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http://www.sportsxchange.com/showcase/nflteamreport.php?teamid=2&section=STRATEGY%20AND%20PERSONNEL

Atlanta Falcons
INSIDE SLANT

Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

The Matt Ryan-Julio Jones connection led the Atlanta Falcons' upset of the previously undefeated Carolina Panthers on Sunday and now has the team in position to post a winning record for the first time in three seasons, albeit in a non-playoff season for the third consecutive year.

Ryan, with his guile and obviously high pain threshold, and Jones hooked up nine times for 178 yards, including a dazzling 70-yard touchdown play, to lift the Falcons over the Panthers, 20-13. They can finish with a winning record with a victory over the New Orleans Saints in the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

The Panthers faced the Falcons with nine of their 10 Pro Bowl players on the field. Running back Jonathan Stewart was out with a sprained foot. To win in the future and return to the playoffs, the Falcons need to improve the talent around Ryan and Jones.

But after being pummeled 38-0 by Carolina just two weeks ago, the overmatched Falcons leaned heavily on their few playmakers and played with some inspiration on defense to pull off the shocker.

Moving forward, the Falcons must figure out how to quickly surround Ryan and Jones with better talent.

Ryan made a rare, spirited run through the middle of the defense but he appeared to pay a physical price for his decision not to slide.

The Falcons faced a third-and-2 at Carolina's 11-yard line when Ryan dropped back to pass. After finding no open receivers and facing pressure, Ryan ran around left end, faked out linebacker Thomas Davis near the line of scrimmage and cut to the middle of the field to make a run for the first down.

Three plays later Ryan, tossed a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jones, who made an acrobatic grab over Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly for a 14-10 lead.

"It was a great play by Julio," Ryan said. "To be able to escape the pocket and realize he's down there with a safety and a linebacker, I feel like that's a good chance for us to throw up a ball and give him an opportunity to make a play."

Jones certainly did make the play and it gave the Falcons a 14-10 lead they would not relinquish and provided a spark to the defense to hold up down the stretch.

"I know that the team depends on me as far as going out there and making a play," Jones said. "All of us together. When my number is called, I try to go out there out there and deliver."

Jones works with wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, wide receiver Devin Hester and linebacker coach Bryan Cox after practice on making catches while jumping.

A former high school basketball player, Jones looked like he was clearing a basketball off the glass on the catch.

"I just had to go get the ball at the highest point," Jones said.

There was much made about Jones' matchup with Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, but Jones was the clear winner on Sunday.

"He just doesn't say anything to me," Jones said. "He's a good cornerback. He doesn't trash talk or anything like that. We kind of got him on an island a few times and made a few plays."

"We're back on course. It started last week. Just playing to our style and finishing games. We'll see next week."

Notes, Quotes

Carolina cornerback Josh Norman said Roddy White was the Falcons' fifth receiver behind the running backs and tight ends.

White came up with five catches for 67 yards and a key 17-yard third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter.

He said he wasn't motivated by Norman.

"I wanted to beat them because we got skunked two weeks ago," White said. "That was the reason I wanted to win the game more than anything. Them being 14-0, (my motivation wasn't) anything like that. I just wanted to put on a better performance coming into it as a team and we did that (Sunday)."

While the Falcons will be home for the playoffs for the third consecutive season, their 2016 schedule is practically set.

The Falcons (8-7) locked up second place in the NFC South with the stunning 20-13 win over the previously undefeated Panthers. The New Orleans Saints (6-9) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) can't catch the Falcons even if Atlanta loses the season finale to the Saints.

The Falcons will travel to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Denver and the winner of next week's Philadelphia at New York Giants game.

They will play host to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, San Francisco, Kansas City, San Diego and the loser of next week's matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota.

The St. Louis and Oakland games could be played in Los Angeles. Both teams, along with the Chargers, are candidates to relocate. The owners will decide during their meeting Jan. 12-13 in Houston.

With the Falcons on the move and a chance to build on their 14-10 lead, center Mike Person had a bad snap back to Ryan that the Panthers recovered.

On third-and-10 from Carolina's 37, the snap shot back to the right of Ryan. He tried to recover it but Norman beat him to it and appeared headed for a touchdown. Left guard Andy Levitre hustled back to make the tackle.

The defense held up and forced a field goal to make it 14-13.

First-round pick Vic Beasley made a sack of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and knocked the ball loose with just more than a minute to play. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn recovered to end Carolina's last-ditch threat.

