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Cover 9@9: Football Outsiders projects a ho-hum season for the Falcons

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn goes over the protocols players and coaches are subjected to as practices begin in Flowery Branch.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The no spin zone. The Falcons lost a lot talent from a 7-9 team and tried to replace it through free agency, the draft and one trade.

With quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones in the prime of their careers, the Falcons elected not to go the rebuilding route.

The fine folks over at Football Outsiders released their Almanac 2020. The analytic folks crunched all of the Falcons numbers and looked back at history to see if the Falcons’ approach was justified.

They tried to find examples of teams finishing on a hot streak and that projecting into the next season.

There are no such data points, but the Falcons are leaning on some carryover. They repeatedly pointed to road victories over New Orleans and San Francisco to support that the team and coaching staff should not have been broken up.

Football Outsiders doesn’t have a major problem with the Falcons’ offense. They love the passing attack and know that the line must improve. It’s noted that Todd Gurley should provide an upgrade over Devonta Freeman at running back.

The major problem is with the defense and the failed rebuild after the 2016 Super Bowl season.

The Falcons are still trying to recover from misses on cornerback Jalen Collins (second-rounder in 2016), linebacker Duke Riley (third-rounder in 2017) and defensive tackle Deadrin Senat (third-rounder in 2018). They weren’t able to keep the productive De’Vondre Campbell.

The Falcons -- after paying Ricardo Allen, Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett and picking up Keanu Neal’s fifth-year option -- are cash-strapped and didn’t have the resources to fix their mistakes.

“That has put the team on a downward trajectory from 11 wins in 2016 to 10 the next year to just seven in each of the last two seasons, and without the cap flexibility to reverse course,” according to Football Outsiders. “Many teams would interpret those trends as signals to rebuild, in particular because their previous year’s firings of all three of their coordinators carried an unwritten expectation that head coach Dan Quinn — who reclaimed the team’s defensive play calling, and with it the full extent of credit or blame for the unit’s success or lack of it — would return to the playoffs in 2019 or follow his former assistants out the door.”

After the team rebounded and went 6-2 against a soft schedule in the second-half of last season, the Falcons elected to stay the course.

It made sense to us because the core was in its prime and no coach was going to come in a win right away in a rebuild. The Falcons best course was to move forward, retool and work on improving internally. We wrote about this in this blog, which have come to be known as “Pump the Brakes, Part 1 and Part 2″ last season.

But for the analytics folks, the number crunching doesn’t add up for them. FO is projecting through their DVOA and DYAR formulas that the Falcons will win 8.1 games. They gave the Falcons a 43.4% postseason odds and 5.4% Super Bowl odds.

They don’t buy the carryover affect of finishing strong into a new season with a bunch of new, young and unproven players and note that the Falcons have a very tough schedule.

“It’s not a fair fight (in the NFC South), and that — plus the NFC South’s misfortune of non-divisional matchups with the NFC North and AFC West — is why our mean projection for Atlanta includes the league’s second-hardest schedule and results in an under-.500 record,” Football Outsiders’ Scott Spratt wrote in review of the Falcons. “If the Falcons fall short again in 2020, then it likely will cost Quinn his job and kick off a rebuild. But that may be a year too late.

“The team’s decision to cling to their current core this offseason likely extended the valley of their eventual rebuild.”

The Falcons had the third-lowest available cap space in 2022 and it will get tighter because of the loss revenue from this pandemic season.

“Fans will happily take that future losing if it comes on the heels of a Super Bowl victory,” Spratt wrote. “It just doesn’t seem likely that the current Falcons have that high of a ceiling.”

In 2020, with all that is going on in the world, maybe the Falcons will prove the number-crunching analytic folks wrong.

2. Did Beasley Love football? Vic Beasley’s love for football had long been questioned around the NFL was a reason whey the Falcons couldn’t move him at the trade deadline over the past two seasons.

