his back foot and put the football only where Julio Jones could catch it in the front left corner of the end zone. The second was in Week 15 versus the Giants. Ryan threw a strike down the middle for a 12-yard touchdown to Tony Gonzalez with Kenny Phillips draped all over the tight end. Despite Phillips' sticky coverage, Ryan again put the pass only where his receiver (Gonzalez) could get it.

Ryan throws a pretty deep ball, as well, and put it on display in Week 16 at Detroit on a 44-yard touchdown bomb down the right sideline to Roddy White. In Week 8 against the Eagles, Jones roasted Nnamdi Asomugha down the left sideline for a 63-yard touchdown; Ryan's pass was again right on the money. ... The only nitpicks with Ryan are that he doesn't put jaw-dropping velocity on throws and struggles at times under pressure.

Ryan's issues under duress were evident in Week 6 versus the Raiders; a game the Falcons very nearly lost. On his second interception of the game, Matt Shaughnessy got his hand in Ryan’s face a bit and Ryan reacted by throwing a lazy ball down the middle that was easily picked off by Michael Huff. Ryan’s third pick in the same game came when Philip Wheeler shot through the line on an inside blitz and drilled Atlanta's quarterback. Ryan blindly threw the football up in the air, and it was another easy pick, this time by Tyvon Branch. Another instance was Week 11 against Arizona. James Sanders exploded through the middle of the line and walloped Ryan. Instead of taking the sack, Ryan threw the ball right into Sam Acho's chest. Fortunately for Ryan, stone-handed Acho dropped it.

To finish on a high note, Ryan was awesome in the late-game "clutch." In Week 6 against Oakland, he went 5-of-6 on the final drive for 43 yards, setting up Matt Bryant's game-winning 55-yard field goal. We saw this again in the Divisional Round of the playoffs versus Seattle on the final possession to set up another Bryant game-winner.

Running Backs

Michael Turner: “The Burner” was anything but that in 2012. At this stage of his career, Turner lacks explosion, long speed, cutting ability, and bounce in his step. His inability to pick up just one yard really put the offense into full-blown pass mode for the season. I’d bet the Falcons threw more on third-and-short than any team in the league. … So many short-yardage situations demonstrated Turner's diminished skill set. In Week 2 against the Broncos, the Falcons had first-and-goal at the one-yard line. Turner got carries on first and second down before barely breaking the plane and getting the score on third down. In Week 10 at New Orleans, Turner's performance was abysmal. After he was stuffed on first-and-goal from the one, Koetter turned away from Turner and threw to offensive lineman Mike Johnson for the score. Later, Turner was knocked back for a loss on third-and-one at the 18-yard line, forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal. Again against the Saints, Turner was stuffed on third-and-goal from the one-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Ryan tried throwing for the score on fourth down, but failed. Atlanta lost by four points. … Turner still ended up with ten touchdowns on the season, but just about any back could've hit double-digit scores in this offense. ... Turner also brings nothing to the table in the passing game.

Jacquizz Rodgers: The Falcons tried repeatedly to phase Turner out of the backfield, but Rodgers struggled to run between the tackles and couldn’t earn tough yards. Rodgers was far more effective when getting the ball outside the numbers and in space. In Week 9 against the Cowboys, we saw both ends of the spectrum. Rodgers received a third-and-two carry that was designed up the middle, but ended up losing a yard. The Falcons settled for a field goal, which was missed. In the same game, Rodgers caught a third-and-six dump-off pass behind the line of scrimmage. He proceeded to side-step a tackle and pick up 31 yards to the right. Later, Rodgers took another third-down pass 11 yards upfield, shaking two defenders in the process. It set up a late field goal to put Atlanta ahead by six points, the margin by which they would eventually win. ... Rodgers is a small, shifty back that has some shake-and-bake ability, but he’s best suited for a third-down and change-of-pace role. He’s a poor man’s Darren Sproles.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Roddy White: White is an elite route runner, making him one of Ryan's most dependable third-down targets, along with Gonzalez. … In Week 10 against the Saints, White picked up 11 yards on a hook route on third-and-ten, and caught a 49-yard pass two plays later on a perfectly-executed stutter-and-go, beating Jabari Greer to set the offense up at the one-yard line. Another great catch in a laundry list of examples came in Week 2 against the Broncos. The Falcons faced third-and-eight in the shadow of their own goal posts, and White did a great job of coming back to the ball over the middle to pluck Ryan's throw out of the air for 15 yards while draped in coverage. … White doesn't stretch the field or dominate after the catch as regularly as counterpart Jones, but he can do both if need be. … We saw this in Week 4 against the Panthers when White torched Haruki Nakamura for gains of 49 and 59 yards, and again in Week 16 versus the Lions when White ran right by Chris Houston down the right sideline for a long 44-yard touchdown on third-and-one. … After battling drops in 2011, White bounced back in 2012 and proved that he’s one of the best receivers in the league at catching the ball with his hands, and not letting it get into his body. My favorite catch that illustrated this came in Week 17 against the Bucs. White snagged a bullet out of the air on a quick slant for a nine-yard pickup, using just his fingers. It’s nothing flashy, but proves how good of a receiver he is. … White even blocks on the outside when needed. One block that comes to mind was in Week 12 at Tampa Bay, where he held a block in the end zone, allowing Turner to score from three yards out on a toss play.

