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Camp Confidential: Atlanta Falcons


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http://espn.go.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/7125/camp-confidential-atlanta-falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- There is no doubt the Atlanta Falcons have gotten tougher this season just based on the bigger bodies along the offensive and defensive lines and the nastier attitudes players have brought to training camp.

But will that translate to a return trip to the postseason in 2014?

The Falcons still have some questions to answer, some wrinkles to iron out after last season's 4-12 finish. If all goes as planned, Matt Ryan will play like one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league because he won't have to throw under such duress and he'll have his top threat back in Julio Jones. If all goes as planned, the running backs, led by Steven Jackson and rookie Devonta Freeman, will help give the Falcons much-needed offensive balance.

If all goes as planned, newly added defensive linemenPaul Soliai and Tyson Jackson will help shut down the run, forcing opponents to be one-dimensional and allowing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to find creative ways to get pressure on quarterbacks and create turnovers.

And if all goes as planned, Devin Hester will prove he's still the greatest return man in the game and will help the Falcons win a few games simply on his own dynamic talent.

We'll see how it all unfolds.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jones' return: You can't overstate how much Jones means to this offense. The Falcons sorely missed his big-play ability last season as opposing defenses had it easy. With Jones back and looking fully healthy coming off a second foot surgery, the Falcons have their explosion back. Jones put on 10 pounds of muscle and still has his breakaway speed. Where he really might thrive more than ever is the red zone, given that Ryan no longer hasTony Gonzalez as his security blanket. Also expect Jones to draw his share of defensive holding penalties against outmatched cornerbacks.

2. Jake Matthews' arrival: The rookie first-round pick brings more stability to what was a pathetic offensive line last season. Throughout training camp, the right tackle has been like a brick wall in pass protection and has been equally impressive as a run blocker. There are still questions about how the line will fare as a whole. But there's no doubt Matthews has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him. With veteran right guard Jon Asamoah next to Matthews, the right side of the line should be the least of the Falcons' concerns.

3. No-nonsense coaches: Offensive line coach Mike Tice and defensive line coach Bryan Cox are new to the staff -- and they don't take crap from anyone. Some players need a kick in the butt rather than positive reinforcement, and Tice and Cox have no issue raising their voices. The players seem to respect them both. The offensive linemen have taken well to Tice tweaking their techniques. Maybe the defensive linemen aren't so enthused about Cox making them do up-downs after mistakes, but it's only going to make them more mentally focused.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Although no one should doubt Nolan's unique ability to be creative with his packages, the simple fact is the Falcons don't have a dominant pass-rusher. Sure, Jonathan Massaquoi has a lot of promise and veteran Osi Umenyiora slimmed down and seems to have a good year left in his body, but there's not a guy who strikes fear in opposing offensive tackles. With Drew Brees and Cam Newton in the division and Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco also on the schedule, pressure will be imperative.

2. There continues to be a concern at inside linebacker. Paul Worrilow should be fine and will have a place in the lineup for a lot of years to come. But Joplo Bartu, currently alongside Worrilow in the 3-4 setup and in the nickel defense, has some strides to make. Bartu has had a good training camp and can cover tight ends with no issues. But he's still learning on the fly, coming from outside linebacker last year. The Falcons have a lot of faith in rookiePrince Shembo, but he's also transitioning from outside to inside and will have a learning curve. There's a lack of depth at the position, too, with Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles) and rookie Marquis Spruill (ACL) out for the season.

3. Injuries took a toll on the Falcons last season with players such as Jones, Jackson, Weatherspoon, Roddy White and Kroy Biermann all either being shelved for the season or at least missing games. The injury bug has again bit the Falcons in training camp with three players (safety Dwight Lowery, linebacker Pat Angerer and offensive tackle Terren Jones) suffering concussions, two players (Gabe Carimi and Tim Dobbins) suffering ankle injuries, and one player (Spruill) tearing an ACL. The Falcons can't have a rash of major injuries this season. If they do, at least they'll have better depth than a year ago.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Although 6-foot-3-inch, 302-pound center Joe Hawley was pushed around a little bit in the preseason opener against Miami, the Falcons can live with that for a couple of plays a game because Hawley brings so much toughness and is so quick and athletic when it comes to pulling.

  • Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford continue to evolve as a duo and should be one of the most feared cornerback tandems in the league for years to come. Expect them to be much more physical this year.

