Tag Archive: Jacquizz Rodgers


NFL Quick Hits: Week 2

This post will have to be more brief than my original one, partially because I missed the majority of the late afternoon games as well as the 49ers-Seahawks game (despite the delay) because of my move. Still, I want to write up my thoughts on the games I was able to see this week, so here there are.

New Message: Missing You. Sender: Tom Brady. Recipients: Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez: The Patriots are 2-0, but barely. They eeked out a win week one against a rookie quarterback and the Buffalo Bills and needed three interceptions from their defense to hang on for a 13-10 win against Geno Smith and the New York Jets this past Thursday. Shane Vereen got hurt after a very productive opening week and Stevan Ridley has started slowly in the first two weeks. On top of that, Danny Amendola was hurt against the Jets, Gronkowski is still out, Hernandez is long gone and so is Wes Welker. Julian Edelman was the only receiver Brady could trust to catch the ball and he targeted him very frequently as a result, though Aaron Dobson had three solid catches for 56 yards and the Patriots’ only touchdown. However, he caught those three passes on a whopping 10 targets from Brady and had at least a couple drops from what I saw watching the game live. Brady let his frustration show throughout the game and it’s easy to understand why. He’s used to sure-handed receivers that are on the same page as him, but it was clear that everyone on the unit outside of Edelman was still working out the kinks with Brady. This was perfectly shown on one 3rd down play in the red zone where Dobson was running a corner route and as he got to the goal line Brady fired a pass expecting him to have read the coverage, recognize the hole in the zone and sit down for an easy touchdown. Instead, Dobson continued running his route and the pass fell incomplete and led to a field goal attempt which left Brady incensed as he came off the field and on the sideline. Hopefully Amendola won’t be out for longer than a couple weeks and Gronkowski should be back either this week or next, so Brady won’t have to put up with this indefinitely. As frustrating as this is for him right now it might pay some dividends later in the season if he gets on the same page with Dobson and rookie undrafted free agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins early on. Once Amendola and Gronkowski are back (and if they stay healthy) having Dobson, Thompkins and Edelman as reliable complementary options could provide this offense with a significant spark, not to mention if the running game gets going and Vereen returns healthy after he is activated from the injured reserve. The silver lining for the Jets is that Geno Smith flashed some upside in this game despite his three interceptions (though some of the throws he made late in the game were awful and complete head scratchers) and Chris Ivory seems poised to take over as a potential bell cow as he comes back from injury. That would be great for the Jets because they need a running game to help take some of the pressure off of Smith’s shoulders, there’s no way he should be throwing the ball 35 times in poor conditions against Tom Brady and the Patriots in his second career start. As out of synch as the Patriots offense was at times, the Jets defense has been better than a lot of people assumed it would be after losing it’s best player in Darrelle Revis, further proving that Rex Ryan may not be a media darling but he is a very good defensive football coach. We’ll see if that continues, but I don’t expect the Patriots to continue to struggle on offense like this for more than two or three weeks, and hopefully Chris Ivory will stay healthy and help keep Smith from needing to attempt 30+ passes in a game for a while.

It’s A Good Thing the Falcons Played at Home Because They Know Where All the Hospitals Are: Steven Jackson is already hurt and may be out another two to four weeks with a thigh injury. Bradie Ewing is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Kroy Biermann is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Sean Weatherspoon is on IR and is eligible to return week 11 because of a Lisfranc injury. Roddy White is playing through his injury but was clearly limited in week two as he was targeted just three times for three receptions and 21 yards. Julio Jones was on the injury report but thankfully went off for 181 yards and one touchdown against the Rams. The Falcons can survive without Steven Jackson thanks to Jason Snelling (if they ever give him the ball) and Jacquizz Rodgers as a change of pace back, they can survive while Roddy White is largely a decoy if Harry Douglas keeps catching 80% of his targets like he did against the Rams (4/5), they can survive without Ewing at fullback like they did all last season, and they can find a way to replace Biermann’s production as a pass rusher and hopefully his versatility to drop into coverage as well as his terrific motor. However, it’s going to be hard to replace ‘Spoon’s value to the linebacking corp because the Falcons were already thin there and relied on rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu from Texas State to help solidify that unit already. Now they will be scrambling to either add a veteran or will be forced to call up one of the young linebackers who didn’t make the team such as Pat Schiller. The Falcons have been hit hard by injuries already this year, but it’s not time to hit the panic button yet. However, they really need to work on establishing the run game against the Dolphins this upcoming week because running the ball 16 times for 36 yards (2.3 ypc) is embarrassing, particularly when your most effective runner (Jason Snelling) only got 2 carries and managed 19 yards and a touchdown despite the coaching staff almost deliberately trying not to give him the ball. Ryan was brilliant despite the lack of even a semblance of a running game, but expecting him to be that brilliant without a running game consistently is asking for a let down. Feed Snelling and let him take some of the heat off Ryan by getting him in more favorable 2nd and 3rd down situations. I haven’t been able to go back and rewatch the game yet, but Sam Bradford finally seems to have some weapons around him to do some damage with. Chris Givens gives him a deep threat that the Rams have been missing for years, and despite not liking him out of Boise State Austin Pettis has stuck around and remained productive despite lacking any explosiveness what so ever. The Rams, too, need to establish a running game and Daryl Richardson is the man they expect to do it. Still, he only got 10 carries and mustered 35 yards, but I still hope the Rams will give Benny Cunningham a chance to show what he can do. He is my favorite running back on the Rams roster and I really think he and Isiah Pead could do some damage splitting carries. The Rams defense is definitely talented enough to contend, it all comes down to whether Sam Bradford and the offense can take that next step this year now that he has some weapons to throw to.

