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Shutdown Countdown: Atlanta Falcons Get Tougher On Both Lines


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There's something to be said about admitting a problem with the roster and taking decisive action to fix it.

For the Falcons, the biggest problem was that neither of their lines were very good. The offensive line lacked any standouts. The defensive line was getting pushed around, giving up an eye-opening 4.8 yards per carry last year.

So the Falcons attacked the issue. Defensive end Tyson Jackson was signed from Kansas City, and massive defensive tackle Paul Soliai was added from Miami. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, one of the bright spots on the line, was resigned. The Falcons added free agent guard Jon Asamoah. Then in the draft, the Falcons took offensive tackle Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick, and defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round.

That's how you turn a weakness into a potential strength.

Tony Gonzalez didn't dominate like he did early in his career, he caught 409 passes for 4,187 and 35 touchdowns in five years with the Falcons. He had a typical 83-859-8 season last year. Levine Toilolo might replace Gonzalez, and he has 55 career yards. That's a big hole. Also, losing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for the 2014 season to an Achilles' injury this offseason is a major blow.

At least the Falcons will be a bit tougher up front. That's a start.

2013 review in less than 25 words: Atlanta lost four of its first five, with the losses by a combined 19 points, setting up a 4-12 disaster.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: I like what the Falcons did this offseason, so I'll say it's better. Though it is hard to overlook losing Gonzalez on offense and Weatherspoon on defense. But, as mentioned before, Atlanta is better on both lines. They're also younger in the secondary after moving on from cornerback Asante Samuel and safety Thomas DeCoud.

Best offseason acquisition: The investment of a high pick in a strong offensive tackle has a pretty high rate of success, and good luck finding anyone who thinks Matthews won't be a longtime starter in the NFL. Matthews, who seamlessly moved from right tackle to left tackle last season at Texas A&M, doesn't have the huge athletic upside of second pick Greg Robinson but it would be a shock if he was a bust. For a while the Rams were rumored to be looking at him with the No. 2 overall pick, and for good reason. He'll start on the line from opening day probably well into the 2020s for Atlanta.

Achilles heel: The Falcons had two fairly big defensive issues last year. First, they got gashed against the run. Second, they couldn't rush the passer. The run defense should be better, but very little pass rush help was added. There's only so much you can fix in one offseason. The Falcons were rumored to want to move up in the draft, maybe to No. 1 to take Jadeveon Clowney or even to get Khalil Mack, because they need an edge rusher. Neither happened, and the Falcons took Matthews at sixth overall. A good pick for sure, but it still leaves Atlanta with basically the same pass rush that had just 32 sacks last year, which was just one more than the worst total in the NFL.

Position in flux: When the Falcons signed running back Steven Jackson, the risk was clear. He turned 30 before last season and had about 2,400 career carries with the Rams. The Falcons were hoping for a couple more good years before he faded. Instead, Jackson got hurt, was limited to just 157 carries and had a career-low 3.5-yard average. Getting hurt doesn't necessarily mean you're finished, but there has to be that concern now. The team drafted Devonta Freeman out of Florida State, and it's possible he cuts into the now 31-year-old Jackson's work, if nothing else to keep the old man fresh. It will be interesting to see early on how sold the Falcons are on Jackson still being a workhorse back.

View galleryReady to break out: Linebacker Joplo Bartu got an unexpected 13 starts last year as an undrafted rookie from North Texas, and held his own. He had 85 tackles and helped fill some holes on an injury-plagued team. When Weatherspoon went down, it provided an opportunity for Bartu. He'll be at a different spot this year, playing more of a 3-4 inside linebacker role than on the outside in a 4-3, but unless Atlanta signs a veteran before the season, Bartu has a prime opportunity to establish himself in the Falcons' future plans.

Stat fact: Through five games last season, Julio Jones was on a pace for 131.2 receptions and 1,856 yards. He didn't get to play the final 11 games because of a foot injury that required surgery, and all eyes will be on Jones to see if that issue comes back, or if it causes him to lose a step.

Schedule degree of difficulty: The Falcons play in a pretty tough NFC South. That, plus games against the NFC North and AFC North, are a reason they have the 11th toughest schedule in the NFL this year. It starts off with a doozy too, a home battle against rival New Orleans.

Burning question

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2014 season: If you can chalk up 2013 to injuries, and like their offseason moves, there's no reason the Falcons can't be good again. Any team with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Jones and Harry Douglas (who really took advantage of opportunities to gain 1,067 yards) will score points. The defense lacks stars, but was it that great when the Falcons were 10 yards from a Super Bowl two years ago? It's easy to envision a scenario in which a career year from Ryan makes Atlanta relevant again.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: The biggest issue is the defense. The improvements on the line might be negated by the loss of Weatherspoon. They can't replace his playmaking ability. The Falcons also can't rush the quarterback, and aren't a lock to improve much on a paltry 10 interceptions from last year. If Jackson really has hit the wall and Freeman isn't ready, the entire success of the team falls on the passing game. Ryan and Co. are good, but it would be asking a lot.

