Lessons from Championship Four?

What Changes are Needed?

The end of the season and the painful memory of the butt-whipping is not even a week old yet, but fans have already turned their attention to what the team needs are, how they should be fixed, and most importantly what it will take to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The Bird Cage will be having several in a series of review posts and blogs trying to assess what the problems are, what went wrong in the playoffs, and just how close the Falcons are. If the game had been a nail-biter and a ball didn’t bounce their way, that’s one thing, but when the opposing team’s QB has one of the greatest playoff games in NFL history and he even gets pulled before the final whistle, the Birds may be more than just a few tweaks away. Before turning inward, it helps to see what the final four teams may have to offer in terms of their current team, their franchise, and their philosophy. Sure, this one’s tough since the Birds were only 60 minutes from playing for a Super Bowl trip in the Georgia Dome (sorry, no longer the Home Sweet Georgia Dome), but to move forward in the best possible way, you have to be honest and objective about what’s wrong if you want to fix it. Obviously, each team is different and they found different paths to get there, but it won’t hurt to see what it takes to get there.

Green Bay Packers – Draft and Develop

One of the main reasons the Packers are in the title game is of course due to the fact that they are one of the best teams in the NFL in drafting and developing their own players. Sure, they’ve splashed a few free agents like Charles Woodson, but for the most part they draft well and make sure that their players are being developed correctly. They of course struck gold with the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year and 2 time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews (drafted 2 spots after Peria Jerry) and BJ Raji in the first round. But they also have drafted and developed several lower round guys who have made a huge impact for them including Desmond Bishop (6th round – 2007), James Jones (3rd round – 2007), Jermichael Finley (3rd round 2008), and Andrew Quarless (5th round – 2010).

They also haven’t shied away from drafting multiple players at the skill position. After drafting Greg Jennings in the 2nd round in 2006, they went back to the wide receiver well with James Jones in 2007 and Jordy Nelson in 2008 (2nd round). They also are the masters of undrafted free agents and developing them into studs. Both Tramon Williams and Ryan Grant were undrafted free agents and have been integral to their success (even though Grant was hurt). They’ve missed on a few (Justin Harrell, Brian Brohm), but that hasn’t kept them from taking risks on guys. They stick with guys and develop them superbly. Are the Falcons developing their players on the same level? Dominique Franks, Lawrence Sidbury, Spencer Adkins, Chris Owens, and Garrett Reynolds are just a few who have not made an impact after being highly touted coming in. Mike McCarthy also wasn’t afraid to change defensive coordinators only one year removed from being a few plays from the Super Bowl in 2007. When he hired Dom Capers to install and run the 3-4, the defense immediately jumped from 21st in total defense to top 5 in one year. In 2010, they are top 5 in virtually every defensive category.

New York Jets – Risk Takers

Starting with their head coach, outspoken and inspiring Rex Ryan, the New York Jets follow their demeanor of their coach in terms of how their team is shaped. Of all the NFL teams, the Jets are the least afraid to go big and bold to achieve what they need and what they want. After hiring Ryan in 2009 (who was interviewed for the Atlanta Falcons opening in 2008), they traded draft picks away to go get their franchise QB in Mark Sanchez. They have hit on some excellent draft picks such as Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene, but they are best known for throwing caution to the wind and making deals they think will help their team.

Even though most teams are hesitant to go out and buy too many free agents or take too many trades, the Jets moves have obviously paid off. When Ryan was hired, he took ILB Bart Scott and FS Jim Leonard from his Ravens defense he coached. Refusing to settle, the Jets traded for WR Braylon Edwards and beleaguered WR Santonio Holmes, even knowing that he would miss the first four games. They added veterans Ladanian Tomlinson to pair with Shonn Greene and Jason Taylor to the defensive side of the ball. They even went out and got troubled, but talented Antonio Cromartie to go opposite their best player in Darrelle Revis. The Falcons have added two big free agents in Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson. Could they take a cue from the Jets and take some risks on a few guys since their locker room is so solid now?

Another big issue with the Jets and their head coach is attitude. They have no problem of talking about the other team and getting themselves in the news or on bulletin boards because they know they’re going to back it up. A team that gets destroyed by the Patriots 45-3 and is somehow able to come out and beat them in their own house after talking trash to them and about them all week in the media. You likely won’t see any unabashed smack coming from Flowery Branch anytime soon, because as Roddy White (tweet war w/ New Orleans) and John Abraham (Rodgers dance), you better be ready to back it up, especially towards the end of the season and in the playoffs. Even though not copying the Jets blurbs in the media, could they borrow some of their swagger?

Chicago Bears – Coordinator Changes with a Few Strikes

The Bears are probably most aligned to the current Falcons in their fairly conservative offensive and overall approach. They are similar to the Falcons in that they are a run-oriented football team. They may not have the overall talent on offense that the Birds have in terms of Pro Bowl players, but they do possess a solid running football team coupled with immense speed at the receiver position. Their two starting wide receivers are absolutely burners in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. They have some possession guys in Earl Bennett and Greg Olsen also, but they are able to stretch the field much more the Falcons ever have or ever do. Concerning their defense, they’ve always had a solid defense but decided to go and grab the biggest free agent prize in the market in Julius Peppers. The results have led them one game away from the Super Bowl. After years of Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton type of QBs, they traded the house for Jay Cutler and after initially not paying off, they finally have their franchise QB who sling the ball deep to those speedy receivers.

Lovie Smith also didn’t hesitate to change his coordinators until he found the right mix. Being on the hot seat for this upcoming year, Smith went out and got Mike Martz, who’s been bouncing around the NFL for quite some time since his days as a head coach in St. Louis. Looks like he may have finally found a home. Should Brian Van Gorder and Mike Mularkey feel the heat if they’re not getting it done?