Aaron Rodgers Is Still A Robot: I watched almost the entirety of the Packers-Redskins game and it honestly scared me watching Rodgers play quarterback. He had 335 yards passing at HALFTIME and finished with 480 yards, tying the passing record set by Packers legend Matt Flynn. He also threw four touchdowns while completing an insane 34 of his 42 passing attempts. His “QBR” of 80.9 is proof that ESPN’s rating system for quarterbacks is a complete joke because Rodgers was nothing short of masterful against the Redskins. On top of that the Packers also got 132 yards and a touchdown out of James Starks who was forced into action after Eddie Lacy was knocked out of the game with a concussion. RGIII on the other hand had a tougher day and started much slower than Rodgers did (though Rodgers was under pressure frequently during the first couple series). He still managed to finish the game with 320 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 26/40 passing, but only ran the ball four times for a total of one yard. The Redskins are clearly trying to limit the contact that RGIII is taking, but it’s hurting the offense’s effectiveness early on in games if you ask me. The ‘Skins are 0-2 now and RGIII and that offense will have to get things going earlier if they are going to turn things around. We’ll see when the Shanahans are comfortable turning him loose on his surgically repaired knee.

Rivers Gets Redemption, Steals Victory From Vick, Eagles: Philip Rivers bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Texans the week before by winning on a last second field goal against the Eagles this past week. Rivers completed 36/47 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns, all of which went to his new favorite target Eddie Royal who now has five touchdowns in just two games. Who saw that coming? Not me. I wasn’t happy to see Malcolm Floyd sustain a neck injury when he got sandwiched by two Eagles defenders over the middle, but his injury gave Keenan Allen a chance to get on the field and he caught two of his three targets for 34 yards including a BEAUTIFUL route on a deep in for his first NFL reception. Allen was my #1 ranked wide receiver in the 2013 NFL Draft class so I am excited that he might be getting more playing time even if it is because Floyd went down with an unfortunate injury. Rivers’ performance also overshadowed a terrific game from Mike Vick who threw for a career best 428 yards on 23 of 36 passing and two touchdowns. He also added six rushes for 23 yards and another score on the ground. LeSean McCoy only got 11 carries for 53 yards but he and DeSean Jackson were lethal in the passing game as McCoy totaled 114 yards on just five receptions and Jackson reeled in nine passes good for 193 yards and a touchdown. Chip Kelly’s offense is certainly fun to watch, but I am not surprised that the Eagles’ defense is struggling to stop opposing offenses from gaining a lot of yards and putting up a lot of points. They’re giving up 30 points per game through the first two weeks and that isn’t going to cut it in a division with the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys all capable of putting up a lot of points on any given Sunday.

Texans “Nuke” Titans: For years Texans fans and NFL Draft analysts alike have been waiting and wondering when the Texans would get a legitimate wide receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson and 2013 was finally the year as the Texans added DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was my #4 ranked wide receiver in an absolutely loaded class but I am a huge fan of his and was not surprised to see him help the Texans rally despite losing Andre Johnson to a possible concussion in the 4th quarter. He finished the game with seven receptions for for 117 yards and the game winning touchdown in overtime in just his second game during his rookie season. It’s clear “Nuk” Hopkins is living up to the hype so far, and it’s great to see such a talented player blossom under the tutelage of a longtime NFL star in Andre Johnson.

Bengals, Bernard Burst Past Steelers: This wasn’t as fun of a game as I was hoping it would be largely in part because the Steelers offense is in a very bad way right now. Outside of Antonio Brown and occasionally Emmanuel Sanders there are no playmakers (Markus Wheaton has barely gotten any snaps the first two weeks) and Heath Miller was out for this game as well. Big Ben will be happy once Le’Veon Bell and Miller return because Bell should help perk up the running game even though Maurkice Pouncey will be out the entire season. Ray Lewis seemed to think that this was a devastating blow to the Steelers, and contrary to what I have read from some media members I tend to side with Ray. It’s easy to overlook how critical a center is to the offensive line sometimes, but players like Pouncey (even if he hasn’t been at his best for the last year or so) don’t come around too often. Add to that the departure of Mike Wallace and Miller’s injury and it’s not hard to see why the Steelers are struggling out of the gate this year. The defense is still strong, but they struggled to match up with the quickness of Giovani Bernard out of the backfield as well as the athleticism of Jermaine Greshman and Tyler Eifert. The Bengals continue to look like a very good team at pretty much every position except quarterback where I still have my reservations about Andy Dalton despite the fact that he is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Bengals have done well to surround him with weapons to get the most out of him that they can, but I think he plateaued after his rookie season and I don’t think he will ever take the next step from being a solid quarterback to being a good or great one. He settled down in this game and helped steer the Bengals to victory, but he was missing some throws he has to make to Eifert and AJ Green, two players with massive catch radii, that he has to make if he wants to lead the Bengals to the playoffs consistently, much less on a deep playoff run. The Bengals don’t seem to be totally convinced that Dalton is “the guy” yet either or they probably would have signed him to a contract extension, so it will be interesting to see how the season plays out, if Dalton takes the next step, and what the Bengals elect to do with him prior to him becoming a free agent.

Well, it was slightly more brief than last week. Hopefully you all enjoyed my thoughts, let me know what you think and if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve written here.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

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Before I start to discuss anything it’s important to know that I’m a huge Falcons fan, but I think it’s time to talk about the hype surrounding Matt Ryan. I have been pleased with Ryan since he became a Falcon but I don’t view the Falcons with rose colored glasses and I do what I can to not “drink the Kool-Aid” before each season. I have been a pretty consistent supporter of Ryan since he became a Falcon, especially because he played a significant role in turning the franchise around, bringing consecutive winning seasons to Atlanta for the first time in franchise history and getting us back to the playoffs for the first time since Michael Vick was our starting quarterback.

Matt Ryan is a good NFL starter, but I don't think there is a lot of evidence that he is "great" or that he will ever be "elite."

