Posted on: April 24, 2012 1:50 am
The overriding factor in every decision a general manager makes is the salary cap.
The cap isn't just about profit and loss. It also serves as the league's best tool for maintaining a competitive balance, by forcing teams to focus on asset allocation.
Think of it this way: you're the GM of a brand new expansion team, and you're allowed to try to sign any players you want from any team. You have the ability to sign Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady as your three quarterbacks. Is that a good idea?
The answer would be a definite NO. You'd have at least $40 million in cap space (and probably over $50 million) tied up at the quarterback position, and only one of them could play at any time. You'd only have $70 to $80 million left to spend on the other 50 players on your roster. Good luck getting a defense, receivers, and blockers with that low of a budget.
That's where asset allocation comes in. You can't have everything. You have a limited supply of magic cookies, and you have to figure out where to use them.
So what does this have to do with the Falcons and the offensive backfield?
Over the offseason, our braintrust had to make a lot of key decisions about the team's cap dollars. And one of the biggest decisions was whether to stay with the power running game. Starting RB Michael Turner and starting FB Ovie Mughelli carry some hefty salary cap costs. Do we stay with our Pro Bowl backfield for one more year, or clear the roster and free up cap dollars to use elsewhere (such as at left tackle)?
My take: the team publicly stated its commitment to Turner for this season. Let's take them at their word and assume Turner stays.
In cap terms, it makes sense. Turner's signing bonus counts $2.5 million per season against the cap. He's signed through 2013. If the team trades or releases him before June, they would have to count both the 2012 and 2013 portions of that bonus against this year's cap. They'd lose Turner and still face a $5 million cap cost. If they keep him, they'd pay his $5 million salary and count the 2012 portion of his bonus. The cap cost would be $7.5 million.
Keeping the team's offensive workhorse would only cost an extra $2.5 million of cap space. Might as well have him stick around.
It's not as obvious with Mughelli, as the team would free up $3 million by dropping him. Other fullbacks would be much cheaper. But Atlanta's offensive production last season really dropped off the shelf after Mughelli went on IR. The coaching staff knows how important he is to their power attack. So if they're going to keep Turner, they could quite easily opt to keep Ovie for one more year as well.
It's a different story next year though - Mughelli will be a free agent, and moving Turner next year would free $5 million of cap space. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see them both gone from the picture in 2013. But for now, it looks like they're still going to be our starters in the offensive backfield.
Another item to consider: we've heard that the team wanted Dirk Koetter at OC largely because of his thorough knowledge of the vertical passing attack.
Well, you can't work a strong vertical attack when you're playing a "22" package (two RBs and two TEs, with only one wide receiver on the field), as the Falcons often did in 2010-2011. To get vertical, you're almost forced to go with more single-back formations. And that means less of Turner, Ovie, or both.
Turner hasn't been much of a receiving threat out of the backfield. He could pass block, but the team has stressed for a couple of years now that they really need to balance the load a bit more. They *want* to get him off the field more frequently if they can.
Mughelli might be interesting as the lone back. He can be effective catching passes out of the backfield, and he's the best blocker we have among our runners. He'd certainly love a few more opportunities to carry the ball. If he stays, he might see action as the lone back.
Jason Snelling would be ideal in a single back set, which may have been one reason why the team put a priority on resigning him. He can run inside, catch passes, lead block, and pass protect. He's not a speedster, but he's otherwise perfect for a team wanting to implement a four vertical attack.
Jacquizz Rodgers has demonstrated that he's quite willing to throw his body against an incoming blitzer, but the results have often been painful (yet hilarious) to watch. Hopefully Koetter would take an alternate approach and use him as the hot man for the outlet pass instead of making him a kamikaze pilot. With his speed, he's a weapon - and that can be just as effective as blocking. If a blitzer runs past him after the quarterback, a screen or hot pass would have Rodgers off to the races.
The other big question is whether we keep four total runners on the roster (as we did for the entire 2008 season) or go with five (as we have most of the time since then).
The obvious follow-up is if Koetter wants five, do we have the fifth man already in house or do we need to find him in the draft? The in-house candidates:
Antone Smith has held the #5 spot for the last two seasons. In two seasons on the roster, he has a grand total of ONE rushing attempt - for negative three yards. He also has zero pass receptions, making him pretty much a waste of a roster spot. The coaching staff opted to keep him in 2010 because of his speed. But he was a disaster in the passing game in preseason, leading many fans to wonder whether the team kept the wrong man. He turned it on in the final preseason game to save his roster spot last year, but afterwards appeared only on special teams - or on the inactive list.