Pittsburgh Steelers – Model of Consistency

What else is there to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers, who own the most Lombardi Trophies in NFL history at 6. They’ve won two Super Bowls in the last decade and are poised to win their 3rd. In terms of coaching, they definitely get their guy and stick with them. Chuck Noll was the Steelers coach for an astonishing 23 years. Then they go with a guy named Bill Cowher who coached them for 15 years. They decide not to go in a different direction after a few losing seasons and many misses in the playoffs at all levels including losing in the Super Bowl. After he retired, they struck gold with Mike Tomlin who has already won a Lomardi Trophy in his short career.

Personnel wise, there’s a reason that the Steelers have more Lombardi’s than any other team. They are amazing at scouting, drafting, and developing players. They usually know just when to either re-sign a player or let him go to free agency (compare Hines Ward to Antwan Randle-El). They also are enormously tied to the team concept. No one player is bigger than the team. If they were willing to ship the 2009 Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes out the door, than no one is safe if they don’t tow the company line. There were rumors that they were even shopping Ben Roethlisberger after his issues. They do one of the best jobs of drafting great talent and developing it, particularly on defense. Just a few home grown products: Roethlisberger, Holmes (traded), Willie Colon, Lamar Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and of course Troy Polamalu. They also completely revamped their wide receiver corps in just two drafts with 3rd round draft pick Mike Wallace in 2009 and rookie wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (3rd round – 2010) and Antonio Brown (6th round- 2010). Above all, the Pittsburgh Steelers are known for gritty, tough, and even mean football players that will hit you first, hardest, and longest. Do the Falcons develop correctly? Do they have a hard-hitting, punishing attitude? They sure could borrow some.

 

Your Turn

-What qualities do you admire from the Championship Four?

-What team should the Falcons model the most?

-What team should the Falcons model the least?

-Which is the biggest and most important thing the Falcons can do to improve?

-Do the Falcons need to draft smarter?

-Is there a serious problem with player development?

-Should the Falcons take more risks in Free Agency?

-All teams are known for being dominant and aggressive on at least one side of the ball. What are the Falcons known for?

-Does the coaching staff need an attitude or an edge?

-Predict the winners, the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl victor?

-How close are the Birds: very, medium, or long ways to go?

308 comments Add your comment

Sarah B

January 20th, 2011
11:03 pm

Sarah B

January 20th, 2011
11:29 pm

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Myron Abernathy, D. Orlando Ledbetter. D. Orlando Ledbetter said: AJC's fan blog: Lessons from Championship Four? http://bit.ly/ekztxN [...]

Elaine

January 21st, 2011
12:29 am

-What qualities do you admire from the Championship Four?
They all know who they are but do not see afraid to observe and adjust when necessary.
-What team should the Falcons model the most?
Themselves….just strive to be better and as stated above, do not be afraid to make adjustments. Change is necessary to stay competitive .
-What team should the Falcons model the least?
The Jets….winning is great but too much swagger is still ugly…win or lose.
-Which is the biggest and most important thing the Falcons can do to improve?
Need more playmakers on defense. Offense has potential if coaches would be more aggressive with what we already have.
-Do the Falcons need to draft smarter?
YES! I’ve said it before…I’m all for trusting the process but Chris Owens and William Middleton in back to back picks…really? Jerry may turn out to be good one day we needed more impact from a 1st rounder. Seems like we go for the sleepers more often than the flashy picks…sometimes that works out (Vance Walker)…but sometimes…not so much (back to Middleton). Every team has some whiffs but if we are not going to go with big time FA guys then the drafting needs to improve.
-Is there a serious problem with player development?
Clearly on defense. We have a lot of “developing” draft picks. Hard to say if this is a talent issue or coaching issue but something has to change. We are still working on the problems we had three years ago…some band-aids in place but only a few true fixes.
-Should the Falcons take more risks in Free Agency?
In theory yes but lets see what the new CBA brings.
-All teams are known for being dominant and aggressive on at least one side of the ball. What are the Falcons known for?
Being smart, safe and dull…talented but dull…inspiring huh? Also known for integrity (at least in the last three years), which I like in my team. I want to win but I think there is a right and a wrong way to do it. the life you lead is the lesson you teach…in business and at home. I like that my team wants to win the right way. And no, I don’t need a bunch of choir boys and I don’t think that we are too “nice” to win. You can still be a bada$$ and have integrity.
-Does the coaching staff need an attitude or an edge?
Attitude would help…creativity also a plus.
-Predict the winners, the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl victor?
I’m hoping for Green Bay vs. Steelers with a cheese victory.
-How close are the Birds: very, medium, or long ways to go?
Depends on coaches and CBA/FA…also if TG and McClure leave that sets us back. I’d say we are still a year or two away. The NFC south is not getting any easier and our schedule next year is NFC north and AFC south…I’m going with 2-3 years. Turner is going into the 4th year of a 6 year deal so next year will be interesting. I think coaches know we need to start developing the next feature back asap.

Singletary

January 21st, 2011
12:31 am

D3 — thanks for the post. I am rarely in “amputate mode,” but I think BVG’s failure to try something different AFTER halftime should headline his firing. That was unconscionable. His defensive plan would have made opposing QBs JaMarcus Russell AND Ryan Leaf look Pro Bowl with that soft, welcoming doughnut hole in the center. My 14YO daughter could have arc’d several such passes with no prior training except softball.

MM has always been boring vanilla which wins in the regular season (at least when you have the NFC Wests to pad your stats,) but someone needs to mention to DC/OC that the playoffs are a much different tilt. I’m so frustrated even tho’ I know our compatriot Patriots also went down. If the 6s take it to the Super Bowl, it’s an odd year. However, looking at Freeman and the Wrecking Crew of big and beefies that TB is assembling, this was our best chance and we whiff-tackled it.

But this is also a year to re-evaluate how Falcs prepare for the playoffs. This game was horrific. If the coaches cannot allow their established QB who is in real time on the field to sub a play, there is a major problem. (See Gregg Easterbrook TMQ on ESPN.) Did they honestly think regular season tendencies still apply in a one game season? No gumption, no glory, no reason, no reaction from the coaching staff?