But at the same time it is not unfair to acknowledge some of Ryan’s faults of which there are a few. The most obvious of these faults is his relative lack of arm strength. It’s not awful like Chad Pennington’s in my opinion, but it is not good or great by any means. I would constitute it as above average personally, because I think he struggles to stretch the field well downfield, and doesn’t have great zip on passes in the 10-15 yard range like deep curls, deep outs and other difficult NFL throws. To his credit he makes up for his lack of arm strength with good accuracy and anticipation which he routinely uses when he throws the ball before his receivers make their breaks on these more difficult throws so that the defensive back still struggles to make plays on the ball even though the ball hangs in the air a bit longer than you would ideally prefer.

One thing that I have noticed Ryan has been doing over the last couple seasons is forcing passes to particular players and at times doing so instead of finding an open player. Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are usually the players he forces the ball to when he does do it. I have seen Ryan throw the ball to Gonzalez in double coverage, once or twice with three players around him, and this does not traditionally end well for Ryan because he doesn’t quite have the zip on his throws to put the ball into tight windows without the defense having time to make a play on the ball. The most frustrating part of this is that he almost seemed to be regressing as far as making his progressions in these specific instances because he would ignore Turner open in the flat at times in favor of throwing to Gonzalez or White in double coverage.

The final thing that I personally consider a flaw is that I don’t think Ryan can will us to a victory. Not many quarterbacks can, but this is something the great ones are able to do and I don’t think Ryan can do it. I’m not saying he should be able to play by himself out there and win the game, but the correlation between Ryan having a below-average/poor game and our running game struggling to consistently churn out yardage is pretty staggering. Obviously a good running game makes life easier for any quarterback, but great quarterbacks are able to shoulder the load on offense and throw their teams into contention when they don’t have a running game. Brady, Manning and Aaron Rodgers are all players who have done this consistently for the last couple of years and their teams routinely appear in the playoffs. But when the Falcons (specifically Michael Turner) struggle to gain yardage on the ground on a consistent basis and Ryan is forced to throw to convert 2ndand 3rd and longs to sustain drives it usually results in a loss for Atlanta. That, in my opinion, is not the mark of a great quarterback. And believe me, this isn’t something that I just conjured up out some doom and gloom thought process because of the Falcons unexpected 2-3 start, I have had this opinion of Ryan since I re-watched the Falcons-Steelers game from week one of last year. My post on the subject was actually published on October 5th, 2010, just over a year ago.

Julio Jones has been an incredibly pleasant surprise this year. I thought highly of him as a prospect, but I didn't expect him to contribute so much explosiveness so quickly.

Now, one thing that the Falcons made a huge deal about was our lack of big plays last season. I would argue that the Falcons’ lack of big plays as well as their poor pass defense contributed to their problems last year, but their running game and run defense was solid. The Falcons decided that getting Matt Ryan another playmaker at receiver was the best course of action and sold the farm to move up and select Julio Jones. I was skeptical of the move, but I never doubted Jones’ upside. I just worried that the Falcons were putting too much pressure on him by anointing him the starter after watching him practice by releasing Michael Jenkins, a relatively reliable #2 receiver, before Jones had ever played a game. I have been very pleased with Jones and he has been everything I could have hoped for and more this year as a rookie, but we just haven’t been able to get him the ball consistently down-field. We wanted more explosive plays and I tend to believe that our issues with pass protection really inhibit our ability to challenge defenses down-field. Additionally, our wide receivers during Ryan’s first three seasons in the NFL weren’t exactly burners that created a lot of down-field separation so it wasn’t completely unrealistic to see limited down-field plays that can change games and grab momentum for the offense.

However, I think it is very clear that Ryan plays a role in our limited deep plays as well. You can’t blame it all on Mike Mularkey’s lack of down-field play-calling, you can’t blame it on a lack of receivers who can separate down-field, and you can’t blame it exclusively on the offensive line. At some point Ryan is responsible for his production on down-field throws, so I would like to highlight how he has done on throws that produce 20+ yard plays that the Falcons were so driven to create this year. These are statistics on any throw that is thrown 21+ yards from the line of scrimmage from the past four years:

2008: 21/55, 718 yards, 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s
2009: 9/35, 297 yards, 3 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2010: 10/38, 320 yards, 4 TD’s, 1 INT
2011: 2/14, 94 yards, 0 TD’s, 0 INT’s (through five games)

Even Aaron Rodgers, who I personally think is the best quarterback in the NFL right now, isn't automatic on 21+ yard passes.

Now, it’s easy to look at these statistics and say “Wow, that’s awful. Even in his best season he was only 21/55, that’s under 50% and good completion percentages for quarterbacks are typically 60%.” While that is true, deep passes that travel 21+ yards are difficult to complete even for great quarterbacks. Here are some stats for some other quarterbacks to help demonstrate this:

Aaron Rodgers:
2010: 24/65, 976 yards, 8 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2011: 7/13, 255 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Tom Brady:
2010: 14/36, 537 yards, 6 TD’s, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/18, 186 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Even Sam Bradford, a player I have never really liked, has been more efficient on 21+ yard passes than Ryan has this season.

Phillip Rivers:
2010: 22/57, 852 yards, 9 TD’s, 4 INT’s
2011: 4/14, 159 yards, 2 TD’s, 2 INT’s (thru five games)

Sam Bradford:
2010: 10/39, 345 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/15, 213 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru four games)

So as you can see, even some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL don’t complete a lot of down-field throws. They are low percentage plays a lot of the time and they are some of the most difficult throws to complete because they require better pass protection, they require a good route from the receiver as well as a more difficult down-field catch, plus they require a more difficult throw from the quarterback. But still, the best quarterbacks in the business complete more down-field passes for more yardage than Ryan does, and while some of that has to do with who they are throwing the ball to or who is blocking for them at the end of the day Ryan has to shoulder a portion of the blame for his limited down-field production. He’s not a great deep ball passer and these statistics help prove that to be true. You would like to see him take that positive rookie season in which he was able to threaten defenses down-field and progress, but instead he has regressed on his deep passes and become less and less efficient with each year of experience. That is a disturbing trend and it’s one that absolutely warrants mentioning because he is in his fourth season in the NFL and is surrounded with some legitimate weapons with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas (who has been a pleasant surprise now that he is healthy), Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. Is this a team full of pro-bowlers and Hall of Famers? Perhaps not, but they are still legitimate weapons that are better than perhaps a majority of other teams in the NFL.