"I looked at everybody's eyes and man, and everybody was looking like 'we'll get it done,' " linebacker O'Brien Schofield said.

In what has been a recurring theme for much of the season, the Falcons sputtered on offense and left it to the defense to bail them out. Atlanta's defenders obliged against the Panthers.

The Falcons held the Panthers to a field goal after the offense lost a fumble inside the Falcons' 40-yard line, stopped them on fourth down with 1:48 left and then did it again after the offense bungled clock management on its final possession.

"No matter when we go out, if we are on the field, we are stopping them," Falcons safety Charles Godfrey said. "That's our mentality, and that's what we live by."

The Falcons gained their first lead on Matt Ryan's 70-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones late in the third quarter, but then the offense kept putting the defense in tough situations.

After the Falcons forced Carolina to punt, their next possession ended on a lost fumble. Ryan couldn't handle Mike Person's errant snap and Carolina's Josh Norman recovered the fumble and took it to the Falcons' 36-yard line.

The Panthers gained 80 yards on their opening touchdown drive but just 188 over their next seven possessions for a total of 268. The Panthers had 260 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter of their 38-0 victory over the Falcons two weeks ago.

"We knew we made mistakes last time we played them," Beasley said. "We just had to correct them. We were basically beating ourselves. We just came out, had a great week of practice and put it all together."

Strategy & Personnel

PLAYER NOTES

WR Eric Weems (concussion) who plays a key role on special teams, did not finish the Carolina game. Quinn is hopeful to get him back for the regular-season finale.

NT Paul Soliai (calf) tried to play through his injury, but couldn't finished the game. Quinn was not optimistic about his return for Week 17.

QB Matt Ryan completed 23 of 30 passes for 306 yards and one touchdown. He finished with a passing rating of 119.6, his highest of the season. The touchdown pass was the 200th of his career.

WR Julio Jones broke his own franchise record for receiving yards in a season (1,593) and has now run his total to 1,722 yards this season. According to STATS LLC., Jones is one of six players in NFL history with at least 1,700 receiving yards in a single season. He is also the first Falcons player since Michael Turner in 2008 to amass more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage in a season.

RB Devonta Freeman scored his 11th rushing touchdown of the season, which leads the NFL. His 11 rushing touchdowns are tied for the fifth most in a season in franchise history. Freeman now ranks second in franchise history for receptions by a running back in a single season (71).

OLB Vic Beasley Jr. recorded his second career strip sack - fourth sack of the year - to close out the game at the end of the fourth quarter. According to NFL True Media, Beasley's four sacks are now the most by a rookie in Falcons history.

REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS

PASSING OFFENSE: A. After taking a shot from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, three plays later Matt Ryan escaped the pocket and threw the ball up for Julio Jones, who caught it and scored on a 70-yard play. Despite taking a pounding, Ryan never left the game as he completed 23 of 30 passes for 306 yards and no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating 119.6, his highest of the season.

"I feel great," Ryan said. "I thought that was a really good team win. My body feels good. Just a gutty performance across the board."

Ryan's throw traveled 53 yards in the air, for the arm-strength watchers. It was Ryan's 34th career game with at least 300 yards passing. Ryan has also now thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past five seasons (4,257).

Ryan was sacked two times and hit six times. That was a marked improvement from the five sacks and 11 hits in the previous game on Dec. 13. There was a botched shot gun snap that could have been costly.

Julio Jones turned in a spectacular game with nine catches for 178 yards and a touchdown. His acrobatic grab over Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was dazzling and just what the Falcons needed to propel them to victory. Roddy White said he would be in Gladiator Mode and he came through with a strong game. He had five catches for 67 yards. Four of White's five receptions went for first downs. Tight end Jacob Tamme had four catches for 29 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus. The Falcons stayed with the run game even though it wasn't very productive. Devonta Freeman rushed 22 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. Terron Ward had two carries for three yards. Overall, the Falcons rushed for 77 yards on 30 carries. Sticking to the run made the Panthers honor the play-action fakes. The unit was overmatched but battled. They stood up to Panthers' very fine defensive line rotation. Ryan noted that getting 77 yards against the Panthers was quite an accomplishment. Left tackle Jake Matthews escorted Freeman into the end zone on his 4-yard touchdown run. Tight end Levin Toilolo had a tough day blocking, but he kept battling.

