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Old 11-10-2007, 05:44 PM    (permalink
falconsrule
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Default Michael Salmon Provides Analysis on the Atlanta Falcons

Let’s start today’s column by giving props to our beloved team for a hard-fought win 20-16 victory over the even more hapless San Francisco 49ers. But before we get too mushy or sentimental over this victory, let’s put things in perspective: This team is in worse shape than ours! Don’t believe me, huh? Still in denial? Still think Joey Harrington is a superstar in disguise?

The bad news is that we are officially out of contention for the #1 overall 2008 draft pick (still top 5, perhaps), and we beat a hapless team that because of last year’s draft day trade with New England push the Super Bowl-bound Patriots closer and closer to the top spot with every loss.

However, the great news is that our team, fellow Falcon fans, is beginning to play like a team. I’ve noticed one consistency this season, which differentiates from the Jim Mora era—this team is scrappy, and plays every down. Tenacity and toughness, my friends, is a credit to the coaching staff. While off to an inauspicious start, the future is bright for the Petrino regime—mark my words, fellow Falcon fans.

OFFENSE

Here’s a reality check, San Francisco entered the contest with the 20th overall ranked defense in the NFL, giving up just over 336 yards per contest (127.3 rushing & 209 passing) and yielding 23.3 points per game to each opponent. See where I’m going with this? We hung only 20 points on a team that is not exactly strong at the point. Quarterback Joey Harrington., predictably, played horribly, completing 14 of 25 passes for a paltry 138 yards, 0 touchdowns and one interception. His inability to stretch the field makes one wonder why the hell wasn’t Matt Millen immediately committed to the Michigan state home for the criminally insane after burning the 3rd overall pick in 02 on this bum!

Brian Brohm or Matt Ryan, anyone?

While we all await the second coming of Favre back to Atlanta—thank you Jerry Glanville—I think it’s safe to say that a healthy Byron Leftwich would be a start to the road of easing our anxiety. Jerry Glanville, may you rot in division II college hell for your tremendous strategic vision and future-telling abilities. Who the hell did we draft with the first rounder we got for Favre again? On a serious note, Leftwich, who had screws inserted in his ankle, is rehabbing quickly. However, don’t expect to watch “Fat Albert” stretching the field with his beautiful spirals for the upcoming Carolina Panthers game.

A++ to Bobby Petrino and staff for committing to the run against the 49ers. A season-high rushing total of 155 yards and the stubborn refusal of Petrino and company to live and die by the run is impressive. Tailback Warrick Dunn had a nice game, with 27 rushes for 100 yards and a touchdown. However, his 3.7 average yards per carry was less than impressive. The initial gut response of Falcon Fans everywhere is to scream at the top of our lungs, “Give Jerious Norwood the ball!” Nice sentiment, but the fact remains the Petrino system is predicated upon having a power back who can pound out the tough short-yardage/red zone yards, and then have the shiftier speedy backs provide a change of pace to run around a tired defense. This philosophy, coupled with multiple wide receiver shifts, is quite effective. Big Problem for the Falcons is that both Norwood and Dunn are finesse runners. Quite frankly Ovie Mughelli is not an effective short-yardage back. He is what he has always been— a beast of a fullback, but a full-back all the same.

Darren McFadden, anyone? Hell put Justin Blalock in there…Power please!

A+++ to an offensive line that gave up one sack the entire game. Wow! Not bad for a bunch of underweight, scrub, back-up types. Offensives tackle Todd Weiner should be back from knee surgery in time the Panthers game. His return should fortify a line that has had multiple season-ending injuries (Wayne Gandy & Renardo Foster), yet still seems to give it the “Ol’ College Try” every game they play. Rookie Justin Blalock is looking more and more like a bonafied stud at the guard position. Blalock is a big, mean, mauler who finishes blocks—gotta love that, fellow Falcon Fans. The downside to it all is that we played the 49ers. The fact remains that the Falcons are in desperate need of a few big ol’ hawgs on the line if we ever intend to be a power run, pass protecting team.

Jake Long, anyone?

The wide receivers were virtually non-existent most of the game. But it’s hard to fault them when every Joey H. pass is for 5 yards and across the middle or sideline. Gotta love Roddy White. I personally had written him off as bust, but the kid is a baller. Physical and fast, crowned with awesome dreads and on pace for over 1100 yards receiving with our quarterback carousel—what’s not to love! The off-season free agent addition of Joe Horn has added exactly zero to our receiving corps. Leadership, my arse. On pace for the grand total of 300 yards receiving and 0 touchdowns, I’m viewing Horn, like I view Harrington—an unnecessary drain on the Falcons’ salary cap. Despite only making one catch for 10 yards, Laurent Robinson displayed incredible concentration and hands on a side-line toss from Joey H. that should have been a first down. While the stats don’t show it, keep an eye on this kid—he’s got stud written all over him. Look for Robinson and White to be fixtures at wide receiver for the Falcons for years to come.