And yet, in spite of this improved supporting cast Ryan hasn’t been able to be as efficient on deep passes as Sam Bradford, a player I have never been a fan of and continue to be skeptical of in the NFL. But he has almost matched his previous totals in completions, yardage and has already thrown one more touchdown pass on 21+ yard throws than he did as a rookie. He is trending upwards in spite of his pathetic supporting cast of wide receivers who are regularly lambasted for dropping passes. Ryan’s supporting cast drops passes too, sure, but it would be outlandish to suggest that his supporting cast is not significantly superior to Bradford’s. Yet, in spite of this assertion, Bradford has been more efficient on deep passes and has a comparable QB rating to Ryan (Ryan has a 79.9 QB rating this year, Bradford a 70.8).

Tom Brady has been and continues to be one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL, but he makes his money on passes within 20 yards, not on 21+ yard bombs.

Now, this is not an attempt to say that Bradford is going to be the next great QB, far from it. I am also not trying to suggest that Ryan is a poor quarterback. I am simply trying to demonstrate that he isn’t a very good deep ball passer. The games I have watched of him (over three years of games at this point) as well as the statistics he has accumulated are pretty clear evidence of this, and it’s arguable that even with better pass protection and upgraded skill position weapons that he won’t ever be a good or great deep ball passer. That’s just not what his skill set is. This season on passes within 20 yards (excluding passes behind the line of scrimmage) Ryan has a QB rating of 91.54, a good number. Rodgers has an insane rating of over 120, as does Tom Brady. Both are having incredible seasons statistically thus far, and it shows on their bread and butter passes of under 20 yards. Ryan is good in this area too, and to force him to throw deep passes that he struggles to consistently complete seems counter-intuitive. On one hand, you obviously can’t keep throwing passes that are under 10 yards while attempting to run the ball or the defense will crowd the line of scrimmage and put a stranglehold on the offense’s ability to sustain successful drives. But that hasn’t been Ryan’s problem. He is actually most efficient statistically on throws that are 11-20 yards downfield, completing 24/43 attempts for 402 yards, 4 TD’s and 2 INT’s (a rating of 99.2). That is statistically superior to Phillip Rivers, but significantly below the outrageous QB ratings that Rodgers and Brady have (142.1 and 130.8, respectively).

So, my argument is that the Falcons need to acknowledge that Matt Ryan isn’t the next Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He doesn’t have the same skill set. He has been effective on passes that are under 20 yards and while we still need to take the occasional deep shot, passes in that 11-20 yard range will help keep defenses honest and can turn into longer gains if the pass is completed to a player like Julio Jones who can gain quality yards after the catch once he has the ball in his hands. So while everyone loves to see the 30 or 40+ yard deep ball that the receiver hauls in and scores on that just isn’t what Ryan is good at doing. Mularkey and the rest of the staff should acknowledge this and continue to work to his strengths: Passes with-in twenty yards, play-action passing, and passes on three and five step drops. He is good at making pre-snap reads and gets the ball out quickly when he identifies a blitz, and if we can sustain drives and get some yards after the catch to make bigger plays without just lobbing the ball up and praying for it to be completed I think our offense will be better off.

This isn’t me arguing against 20+ yard plays, it’s simply me questioning how we are going about getting them. Ryan’s track record is pretty solid evidence that throwing the ball 21+ yards downfield isn’t the most efficient way for him to accumulate yards, so why would we continue to force him to do it? He’s not an elite quarterback and this is something he struggles with, so let’s continue to play to his strengths as much as possible. He can’t just throw us into games when we are behind or when the running game is ineffective. Accepting that and moving forward seems like a more logical step to take rather than pretending he is going to be the next elite NFL quarterback, because after over three years of watching him I’m just not convinced that he is going to be.

Here is my write-up on the Falcons-Bears game from Sunday, September 11th. For those of you who read my blog consistently you may know that I am a Falcons fan. I feel that I was relatively objective when writing this post, but knowing a team as well as I know the Falcons is sure to create some bias. Hopefully you enjoy the post in spite of this, as I took pages of notes on this game as I watched it live. Enjoy!

Falcons Offense:

The Falcons offense was ineffective at best today. Matt Ryan passed for 319 yards but had to do it with 31 completions on 47 attempts, which is never a good sign for an offense that prides itself on ball control and effectively running the ball. The Falcons only ran the ball 14 times today and while it was for 110 yards they got 53 of them on a huge run by Turner up the middle where he was largely untouched before he was caught from behind. Ryan averaged 6.8 YPA, which is not bad but not great either, and threw an interception on a forced pass to Tony Gonzalez that Brian Urlacher made a terrific play on to bring in the pass. There were a number of dropped balls in this game additionally. Roddy dropped at least two, I believe Harry Douglas had at least one, perhaps two drops, and Turner and Snelling each had a drop if I remember correctly.

The Falcons offensive line was also clearly overwhelmed by the Bears pass rush and it showed as they tallied 5 sacks, 14 QB hits, 9 hurries and forced two turnovers courtesy of Ryan (one INT and one fumble recovery). Early in the game Ryan was willingly taking shots to deliver catchable passes, but he was getting pressured and hit so consistently that he gradually became more and more uncomfortable in the pocket and started fading away from his throws which led to less precise ball placement, more air under his passes and therefore became less effective passing the ball.