Dimitri Nance came to camp as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and was the main alternative to Smith. The Falcons opted to try to stash Nance on the practice squad. He didn't last long before the Packers signed him away. He was available this offseason, and Atlanta quickly scooped him back up for camp.
Based on what we saw of him in the 2010 preseason, he was a decent inside runner and could catch. He needed more work on his reads in pass protection - possibly an issue of trying to learn the offense as an undrafted rookie. He doesn't have tremendous speed but does have versatility. If he turns it on in preseason, he's likely to beat out Smith this time around.
Mike Cox is a pure fullback. He came aboard when Mughelli went on IR last season. Mixed grades on his effectiveness. He didn't know much of the offense, so the team wasn't able to use him in as many situations as they could Mughelli or Snelling. If nothing else, he does have experience.
My take: I'm not sure I'd keep any of these three as the fifth man, though I'd let them all compete for the job in camp. Nance needs to show he can block. Smith needs to show he can run routes and catch. Cox needs to show he can learn the whole offense and be more than just a pure lead blocker.
I wouldn't make RB a draft priority, but I'd consider it in the later rounds. I'd definitely add at least one RB as an undrafted free agent. The ideal guy would either be someone versatile like Snelling or a speedster who has KR experience and who would be deadly on the screen pass. Atlanta thought it had Noel Devine as an undrafted free agent last year. Someone like that would do.
This year's potential crop of undrafted runners doesn't seem to be as strong as last year's. The other side of that coin: by the end of August, there will likely be several candidates from last year's college class available as free agents or waiver pickups.
I would generally prefer to go with five runners rather than four, as the team ran into trouble in 2009 when several players got banged up.
But if the right candidate can be found for the practice squad (and if we can keep him - we lost Kenneth Darby in 2008 and Nance in 2010), going with four would allow the team to carry an extra player elsewhere, such as an extra receiver or a DB for special teams.
The fifth man could also be someone doubling up from another unit - such as a backup TE lining up at the h-back spot in a spread package.
The big picture: to quote the old song, a change is gonna come. But not yet. RB really shouldn't be an area of need for this draft.
Posted on: December 24, 2009 2:16 am
Matt Ryan isn't practicing. But don't panic - he's slated to play and is doing the walk-thrus, film room, game planning, etc. The Falcons are simply taking it easy on his big toe to get him as healthy as possible for Sunday.
Michael Turner isn't practicing either. He's a lot more dicey for this weekend than Ryan. He'll be a game-time decision.
Harvey Dahl is likely to be back in action this weekend.
Curtis Lofton got banged up on Sunday and didn't practice today. He's trying to get back in action by Friday, but keep an eye on him. He'll probably be listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.
I had hoped we'd see our old pal Bryan Scott in action this weekend. He was our second round pick under Dan Reeves in 2003, but he fell out of favor with Mora's staff and was traded to the Saints a few years later. He struggled in New Orleans too but has found new life with the Bills, earning his way back into the starting lineup. Unfortunately, he's banged up and isn't practicing. We probably won't see him on the field on Sunday.
Two other old friends of note are now on the Bills roster: Chris Draft and Corey McIntyre.
Another familiar name we might see... Brian Brohm is getting the reps with the first unit offense this week. The Bills haven't officially named him the starter yet, but considering their regular starter and their #2 are banged up and their season is over anyway, it's quite likely that Petrino's former QB will get the nod.
The Bills also brought in Gibran Hamdan for depth. He's had some injury problems and hasn't latched on for the long term with an NFL team yet, but he showed some impressive potential in NFL Europe a few years back. (Okay, go ahead and laugh. But remember that Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme followed the same path. Hamdan really lit up NFL-E, completing 63% of his passes for a QB rating of 113, averaging 10+ yards per attempt and throwing 4 times more touchdowns than interceptions.) I wouldn't mind seeing him play, but as a Falcons fan I think I'd rather see Brohm get the start this weekend.
Rookie sensation Jairus Byrd was just placed on IR. That might make life a little easier for Ryan and the WRs, but keep in mind that Buffalo's interim head coach was a secondary coach. They'll have a solid game plan in place in their defensive backfield. It won't be a cakewalk even without Byrd.
