Posted in FalconAlley Squawk

Hooping it up with Dukes and Bell.

Interview Recap and Photo by Allison Smith

Austin Hooper joined 92.9’ The Game‘s afternoon show Dukes and Bell on Wednesday, September 18, 2019. 

Asked about the dancing in the locker room after the game, Hooper said that, “It always feels good to win, have to take the good with the bad, but have to enjoy when the wins come.” And said that his favorite time is the 20 minutes in the locker room, all together, “Jumping around really feeling the “Brotherhood” together.”

In his fourth game in his fourth year against the Philadelphia Eagles, Hooper feels more comfortable going against their defense.  He knows that Malcolm Jenkins is ‘the tell’ for their defense, so just watch where he is on the field and you will know what they are planning to do.

Asked if he can hear the fans yelling “Hooooop” from the stands, Hooper replied, “It’s pretty cool to hear it out there.  First year, I thought they were booing me, thought  **** I just got a first down, then realized they were saying “Hoop.” 

I’ve always thought it was funny, how many teams have a player with a nickname that sounds like a boo.  The Carolina Panthers had Brad Hoover, now Luke Kuechly, and of course, our own Truuuuuu.

In the off season and around team practices, Hooper does allot of work with Matt Ryan, but also lots of different drills/reps with the other receivers and Devonta Freeman, so they are all in sync.  In the end, Hooper knows as a  Tight End, that he is a blocker first.  That being said, he commented on the play of the offensive line, saying that lots of times they are all good in their blocking, but then everyone is taking turns messing up, not all at once, but is costly.  “We all, including me, have to be better.”   But the O line is becoming a more cohesive unit.  Hooper has full confidence in the offensive line and team.

Austin Hooper is becoming a very depended upon target and has 13 catches on 15 targets so far this season, for 111 yards.

Posted in Gameday Goods

Redemption in The ATL

Eagles 20/Falcons 24

September 18, 2019

Photos and Article by Allison Smith

There is nothing more Atlanta than the way the Sunday Night Football game went down against Philadelphia. 

With 2:10 left, and down by 3, the Falcons are near midfield with a 4th and 3.  Quarterback Matt Ryan falls back and throws to Julio Jones for the 54-yard game winning touchdown. 

Naturally, the Eagles have too much time left on the clock, drive back down, until 2nd year Cornerback Isaiah Oliver makes the tackle of the game, keeping Zach Ertz from gaining the needed yardage on fourth down.  After a review, it is confirmed that Ertz did not gain the yards needed and Mercedes Benz Stadium was the second loudest it has ever been….the first loudest was moments early during the Julio 54-yard run. 

There was a yard that each fan saw Julio reach when that fan knew he could not be stopped.  For Mohammad Sanu, it was as soon as he had his guy out of the way and saw Jake Matthews flatten another defender.  As we all know, no one can catch Julio if they are not already next to Julio.  Possibly the fastest to him was actually Calvin Ridley who joined him from across the field to celebrate in the tunnel that Julio had run into.  When you are going 20.7 MPH, it is hard to stop, even in the end zone. 

With this touchdown, Ryan threw the 300th touchdown of his career, while Julio became the all-time leading receiver, surpassing his big brother, mentor, and friend, Roddy White.  Julio finished the day with 10,868 receiving yards, with Roddy wrapping his career in 2015 with a total of 10,863.  Of course, Julio had no clue, but when asked after the game, Julio said he was “Honored to be mixing it up with him.”  

Calvin Ridley Making the Catch with Defenders Closing

Julio was also asked about being double covered so often, and he replied that he was just “Trying to play each play at a time, because that means Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy are out there 1 on 1.”  Note that Julio was being double covered when Calvin Ridley hauled in his touchdown. 

While the end of the game was action packed and exciting, the real story, to me, was the redemption of the team as a whole and many individual players.  After the ugly Minnesota loss, fans and experts alike were picking apart numerous players for looking unprepared and definitely not playing up to their potential.  Almost every one of those players not only played better, but really stepped up and had significant contributions against a tough Philadelphia team.  Most, redeemed themselves.