Julio Jones: Jones is the cream of the crop when it comes to being a dynamic playmaker and game changer. Ryan could throw the ball to him anywhere on the field, and Jones always had a chance of breaking off a big gain. … Julio was especially effective on go routes, proving virtually impossible for defensive backs to stay with. In Week 15 against the Giants, Jones ran right past Jayron Hosley down the left sideline for a 40-yard score. Versus the Saints in Week 10, Jones skied over the top of Jabari Greer for a 52-yard gain. In Week 12 against the Bucs, Jones breezed past Leonard Johnson down the right sideline for an 80-yard score on the first play of the second half. … Jones also was unstoppable on screen passes out wide. To name a few, Jones had a 14-yard screen score to the left in Week 1 against the Chiefs, another touchdown from 11 yards out in Week 14 against the Panthers, and a huge 28-yard gain on a screen to the left in Week 17 against the Bucs. Jones gets the ball and shoots upfield as quickly as anyone in the league and is nearly impossible to bring down with an arm tackle. … The only real complaint with Jones is inconsistent hands. He dropped a potential 19-yard touchdown in Week 2 on third down over the middle against Denver. Another drop came in Week 13 versus the Saints, when he botched a third-and-ten slant pass. Unlike teammate White, Jones has a tendency to fight the football rather than catch it cleanly with his hands. … We also saw just how scary Jones can be when he torched the 49ers’ secondary in the NFC Championship game. He’s scratching the surface of super-stardom.

Harry Douglas: Douglas saw plenty of action in three-wide sets. He isn’t much of a deep threat, working mostly in the slot. Douglas also doesn't see a vast amount of targets with three mouths to feed ahead of him on offense. … There’s really only one game that sticks out where Douglas made a big impact; Week 15 against the Giants. Douglas roasted rookie corner Jayron Hosley on a double-move out of the left slot, picking up 37 yards on a second-and-four. Later, he converted two big third downs, picking up ten yards on a third-and-seven play and 36 yards on a third-and-nine. … Douglas will always be overhyped in the offseason due to the simple fact that he plays in a high-powered aerial attack, but it’s never materialized to big numbers.

Tony Gonzalez: Gonzo is an invaluable red-zone and third-down asset over the middle. He’s a pro at finding soft spots in zone coverage, and can still out-run most linebackers and out-muscle defensive backs. … Gonzalez made his return to Kansas City in Week 1 and promptly scored a seven-yard touchdown over the middle by running by Derrick Johnson. In Week 3 against the Chargers, seven of Gonzalez’s nine catches went for first downs, and in Week 5 versus the Redskins, he caught 13-of-14 targets. Week 10 against the Saints was Gonzalez's best game of the year. On one drive, Gonzalez converted a third-and-seven with a 12-yard grab over the middle, then picked up two more first downs before ending the series with a two-yard touchdown in the left flat with Malcolm Jenkins hanging on his back. … Gonzalez is contemplating retirement, but he has plenty left in the tank.