Falcs, one and done in 08 and 10. Patriots have a better pedigree, and a QB who operates without an OC. Falcons fan since I was 7, so I’m used to pain, but this one was REALLY BAD. It hurts, but this is what I’m seeing.

Mr C

January 21st, 2011
12:53 am

Apart from Ryan and maybe Lofton, i don’t see any young player in the falcons uniform with a lot of upside. Everyone likes to worship TD but his draft hasn’t really produced much!!!

RESIGN OR RE-SIGN?

January 21st, 2011
1:03 am

I think the Falcons are close; don’t forget Ryan is in only his third year. This team over-achieved in both 2008 and this year; we would have all been happy with steady improvement after the 5-win season in 2007; but thet have exceeded our expectations and gotten us to believe they are more mature than they really are. I think the DL is set if we can add a dynamic pass rusher. The DT rotation is excellent and will get better as Walker, Jerry and the kid from Kent. gain experience to go with Babs, the most underated DT in the league.

Offence needs a speed back ala Norwood that can stay healthy; and a speed receiver (which we thought HD would be this year). I trust that the later round OL picks of the past 2 years will mature into starters.

Special teams are fine if the younger guys can improve and allow the starters to get off ST.

RESIGN OR RE-SIGN?

January 21st, 2011
1:04 am

I agree with everything Elaine said including the Steelers-Packers SB.

GO FALCONS!!

RESIGN OR RE-SIGN?

January 21st, 2011
1:09 am

I honestly think that Snelling is a sufficient replacement for Turner as a “feature” back in MM’s system. The Birds do need a speedy back who can get around the ends against the 3-4 defenses. I am disappointed so many of TD’s picks end up injured; we seem to always be waiting a year on Moore, Jerry, Meier, and ‘Spoon. With a year’s more experience, I expect the safety play from Moore and DeCoud to improve significantly. They are both still young but have shown flashes of their talent.

RESIGN OR RE-SIGN?

January 21st, 2011
1:15 am

…. and to anyone debating that Sanchez is in only his second year: remember that he is asked to do a lot less in the Jets system and he ha Santonio Holmes and Bralylon Edwards to throw to….and a better defense. But I have to admire the Jets for taking a chance on Holmes, Edwards, Jason Taylor,Cromartie et al after they were trouble, or deemed to have diminished skills, on other teams.

CAPTAIN KIRK

January 21st, 2011
2:09 am

I like various aspects of each of the final four..Im a falcon fan first and have been since movin there in ‘76 and have seen some real lean yrs and exceptionally poor personnel decsions while the franchise was owned by the Smiths: aundray Bruce? Charles “The Human Corkscrew” Dimry and legions of others who fully drowned out the Steve Bartkowskis, Bill Fralics and Deons of yore.

I like the Jets because of their DBs and defense wins championships..I also have a little Steeler in me as I became a fan of them when I lived in SC during their Super Bowl runs and some residue remains.. close game Edge to Jets 17-14

I like the Packers defense too as it totally dictated to the falcons the tempo of the game and stopped the run game. The Bears D FAR surpasses the Falcons in taking away offensive weapons and Hester & co will be a bigger load for the Pack to contend with…Edge Bears 27-21

If the Falcons had Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers and Rogers cromartie..we might not be visiting this and other blogs out of frustration

Thats personnell evaluation and development TD

You should be watching both of these teams and taking copious notes!!!!

Ed

January 21st, 2011
2:46 am

Great work as always D3. I am afraid our 13-3 record will mean no changes in coaching personnel except in cases such as Musgrave leaving. We could use a shakeup, particularly at OC as most will agree. Smitty’s conservative ways will keep him from making changes as long as the Falcons do well enough. Ryan needs to get his bravado back and the coaching staff needs to let him show some of the gunslinger mentality he displayed in college.

[...] Lessons from Championship Four?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The end of the season and the painful memory of the butt-whipping is not even a week old yet, but fans have already turned their attention to what the team needs are, how they should be fixed, and most importantly what it will take to hoist the … [...]

robertussen

January 21st, 2011
5:54 am

i wouldnt be surprised either way if we have or dont have any coaching changes, but none will come before the probowl where our coaches will be. the loss sucked, but im used to it. im a falcons fan and actually what im not used to is all this success. 13-3 with 8 probowlers aint that bad. we had our sights set higher but like we always say “there’s always next year”

Samuel

January 21st, 2011
5:59 am

You have to have impact players with speed. Who’s the Falcons impact player with speed? If the answer is Jerious Norwood we are in trouble. We are in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks. If Abraham is injured can Bierman pickup the slack? I don’t think so, although he’s athletic and can ocassionally make a good play. He’s not consistent.The Packers had injuries galore, but they had enough young players who stepped in an pickup the slack.It also gives your starters a chance to be fresh at the end of the season- when it really counts.And when we draft these rookies, it seems to me that we get plagued with the injury bug every year. Last but not least, I notice we couldn’t put teams away when we had our foot on their neck. It appears to me when we have no killer instinct. When they say lights, action, cameras we tend to fold like a tent, when the whole worlds watching.

Marcus

January 21st, 2011
6:24 am

Great comments.
First and foremost, outside of the Jets (who, out of the final 4, have perhaps only a slightly less-checkered up-and-down existence as we do) all of the others are established and consistent.

I am glad that the emotion of last week has subsided (to a degree). We all knew we had flaws, yet we had a GREAT season. Unfortunately, the 2 blowouts we experienced (PHI, and the GB playoff loss) and the 2nd NO game where we blitzed unmercifully (and not quite as successfully as hoped) exposed what we suspected to be our major flaw: lack of overall pass rush. J-Abraham balled this year, but as the only consistent threat, GB effectively took him out. Even when we got there to A. Rodgers, either we whiffed, he side-stepped, or the sack was nullified by penalty.

That said, we are relatively young, but still may need the ‘urgency’ that Dimitroff speaks of during our ‘Process’.

We need urgency at the DE and we need urgency in our team speed on offense (specifically, RB).

