Cleat Geeks

Falcons Flying Far

Are you as excited about the Falcons as I am? The team looks stellar this season. Everyone has worked very hard during this competitive training camp. The whole team that would include the running backs, defense, wide receivers, tight ends, and of course that familiar face at quarterback. Both the offense and defense look sharp as we get closer to the regular season.

The Offense

One of the most important relationships on the football field is the one between the offensive coordinator and the quarterback. And for Steve Sarkisian and Matt Ryan, the two have only continued get more comfortable with one another and it’s been evident on a number of occasions. The Falcons’ offensive coordinator has said it’s “night and day” different in terms of his comfort level heading into his second year calling the plays for the Falcons’ offense.

Image result for Steve Sarkisian and Matt Ryan

Photo by; MyAJC.com

“A lot of the situational stuff comes up in practice more so than it’s come up in games for us during the preseason,” Ryan said. “There’s been a handful of times specifically in two-minute situations or low red-zone situations where we’ve had those things come up during practice and I’m kind of already thinking the way he’s thinking before the play call comes in. I always think when you’re on the same page with someone like that where I’m anticipating something coming in and then it comes in and I know exactly why he’s calling in, those are the times in my past we’ve been really good. I feel like we’re getting there.”

With the improved comfort level between Sarkisian and Ryan and all of the talent Atlanta has in tow offensively, it’s one of the reasons why the Falcons are a popular postseason pick among national writers.

The Defense

What do you think about the Falcons current defense squad? I think they are pretty much darn right in the middle of the pack right now. But they did make a big decision on Tuesday that will directly effect the defense this season. Falcons coach Dan Quinn announced Tuesday that Brandon Fusco would be the team’s starting right guard entering the season after he beat out incumbent starter Wes Schweitzer for the role this preseason.

“Fusco has certainly done a good job to earn that spot,” Quinn said. “And what a competitive battle between him and Wes. That’s why you may see Wes some more at center as we’re moving forward. As an interior-three player, Wes has the ability to play center, right guard, left guard, so he’ll be an important part of what we do. I love his competitive style, he consistently grades among the highest on the team in our CT scores, in terms of competitive toughness.”

“I’m excited,” Fusco said of earning the starting role. “It’s been a long journey, it’s not easy coming from a new team to another but these guys really made it easy for me. We’ve got a good group of guys, especially offensive linemen. They’re veterans, we’ve got some young guys, but they’re all a good group of guys that work. They showed me the way, and it’s been easy for me. I’m excited to get this thing going for real and to have a good season.”

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Photo by; Atlantafalcons.com

Schweitzer, a sixth-round draft pick in 2016, started all 16 games for the Falcons last season. He now figures to be a primary backup for the interior offensive line, and he saw action at center in the third preseason game.

“It was very close between Brandon and Wes,” Quinn said. “Wes, as I said, has significantly improved from last season. I think when we got into the last few preseason games really what we saw from a protection standpoint from Brandon kind of played out from what we saw from him last year. So that was really part of the deciding factor.”

“It’s definitely different than any other place I think would handle it, but that’s the way they do things around here,” Fusco said of having to earn the starting job. “It’s always a competition, and you’re not going to get anything handed to you. I respect that a lot. Wes is a great player, and I’ve talked to him and told him, ‘Don’t put your head down.’ He’s going to be a great player in this league, he’s going to play for a very long time, I have a lot of respect for him.”

Fusco is a new face on a Falcons’ offensive line that has had strong continuity over the past few seasons. In 2016, the Falcons were the only team to have all five starting linemen play every single game, and four of those five players remain starters heading into the 2018 season.

With the improved comfort level between Sarkisian and Ryan and all of the talent Atlanta has on offense, combined with the continuity of their defensive line and the fact that Wes Schweitzer can back-up multiple positions. Those are good reasons why the Falcons are a popular postseason pick among national writers. Including this one.

2018 NFL Drafting Needs; NFC South

Nothing beats a bit of draft speculation straight after one of the best Superbowls of all time, right? I’ll be going through the draft needs of every NFL franchise, and this is the penultimate one; the NFC South.