The crystal ball says: The Falcons are going to be better this year, but I still prefer the other three teams in the South. There are too many questions on defense for Atlanta to consider the Falcons a playoff team in a tough NFC. They'll outscore a few teams, and they'll be fun to watch, but that's not enough for me to get behind them as a true contender.

https://sports.yahoo...-161132762.html

Edited by Sidecar Falcon
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I think we're looking at 8-8 to 10-6 at best. Even a small Improvement in offence and defence (especially in the line play) will make a huge difference to our production. Should be worth at least 14 point turnaround per game (7 on each side)

As long as the defense can hold the team to under 20pts I think the offense behind the much improved line can out score their opponents. I think 10-6 is fair.

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As long as the defense can hold the team to under 20pts I think the offense behind the much improved line can out score their opponents. I think 10-6 is fair.

It all will boil down to two things, injuries and cohesiveness.

The talent is there now and I don't know anyone who can successfully argue that. Even the worst Baker haters have to admit that a healthy 2012 showed that he can get the job done.

I'm curious to see how well this line works together and if it will take a half of a season before they start playing well together. I think we should keep this in mind when the season starts if the O-line struggles for the first few games. Be somewhat patient.

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It all will boil down to two things, injuries and cohesiveness.

The talent is there now and I don't know anyone who can successfully argue that. Even the worst Baker haters have to admit that a healthy 2012 showed that he can get the job done.

I'm curious to see how well this line works together and if it will take a half of a season before they start playing well together. I think we should keep this in mind when the season starts if the O-line struggles for the first few games. Be somewhat patient.

I agree. If the new bigger stronger Baker does what he is capable of doing we'll be looking good.

I like that you brought up that they could possibly struggle at the start too. People will inevitably think the world is ending if they do in fact struggle early on. I think we will definitely have to a bit patient with them to start. I do like what I'm hearing though. It sounds as if they are already showing signs of cohesiveness and playing well together as a unit. Just have to wait and see.

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I agree. If the new bigger stronger Baker does what he is capable of doing we'll be looking good.

I like that you brought up that they could possibly struggle at the start too. People will inevitably think the world is ending if they do in fact struggle early on. I think we will definitely have to a bit patient with them to start. I do like what I'm hearing though. It sounds as if they are already showing signs of cohesiveness and playing well together as a unit. Just have to wait and see.

Well there is no doubt that no matter what happens, we have a better group this year than we did last. Even if Baker went out for the year, we don't have to start Trueblood who made even Holmes look like Walter Jones (ok, that was an exaggeration :P)

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Well there is no doubt that no matter what happens, we have a better group this year than we did last. Even if Baker went out for the year, we don't have to start Trueblood who made even Holmes look like Walter Jones (ok, that was an exaggeration :P)

Sooo true.

Baker goes down and Holmes can fill his shoes decently I believe. He didn't look like a fat worn out slob when he showed up to camp this year. That was his biggest problem last year. He was just so disgustingly out of shape he got winded so quickly. I bet the coaching staff made dam* sure there wouldn't be a repeat of that. Stay in shape or find a new job type thing. Our whole group looks in a LOT better shape this year. Asamoah looks like a mack truck.

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If you can chalk up 2013 to injuries, and like their offseason moves, there's no reason the Falcons can't be good again. Any team with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Jones and Harry Douglas (who really took advantage of opportunities to gain 1,067 yards) will score points. The defense lacks stars, but was it that great when the Falcons were 10 yards from a Super Bowl two years ago? It's easy to envision a scenario in which a career year from Ryan makes Atlanta relevant again.

I know the rest of the NFL haven't stayed the same so I'm not advising we will get back to where we were but it is possible.

This team minus Tony G and Weatherspoon seems more talented than the 2012 team. Just gotta put it on tape.

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I think the article was a legitimate attempt to be fair and accurate. The two things I have a problem with are I don't think Spoon's absence is going to make much difference to this defense. It's not like he's been in there for every game before this latest injury or has made any game-winning or game-saving plays. And I don't see how he thinks were the worst team in the NFC South. I'm thinking we're way better than the Sucs, probably a little better than the Panties and not too far below the Taints.

