I don’t think anyone is shocked that the Patriots made the Super Bowl. What’s the point of even analyzing or critiquing them anymore?
Did any of us see the Falcons in the Super Bowl? I suspect not. Perhaps, you’re like me and predicted the Falcons for a losing record and constantly predicted their demise all season…and thought Dan Quinn would get fired during/after this season? You didn’t see it…and that’s cool. I didn’t see it…and that makes me bad at my job.
This week, in honor of the Falcons, I am reprinting all of their 2016 game recaps to embarrass myself more publicly. Laying myself naked before you. Also, I am going back through and reading to see if there were clues to what I was off on and to see what I was thinking going negative on the Falcons as a Super Bowl season was unfolding. It’s not the first time…I didn’t buy into the Panthers all last season either.
I am reprinting the Falcons 2016 season throughout the week and adding some extra commentary on how bad (or good) my commentary was at the time. In honor of the Falcons and to publicly flog myself this week, here we go…
*Original commentary from the day it was published in black text with my 2017 comments in green.
Atlanta 38, Arizona 19 — The Falcons rise to (7-4) but beating Arizona at this point, to me, was meaningless. The Cardinals were awful all season. I didn’t see this as a sign of anything.
Sometimes I’m late to the party on a football team, whether they’re ‘breaking good’ or ‘breaking bad’, but I’ve not been late to the Arizona Cardinals story – they’re terrible, and now everyone knows it. At least fans and fantasy GMs know it, not the football media…it’s funny to watch the football media make all the excuses for this team. No one in the mainstream is actually coming out and saying that Arizona it’s terrible, and is poorly coached…rather they are making excuses because they love Bruce Ariansbecause they think that’s the smart thing to do. However, Bruce Arians is the problem. The general manager is a major problem. The President (son of the owner) is ridiculous. But it’s Bruce Arians’s problem because he’s puppet mastering all of them. They’re all bad at what they do. Arians is a good on-field coach, but he’s terrible at picking personnel and managing talent. X’s & O’s are great, but most of the job happens Monday through Saturday behind the scenes. We saw the behind the scenes in the Cardinals’ Amazon documentary. This franchise is doomed to mediocrity the next few seasons because they do not have a future quarterback, among other glaring problems. About the time they could find a new QB and turn things around, key players are going to leave in free agency if they can. No grown man would want to play for Bruce Arians. No one wants to put up with his nonsense if they have options. This team is doomed ahead, and their 2016 is already over.
I’m late to the party on the Atlanta Falcons. I can’t let go of my anti-Matt Ryan belief system. I don’t believe Ryan is a total bust, I just don’t think he’s as good as everyone is portraying. However, he’s gotten numbers and they’re winning. This is a good team, and I’m starting to believe it’s a really good team…it’s just I’ve been blind to it. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has done a great job and now deserves a chance to become a head coach. This offense is starting to come at teams from all angles. It’s at its best when Matt Ryan is not a slave to Julio Jones.
In this game, Julio got all the defensive attention per usual, and when Ryan tried to force it to him there were many incompletions and a couple interceptions/near interceptions. Once Ryan went anywhere else the whole thing opened up. The Falcons have a nice wide receiver group and a two-running back system that works. There’s a ton of options at his disposal, but Matt Ryanconstantly forces the ball to Julio Jones even when he’s not open. It will be the death of Atlanta at some point (still alive in 2016). I think the Falcons could give Seattle or Dallas a run for their money, but somewhere in their matchup Ryan will force a pass to Jones without even reading the defense and that pass will get picked off or tipped into a pick off…and the whole momentum of a game will change. I know it’s going to happen as sure as I’m sitting here. That’s how Atlanta season will end — trying to force it too much to Julio (maybe in the Super Bowl?). I want to get the ball to Julio Jones 15+ times a game for sure. However, Matt Ryan will make inexplicable/dangerous throws among those 15 targets to Jones. Ryan–Julio is not Ben–Antonio. Ryan-Julio is not as good together as the top QB-receiver duos. I’d rather see Julio with 10 quality, smart targets versus 15 targets…and 10 of them smart, and five of them thrown when he’s triple covered. Ryan is just not good enough, and quite frankly Julio Jones is not quite good enough in route running and effort to be a 15+ target per guy per game guy. Those extra targets could go to so many other weapons that are wide open.
Regardless of all my Julio babble, Atlanta is going to win the AFC South, and likely be the #3 seed for the playoffs. The schedule is going to get Atlanta 10 wins this year. It was a #2 seed and 11 wins…and a trip to the Super Bowl.