New Orleans Saints – TE, LB, QB

New Orleans were one of my favourite teams to watch in 2017; Kamara, Thomas, Brees, Ingram on offence and Lattimore, Williams, Rankins and Jordan on defence. Wonderful. Other than the Kenny Vaccaro contract situation (looks like he’s on his way out despite a VERY slow safety market in free agency), the Saints don’t have many pressing concerns so onto the draft!

Potential picks:

27 – Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

One thing the Saints are lacking is a natural pass-catching tight end. Coby Fleener has been okay, but not spectacular and I think Josh Hill could overtake him on the depth chart soon. Not only is Mike Gesicki an athletic freak, he can also play. He can create separation, works hard on his route running, fakes well. He’s an excellent pass-catcher. Doesn’t drop the ball. He’ll never be a guy you want to rely on as part of the running game, but that wouldn’t be why you drafted him. He’ll need to work on the physical side of the game a little as his strength isn’t his top attribute but he’ll beat linebackers and safeties to the ball given the chance. I can definitely see a scenario where Josh Hill and Mike Gesicki line up together regularly in two tight end sets.

2017 stats – 13 games; 57 receptions for 563 yards and 9 TDs

91 – Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB/DE, Oklahoma

We’ve seen flashes of NFL strength in college from Okoronkwo. If the Saints choose to draft him, they will have themselves a guy not afraid to take on a challenge and somebody who will improve and work hard every single day. A good tackler, and not afraid to get after the quarterback, there is plenty of work to do in order to have him as a starter but has the upside to be drafted as a project. His technique and consistency need work, and will need to have a lot of practice time in coverage.

2017 stats – 14 games; 76 combined tackles (17.5 for loss); 2 passes deflected; 3 forced fumble; 8 sacks

127 – Nic Shimonek, QB, Texas Tech

I’ve seen plenty of articles this offseason linking Shimonek with the New York Giants, but I’m including him here with the Saints. Unlike current starter Drew Brees, he stands tall in the pocket and can throw the football from various positions. He’s patient and will get through his reads if he feels it necessary. Has ability to make big plays whilst scrambling and impressively, after being benched for some poor performances at the end of last season, he came back under centre to lead a game-winning performance in the last game of the season. He has had difficulty performing, particularly late on in games. Ball placement needs improvement, although the mechanics are there so hopefully NFL-level coaching will help this. He has typical NFL size and arm talent and a couple of years under the tutelage of Drew Brees could make him worthy of a roster spot in New Orleans.

2017 stats – 13 games; 3963 passing yards; 33 TDs; 10 interceptions; 152.1 rating;

66 rushing yards; 1 TD

Carolina Panthers – DE, CB, WR

It’s hard to predict what the Panthers will do in the draft although I’m sure things will be much clearer once free agency is over. As I write, they lack depth at wide receiver, have no power back, and just resigned 791 year-old Julius Peppers to a new deal. So for what it’s worth, here is my take.

Potential picks:

24 – Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Sam Hubbard will be a solid player. Nothing leaps out at you necessarily but some coaches like that. He’s consistent, intelligent and has great awareness of what’s going on around him, both from his teammates and the opposition. Stamina is great and this sees him making plays others might give up on. Tackles regularly and is a great blitzer, causing no end of grief of opposing quarterbacks. Speed is average and he’ll need coaching to convert the speed he does have into optimal levels of power. I think he’ll be a solid starter in the NFL.

2017 stats – 14 games; 42 combined tackles (13.5 for loss); 7 sacks; 2 forced fumble

55 – JC Jackson, CB, Maryland

Good in press coverage, as well as solid ability to read the quarterback, JC Jackson could become a very good player in cover-2 and cover-3. If he gets beaten underneath he has the ability to get back on track. He’ll tackle with good force. Physicality is his key strength and NFL coaching will help him make the most of that. His ball skills will need work, but Jackson will be known in the NFL as a guy who is very good at what he does well rather than a versatile playmaker. He needs to avoid the penalties against him, and find other ways of making up for his general lack of speed.

