Posted on: August 13, 2011 8:48 am
Edited on: August 13, 2011 9:02 pm
Posted by Will Brinson
The Falcons made a bold move on draft day when they jumped 21 spots -- in a massive deal with Cleveland -- to land Julio Jones out of Alabama. At the time, we wrote that he "better be a home run" to justify the move, and we still stand by that.
Fortunately, the early results are in and Jones looks like a pretty solid draft pick for Atlanta. Granted, Friday night's loss against Miami was only one game of the preseason, but he drew some nice compliments from usually reserved Falcons coach Mike Smith.
"I think Julio got indoctrinated into what the NFL is about and in terms of the plays he made, I think they were outstanding," Smith said, per Jay Adams of the team's official website. "I think all three touches were for first downs. He showed some skills that we saw when he was playing at the University of Alabama, and we'll watch the tape I think we'll find some things that we've got to correct.
"We all made mistakes, starting with me in terms of the game management and all of that. I really thought that Julio did some good things."
He did indeed. Jones looked extremely explosive in the early going, catching two balls for 43 yards and taking a reverse around the right side for 12 yards.
Jones was targeted four times in total during the first three series that spanned about 12 minutes of the first quarter -- the Falcons first two offensive plays of the preseason targeted Jones but Matt Ryan missed the first throw and Vontae Davis was draped on Jones during the second one.
Yeah, it's safe to say that they wanted to not just establish Jones but their "new" identity as an explosive offensive team early on. It didn't work -- at first.
During the next two series, the Falcons marched down the field and punched it in the end zone, once with a Michael Turner score and then again when Harry Douglas made a fantastic catch on an even better throw from Ryan.
Those two possessions featured Jones being integrated much more seamlessly, particularly when Jones was able to take short passes from Ryan for big gains.
It's the explosive playmaking that Atlanta wanted to add this season and if Jones first few series are any indication of his ability, it certainly will be outstanding.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: June 9, 2011 4:30 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2011 4:57 pm
Posted by Ryan Wilson
Running backs are fungible. We've been beating that drum for years now, and basically the theory goes something like this: Don't draft a running back with a top 15 pick unless you're certain he's the next Barry Sanders or Jim Brown.
There are exceptions, but the thinking is that teams can find productive backs in later rounds (and often among the undrafted), which frees them up to use early picks on positions that are tougher to fill -- like left tackle and cornerback. This applies to free agency, too. An example that immediately comes to mind: the Seahawks re-signing Shaun Alexander to an eight-year, $62 million deal in 2006, six years into his career. At the time, it was the largest contract ever signed by a running back.
Alexander, who had 370 carries for 1,880 yards (27 TDs) in '05, managed just 896 yards on 252 carries (7 TDs) in '06. He gained 716 yards a year later, and by 2008 he was out of the league.
Meanwhile, success stories on the cheap are everywhere. Willie Parker and Arian Foster were undrafted free agents. So were Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas. And if they should get hurt or become ineffective, there are other low-priced alternatives.
We bring this up because Michael Turner was originally just that: a low-priced alternative -- the former Chargers fifth-round pick who spent most of his career in San Diego behind LaDanian Tomlinson. Having seen glimpses of his potential, teams around the league were intrigued by Turner once he hit free agency. In 2008, the Falcons signed him to a six-year, $34.5 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.
Early on it looked like a good investment. Atlanta had then-rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, and the offense relied heavily on the running game to make his job easier. Turner finished 2008 with 376 carries for 1,699 yards (17 TDs). And according to Football Outsiders, Turner ranked third in total RB value behind Thomas Jones and DeAngelo Williams.
But the productivity was short-lived. In '09, Turner played in just 11 games and had 871 yards on 178 carries (10 TDs). His Football Outsiders total value ranking fell to 16th, sandwiched between the likes of Ronnie Brown and Willis McGahee. Turner appeared to rebound last season (334 carries, 1,371 yards, 12 TDs), but his total value was still 16th.
Which brings us to Scout Inc.'s Matt Williamson, who writes on ESPN.com that Turner's "best days might already be behind him and (he is) someone who will never be an asset in the passing game."