  • Some folks wondered about White's health because he seems a little hobbled and continues to wear a light brace on his left knee. But White showed no ill-effects against the Dolphins and looked like the Roddy White of old.

  • Robert McClain appears to be ahead in the battle for the third cornerback right now, with Javier Arenas maybe a tad ahead of Josh Wilson at this point. Wilson has to start making more plays.

  • No one is panicking over Hester fumbling the ball in his first exhibition. The defender got a good hit on him. Hester, historically, has been secure with the ball on returns.

  • Safety Kemal Ishmael continues to impress the Falcons, specifically with his tackling. If Lowery's concussion issues resurface, Ishmael should be more than capable to handle a starting role next to strong safety William Moore.

  • Explosive running back Antone Smith deserves more touches. Enough said.

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Nobody who is in the football prognostication business is ready to give Atlanta much of a chance to be back in the play-offs this year because 1.) They believe there are still holes left that haven't been addressed; namely pass rush, and 2.) The Falcons aren't really all that good of a football team; weak defense, Ryan is just good, not great, no running game, SJax is getting older, and then the big one: Tony Gonzalez is gone and the Falcons have no equivalent TE replacement to pull those stats.

The thing that tips the balance is that Ryan is a top 10 or better QB and with time to operate and a semblance of a running game, the Falcons are a very dangerous team. Most refuse to give the offensive threat much credence because they aren't willing to believe an OL so pathetic last year could come back and be among the best in the league this year. What they don't understand is that even if there were no improvement on the OL, the offense has its passing weapons back and also has added a couple of wild card offensive weapons with Hester and Freeman. The Falcons were not losing badly with a sorry OL, no downfield passing attack to speak of and no running game. This OL is going to be at least average this year, which I think could double our offensive stats across the board, not to mention cut down on the number of INT's, fumbles, sacks, offensive holding flags, etc.

This Falcon offense will be dealing and dictating, even as it was still doing last season in the first few series and overall in the first half of games. This new edition will have the OL blocking to keep the defense on its heels trying to stop JJ and White from breaking off huge chunks of yardage downfield, while keeping enough bodies along the LOS to stop a newly resurgent 3-headed running game. Smittyball, armed with the proper weapons and with the proper support personnel, really can grind opposing defenses into raw meat, and make opposing offenses standing on the sideline watching the Falcons offense orchestrate another 15 play scoring drive go a little bonkers with frustration.

I think that type of offensive consistency and clock control dominance can net the Falcons 9 wins this year all on its own. Then looking at the defense, if they can succeed in coaching up some of their key new players like Hageman, Shembo, Southward, Smith, etc., if they can shut down the run this year and at least slow down the passing game, we could easily reach 10 or 11 wins. I'm not one to make wildly optimistic predictions, but I'm revising my win-loss estimate to 10-6 this season, minimum. We're going to have our biggest battles within our own division. The Saints and Panthers games will be the games which decide how far we go this year and I'm already feeling real good about the Panthers.

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That 'If all goes as planned' stuff got me excited.

Think Hawley will work out just fine. He's been apparently great with his screen blocking and we know Koetter loves his screens.

If we stay healthy we're going places. Like the guy said about Antone, "Enough Said".

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Nobody who is in the football prognostication business is ready to give Atlanta much of a chance to be back in the play-offs this year because 1.) They believe there are still holes left that haven't been addressed; namely pass rush, and 2.) The Falcons aren't really all that good of a football team; weak defense, Ryan is just good, not great, no running game, SJax is getting older, and then the big one: Tony Gonzalez is gone and the Falcons have no equivalent TE replacement to pull those stats.

The thing that tips the balance is that Ryan is a top 10 or better QB and with time to operate and a semblance of a running game, the Falcons are a very dangerous team. Most refuse to give the offensive threat much credence because they aren't willing to believe an OL so pathetic last year could come back and be among the best in the league this year. What they don't understand is that even if there were no improvement on the OL, the offense has its passing weapons back and also has added a couple of wild card offensive weapons with Hester and Freeman. The Falcons were not losing badly with a sorry OL, no downfield passing attack to speak of and no running game. This OL is going to be at least average this year, which I think could double our offensive stats across the board, not to mention cut down on the number of INT's, fumbles, sacks, offensive holding flags, etc.