Takk McKinley was in the right spot all night, had 2 tackles, both for loss, 2 quarterback hits, lots of pressure and energy.  Vic Beasley was in the backfield all day with near sacks, 3 quarterback hits and an actual sack.  De’Vondre Campbell had 8 tackles and great movement all game.  Desmond Trufant was finally back looking like the Tru of old, hauling in 2 interceptions, one returned for 10 yards and 3 passes defended, 1 of his 2 pass break ups forced an early punt for the Eagles.  Trufant credited the corner’s successful day with the defensive line play.

Takk & Grady Converge on Wentz

Overall, the defense had 10 quarterback hits, 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 2 interceptions.  The defense did not allow anyone outside this week.  They may have allowed receptions, but all receivers knew they were stopped immediately with this physical Falcon D.  Note that many Eagles did not practice yet this week due to bumps and bruises.  The D had big stops on 3rd and goal and a 4th and goal, included a monster hit by Ricardo Allen on Nelson Agholorin the end zone to dislodge the touchdown pass.  Naturally, Rico read that one all the way and told Kendall Sheffield to push the WR to him because he had jumped the seem earlier and knew Carson Wentz would try to take advantage.

Keanu Neal led the team in tackles with 9, followed by Campbell, then Damontae Kazee that really stepped up this week, tallying 8 tackles, but was much more affective this week, mostly because of the catch up the Falcons played last week. 

In the first quarter, Grady Jarrett’s sack forced the Eagles’ first field goal vs. allowing the Eagles to continue to drive for a possible touchdown.  Grady played even better than game 1 and had a special salute to his Mom, that was in attendance, just days after surgery.  She wasn’t going to miss a Grady game.  Grady finished with 5 tackles, 1 for loss, and 2 quarterback hits.

The offensive line only allowed 1 sack and 6 quarterback hits while Ryan dropped back 34 times.  And the bulldozer leveling that Matthews did to open the lane for Julio proved he was redeemed for his opening play sack from the previous week.  Jamon Brown had a solid day at right guard, in for the injured rookie Chris Lindstrom.

On the negative offensive side, Ryan had another 3 interceptions.  A bad pass to Sanu, who was triple covered, another bad decision into the end zone – which stopped a touchdown, and when Julio was in cover zero, but the pass was still picked off.  All bad throws/decisions on Ryan’s part.  Julio did have a WWE like tackle on the Ronald Darby INT, so, there is that.

Also not redeeming or even helping the justification for being on the team vs. other TE’s that were traded….Luke Stocker tried to leap over a defender (ala Austin Hooper) which led to no more yards gained, but a fumble.  Naturally, Sanu was right there and saw the ball come out and instantly jumped on it, saving what could have been a disastrous turnover in the Falcons’ territory. 

In the toughness category, rookie starter Kaleb McGary went out with a knee issue, was actually helped off the field.  Ryan was shoved into him/rolled up on his leg and Ryan commented later, “I feel bad, I thought I hurt him.”  Meanwhile, Ty Sambrailo came in and was a solid back up for McGary.  After being evaluated, McGary told coaches that he was going back in, his team was depending on him and he was ok and needed to be out there with his brothers. 

Freeman Preparing to Block then Receive the Shovel Pass

While the numbers are not overly impressive for the running game this week, it was actually a successful week on the ground, gaining necessary yards at crucial times.  Devonta Freeman had 11 runs for 22 yards, one being a long 9-yarder, and several for loss when the O Line wasn’t so good.  Ito Smith had 4 carries for 32 yards, one was a 28-yard break out that was nearly a touchdown.  Often overlooked, Free had 3 receptions (which often look like runs – shovel passes) for 42 yards, a 28 of his own that was nearly a touchdown, and Ito caught 2 passes for 13 yards.  The Eagles using Cover Zero most of the day, while appreciated, didn’t make much since, playing Ju, Calvin, or Sanu 1:1 is never a good plan; leading to Julio’s 2 touchdowns and Calvin’s 1 on the day.