I, too, am curious about the development of Sidbury and D. Franks. If both can become key contributors, it would add to our depth on defense. However, given all the game day inactives/DNP-coaches decision (shout out to Hawks columnist, M. Cunningham ;) ), I begin to worry about them.

Our bigger question is whether we choose to (over)react to the final score vs. GB, or continue the course set by the Big three (Blank/Dimitroff/Smith). It is easy to ave a knee-jerk response to the final game and want to draft and acquire FAs to matchup vs. GB’s dynamic wideouts ……. but we play them one game next year, maybe 2 (if we see them in the playoffs again) but doesn’t address any other issues or specifically line us up to win the NFC South (our primary goal).

Stay the process, get better, draft smartly and keep pressing.

I wish Adrian Clayborne or LaMichael James would fall to us at spot #27 :) :|

[...] Here is the original post: Lessons from Championship Four? – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

BobbyDawg

January 21st, 2011
8:32 am

The Packers and Bears is a long time rivalry that goes back to pre-Falcon days. The Packers had a field day against the Falcons. I don’t look for that against the Bears. I see a close game with the Pack having a slight edge.

I look for Pittsburgh to take the lead in the game with the Jets and never look back, with their defense controlling the game.

The Falcons need a little bit of all of these final four teams. We need a scat back that can get to the corner. We need a monster LB to give Curtis Lofton some help in the middle,and we need to change the schemes on both sides of the ball slightly. MM — Yuck! BVG — Semi Yuck! Losing Musgrave looks bad, but it could be a blessing in desguise if the front office takes it’s time and gets the right person for the job. There’s always someone better. We’ve just got to find them. I still raise the question. What would we do if MR got hurt and had to miss 6 or 8 games? Redman or Wilson. These are our choices. There are a lot of good QB in the draft. This position should not be overlooked.

stendek

January 21st, 2011
9:17 am

Forgive my return Mr D3 but I felt need after my worst fears came to pass. As a follower since 1966 I plainly saw it coming. Sorry Sara. Oh well. This was posted elsewhere. Bears repeating. Now back into hibernation. Again, forgive return…

I hate to say it but Matt Ryan has not played worth a damn since his rookie season. The youngster was fully confident that season. His regression in season two was painful to behold. Screw the numbers. Sports are not always based solely on numbers. For proof look at Thrashers. Decent numbers as they go. No heart! Ryan lost his heart and confidence after his glorious debut season. Apologists will argue. Die hard Falcon fans who have been on board since 1966 will tend to agree. Professional teams seize moments. The New Orleans Saints grasped their moment to claim Super Bowl rings. This was the Falcon moment. Buried by a Ryan interception! Sure the defense sucked out loud. No argument. But all was not lost until that damnable pick six! At that point Ryan nudged closer on my crap list to throwaway QBs Jeff George and Chris Miller. Know why Falcons may not have such a golden moment again? Look at remaining playoff survivors. Green Bay Packers. Head and shoulders above rest. This team HAS a QB! Chicago Bears. PLEASE! New York Jets. Pardon my laughter. Pittsburgh Steelers. NOT THE STEEL CURTAIN GANG OF OLD BY ANY STRETCH! Who in the field could knock off Falcons? One. Spare me the Steeler crapola! Moment passed. Opportunity squandered. Such moments are rare. Long suffering fans understand my anguish. Apologists like Sara never will. The Georgia Dome gag was the absolute worst Falcon loss in history. Not in points. Something much deeper. Pride. Heart. Desire. All were missing from Falcon game plan. It started with QB. When all was intercepted and done it was ended by QB. Look for downward spiral in 2011. Debacles like this one extend far beyond the initial sunlight of morn. Sigh. :( :( :( :( STENDEK Just above average at best! So very sad. :(

Chop Buster

January 21st, 2011
9:22 am

-What qualities do you admire from the Championship Four? The main thing that stands out is they all have top tier defenses in the league. GB has weapons on the offensive side and knows how to use them–or at least that’s the way the Falcons made them look (unstoppable).

-What team should the Falcons model the most? Not the Steelers–that’s what has us in this predicament today. The Jets since their defense is closest to the 2000 Ravens defense that Smitty was a part of. You can’t get Marvin Lewis to run it, so who else was on the team knows the scheme since Smitty won’t call the defensive plays? BVG is not the guy IMO. Anytime your DC is on the sidelines scratching his head in frustration and makes no adjustments to what the defense is doing…he’s not the guy. As far as offense they need to model Sean Payton’s offense with the attack mentality. Just don’t say we’re an aggressive team, we have to show it on the field.

-What team should the Falcons model the least? The Bears.

-Which is the biggest and most important thing the Falcons can do to improve? Solidify the defense by bringing in a stout NT, true pass rusher and a LB that can cover–as well as rush the QB.

-Do the Falcons need to draft smarter? Most definitely. Some of the players are mediocre and others are sitting on the bench so we can really evaluate their talent. Makes me wonder why we don’t see rookies starting like a lot of other teams. Is Smitty a seniority first type HC? Makes me wonder. I know Franks couldn’t have done any worse than Owens.

-Is there a serious problem with player development? I believe there might be. The QB isn’t doing little things (better footwork, sliding up in the pocket, getting the ball out quicker, etc.). Spoon is a rookie, but he really looks lost. Decoud is play at the same level as last year and is always peeking at the QB; while WRs run by him. Our WRs cannot get consistent separation when teams play M2M on them. If only we could put Finneran’s heart in Jenkins’ body.

-Should the Falcons take more risks in Free Agency? Yes. We need FAs that have swagger and bring the right mentality to the Falcons.

-All teams are known for being dominant and aggressive on at least one side of the ball. What are the Falcons known for? A steady team that runs the ball (against certain teams) and they don’t take too many chances that will hurt them. They need 10 more William Moores with his ability to come up and punch you in the mouth.

