Rotoworld's Nick Mensio is watching every football game from the 2012 season and taking notes. Bang it here for Arizona Cardinals Tape Review.
Next up in Mensio's offseason Tape Review series: The Atlanta Falcons.
The Offense: The Falcons were one of the most passing-minded teams in the league and could beat defenses in a variety of ways through the air. Although they didn't run a high volume of play-action, Atlanta excelled at it whenever playcaller Dirk Koetter dialed it up. The Falcons' play-action efficiency was somewhat surprising because the run game was so lackluster. My main complaint about the offense is that it often stalled and would go quiet for long stretches during games. That was especially evident in Week 13 against the Saints, when the Falcons went three-and-out six times in the second and third quarters, allowing New Orleans to get back in the game. We also saw it in the playoffs after Atlanta jumped out to big leads. The offensive line was an average blocking bunch, but compensated by rarely making mistakes. The 2012 Falcons were the least penalized team in NFL history.
Matt Ryan: There really isn’t anything Ryan doesn’t do well. Although perceived to have a mediocre arm, he can make any throw on the field. ... Two touchdown passes stick out as evidence of Ryan's arm talent and ball placement at the intermediate level. The first came on second-and-13 in Week 5 against the Redskins. Fading away, Ryan threw off his back foot and put the football only where Julio Jones could catch it in the front left corner of the end zone. The second was in Week 15 versus the Giants. Ryan threw a strike down the middle for a 12-yard touchdown to Tony Gonzalez with Kenny Phillips draped all over the tight end. Despite Phillips' sticky coverage, Ryan again put the pass only where his receiver (Gonzalez) could get it.
Ryan throws a pretty deep ball, as well, and put it on display in Week 16 at Detroit on a 44-yard touchdown bomb down the right sideline to Roddy White. In Week 8 against the Eagles, Jones roasted Nnamdi Asomugha down the left sideline for a 63-yard touchdown; Ryan's pass was again right on the money. ... The only nitpicks with Ryan are that he doesn't put jaw-dropping velocity on throws and struggles at times under pressure.
Ryan's issues under duress were evident in Week 6 versus the Raiders; a game the Falcons very nearly lost. On his second interception of the game, Matt Shaughnessy got his hand in Ryan’s face a bit and Ryan reacted by throwing a lazy ball down the middle that was easily picked off by Michael Huff. Ryan’s third pick in the same game came when Philip Wheeler shot through the line on an inside blitz and drilled Atlanta's quarterback. Ryan blindly threw the football up in the air, and it was another easy pick, this time by Tyvon Branch. Another instance was Week 11 against Arizona. James Sanders exploded through the middle of the line and walloped Ryan. Instead of taking the sack, Ryan threw the ball right into Sam Acho's chest. Fortunately for Ryan, stone-handed Acho dropped it.
To finish on a high note, Ryan was awesome in the late-game "clutch." In Week 6 against Oakland, he went 5-of-6 on the final drive for 43 yards, setting up Matt Bryant's game-winning 55-yard field goal. We saw this again in the Divisional Round of the playoffs versus Seattle on the final possession to set up another Bryant game-winner.
Michael Turner: “The Burner” was anything but that in 2012. At this stage of his career, Turner lacks explosion, long speed, cutting ability, and bounce in his step. His inability to pick up just one yard really put the offense into full-blown pass mode for the season. I’d bet the Falcons threw more on third-and-short than any team in the league. … So many short-yardage situations demonstrated Turner's diminished skill set. In Week 2 against the Broncos, the Falcons had first-and-goal at the one-yard line. Turner got carries on first and second down before barely breaking the plane and getting the score on third down. In Week 10 at New Orleans, Turner's performance was abysmal. After he was stuffed on first-and-goal from the one, Koetter turned away from Turner and threw to offensive lineman Mike Johnson for the score. Later, Turner was knocked back for a loss on third-and-one at the 18-yard line, forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal. Again against the Saints, Turner was stuffed on third-and-goal from the one-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Ryan tried throwing for the score on fourth down, but failed. Atlanta lost by four points. … Turner still ended up with ten touchdowns on the season, but just about any back could've hit double-digit scores in this offense. ... Turner also brings nothing to the table in the passing game.
Jacquizz Rodgers: The Falcons tried repeatedly to phase Turner out of the backfield, but Rodgers struggled to run between the tackles and couldn’t earn tough yards. Rodgers was far more effective when getting the ball outside the numbers and in space. In Week 9 against the Cowboys, we saw both ends of the spectrum. Rodgers received a third-and-two carry that was designed up the middle, but ended up losing a yard. The Falcons settled for a field goal, which was missed. In the same game, Rodgers caught a third-and-six dump-off pass behind the line of scrimmage. He proceeded to side-step a tackle and pick up 31 yards to the right. Later, Rodgers took another third-down pass 11 yards upfield, shaking two defenders in the process. It set up a late field goal to put Atlanta ahead by six points, the margin by which they would eventually win. ... Rodgers is a small, shifty back that has some shake-and-bake ability, but he’s best suited for a third-down and change-of-pace role. He’s a poor man’s Darren Sproles.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Roddy White: White is an elite route runner, making him one of Ryan's most dependable third-down targets, along with Gonzalez. … In Week 10 against the Saints, White picked up 11 yards on a hook route on third-and-ten, and caught a 49-yard pass two plays later on a perfectly-executed stutter-and-go, beating Jabari Greer to set the offense up at the one-yard line. Another great catch in a laundry list of examples came in Week 2 against the Broncos. The Falcons faced third-and-eight in the shadow of their own goal posts, and White did a great job of coming back to the ball over the middle to pluck Ryan's throw out of the air for 15 yards while draped in coverage. … White doesn't stretch the field or dominate after the catch as regularly as counterpart Jones, but he can do both if need be. … We saw this in Week 4 against the Panthers when White torched Haruki Nakamura for gains of 49 and 59 yards, and again in Week 16 versus the Lions when White ran right by Chris Houston down the right sideline for a long 44-yard touchdown on third-and-one. … After battling drops in 2011, White bounced back in 2012 and proved that he’s one of the best receivers in the league at catching the ball with his hands, and not letting it get into his body. My favorite catch that illustrated this came in Week 17 against the Bucs. White snagged a bullet out of the air on a quick slant for a nine-yard pickup, using just his fingers. It’s nothing flashy, but proves how good of a receiver he is. … White even blocks on the outside when needed. One block that comes to mind was in Week 12 at Tampa Bay, where he held a block in the end zone, allowing Turner to score from three yards out on a toss play.