PASS DEFENSE: A-minus. Defensive end Vic Beasley closed out the game with a big strip-sack. Adrian Clayborn pounced on the ball to end the game. Jonathan Babineaux and Kroy Biermann combined for a big sack to the knock the Panthers out of field-goal range. The Panthers tried to attack cornerback Robert Alford again. He led the Falcons with seven tackles and had two pass breakups. He came up strong in run support and tackled with authority. Nickel back Phillip Adams had two pass breakups and showed up in the run game with four tackles. Charles Godfrey has been a steadying force at strong safety.

RUN DEFENSE: D. The Panthers rushed for 155 yards on 20 carries for a 7.8 yards per carry average. Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne had five carries for 49 yards, including a 31-yard gain. Paul Worrilow started and turned in a solid effort while playing with a knee injury. He clearly wasn't 100 percent as he played just 18 of 52 (35 percent) defensive snaps. Justin Durant finished with five tackles and a pass breakup. Nate Stupar had a solid game with four tackles. Brooks Reed, the team's big free agent signee, played just four snaps (eight percent).



SPECIAL TEAMS:
B. Field-goal kicker Shayne Graham atoned for his missed 47-yard field goal by making a 37-yarder and a 54-yarder. He either had a missed-hit on the ball or his plant leg slipped on the errant kick. Matt Bosher had one punt, a 25-yarder, he placed inside the 20. Returner Devin Hester had a fair-catch on a punt and one kickoff return for 29 yards.



COACHING:
A-plus. After getting pummeled 38-0 just two weeks ago, the coaching staff had the Falcons ready to play. The Falcons stuck with their plan on offense to stay balanced. They had 30 runs and 30 passes. The defense came to life after that first drive and bailed the team out with two late stops. It was the biggest win of coach Dan Quinn's first season and put the team in position to finish with a winning season.

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The Falcons will travel to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Denver and the winner of next week's Philadelphia at New York Giants game.

They will play host to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, San Francisco, Kansas City, San Diego and the loser of next week's matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota.

...next years schedule......GOT DAYUM! Maybe another 7-9 win season if that.

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Well, we better shape up next season. We're going from one of the easiest SOS to one of the toughest. That's six playoff teams we're facing next season, and one of them will probably be the defending Super Bowl champion (Arizona or Carolina).

I hope it's Arizona. I wanna see Larry Fitz get a ring.

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The Falcons will travel to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Denver and the winner of next week's Philadelphia at New York Giants game.

They will play host to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, San Francisco, Kansas City, San Diego and the loser of next week's matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota.

...next years schedule......GOT DAYUM! Maybe another 7-9 win season if that.

Yeah...because during the 2015 season, we all know what these teams will look like in 2016.

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The Falcons will travel to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Denver and the winner of next week's Philadelphia at New York Giants game.

They will play host to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, San Francisco, Kansas City, San Diego and the loser of next week's matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota.

...next years schedule......GOT DAYUM! Maybe another 7-9 win season if that.

It does look brutal but we will be better.

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"OLB Vic Beasley Jr. recorded his second career strip sack - fourth sack of the year - to close out the game at the end of the fourth quarter. According to NFL True Media, Beasley's four sacks are now the most by a rookie in Falcons history."

Sure it's not the double-digit sack total he hoped for, but it's not so bad when you look at it like that.

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I don't know why people think that schedule looks brutal?

As it sits right now, are there any games outside of the Arizona game that look scary? Like "definitely a loss" scary?

I don't think so....

Playing Seattle on the road. In case you forgot, it's still hard to win there. We may play Green Bay again (currently on a three game losing streak against them). Oakland and Kansas City are no pushovers.

That being said, I think we can still win 10+ games. But I'm not guaranteeing wins anywhere except within the division and against which ever NFC East opponent we get.

Edited by JerseyNo12
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I'm actually happy we have a tougher schedule next season. We'll be facing a bunch of teams that are great at controlling the line of scrimmage on the defensive end.

Strength of schedule is kinda BS until after the games are played though.

Every year there are teams that were good the year before who suddenly suck due to injuries or roster moves that don't pan out... just look at the Cowboys, Eagles, Colts, Ravens, etc. this year. There are also teams that nobody really expects to be good, that have a solid run. For example, nobody thought Carolina was gonna have the record they do coming into the season.

It's silly to try to pretend we know what we are facing when there's an entire offseason between now & then.

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Strength of schedule is kinda BS until after the games are played though.

