Falcons can survive without Baker, not others

Julio Jones is one player Falcons can’t afford to lose. (Kent Johnson, AJC)

Julio Jones is one player Falcons can't afford to lose. (Kent Johnson, AJC)

Julio Jones is one player Falcons can’t afford to lose. (Kent Johnson, AJC)

There have been two general reactions from Falcons’ fans since Sam Baker was lost for the season: 1) OMG, we lost our starting left tackle; or 2) That’s OK, we only loss Sam Baker.

Both are understandable. The left tackle protects the quarterback’s blind side. Kind of important. But Baker widely has been considered a bust since the Falcons traded up to draft him late in the first round in 2008, and part of the reason is he’s been injured so often.

He played only eight games (five starts) in his rookie season. He started only six games in 2011 and four last year. He has played many/most games hurt. Even when he has been in there, he hasn’t been remotely close to the player general manager Thomas Dimitroff expected when he traded two second-round picks (Nos. 34 and 48) and a fourth (103) for Washington’s late first rounder (21st).

In short, he hasn’t been a player the team has relied on anyway.

Baker’ latest injury, a torn right patellar tendon suffered in Saturday’s exhibition in Houston, follows a left knee injury last year and previous ailments including a herniated disc in his back. The injury makes the decision to give Baker a six-year, $41.1 million contract extension ($18.25 million guaranteed) in 2013 look even worse now.

Back to the injury: It hurts because no matter how you feel about Baker, it cuts into the offensive line’s depth. This puts more pressure on rookie Jake Matthews (who presumably will be moved from right to left tackle) to perform immediately and presses Lamar Holmes back into the starting lineup at right or left tackle after an unimpressive 2013 season.

But this is an injury the Falcons can survive. The loss of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (torn Achilles) hurts the defense far more than Baker’s loss should hurt the offense.

Baker does not fall under the category of, “Players the Falcons can’t afford to lose.” These seven do:

• 1. Matt Ryan: T.J. Yates represents a nice upgrade as a backup quarterback. But it’s a far drop from Ryan to Yates.

• 2. Julio Jones: He’s the best player on the roster and the only one other teams need to game plan for.  He’s realistically the only Falcon who can turn a loss into a win with one play. Notwithstanding the team’s other injuries last year, the season ended when Jones suffered a broken foot.

• 3. Roddy White: He’s the toughest player on the team and more of a leader than most fans give him credit for. It’s imperative he stay healthy, especially with Tony Gonzalez’s lost receptions needing to be spread around.

• 4. Desmond Trufant: The team’s suspect pass rush will mean significant pressure on the secondary and Trufant is as good as the team has at cornerback.

• 5. Osi Umenyiora: This team needs pass rushers. The Falcons need Umenyiora’s speed, which allowed him to record 75 sacks with the New York Giants, including double-digit totals in 2005 (14.5), 2007 (13) and 2010 (11.5). Umenyiora got penetration and had a nice deflected pass in the Houston game Saturday.

• 6. William Moore: What he lacks in speed he makes up for in toughness. He’s a needed veteran presence in the secondary.

• 7. Steven Jackson: I realize I’m probably alone on this one but Jackson was brought in to give the Falcons some semblance of a power running game and a receiver out of the backfield. I haven’t seen enough from any of the other backs yet to assume they can match the potential of what a healthy and motivated Jackson brings to the table (assuming he can get and stay healthy).

If the Falcons’ go with an offensive line of (left to right) Matthews-Justin Blalock-Joe Hawley-Jon Asamoah-Lamar Holmes, they can survive, assuming the young guys develop.

 Some recent ramblings (free links)
— Blog: FSU No. 1, Georgia No. 12 in poll of insignificance
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Reader Comments 0

38 comments
Quackmeyer
Quackmeyer

Jeff, I agree with all you reported but one player.  Lamar Holmes IMHO is not an NFL starter and will cause the break down of a fragile "O' line if he is in the line up for any extended period.

EricEllis
EricEllis

Remember what I said a few weeks ago (if not, it was basically a long explanation of how the Falcons are capable of an amazing season this year and how much of an aberration last year was)?  Well its all out the window now.  The one major caveat I posted about was the health of Sam Baker.  The guy has been injury-prone to be sure but in the one full season where he was healthy (2012) he was a beast and certainly worthy of his selection and contract (if he could maintain that level throughout his career which sadly he hasn't).  Now that he's down for the year, they have to move Matthews to LT which is fine because Matthews is the real deal.  Where it hurts is that now Holmes or Shraeder will be looking at significant playing time and neither are very good (or even NFL backups in terms of Holmes I'm afraid).  Hopefully Carimi can get over his own injury issues and give us a decent option at RT but even then, now depth becomes a concern.  