Posted on: December 10, 2009 6:31 pm
If anyone missed the news, Chris Houston is OUT for this weekend against the Saints with a bad hamstring. Justin Peelle has a concu... er, "head injury". He hasn't officially been scratched yet, but that's likely to change with tomorrow's injury report. I've already scratched him from my projected lineup.
Jonathan Babineaux, Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Sam Baker and Will Svitek are all limited but practicing. If they hold up, they'll all be available. The question is how effective they'll all be. We've seen Baker get torched while trying to play hurt earlier this season, and Roddy wasn't particularly effective either the first couple of games after he got banged up. So while Jenkins might be in the lineup, it's questionable how effective he'll be.
Todd McClure returned to limited practice today. He's going to try to play this weekend if the medical staff will clear him. They probably will.
Harvey Dahl isn't doing quite so well. He has been resting his ankle and working with the trainers rather than practicing. He'll start with the training staff tomorrow before practice. If all goes well, he'll be listed as "questionable" on tomorrow's injury report and will be a game time decision.
Best guess... Baker and McClure play. Brett Romberg will be active but will NOT start for Dahl since McClure is also dicey. Quinn Ojinnaka likely starts at right guard. The backup tackle will be a game time decision between Svitek and Garrett Reynolds.
The best news of the week: Chris Owens is fully back in action. Unless something happens to him in practice tomorrow, he'll probably start this weekend. No word yet on who will start across from him, but it's not all that significant since the coaches are expected to once again rotate the remaining corners.
And of course the story all the media is covering: Michael Turner and Matt Ryan are both still being held out completely. The team hasn't announced that either of them will be scratched, and the official word from the coaching staff is that the team hopes they'll both be able to play. Unfortunately, the unofficial word is that the chances are less than 50/50 that either of them will see the field this weekend. It's possible, but they'll both have to make some significant progress in the next two days.
So we'll probably be up against the undefeated Saints without our starting quarterback or running back to go along with our patchwork defense. It's a good thing I'm not in Vegas like last weekend. I'd be tempted to put a chunk of money down AGAINST us this week - regardless of the spread.
Posted on: October 3, 2009 10:04 pm
Just filling the void of the early bye week with this one...
After three weeks, we've seen some interesting signs - both good and bad. Here are ten observations, in no particular order:
Tony Gonzalez is everything we hoped he'd be. Wow...
The young secondary isn't as bad as we feared, but they still have a long way to go. Brian Williams and Tye Hill may prove to be our CBs of the near future. And yes, I'll go ahead and say it: I'm not expecting to see Chris Houston in a Falcons uniform beyond 2010, if he even lasts that long.
Jason Snelling can play. It's scary to think that Petrino actually cut him to make room for (gulp) Artose Pinner, who was allegedly Petrino's short yard specialist. Yeah, right... nice move, Coach Booby. Snelling is much better all around and excels in short yardage situations. He can block and catch passes out of the backfield too.
The Falcons are still overusing Michael Turner. For heaven's sake Smitty, give the man more rest. 350+ carries a season is too many.
Eric Weems is getting it done as a return man. If he keeps this up he'll stick on the roster purely for his special teams play, regardless of whether he ever blossoms as a wideout. (And as hard as he's been working the last two years, I'm not ready to count him out even at WR.)
We're still undersized in the middle of the d-line, with or without Peria Jerry. I hoped our braintrust would have solved this problem by now. The smoke and mirrors approach to disguising it can only go so far, as the Falcons saw in the wild card loss to the Cardinals.
The preview rags all said the linebacker group would be a problem. HA! Stephen Nicholas, Mike Peterson and Curtis Lofton are looking pretty good early on. (While I'm picking on the previews, the so-called professional analysts also unanimously claimed the Falcons had depth problems on the o-line. Who comes up with this nonsense, and have any of these guys ever even been to the complex??)
Any questions about whether Chauncey Davis would take away Jamaal Anderson's starting job are now officially moot. They're both duds. (Kroy Biermann is part of the answer, but even with his added bulk he's still too small for a lot of snaps in run defense. The Eagles game will be a big test for him. The Philadelphia o-line pancaked him non-stop in last year's game.)
Thomas DeCoud is turning into a beast. In camp and preseason LAST year, he looked lost - hesitating, misreading plays, and missing open field tackles. This year he's coming on strong and showing that he truly deserves the starting spot. Even if William Moore had been healthy all preseason, Decoud probably would have won the job.