When he had time the Bears were usually only rushing four (though they regularly applied significant pressure with four down linemen rushing) which meant Ryan was looking to pass against seven defenders dropping into coverage. That led to a lot of check downs which was frustrating to watch considering how much emphasis the Falcons front office and coaching staff placed on creating more explosive plays downfield. Julio Jones flashed the ability to help in this department by showing the ability to get vertical and make catches in traffic as well as taking shorter passes and getting yards after the catch which is something the Falcons have been sorely lacking.

However, despite spreading the ball around fairly well, Ryan still checked down a lot to his running backs and at times forced the ball to Tony Gonzalez which is something he really needs to stop doing. At times he will key on one receiver (frequently Gonzalez) and throw the ball to him despite the coverage keying on his eyes, which is how Urlacher was able to make that interception on a pass intended for Gonzalez. But I also recognize that he was checking down because of the lack of separation the Falcons’ wide receivers were creating downfield, which is equally as frustrating. The Bears were playing quality coverage on all of our receivers, our offensive line couldn’t slow down their pass rush, and Ryan was forced to dink and dunk all day. That meant we needed to string a lot of plays together with no mistakes to get a potential scoring drive, but we had so many penalties (9 penalties for 65 yards) on the offensive side of the ball such as false starts and holds that a number of promising drives were killed as a result of them. It seemed every time the Falcons fought their way into Bears territory they had an unnecessary penalty such as a false start, hold or penalty after the play ended that either led to a field goal attempt or to a punt looking to pin the Bears back in their own territory.

The Falcons have a lot to clean up before next week on the offensive side of the ball. Most notably they have to find a way to keep Ryan upright because if they can’t give him time and room to step up in the pocket to avoid the outside pass rush (which was a problem today with Joe Hawley and Garrett Reynolds making their first career starts at Center and Right Guard respectively) it is going to be a very long season and there won’t be time to stretch the field as those routes take longer to develop. As a result of their defense’s poor play and their inability to score a single offensive touchdown against the Bears the Falcons’ run game was abandoned which is never a good sign for Atlanta, and re-establishing that despite Michael Turner’s clear lack of explosiveness and burst is going to be critical.

Overall I thought the offense struggled mightily today, only managing six total points. We didn’t see more explosive plays thanks to limited pass protection for Ryan and limited separation downfield from the receivers, and the offense overall was inconsistent at best. When they did finally seem to have something going a penalty or sack would derail the promising drive, leading either to a punt or a field goal.

Falcons Defense:

The Falcons defense was very underwhelming to me. I was hoping to see a much improved pass rush and hopefully some better pass coverage, but I was not impressed with either. John Abraham provided the majority of our pressure as usual, but I did not hear Ray Edwards’ name called once. I was hoping that he, along with Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, would create more consistent pressure. I think the pass rush was better than last year for the most part, however the Bears offensive line is a group we should have handled pretty easily, and far too often I thought deep completions downfield were a result of Cutler having plenty of time to survey the field and plenty of space to step up and deliver a catchable ball. So, while Abe impressed me (and drew a number of uncalled holding penalties as usual) I was underwhelmed by our defensive tackles and outside of some pressure from Biermann, Edwards and even some flashes from Sidbury I was not impressed by the defensive line from a pass rushing standpoint.

The secondary was our biggest problem area in my opinion, and that really hasn’t changed much since last year. I think it should be pretty clear to everyone that Dunta Robinson got vastly overpaid and really is not a #1 corner type of player. At times I wonder why he is even a starter. I thought he might just be best in a man coverage type scheme, but routinely he struggles whether in zone, man, press or off coverage. He opens his hips the wrong way, he doesn’t recover well once he’s made a mistake, he doesn’t close on the ball well, he lets running backs break contain when his only job is to force them inside to the pursuing defenders, and he misses tackles in the open field far too often. What exactly is the upside to playing him? I have to ask, because I don’t know. He’s better than the other corners we would start, which explains why Cutler was picking us apart (especially in the first half), but I think he is definitely upgradable and I don’t think he should be on our team in another two years. Thankfully, Brent Grimes makes up for some of his inadequacy with great plays on the ball, great instincts, better tackling, and amazing athleticism to recover, close and make plays on passes. He was one of the bright spots for the Falcons yesterday.

One problem I saw yesterday was not that the defense wasn’t getting any opportunities for turnovers, but rather that they weren’t capitalizing on them. I counted three dropped interceptions yesterday (Two by Thomas DeCoud and one by Sean Weatherspoon) and if DeCoud had brought in both interceptions it would have prevented a field goal and Matt Forte’s touchdown on a screen pass, which occurred just two plays after DeCoud dropped an interception if my memory serves. That is a serious problem, because if the pass rush rattles Cutler enough to make a mistake (which they did at times, even if it wasn’t as consistent as Chicago’s pressure) then the pass coverage needs to take advantage of it. Because they didn’t, 10 points went up on the board that could have been avoided, and instead of being down 30-12 late in the game it could have theoretically been a 20-12 game with only one possession necessary to tie the game. That is a huge difference, and it was one of the main reasons why the Falcons were unable to keep this game close.

One positive on the defensive side of the ball was the Falcons run defense. I thought it looked quite good for the majority of the game. I still think that the Falcons have issues tackling, as evidenced by Sean Weatherspoon when he attempted to shove Matt Forte when he was running down the sideline for an eventual touchdown instead of even attempting to wrap him up, but they were swarming to the ball, gang tackling at times, and they played fundamentally sound run defense for the majority of the game. That was great to see, because at least the front seven was doing its job and taking Matt Forte out of the game from a running perspective. Forte had a solid game running the ball accounting for 68 yards on 16 carries (4.3 yard average) with 27 yards coming on a single carry. Excluding that for curiosities sake, the Falcons only allowed him to run for 41 yards on his other 15 carries (an average of only 2.73 per carry) which is definitely good. The Falcons only gave up 88 yards on the ground (a 3.3 yard per carry average) and allowed no touchdowns on the ground which was good to see. However, Matt Forte shredded the defense catching passes out of the backfield with 5 catches, 90 yards and a touchdown. So while they slowed him down as a runner he showed his value as a pass catcher.