Julio Jones: Jones is the cream of the crop when it comes to being a dynamic playmaker and game changer. Ryan could throw the ball to him anywhere on the field, and Jones always had a chance of breaking off a big gain. … Julio was especially effective on go routes, proving virtually impossible for defensive backs to stay with. In Week 15 against the Giants, Jones ran right past Jayron Hosley down the left sideline for a 40-yard score. Versus the Saints in Week 10, Jones skied over the top of Jabari Greer for a 52-yard gain. In Week 12 against the Bucs, Jones breezed past Leonard Johnson down the right sideline for an 80-yard score on the first play of the second half. … Jones also was unstoppable on screen passes out wide. To name a few, Jones had a 14-yard screen score to the left in Week 1 against the Chiefs, another touchdown from 11 yards out in Week 14 against the Panthers, and a huge 28-yard gain on a screen to the left in Week 17 against the Bucs. Jones gets the ball and shoots upfield as quickly as anyone in the league and is nearly impossible to bring down with an arm tackle. … The only real complaint with Jones is inconsistent hands. He dropped a potential 19-yard touchdown in Week 2 on third down over the middle against Denver. Another drop came in Week 13 versus the Saints, when he botched a third-and-ten slant pass. Unlike teammate White, Jones has a tendency to fight the football rather than catch it cleanly with his hands. … We also saw just how scary Jones can be when he torched the 49ers’ secondary in the NFC Championship game. He’s scratching the surface of super-stardom.
Harry Douglas: Douglas saw plenty of action in three-wide sets. He isn’t much of a deep threat, working mostly in the slot. Douglas also doesn't see a vast amount of targets with three mouths to feed ahead of him on offense. … There’s really only one game that sticks out where Douglas made a big impact; Week 15 against the Giants. Douglas roasted rookie corner Jayron Hosley on a double-move out of the left slot, picking up 37 yards on a second-and-four. Later, he converted two big third downs, picking up ten yards on a third-and-seven play and 36 yards on a third-and-nine. … Douglas will always be overhyped in the offseason due to the simple fact that he plays in a high-powered aerial attack, but it’s never materialized to big numbers.
Tony Gonzalez: Gonzo is an invaluable red-zone and third-down asset over the middle. He’s a pro at finding soft spots in zone coverage, and can still out-run most linebackers and out-muscle defensive backs. … Gonzalez made his return to Kansas City in Week 1 and promptly scored a seven-yard touchdown over the middle by running by Derrick Johnson. In Week 3 against the Chargers, seven of Gonzalez’s nine catches went for first downs, and in Week 5 versus the Redskins, he caught 13-of-14 targets. Week 10 against the Saints was Gonzalez's best game of the year. On one drive, Gonzalez converted a third-and-seven with a 12-yard grab over the middle, then picked up two more first downs before ending the series with a two-yard touchdown in the left flat with Malcolm Jenkins hanging on his back. … Gonzalez is contemplating retirement, but he has plenty left in the tank.
The Defense: Atlanta ran a 4-3 under first-year coordinator Mike Nolan. Frankly, it was one of the NFL's most boring defenses. Nolan rarely dialed up blitzes, and only did so on third down. The Falcons also missed an abundance of tackles throughout the year. … The pass rush was beyond weak aside from John Abraham, who accounted for more than a third of the team’s sacks. Abraham's two biggest games came in Week 6 against the Raiders and Week 11 against the Cardinals, versus two of the league’s weaker offensive lines. The best thing about Abraham was that he could move all over the defensive front. DE Kroy Biermann, WLB Sean Weatherspoon, and DT Jonathan Babineaux occasionally pitched in on pass-rushing efforts, but they weren’t nearly consistent enough. … The linebacker corps was killed in pass coverage as MLB Akeem Dent and SLB Stephen Nicholas each contributed to Jimmy Graham’s big Week 10 and Zach Miller’s monstrous Divisional Round outburst. As a whole, the group was average against the run. … SS William Moore was the star of the defensive backfield. He got Peyton Manning for a big 13-yard sack on third down in Week 2. Moore’s best all-around game was against the Saints in Week 13. He picked off Drew Brees twice, including the final one of the game where he flew across the field to intercept a pass down the sideline. Moore also had a huge four-yard tackle for loss on a second-and-one run play, before Abraham recorded a strip-sack on third down. ... Corners Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson gave up way too many big plays in the passing game, but Robinson was strong versus the run. Samuel and FS Thomas DeCoud missed too many tackles in the back end, and that was blatantly clear on Chris Ivory’s 56-yard touchdown rumble in Week 10. … Overall, this defense needs pass-rushing help and better linebacker play.
2013 Fantasy Player to Watch: Julio Jones