— OK, Taylor Gabriel (4-75-2/5 targets, 1-27-0) hysteria… Is it real?
In the first quarter of this game, I’m not sure Gabriel was even on the field. He didn’t see any targets 1st quarter, that is for sure. Marinate on that for a moment. Gabriel has been a weapon emerging for weeks, and Atlanta didn’t even look at him in the first quarter, they may not have even played him a snap. I saw much more Justin Hardy (3-47-0/4 targets) the whole first quarter as the #3 WR.
The first play of the second-half must’ve been the planned ‘Taylor Gabriel time‘. He came into the game and took an end-around hand-off, and scampered 27 yards. He saw a couple regular targets that were much ado about nothing, but then had a simple bubble screen before halftime and raced through traffic for a 35-yard touchdown. It looked like Arizona was running in quicksand, while Gabriel looked like someone hit the fast-forward button on him alone. Gabriel looked like the fastest player in the history of football. Mid-4th quarter, Atlanta ran the same exact play to the same exact result. Gabriel stepped back and grabbed the bubble screen, and then took off and ran untouched past everybody as if they were standing still. I always see this type of thing happen with guys like this, and wonder why an NFL team would’nt run the same play 15 times? You could throw downfield 15 times toJulio Jones in heavy coverage, or you could run the lowest risk pass possible, the bubble screen, get it to the hands of a speedster and watch him take a -2 yard throw and turn it into a 20–30–50+ yard play. Sometimes he’ll get tackled right away, but sometimes he won’t. If the defense tries to press all the way up in anticipation, then you throw it deep to Julio Jones orMohamed Sanu. How hard is this? You have to establish the threat to begin with of getting it to Gabriel. The Falcons didn’t deem showing their Gabriel threat necessary until the second quarter and beyond.
I want to get excited about Taylor Gabriel, I really do. He looks fantastic. But I’ve seen guys like this wasted before. Same team, couple years ago, Antone Smith was doing the same thing and could not get more touches. You’d think coaches would wear out opportunities like this, maybe overstay their welcome/run it too much. Nope. What will happen next week is the Falcons will run the same exact play that scored TDs in this game, they’ll do it in the second quarter, the defense will be clued into it and Gabriel will get tackled for a 2-yard gain and the coaches will think “Well, this play doesn’t work today.” And that will be the end of it.(almost exactly what happened in their loss next week) How many times would you run that play before you deemed it not working? For me it would be 10, for NFL coaches it’s 1–2.
I want to believe Gabriel can launch higher from here, and become a junior Tyreek Hill, but I’m not sure. This team is enslaved toJulio Jones. It then is smitten with Devonta Freeman even though Tevin Coleman is the far superior all around talent. I think Gabriel will be stuck in a limited role, and you just hope when he gets some crumbs he can make magic out of them. There’s hope here, but I’m not sure there’s an emerging weapon here. Tyreek Hill went from this type of limited touch option to Kansas City starting to design the passing game around him. Cordarrelle Patterson can play the short game, take handoffs, but can also play like a legit #1 WR working routes down the field. Patterson has it all. Gabriel is not Julio Jones. He’s not Mohamed Sanu. Gabriel’s a cute sideshow event at this point. He’s not the focal point. I don’t think he ever will be. It’s working now, a few highlight reel plays, so he’s going to get his 5–6 touches in a game…and because he so talented that may be enough touches to use him in a WR3/flex role. I totally agree with that. However, as far as projecting Gabriel as something bigger for the future, an emerging weapon – I don’t see it. He’s not the next Tyreek Hill. He’s not the next Cordarrelle Patterson. He’s always going to be lower in the pecking order in Atlanta, kinda like Patterson is in Minnesota. It’s a nice ride with Gabriel now, and I hope he emerges, but my Spidey senses say it’s not going to happen like it has with Tyreek Hill.
However, because it is ‘possible’, and the talent is there – I’d like a ticket to the show.
Gabriel did stay a limited touch guy the rest of the season, but productive. led all Falcons’ WRs in TDs for the regular season despite not really playing until a few weeks into the season.
Valuations and Trends…
Last four games for Gabriel: 15.6 FF PPG (18.9 PPR) on 3.3 rec (4.5 targets) 67.8 rec. yards, 1.0 rec. TD, 12.7 rushing yards and 0.25 rush TDs per game.