This Falcon offense will be dealing and dictating, even as it was still doing last season in the first few series and overall in the first half of games. This new edition will have the OL blocking to keep the defense on its heels trying to stop JJ and White from breaking off huge chunks of yardage downfield, while keeping enough bodies along the LOS to stop a newly resurgent 3-headed running game. Smittyball, armed with the proper weapons and with the proper support personnel, really can grind opposing defenses into raw meat, and make opposing offenses standing on the sideline watching the Falcons offense orchestrate another 15 play scoring drive go a little bonkers with frustration.

I think that type of offensive consistency and clock control dominance can net the Falcons 9 wins this year all on its own. Then looking at the defense, if they can succeed in coaching up some of their key new players like Hageman, Shembo, Southward, Smith, etc., if they can shut down the run this year and at least slow down the passing game, we could easily reach 10 or 11 wins. I'm not one to make wildly optimistic predictions, but I'm revising my win-loss estimate to 10-6 this season, minimum. We're going to have our biggest battles within our own division. The Saints and Panthers games will be the games which decide how far we go this year and I'm already feeling real good about the Panthers.

Great post again Mr Steve! Loved that 2nd paragraph! Well, loved it all, but that one the most! :P

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The only position group that scares me is the LBers.

In experience will be there un-doing they worry me especially against a guy like Brees he'll use that and take the proverbial mile with it.

I can agree with that. We know for dang sure Brees will exploit a weakness. We have to get some pressure. Nolan better bring his A-game and everything including the kitchen sink. I never say this, especially about game 1, but we need this win.

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I can agree with that. We know for dang sure Brees will exploit a weakness. We have to get some pressure. Nolan better bring his A-game and everything including the kitchen sink. I never say this, especially about game 1, but we need this win.

I think it'll be interesting this year because Brees won't know what to expect game 1 out of the gate from our new guys. Sure we need time to gel as a defense still but our guys have the advantage in this scenario as we've all grown up watching Brees dominate defenses, so we all know what to expect from him. Long as our guys go 110% this should be a relatively simple game for us. Whether it's close or not we should start coming out on top of these close games with NO from now on. I also think Nolan has some tricks up his sleeve too. If our D plays anything like they did against manning in '12 Brees may end up having another 5 int game against us.

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I think it'll be interesting this year because Brees won't know what to expect game 1 out of the gate from our new guys. Sure we need time to gel as a defense still but our guys have the advantage in this scenario as we've all grown up watching Brees dominate defenses, so we all know what to expect from him. Long as our guys go 110% this should be a relatively simple game for us. Whether it's close or not we should start coming out on top of these close games with NO from now on. I also think Nolan has some tricks up his sleeve too. If our D plays anything like they did against manning in '12 Brees may end up having another 5 int game against us.

Don't think it'll be simple, but if we get some amount of pressure we should win. If the D is half decent, the Oline is functioning, and the rest of the offense healthy, we got this. You know for sure JJ and Roddy want retribution. They never got to play healthy together last year. They'll be fired up.

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Don't think it'll be simple, but if we get some amount of pressure we should win. If the D is half decent, the Oline is functioning, and the rest of the offense healthy, we got this. You know for sure JJ and Roddy want retribution. They never got to play healthy together last year. They'll be fired up.

Lol well said.

To add to your summation (if I may); despite all of our desires for an elite defense with QB pressure, reminiscent of the 86 bears or 01 Ravens or even last years Seahawks, in reality all we need is a good defense that contains plays, stops the run, gets SOME pressure because our offense is far better than all of those teams.

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Lol well said.

To add to your summation (if I may); despite all of our desires for an elite defense with QB pressure, reminiscent of the 86 bears or 01 Ravens or even last years Seahawks, in reality all we need is a good defense that contains plays, stops the run, gets SOME pressure because our offense is far better than all of those teams.

I'd love a power house defense. That said, yeah man, all we need is a competent defense. One that is capable of making that 3rd down stop when it really needs it, one that can hold a team to a FG in the red zone when we really need it. I think we're on the right track.

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http://m.espn.go.com/general/blogs/blogpost?blogname=nfcsouth&id=56300&src=desktop

"I couldn't have landed in a better situation for my family, myself: being back at home and being with an organization like it is here and learning from one of the better quarterbacks in this league. And a great coaching staff. I couldn't be happier."

Good insight on Yates going home.

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nice read OC.

excellent analysis PokerSteve.

