Thursday, December 3, 2009

Know Your Enemy - ATL


The Falcons are 6-5 and in 2nd place in the NFC South. Expectations were high this year after last season's 11-5 record, but things haven't gone according to plan. I can't say that one thing sticks out. Seems like there are a variety of reasons for the struggles.

The most simple explanation is that teams play ATL differently. They were a surprise team last year. No one regarded them as a serious playoff team. Next thing you know they're 11-5 and in the postseason. This year teams thought of the Falcons as a target, not just an opponent. "Let's go beat the good team"...that kind of thing.

The schedule hasn't done them any favors. ATL played at the Giants, at Dallas, at New England, and at New Orleans. That's 4 tough road games in the first 10 weeks of the season. The Falcons are 0-4 in those games. They're 6-1 the rest of the year.

Injuries have been a factor this year. The Falcons 2008 turnaround was greatly aided by the team staying healthy most of the year. RBs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood have missed time this year. QB Matt Ryan got hurt last week. Slot receiver Harry Douglas has missed the whole year. Rookie DT Peria Jerry has missed the whole year. There are other guys who've missed time. I think you get the point.

The Falcons still believe in running the ball first and foremost. They will feed it to Turner, Norwood, or Jason Snelling. The healthy RB will get used. That sets up a play-action passing attack. While ATL has had issues, they are averaging just under 25 points a game. They can put some points on the board.

As for Falcons opponents...they can also put some points on the board. The Atlanta defense has been disappointing. ATL has given up the most long plays of any team in the NFL (plays of 20 or more yards). They have coverage issues, don't have a great pass rush, and aren't big blitzers. When QBs have time they have a good chance to find someone open. The middle of the field seemed to be a major vulnerable spot.

We'll talk more about strategy tomorrow.


QB CHRIS REDMAN --- Coach Mike Smith spent time with him when both were with the Ravens. Redman has been in the league for quite a while. Think of him as a poor man's AJ Feeley. He has talent, but at the same time...there is a reason he's not starting anywhere on a full time basis. 23-41-243 with 2 TDs last week. Led the Falcons to a comeback win over the Bucs. The good news...he won. The bad news...he was losing to the Bucs.

RB MICHAEL TURNER --- He's been very banged up recently with an ankle issue. Not sure if he'll play this week. Short guy, but thick and powerful. That helps him to run between the tackles. Good burst makes him dangerous if he gets to the open field. Turner is a guy that normally will have 20 runs for 55 yards and then has a couple of long runs mixed in. The Falcons don't mind the short runs. That plays into their ball control style. Turner's numbers for his year were down, in part because the long runs had been less frequent. Then he got red hot for 3 games (NO, WAS, CAR). Turner was 47-428 in those games. 9.1 YPC??? Crazy. I have no idea if he'll play or which Turner will show up.

OTHER RBs --- Jerious Norwood is the speedster. They don't feed him the ball much, but he can bust a long play any time he touches the ball. Norwood has been banged up, but did play some last week. Jason Snelling is the other key player. He's a big, upright runner. He lacks speed, but is tough and will moves the chains. ATL can have success with him in the lineup. They just won't get as many big plays.

WR RODDY WHITE --- He's developed into the real deal. White has good size and great speed.

TE TONY GONZALEZ --- Some chump I've never heard of.

OT WILL SVITEK --- Backup player who took over at LT last week for Sam Baker. Will has had to play a couple of times this year. He held his own vs Julius Peppers and Andre Carter. Of course it helped having Ryan at QB. He got rid of the ball quickly and helped his OL out.

RT TYSON CLABO --- I love watching this guy play. Think of him as Runyan, Jr. Tyson is big at 6'6, 330. He's mean and dirty. He likes to push the buttons of defenders by doing whatever he can. Very good run blocker. Adequate pass protector.

INTERIOR TRIO --- The Gs are Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl. Both are good run blockers. Dahl is hurt and might miss the game. He's probably their best interior blocker. Todd McClure is the C. He's not the biggest guy, but is a smart, veteran blocker.

DE JOHN ABRAHAM --- Dangerous pass rusher. Isn't having a great year, though. Only has 3.5 sacks and 0.5 TFLs. That normally is one game for John. I haven't watched enough of him this year to know if this is due to good blocking or if he's lost a step.

DE KROY BIERMANN --- Undersized DE, but a solid rusher. Has 4 sacks on the year. Also has 2.5 TFLs and a FF. Quick off the edge. Great motor. Can struggle vs the run.