Long story short, the Falcons have a lot to work on. Their pass coverage was largely atrocious and there were plenty of big holes for receivers to take advantage of in zone coverage, and rarely were many Falcons in position in man coverage. The Falcons like to run zone, and that really proved to be problematic for Dunta Robinson and Chris Owens from what I was able to see. The pass coverage is going to have to come a long way, and an improvement in the pass rush will help that. But the pass rush isn’t going to be collapsing the pocket on every play, and I think it was better than it was last year even if it was less consistent than I would have liked in the first half. The secondary needs to hold up their end of the bargain, especially when it comes to capitalizing on turnovers. That didn’t happen, and it resulted in a pretty pathetic defensive display and an eventual loss.

Chicago Bears Offense:

The Bears offense looked like a juggernaut in the first half as Jay Cutler was carving up the Falcons secondary for significant chunks of yardage, he regularly had plenty of time to throw and this was all happening without much of a running game from Matt Forte and the offensive line. I thought Roy Williams looked great as he was making tough catches away from his body and providing Jay Cutler with a nice, big target that only needed the ball in his general area for the pass to be completed. A lot of people were skeptical about Williams and whether or not his addition would be significant, but I think he had a good game even if his stat line (4 catches for 55 yards and no touchdowns) wasn’t earth shattering. He did his job and each of the four times the ball was thrown to him he caught it. That’s all you can ask of a wide receiver.

I thought the Bears used Devin Hester more effectively yesterday. I don’t think you need to throw to him 5-10 times a game (they targeted him 5 times) but using him on bubble screens, a reverse and maybe a fade and post route would be how I would deploy him. He’s just so dangerous that if he can make a guy miss and get into the open field you never know what will happen, which is exactly what he did on a screen against the Falcons. He made a guy miss, got into the open field and just kept working back across the field, using his blockers and avoiding tacklers until he was pushed out at the one (though I personally thought he scored) which led to an easy 1 yard touchdown pass on play action from Cutler to Matt Spaeth in the back of the end zone. 53 of his 60 yards came on that one screen play, but that is what Hester brings to the table. He might get tackled four times for a total gain of seven yards, but he only needs one touch to change the landscape of the game.

Matt Forte continued to impress me which is nothing new. I’ve loved watching him play since he was at Tulane and I thought he was going to be a great back. I actually wanted the Falcons to draft him in the 2nd round instead of signing a free agent running back (like Michael Turner). That’s not to say that Michael Turner hasn’t been an effective back for the Falcons, but I thought Forte’s game would have been a great compliment to a quarterback like Ryan who is very smart and usually knows when to check down to his running back. I also thought his value was significant because even on a day when he was bottled up as a runner (save one 27 yard run) he was able to dramatically change the game as a pass catcher. Add it all up and he had 158 total yards rushing and receiving plus a touchdown, which is production you would take any day of the week from your running back. I really love watching him play and I think he is really the guy that makes this offense go.

Jay Cutler may have gotten a lot of grief for how he handled his injury in the conference championship game, but regardless of that he is still a quality NFL quarterback. Maybe he is lacking in toughness, and I am still personally bewildered by his footwork at times, but the guys arm is special. He has great arm strength, zip and there are times when he throws an off balance pass down the seam in perfect stride with his receiver and you just can’t help but marvel at how he made that throw. I personally think he could be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league without much debate if he improved his footwork and his mechanics from that standpoint, but even still he is very effective especially when he gets in a rhythm which the Falcons allowed him to do in the first half. He was very efficient as he completed 22 of his 32 pass attempts for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception that was returned for Atlanta’s only touchdown of the game. It was a bit of a fluke interception, but I still think it was on Cutler for throwing it instead of taking a sack, etc. I have always been a supporter of Cutler because he was the guy I thought would turn out the best of the trio of QB’s in his draft class. It’s hard to say he didn’t end up the best of the trio he was compared with considering the problems Vince Young and Matt Leinart have had in the NFL, but he could still be much better. But he didn’t have a very consistent rushing attack to take pressure off of him in this game and he was still efficient and effective which warrants mentioning in my opinion.

The Bears offensive line was better than I expected it to be, but considering the seemingly random assortment of parts that make up their offensive line that still isn’t saying a lot. It’s a definite testament to Mike Tice’s ability to coach up offensive linemen that the group played so well as a unit, only surrendering four sacks and 6 additional QB hits according to the stat sheet I’m looking at. In contrast, the Falcons offensive line allowed 5 sacks and 14 QB hits, plus 9 hurries and it is widely considered the better unit. They didn’t provide a lot of running room for Forte and Bell to run through, but I think that is something that might improve as the season progresses if the offensive line can stay healthy and mesh together as a unit. It will never be a good or a great unit in my opinion, but I think it can be solid.

Chicago Bears Defense:

The Bears defense continues to be the staple of their team. For years the defense has been responsible for dismantling powerful offenses to keep their lackluster offense in the game as long and often as possible. Now, with a potentially more dangerous passing attack and a running back who can threaten defenses just as well with the run as he can with the pass, the defense doesn’t have to win games by themselves. Their pass rush yesterday was as terrifying as ever, and Rod Marinelli continues to prove just how good of a defensive line guru he really is. The Bears cut Tommie Harris and brought in Amobi Okoye to replace him as he had not been effective for the Texans and no longer fit their scheme, and he provided some pressure along with Henry Melton at defensive tackle to collapse the pocket, and even ended up with a sack. Melton had an astronomical 5 tackles, 2 sacks and an almost unbelievable SEVEN hits on the quarterback. While they obviously played well from a statistical standpoint, I think part of the reason they were creating so much pressure was because Peppers was causing so many problems off the edge for Sam Baker and the Falcons offensive line. He forced Ryan to step up a number of times and a few times there just wasn’t any room to step up because the defensive tackles got such good penetration. The Bears defensive line was fantastic in this game, and that is a testament to their front office, their scheme, their personnel and definitely to Rod Marinelli.