Williamson thinks that Gartrell Johnson, a former fourth-rounder (coincidentally drafted by the Chargers), could step in for Turner if given the opportunity. "Johnson very well could end up not making this roster, but if he were to stick and be thrust into a prominent role, this hard-nosed power back might surprise."
The bottom line: the Falcons invested a lot of money in Turner, money that could have been better allocated. There's no denying that Turner was great during the '08 season, but he's been something less than that in the two years since. The NFL is full of running backs who are, on average, as productive as Turner but at a fraction of the cost.
Look no further than the guy on the cover of Madden 12 for proof.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: March 23, 2011 11:17 am
Posted by Will Brinson
Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups. Also, check out our checkup podcast:
It's pretty rare when winning your division and losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions qualifies as a "disappointment," but that's probably the case with the Atlanta Falcons, who really seemed destined to make a run at a championship in 2010.
Alas, destiny came unbound and Green Bay burnt Atlanta to the ground (surely that's not too soon) en route to taking down the Lombardi Trophy. What makes the way in which Atlanta lost interesting is that it was their bread and butter -- old-school, methodical football -- that left them unable to mount a comeback against the Packers.
Having said that, this is a Falcons team that's built for the long-haul. Matt Ryan is an All-Pro for years to come, Roddy White is blossoming into one of the best receivers in the NFC (if not the NFL), and the defense as a whole appears full of young playmakers. Sure, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner might not be contributing five years down the road, but that doesn't impact 2011, when the Falcons will be absolutely primed to repeat their success from the previous year.
Speed, Explosiveness, Youth
In 2009, Atlanta was vulnerable to getting torched on big plays, and got gashed by opponents on 20-yard-plus plays 55 times, and 40-yard-plus plays 11 times. They addressed their secondary needs in the offseason, stealing Dunta Robinson away from the Texans (who then became historically bad against the pass, for what it's worth). In 2010, Atlanta gave up just 38 plays of 20+ yards and only six plays of 40+ yards.
So, yeah, not a problem anymore. But what is a problem? The big plays created on the offensive end. Atlanta ranked next-to-last in the NFL in passing plays over 20 yards with 32, just two ahead of Carolina. You may recall that the Panthers didn't finish No. 1 in the conference. Add in six plays all season of 40-plus yards, and it's clear the Dirty Birds lack some explosiveness in the passing game.
This is partially a result of Mike Mularky's vanilla offense, and partially because Tony Gonzalez can't stretch the field quite as much as he used to. But it's primarily because Atlanta hasn't been able to find a true WR2 to pair with White and give Ryan a deep threat.
1. Speedy WR2
The M.O. of Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith isn't necessarily to grab a WR early just because they need one. And it's unlikely that one of the true talents in this draft -- think A.J. Green and Julio Jones -- will get even close to the Falcons. It's possible they could use a draft pick on a speedy wide receiver, but it's also possible that they could look to boost their receiving corps through free agency (Santana Moss would fit the bill nicely; he's been wildly inconsistent as a WR1, but his downfield burst would fit well with what the Falcons need, especially as a second wideout). The ideal candidate -- as I noted in the podcast above -- is Steve Smith of the Panthers, but an intra-division trade seems like a pretty unlikely outcome.
2. Defensive End/D-line depth
Defensively, the Falcons performed well in 2010, ranking in the top five in terms of points allowed and right about the middle of the NFL in terms of yards per game allowed. But they weren't anywhere close to the top in terms of sacks, ranking 20th with 31, 13 of which came from the aging John Abraham. Given the incredible defensive line depth in the 2011 NFL Draft class, it's almost likely that we see the Falcons address their pass-rushing needs with their first round pick in April.
3. Running Back
Michael Turner has been a fantastic find for the Birds since they signed him as a free agent (especially considering people thought they'd overpaid), and Jason Snelling is a pretty good backup insofar as those things go. But at some point, Atlanta's going to need to find some additional running back depth in order to stay ahead of the curve and not find themselves empty-handed if Turner slows under the weight of excessive carries. They could also use a change-of-pace, third-down back, and the second round is a decent spot for them to address that need.