2017 stats – 12 games; 40 combined tackles (0.5 for loss); 7 passes deflected; 3 interceptions

85 – Deon Cain, WR, Clemson

Deon Cain has good size and movement for a wide receiver and will take to the NFL pretty comfortably. He doesn’t lose pace when running routes and has quick burst for deep plays. His size allows him to win the physical battles against defenders. Good feet allow for receptions to be ruled inbound near the boundary. After the catch, Cain is aggressive, stiff-arming defenders away if he needs to before gaining extra yardage. I don’t ever see him as an out-and-out WR1, but he will be a very good WR2 alongside Devin Funchess. NFL coaching will hopefully expand his route tree.

2017 stats – 14 games; 58 receptions for 734 yards and 6 TDs;

Atlanta Falcons – G, DT, WR

Despite having much the same roster in 2017 as the one which made it to the Superbowl the year before under Kyle Shanahan, Steve Sarkisian was not able to produce even close to the performance levels of his predecessor – and the pressure will be on him early in 2018. Key additions will be required on both sides of the ball if the Falcon are to make it through this competitive division. Guard, defensive tackle, as well as a receiver to replace Taylor Gabriel are my picks.

Potential picks:

26 – Will Hernandez, G, Texas El-Paso

He’s a big, strong guy with excellent natural movement. He’s agile, can unlock his hips and really force himself into opponents. His balance on contact and control over his body are elite. He plays every snap as if the game depends on it. Will Hernandez lives and breathes the game and will stop at nothing to ensure he is amongst the very best at his position in the NFL. One key thing which could put a lot of scouts off are his short arms and small hands. If coaches can get around that, they will have a player with a very high ceiling on their hands.

58 – Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays States

Potential is the key word here. I think a team would have to be patient in developing Nathan Shepherd but the talent is certainly there. Since high school he has added nearly 100 lbs to his frame and is always working on his strength. He’s a good athlete and although very raw he will excite many coaches. Most blocking schemes are too much for him currently but with experience and some work on his technique this could change.

2017 stats – 11 games; 38 combined tackles (12.5 for loss); 4 sacks

90 – Trey Quinn, WR, SMU

Slot receiver, allowing Sanu to use a wider variety of routes and opening up more space outside for Julio Jones. Consistent speed; executes routes well and with good intelligence. In 2017 he saw a large uptick in targets (35%) and rarely drops the ball. Will perform particularly well against zone coverage. It may be that he’s a one season wonder but he coped very well with the increased production so several scouts and evaluators will like what they saw. After the catch, Quinn leaves a lot to be desired but if you’re looking for a reliable slot receiver, this could well be your guy.

2017 stats – 13 games; 114 receptions for 1236 yards and 13 TDs;

5 punt returns for 13 yards;

5 kickoff returns for 113 yards

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – S, RB, CB

Tampa Bay were woeful in 2017; and their moves in the offseason so far have left a lot to be desired. After drafting OJ Howard last year, a highly touted prospect, Cameron Brate was tied up to a large contract, leaving fans somewhat bemused. I happen to know that Brate is very good, and I also happen to know that the Buccaneers actually had success on two TE sets. So maybe they haven’t gone totally crazy. After Doug Martin was sent away to Oakland, they will need to find a replacement. The secondary could use new faces as well.

Potential picks:

7 – Derwin James, S, Florida State

Leader. Derwin James is the guy who will come in early and stay late to assess footage from his own games, as well as opponent’s games. Ticks every physical box for a leading NFL safety. He’s a versatile playmaker who focuses on the ball first, and the player second. Blitzes well on top of his ability against slot receivers and his tackling ability in open play. His only blemishes are his small number of games (26 in college) and the fact that he has a previous ACL injury. Other than that, a very exciting prospect.

2017 stats – 12 games; 84 combined tackles (5.5 for loss); 1 sack; 11 passes deflected; 2 interceptions (1 returned for a TD); 1 blocked kick

38 – Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn

I’d say there are Tevin Coleman similarities when I look at Kerryon Johnson. He has fast feet, good initial burst which allows him to break the line and a multitude of speeds. Can take on a heavy workload and play an every down role. Plays well both on the inside and on the outside. He isn’t the biggest back so durability may be a concern. It also remains to be seen how he will cope against stacked boxes in the NFL as he tends to like a cleat point of entry.