-Does the coaching staff need an attitude or an edge? This coaching staff is soft IMO. It’s the HC’s responsibility to get these guys motivated and fired up. They should be setting goals each game like not letting the opponent cross the 50 yard line, not letting them score a touchdown within the first half, etc. The team takes on the personality of its HC and staff. All of these guys are too nice.

-Predict the winners, the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl victor? GB vs Steelers. GB wins it all.

-How close are the Birds: very, medium, or long ways to go? They are close if they can bring in a game changer on the defense and offense. Coaches have to be more aggressive with play calling on both sides of the ball.

Screen Pass

January 21st, 2011
9:28 am

I agree. Having a bye week after beating the Eagles may work against the Packers. I don’t really care for either team that much but should be a good game. I can only the Falcons watch and wanna make the playoffs next year since they decided not to show up this year. Haven’t forgot about quarterbacks but see that as a luxury at the moment. CBA and combine results should give us a better idea later for final draft strategies.

Screen Pass

January 21st, 2011
9:31 am

“The Packers and Bears is a long time rivalry that goes back to pre-Falcon days. The Packers had a field day against the Falcons. I don’t look for that against the Bears. I see a close game with the Pack having a slight edge.” – BDawg

Edit – That’s what I was agreeing with.

BobbyDawg

January 21st, 2011
9:46 am

Welcome back Stendek. Just because you don’t sugar coat your comments doesn’t mean that you have to go away. You have a good point in the fact that MR has regressed instead of progressed. My opinion is that he feels that he has the starting job completly sewed up as there is no competition on the bench for him, nor is there anybody that can come in and lead the team if he gets hurt. If they don’t at least try to upgrade the backup QB this is not gonna change We already know what Chris Redman can do — Wooooeeee I hate to think about it, and as for Wilson we’ll probably never know. UGA went through that with Joe Cox. Smitty needs to let Wilson get some playing time. He may surprise us. Remember Bret F. He was a Falcon who never got a chance because they said he was too much of a partyer. Now he’s a Hall of Famer.

Arno

January 21st, 2011
9:55 am

How would Dimitroff/Smith rate the championship four as organizations?

JeanE

January 21st, 2011
10:08 am

Great article. Really enjoy your bird cage blogs…I admire the Packers but I really dislike Aaron Rodger now, I think he was a little obnoxious in his celebrating and finger pointing. I won’t forget it. It makes me sick that Clay Matthews was drafted after Peria Jerry! I am getting a bit concerned at our inability to draft a pass rusher! This has been a need for years and we continue to whiff with Jamal Anderson and I think, Jerry. Abe’s only getting older now! I say spend some money on a free agent pass rusher, if one is available. And I wish we would fire Mularkey but it will never happen. He may have helped get us where we are but he’s not holding us back from evolving onward. The Jets are brash, yes and so far, have been able to back it up. But I don’t like their attitude or their loud mouthed Coach, I much prefer the professionalism of the Falcons and their Coaching staff. But I do agree that like the Jets, we might need to pay for more name free agents. Champ Bailey!! As for the Bears, I still don’t think Lovie is a good coach but I do think it was smart to bring in Martz, an offensive genius. I wish we had him here! Defense is the way to be most successful, though and the Bears are always good at D. As for the Steelers, I love their meaness, I wish we were a little nastier like Harvey Dahl is. We need that on D. Scott Case used to have it, big time. We need a mean, nasty bruiser on D. As for nasty on D, I think our receivers are pretty feisty in their blocking and jostling. Finn looks like he loves to take people out!! So, we can learn from the teams left, definitely. But I am proud of this team this year and the way they conduct themselves. Just want to evolve and become a winner in the postseason.

LRD

January 21st, 2011
10:16 am

Redman vs Wilson? Who is going to be potential trade bait?
Snelling vs Turner? Either of them potential trade bait?
Ryan: I would say, Musgrave leaving could help him. But I also think Mularkey letting him loose could help him too.
Was it Unca Bob, Wabe or WR in pre season was freaking out that our starting O was not scoring. And that it bode ill well for the season… and then everyone hopped in on the conservative and predictable play calling just like last year.
Is that predictable calling due to Mularkey, lack of faith in Ryan, not have a scat back, or Smitty wanting to just play smash mouth? I have been pondering that question.. and still have not come up with my opinion on that one.

SB Pick.. same one I had in pre-season.. Packers..

uga_b

January 21st, 2011
10:35 am

-What qualities do you admire from the Championship Four?
I admire Mike Tomlin as a person and GB for playing through injuries.

-What team should the Falcons model the most?
Green Bay. They should get a QB that has a career night and has fans trying to throw out the coordinator for the Top 5 scoring defense. They should also learn how to develop undrafted FAs so they can have them start opposite of Dunta Robinson or on the OL.

-What team should the Falcons model the least?
The Bears because do you really expect them to be back next year?

-Which is the biggest and most important thing the Falcons can do to improve?
Better spacing on offense to open up the field.

-Do the Falcons need to draft smarter?
Franchise QB. Anchor at MLB for many years. Huge upgrades at safety (does any one else remember CROCKER?). Quality slot WR and return man (HD or Weems). BUT We really do need to get better about drafting Nickel CBs and back-up OL.

-Is there a serious problem with player development?
Off the top of my head, they have developed starters Matt Ryan, Jason Snelling, Peelle, Clabo, Dahl, Blalock, Koenen, Roddy, Jenkins, Babs, Peters, Beerman, Spoon, Lofton, Nicholas, GRIMES, Decoud, and Willy Mo.

-Should the Falcons take more risks in Free Agency?
No. Build through the Draft. Only FA moves to be considered are T and DE.

-All teams are known for being dominant and aggressive on at least one side of the ball. What are the Falcons known for?
Time of Possession, lack of turnovers, and few penalties. Solid in every phase and don’t beat themselves.

-Does the coaching staff need an attitude or an edge?
They need a pass rusher and an RB who can be dangerous at the second level. Winning the 4th most games over a three year span and having 5th best O and D after the team won 4 games and were ranked 29th in O and D could possibly be unprecedented.

