For the first time since losing to Houston on December 4 of last year, Atlanta returns to the practice field this week following a loss. And they will do so without the services of one of their highest-paid players...
Ray Edwards Cut
The Falcons made headlines yesterday during Monday Night Football when they announced the dismissal of defensive end Ray Edwards. Signed to a five-year, $30 million contract in the summer of 2011, Edwards never lived up to expectations and had been nothing more than a part-time player in recent weeks. His 3.5 sacks in 25 games wasn't exactly the type of production Atlanta had in mind when they brought him in to play on the opposite side of John Abraham, and he failed to record a single sack in nine games this season. Kroy Biermann, who has been earning more snaps than Edwards over the past few games at the second DE slot, will have a chance to shine next Sunday when the Falcons take on an anemic Cardinals offensive line.
In the end, Edwards made $3.43 million from the Falcons per sack. While the signing of Edwards proved to be a terrible move in hindsight, I give Atlanta's brass credit for holding their players accountable. Releasing a "starter" from a 8-1 team sends quite the message.
Atlanta's By-The-Book Blues
As Bill Barnwell pointed out yesterday at Grantland, Mike Smith just can't catch a break with his play-calling against the Saints. After being criticized for an over aggressive mentality the past few match-ups versus New Orleans, Smith got conservative late in the game on Sunday, which proved to be costly. Barnwell—and several other writers—are arguing that the Falcons should have gone for a two-point conversion following their last touchdown. If converted, that would have put them within three points of the Saints in the fourth quarter. This would have given Atlanta the chance to kick a field goal in the waning minutes to tied the game, rather than be forced to score a TD.
With the game hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter against the Saints again, Smith tightened up. He got conservative in a pair of situations where he could have chosen to be aggressive. It didn't cost his team the game itself, but combined with a lack of execution when the Falcons were forced to be aggressive over time, the conservative decisions made it more difficult for his team to find a path to victory.
Falcons Must Decide what First Loss Will Mean
By far the most polarizing post-game quote from Sunday came from Tony Gonzalez: "(Losing this game) will make us a better football team. I guarantee it."
As always, a defeat could demoralize the troops, but the optimist in me (and in Gonzalez) believes falling to the Saints will prove to be a positive experience in the long run. Fact is, the Falcons haven't been playing "Super Bowl-calibre" for most of the season—and that needs to change in the next seven weeks.
Smith Confident Weatherspoon Will Return to Practice This Week
After missing the last two games with a low ankle injury, it looks like Sean Weatherspoon could be ready to suit up against the Cardinals next Sunday. Spoon, who was carted off in the fourth quarter in Week 8 against the Eagles, has been sorely missed—as the likes of Akeem Dent, Stephen Nicholas and others have been unable to compensate for No. 56.
"I am optimistic. Sean has worked extremely hard. He will get an opportunity the next 48 hours to do some field work and hopefully we'll see where he's at and get him out there on the field on Wednesday," Smith said Monday. "He's done a nice job in his rehab. He's been a great patient."
Cardinals Hope to Make it Two Losses for the Falcons
The Falcons will have a chance to get back into the win column next week when the Cardinals visit the Georgia Dome on Sunday afternoon. Arizona surprised a lot of people early on by winning their first four games of 2012, but have since fallen back to Earth and lost five in a row. The Cards have a myriad of problems to deal with, and I have no doubt Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan will be well-prepared to exploit these deficiencies come Sunday. That said, this could be a trap game if the Falcons show up unprepared. Arizona will be fresh coming off a bye week, and have a formidable defense: currently sitting ninth in the NFL in yards allowed per game (320.7) and fifth in points allowed per game (19.2).
"Hopefully it can be two consecutive losses (for the Falcons)," Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington said. "Hopefully we can go up there and get a win. It is going to be a crazy and hostile environment."