The Defense: Atlanta ran a 4-3 under first-year coordinator Mike Nolan. Frankly, it was one of the NFL's most boring defenses. Nolan rarely dialed up blitzes, and only did so on third down. The Falcons also missed an abundance of tackles throughout the year. … The pass rush was beyond weak aside from John Abraham, who accounted for more than a third of the team’s sacks. Abraham's two biggest games came in Week 6 against the Raiders and Week 11 against the Cardinals, versus two of the league’s weaker offensive lines. The best thing about Abraham was that he could move all over the defensive front. DE Kroy Biermann, WLB Sean Weatherspoon, and DT Jonathan Babineaux occasionally pitched in on pass-rushing efforts, but they weren’t nearly consistent enough. … The linebacker corps was killed in pass coverage as MLB Akeem Dent and SLB Stephen Nicholas each contributed to Jimmy Graham’s big Week 10 and Zach Miller’s monstrous Divisional Round outburst. As a whole, the group was average against the run. … SS William Moore was the star of the defensive backfield. He got Peyton Manning for a big 13-yard sack on third down in Week 2. Moore’s best all-around game was against the Saints in Week 13. He picked off Drew Brees twice, including the final one of the game where he flew across the field to intercept a pass down the sideline. Moore also had a huge four-yard tackle for loss on a second-and-one run play, before Abraham recorded a strip-sack on third down. ... Corners Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson gave up way too many big plays in the passing game, but Robinson was strong versus the run. Samuel and FS Thomas DeCoud missed too many tackles in the back end, and that was blatantly clear on Chris Ivory’s 56-yard touchdown rumble in Week 10. … Overall, this defense needs pass-rushing help and better linebacker play.

2013 Fantasy Player to Watch: Julio Jones

A few big takeaways from me:

1) The fan base is too high on Quizz's prospects as a RB, and we need to find a feature guy in FA (Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson) or in the draft (Eddie Lacy). Quizz is best used as a satellite back, because despite his willingness to run between the tackles -- and I truly love him for it and his reckless abandon in giving up his body -- he gets stuffed every time and isn't good at it. 5+ touches a game as a screen/swing pass guy, plus coming in to be a personal protector out of shotgun as he got much better at that throughout the season is an ideal role for him. It will keep our feature guy fresh and essentially out of harm's way from a blitzing LB, and Quizz can also release out of the block for a dump off and try to make something happen. The rest of this part A is my opinion, but if we think Eddie Lacy won't make it to our 1st rounder or if we have him rated as a 2nd rounder but he won't make it to our 2nd round pick, we should go hard after SJax or Reggie. SJax may be a better compliment to Quizz, and he would add great power to our offense as well as an uncanny receiving ability. But those goal-line drives that we struggled with all year could easily be resolved by a ramming Steven Jackson getting an inside handoff vs. a weak box because the defense is focused on Roddy, Julio, and TG who are all spread out. Reggie Bush could, imo, have a 2,000 all-purpose yard season in our offense with the way we want to use our RBs. He'd run, catch, and has speed to burn still. But maybe he isn't as good of a fit as SJax for our team's success because of the aforementioned power shortage we have. SJax would also seemingly cost a little less.

2) Our offensive line, while we had a mistake-free year, is average at best. An objective review of that probably holds true: we have a good RT in Clabo and a good LG in Blalock, but had a problem at starting RG and C last year and Baker has always been at best, average. We have an in-house center upgrade with Konz sliding into the spot, but then we need to figure out RG and LT. Lamar Holmes can play a part in this equation, because if he can man the LT spot then we only have one OL need. Or conversely, if he can man the RT spot we can slide Clabo into RG forming a dominant right side of the line imo and still only have one OL need. Part b of the big takeaway is to not be too high on Baker after an injury-free year just because our line play was "okay" and we were mistake-free.

3) Harry Douglas' constant offseason overhyping is apparent to not just me, so thank god for that. He's about to be 30 now, and he made an impact in only one game all year vs. a mid-round rookie who was known to be a gambler coming out of VT (Hosley). We need an upgrade at the slot position. Unsure if it is in-house with Drew Davis or Kevin Cone, but I personally think they both make a good #4 in a 4 wide set. Would love to see a mid-round pick used on a very good slot prospect (Tavon Austin, Marquise Goodwin, Josh Boyce, Chad Bumphis, Stedman Bailey), or even to find a way to trade down and pick up Percy Harvin from the Vikings. Either way, HD is a net-negative in the offense and we can stand for an upgrade, who is up to you.

4) Our defense isn't as good as we thought it was. If you take John Abraham, Sean Weatherspoon, Jon Babineaux, and William Moore off the field we field a surprisingly pathetic unit. I was surprised to read over and over, and this is only the latest example of it, that Stephen Nicholas has been a liability on the field. I always thought he was our underrated LB who did everything pretty well. If he is costing us in coverage and doesn't fill the hole like he once did, LB is a much bigger need that I originally scored. Dent was disappointing I suppose, but I was never high on him and imagined him as a Lofton clone. Lofton is actually better than Dent, which isn't too good for Dent's prospects. I'm a little more fond of prospects like Alec Ogletree and Kevin Minter at this point in time than I was a few weeks ago. Same for Arthur Brown and Khaseem Greene, but the first two have superstar LB written all over them. A guy to keep an eye on is Alabama's Nico Johnson. Could be an ideal MLB/SLB in a 4-3, for some reason he's out of the spotlight right now but a year ago he was penciled in as a Top 15 pick. 6'2, 250 lbs, 4.59 40. He had a very solid year for Alabama winning another national title, but he got lost vs. other more flashy prospects on his team and elsewhere. Rated as a 3rd/4th guy right now, could be a steal in the late 3rd. Admittedly he came out on passing downs for Alabama just because they were stacked with athletes, and his numbers aren't great because they all played in a rotation and in blowing out opponents they tend to pass a lot. This is projecting a developmental ability though.