Julio had 5 receptions for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, while 2nd year receiver Ridley had 8 receptions for 105 yards.  Sanu had 4 receptions for 16 yards, and tight end Austin Hooper finished with 4 catches for 34 yards, another big 14 yarder on the day.  Stocker was targeted once, caught, then fumbled that one.

Last week, the fourth play of the game was a blocked punt and the Falcons had 2 failed 2-point conversions.  While the return game was all but non-existent, we did finally got to see Matt Bryant’s leg, possibly more than we had hoped.  Matt Bosher pulled a hamstring in warm ups and did punt twice, but did not perform any of the kick offs in the game.  Bryant kicked a successful 50-yarder to give the Falcons the early lead, but then also handled all of the kickoff duties in the game.  Kicks were good, not touchbacks, but several times, the Special Teams over pursued and the returner gained more yards than preferred, but nothing crippling. 

On the second half kickoff, rookie Sheffield forced a fumble that was recovered by Sharrod Neasman providing the Falcons with excellent field position at the Philly 33.  Three plays later, Ryan threw a 4-yard pass to Julio for the touchdown.  A definite improvement from the first week.

In 2 games, the Falcons have committed 19 penalties, 10 this week.  A couple were questionable, so I will give them 8….either way, still needs to be cleaned up as several were costly on yardage at the wrong time. 

After seeing the play on the field this Sunday night, not just the fact that the Falcons won, but how they won against a really good Philadelphia team, I feel better about the season, but hope we do not start to play to our opponent.  We have seen some insufferable games against some mediocre AFC opponents in recent years.

Injury Report: 

  • Kaleb McGary – knee issue is being nursed, but not a deep concern. 
  • Matt Bosher – groin is being monitored, another punter has been signed to practice squad to watch throughout the week.
  • Kenjon Barner – ankle issue is being monitored and did not practice Wednesday.
  • Matt Gono – back issue is improving and was limited.
  • Keanu Neal – groin issue, also limited.

Golden Talon: 

Most people would say Trufant with his 2 interceptions, but I would have to say De’Vondre Campbell for his relentlessness, pursuing, 8 tackles and overall awareness of the day.  Also, Mohamed Sanu for his receptions, tackle after an interception, and constant blocking for his teammates.  Sanu is a leader on the team in so many unsung ways.

FALCONALLEY OWT

Posted in Gameday Goods

Mistakes in Minnesota

September 9, 2019

Article By:  Allison Smith

Photos Courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

The offense is one of the best in the league, on paper.  The Defense is back at full strength, young, healthy, and with a new Defensive Coordinator.  A revamped Offensive line, that never played together in the preseason.  New Special teams coach with restructured and built up return game.  Overall game plan.  BLAND.  Overall, team play.  BAD.  This is how the Atlanta Falcons begin the 2019 campaign.

The only player not active due to injury was Matt Gono, leading Kaleb McGary to start at right tackle.  Next to him is fellow first round draft pick, Chris Lindstrom.  McGary did share time with experienced Ty Sambrailo.

The first offensive play of the game was indicative of the entire game.  The Falcons offense takes the field after the opening kickoff.  The first offensive play ends in a sack on Matt Ryan for an 8-yard loss.  Followed by a short Devonta Freeman run, then a 12-yard scramble by Ryan, that resulted in a fourth down.  The punt was blocked and Minnesota starts their first drive on the Falcons’ 21.  Two plays later, Kirk Cousins finds Adam Thielen for the touchdown.

The Falcons managed 4 turnovers, while the defense officially forced one, but did not recover that ball.  Ryan threw 2 interceptions.  The first was a bad decision to an overly covered Julio Jones, the other seemed like a miscommunication to Luke Stocker in the end zone.  Stocker pulled up while Ryan threw the ball to the corner of the end zone, into the hands of Anthony Harris.  Meanwhile, Mohammed Sanu, Julio, and Calvin Ridley were on the sidelines.  The usually sure handed Freeman had a fumble in the red zone, which Sanu came up with, but was ruled a turnover to Minnesota.  As a note, Freeman was nearly down and going for extra yards and not just dropping or mishandling the ball, but in the end, a fumble is a fumble.