-Predict the winners, the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl victor?
Tomlin and McCarthy because I think they are the best coaches in their divisions remaining. Pitt wins it all because they have before.

-How close are the Birds: very, medium, or long ways to go?
You guys are b*tching about nickel CBs and 3rd down backs. How close does that make you think we are?

Bangkapi Ajarn

January 21st, 2011
11:08 am

Great article, D3, you are in a groove!
I will come back to the questions later, but some macro observations before I am out for a while-

The teams all reflect their markets, and I don’t think that is an accident as this is a business, after all! Your article nailed the way they were built, but how about WHY they are perceived this way, why it works in that market??

The Jets are brash, with a heapin’ helpin’ of bravado. New York Style brash, sometimes it works, sometimes it fails spectacularly. Last week, it worked.
.
The Bears are a Midwest team, tough and formidable, and reflect that strong D, middle of the road O with a touch of speed and danger. I was living in Illinois for the first two years of my return to the States, so I was surrounded by Bears fans. I will therefore suport them to win it all, as the least sucky of the four remaining teams (kinna like how I select candidates in elections).

The Steelers are, well, based on a steely D, blue collar down in the trenches, want it more type of team. Think the stereotypical working one’s self out of a coal mine or steel mill thru dogged hard work.In your face, stronger and more skilled.

The Packers are the team of Lombardi, Bart Starr, Favre, based in a small satellite market off a small primary market (Milwaukee). They out flash other teams, taking fans from other Midwest teams with brilliant performances by mega stars. They combine style AND substance with core Midwest values. June Jones run and gun with multiple receivers (and a lack of a running game), but with a midwest conservative spin.

Marketing is a factor here.

In the case of the Falcons, we tried the chuck and duck, and failed spectacularly. Jerry Glanville’s brash cowboy Elvis fetish was cute for a while, but aged quickly. We tried idol worship and he ended up in Leavenworth.

We are now in a retro Dooley days, pound ‘em era. Unfortunately, we don’t have the D (need a Champ Bailey type for that) or the Lindsey Scott style speed receiver, OR the speed back, to back it up, and NFL teams are able to rip that apart unless you get some serious team speed that forces opposing coordinators to game plan for the big plays (look at how the Falcons leave the short pass play open EVERY GAME, and how it allows elite QB’s to convert first down after first down).

We seem to be, at first glance, where the Hawks were a few years ago – good enough to win the division sometmes and stay ahead of the curve on W’s and L’s, but not enough “best” of anything to make it to the suppet. Pretty good at lots of stuff, but not best at anything (D3 pointed this out before I believe). The Hawks blew up the team and never made it back – the Falcons ned to learn from that and kep the core while boosting some areas to the top of the NFL, get something going that we are best at sometimes.

LRD

January 21st, 2011
11:19 am

uga_b .. Classic… with the:
How close are the Birds: very, medium, or long ways to go? You guys are b*tching about nickel CBs and 3rd down backs. How close does that make you think we are?

BA: To follow on your analysis 2 more of top of head… Cowboys all hat and no cattle. Skins like the Fed Gvt, spend alot of money and not getting results.

Bangkapi Ajarn

January 21st, 2011
12:05 pm

LRD – Outstanding!

SOMEBODY NEED TO TELL THE TRUTH

January 21st, 2011
1:13 pm

Have we really improved? will the 13-3 record camouflage the same issues we discussed at nauseum in the preseason? ie… getting off the field on 3rd down, better pass rush, better secondary play, cutting Ryan lose (opening up the passing game),conservative play calling etc… it seems to me, we are still having the same convos, this is a very complex issue, either we are regressing in the process, stagnant, or evolving, IMO, I think we have evolved, looking at where we were 2007-2008 seasons, the progress of the process has to be a net plus, so I dont think we could argue that, but we must have a healthy debate on whether the evolution in the process, is at adequate speed, the process was never implemented to take us to the Superbowl in a year or two, although if that happened, we would have gladly taken it. The pillar of the process is to make the franchise consistantly competitive and to some degree, I think we’ve accomplished that with 3 consecutive seasons over .500.

But I dont Know if the current coaching staff, head coach included are capable of taking us to the next level, we are a young team inside a proverbial cacoon, waiting to have that metamorphic change and take flight among the elite teams,I really think we are on the precipice of something good, to get to where we want to be, some tough decisions may have to be made, player personnel, and elements of coaching staff included.

WR

January 21st, 2011
1:49 pm

Quick check in with the cage, thats all this hectic Friday will offer. D3, great post to give us something to chew on, and briefly I will hopefully I can get back in today later.

For all the talk and debate between the four teams mentioned, no matter where their located and how they go about things they all have one thing in common, that is aggression. Whether offensively or defensively or both the fours teams mentioned are extremely aggressive.

I use the Bears to demonstrate my reasoning, the Bears have had a dominant D for some time, probably why their mentioned as the monsters of the midway. Offensively the Bears have been known for be a tough grind it out blue collar O, in today’s NFL they realized changed not only was coming but had began to occur, and they go out and get a OC that brings in an attacking style of play, meaning attacking with all your weapons, attacking all levels from the DL to the LBs to the secondary. The other three teams mentioned do the same, the key is in the teams beliefs that their O can be very aggressive and gamble because their D will get the ball back or stop the other team if it doesn’t work out offensively.

As I watched the Falcons and even read the post of many fans the one common complaint is about the bend but don’t break defense, but I ask, is that not the same O that the Falcons run. Bend but don’t break implies fundamental football, betting the odds that a team can only beat you when your fundamentally not sound, but no team can be fundamentally sound for 60 minutes of a game. Same for the O, the Falcons current offense is all about fundamental, if we’re fundamentally sound we will score something that is until they just happen not to be fundamentally sound.

