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Old 08-08-2007, 02:04 PM    (permalink
Shiver
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Default Pat Kirwan article on the Falcons

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (Aug. 7, 2007) -- The Atlanta Falcons have had one of the most upsetting offseasons in NFL history. The face of the organization, Michael Vick, is in the battle of his life to clear his name. The team lost DE Patrick Kerney in free agency to the Seahawks. Running back Warrick Dunn is sidelined recovering from an injury. The team's best defensive tackle, Rod Coleman, may not be ready to play until late September. Receiver Brian Finneran is on IR and the Falcons have a new head coach. As an organization, that's a lot to face. Plus, the community is divided about the Michael Vick situation.

My camp stop in Atlanta was to take a closer look at the team that will take the field in 2007 and compare and contrast it to its opponents.

Let's start with the new head coach Bobby Petrino. He's a tough disciplinarian and a realist. If any new head coach has a chance to judge the character of his football team quickly it's Petrino. He has a solid staff with Mike Zimmer (former Dallas defensive coordinator) trying to assemble a solid unit and Hue Jackson (former Bengals coach) trying to figure out just what an offense minus Vick can do. And that in itself is not going to be easy.

Winning for the Falcons has been on a steady decline over the past three years -- 10 wins in 2004, eight wins in 2005 and seven wins in 2006. Last year, the Falcons were 3-3 in the NFC South with Vick playing every snap of those six games. He totaled 435 yards on 46 carries in those matchups and that dimension of his game can't be replaced on the the Falcons offense. On the other hand, he only threw for 736 yards (122.6 yards per game), had just three touchdowns to five interceptions and that is an area the Falcons would love to improve.

HOT TOPICS

Michael Vick: From a football perspective, the starting quarterback isn't in uniform and Joey Harrington is the starter. In some ways, Harrington may fit the Petrino system better. But it's hard to figure out if the Falcons are trying to talk themselves into that concept or if it is true. The crowds of protestors outside the team's Flowery Branch facility are gone for now, but the Vick situation is going to leave the Falcons front office looking for another QB to compete for a roster spot and it doesn't appear that person is on the roster right now. A trade or a late pickup is a necessity.

Rookie starters: It appears that at least four or five rookies are going to find their way into the starting lineup. They may not all get the call on opening day, but as I leave camp I get the impression a youth movement is under way. After watching practice tapes, Justin Blaylock looks like the best offensive lineman on the team. Defensive end Jamaal Anderson is farther along than I thought he would be at this point. Receiver Laurent Robinson has special skills to get open and catch the ball. Cornerback Chris Houston can play man coverage on the wide receivers and linebacker Stephen Nicholas is getting lots of reps with the first group.

Jimmy Williams has moved to safety: Williams was drafted last year as a corner and has now moved to safety where he has the size and desire to play. But he needs a lot of work. On one pass play during a practice session he couldn't get over the top of a deep ball in time to make a play and it resulted in a touchdown from Harrington to Joe Horn. His angle was bad and his closing speed was off because he didn't key-and-diagnose the play quickly enough.

NEWCOMERS

Joey Harrington:
The hopes and dreams of the 2007 season rest on the shoulders of Harrington. While watching tapes, I saw he had some good moments and some bad ones. His play-action fakes don't hold the linebackers. He still doesn't like pressure in his face and his passes seem late more than they should be at this point. On a good note, he seems relaxed out there not carrying the past around with him and as one coach said to me, "He's getting better everyday as he learns this offense."

Joe Horn: Much credit has to go to the personnel department for signing Horn, and Harrington. If neither one was on the roster right now this team would be doomed. Horn can still be a vertical threat on the field and he has clearly relieved the team of counting on Michael Jenkins and Roddy White to make plays. I will say that White looked very good on the tapes I watched and should be a much-improved player.

Jamaal Anderson: Anderson, the first-round draft pick, has a wealth of talent to play left defensive end. He has the size and speed for every situation. He plays fast when he knows the situation but when it's vague, like a second-and-5 scenario, his ability to key and diagnose needs work. A number of times on videotape he showed exceptional ability to chase plays down from behind. When it comes to pass rushing, he should be able to beat a single-team block as long as John Abraham is on the other side of the defense.