The loss of tight end Algae Crumpler, who’s still expected to miss a couple more games, has been debilitating. Crumpler, like most pass-threat tight ends, gives opposing defenses one more thing to worry about, and gives the QB an extra option in mid-field when the wide receivers are covered. Having a healthy Algae, would help a vertically challenged Harrington greatly. Unfortunately, Dwayne Blakely and Martrez Milner, while solid blockers, just don’t pose the same pass-catching threat that a healthy Crumpler does. Interesting side note: look for the Falcons to target a Crumpler clone in the upcoming draft. It’s safe to say that Crumpler and Petrino are not exactly close friends, as evidenced by Crumpler’s documented displeasure of Petrino’s philosophy of phasing out vets in recent media stories.

DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS

On the offensive side, the 49ers are beyond atrocious, averaging the grand total of 224.3 yards per game (91.5 rushing and 132.8 passing), and get this one Falcon Fans, an average of only 13 points per game! We did only give up 16 point, but guys it’s the 49ers we played, not the Patriots. Perspective, always perspective…that is the key, fellow Falcon Fans. Without perspective…well we’d have to root for someone else….

Seriously though, I love the addition of Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator. This guy has taken a rag-tag bunch, a depleted defensive line and a bitchy cornerback—see upcoming BLOG about DeAngelo “aka MeAngelo” Hall—and made them fairly good already. John Abraham is definitely the star of this bunch. Gotta love the six sacks and 3 forced fumbles already I can’t wait to see what Abraham will do if the rookie defensive end Jamaal Anderson “aka JAJr” decides to wake up and play like an eighth overall draft selection. While his play is far from atrocious—he’s quite good against the run—JAJr simply not getting to the quarterback. Zero sacks. Zip, zilch in the sack department thus far this season. The good news is that this kid is going to be good—freaky good. Trust me on this one. Give him some slack, fellow Falcon Fans and you shall be rewarded

I love the 6th round nose tackle, formerly of Washburn State (where the hell is that?), Trey Lewis. 6’3” and 320 lbs., this kid has an interception already! Talk about athleticism and size. What D1 college coach missed the boat on this kid? I was skeptical of the release of Grady “I eat everything but the kitchen sink” Jackson two weeks ago. Why, I asked myself, would a team giving up over 125 yards per game rushing give up a 350 lb. + behemoth? After watching Lewis, I know why. This kid needs snaps. Amazingly, he has the quickness to be an under tackle. Once Rod Coleman and Jonathan Babineaux regain their form after battling injuries, this line will be very good—bet on it. In fact, if Lewis doesn’t hit the rookie wall and Coleman and Babineaux regain their usual productivity, look for JA Jr. to notch a sack or six by end of season. Free agent pickup Montavious Stanley is doing what he’s supposed to do—tying up multiple opposing offensive linemen and letting the linebackers flow to the ball. I expect the Falcons to add a bit more size and speed to next year’s defensive line rotation in the upcoming draft. If they do, watch out Falcon Fans we could be dominant.

Glenn Dorsey, anyone?

The secondary played exceptionally well against the Niners, intercepting Alex Smith 3 times and limiting him to 149 yards passing. But remember that perspective thing? This was a 49ers offense that’s ranked dead last in NFL team total offense. Since they were averaging 132 passing yards per game the 49ers actually performed better than average against us. Lawyer Milloy, while getting a bit long in the tooth, was a force on Sunday, notching 1 interception, 6 solo tackles and 8 total tackles, including a very impressive goal line stand late in the game. Safety Jimmy Williams showed some of his potential with an interception.

And, yes, fellow Falcon Fans, MeAngelo Hall had a pick, but is this guy worth the hassle? Rookie cornerbacks Chris Houston and David Irons contributed nicely, with 3 tackles and 2 tackles. Keep your eyes on both, but Irons in particular. Irons who was a 6th rounder with some injury history at Auburn, is a tough no-nonsense cover guy that can tackle. Ironically, his draft stock took a hit because of lack of perceived speed (clocked 4.5 or so at combine), but watch him out there both on Special Teams and in nickel and dime situation, and you see a very fast young corner.

MeAngelo future as a Falcon may be short. If Houston and Irons keep progressing at this rate, he might be trade bait. Think I’m paranoid? Think again, between MeAngelo taking unnecessary risks to make the interception, instead of the play, fines for media outburst and bitching about a huge contract extension, he perceives he should receive, he could be on the outs come next season. Remember that perspective thing, fellow Falcon Fans…Perspective is always the key…

The strength of the Falcons defense is the collection of young fast linebackers that General Manager Rich McKay has accumulated over the past few drafts. Third year outside linebacker Michael Boley is making general managers around the league cursing themselves for allowing him to sit around until the 5th round, where in my humble opinion, McKay stole him. Boley continued his stellar play with 10 total tackles, 9 solo and just general disruption and chaos with his speedy darting all over the field. Look for the Falcons to sign him to a long extension in the off-season. Weakside linebacker Demorrio Williams is also a playmaker. Have you ever noticed that he almost blocks every damn punt by the opposition? Like Boley, Williams is a speedster. While a bit less physical than Boley, he is still a stud.