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I think the article was a legitimate attempt to be fair and accurate. The two things I have a problem with are I don't think Spoon's absence is going to make much difference to this defense. It's not like he's been in there for every game before this latest injury or has made any game-winning or game-saving plays. And I don't see how he thinks were the worst team in the NFC South. I'm thinking we're way better than the Sucs, probably a little better than the Panties and not too far below the Taints.

was going to type the same thing, but will just say 'ditto'

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Fair opinion and article. I think we will have to prove ourselves yet again. I think we will too. As long as we stay healthy we will be right back in the hunt.

Somewhat, yea... but I just can't agree with a writer who doesn't seem to grasp how interior push changes pass rush prospects, and who thinks Carolina or Tampa will be anywhere near "contentious" with us or the rest of the league. And like Pokersteve said - Spoon wasn't a big loss.
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Somewhat, yea... but I just can't agree with a writer who doesn't seem to grasp how interior push changes pass rush prospects, and who thinks Carolina or Tampa will be anywhere near "contentious" with us or the rest of the league. And like Pokersteve said - Spoon wasn't a big loss.

I totally get you but I've lomg since became aware that they all seem a little dense in those departments. I can't think of one article I've read that understands that we're used to being without Spoon and that we've greatly improved our line despite not signing a big name pass rusher. I let that slide because they all either purposely omit it or are just that ignorant to Atlanta Falcons football. lol

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Fair opinion and article. I think we will have to prove ourselves yet again. I think we will too. As long as we stay healthy we will be right back in the hunt.

Its the same year in and out wegotta prove ourselves i feel we habe what it takes to win the div panthers no offense bucs no defense the saints off field issues bless day to be a falcon cause we finally went after needs in the draft two good position coaches comingin to bring that nasty and our youth r ready to florish....

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There's something to be said about admitting a problem with the roster and taking decisive action to fix it.

For the Falcons, the biggest problem was that neither of their lines were very good. The offensive line lacked any standouts. The defensive line was getting pushed around, giving up an eye-opening 4.8 yards per carry last year.

So the Falcons attacked the issue. Defensive end Tyson Jackson was signed from Kansas City, and massive defensive tackle Paul Soliai was added from Miami. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, one of the bright spots on the line, was resigned. The Falcons added free agent guard Jon Asamoah. Then in the draft, the Falcons took offensive tackle Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick, and defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round.

That's how you turn a weakness into a potential strength.

    Tony Gonzalez didn't dominate like he did early in his career, he caught 409 passes for 4,187 and 35 touchdowns in five years with the Falcons. He had a typical 83-859-8 season last year. Levine Toilolo might replace Gonzalez, and he has 55 career yards. That's a big hole. Also, losing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for the 2014 season to an Achilles' injury this offseason is a major blow.

At least the Falcons will be a bit tougher up front. That's a start.

2013 review in less than 25 words: Atlanta lost four of its first five, with the losses by a combined 19 points, setting up a 4-12 disaster.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: I like what the Falcons did this offseason, so I'll say it's better. Though it is hard to overlook losing Gonzalez on offense and Weatherspoon on defense. But, as mentioned before, Atlanta is better on both lines. They're also younger in the secondary after moving on from cornerback Asante Samuel and safety Thomas DeCoud.

Best offseason acquisition: The investment of a high pick in a strong offensive tackle has a pretty high rate of success, and good luck finding anyone who thinks Matthews won't be a longtime starter in the NFL. Matthews, who seamlessly moved from right tackle to left tackle last season at Texas A&M, doesn't have the huge athletic upside of second pick Greg Robinson but it would be a shock if he was a bust. For a while the Rams were rumored to be looking at him with the No. 2 overall pick, and for good reason. He'll start on the line from opening day probably well into the 2020s for Atlanta.

Achilles heel: The Falcons had two fairly big defensive issues last year. First, they got gashed against the run. Second, they couldn't rush the passer. The run defense should be better, but very little pass rush help was added. There's only so much you can fix in one offseason. The Falcons were rumored to want to move up in the draft, maybe to No. 1 to take Jadeveon Clowney or even to get Khalil Mack, because they need an edge rusher. Neither happened, and the Falcons took Matthews at sixth overall. A good pick for sure, but it still leaves Atlanta with basically the same pass rush that had just 32 sacks last year, which was just one more than the worst total in the NFL.

Position in flux: When the Falcons signed running back Steven Jackson, the risk was clear. He turned 30 before last season and had about 2,400 career carries with the Rams. The Falcons were hoping for a couple more good years before he faded. Instead, Jackson got hurt, was limited to just 157 carries and had a career-low 3.5-yard average. Getting hurt doesn't necessarily mean you're finished, but there has to be that concern now. The team drafted Devonta Freeman out of Florida State, and it's possible he cuts into the now 31-year-old Jackson's work, if nothing else to keep the old man fresh. It will be interesting to see early on how sold the Falcons are on Jackson still being a workhorse back.