The Bears run defense was more problematic than their pass defense was, but their team is built to stop the pass (especially deep passes) more than it is built to stop the run in my opinion. This was demonstrated by giving up 110 yards on only 14 carries to the Falcons. 53 of those yards came on one huge run by Michael Turner, but even still they gave up 57 yards on only 13 carries (an average of 4.38 per carry). So, their run defense could use some improvement, but they weren’t terrible in my opinion.

The real strength of the Bears defense was their pass defense. Their defensive line was nasty, but their secondary was also quite good. I think they look better than they actually are when you consider the personnel they are employing (I’m not a huge fan of Tim Jennings or Major Wright), but with that pass rush and some corners who can play man to man coverage (especially if they do it as well as Charles Tillman does) or zone coverage then they can be very effective. They caused a lot of problems for Matt Ryan because the pass rush applied pressure so quickly that the secondary was still covering the Falcons receivers effectively, meaning he had to either check down, take a sack or force a throw against good coverage. Being a pretty smart player, Ryan regularly elected to check down or take a sack. The Bears are very good at taking away big plays, but a big test for them will be seeing how well they do when they are forced to take away big plays from a team like the Packers. They have so many weapons in their passing game (Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, to name a few) that I think it will be hard to eliminate all of the big plays like the Bears did with the Falcons. The Falcons have Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, but unlike the Packers they don’t get vertical nearly as well as the Packers’ offensive weapons do. That was one reason the Bears were able to take away so many vertical plays: there just weren’t that many legitimate deep threats beyond Roddy and Julio.

Overall I was impressed with the Bears. A lot of people thought that they were going to finish in 3rd in their division and that there was no way they would see the playoffs having to go against the defending Superbowl Champion Packers twice a year plus deal with the up-and-coming Detroit Lions team in their same division. But they showed that while their offense is still a work in progress at times they can still play defense effectively. I don’t know exactly how their season will play out, especially since I don’t know if their pass rush will always be as consistently effective as it was against the Falcons yesterday, but I do think that they have a great shot at 8-9 wins which is more than a lot of people expected them to get based on what I read.

Sorry this post was so long, I had pages and pages of notes on this game. Hopefully you enjoyed the read, and thank you for reading! I’ll have my Missouri-Arizona State post up next.

–Tom

Falcons Preseason Post:

Offensive notes:

Series 1:
-Bad throw to Julio, inaccurate pass by Ryan.
-Good play fake. Vontae Davis with good coverage on Julio. Ryan threw a better ball but it was to a tight window, well defended by Davis.
-False start on Sam Baker.
-Shotgun, Ryan stepped up, got hit and the throw was incomplete. Terrible first series.

Series 2:
-Turner with a huge run between the tackles. Good blocks by Clabo, Reynolds and Mughelli to spring him. Clabo and Reynolds created a huge lane, I could have ran through it.
-Turner is running well, also with more power than I remember. Not overly explosive, but that’s not surprising considering the workload he’s had in recent years. Blalock got to the second level well, Baker with a nice down block on the DT.
-Great play fake, forced a pass to Tony Gonzalez in double coverage though. Had Turner WIDE open in the flat with 5 yards of green around him. He needs to stop staring Gonzalez down so much, he’s almost stunting some of his development as a QB. Normally Ryan would find Turner in the flat.
-Ryan stepped up and hit Julio on a drag route and he got a lot of YAC. Just what we need from him, turning small gains into significant ones. Good pass pro also.
-Very nice run by Snelling. Great cut back, good block by Baker gave him a seam. Nice vision. Baker has shown some solid run blocking. Not drive blocking, but wall-off blocking and doing his job.
-Turner with a TD, needs to protect the ball better though.

Series 3:
-7 in the box, 8 if you include the safety 6-7 yards off the LOS. Ryan still went with the run. 1 high coverage with Roddy and Julio getting pressed in man coverage? I’d check out of that and take a shot, especially because the safety will probably shade towards Roddy’s side, leaving Julio in one on one which could be a mismatch. As is, a linebacker came in unblocked because the box was stacked and he hit Turner in the backfield, the FS cleaned it up. Ryan should see that and check to a pass.
-3 WR, 1 back, 1 TE. Good pocket for Ryan, delivers a nice ball to Julio downfield. That’s a 20+ yard pass play right there. Second 20+ yard pass play of the game. Exactly what I was hoping for from him.
-End around to Julio, boy can he move. Needs to tuck the ball away securely though.
-OL has gotten a good push. Good to see that.
-Good check down to Snelling. This is against 2nd team Dolphins D though.
-Great catch by Weems. Good to see him getting action on offense. Love his potential in the slot. High throw, but great catch away from his body.
-Smart check down instead of forcing it downfield. Mularkey tried to go with a 2 TE set and surprise with a play action pass since we run so often out of that set, but the Dolphins weren’t fooled at all.
-Jared Odrick just made a nice play to beat Baker 1 on 1 versus the run and tackle Gartrell Johnson. Very nice swim move.
-HD caught a touchdown here. He didn’t look very fast on his TD, but Ryan threw a good ball perfectly in stride on the score and HD made a nice catch in traffic. I’m not sure HD is going to beat a lot of people deep though.

