Posted on: January 12, 2009 7:17 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2009 3:30 pm

Falcons move up in draft...

A little tidbit for those of you who actually do tune in and read the official CBS fan blogs (of which this is one):

Thanks to the wild results of the NFC playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons have bumped up a spot in April's draft.   The draft order is based mainly on the team's regular season record, with postseason advancement and opponents' winning percentage as tiebreakers.  But the two teams in the Super Bowl automatically draft #31 and #32.

Both the Eagles and Cardinals would have drafted ahead of Atlanta, which would have been in the #25 spot.  But since Arizona and Philadelphia will face each other for the NFC title, one of them will move to the #31/32 spots, which will bump Atlanta up to #24.

Yes, it's a minor thing.  But you probably heard it here first...

(And thanks again for reading the blog.) 


1/21 UPDATE -    picks #21-30 will be (in order):  Philadelphia, Minnesota, New England, Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Philadelphia (from Carolina), NY Giants, Tennessee.  


Posted on: October 26, 2008 5:28 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2008 3:16 pm

Video review (pun intended) of the Eagles game

I know everyone will mostly want to talk / read / comment on the screwup by the officials that sealed the game for Philly.  So I'll start with that, just to get that 800-pound gorilla out of the way.

This is the 10th season since the return of the replay system, and it seems like this season has had the most controversial calls since that 1998 season that brought such a massive outcry over the poor officiating that the league had little choice but to bring back some form of video review.

But now that replay is back, here's the big question:  how much responsibility lies with the coaching staff?  Are the coaches to blame if they have no challenges remaining or no time outs?  Should it be standard practice to save that last time out until after the two minute warning, just in case yet another officiating crew makes yet another game-altering mistake?

If so, Mike Smith just made his first blunder as Falcon head coach.  He used Atlanta's final time out just before a Philadelphia punt in order to save as much time on the clock as possible for his offense.

The catch is that he did it outside of the two minute warning.  At that point, any reviews have to be initiated by the coaches.  So when the refs blew it on the punt, there was nothing more he could do than scream at the guys at the zebra suits.

I can't wait to hear what Mike Pereira has to say about the muff call by the officials.  Will he make any comment about the fact that Smith left himself "exposed" for half a minute by leaving himself without a time out?  Will the league try to shift some of the responsibility to the coaches?    I hope he won't.  Pereira is a class act, and the mind-blowing calls by Hochuli's crew, this crew, and others have had him scrambling to play defense all season.

Here's my take:  Pereira will acknowledge that the officials blew it.  The league will apologize to the Falcons for it.  And that will quite appropriately be the end of it.   Falcons lose.  End of story.   (Coach Smith already said there were a whole lot of other plays the team would like to have back.  He went out of his way to say that the bad call was not the difference in the game.)

I can't say I blame Smith at all for using the last time out when he did.  You're down by six points. The opposing team can burn 31 seconds if you don't call time out right now, and you'll be left with about 1:52 when you do get the ball. Should you save that last time out - and lose 31 seconds plus the clock stoppage at the two minute warning - just on the off chance that the refs will make a mind-blowing bad call?

The responsibility to get the calls right has to stand with the officials, not the coaches.  It was a freak thing, and it worked against Atlanta.  But it happens.  It happened earlier this season in San Diego.  The Falcons are moving on, as the Chargers did after that game against Denver.

Did it cost Atlanta the game?   Maybe.  Yes, there were other opportunities.  There are ALWAYS other opportunities.   But if the officials mandate that one team will arbitrarily give up a possession in good field position and that the other team will get an extra possession in excellent field position, that creates a significant and artificial disadvantage.  

But I suspect if the entire game were replayed, the Eagles would still win - and possibly by a larger margin.


Notes on specific plays: 

11:16 Q1, first Philadelphia play from scrimmage -  this was the first start, and for that matter the first extensive playing time at all, for Domonique Foxworth.  The Eagles went at him straight out of the gate with a deep pass. What I find noteworthy here is that the safety (Coleman) was late to get back and help out in coverage.  If you get a chance to see it on NFL Replay, check it out.  The receiver is BEHIND Coleman, who has his back to the ball the entire way as he's running to catch up with the play.

This is one of the problems Atlanta has had in allowing big plays all season long.  We're theoretically a cover two defense.  The cardinal rule is that the safeties should never allow receivers to get past them.

Atlanta fans were down on Brent Grimes after Green Bay threw a deep TD pass to Greg Jennings, but it was exactly the same situation - and even a similar route - as this play.  The cornerback had the outside position on the receiver and was expecting safety help deep inside.  That safety help wasn't there. 

In this case, the receiver wasn't able to hang on to the ball as he came down to the ground, saving Atlanta from giving up yet another big play.


5:29 Q1 -  Jamaal Anderson was chip-blocked by the receiver leaving the backfield, plus had two blockers on him.  He beat them all and got the sack.