5) Also pertaining to the defense, and this is obvious, we have no pass rush outside of Abraham. Kroy is a decent football player, but the kind of player that is supposed to be on special teams and come in occasionally and not be a big part of an NFL defense. We need to bring in DEs and DTs this offseason. I'd imagine that our big FA move, if not for one of the OTs (Albert or Long) will be for a DE. Avril, Johnson, Kruger and Spencer would all be great starters on our D-Line at LDE. Avril is my personal choice because he's the one that fits Nolan's scheme the best. He has a great track record as a 4-3 LDE, which is our base defense need, but can also stand up as a 3-4 OLB when we flex to those spots. He also didn't have a threat at DE opposite him, which Kruger had and played poorly without (Suggs) and same for Spencer (Ware), plus they both played in a 3-4 base D. Johnson is a great athlete, but he just had his best year in a career year so there are concerns there as well as a lack of positional versatility. He's a situational pass rusher only, and wouldn't be able to be an effective 3-4 OLB. He also isn't strong vs. the run. If I had my way, I'd bring in Avril to be a starter and target a talented pass rusher who is falling in the draft in the early mid-rounds (Tank Carradine or Brandon Jenkins from FSU).

We also obviously need DT help, and this could be a Round 1 or Round 2 selection. Depending on the cuts and restructurings we make (DRob, Turner, etc) I think we can find a good starter in free agency. Terrance Knighton is an interesting selection as he can play 4-3 or 3-4 NT, same for Detroit's Sammie Lee Hill who may provide the most bang for our buck. Glenn Dorsey, if we are committed to sticking with a 4-3, could be a fantastic signing. If we got Avril, SLH, and Dorsey we have just added a ton of versatility and impact to our defense with 1 pick FA signing and two value ones. SLH and Dorsey, with Babs, would comprise the 3 man front in a 3-4, and Avril and Abe/Kroy/Carradine would be the OLBs. In a 4-3, depending on what scenario we are playing (run vs pass) SLH and Babs can start at DT with Avril and Abe at DE, or if it's vs. the run we can kick Babs out to LDE which we did sometimes last year, put Dorsey and SLH in at DT and swing Avril over to RDE, or we can blitz Avril from the 4-3 SLB spot like Denver uses Von Miller and keep Abe in at 4-3 RDE.

6) We need CB help. Asante was a nice pick up, but he certainly was burned throughout the year. He's only getting older, but he provides a game changing element at CB. Dunta may very well be at the end of line with his time in Atlanta. He's strong vs. the run, but brutal in pass coverage. His cap $ is exorbitant for a CB with that impact (or lack thereof). Robert McClain has been a heck of a find, but that nails down the nickel CB position that we drafted Chris Owens and Dominique Franks to fill. With DRob out, we need a starting outside CB. There are some big free agents (DRC) and also some value ones (Mike Jenkins, Greg Toler), but I personally think this could be our first round pick. At #30 CB could really be BPA if a guy like Xavier Rhodes is there and that would go a long way to improving our defense especially if we sign a major DE in FA. DeCoud had an above average year, but nothing special and was unfortunately abused vs. good passing teams. He also was never strong vs. the run, and that was apparent on film. He was supposed to be our ball hawking FS, but he hasn't really become that although he did have a good year. Consistency on the back end is important, although a guy like Jairus Byrd who's a true ballhawk and one of the best FS's in the game is mighty appealing from an on-paper standpoint.

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A few big takeaways from me:

1) The fan base is too high on Quizz's prospects as a RB, and we need to find a feature guy in FA (Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson) or in the draft (Eddie Lacy). Quizz is best used as a satellite back, because despite his willingness to run between the tackles -- and I truly love him for it and his reckless abandon in giving up his body -- he gets stuffed every time and isn't good at it.