DT JONATHAN BABINEAUX --- Good athletic DT. Leads the team with 5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs. Very quick off the ball. Very good motor. Only weighs in the 290 range, but speed is his game.

MLB CURTIS LOFTON --- Teams leading tackler. Short, thick, powerful LB. Good hitter and tackler. Good run defender.

SAFETIES --- Erik Coleman is the veteran. He's 2nd on the team in tackles. He isn't a big playmaker and isn't a gifted player. Erik is just a solid DB. Thomas DeCoud is a young guy on the rise. He can hit, but also has good range and some cover skills. DeCoud has a couple of sacks and 6 pass break-ups. He can make plays all over. Thomas leads the team with 2 INTs.

CBs --- Chris Houston is the top cover guy. He is most comfortable playing tight man coverage and chasing WRs all over the field. He does lead the team in PBUs with 9, but doesn't have good hands. Chris only has 3 picks in 2 1/2 years. The other spot has been filled by Brent Grimes and Tye Hill. Last week they gave Christopher Owens a chance and liked what they saw. Owens will start opposite of Houston. Owens is small at 5'9, 181, but he can cover. The defense seemed to settle down with him on the field last Sunday. Chevis Jackson is a good Nickelback.

SPECIAL TEAMS --- This has been somewhat of a trouble spot. Their LS got hurt earlier and the Falcons just signed a new guy, Joe Zelenka. They just cut PK Jason Elam and signed Matt Bryant (owner of a 62-yard FG against us in 2006). These are veteran players with good track records. Don't count on them struggling. The punter is still Michael Koenen. He's not having a great year (25th in net avg). Eric Weems is the RS on both punts and KOs. He's got solid numbers. Small, but speedy returner. The Falcons did allow a blocked punt vs Tampa that turned into a TD.

Falcons at


LB Akeem Jordan has been practicing this week. He's been playing with the scout team. I haven't seen in print what position he's playing. I've heard that the plan is to use him at MLB. I'm not sure if Akeem will play this week, whether starting or just in a limited role.

Why move him around? Sean McDermott liked Will Witherspoon a lot at WLB. He wants to leave Spoon out there. Notice that our TE defense has been a little better lately. Spoon gets some of the credit for that.

Jordan has the style of play and skill set to be a good MLB. He is very good at taking on lead blockers and stuffing them. Jordan is physical. He has natural power when he hits a runner, receiver, or blocker. Some guys need to uncoil to deliver a good blow. Jordan is just one of those guys with a natural toughness. He played in a 4-2-5 system in college that kept him between the tackles quite a bit. Moving to MLB is not a stretch. In the past when Jordan was a backup Jim Johnson had Akeem practicing at multiple spots so he could fill in at any of them. That's not the same thing as moving full time to the middle, but it does mean he's got some idea of what he's getting into.

I know some are concerned by "the shuffling". Gocong is still at SAM. Spoon has been at WIL now for a few games. Really you're just moving one guy. Why not go back to the original setting with Spoon inside? My guess is that McDermott feels like the new configuration is simply the better way to go. Akeem has been more of a playmaker this year, but he hasn't stood out in coverage. Last year he was a big help on TEs. This year he lost his job in the Nickel because he was struggling. I have no problem with Sean moving him to MLB.

What about the future? I think next year the projected starters at LB will be FOKOU - STEW - SPOON. Jordan would be the top backup. Joe Mays will be a backup. Byron Evans will take Trot's spot...unless Bill Bergey is available and then he'll get it.


RE: Hating on Jordan

Akeem has had some real good moments this year. He's been more of a playmaker. He had a couple of games where he played very well. He also did have some issues. He didn't lose his job in the Nickel because Sean wanted to hang out and chat with him on the sideline. LBs have responsibilities that go beyond what you see in an obvious way. Jordan wasn't doing his job the way Sean wanted it in certain situations. If the goal was to punish him, Akeem would stay on the bench. The Eagles are trying to find the best trio and also want guys in places where they can succeed.

RE: Eric Berry

He is absolutely the real deal. He's not making as many highlight plays this year because Monte Kiffin is playing him in the box more. Tougher to pick off passes when you're up close to the line. Eric would be a great FS for us. Beery can hit, tackle, cover, and anything else you want...unless you want someone with extensive knowledge of the Magna Carta.

RE: Gocong

Most people project him to go sign with a 3-4 team in the offseason. Chris was a great pass rusher in college. He's okay for us, but hasn't developed into the kind of player I was hoping. I think he'll get a little better each year so there is logic to keeping him, but his best value is probably to a team that will rush him more.