Ryan didn’t look comfortable Sunday, clearly beginning with a sack doesn’t help your quarterback feel confident with his mostly new offensive line.

090819 Sanu LeapAustin Hooper lead the team in receptions with 9 catches for 77 yards, but was used too late in the game to matter.  Ridley had 4 receptions for 64 yards and an uncelebrated touchdown.  Jones had 6 receptions, 31 yards, and a very late touchdown.  As usual, Sanu made some incredible catches for 57 yards and Justin Hardy looked sharp on limited time with 4 receptions for 41 yards.  Russell Gage had one reception that lead to a no call hit to the head and left the game under concussion protocol.

The offensive line that was built in free agency and the draft (including moving up in the draft to take 2 offensive linemen in the first round), was no better than last season.  The starting lineup never played together in any of the 5 preseason due to rotations, injuries, trials.  The Falcons rotated tackles in and out instead of settling on a single player for the game.

Freeman and Ito Smith were the only running backs activated for the game.   Freeman had 8 rushes for 19 yards while Smith tallied 31 yards on his 6 carries.  Ryan was the second leading rusher with 2 scrambles for 24 yards.  Third downs became easily predictable due to the lack of the running game.  The o-line allowed 4 sacks (3, against Jake Matthews) and 7 hits on Ryan, so he never really had time to set and make good passes and with the running game nearly non-existent, there were many 3 and outs, leaving the defense on the field much of the game.

That being said, the defense did a decent job and adjusted well after half time, but it was too little too late at that point.  The defense gave up 265 yards on the day, but could not stop the run game.  The first score for Minnesota was immediately after the punt block, so was a short field and an instant 7/0 lead.  Now healthy, Keanu NealDeion Jones, and Ricardo Allen had good games, with 1, 5, and 3 tackles respectively.  Likely Keke and Rico will receive fine letters this week due to “physical” hits.  Meanwhile, Vic Beasley pulled up on a possible sack, possibly because of the rules in the back of his head.

The leading tackler was new Falcon Tyeler Davison with 8 total tackles, followed by Minnesota grad De’Vondre Campbell with 6.  The interior defensive line had a decent day (Davison, Grady JarrettJack Crawford), however the defense could not set the hard edge and ended up giving up the soft corner too often.  Dalvin Cook had a 21-yard play when Takk McKinley ran inside and didn’t have containment.  Overall, the defensive ends had a rough day.  As expected, Isaiah Oliver was picked on, very successfully for the Vikings.

The defense was not able to make Kirk Cousins uncomfortable, so he was able to easily complete 8 of 10 passes for 98 yards, then rely on the running game.  Cousins did fumble three times, one caused by Jarrett, the other by Neal, but was ruled out of bounds, and simply missed the hand-off once.  The rest of the game however, Cousins was not under duress.

Like many fans, I think the Falcons did not have enough starters time on the field, or on the field at the same time during the preseason.  They needed more real playing time, together, and better communications.  The communication issues were even more prevalent in the offensive issues, offensive line as well as Ryan and some of his receivers.  The team accumulated 9 penalties.  And after the drama of bringing back Matt Bryant, when the Falcons did finally score 2 touchdowns, they went, unsuccessfully, for the 2-point conversion and did not even utilize Bryant.

Overall, the team looked ill-prepared for the start of the season.  All 3 phases of the games were near disasters.  The first play of the game was a sack allowed by the offense, three plays later, a punt was blocked, then two plays later, the defense gave up the first touchdown of the game.  Everyone’s post-game interviews sounded mad and frustrated with their performance.  As they should have.  Hopefully this means big things for the home opener on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Injury Update

  • Russell Gage:  In concussion protocol.
  • Chris Lindstrom:  Broken foot, on IR, out for 8 weeks.

090819 Grady SackGolden Talon:  Grady Jarrett – Grady recorded a sack, forced fumble, 2 tackles for loss, and 5 total tackles in the game.  He had good pressure all day, despite often being held with no calls.

