Remember When….Matt Ryan Connected With Michael Jenkins On His 1st Pass

Who knew the aftermath of that 1st pass in the 1st week of the 2008 NFL season.  Matt Ryan dropped back, read the coverage correctly and delivered an accurate pass to Michael Jenkins, who split the secondary for a 62-yard touchdown.

That play would be the 1st success of many for Matt Ryan, Michael Jenkins, the Atlanta Falcons.  On the flip side, it was the 1st of many miscues for Detroit.

Matt Ryan would lead Atlanta to the playoffs, 11 wins and one of the best seasons for a rookie quarterback in NFL history. 

Michael Jenkins would have his best season as a pro and show promise to stay in Atlanta, be a great #2 receiver and help the Falcons win.

The Lions would lose the 1st of 16 games to break the all-time worst season in NFL history (Tampa Bay fans thank you).  Now, they are heading into 2009 with little hope to turn it around, except that “well, Miami was 1-15 and turned it around the following season.”  Well, they don’t have Parcells…or Pennington….or Jake Long….or pieces to build around on defense.  Other than Calvin Johnson and a little bit of Kevin Smith, name someone on Detroit’s roster that could make an impact in 2009?  Exactly.

2009 Projected Positional Grade – Offensive Line

Heading into 2009, Long-time Falcon Todd Weiner hung up his cleats, leaving a talented group, but young and with little depth.

Sam Baker looks to play a full 16 games in 2009.  The 1st round pick had success protecting Matt Ryan’s blindside in 2008 when he was on the field.

Justin Blalock is also a young talent on the left side, who has done nothing but succeed in the NFL after the University of Texas.

Todd McClure is a great veteran at center, calling all the protections and audibles at the line.  His is getting a little long in the tooth and a replacement has to be a thought in the coming years.

Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo are gems that were after-thoughts heading into 2008, but were vital roles in allowing only 17 sacks all season. 

The Falcons were a prime example of the value of chemistry.  There were few substitutions on the offensive line, which gave them a chance to work together each and every week.  There are few reserves with any significant experience on the Falcons roster heading into free agency and the NFL draft. 

Expect those deficiencies to be addressed, but injuries to any offensive line in the NFL could derail a team’s success.  The Atlanta line overachieved in 2008 according to most analysts, but consistency, avoiding injuries and the fact that success breeds success can help them heading into 2009.

Projected 2009 Grade: A-

2009 Projected Positional Grade – Wide Receivers

Roddy White will remain Matt Ryan’s favorite target and a top receiver in the NFL.  2008 was marked with a few easy catches that weren’t made by White, but he also followed those moments with difficult catches in traffic.  White also showed his ability with 11 catches and a score in the playoff game in Arizona.  85 catches for 1350 yards and 10 TDs in 2009.

Michael Jenkins showed his ability with his best season of his career in 2008 with 50 catches for 777 yards.  Look for similar production in 2009 with an improvement on his 3 scores to 5-8 touchdowns.

Harry Douglas had a couple great games in 2008, but was invisible in others.  He will be far more consistent in his 2nd season as a 3rd receiver and in the punt return game.

Brian Finneran finally overcame injuries to get back on the field in 2008.  He is a big target with a knack for making key 3rd down catches to move the chains.  He also is the sure-handed punt returner inside the 20-yard-line.  Finneran used to be the #1 guy in Atlanta back in the early part of the decade, but has a good role as the possession receiver in 2009 and beyond.

2009 Projected Grade: B+

2009 Atlanta Projected Positional Grades – Running Back

The Falcons are unlikely to have fresh blood in the backfield in 2009, which is a good thing.  Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Ovie Mughelli and Jason Snelling handled the position in 2008 and Thomas Brown will return from a rookie season spent on injured reserve.

Michael Turner will be the main ball carrier with 350 carries for around 1550 yards and 13 TDs – slightly down from 2008.  Jerious Norwood will be used more and more in the passing game, as he was as 2008 progressed.  He was a 3rd or 4th receiver in the slot or motioned from the backfield.  He will still get his 100 carries and touches in the return game.  Thomas Brown will get spot duty with 50+ carries, keeping Turner fresh for the 4th quarter and down the stretch.  Mughelli and Snelling are pile-movers that will get carries to surprise the defense or on short-yardage.

Projected 2009 Grade: A-

2009 Projected Positional Grades – Quarterback

Matt Ryan enters his 2nd season in the NFL after a successful rookie campaign.  16 TDs, 11 INTs and over 3400 yards in 2008 with a 61% completion rate, 17 sacks and 1 lost fumble. 

2009 will have Ryan and the Falcons passing game look for more plays down the field to Jenkins and White on the outside.  That will lead to more yards and TDs, but a few more INTs and about the same completion rate.  Projected statistics for Ryan in 2009….62% completions, 25 TDs, 14 INTs, 3900 yards with 22 sacks.

Chris Redman is a great back-up.  A guy who can step in for a few games if necessary and will avoid mistakes running the offense.

D.J. Shockley is a young project in Atlanta from the University of Georgia.  Other than preseason snaps, Shockley has yet to really see NFL action, but has shown a strong arm and mobility to make plays when the pocket breaks down.

Michael Vick is still on the payroll, but it being shopped for a trade or release when his sentence ends this summer.

2009 Projected Grade:  A-

Matt Ryan – A Sophomore Slump in 2009?