We have weapons beyond belief on the offensive side of the ball, but the play calling has suddenly become more conservative than the FOX News Channel. And this three man rush prevent defense has got to go. It almost cost the team the game against the Panthers. Sooner or later it will turn a W into an L. If we're going to put an end to this back-to-back thing, we can't afford to let games slip away.
Posted on: September 17, 2009 11:49 pm
Sure, everyone's heard that Matt Ryan missed several deep passes (including two that would have been sure touchdowns), that Jason Elam had a nightmare of a game, that the Falcons rushing game got shut down, that Kroy Biermann emerged as a star, and that John Abraham is still a beast.
Here's a list of ten more observations that you might not have seen on the 11 o'clock news or the highlights shows...
(1) The defense held the Dolphins under 100 rushing yards and under 200 passing yards. All three levels of the defense stepped up, but especially the linebacker corps. Last year, safeties Erik Coleman and Lawyer Milloy had 188 combined tackles. In this game, the three leading tacklers were Curtis Lofton (10 plus 1 assist), Mike Peterson (7 plus a forced fumble and an INT), and Stephen Nicholas (7, including one on special teams). The safeties only had to make two tackles each.
(2) Matt Ryan racked up a QB passer rating of 98 in spite of having what we would consider an off game. He struggled badly with the deep pass in the preseason and again in this first game, but he's deadly accurate with the short stuff. (And even the missed deep attempts helped to stretch the defense.)
(3) The Falcons racked up four sacks on defense - and all were by defensive linemen. The six and seven man blitz packages weren't needed. The front four were able to generate pressure all by themselves. If they can keep that up, allowing the LBs and safeties to defend their zones, this defense will be outright scary by the end of the year.
(4) They didn't give up the big play. Miami had only seven plays that went for more than 10 yards, and only two for more than 20 yards. Both of those were 21 yards. (And one of them was that trick double pass thing.)
(5) The Falcons absolutely stuffed the Wildcat. My tally showed 4 yards on 3 plays before the Dolphins essentially put that package on the shelf for the day.
(6) They also succeeded in defending the screen pass. After repeatedly getting burned by screens throughout the preseason (including 94 yards on 4 screens in the first half by the Chargers), the Falcons held their own on several attempted screens by Miami.
And a few things that need work:
(7) Never mind the under 3 yard average by Michael Turner. A more important problem is that he had 22 rushing attempts, which puts him on a pace for over 350 carries for the season. That's too many. Meanwhile, Jerious Norwood only had two rushing attempts, while Ovie Mughelli and Jason Snelling had none. They need to do a much better job of spreading the load.
(8) The offensive line gave up a pair of sacks and allowed pressure on a few other plays. The first sack was purely a miscommunication. They'll get it together pretty quickly, but they're not where they need to be quite yet.
(9) Atlanta's secondary had zero passes defended. (The entire team had two - one by Mike Peterson and one by Jamaal Anderson.) That's okay against the Dolphin receiving corps, but they'll need to step it up when they face the likes of Wes Welker, Joey Galloway, Ben Watson and Randy Moss in week 3 against the Patriots. By contrast, Miami's DBs broke up several pass attempts by the Falcons.
(10) The defense had good stats, but the old problem of defending the run up the middle against a three WR package is still there. Miami simply didn't attempt it very often. But three of Miami's top ten gains on offense were running plays, and all three were straight up the middle against the nickel defense. (They were also by different ball carriers. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown each had a 14 yard gain, while Polite had a nine yarder.)
Posted on: September 2, 2009 2:31 am
Since we just acquired a CB from the team we played the week before, it seemed pretty obvious to double check and see how well the guy did against us.
Executive summary: he did well in pass coverage, but he couldn't tackle a running back to save his life.
If by chance you still have a copy of the video (you DO record and save every single Falcons game, right?) here are the plays to review:
13:00 remaining Q1, 2nd and 3 at Rams 27 - Michael Turner runs around the right side for a 9 yard gain and a first down. Hill lined up on the defensive left/offensive right side, covering Roddy White. He attempted to tackle Turner but missed. (A CB attempting to bring down MT seems almost unfair, so it's hard to blame him too much for that one.)
7:20 Q1, 1st and 10 at ATL 30 - Hill has coverage on Roddy. The ball was thrown past them out of bounds. It's possible that Matt Ryan saw the coverage and threw it over their heads intentionally. Regardless, Hill was on Roddy like a suit. That one had almost zero chance of being caught.