15:00 Q2 -  after the Eagles convert a 3rd down with a long pass play, the announcers emphasized on the replay that Milloy bit and left a huge gap in the zone coverage.  What they didn't mention is that Stephen Nicholas got caught up in the underneath traffic and bumped on the crossing route, which allowed the receiver to get away from him for the completion.  I don't know if the play was designed to create that kind of a pick, but that was the outcome.

13:33 Q2 -  Lofton blitzed and forced a fumble. That also counts as a sack, so congratulations to Lofton for the first sack of his young career.   It's also noteworthy that the Falcons were more aggressive with their blitz calls, particularly in the first half, than they were in weeks 2 through 5.   They rarely blitzed against Green Bay and sent just three pass rushers after Aaron Rodgers seven times.   This time around, they blitzed more frequently, occasionally sending six men and even keeping no deep safeties on a few plays.   Jerry Glanville would have been proud.

13:24 Q2 -  Turner goes nowhere on a run on 2nd and 10.  Did the Eagles know what was coming?  They should have - it's a very strong Atlanta tendency. If the Falcons throw an incomplete pass on first down, they're running on second down.

12:47 Q2 -  yes, Roddy ended up catching both of Ryan's TD passes - for the first multiple TD game of his career, but up to this point he was having a game he'd rather forget.  The announcers called him out for his poor route running that helped create the first Philadelphia interception. (That's an advantage of winning a few games.  We finally get announcing teams that have a clue.)  He had the holding call downfield that cost the Falcons ten yards off of a big running play.  And on this third down play, he dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball.  That's three negatives against him in less than 18 minutes of football.

To his credit, he did try to take some heat away from Ryan after the game by claiming the second interception was on him and that he should have done more to break up the play.   That was quite generous.  Roddy did all he could, including interfering with the defender to try to break it up.  It was simply a horribly underthrown ball on the fade route.  That one was entirely on Ryan. 

12:30 Q2 -  McNabb makes an effective play-action fake and has plenty of time to throw the ball, but ends up dumping it off for just a 2 yard gain.  Nice job by the Falcon secondary to make sure all the deep targets were covered.

9:10 Q2 -  After a 1st down incompletion, the Falcons partially break from the run tendency I mentioned above.  They tried to set up a screen pass to beat the blitz.  It didn't work - again, probably because the Eagles were anticipating the run.  They didn't bite, so Ryan aborted the play and intentionally threw the ball into the ground at the RB's feet.

8:50 Q2 - the first Eagles play after the Atlanta touchdown is another example of how the cover two puts heavy responsibility on the safeties.  Brooking has coverage on the tight end through the short zone.  As the TE goes deeper and leaves his coverage zone, Brooking releases him to the safety (in this case, Milloy).  But the safety wasn't in place to break up the play, which went for a completion and a first down.

7:53 Q2 - the announcers emphasize the nice coverage on the punt by Sav Rocca.  Eagles fans already know this, but the Falcon fans might not.  Rocca is a former Australian Football League player.  I'm a huge Footy fan (and still celebrating that my favorite team, Hawthorn, just won its first premiereship in 17 years) so I'm happy to see Rocca having success in the NFL.

I'm surprised more AFL players haven't been brought to America to punt.  It was no accident that Rocca's punt bounced straight up.  That's something that a lot of AFL kickers can do.  If the coverage unit had let it go, it probably wouldn't have gone into the end zone anyway.  

6:28 Q2 -  Koenen answers with a boomer of his own, kicking one 53 yards from out of his own end zone.

4:53 Q2 -  On the previous 1st and 10 play, the Eagles once again tested Foxworth deep.   We'll never know how close a play it might have been, as the WR fell down.   On 2-10, they decide to go after the safeties.  I'll assume the receiver in question was Coleman's responsibility, as he was the closest defender to an otherwise wide open man.   The play went for a 22 yard completion for a first down.

2:30 Q2 -  the weakness in the middle of the D line is exposed yet again, as McNabb runs straight up the middle for the touchdown.  In this case, Jason Jefferson and Kindal Moorehead were the DTs on the field.  

In case you missed it the 20 or so times I've mentioned it on the Falcon message board, we're undersized on the defensive line.  Moorehead and Jefferson list at 299 and 295 pounds.  They were up against center Jamaal Jackson (330 pounds) and guards Todd Herremans (321 pounds) and Max Jean-Gilles (the ex-Georgia Bulldog, now up to 358 pounds).  That's 594 pounds of Falcon meat against 1009 pounds of Philly cheesesteaks.  

1:38 Q2 -  again Ryan throws the ball into the ground at the RB's feet to abort a doomed screen pass.  Kudos to Ryan for recognizing the bad situation.  But the Falcons need to do a better job of self scouting.  They have some pretty strong tendencies.