If Falcons weapons stay healthy - and that is a big IF - then I think 10-6 is probably the record. Offensive line will obviously be much improved and this will help Matt in passing game. I still think the running game will not be fully on track - the only decent run blockers we have is Matthews and maybe Asamoah - Baker/Blalock/Hawley are not world beaters in run blocking and Hawley is underpowered. Third and short will be difficult for Falcons to run and without Tony G - those 5 yard button hook routes are no longer guaranteed completions to keep drives moving. Bottom-line, Falcons should be much more explosive with Julio back and Freeman/Antone making some plays in the screen game.

On defense, the Falcons should be able to get of the field more now that they should be able to at least be average in run stopping - with the additions of Soliai and TyJax. We still are going to be frustrated as fans at the lack of passrush - we don't have anyone even close to being a consistent pass rushing threat - this will continue to be achilles heel of the Falcons and will keep Falcons from contending for playoff advancement.

I give Falcons 50/50 shot of making playoffs and it should be a fun year - IF we stay healthy at key positions. However, this team is not ready to contend for much more than the playoff spot - we are a step down from Seahawks & Niners - probably a step down from the Saints as well (uggh, I just threw up in my mouth sayin' that).

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.....

I give Falcons 50/50 shot of making playoffs and it should be a fun year - IF we stay healthy at key positions. However, this team is not ready to contend for much more than the playoff spot - we are a step down from Seahawks & Niners - probably a step down from the Saints as well (uggh, I just threw up in my mouth sayin' that).

That's right now, by the end of the year, the rookies on D may have made huge strides and those other teams may have suffered their own injuries.

What would make a real difference is if Hageman becomes a beast over the season.

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There is a lot of contradicted info in this...

reasons for optimism

reasons for pessimism

I see no conflict :D

its kind of like reading a college scouting report on an NFL prospect - list positives which makes the player sound like they will be first year all-pro - then, hear come the negatives - by the time you read that, the player sounds like he would get picked last in an intramural flag football tournament.

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" Third and short will be difficult for Falcons to run and without Tony G - those 5 yard button hook routes are no longer guaranteed completions to keep drives moving. "

I think this third and short are going to be Roddy bread and butter this year ... in the game against Miami he did one button hook, even Matt acknowledge that Tony did a living cause no one was covering that area in particular.. Im sure i watch it on Hard Knocks... I think Roddy can handle those with ease...

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reasons for optimism

reasons for pessimism

I see no conflict :D

its kind of like reading a college scouting report on an NFL prospect - list positives which makes the player sound like they will be first year all-pro - then, hear come the negatives - by the time you read that, the player sounds like he would get picked last in an intramural flag football tournament.

Totally. I can see that. Even the info about McClain and Wilson. just not sure what to believe.
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Lol well said.

To add to your summation (if I may); despite all of our desires for an elite defense with QB pressure, reminiscent of the 86 bears or 01 Ravens or even last years Seahawks, in reality all we need is a good defense that contains plays, stops the run, gets SOME pressure because our offense is far better than all of those teams.

I hope your right.

Sean Payton is my bug a bear to this argument that dude is an offensive genius he manipulates defense's so well that guy and gives Brees every chance to succeed.

if I'm honest the best way for us to stop the above is back to a huge dose of control the clock smittyball and pound the rock down there throat keeping Brees and the mad doctor Payton's game planning on the side lines.

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http://espn.go.com/b...atlanta-falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- There is no doubt the Atlanta Falcons have gotten tougher this season just based on the bigger bodies along the offensive and defensive lines and the nastier attitudes players have brought to training camp.

But will that translate to a return trip to the postseason in 2014?

The Falcons still have some questions to answer, some wrinkles to iron out after last season's 4-12 finish. If all goes as planned, Matt Ryan will play like one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league because he won't have to throw under such duress and he'll have his top threat back in Julio Jones. If all goes as planned, the running backs, led by Steven Jackson and rookie Devonta Freeman, will help give the Falcons much-needed offensive balance.

If all goes as planned, newly added defensive linemenPaul Soliai and Tyson Jackson will help shut down the run, forcing opponents to be one-dimensional and allowing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to find creative ways to get pressure on quarterbacks and create turnovers.

And if all goes as planned, Devin Hester will prove he's still the greatest return man in the game and will help the Falcons win a few games simply on his own dynamic talent.