2017 stats – 12 games; 1391 yards rushing on 285 attempts (4.88 YPC); 18 TDs

194 yards and 2 TDs on 24 receptions;

1 pass for 3 yards and a TD

69 – Duke Dawson, CB, Florida

Very intelligent and able to mirror a receiver, Duke Dawson plays superbly against slant routes but is capable against receivers running a variety of routes. Over the last two seasons, he has allowed less than a 40% completion rate. Despite being used, as you would expect, against the pass, Dawson can chip in against the run too, making a nuisance of himself and preventing quick getaways by runners. He isn’t the greatest athlete amongst the 2018 prospects but could become a very good nickel cornerback in the NFL.

2017 stats – 11 games; 34 combined tackles (2 for loss); 9 passes deflected; 4 interceptions (1 returned for a TD)

 

 

 

 

*2017 stats from www.cfbstats.com

Saints Preparing For Home Game Against Falcons To Secure Play-off Spot

Once again, one of the NFL’s biggest games will be between NFC South rivals as the New Orleans Saints (10-4) will host the Atlanta Falcons (9-5). The winner of this match-up will clinch a spot in the playoffs. This will be a match-up of two of the league’s offenses and two very efficient and very surprising defenses.

On Tuesday, the 2018 Pro-Bowl rosters were released with the New Orleans Saints having 6 players selected to play in the Pro Bowl on January 28th. QB Drew Brees, RB Mark Ingram, rookie RB Alvin Kamara, WR Michael Thomas, DE Cameron Jordan, and rookie CB Marshon Lattimore were all selected to the 2018 Pro-Bowl.

Image result for new orleans saints vs atlanta falcons

Two weeks ago, the Atlanta Falcons took a surprising home 20-17 victory against the injured filled Saints. Atlanta won the hard-fought matchup despite Falcons QB Matt Ryan throwing 3 interceptions. There were many other components to how the Falcons took the victory from New Orleans. This week, the Saints are not only looking for a playoff spot, but they are looking for revenge on a game where they feel they should’ve won. The Saints can get a season-defining win on Sunday, but they will need to play very efficiently in all areas of the game.

 

The Saints offense will need to be more two-dimensional than last time

For most of the entire season, the Saints have relied on the high-velocity passing of Quarterback Drew Brees and a tag-team Running Back tandem of RB Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. New Orleans is the top-ranked offense in total yards per game (401.5). They are also ranked 3rd in points per game (28.3), 4th in passing yards per game (266.4), and the 5th in rushing yards per game (135.1). The Offensive Line has been the main driving force of the Saints offense as they have given up only 17, which is tied for 2nd lowest in the league.

Image result for alvin kamara saintsTwo weeks ago, however, rookie RB Alvin Karama was injured on his first run against the Falcons and did not return. This only made the run-game less efficient through Kamara’s fast breakout speed, but the passing game was less vigorous because of his ability as a backfield option. The Saints were also missing two Offensive Linemen in G Sergio Kelemete and G Andrus Peat throughout the game. The Saints were only about to account for 306 total yards and 50 total rushing yards.

The Saints will be healthy on the offensive side of the ball, but they will be playing a Falcons defense that is tied for 9th in the league (with the Saints, ironically) in points allowed per game (20.1), 12th in passing yards allowed per game (217), and 9th rushing yards allowed per game (106.9). Two weeks ago, LB Deion Jones accounted for 13 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 pass deflections, and an interception from Brees in the end zone. Falcons DT Dontari Poe accounted for 5 total tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. Both Falcons will be impactful players again when they meet the Saints.

Saints Head Coach Sean Payton has done a great job this season of not developing players for the Saints but also utilizing them. The Saints are the only team in the NFL that has three of their players that have accounted for 1,000 yards or more from scrimmage. RB Mark Ingram has accounted for 1,420 total yards (1,045 rushing, 375 receiving), RB Alvin Kamara has accounted for 1,336 total yards (652 rushing, 684 receiving) and WR Michael Thomas has accounted for 1,085 receiving yards. These 3 players along with QB Drew Brees and the Offensive Line will have a better outing than the first matchup two weeks ago against Atlanta.