Rookie linebacker, Stephen Nicholas, will be re-joining this impressive young group, in the next couple of games. Keep your eye on this kid, he plays every linebacker position and is speedy like the previously mentioned two. Nursing a high ankle sprain, expect Nicholas back in a couple of weeks. This kid was a stud pass rushing, tackling, and interception getting machine at South Florida. McKay may not know much, but he knows linebackers in the draft. See Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Boley…etc…The dilemma that the Falcons face is that both Boley and Williams are coming up on free agency.

A Boley extension is a no-brainer and you would think that a DMO? one would be as well, but how do you find sufficient playing time for 3 outstanding outside linebackers? Nicholas is best suited for the weakside which puts him in direct competition with Demorrio Williams, who is sure to command a hefty price on the free market. Moving Nicholas to the middle might make sense, since Brooking is declining a bit (although he had one sack against the 49ers), but Nicholas lacks the stoutness at 6’3” 225 lbs. that you prefer at the middle linebacker position.

Speaking of Brooking, the longest tenured Falcon, I’m not convinced he’ll be a Falcon forever. I could definitely see the Petrino/Zimmer regime phasing him out slowly by drafting his potential replacement in this year’s upcoming draft. Mark my word, fellow Falcon Fans, with a lot of day one picks next year (2 second rounders for one) don’t be surprised one of the day one picks goes to the middle linebacker spot. It’s not that Brooking is bad—he’s just not that great. Self-admittedly, Brooking is best suited as a weakside linebacker but his speed is declining and Nicholas and Williams are too good to bench.

Last and surely least, it is time to review the Falcons special teams unit. Does anyone else expect the 96 year old Morten Anderson to be using a walker to enter the field whenever we line up to kick a field goal? Worse yet, should we be hooking the Great Dane to an EKG to ensure he’s not straining his heart? Seriously, how much longer can the Falcons expect to thrive with a guy whose range is less than 50 yards? Signing a veteran proven FA kicker should be one of the Falcons priorities next year. Using a draft pick on a kicker is always a crap shoot, but maybe just maybe the University of Georgia hometown boy Brandon Coutu might be the one the Falcons take a flyer on. He’s capable of booming kickoffs, and has a 58 yard field goal to his credit as a collegiate. Punter Michael Koenen was consistent as usual, with 2 punts pinned down inside the twenty yard line.

Punt return specialist Adam Jennings was rather impressive, averaging over 11 yards per punt return, including one nice return for 23 yards. However, Jennings has been inconsistent at best this year. Overall, Jennings is near the bottom of the league in punt return yards this season, averaging less than 7 yards per return. This is unsatisfactory. Barring a helluva lot more improvement from Jennings in the second half of the season; look for competition to be brought in via the upcoming draft.

How bout Jerious Norwood! Not only is the kid a threat to score every time he touches the ball on offense, he’s averaging almost 26 yards per kick return, ranking him 11th overall in the NFL in this category. Allen Rossum who? Don’t miss him at all. With Rossum you got a decent returner and sub-par CB. With Norwood you get a stud running back with great hands. What a bargain!

Speaking of Norwood, I see Dunn despite his 100 yard effort against the 49ers relegated to fewer carries per game as the season progresses just so the coaching can see what exactly they have in the kid. Is he an every down back? Change of pace scat back? Regardless, the reason that blurb is in this section vice the blurb concerning running backs is the impact that it will have on special teams Norwood, who is still learning to return kicks has become indispensable as a kick returner and increased offensive touches, will surely result in a decreased special teams role. Who will replace him? Keep an eye on the return specialist studs at the collegiate level as the Falcons might surprise us all and draft one really high.

OVERALL ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION

I’m sure you all noticed that I expended a bit more brain cells on the defensive section than I did the offensive section. This is intentional, as the Defense is where I see the most promise on a Falcon team struggling to find an identity post-Michael Vick. Young and talented, the Falcons defense has accounted for both wins and kept every loss close this year. Look for an offensive heavy draft next year, as Bobby Petrino just doesn’t have the right personnel to run his spread offense. My money is on either Darren McFadden or Brian Brohm with the first pick if the team ends up with 4 or less victories and finds itself with a top 5 pick.

However, this team could surprise, get on a roll and win their next 8 games, claim the NFC title, advance to the Super Bowl and upset the Patriots for the title. Hey, it’s my column, so I can write down my own personal fantasy. Or can I? Perspective—it is truly beautiful…

NEXT WEEK’S PREDICTION: Carolina 17, Falcons 14: Tough fought battle, but Joey H. is…well he’s just Joey H…
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