4:14 Q1, 2nd and 10 at Rams 25 - Hill lines up on Michael Jenkins. The Rams did a lot of zone coverage, and it appears that Hill was on the outside zone on this play. When Jenkins broke to the middle, Hill let him go. Chris Long was the defender in coverage on him when Jenkins caught the short pass. (Or at least it appeared that way - if that play was supposed to be man coverage, Hill should have stayed with him. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't his play.)
3:33 Q1, 1st and 10 at Rams 14 - Hill was the DB with the one-on-one coverage on Tony Gonzalez. TG gets the touchdown. Big surprise, huh? Hill was right there with Gonzalez, but the throw was positioned so that TG could fend him off. He did just that. Six points for Atlanta.
Trent Green said he loved to throw to TG in those situations, because NOBODY could beat Tony in single man coverage. The linebackers weren't quick/agile enough to keep up with him, and the DBs weren't big enough to avoid being screened out by him as Hill was on this play.
That was the ONLY pass that Atlanta completed against Hill. Ryan and Shockley only threw it his way twice, choosing to take on Bartell or Wade (the nickel corner) instead.
14:42 Q2 - 1st and 10 at ATL 9 - Hill misses a tackle on Norwood. I can understand bouncing off of Michael Turner. But if you get your hands on Norwood, you ought to be able to get him down. Or at least hang on until help arrives.
13:57 Q2 - 2nd and 15 at ATL 19 - D.J. Shockley throws a pass to Marty Booker. Booker botches the catch, tipping the ball into the air. The refs say that James Laurinaitis made the interception. (Note - he didn't. The ball hit the ground, and Road Warrior Junior secured it on the short hop. I have no idea why Smitty didn't throw the red flag.)
Hill was NOT the one in coverage on Booker. He had the outside zone. But he was running in towards the ball and had as good a shot at it as Laurinaitis, who collided with him while making the "catch".
8:19 Q2 - 1st and 10 at ATL 16 - Hill AGAIN misses a tackle on Norwood. This time Jerious put a pretty lame move on Hill and ran right past him. Hill didn't even attempt to make the hit.
And that was the last play where Hill had any significant involvement. Quick take: he was considered good enough by the Rams to start. He was good enough that the Falcons QBs went elsewhere on all but two throws, and he didn't allow separation on either of those.
So he had a nice game in coverage. Or at least he was better against us than our CBs were against the Rams, and far better than our guys were against the Chargers. Perhaps he really is an upgrade - as long as we're not counting on him to play run defense. That part of his game was ugly with a capital Ugh.
Posted on: September 23, 2008 12:18 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2008 11:46 pm
This is the 43rd season for the Atlanta Falcons. In that time, the team has had only 20 players rush for 1000+ yards.
At first, that might not sound so bad. Last season, 17 players rushed for 1000+ yards, so a randomly selected team would have slightly better than a 50% chance of having a runner who reached that mark. For the Falcons, the historical mark of 20 players in 43 seasons is reasonably close to 50%.
But no - the Falcons haven't had 20 players achieve thousand yard seasons. They have had only 20 players reach the thousand yard mark in their Falcon *careers*. To make it worse, Atlanta has had only 30 players rush for even 500 career yards.
That's just sad. We've seen our team use first round picks on running backs to come up with the likes of Bubba Bean (#9 overall), Steve Broussard (#20 overall), and Tony Smith (#19 overall selection, acquired by trading away some hopeless quarterback named Favre). We've brought in the likes of Eric Metcalf, Rodney Thomas, Travis Jervey, and even Eric Dickerson, only to see their Falcon days fall short of their production with their former teams.
The flip side of this utter absence of longevity and success among our ball carriers is that runners who actually do have promise can move very quickly up the all-time Falcon rankings. And the Falcons now have a fine pair of running backs.
In only three games as a Falcon, Michael Turner has already cracked the top 40, passing the likes of James Mayberry and Tony Smith last Sunday. Jerious Norwood has already moved ahead of Harmon Wages this season and is within a hundred yards of passing both Broussard and Bean.
Through Week 3, here are the top 40 all time Falcon rushing leaders:
(apologies for the bad spacing - I had it in table format, but the system trashed it so I had to paste it as basic text)
Games Attempts Yards Avg Per Game
1 Gerald Riggs 91 1587 6631 4.2 72.9