— Blame some of my lack of Taylor Gabriel enthusiasm on Mohamed Sanu (8-65-0/8 targets). He’s starting to emerge a little bit himself. He’s great in that #2 role. His numbers are starting to pop as well. In the first part of the season, Sanu was up and down and had stretches of being ignored in the Julio Jones wake. Of late, Sanu looks like he’s developing a better relationship withMatt Ryan. The more Ryan goes to Sanu-Gabriel, and comes off his dependence on Julio Jones, Ryan is going to put up even bigger numbers and Atlanta may make a run at the Super Bowl. Atlanta has all the weapons, it’s just how Matt Ryan uses them. It’s just how much the coaches decide to set them up.
Early in this game, down near the goal line, Mohamed Sanu came in to run the Wildcat at QB, and he kept the shotgun snap himself and tried to run in for a touchdown, but was stopped short. Don’t forget that Sanu is one of the best wide receivers in terms of being able to run and throw the football in the wildcat. Remember his days in Cincinnati chucking TD passes? In college, he ran a ton of Wildcat as a wide receiver and was so good Rutgers tried to get the ball in his hands in every way possible. If the Falcons start running Sanu on 1–2 Wildcat plays a game, it’s going to make Sanu even more interesting as a WR3 option in fantasy.
Valuations and Trends…
*Career passing stats for Cincy: 5-for-5, 177 yards, 2 TDs…a passer rating of 158.3. Again, if you had a WR who was 5-of-5 passing with 2 TDs…wouldn’t you run that play more? Not Cincinnati. They’re smarter than that.
*College passer numbers: 8-for-17, 207 yards, 4 TD/0 INT (all wildcat)
*2011 season for Rutgers: 115 catches for 1,206 yards and 7 TDs, 4 carries for -2 yards.
*2009-2010 seasons for Rutgers combined: 95 catches, 1,057 rec. yards, 5 rec. TDs….121 carries for 655 yards and 9 rush TDs.
Comparison – 2016 first five games vs. last six games:
4.6 FF PPG (7.6 PPR) on 3.0 rec. (5.2 targets) for 34.2 yards and 0.20 TDs = First 5 games of 2016
7.0 FF PPG (12.2 PPR) on 5.2 rec. (6.8 targets) for 50.0 yards and 0.33 TDs per game = Last 6 games of 2016
Of course, after this game, Sanu was used sparingly. He has perked back up in the playoffs.
— Carson Palmer (24-45 for 289 yards, 2 TD/1 TD) officially had 10 QB hits on him in this game, which is a continuation of the heavy hit counts he’s been taking the last few weeks. One of the most sacked and hit the quarterbacks in all the NFL. It’s the reason why Arizona is losing games and the offense looks disjointed. It’s also the reason two other things are happening…
1) Because Palmer needs to get rid of the ball quickly, he’s throwing a lot of passes to the short option with David Johnson. It’s a beautiful thing because Johnson has essentially become a WR2 who also runs the ball 10–15+ times a game.
Last 5 games receiving for DJ: 7.0 rec. for 69.6 yards and 0.60 TDs per game. he’s a better WR than DeAndre Hopkins this season.
2) Larry Fitzgerald (4-54-0/4 targets) is dying for fantasy. Because Arizona’s wide receivers are a joke outside of Fitzgerald, and because Palmer has no time to throw downfield, Fitzgerald is becoming a ghost. He’s not scored a touchdown in six games and he’s had 75 yards or less and five of his last six games. Larry is still fantastic, But the surrounding circumstances are killing him…and Palmer.
*Fitz is back…not sure Palmer is for 2017…Arizona is a big trouble in 2017.
— I told you a month+ ago there were problems brewing with the Arizona defense, and that you needed to make plans to jump off of them as a fantasy DST. As soon as I said that, Arizona had two fantastic DST scoring events. However, now they’re coming undone. Arizona has allowed 30 or more points in three of their last four games. They’ve allowed an average of 29.5 PPG over those four games.
You can’t use Arizona confidently against Washington this week or Miami next week and definitely not the Saints the following week, and probably not Seattle after that – especially when Arizona’s season is dead. You needed to move on weeks ago, but you definitely need to move on now.
— Just one quick side note from this game – I could not love more the way Tevin Coleman (8-9-1, 2-4-0/2 targets) is moving with the ball this season. I am blown away by what I see on tape from Coleman. The problem is that he’s not getting fed enough to get momentum going. This team is still stuck on Devonta Freeman (16-60-2, 2-17-0/3 targets). I’ll be interested to see when the Falcons get to the playoffs whether they abandon that nonsense, or they actually try to win this thing by using Coleman heavily. If Atlanta would get Coleman 70% of the running back touches and would come off all the blind throws to Julio and work all of their other options more, I could see Atlanta as a very tough out in the playoffs.
I still maintain that if the Falcons win the Super Bowl…Coleman will need to be the MVP.
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