Stephen said...

Gocong doesn't get his share of love beacuse he so often does some of the dirty work that doesn't show up in the stat boxes at the end of the game. Taking on lead blockers, blowing up run plays to his side, he seems really good at that kind of thing. I love watching him take on a pulling OL or FB and just blowing them up.

That being said, he still isn't a playmaker on a regular basis. He has a great play every now and then but not with regularity, but I don't think planning on having Moise Fokou be an upgrade would be smart either. I'm not convinced he would be better than Chris out there.

Gocong could do himself a world of good if he could start defending some of those passes to tight ends that see to inevitably fall complete overtop of his coverage.

Stephen said...

Also, for laughs:,206179

Stephen said...

And just to show why Peyton Manning is so sick in the red zone:

watch that video and tell me if that ever looks like anything Mcnabb does.

Cliff said...

I understand the logic behind why Gocong won't be with the team next season, but it just seems weird. He's one of our "young guys" that has been involved in the rebuilding (I prefer "re-creation") of the team from the Super Bowl season.

Tommy, you foresee Fokou taking over? Is that because he's that good or because you don't see us having/exploring many other options at SAM?

I can envision SLB getting pushed to the end of the list on Draft Day if we assume DE and secondary are "positions of need." However, there doesn't seem to be any top 10 LB talent right now. Perhaps that pushes a quality LB down the draft board.

I'll be the first to say that I'm looking at this in a very superficial way though.

Potential Free Agent Targets:
- Thomas Howard, Oakland Raiders
- D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns

Both are young, but neither are having "great" years. That could play to our advantage if we wanted to go after Jackson. I think if he was on a better team, he'd be a monster.

Chris said...

This is something that has bugged me for a while. It seems like our defensive system is built around confusion where you never know who is blitzing, who is covering, etc. Isn't the fundamental challenge there that you are always looking for 11 extremely athletic guys that can blitz, cover, tackle, etc. Since the guys with all of those skills that are playmakers in college are a commodity, you end up drafting guys with great athleticism (Gocong) and spending 4 years developing them to hopefully be what you really need...a guy good in all those areas. Chances are they will have some weakness and so you either shift your scheme or roll the dice hoping not to get exposed (old Trott in coverage). If you are lucky, you get a guy who is decent but not stellar (Gocong after several years of learning) who would still be better in a different system/different position. On the rare chance you strike gold with a game changer who can do all those things, you have a guy who needs a lot more $'s than you want to pay that position. In the pre-salary cap era that would be one thing, but in this era, it seems like you will always have a hole somewhere because you are rolling with a SAM in training or whatever. I wonder sometimes if a better model is getting key stud players in certain positions and then role players who play that role really well in all the other spots. Do we try to get too cute for our own good with all this "shifting player from position x to position y" stuff?

Edward said...

Some players are asked to do a lot in this system but it is not necessarily a requirement of their position. More what Jim and now Sean had/have faith in them to do. For instance, Gocong doesn't seem to do much out of the ordinary SLB. He covers, he blitzes and will occasionally line up as a downlineman, something he has some talent for. The crazy stuff is designed to play to strengths. They have no problem playing Tracy White in the Nickel because he's great in coverage, hence the faith to put him on a WR on that play where he ran into fokou but he doesn't start because they obviously don't trust him to do other things.

Our system almost means we can get away with less gifted players physically. The scheme to some extent can cover up a players deficiencies. Obviously only a little though.

Think about the Tampa 2.

"Typically, the Tampa 2 players don't have the prototypical size of other NFL defenders. Instead, stress is put on speed, smarts and flawless tackling. A quick defensive line is a must, but the middle linebacker position is the straw that stirs the drink"

/That/ defence doesn't work without the right players.

izzylangfan said...

I generally agree with a lot of what is being said here but there is still a good deal of uncertainty. Bradley (if healthy) and Spoon are clearly starters but then it gets murky. Akeem Jordan may be the fourth linebacker but he can cover better than Gocong and has stopped the run to his side so why couldn't he play SAM. Gocong has problems in coverage but with Bradley, Jordan and Gocong most teams couldn't run against us. Remember the Vikings in the playoffs last year. Then there is Fokou. I like Fokou, they like Fokou, everyone likes Fokou. But are they really going to turn over the starting SAM to him before free agency and the draft. He sure makes a lot of mistakes and I can't remember a big play. So it is hard for me to believe that this issue is settled.