        

    

View galleryReady to break out: Linebacker Joplo Bartu got an unexpected 13 starts last year as an undrafted rookie from North Texas, and held his own. He had 85 tackles and helped fill some holes on an injury-plagued team. When Weatherspoon went down, it provided an opportunity for Bartu. He'll be at a different spot this year, playing more of a 3-4 inside linebacker role than on the outside in a 4-3, but unless Atlanta signs a veteran before the season, Bartu has a prime opportunity to establish himself in the Falcons' future plans.

Stat fact: Through five games last season, Julio Jones was on a pace for 131.2 receptions and 1,856 yards. He didn't get to play the final 11 games because of a foot injury that required surgery, and all eyes will be on Jones to see if that issue comes back, or if it causes him to lose a step.

Schedule degree of difficulty: The Falcons play in a pretty tough NFC South. That, plus games against the NFC North and AFC North, are a reason they have the 11th toughest schedule in the NFL this year. It starts off with a doozy too, a home battle against rival New Orleans.

Burning question

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2014 season: If you can chalk up 2013 to injuries, and like their offseason moves, there's no reason the Falcons can't be good again. Any team with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Jones and Harry Douglas (who really took advantage of opportunities to gain 1,067 yards) will score points. The defense lacks stars, but was it that great when the Falcons were 10 yards from a Super Bowl two years ago? It's easy to envision a scenario in which a career year from Ryan makes Atlanta relevant again.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: The biggest issue is the defense. The improvements on the line might be negated by the loss of Weatherspoon. They can't replace his playmaking ability. The Falcons also can't rush the quarterback, and aren't a lock to improve much on a paltry 10 interceptions from last year. If Jackson really has hit the wall and Freeman isn't ready, the entire success of the team falls on the passing game. Ryan and Co. are good, but it would be asking a lot.

The crystal ball says: The Falcons are going to be better this year, but I still prefer the other three teams in the South. There are too many questions on defense for Atlanta to consider the Falcons a playoff team in a tough NFC. They'll outscore a few teams, and they'll be fun to watch, but that's not enough for me to get behind them as a true contender.

https://sports.yahoo...-161132762.html

We have so many new faces it could take some time to get this team in synch. That's why I think the preseason will be interesting to watch this year. That first half of the fourth game can be telling. I see talk about Spoon being injured but no mention of the rookie linebackers. It sure is nice that we picked so many in retrospect. I think the offense will be top five all season and the defense will gel late. Ten and six or 9-7 with a trip to the playoffs seems realistic based on us stopping the run and Lowery panning out along with a healthy WR core and improved offensive line.

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Get tougher concerning the run on either side of the ball and the Falcons will improve significantly...9-7 maybe a wild card shot.

10-6,9-7,8-8 sounds preposterous.. the Falcons are still clearly one of the top 5 teams in the conference and maybe second best in their division at worst. Smh

Falcons haven't shown enough any dominance in the division for either of those predictions to be preposterous...it wasn't all about injuries last season.

If 2010/2013 are the fliers/outliers concerning our history against the division since 2008...3-3 is the expected norm.

Edited by Mid-Nite-Toker
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Get tougher concerning the run on either side of the ball and the Falcons will improve significantly...9-7 maybe a wild card shot.

Falcons haven't shown enough any dominance in the division for either of those predictions to be preposterous...it wasn't all about injuries last season.

If 2010/2013 are the fliers/outliers concerning our history against the division since 2008...3-3 is the expected norm.

Agreed. I personally feel like we finish 10-6 this season.

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Get tougher concerning the run on either side of the ball and the Falcons will improve significantly...9-7 maybe a wild card shot.

Falcons haven't shown enough any dominance in the division for either of those predictions to be preposterous...it wasn't all about injuries last season.

If 2010/2013 are the fliers/outliers concerning our history against the division since 2008...3-3 is the expected norm.

Agreed. I personally feel like we finish 10-6 this season.

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I'm pretty tired of hearing about Gonzalez not being on the roster anymore. Yes he was a great TE but he was in the NFL for 17 years and during that time he played in what 4 playoff games and was a winner in 1? As good as he was for as long as he was good he wasn't the difference maker he is made out to be.

We will probably be better without him.

Edited by Jesus
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I'm pretty tired of hearing about Gonzalez not being on the roster anymore. Yes he was a great TE but he was in the NFL for 17 years and during that time he played in what 4 playoff games and was a winner in 1? As good as he was for as long as he was good he wasn't the difference maker he is made out to be.

We will probably be better without him.

I said it before last season started. We should've spent that 7 mil elsewhere instead of catering to him.

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