Atlanta's going to compete with the Saints -- and perhaps the Buccaneers?? -- for the division title in 2011, and it's hard to fathom a situation where they're not the favorites to win the NFC South this year. That's simply based on the fact that they return the entire nucleus of a team that showed it knows how to play a grind-it-out style of football and win close games.
And there's no question that this is a team for whom "winning the Super Bowl" isn't just a silly goal to have simply because football hasn't been played and "everyone's got the same record right now." The only issue for Atlanta, in order to take the next step, it seems is finding some explosiveness that the 2010 rendition of the Falcons lacked. Otherwise, building on the base they've already got means we'll be saying similar things about this team for years to come.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed
Posted on: January 30, 2011 9:47 pm
Posted by Will Brinson
2010 fizzled pretty badly for the Falcons, but all-in-all, it was a pretty darn good year for Atlanta's franchise. They built upon a young, talented foundation and secured the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs and appear ready to contend in the NFL for quite some time.
So the report from Jay Glazer of FOX Sports during the Pro Bowl that Atlanta's looking to lock up head coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff with long-term extensions makes a lot of sense.
It's easy to forget that before Smith and Dimitroff came into town, the Falcons hit rock bottom -- Michael Vick's prison sentence and the embarrassing escape of Bobby Petrino to Arkansas turned Arthur Blank's franchise from one of the most-watched to the least desirable in the NFL overnight.
Smith and Dimitroff somehow managed to fix the team overnight with the signing of Michael Turner, the trade for Tony Gonzalez and a drafting a superb class in 2008, the highlight of which was Matt Ryan.
They've got the Dirty Birds poised for long-term success and it makes perfect sense that Blank wants them around to reap the rewards of the foundation they built.
One more quick note on Smith -- he's the perfect example of a coach that fans aren't "excited" to see hired, because he lacks name value. But even though he might not be the flashiest coach, he's proven that sometimes name value doesn't always equal wins.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 13, 2011 1:59 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2011 9:37 am
Posted by Will Brinson
CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:
1. Green Bay Packers (No. 6, NFC, 11-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (No. 1, NFC, 13-3)
in a week that features two unbelievably potent AFC rivalries, the NFC might actually sport the most compelling rematch when the Packers return to the ATL to try and avenge a 20-17 Week 12 loss . At the time, that game was considered a preview of the NFC Championship, and this time around, nothing's changed, except the two teams are meeting earlier than expected.
The difference in that first tilt essentially hinged on two plays -- an Aaron Rodgers fumble on the one-yard line and a fourth-down conversion during the ensuing drive for Atlanta. Things play out differently if the reverse of each play occurs, of course, but that was a 14-point swing that dramatically altered the outcome of the game. What makes things interesting is that this time around, the Packers have, theoretically, enough of a running game to potentially avoid Rodgers playing the role of "leading rusher" for Green Bay, and, perhaps, a devastating turnover.
2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking
For a minute, I started photoshopping three Mora heads. Then I watched the highlights from the first time these teams met, listened to the video below, and frankly, it's just too good of a matchup not to be worth more. Only the potential AFC overshadow factor keeps it from the full five.
3. Key Matchup to Watch: Packers front seven vs. Michael Turner
In 2010, the Falcons went undefeated when Michael Turner (or Jason Snelling, if you want to include their 41-7 whupping of Arizona in Week 2) crossed the 100-yard rushing mark. When Turner rushed for less than 75 yards, they went 3-3, with one of those victories being the meaningless-by-halftime Week 17 game against the Panthers. The other two sub-75 victories were by a total of 7 points, against San Francisco and Baltimore. In the Falcons three losses, Turner didn't total 100 yards combined .
So to say that the rushing game is important for the Falcons is mildly understating things. Against Green Bay the first time, Turner ripped off three runs of 14 yards or more (and a slew of five-plus-yard runs) en route to a 4.8 yards per carry average (his season YPC was 4.1).
The Packers can't blitz as much as they might against a team with a less, um, traditional offensive set -- Atlanta's old-school run game (two tight ends, big backfields) doesn't present a whole lot of holes where Dom Capers can send attackers, and Mike Mularkey specializes in deflecting the brunt of tacklers to give Turner room to work.