“He’s a speed rusher with no power,” an AFC personnel executive told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the trading deadline in 2019. “Everybody thought they over-drafted him. There are questions about if he loves football.”

Beasley, who signed with the Tennessee Titans in March, was placed on the team’s reserve/did not report list Tuesday.

The Falcons allowed Beasley, who was drafted eighth overall in the 2015, to enter free agency after last season. He signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Titans. If he doesn’t play and his contract is voided, the Falcons are projected to lose a fifth-round compensatory pick.

After playing his rookie season with a torn labrum, Beasley had 15.5 sacks during his second season as he helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl 51. After teams adjusted to his speed rushes, Beasley was slow to add counter moves. He was held to five sacks in 2017 and 2018. He had eight sacks last season.

Beasley played more than 3,000 snaps for the Falcons over five seasons and had 37.5 sacks and 11 forced fumbles.

It must be noted that he played for three different defensive line coaches — Bryan Cox, Bryant Young and Jess Simpson.

He played 3,169 snaps, according to Football Outsiders. He played 3,148, according to Pro Football Reference.

Here are Beasley's raw numbers:

• 774 defensive snaps (73.3%) and eight sacks in 2019

• In 2018, 700 (64.2%) and five sacks

• In 2017, 485 (46%) and five sacks.

• In 2016, 671 (60.4% and 15.5 sacks

• In 2015, he played 539 snaps (51.3%) with a torn labrum and had four sacks.

It was no surprise that the team elected to move on from Beasley after he embarrassed the coach over the 2019 offseason.

Coach Dan Quinn stuck his neck on the line for Beasley and announced at the scouting combine that he planned to work with him over the offseason. The team even picked up his $12.8 million fifth-year option, hoping to get something out of their investment.

Instead of running to the building to work with the head coach, Beasley elected to work out at a nearby gym less than 20 minutes from Flowery Branch.

3. Gurley on the season. Falcons running back Todd Gurley arrived at the team’s facilities Tuesday, the day the remaining veterans were allowed to report.

The team showed his arrival on social media.

During an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio with hosts Bill Lekas and Charlie Weis, Gurley pronounced himself fit for the season.

“I’m fine,” Gurley said Monday. “Obviously, I played in 15 out of 16 games. I was able to start every one. Can’t say that a lot of guys can finish a season off being able to play 15 games, whether it’s 300 carries or a 100 carries. So, I’m just blessed to be able to play last year and be able to play this year as well.

“Feeling good. Been able to have a good offseason. Been able to train and I’m just really just going to approach of this year just come into Atlanta ready to play. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll be there. Just bring some excitement and energy to the team.”

Weis believes how the Falcons elect to use Gurley will be key to the season.

“You’ve got a lot of weapons on that offense,” Weis said. “That’s what makes it kind of exciting. Watching the Rams when they were at their best, is when they started with their offensive basically giving the ball to (Gurley) and then letting everyone else make plays. I think if Atlanta can get anything near that out of you, OK, the Falcons could be a team to sneak up on a whole bunch of people.”

Gurley concurred, but admitted there is work to do.

“Obviously, we look good on paper,” Gurley said. “A lot of stuff looks good on paper. We have to be able to put it together and make it work on game day.”

4. Top 100 players. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (91st) and running back Todd Gurley (51st) made the NFL Network’s list of the top 100 players.

It was Gurley’s fourth appearance on the list.

Julio Jones was ranked the 11th player in the league Tuesday night. It was his sixth consecutive year of being in the top 15. Matt Ryan, who made the list in 2019 at No. 69, did not appear.

5. Allieu passes physical. Falcons defensive tackle Hinwa Allieu flunked his original physical and then passed the second one, according to the league’s transaction list.

Allieu, an undrafted rookie from Nebraska-Kearney, is 6-5, 290. He played defensive end in college. He was born in the West African country of Sierra Leone and came to the U.S. in 2013.