 

#RISEUP

FalconAlley Owt

 

 

 

Posted in FalconAlley Squawk

Rico is Ready

September 4, 2019

By: Allison Smith

Just days away from the season opener, Ricardo Allen calls in to Dukes and Bell to share his thoughts on the upcoming season.

Rico was on Injured Reserve most of last season, going out in the third game of the season.  Now, he has healed, rehabbed, and studied to come back even stronger.  His wife, Grace, helps….or ensures he is doing is film study at home as she helps break down film.  With all of his rehab time, he had plenty of time to watch film and prepare.  This training camp and preseason, he has begun sitting in on many of the offensive meetings in order to hear their views and discussions and be even more prepared for other teams.  Rico is the defensive play caller and last line of defense on the field.  Rico always makes sure the defense is lined up correctly, especially when there is any offensive movement before the snap.

Ricardo told Carl Dukes and Mike Bell of 92.9 The Game’s afternoon show that he is glad pre-season is over.  He’s ready to play.  He has been limited in pre-season as a starter and returning from injury.  Rico said that Head Coach Dan Quinn (serving as defensive coordinator) is keeping everyone busy and excited.  DQ really gets into the details.

Ricardo is excited to see Isaiah Oliver at Cornerback this year, he did his learning last year and is ready this year.  “He will give up some plays, but will make more plays; he’s been putting the work and study in.”

Rico noted they are a competitive defense and ready to put some hits on some guys in real games.  If they are throwing the ball up, we are going to try and go get it.  Rico is very confident in this defense and the work they have put in so far and know they are going to do their part to keep the score low and let the offense do their part.

Discussing the grind to get back to playing this season, Rico was trying to enjoy the process and learn from that slow process.  Sometimes you feel like you are going backwards, but you just have to keep working and trying and know you are blessed to be able to heal up and come back.

#RiseUp

 #FalconAlleyOwt

Posted in FalconAlley Squawk

Dukes & Bell Sneak into Mr. Blank’s Office

By:  Allison Smith

August 5, 2019

On Monday, August 5, 2019, Carl Dukes and Mike Bell (from the 92.9 afternoon show “Dukes and Bell”) showed up to Mr. Arthur Blank’s office to talk Atlanta Falcon football.  I can neither confirm nor deny if they were actually invited, but Mr. Blank did speak with them on a variety of topics.

This interview was the day after the Military focused Fan Day in Mercedes Benz Stadium.  Tickets were $5 each and sold out, raising over $200,000 to be donated to Veterans Empowerment Organization 

Dukes and Bell started with questioning the expectations for this season for the Falcons.  Mr. Blank’s expectations are for the team to be in the discussion every year, to be competitive each year.  He noted the defense is healthy, the team made some good draft choices and FA pick-ups.  Mr. Blank loves where the team is right now, but said, “You have to play the games.”  He quipped that, “Matt Ryanplays better vertically than horizontally.” Matt is in great shape and he needs to be  kept that way.  Mr. Blank commented that the staple is a great O and D line to play successfully, carry you throughout the season, and into the colder climates late in the season.

Head Coach Dan Quinn said “the compass was off last year.”  Mr. Blank “One of the great strengths of Dan is that he is brutally honest with himself and with me.”  Dan looked at his coaching staff and evaluated and made changes.  DQ brought in several guys that are familiar with Matt with great offensive minds.  With Dan now calling the plays on defense – he will be able to really focus on the defensive plays and players and help with all the current and new guys.  Mr. Blank doesn’t think they necessarily lost the compass, but DQ looked without filters and made necessary changes.  He and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff agreed on what changes needed to take place.

Julio Jones will be a Falcon for life, and we all know his accomplishments and he will be the highest paid receiver in the NFL….and Ju will be kept healthy and ready for game 1.  He is physically and mentally in great shape.  There is great trust on both sides, just waiting on his agent to finish talks.

Mr. Blank thinks we have moved from protest to progress.  He serves on several NFL committees to help and lead progress and believes players should use their platform to affect change.  The league is definitely paying attention to the need for change and the climate of change.

Thanks to Dukes and Bell for bringing us the top interviews.

#RiseUp

FalconAlley OWT