0:21 Q2 -  with Philly driving just before halftime, the Falcons mostly have the second unit D-line on the field.  For this play, Chauncey Davis and Kroy Biermann were on the ends, with Moorehead and Babineaux in the middle.  Brooking rushed from the linebacker position, but Davis dropped back into coverage so it was still just a regular 4 man rush.  McNabb picked on Coleman again, hitting Curtis for his first catch of the season.

0:15 Q2 -  on the next play, John Abraham rotated back in to replace Davis, who had just been running in pass coverage.  He gets to McNabb, but not before the ball had been thrown.   McNabb threw in Chris Houston's direction this time.  From the looks of the play, Houston seemed like he thought he'd have safety help from Lawyer Milloy.   Once the receiver passed through the shorter zone, he took the outside and short position in coverage.   

In other words, it might not be fair to say Houston was beaten.   This has happened with Grimes on several plays in previous games.  The corner takes one side of double coverage, but the safety isn't there on the other side as the corner expects.   The end result is an open receiver, a completed pass, and a corner who did everything he should have done but comes out looking foolish. 

Maybe it's a coaching issue, and the young corners simply aren't aware that they're the sole defenders.  Maybe it's a communication problem.  Or maybe the safeties are being stretched too thin by having heavy run responsibility in addition to deep coverage duties.  But the Falcons won't "arrive" as a top team until they solve the undersized line and overworked safety issues.

0:09 Q2 -  the Eagles take one shot at the end zone before kicking the field goal.  The play was a quick look and throw, as Philly couldn't risk a sack or take the time to check down several receivers.   If the target wasn't open, McNabb would throw it away.  The Eagles targeted Domonique Foxworth. 

Once again, Foxworth was on the spot, so McNabb threw it over everyone's head out of bounds.  Foxworth won't get credit for a pass defended in the official stats, but the coaching staff knows he saved the team four points.

14:15 Q3 -  on 2nd and 10, nickel corner Chevis Jackson blitzed.  McNabb saw it coming and threw to his receiver - who had a huge cushion to the safety - but missed.   McNabb had plenty of time on the following 3rd and 10 play and targeted Jackson's receiver for a 25 yard gain. 

11:30 Q3 -  Philly has 1st and 20 after a penalty.  This time, there was definitely a miscommunication in the secondary.  In the cover two scheme, the corners have responsibility for the outside zone.  The wide open man was Chris Houston's responsibility.

7:40 Q3 -  on the Falcon message board, fans have been brutal on Finneran for his drop and Adam Jennings for his alleged muff.   But on this play DeSean Jackson turned a fair catch opportunity into some significant NEGATIVE yardage.    It's not just Jennings.

And if you happen to see the game again (through NFL.com, for example), take a look at who was in coverage for Atlanta.  The gunner who forced Jackson to change course and run backwards was Brian Finneran, and the one who made the tackle was Adam Jennings.

3:27 Q3 - the Falcons line up in their 3 TE formation and spring Turner for a good run.  I note this play because I see this as the main area where Atlanta is hurt by not having Baker in the starting lineup.  With Baker at LT, backup tackle Todd Weiner is free to play as the second TE in unbalanced or multi-TE formations.  With Baker out, Weiner is pressed into duty on the line, making him unavailable for these packages. 

It's nice to see the Falcons can still use this lineup, but without Weiner as the sledgehammer at FB or TE, they don't do it often.   On this particular play, both McClure and right guard Harvey Dahl pulled.  They acted as the leads (as Weiner would have) on what was essentially a power sweep.

2:05 Q3 -  this McNabb pass for a first down is simply a good play design to beat the cover two.  The idea is to get multiple receivers through the short zone and into the areas where the safeties have primary coverage responsibility.   The safeties are simply outnumbered, with only two of them covering the entire width of the field.  A quick look or pump fake draws a safety to the side, and the pass goes to the middle.

The very next play again took advantage of our undersized backups on the defensive line.  Davis, Moorehead, Babineaux, and Biermann were the linemen on the field.   I mentioned that half ton in the middle of the Eagle line already.  But to add to that, the Philly tackles are 330 and 335 pounds.  Meanwhile, Davis and Biermann are 274 and 241 pounds. 

Is anyone surprised that the Eagles plowed right through our guys and sprang Westbrook up the middle for 18 yards?

15:00 Q4 -  in spite of constant blitzes from Philadelphia, the Falcons didn't give up a sack until the first play of the fourth quarter.  Put this one on Jerious Norwood.  He was in the backfield to help pick up the blitz, but he ran to his far right, leaving a free lane for the linebacker to come straight at Ryan completely unblocked.

7:57 Q4 - a bright spot for our D-line woes has been short yardage.  The Falcons had that amazing goal line stand against Chicago, which turned out to be a crucial factor in that game.   Atlanta has another big goal line stand.  Andy Reid elects to kick the field goal rather than go for it on fourth down.



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com