Additionally, Turner getting his motor running keep Matt Ryan from having to force things and opens up the Falcons ability to exploit Tony Gonzalez' receiving talents against an increasingly run-wary (and weary) group of linebackers.
In other words, if Green Bay manages to limit the run game even somewhat substantially, their odds of strolling out of the Georgia Dome with a win increase exponentially.
4. Potentially Relevant Video
The people involved in this game aren't exactly old-school players (although Atlanta's style might be), but they're not new-school fools either. But if you like fish n' grits and all that, well, do you know what I am saying? (NSFW lyrics may apply if you click play. You'll also likely be fired if you keep throwing your hands in the air and waving them like you don't care. Please be warned.)
5. The Packers will win if ...
If Aaron Rodgers can grow up and leave less than 56 seconds on the clock when the Packers score for the last time in the game. I kid, I kid. The Packers need to match Atlanta's ability to sustain drives by incorporating the running game (thereby opening up the passing game) before taking some shots downfield. Oh, and stop the run and force Matt Ryan to make mistakes. It's really that simple.
6. The Falcons will win if ...
They can limit big plays from the Packers passing game and get Turner over the magic 100-yard mark. Him hitting that high number means there's some salting-away of the clock and/or long, sustained drives going on, and that's good news for Atlanta.
7. Prediction: Falcons 23, Packers 20
Posted on: January 10, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: January 11, 2011 1:32 pm
Posted by Andy Benoit
It’s tempting -– and rational –- to opine that the Kansas City Chiefs looked every bit like the young, untested playoff team it was Sunday. This was especially true offensively. Matt Cassel completed 9/18 passes for 70 yards and three interceptions. And, aside from a handful of impressive first half bursts from Jamaal Charles, Kansas City’s top-ranked rushing attack was unimpactful.
It’s hard to argue against Steelers-Ravens currently being the best rivalry in the NFL. Colts-Patriots is great, but aside from playoff time, those matchups have not always carried huge implications. The plethora of NFC East rivalries are fun but tend to wash each other out. The AFC West teams don’t like each other, but who cares? Bears-Packers is great rivalry from an all-time perspective, but currently, it’s only average because this is the first time since 2001 that both teams have reached the postseason.
It depends if you view NFL coaches and players as athletic competitors or entertainers. Football-wise, Patriots-Jets is good but not great. The Patriots embarrassed the Jets 45-3 in the last meeting, though Rex Ryan’s Jets had won two of three before that.
Defensive end Shaun Ellis is the longest-tenured Jet (11 seasons). Aside from 14-year veteran Trevor Pryce, injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins is the most recognized name along the defensive line. Backup Vernon Gholston is the next most recognized name, but only because the former No. 6 overall pick has been a monumental bust.
Second week in a row the Packer defense has been highlighted here. Did you see the job this unit did on Philadelphia’s explosive playmakers? Everyone, including Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, was expecting Dom Capers to blitz the daylights out of Michael Vick. Capers did so late in the second half, but for much of the game, he had superstar Swiss Army Knife Charles Woodson spy the quarterback. He dropped his linebackers into a safe zone coverage, which took away running lanes and Philly’s potent screen game. And, most surprisingly, Capers trusted that corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields could contain wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin -- which they did.
I have received harsh emails from two different fan bases this season: Chicago’s and Seattle’s. Bears fans called me out early in the season for saying their team’s success was a mirage; Seahawks fans called me out late last week for saying their team didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs.
To Bears fans: I’m more than happy to admit I was wrong. I incorrectly believed Mike Martz would be unwilling to compensate for Chicago’s shoddy offensive line by altering his complex offensive system. Martz was shrewd in the way he employed help blockers into his pass protections and he showed admirable humility (and sensibility) in substituting a few passes for runs.
10. Quick Hits: what went wrong for the wild card losers
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons, B.J. Raji, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Chicago Bears, Clay Matthews, Eric Berry, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Cassel, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Michael Vick, Mike Devito, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Peyton Manning, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Ray Lewis, Rex Ryan, Sam Shields, Seattle Seahawks, Terrell Suggs, Tramon Williams
Posted on: December 13, 2010 4:34 pm
Thanks to a 64-yard reception, Bucs rookie wideout Arrelious Benn had his first 100-yard game as a pro (122, to be exact). In fact, Benn’s previous high was 53 yards.