Concentrating on fundamental has turned this organization around, but concentration solely on fundamentals will not allow the organization to rise. In the 80’s this last group of Falcons probably would be in the Superbowl. In the current NFL with all the new technology, all the extra few study, fundamental show or exploit your weaknesses. If you show that this is how your going to react in given circumstances, come playoff time teams will exploit that. Its no longer a controlling league, its a dictating league, whether its the above four teams or teams that have beat the Falcons this year, its been teams that can careless about the Falcons controlling the clock or game, its been teams that have decided to dictate to the Falcons.

Whom do the Falcons need to mirror, the mirror there looking into, look in it and decide do you want to run around a ring and wait for the bell trying not to get punched, do you want to tie up your opponent give a few body blows hope they slip a devastating uppercut or break free and land an overhead right, or do you want to come out fighting, bringing the battle to them forcing them to counter. The Falcons don’t need to mirror any of the four teams mentioned, the Falcons need to figure out what they want to do.

JB FALCON

January 21st, 2011
3:56 pm

I remember several recent games, after a close finish, MS’s favorite saying was “we didn’t blink” at the end. Maybe he should not only blink but rub both eyes screaming and OPEN them.

Paddy O

January 21st, 2011
4:09 pm

You anti-Ryan guys are what gives ATL the “fair weather” fans rep. Ryan made 1 bad pass. Other than the QB sneak fumble, he played fine. Our defense lost that game. If you don’t see that, you are blind. I think Ryan has been coached to get the ball out as fast as possible, and he does a great job (Ravens game, 1st NO game). We were #5 in scoring, so offensively we did fine. You need to remember the erroneous “ball control O” – run up the middle, repeat, make a long 3rd down conversion. Ryan lead what? 6 4th quarter come backs, and you are going to complain about him? Your criticism is grossly misplaced. GB NEVER punted. Chris Owens lost this game primarily, but the failure to tackle a QB also contributed. I would recommend we mimic Green Bay, draft & targeted FA’s. I still say the Zombie needs to go, and BVG needs some scheming classes (we have painfully vanilla blitz packages).

Paddy O

January 21st, 2011
4:11 pm

We need a game changing linebacker or another ABE with a rush. I assume everyone here watched Loftin whipp on Nelson – it was painfully embarassing to watch – very similar to Spoon on Freeman in the 1st TB game.

Paddy O

January 21st, 2011
4:11 pm

whoops, whiff.

melvin

January 21st, 2011
4:19 pm

this team needs lots of changes……………lets look at these 4 teams………….why are they playing thise weekend……………in a word…DEFENSE……….which has been our major weakness all three years……..at some point the dc has to be changed we went and got a top free agent on defense and it still did nothing for us………..on the other side of the ball the falcons have no ability to come from behind when losing by more than ten points………we dont have a deep attack………..oc wont let matty ice throw the ball………….this is something free agency cannot fix………..this starts from the top down…………..mike smith is a good head coach but we need better coordinators……….then that should bring some attitude and a championship to atlanta………45 seasons no hardware 1 appearance……someone tell me y

Cane Pole

January 21st, 2011
4:46 pm

Well they have a year to prepare . Don ,t know what the fix could be other than some of the things you all have said . The Falcons have improved tho but will they improve more is the question .

Next year they play the AFC South I have heard and there fist game of the season is with the Packers at the Dome . Don’t know how true this is but its what I was told today

Bangkapi Ajarn

January 21st, 2011
4:50 pm

Ok, cagesters, I am a tad reluctant to jump into the questions dejour, as there have been so many insightful answers from Elaine, Chop Buster, and uga_b as always, as well as sage comments from several others suck as WR, Truth, JeanE, LRD, Marcus, Screen Pass, Resign, and more.
First, great lead in and research D3, I don’t say it enough. This, and some research inserted into the other blog make this fun!
Now, on to my poor take on the quizzical questions perplexing cagesters this day –
-What qualities do you admire from the Championship Four?
Tenacity, a failure to resign themselves with “almost made it” a dedication, a relentless drive to continue to try and improve regardless of what happened yesterday. These teams make adjustments on the fly, throw strengths against weaknesses. No team in today’s parity driven NFL can dominate it’s competition constantly, adjustments need to be made constantly, injuries need to be compensated for. Telling players to “toughen up” isn’t enough. These teams DO adjust, learn from failures as well as successes, and refuse to believe they will lose.
Can anyone honestly describe the Falcons this way?
-What team should the Falcons model the most?
Based on what we have, we are closest to Chicago. We just need the speed. We are furthest from the Packers as they are designed differently, and are one (more) concussion away from another “what if” season.
-What team should the Falcons model the least?
The Jets, we already tried brashness and we are still in hangover mode. Broadway Joe is perhaps the transcendent success model in NY, but not here.

Bangkapi Ajarn

January 21st, 2011
4:51 pm

-Which is the biggest and most important thing the Falcons can do to improve?
Speed. We need a speed back, and another speed LB. More WR speed would be nice, but they had a shot at that with FA’s last year and decided not to go that direction. In this system if the WR can’t block, they can’t get on the field, and the itty bitty speedsters don’t block so well (and stay healthy). Not so many sturdy speedster WR’s or RB’s out there that can block, which is why I suggest going bypassing that huge glut of RB’s that are in the middle of the pack and invest a #1 in a speedster than can catch and fill several roles while staying relatively healthy (and out of jail).
-Do the Falcons need to draft smarter?
Yep, always room to improve. We had an offensively focused draft the first year, then we went defense. Now we need a wise hand at the wheel to plug holes, and make some sage free agent signings. This is a crucial year coming up for the future, with likely an expanded roster, expanded salary cap, lower pay for draftees (making them a priority, see how NE has positioned themselves for this eventuality). Think TD and AB would like to sit in on some cage discussions here?????
I still don’t know if Sidbury, Reynolds, etc. were good picks – they can’t get onto the field. And, Franks, they traded up to get the dude, two picks to get him, then he disappears. Johnson who blocked for the Heisman winner a year ago, etc., etc. They come with hype, but then perform like a Mark Richt top 10 recruiting class . Coaching, draft issues, ???
-Is there a serious problem with player development?
See above.
-Should the Falcons take more risks in Free Agency?
Character wise, NO!! But, all our holes can’t be filled with draftees that stay on the bench.