Pitmanite said...

From Bill Simmons on You guys need to be my support group and tell me everythings going to be okay.

11. Philly
Banged up and limping towards the finish with a tough schedule (at Atlanta , at Giants, Niners, Broncos, at Dallas ), although they caught a monster break with the Matt Ryan/Chris Redman switcheroo this weekend. I have them pencilled in for a playoff spot and here's why: It's the last season of an NFL decade that will be remembered -- at least a little -- by the Reid/McNabb combo torturing the already-tortured Philly fans in a variety of macabre ways. This feels like their final act in every respect, much like the last season of "Lost" in that we know it's going to end, we know things will blow up, we know this season will somehow tie up the other seasons, we know all of our questions will be answered, and we know we'll feel sad that it's over.

I'm going to miss Andy Reid staring at the two-point conversion chart like it's written in Korean. I'm going to miss Donovan McNabb casually walking up to the line during a two-minute drill like he's approaching the counter of an Arby's. I'm going to miss those anguished, "What did I do to deserve this?" e-mails from Eagles fans, as well as that collective, incredulous, "What the hell are we doing?" sound that you can hear on your TV during a home Eagles game. Enjoy these last few episodes, folks. I can't wait for the complete set on DVD.

Stephen said...

Thats a fairly dire view, especially since we already pounded the Giants once this year and barely lost to the Cowboys.

I think we're perfectly capable of going 4-1 against the remaining teams, we'll probably drop a game in there somewhere.

Hopefully guys like Jackson and Jordan and Sheldon Brown will get themselves right soon and stay that way for the playoff push.

Myron said...

"I'm going to miss Andy Reid staring at the two-point conversion chart like it's written in Korean. I'm going to miss Donovan McNabb casually walking up to the line during a two-minute drill like he's approaching the counter of an Arby's."

That's hilarious... and all too true.

Adam S. said...

I've been meaning to ask everybody this for the last couple days but keep forgetting everytime I come on. Who do you want to win in the Giants-Cowboys game this weekend?

Based on us winning this weekend. I'm sure we've all gone over this but I'm gonna lay it out in front anyways.

Cowboys win - 5th place, One game back from Dallas. Two games up on NYG, ATL, possibly SF.
Giants win - 5th place, Tied with Dallas for division but lose tiebreaker. One game up on NYG. Two games up on ATL, possibly SF.

I really don't know who I want to win. On one hand we could gain some valuable space if Dallas wins but further hurts our chance in a tiebreaker situation if we win week 17 and have similiar records. While a Giants win makes things VERY tight down the stretch with very little room for mistakes.

I'm leaning towards a Giants win with hope that our recent history of being excellent in December holds true.

Tommy Lawlor said...

Bill is a basketball fan first and foremost. Those are funny comments, but they're more humorous than true. Andy isn't going anywhere. Donovan is at least 50/50 to return.

The schedule is tough, but not as daunting as he makes it sound. SF struggles to score. The Giants are struggling. The Broncos are struggling. The Boys are allergic to December. The Falcons will be attacking us with backups.

I feel pretty good about where we are. Bill should stick to the NBA, the Sox, and the Pats.

Cliff said...

I'm glad someone brought up Bill Simmons because I've been wanting to get this off my chest for a while: the guy is an idiot.

Well, let me be fair, he's not a complete idiot, just a really obnoxious sports fan. The only difference between Simmons and a typical EMB poster is that he works for ESPN. Most fans think they can run a sports team better than the current managerers. That's Bill Simmons in a nutshell.

I stopped reading him a long time ago. I just got sick of the constant dribble about Boston, Boston, Boston. I guess ESPN doesn't mind because they're in the heart of Patriots/Red Sox Country.

Simmons is always bashing on the LA Clippers, so I loved Mike Dunleavy's quote to describe Simmons. ESPN Radio guy Colin Cowherd asked Dunleavy what he thought about the constant attacks from Bill Simmons. Dunleavy responded, "Who?"

Cliff said...

Two final points:

1) I realize I just uneccessarily invented a word in my last post... "managerers. Oops.

2) Simmons, to me, is what differentiates ESPN from Sports Illustrated. ESPN is all about capturing that 18-24 year old demographic with pop culture references and puns. SI is (correction: used to be) about real sports journalism. Unfortunately for people like me, ESPN has the right business formula.

I swear I'm not Andy Rooney, even though I feel like him right now.