Series 4:
-JPW has more zip on his throws than he did last year and definitely more than he did coming out of Alabama. Meier with a nice catch away from his body. He has great hands, I think he’s the new Finn.
-The backup LG got beat here. Looked like Andrew Jackson. He gave up pressure 1 on 1 and it rushed JPW who overthrew Peelle.
-Snelling running well. Good to have him back.
-Good read and throw by Wilson here but Nate Ness made a nice diving deflection to force a FG.

Series 5:
-Weems with another nice catch. Has to be in the slot WR mix.
-JPW has good zip on his throws. Good route and quickness to create separation on curl. Good hands by HD.
-Wilson has made some nice throws. HD making some nice catches as well. Good to see.
-Don’t really see anything special from Gartrell Johnson.
-JPW comfortable in offense, good cadence to get DE to jump early.
-Weems almost made a great grab. Perfect throw from JPW, but Benny Sapp knocked the blal out.
-INT by JPW.

Series 6:
-Nothing special in Gartrell Johnson… let’s see Quizz.
-Good move from Odrick. Beat Jackson outside, good burst and hand usage. Should have a good year.

Series 7:
-Edds sacked JPW, came completely free. He’s a good blitzer and he timed it up well, nice play.
-Weems with a catch underneath in traffic. He is killing anyone’s chances of making this team as a #5 WR the way he is running routes and catching the football.
-JPW got hit hard, threw a ball into coverage but it feel incomplete. He started well, hasn’t faced pressure effectively though.

Series 8:
-A good catch on sideline by Weems. I like what I’m seeing from him a lot. I’ve been high on him as a WR since I rewatched the Pittsburgh game from week 1 last year.
-JPW got sacked from his blindside and lost the fumble. Jimmy Wilson made a nice hit on the blitz and forced the fumble. He has been everywhere, he’s a 7th round pick from Montana and the announcers will not stop talking about him. Would be surprised if he didn’t make the team.

Series 9:
-Brandon Harvey made the catch of the day so far, amazing extension and toe tap on sideline for completion.
-Antoine Smith showed some burst and speed, good hands as well.
-Good burst, nice vision/cut and ran through an arm tackle or two. Smith and Quizz should be battling for the #3 spot, Gartrell should get cut.
-Great leg drive by Quizz as he got some TOUGH yards.
-Wilson has showed some accuracy, zip. Not sure he will ever be a starter, but can be a quality back-up in my opinion. Don’t think he handles pressure in the pocket well enough to ever be someone’s Plan A.
-Again, Wilson doesn’t handle pressure that well.

Misc Off:
-Good cut by Quizz. He has a LOT of quickness.
-Froman has missed two throws here. Threw it away on the next play though, showing some maturity.
-Solid rollout, checkdown. I really don’t like all of those play action rollout plays. Cuts off half the field.
-Bad throw here behind his man, I’m not convinced he can take the job from JPW from what I’ve seen.
-Brandon Harvey is impressing me. Not a great play/throw by Froman though. Harvey looks like PS material if he is young enough.
-Froman’s ball placement has not been impressive today.
-I don’t think Froman’s arm is better than JPW. Would be surprising to me if he beat him out.
-Nice throw down the seam, good zip, but the next throw was a pass with a ton of air under it and it fell incomplete.
-Interception by Froman. He forced it into coverage and it was not accurate. JPW has to be the heavy favorite for the #3 QB job.

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in so long. I haven’t had much time at all to watch film or write stuff up being the Vice President of my fraternity and working for my college’s football team during two-a-days. School has just started, so I’m going to make a much more concerted effort to get back to my roots and watch a lot of film. So enjoy this post, and I’ll start working on more film ASAP.

–Tom

Scouting Report:

Rodgers will get slept on because of his small stature but he will end up being one of the best running backs in this draft class.

Positives: While ‘Quizz is very undersized he is well built for a running back and has very strong legs which give him impressive leg drive for such a small back. He has great footwork, vision and runs patiently. He also demonstrates great balance and lateral burst which helps him make great cuts once he finds cut-back lanes which makes him hard to stop. Despite his size he runs effectively between the tackles and his leg drive helps him finish runs well. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and has demonstrated solid ability as a pass blocker and will block downfield when he gets the opportunity to. He runs hard and tough and fights hard for extra yardage and runs through arm tackles well because he runs with good pad level in addition to his small size.

Negatives: His size is obviously a question mark for him and durability has to be a concern for a back his size but he is well built so I don’t think that will be a serious issue. You have to wonder if he will be able to carry the load in the NFL as the feature back, but if he was in a two-back backfield that concern would be alleviated. He doesn’t have good straight line speed so he will have issues outrunning defenders to get the edge or to rip off big chunks of yardage once he hits the second level despite his great quickness and shiftiness in the open field.

Overall: I am a huge fan of ‘Quizz and I think that in the right system he could be a very effective starter. He would probably have to be in a zone blocking scheme or a pass heavy offense and I think it would be ideal if he split carries because he wouldn’t wear down and he wouldn’t have as many durability questions. The Packers would be a great team for him to go to, but I also think he could be a very nice complementary runner for a team like the Falcons that need a guy with burst and pass catching ability out of the backfield. I just don’t think he could be our primary guy in our man blocking scheme. A lot of people will doubt ‘Quizz because of his size but he has so much ability as a runner that I don’t think there is any way that he doesn’t become a productive running back in the NFL. If he was two or three inches taller I think he could very well be a first round pick.

Projection: 3rd round. I would pick him in the 2nd round in all honesty but I think he will get serious consideration in the 3rd round range. He might last until the late 3rd or maybe even into the 4th depending on how the RB’s that might be graded higher than him come off the board, but if you get him in the mid-3rd or later I think you are getting fantastic value for a great running back.

SKILLS
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite

Speed: 3.5
Power: 3.0
Agility: 5.0
Vision: 4.5
Hands: 4.0
Blocking: 3.0

Thanks for reading!

–Tom