 

Saints defense will need to create more pressure

In the last match-up against Atlanta, the Saints defense have accounted for 5 tackles for loss and only 1 sack. The Saints defense did not account for much pressure outside of the 5 QB hits on Falcons QB Matt Ryan. New Orleans, as a team, was penalized 11 total times with some coming from offsides penalties and roughing the passer. New Orleans defense doesn’t primarily need to play with more aggression but with more precision and execution without being penalized. The Saints defense did hold RB Devonta Freeman to 91 rushing yards on 24 carries and a touchdown, but the Saints had LB A.J. Klein, DE Trey Hendrickson, and Image result for cameron jordan saintsS Kenny Vaccaro hurt during the game. They will create more potency in stopping the run now that they are healthy.

One of the main goals of stopping the Falcons offense is force bad passing situations on QB Matt Ryan. This is how Ryan threw 3 interceptions against the Saints defense. Pro-Bowl DE Cameron Jordan has accounted for 10 total sacks so far this season but he is looking for his first sack since November 26th against the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints will need a big game from Jordan to force more 4th downs against Atlanta. Two weeks ago, Atlanta was 7-for-12 on 3rd downs against New Orleans, which killed them in the long run.

 

Falcons elite Wide Receiving corps vs. Saints’ young, consistent Defensive Backs

The New Orleans Saints Defensive Backs got a little bit of experience against the elite Receiver corps of Atlanta two weeks. Falcons QB Matt Ryan accounted for 15 completions (out of 27 attempts) for 221 yards (an average of 8.2 yards per completion), 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions. The defense forced Ryan to account for a terrible QBR of 24.3. 4 Defensive Backs for New Orleans finished within the top 7 tacklers of the game. The Saints defense, especially the Defensive Backs, will need to play tight and aggressive to make sure they don’t give up the easy deep throws Atlanta does well.

Image result for new orleans saints vs atlanta falconsSaints rookie CB Marshon Lattimore was assigned on the Falcon star Wide Receiver Julio Jones for most of the game. Though Julio Jones did account for 98 yards on 5 receptions, he was targeted 11 times. Lattimore, rookie S Marcus Williams, and S Chris Banjo each accounted for an interception against the Falcons offense.

Atlanta’s offense is ranked 10th in the league in passing yards per game (243.9) through a diverse setting of Receiver routes and passing situations. Falcons WR Julio Jones is one of the best Receivers in the league when it comes to deep routes and one-on-one coverages. WR Mohamed Sanu is the Receiver the Falcons rely on for screens and the slant routes. Finally, TE Austin Hooper and WR Taylor Gabriel have both averaged 11 yards per catch, making their passing game diverse. Saints defense will need to match with their Receivers quickly during pre-play reads and stay on their man coverage. If Lattimore is overmatched in the deep passing process, S Marcus Williams or S Kenny Vaccaro can be the extra coverage player needed to completely stop Julio Jones.

Patriots Dominate Falcons in Super Bowl Rematch

New England’s defense showed up in full force for the first time this season against Atlanta’s offense.

After allowing 34 unanswered points to the Patriots in Superbowl LI, it took another three and a half quarters for the Falcons to find the end zone against New England. New England’s defense, which had allowed at least 300 passing yards to every quarterback it had faced this season, was able to hold Matt Ryan at bay giving up just 233 passing yards to the 2016 MVP.

Much like last year’s Super Bowl, it was even through the first quarter, with neither team putting any points on the board. This time, however, it was New England who jumped out to a commanding lead scoring 17 points before halftime and later tacking on two field goals by the time Atlanta finally ended their scoring drought against New England with a garbage time touchdown.

Image result for new england patriots vs atlanta falcons 2017

The New England secondary looked sharper than it had all year, not faltering against tough match-ups with Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu. The Patriot’s defensive line still shows signs of struggling as they allowed Matt Ryan to scramble effectively for much of the game. Ryan even rushed three times for 37 yards when he was unable to find a receiver downfield thanks to impressive pass coverage by New England.

New England has long since put the embarrassing first half of Super Bowl LI behind them, but Atlanta, playing in front of a stadium packed with flags and signs referencing their blown 28-3 Super Bowl lead, have yet to approach redemption.