The Packers were 2/12 on third down and 0/1 in the red zone at Detroit.
Though no player had more than 51 yards rushing for Detroit, the Lions still racked up 190 yards on the ground.
Hines Ward had his best outing since Week 7, catching eight passes for 115 yards against Cincinnati.
In addition to an interception returned for a touchdown, LaMarr Woodley had two sacks and two tackles for a loss.
Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis had four catches for an important 57 yards. He also scored his career-high ninth touchdown.
Pretty simple what happened in San Francisco: Niners zero turnovers, Seahawks five.
Brian Westbrook had 87 yards on six receptions.
The Patriots recorded 27 first downs at Chicago.
Dolphins punter Brandon Fields had 10 punts for 564 yards.
Brodie Croyle probably isn’t the answer: Kansas City finished the game with 19 total yards passing.
Antoine Cason took over as the punt returner for San Diego. He averaged 15.2 yards per return with a long of 42.
Tags: Antoine Cason, Arizona Cardinals, Arrelious Benn, Brandon Fields, Brian Westbrook, Brodie Croyle, Buffalo Bills, Chad Henne, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Darren McFadden, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Jay Feely, Kansas City Chiefs, LaMarr Woodley, Malcom Jenkins, Marcedes Lewis, Maurice Jones-Drew, Miami Dolphins, Michael Turner, Miles Austin, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rashad Jennings, Roy Williams, Ryan Torain, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins
Posted on: November 29, 2010 4:15 am
Edited on: November 29, 2010 1:35 pm
Posted by Andy Benoit
***What are the odds that Chris Johnson’s worst game as a pro (seven carries for five yards) would come in sixth-round rookie quarterback Rusty Smith’s starting debut? The Titans ran just 44 plays Sunday (32 less than the Texans).
***Arian Foster carried the ball 30 times for 143 yards. He’s been by far the best running back in the AFC this season.
***The best part about Shaun Smith’s touchdown run for the Chiefs was Pete Carroll’s dumbfound expression after it.
***Speaking of Carroll, what the hell was he doing calling timeouts as the Chiefs were extending the courtesy of kneeling on the ball with a 42-24 lead?
***Don’t know how I got all the way to Quick Hits before mentioning the Jaguars-Giants game….I watched virtually this entire contest and loved every minute of it. The game, in a nutshell, was this: Jaguars dominated on the ground in the first half and David Garrard played well because of it. In the second half, the Giants forced the Jags to play more through the air. Garrard suddenly became shaky in protecting the football, and ultimately New York’s dynamic front four was too much for Jacksonville. That’s the game in a nutshell. And, come to think of it, that’s probably the 2010 Jaguars in a nutshell, too.
***The best one-on-one matchup Sunday may have been Ravens wideout Derrick Mason against Bucs corner Aqib Talib. On the mano-a-mano front, I’d say the youngster got the better of this one (how about Talib’s interception between the knees, huh?). But from an all-encompassing standpoint, the nod obviously goes to Mason. He led all players with 87 yards on eight catches, including an important touchdown out of the slot in front of coverage liability Sean Jones.
***If the Raiders weren’t blacked out all the time, everyone would be talking about rookie receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford. He’s one of the most explosive big-play creators in the NFL. He had his second kick return for a touchdown Sunday, and he added another score in going over 100 yards receiving.
***The best part about Sunday was that there were six early window games and five late window games. Why can’t we get that kind of scheduling balance every week?
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Aqib Talib, Arian Foster, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Brett Favre, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Chris Johnson, Cleveland Browns, David Garrard, Denver Broncos, Derrick Mason, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jacoby Ford, Jake Delhomme, Jay Cutler, Kansas City Chiefs, Leslie Frazier, Matt Forte, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Mike Martz, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Norv Turner, Oakland Raiders, Peyton Manning, Philadelphia Eagles, Philip Rivers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall, Rusty Smith, Sam Bradford, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Shaun Smith, St. Louis Rams, Steve Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Troy Polamalu, Washington Redskins