The best comparison I can find for Matt Ryan is Peyton Manning.  They both showed such leadership and being a “gamer” in college and their 1st year in the NFL.  Manning didn’t have the same running game in 1998, so he threw a lot more than Ryan for more yards, TDs and interceptions.  All Manning did his second year was 26 TDs, 15 Ints, 4100 yards, only 14 sacks and 62% completion rate.

Matt Ryan showed tremendous strides in the latter part of 2008 – running the no-huddle, constant at-the-line audibles and playing well on the road in the playoffs against Arizona.  Ryan seemed to learn quickly from his mistakes, not making the same one twice.  He has a good ground game, offensive line and receivers moving forward.

A big difference from year one to year two will be the off-season.  A rookie basically doesn’t have one.  It’s straight from the combine to the draft, then moving to the team’s city, workouts, the huge playbook, training camp – it’s a whirlwind for a rookie.  Ryan will be far more relaxed and energized for year two.  Also, all the pieces from 2008 will remain in 2009.  Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas will have a year under their belt with Ryan.  The offensive line is young, Sam Baker should be healthy and Thomas Brown will join Jerious Norwood and Michael Turner in the backfield.

Reigning Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan has everything working for him to build on the success of 2008 in 2009 and beyond.

Falcons History: Remember When….Atlanta Had Its DVD Running Game

Earlier this decade, even 2 years ago, the Falcons had the 3-headed monster running game that ruled the NFL.  Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett in the backfield, with Michael Vick under center.  The fear of the bootleg kept the backside open for cutbacks and Vick would easily gain 10+ yards if the weakside crashed down hard.

It was a great gadget kind of offense.  The line zone-blocked, which is fine, but they were dreadfully undersized, which didn’t help against stout defenses or in the playoffs.  It was a great statistical running game.  Atlanta would commonly put up 200, 250 or even 300 yards against the bottom half of the league.  But when it mattered, as the season entered December and January, the running game struggled.  Vick would be spied, Dunn would be overpowered and Duckett would run sideways more than downhill.  The passing game, offensive line and play-calling would get exposed that those “great running teams” in Atlanta would go home.

It was definitely fun to watch – all those yards against teams like St.Louis, Detroit, etc.  But when the playoffs against Philadelphia or a cold weather team or a big nasty defense came up – we all knew the fate.

The good news?  Now the Falcons are building a running game with Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood and others with a more physical offensive line.  Matt Ryan keeps a defense honest, not with the fear of running a naked bootleg for 15 yards, but with his awareness and accurate arm.

Falcons History: Remember When…Jimmy Williams Was A Draft Steal

The first of many memories about the Atlanta Falcons.  In 2006, Jimmy Williams was coming out of Virginia Tech and had the look of a top-10 pick in the draft.  He was a great, lock-down cover corner in college and was going to be an immediate impact in the NFL.  The Falcons had a Virginia Tech connection with Michael Vick and Deangelo Hall from the school and didn’t think Williams would be available.  Atlanta ended up trading up to pick 37 to get Williams and it was thought to be a steal.  The Falcons would have Hall and Williams for years at cornerback, dominating opposing wide receivers.  It was downhill after that….

Williams failed to beat out Jason Webster on cornerback his rookie season.  Following that, the coaching staff suggested safety.  Chris Crocker retained the starting role in 2007.  Then he was suspended for possession of marajuana going into the 2008 season.  Jimmy Williams showed his motivation by showing up to camp in 2008 in the worst shape of his life – 230 pounds.  The former Hokie went from top-10 draft stud to being released and out of football in just over 2 seasons.  The 49ers signed him to a future contract heading into camp for 2009.

Falcons Begin Cuts on February 9th – Monday

The off-season officially begins tomorrow as veterans can be cut going into the 2009 NFL season.  The Falcons have a big group of names on the potential cut list, namely:

Keith Brooking – his skills have eroded over the past 2 seasons and a price tag over $5 million this year won’t help his argument.  Curtis Lofton is the new anchor of the linebacker group, so the Georgia native may need to finish his career elsewhere.

Grady Jackson – the space-eating defensive tackle is long since his prime.  Now, he pretty much just takes up two guys on running downs.  He’s keeping the seat warm for the youth movement to start in the middle – is that in 2009?

Wayne Gandy – A good acquistion a couple years ago when the offensive line was in shambles, but now Grady just looks old and slow.  Sam Baker and Justin Blalock are the future on the line – Gandy, Wiener and in a couple years, McClure, are the remnants from the previous version of the offensive line.

Lawyer Milloy – A great leader for the young defense in 2008.  He is still great in the box, but losing range in the passing game.  Safety is on the radar for Atlanta in the off-season.  Will the replacement be good enough to let Milloy go in 2009?

2010 Super Bowl Odds Released

The NFL is truly a year-round sport.  Even in the off-season there is plenty to talk about.  Instead of listing all the odds, here’s a few highlights from the released odds of reaching next year’s big dance:

The Patriots, despite Tom Brady’s status and not making the playoffs in 2008, are the top pick at 8-1.

The Cowboys are 2nd at 9-1, even with all the chaos that is Dallas.

The Falcons sit at 25-1, behind the likes of Carolina (18-1) and New Orleans (20-1).

Arizona sits at 30-1, getting no love after reaching the Super Bowl in 2009.

The Chiefs and Lions pull up the rear at 100-1.  No offense, but Detroit needs to be a lot higher than 100-1 to get some money thrown their way.  Yes, Miami went from 1-15 to a playoff berth, but Detroit is in a whole different category entering the 2009 season.