Mike Vick Retires

 

 

 

 

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Mike Vick’s football career is over. Vick told ESPN that  his career is “officially over” after sitting out the whole 2016 season. He then told ESPN.  “I think it’s time,” the 36-year-old said. “I think going through the 2016 season without playing and being able to be a spectator and watch the game and enjoy it from afar and root for a lot of the players and coaches I once played for, I think kind of summed all it all up for me.
“So now I think I’m officially ready, I’m ready to move on to different things in my life and different facets of my life.”

Vick was one of the first duel threat quarterbacks to play in the NFL. Manny consider him the best running quarterback to ever play the game.  In the early 2000s the way he played the game of football was revolutionary for his time.
Vick was the first player selected in the 2001 Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He led them to two playoff appearances and a NFC championship game.

2007 Mike VIck went to jail for 21 months after pleading guilty to an illegal dog fighting operation. That put his career in jeopardy, as he was cut by the Falcons soon after his release from prison.

However Vick got another opportunity as he signed with the Eagles as a back up quarterback in 2009. Shortly after that he earned the starting job in 2010 and had a career year. He won the comeback player of the year award and helped the eagles win the NFC East.

Injuries then caught up to Vick in 2012 and 2013. After that he was a back up with the Jets and Steelers in 2014 and 2015. His time with those teams he combined to start six games.

Vick finished his career with over 22,000 passing yards and 133 career touchdown passes.  Vick is the all time leading rusher amongst quarter backs with 6,039 yards.

Falcons vs Packers NFC Championship Preview

Sunday afternoon will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Matt Ryan for the Falcons, who have the best offense in the league. For the Packers, Aaron Rodgers, who leads the league with 40 touchdown passes. These two teams are no strangers to each other in the playoffs, as the Packers defeated the Falcons 48-21 in the divisional round in 2011. Overall the Packers are 2-1 against the Falcons in the playoffs.
 Good news for the Falcons is they beat the Packers last time they played earlier this season 33-32 in week 8. Matt Ryan threw 3 touchdown passes to 3 different receivers. Aaron Rodgers had 4 touchdown passes in the loss for Green Bay.
 Today might be the biggest game in Falcons history, as they have a chance to reach the Superbowl with a win at home in the NFC Championship game. I will break down what each team needs to do to win today.
 Falcons Keys to Victory
1)The Falcons secondary must show up. Robert Alford and Ricardo Allen have to lead this secondary and create turnovers. They can not allow Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball down the field. They need to find a way to get at least one interception on Rodgers. If they can do that then victory for the Falcons might be inevitable. 
2) Tyson Jackson and Vic Beasley must get pressure on the quarterback. If Rodgers has all day to pass that is a recipe for disaster for the Falcons. They do not necessarily have to get sacks but they need to hurry Rodgers and force him to make quick decisions.
3) This is an obvious one, but both Julio Jones and Matt Ryan need to play elite. There is no time for a off day. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones both need to make big plays to lead the Falcons to a win.
 Packers Keys to Victory
1) Stop Devonta Freeman. The Packers will need to slow down versatile back Devonta Freeman if they want to advance to the Super Bowl. Freeman is dangerous. He has the ability to break off big runs and catch the ball out of the back field. The Packers defense needs to hold him under 100 yards total. If they do that they will be in great shape.  
2) Aaron Rodgers needs 3 plus touchdown passes to win. Lets be honest, the falcons have a high powered offense and will score points. The Packers lead by Aaron Rodger’s arm will need to match that to stay in the game.
3) Finally the magic number is 100. Can the Packers run the football and produce 100 yards or more on the ground. I believe that if James Stark’s can have success on the ground in this game and take the pressure off of Aaron Rodgers then they will win the game. 

Feelgood Freeman Friday

In the off season NFL football players may not live close to their teams facility. But, that is no excuse to not keep your conditioning up. So, Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman was doing just that with a nice little evening jog Monday when he saw a woman struggling in her front yard.FridayFreemanFeelgoodFeature

Eleanor Szendel, 82, was having trouble unloading her lawnmower, and Freeman decided to push conditioning to the back burner for compassion. Pretty soon he was offering to step in and mow Szendel’s grass for her as she was struggling to empty the grass clippings from the mower, it was obviously getting dark as afternoon was quickly giving way to night.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Freeman’s offer was respectfully rebuffed for no other reason than she was pretty much finished. But that didn’t keep the football star from instantly endearing himself to Szendel and her daughter-in-law, Denise Szendel, who was planting rose bushes for Mother’s Day nearby.