6. Hawkins on COVID-19 List. The Falcons placed fourth-round pick Jaylinn Hawkins, who played at California, on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced Tuesday.

Clubs are not permitted to comment on a player’s medical status other than referring to roster status. Clubs may not disclose whether the player is in quarantine or has tested positive for COVID-19.

7. Pre-existing conditions. The Falcons are keeping track of players and coaches with pre-existing conditions.

“I would say one size does not fit all, but you’re right to say that we want to make sure that every single person that you’re dealing with (follows the) guidelines that (they) need to,” Quinn said. “The other thing, also people in their home. It could be a spouse, a child, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, all factors are considered.

ExploreDan Quinn adjusting to pandemic protocols

“Like most things, have the honest conversation about where you’re at and if there’s any concerns to go, as far as the medical one goes, that’s definitely dictated by the doctors and protocols, like regarding Kaleb (McGary). But, anybody that had any concerns, medically or not, I wanted to make sure that we had honest communications because – not football-related, but as a human being, you want to make sure you have those good conversations.”

8. Falcons are watching Marlins outbreak. The Falcons and the NFL are keeping track of the Miami Marlins COVID-19 outbreak in Major League Baseball.

“I did bring that up when we had a discussion about that,” Quinn said. “How does travel affect that? With testing, when you go on the road and when you don’t, all of those things factor in. I was, like a lot of us, watching baseball for the first time over the past few nights and it was good to see that. I was disappointed to read that the outbreak had affected games being played. It’s definitely something that we’ve all discussed, yes.”

9. Depth chart. All of the Falcons’ 26 rookies – six draft picks and 20 undrafted players – passed their two COVID-19 tests last week and were not on the first reserve/COVID-19 list released by the NFL on Sunday. Hawkins was added on Tuesday.

The rookies, per league protocols, started physicals and equipment testing Saturday and Sunday.

The rookies were slated to start strength-and-conditioning work Monday. Quarterbacks and injured players started their testing process Thursday. The remaining veterans start the testing process Tuesday.

No football coaches are allowed at the rookie workouts, only the strength-and-conditioning coaches.

Baltimore defensive back Nigel Warrior (Tennessee), Cincinnati defensive end Kendall Futrell (East Carolina), Cleveland running back Dontrell Hilliard (Tulane), Cleveland defensive back Jovante Moffatt (Middle Tennessee) and Dallas wide receiver Jon’Vea Johnson (Toledo) were on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

Here’s the projected depth chart for training camp:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 80 Laquon Treadwell, 14 Chris Rowland, 12 Juwan Green

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel, 74 Hunter Atkinson

LG 61 Matt Hennessy, 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow

C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy, 64 Sean Harlow, 62 Austin Capps

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Justin McCray, 66 Justin Gooseberry

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 65 Justin McCray, 69 Scottie Dill, 72 Evin Ksiezarczyk

TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 86 Khari Lee, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier, 89 Jared Pinkney, 82 Caleb Repp

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell, 1 Jalen McCleskey

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling

RB 21 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill, 42 Craig Reynolds

FB 40 Keith Smith, 44 Mikey Daniel

DEFENSE

DE 56 Dante Fowler, 53 Austin Larkin, 71 Bryson Young

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky, 99 Hinwa Allieu

DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, 79 Sailosi Latu

DE 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means, 53 Austin Larkin

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 92 Charles Harris, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 95 Austin Edwards

LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 36 Deone Bucannon, 46 Edmond Robinson, 52 Ahmad Thomas, 49 Jordan Williams

LB 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Ray Wilborn

RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 29 Josh Hawkins, 39 C.J. Reavis, 42 Delrick Abrams, 44 Tyler Hall

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller, 38 Rojesterman Farris

NCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 34 Chris Cooper

SS 37 Ricardo Allen, 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 35 Jamal Carter

FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

P 9 Ryan Allen, 4 Sterling Hofrichter

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 9 Ryan Allen

KOR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus

PR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus

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