Bangkapi Ajarn

January 21st, 2011
4:51 pm

-All teams are known for being dominant and aggressive on at least one side of the ball. What are the Falcons known for?
Ball control. Balanced between short passing and run, slow, bend but don’t break D.
-Does the coaching staff need an attitude or an edge?
Yes. And, they need to learn to make on the fly adjustments, especially at the half. Assumin you can keep doing what doesn’t work because you decide you will enforce your will isn’t a path to the Superbowl in today’s NFL
-Predict the winners, the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl victor?
Steelers over Jets, Bears over the Pack, Bears win the Superbowl in an upset.
-How close are the Birds: very, medium, or long ways to go?
They are close, but so are a LOT of teams. FA DE, Maybe a FA Nickel CB but I can’t say who, speed back, speed LB, replace HD with low round speed small college WR. Put up or pack up for Peria Jerry, JAndersn has earned a role.

Bangkapi Ajarn

January 21st, 2011
4:55 pm

Sorry for the spell errors, did that too quick. Obviously, suck on line 3 of the 4:50 post should be such. just my typing that sucks, not you guys.

JB FALCON

January 21st, 2011
5:53 pm

Good post BA. Throughout your blog and many others I keep hearing dominant and agressive. I mention last night that the accolades we hold do not particularly win games. TOP, error free, etc. help but none of them put points on the board. I think our biggest problem is not the players so much as it is the attitude of the players we have. Of course more and better players will help but the whole team needs an attitude adjustment. IMHO.

Sam Mustipher

January 21st, 2011
6:00 pm

Hey just looking around and found this blog. I am a die hard Falcons fan and I was in Miami during the game. Had to be the most upset I’ve been over a football game in a while. Utterly embarassing Falcons. But I know we will rise up like we always do. Just wasn’t opur day. Matty Ice has to step up in the spotlight those int’s killed us but i believe we need to add a strong slot receiver speedy and quick as we have Roddy and Jenkins as our possesion receievers. We need YAC yards though and a more agile line backing core with a veteran to build around in that core. Anderson killed it. LEt Peria out on his contract and Clear that space for someone. Rise up. We got it.

BobbyDawg

January 21st, 2011
6:25 pm

One thing that I haven’t seen much talk about is our hurry-up no-huddle offense. I realize that this has paid dividends in a big way. My question is — Have we just about used it up? It didn’t seem to phase the Packers, as a matter of fact it seemed like the Packers were lined up and ready before the Falcon’s. It was just about the same way in the loss to NO.
I understand that it has to be used when you’re fighting the clock. I’m just saying that it should be used to throw the D off and not as the standard.

Paddy O

January 21st, 2011
6:41 pm

the whole team was off & tight in the GB game. I think the dawg is right on that observation. one of the guys on the right had a penalty, and then we had problems lining up. a horrible day all around – even the punter had a nice shank.

Screen Pass

January 21st, 2011
6:45 pm

“My question is — Have we just about used it up? It didn’t seem to phase the Packers, as a matter of fact it seemed like the Packers were lined up and ready before the Falcon’s. It was just about the same way in the loss to NO.” – BDawg

Lol, this is exactly why we want MM gone. While our coaches obviously don’t watch game film, game plan, or practice before the playoffs, EVERY other team sure as hell does. MM has a very small number of total plays for this offense, not in the least bit surprising the Packers were ready for anything we threw at them. I’m quite sure they watched film and notice our GLARING tendencies to use the same plays in the same situations. We laugh about the predictable play calling, not as funny in the playoffs when a real coach makes us a laughing stock.

BobbyDawg

January 21st, 2011
6:58 pm

Everybody seems to be on the same page. We won about five games last season that were real close. If MM doesn’t get some imagination and change some things these games could go the other way next year and “bye bye” playoffs. It’s happened this way in years past, and it’ll bite us in the @ss next year if we’re not careful.

bcinbuford

January 21st, 2011
7:27 pm

Paddy O
I don’t know if you were watching the same game as me, but the “Only one bad throw” comment is whack! Unless, as me, you are referring to the throw to the end zone that was picked off. That was the FIRST bad throw. Michael Jenkins might have fallen down, but that is not where the pick came from. Ryan’s throw was way under thrown. If Michael hadn’t fallen he would have had to play CB. The pass was to go to the corner of the end-zone. That is where MJ was going and had beaten his man to. The only reason MJ fell down was because he was trying to adjust to a poorly thrown pass. As far as the pick 6, that was a poorly called play. We tried the same scenario in Pittsburgh the first week of the season, and Troy P made us pay on that one too!. I know the defense never stopped the Packers, but the Offense never gave them a chance to rest either. No, this loss does not belong more squarely on one side of the line or another. This loss was a FRANCHISE loss. The Defense played bad, the offense was no better, and the game planning was non-existent.

bcinbuford

January 21st, 2011
7:42 pm

The one thing I take from the remaining teams in the play-offs is ATTITUDE! We have none. We need to develop an attitude for doing something right. Whether it is on offense or defense it doesn’t matter. I personally like the defensive philosophy of “Not in my house!” The first step in developing an attitude is to embrace one’s heritage. Unfortunately the Falcons heritage doesn’t exactly lend itself to being embraced. But one thing the Falcons was always known for was a swarming, attacking type of defense. Few know that the Falcons hold the NFL record for least amount of points allowed in a single 14 game season (129 in 1977). The reason for this is because we lost so many games because we didn’t have a decent offense. I would like to see the Falcons try to embrace that defensive mind-set again. We have an offense that will score points, maybe not many, but in the immortal words of Irk, “If they score, they may win. If we score we may win. If they never score, we will never lose!” That is what it is meant by playing not to lose. Not conservative, predictable play calling, that waits for the other team to make a mistake. It is to go out there and MAKE the other team make a mistake.