Every year there are teams that were good the year before who suddenly suck due to injuries or roster moves that don't pan out... just look at the Cowboys, Eagles, Colts, Ravens, etc. this year. There are also teams that nobody really expects to be good, that have a solid run. For example, nobody thought Carolina was gonna have the record they do coming into the season.

It's silly to try to pretend we know what we are facing when there's an entire offseason between now & then.

It still doesn't change the fact that it does look tougher at this moment. Not saying you're wrong but there really isn't a proper way to project future schedules.

Edited by ZoneOne01
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"OLB Vic Beasley Jr. recorded his second career strip sack - fourth sack of the year - to close out the game at the end of the fourth quarter. According to NFL True Media, Beasley's four sacks are now the most by a rookie in Falcons history."

Sure it's not the double-digit sack total he hoped for, but it's not so bad when you look at it like that.

Just think, it took JA98 what, 4 years just to accumulate 4 sacks in his career? Lol I know that they're not even comparable, but when you really REALLY wanna set the bar low to make Beasly's season look better, just look no further than Mr. Anderson. Lmao
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Pat Kirwin with CBS predicted 6-10.

Vaughn McClure predicted 8-8 on ESPN.

538's Elo prediction model averaged 7.7 wins.

Nate Davis with USA Today predicted 4-12.

Sean Tomlinson on BR predicted 6-10.

Sports Formulator predicted 6-10.

No w/l predictions on nfl.com, but just 2 of 13 predicted us to win the division, with ringing endorsements like "the division is such a disaster that you could just pick one of the teams out of a hat if you prefer" and calling the division "sorry" and "dysfunctional."

This is legitimately every prediction I've found so far. No cherry picking. Please, direct me towards the imaginary ringing 12-4 endorsements.

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I predicted 8-8 and 9-7 before the season and many others, even on these boards, did the same or worse. Please, find me all the outlets saying we were supposed to win 12 games. I'll be busy looking up the ones that said we wouldn't.

I was joking. Remember this place around here at the beginning of the season? It was either 16-0 or 0-16. Everyone assumed an "easy" schedule means victory. We did beat three division winners. That should count for something.

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Strength of schedule is kinda BS until after the games are played though.

Every year there are teams that were good the year before who suddenly suck due to injuries or roster moves that don't pan out... just look at the Cowboys, Eagles, Colts, Ravens, etc. this year. There are also teams that nobody really expects to be good, that have a solid run. For example, nobody thought Carolina was gonna have the record they do coming into the season.

It's silly to try to pretend we know what we are facing when there's an entire offseason between now & then.

This is exactly correct. SOS can be determined at the end of the season, but not before. This league turns on a dime. Parity keeps every team relevant.

Bottom line:

Don't worry about WHO you will playing.

Worry about HOW you will be playing.

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Pat Kirwin with CBS predicted 6-10.

Vaughn McClure predicted 8-8 on ESPN.

538's Elo prediction model averaged 7.7 wins.

Nate Davis with USA Today predicted 4-12.

Sean Tomlinson on BR predicted 6-10.

Sports Formulator predicted 6-10.

No w/l predictions on nfl.com, but just 2 of 13 predicted us to win the division, with ringing endorsements like "the division is such a disaster that you could just pick one of the teams out of a hat if you prefer" and calling the division "sorry" and "dysfunctional."

This is legitimately every prediction I've found so far. No cherry picking. Please, direct me towards the imaginary ringing 12-4 endorsements.

Football Outsiders had us at 9.4 expected wins (IIRC). With the analysis of "the team will probably still be weak but an easy schedule should win the day"

Pretty close, IMO. Even if the easy schedule part sort of inverted itself.

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Playing Seattle on the road. In case you forgot, it's still hard to win there. We may play Green Bay again (currently on a three game losing streak against them). Oakland and Kansas City are no pushovers.

That being said, I think we can still win 10+ games. But I'm not guaranteeing wins anywhere except within the division and against which ever NFC East opponent we get.

Seattle is looking at another season of roster erosion. I don't think they'll be a ****** team or anything and obviously a Seattle road game isn't easy, but I'm not super scared of them yet. They're likely going to move on from Marshawn and they'll have to figure out how to retain/replace a bunch of major contributors, again.

Okung, Mebane, Irvin, Kearse, Sweezy, and a whole bunch of depth players. Given how they've drafted lately (and how they've traded picks) I wouldnt be shocked to see them take a step back.

I don't think our schedule is EASY I just don't think it looks particularly imposing right now.

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