Quizz gets stuff running between the tackles when there isn't any hole. Just like Turner, SJax, Bush and every other running back in the league. If anything Quizz was better than Turner as when a glimmer of a hole opened up he had the quickness to actually get there. Not sure what the author of the Rotoworld piece was watching if he thought Quizz wasn't picking up tough yards or Turner was doing it better. The only thing Turner did better than Quizz last year was have a bigger contract and the coaches loyalty from 4 years of excellent running.

Now I am not sure if I should take the part about Bush serious after reading your thoughts on Quizz. If you think Quizz can't run between the tackles wait until you see Bush. Zero toughness, consistently taken down by first contact and he tries to bounce it outside way to early pretty much every time. Sure he will bust off a couple highlight runs a year but that is about all he is good for.

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Its pick your poison on defense you can go all in in 1 area like the D-line which will probably give the greatest overall effect in improving the entire defense.

But I'm not to flustered really if they look to grab a guy like Minter or Ogletree.

The slot if TG doesn't come back yep they have to find a legit guy there I to am now over the expirement that is HD.

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Our defense will be DRAMATICALLY better if we can find a pass rush. I think we need to bring in, at the very least, 2 legitimate pass rushers via the draft and FA.

Think of how good Moore and Decoud can be if quarterbacks didn't have all day. Moore especially would be insane if he could just roam like Polamalu. Asante as well, he is still crazy good at jumping routes so if that ball actually has to come out quickly, watch out!

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Darn good read. I never fully agree with everything anybody says, but i agree with most of what was said. It doesn't address the cost for all these wonderful signings, but i'll let you cap guy's figure that out. I think Avril would be a great signing, but at what cost.I know i've been one that has lobbied for HD, but if we keep him, i could regret that decision, on the other hand, he may be a starter for another team and excel at it too and i would still regret it (catch 22) I could go into that more, but lets move on. We absolutely have to get more push up the middle from our DL. I have an idea about that, but don't pull the trigger on those flame throwers just yet. Ya'll had to have noticed the huge amount of time the opposing QB's have had to rome around in the backfield compaired MR. Yes i know how important it is to have a couple of nice bookends, but hear me out on this. I believe... if we could get a nice push up the middle would affect the QB's timming more than it would to have 2 DE's swinging around the outside with a nice pocket for the QB to stepup into, so at this point and time, i would choose DT's over DE's be it draft or FA.

Ok lets talk about RB.... my reason for choosing Lacy. No doubt Alabama had a great line this past season, no ones disputing that, so we'll pick him apart a little to see if he could have had that kind of success on a lesser team. The first thing i do is remove those untouched gaping holes that anybody can run through and what we have left is skill and determination. He's has one sweet spin move which helps him break tackles at and beyond the line. It also helps to avoid direct hits. They're a lot of runners in this and every draft that give 1st, 2nd, and 3rd efforts, but in order to do that, he can't be tackled easily. He certainly quaifys for that. If you havn't noticed it, he has this nifty little hop move that i only saw a couple times, which may or may not pan out in the pro's. He's very fast amd deceptive for a man his size with great vision,

This doesn't necessarily mean he would be the best fit for the Falcons and i'am sure we could find a RB later in the draft that would do just fine. Just in case you can't tell, he is my favorite RB in the draft. Don't want any FA RB's. need young legs.

I'll look into some other players later on, but right now i'am getting chemo brain and i need a break.

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Guest Negatorris

Mike Smith should set up a punishment plan for missed tackles, like he does with the penalties, but even more severe. Put the missed tackle on a big screen in front of all the players and coaching staff and make the player feel weak and ashamed.

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I'll be the first to admit that I am constantly guilty of overhyping HD83...

Its a tough one I just don't get why he hasn't forfilled his potiential I no he's been serverly limited because of the big 3.

The most memorable explosive catch I remember HD grabbing was in pre season 2 years ago against the Jags where he ripped off a 76 yarder for a TD I thought yeah this is the guy we drafted but unfortunately he just hasn't panned out.

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Mike Smith should set up a punishment plan for missed tackles, like he does with the penalties, but even more severe. Put the missed tackle on a big screen in front of all the players and coaching staff and make the player feel weak and ashamed.

What the Falcons should do is get someone in here that can teach LBers and DB's to tackle with correct technique never mind that penalty BS get someone in here who know's what there doing.

I've mentioned this in numerous threads the NRL in Aussie is a good place to look.They send coaches over to the look at how NFL franchises run all the time trust me when it comes to defense there are alot of coaches from this league that could teach the above to tackle and if they did I'd guarantee you our Lbers and Db's would'nt be missing these tackles we all keep moaning about.

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