We'll see how it all unfolds.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jones' return: You can't overstate how much Jones means to this offense. The Falcons sorely missed his big-play ability last season as opposing defenses had it easy. With Jones back and looking fully healthy coming off a second foot surgery, the Falcons have their explosion back. Jones put on 10 pounds of muscle and still has his breakaway speed. Where he really might thrive more than ever is the red zone, given that Ryan no longer hasTony Gonzalez as his security blanket. Also expect Jones to draw his share of defensive holding penalties against outmatched cornerbacks.

2. Jake Matthews' arrival: The rookie first-round pick brings more stability to what was a pathetic offensive line last season. Throughout training camp, the right tackle has been like a brick wall in pass protection and has been equally impressive as a run blocker. There are still questions about how the line will fare as a whole. But there's no doubt Matthews has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him. With veteran right guard Jon Asamoah next to Matthews, the right side of the line should be the least of the Falcons' concerns.

3. No-nonsense coaches: Offensive line coach Mike Tice and defensive line coach Bryan Cox are new to the staff -- and they don't take crap from anyone. Some players need a kick in the butt rather than positive reinforcement, and Tice and Cox have no issue raising their voices. The players seem to respect them both. The offensive linemen have taken well to Tice tweaking their techniques. Maybe the defensive linemen aren't so enthused about Cox making them do up-downs after mistakes, but it's only going to make them more mentally focused.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Although no one should doubt Nolan's unique ability to be creative with his packages, the simple fact is the Falcons don't have a dominant pass-rusher. Sure, Jonathan Massaquoi has a lot of promise and veteran Osi Umenyiora slimmed down and seems to have a good year left in his body, but there's not a guy who strikes fear in opposing offensive tackles. With Drew Brees and Cam Newton in the division and Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco also on the schedule, pressure will be imperative.

2. There continues to be a concern at inside linebacker. Paul Worrilow should be fine and will have a place in the lineup for a lot of years to come. But Joplo Bartu, currently alongside Worrilow in the 3-4 setup and in the nickel defense, has some strides to make. Bartu has had a good training camp and can cover tight ends with no issues. But he's still learning on the fly, coming from outside linebacker last year. The Falcons have a lot of faith in rookiePrince Shembo, but he's also transitioning from outside to inside and will have a learning curve. There's a lack of depth at the position, too, with Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles) and rookie Marquis Spruill (ACL) out for the season.

3. Injuries took a toll on the Falcons last season with players such as Jones, Jackson, Weatherspoon, Roddy White and Kroy Biermann all either being shelved for the season or at least missing games. The injury bug has again bit the Falcons in training camp with three players (safety Dwight Lowery, linebacker Pat Angerer and offensive tackle Terren Jones) suffering concussions, two players (Gabe Carimi and Tim Dobbins) suffering ankle injuries, and one player (Spruill) tearing an ACL. The Falcons can't have a rash of major injuries this season. If they do, at least they'll have better depth than a year ago.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Although 6-foot-3-inch, 302-pound center Joe Hawley was pushed around a little bit in the preseason opener against Miami, the Falcons can live with that for a couple of plays a game because Hawley brings so much toughness and is so quick and athletic when it comes to pulling.

  • Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford continue to evolve as a duo and should be one of the most feared cornerback tandems in the league for years to come. Expect them to be much more physical this year.

  • Some folks wondered about White's health because he seems a little hobbled and continues to wear a light brace on his left knee. But White showed no ill-effects against the Dolphins and looked like the Roddy White of old.

  • Robert McClain appears to be ahead in the battle for the third cornerback right now, with Javier Arenas maybe a tad ahead of Josh Wilson at this point. Wilson has to start making more plays.

  • No one is panicking over Hester fumbling the ball in his first exhibition. The defender got a good hit on him. Hester, historically, has been secure with the ball on returns.

  • Safety Kemal Ishmael continues to impress the Falcons, specifically with his tackling. If Lowery's concussion issues resurface, Ishmael should be more than capable to handle a starting role next to strong safety William Moore.

  • Explosive running back Antone Smith deserves more touches. Enough said.

Yeah..he can pull. He got noticed for that in the first game. He looked natural doing it too.

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reasons for optimism

reasons for pessimism

I see no conflict biggrin.png

its kind of like reading a college scouting report on an NFL prospect - list positives which makes the player sound like they will be first year all-pro - then, hear come the negatives - by the time you read that, the player sounds like he would get picked last in an intramural flag football tournament.

LMAO. Truer words have never been spoken!

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