DFreemanFSUAlthough the famous Falcons and former Florida State footballer didn’t initially identify himself, Szendel knew exactly who he was.

“My mom recognized him because she’s had all four of her kids, a daughter-in-law and son-in-law go to FSU over the last 12 years, and so she was like ‘You’re Devonta Freeman,’” said her son, Bryan Szendel.

He was indeed, and Bryan posted the proof on Instagram to point out Freeman’s good deed, which has caught the eye of Falcons and Seminoles fans the past few days.

“She was just really touched that he stopped and helped her out like that,” Denise said.

Freeman is known as one of the more charitable young players in the NFL, so this comes as little surprise. This is the same player who found out about his first Pro Bowl selection while delivering Christmas gifts this past years to families in need.devontaFreemanChristmas

For the Szendel family, it was a chance meeting and just a simple offering, but also a perfect representation of one of their city’s best ambassadors and one of their Alma Mater’s finest gentlemen.

“I just really like meeting a young man who was so respectful. I just really liked the way he represented my kid’s school,” Denise said.

The NFL and sports in general need more people, and more stories like this. A simple act of kindness without wanting anything in return can not only make someones day, but can inspire people in and out of sports to fly like an eagle, even if your only a falcon.

Parts of this article were from an article by: Eric Edholm

On The Clock: Atlanta Falcons 2016 Offseason Preview

In his “On the Clock” series, NFL analyst Brett Casella (@NFL_iQ on Twitter) will take an in-depth look at all 20 teams that failed to make the playoffs as they head into the 2016 offseason. He will conduct a thorough examination of each roster and make recommendations on whom to cut and re-sign, as well as which players to target through free agency and the draft.

This article will focus on the Atlanta Falcons.

Team: Atlanta Falcons
2015 Record: 8-8
Draft Pick: #17

 

Season Summary

The Falcons came out blazing to start the 2015 season, winning all of their first five games. Things would take a turn for the worse from there, as they fell to 6-6 and would eventually finish the season 8-8. Matt Ryan seemingly took a step back this year, finishing the season with an unimpressive 1:1 touchdown to turnover ratio. His 21 passing touchdowns were the lowest since his rookie year.

There were some bright spots, though. Julio Jones had a monstrous year, leading the league in both receptions (136) and receiving yards (1,871). Him and Devonta Freeman were a two-man wrecking crew for the Atlanta offense. Freeman exploded onto the scene during his sophomore campaign, racking up over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and scoring 14 touchdowns.

What ultimately doomed Atlanta to a .500 season was their average defense and lack of weapons outside of Freeman and Jones. They will need to improve in these areas if they hope to make the playoffs in 2016.

Re-Signings & Cuts

roddy-whiteLast Wednesday, the Falcons announced they released Roddy White, the franchise’s all-time leading wide receiver. White spent his entire 11-year career in Atlanta, but will be looking for a new home this offseason. Other cuts that could be on the way include wide receiver/return specialist Devin Hester and tight end Jacob Tamme. Combined, the two would save Atlanta over $5 million in cap space if released.

Notable players with expiring contracts include defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebackers Paul Worrilow and Philip Wheeler, and offensive tackles Ryan Schraeder and Jake Long. The Falcons should let Worrilow and Long walk, but attempt to re-sign Clayborn, Schraeder, and Wheeler.

Clayborne is far from spectacular, but would bring value to the Falcons defensive line if they can sign him for a price close to the $3 million contract he carried last year. Schraeder was the best player on a very good offensive line, and Atlanta is already too thin at the linebacker position to let Wheeler walk.

Free Agency Needs

The Falcons have just over $30 million in cap space. Plan on them using a good portion of this money to upgrade their linebackers, defensive ends, and pass catchers.

bruce-irvinThe one name that has been linked to Atlanta since last offseason is linebacker Bruce Irvin. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn coached Irvin in Seattle, where he was the defensive coordinator from 2013-2014. Besides that, Irvin’s versatility as an outside linebacker and pass rusher can help fill two of the Falcons biggest needs. Other linebackers that may draw interest from Atlanta include Tamba Hali, Danny Trevathan, and Jerrell Freeman.