SCOUTING REPORT

Offense: The 2007 offense will be built on a running game with a vertical passing attack off play-action. This is traditional pro football and probably the best way for the Falcons to go without Vick. The offensive line is in transition from a Denver scheme, which called for lighter, quicker players, to a bigger more powerful group. As I said earlier, Justin Blaylock fits the bill, but it will take a few years to get this group up to par for the Petrino offense. Alge Crumpler, the 'go-to tight end' of years past, does not look ready to go. His weight appears up and he will not be able to practice everyday because of his knees, which compounds his weight issues. Jenkins caught more passes (39) than White (30) last year, but at this point, White looks like a new man and ahead of Jenkins. The Falcons did sign running back Arlen Harris to help out while Dunn remains sidelined. Dunn is already running sprints and should be ready to start the season. In the meantime, Jerious Norwood is the featured back. He looked excellent on lead plays and draws, but without the magic of Dunn, something is missing.

Defense: What troubles me most about the Falcons defense is the depth on the defensive line, especially at tackle. Grady Jackson can still flash a great play, but can't really sustain excellence over a long period of time, which is understandable for an 11-year veteran. At this point, he needs to be in a rotation and the backups don't look capable of spelling him. The three-technique tackle is critical to this defense and without Rod Coleman, the responsibility falls to Jonathan Babineaux for now. Babineaux tries hard and has some quickness, but the situation inside is a concern. The defensive ends can get upfield and rush the passer, but unless they stop the run it could be a moot point. As I watched the four-man pass rush, Anderson and Abraham would look even better if there was some inside push. The linebackers are going to be a good group if Demorrio Williams recovers fully from his injuries. If not, then rookie Stephen Nicholas will play. He's a playmaker and a solid tackler, but he's not real fast and some formations could put him out in space where he could become a liability. In the secondary, corner DeAngelo Hall is fast and talented, but still guesses too much. He amazes me when I see him let a single receiver go deep while he jumps up to the line of scrimmage and there's no second-receiver threat to his side. Backup corner Allen Rossum could be fighting for a roster spot as Chris Houston and David Irons are starting to impress the coaches.

Special Teams: The youth movement is good and bad for the special teams. Lots of young players have very little experience, but have the speed and desire to cover. The kicking/punting game needs improvement. The punting unit ranked 30th last year and the field-goal percentage was 31st.

BIGGEST WEAKNESSES


1. The quarterback situation is obviously a big question mark. But the defensive line depth may be a bigger problem as the season rolls on.

2. The tight end position doesn't look like a weapon. It looks like there will be reasons to search the waiver wire for some help even though the team has Dwayne Blakley and Martrez Milner on the roster.

PREDICTION

The NFC South is tough and the Falcons are up against it. Coach Petrino will get this team turned around, but 2007 will be a rebuilding season. I was very impressed with the draft class of 2007 and they will be the core of the future. But I see opponents blitzing Harrington and disrupting the offense. The offense only scored 11.6 points per game in its division last year and it may be less effective in 2007.

The defense only gave up 13 points per game in the division last year and that appears hard to duplicate. The Falcons look like a team headed for seven wins with an eye on 2008.
I think this article will provide plenty of things to talk about, other than 'you know who' that is. Something that hasn't happened in a while.

Things I liked:
  • Justin Blalock already looking like a beast.
  • Roddy White and Laurent Robinson stepping up.
  • Joey Harrington may be solid with an better supporting cast better than anything he's ever had.

Things I didn't
:
  • Alge Crumpler's constant battles with injuries and weight.
  • Jimmy Williams and DeAngelo Hall struggling with recognition.
  • Not having Rod Coleman hurts a lot.
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Old 08-09-2007, 08:22 AM    (permalink
ATLDirtyBirds
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Jimmy and D-Hall need to shape up quick. They are going to be vital to this team being atleast a 6-10 team.
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Old 08-09-2007, 09:24 AM    (permalink
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I'm not worried about Hall at all. He'll be just fine. As far as Jimmy goes...I'm STOKED to see him on the field Friday.
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Old 08-09-2007, 07:53 PM    (permalink
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How does Harrington fit the bill in this offense better? I understand he is more of a 'traditional' QB, but he is, at best, on par with Vick passing and has no threat as a runner.
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Old 08-09-2007, 09:10 PM    (permalink
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BamaFalcon59 View Post
How does Harrington fit the bill in this offense better? I understand he is more of a 'traditional' QB, but he is, at best, on par with Vick passing and has no threat as a runner.

He sucks. I don't think that qualifies him as fitting the bill for the offense better.
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