The Falcons defense finished dead last in sacks last season, bringing opposing quarterbacks down only 19 times all year. With quarterback play being a strength of the NFC South, Atlanta needs to find ways to improve their pass rush. Some defensive ends to keep an eye on are Robert AyersWilliam Hayes, and Charles Johnson, who was cut by the Carolina Panthers last week.

With the exception of Julio Jones, the Falcons wide receivers are lackluster at best. Their second-, third-, and fourth-leading wide outs (Roddy White, Justin Hardy, and Leonard Hankerson) combined for only 90 catches in 2015. There are no marquee names available in free agency, but there are some solid players that could immediately step in as their number two receiver. Travis Benjamin is one of the best deep threats in the league, and Marvin JonesMohamed Sanu, and Reuben Randle are all solid players in their own rights.

The Falcons tight ends could use an upgrade as well. Ladarius Green and Dwayne Allen would bring an added dimensions to Atlanta’s passing game.

Potential Draft Picks

braxtonMillerThe Atlanta Falcons pick #17; expect them to go defense. A young pass rusher to pair opposite of Vic Beasley would be a smart move. Keep an eye on Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and Leonard Floyd. If they don’t grab a pass rusher, look for them to take a linebacker: either Reggie Ragland from Alabama or Darron Lee from Ohio State.

If they don’t grab a linebacker in round one, Scooby Wright is a name to look for in round two. Another option is for them to draft a pass catcher such as Braxton MillerMichael ThomasSterling Shepard, or tight end Hunter Henry.

Have any questions, comments, or just want to talk about the article? Just use the comment section below.

NFL Report Card: Atlanta Falcons

 

Our NFL report card for the 2015-2016 season will be assigning a letter grade to each of the 32 teams and offering an explanation why that grade was chosen. After the evaluation, we will point out one specific area the team will need to address this off-season. Want some extra credit? Comment down below what grade YOU would give the team, and tell me on Twitter @FantasyFlurry your thoughts on the team’s report card for that day!

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After an incredible 6-1 start for the Falcons, all the wheels fell off the wagon. They went on to finish the season with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs again. The offense started the season red-hot. Second-year running back Devonta Freeman emerged as a dangerous dual-threat out of the backfield for them. He went through a stretch during the early part of the season where he scored ten touchdowns in only five games! After that, Matt Ryan forgot how to throw the football, and everything fell apart. Even with Ryan’s struggles, Julio Jones still finished as the leading receiver in the league with 1,871 yards.

Coach Dan Quinn did what he could with this defense. They started the season playing fast and tough, but offenses seemed to figure them out quickly. They finished the season with only 19 sacks, lowest in the entire league. The rest of their defensive stats were middle of the road.

Final Grade: C-

 

Biggest Off-Season Need?

When your team is last in the league in a category, that is your biggest problem. The Falcons need to find someone to play right end for them and generate some type of pass rush. Considering the direction this team is going, I’m guessing they will draft this guy instead of searching in free agency.

Monday Morning QB

tumblr_inline_nb4jsqKjPt1r3052lAtlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan reached his 200th career touchdown on Sunday. Ryan’s 70-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Julio Jones put him 39th on the list. The 30 year old is the youngest of 11 active quarterbacks to have 200 touchdowns. Not only did he get his 200th touchdown, but his team served the Carolina Panthers their first loss.

The Falcons quarterback completed 23 of 30 passes for 306
yards. He got banged around all day, but kept fighting to get the victory. Ryan took a big hit from Kurt Coleman to the area of his right hip and ribs in the first quarter, it seemed to bother him throughout the game. He was also slow to get up in the third quarter when he was hit by Thomas Davis. But Ryan got pay back when he put a juke move on the Pro Bowl linebacker that resulted in one of the Falcons’ nine third-down conversions on the day.0901296001414324692_filepicker

“We battled really hard all day. It wasn’t perfect, but we knew this was the kind of game it was going to be. We were happy to get it done today,” Ryan said. He’s right, the game wasn’t perfect for the Falcons, but they came up with a win and he reached a milestone.

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