Am I alone in thinking that the new collective bargaining agreement has been an absolute disaster in terms of the off season and training camp restrictions?  Seems like there are so many more serious and debilitating injuries for all teams the last few years and I can't help but wonder what else it could be?  


This poor team is just snake bit and always has been.  Every time things look like they are gonna come together and there is light at the end of the tunnel something happens to set us right back to square one.  After the 14-2 season and SB appearance what was the first thing that happened to start off 1999?  Jamal Anderson blows out his knee.  Hell, what happened the week of said SB?  Eugene Robinson (the friggin PASTOR) gets caught propositioning an undercover cop for sex.  Result:  Elway to Smith right over Robinson to basically seal the game for the Bronco's.  After the amazing year Vick took over at QB (2002) when they went to Lambeau and beat the Packers for the first time ever in the playoffs what happened in the preseason of the very next season?  Ray Lewis snaps Vick's leg, season over.  After the impressive and completely unexpected magic of the 2008 season where we had the miraculous win over the Bears and got to the playoffs with then-rookie Matt Ryan and everything was looking bright for the 2009 season Ryan missed significant time due to injury and the team rallied to finish with a winning record but missed the playoffs (one of the few times 9-7 wasn't good enough for entry).

keendaddy
keendaddy

Let me speak slowly, for the kool-aid drinkers, and the grammar police. You can be a fan of a team and still critique them. If you remember Pre-season LAST YEAR, then you will remember how awful the OL was. (remember that?) Remember how Mike Smith kept saying that "The OL will be just fine!" We had a chance to pick up several good free agent OL's, but Nooooooooo, we were just fine. LOL, I don't think "just fine" means what they think it means! I also don't think what we did the last 6 years, is going to help us win this year. As a lifelong Falcons fan, I have earned the right to question, what I see with my own eyes. You have the right to tell me it's going to be OK, but I'll believe it when I see it. After Houston, I reserve the right to criticize this Coach and GM!

RangeRover
RangeRover

Jeff,

You can take William Moore off your list.  He is a below average NFL Safety and is routinely abused by the better TE's and is often so confused that by the time he recognizes the play he's tackling his man 15-20 yards downfield...just like the QB scramble Saturday night.  He's just not that bright!  He might be better suited for an OLB position.  All he's known for are the big hits on defenseless players.

I'll take the Rookies, Dezmen Southward, and Dwight Lowery as our Safeties right now, with Kemal Ishmael as a solid #3 Safety.  Southward has the speed (4.38 40) the skill (42 Vertical) and the Brains (31 on the Wonderlic) that Moore will never have...he's a future pro bowler, I predict.

Who could we least afford to lose today, Matthews or Moore?  Not even close after Baker's injury, unless you think Holmes is the answer.  LOL!

EricEllis
EricEllis

@RangeRover You have absolutely no clue what you are talking about.  Willie Mo is the leader of the defense and a very good Safety.  His issue has always been not having someone of the same caliber next to him.  He's no Troy Polamalu or Earl Thomas, but then how many of them are there?

miked91
miked91

Baker isn't much of a lost,he sucks.

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

Are you kidding me?? The Falcons are better when Jackson is out!! He totally sucks. Are you livin' in the distant past or what? I 'd rather bring back Michael Turner than play Jackson. It takes both of them 3 seconds to get to the line of scrimmage after the handoff!

traderjoe9
traderjoe9

Tony Gonzalez was more than a go-to guy last year. He provided leadership. The Falcons need leadership on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Leadership comes from people who lead by example and who have the skills to dominate or at least compete for domination at their position. I hope we have some people who can step up into these roles but I have no idea who would be.

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

Great point - we know Ryan isn't their leader. O-lineman would just stand there and stare at him when defenders would slam him to the ground last year. Tells you he is not their leader. Jackson can't and doesn't play any more. If Roddy is your leader your team is in sad shape!

RangeRover
RangeRover

@TreeRollins

Dumbest comment of the day!

Ryan is not just the leader, he's the only reason this largely collection of mediocre talent has done what they have the past 7 seasons.

Just because Holmes and Konz acted like wusses when that punk Saints Safety hit Rayn doesn't make Ryan a non leader.

BigHittas
BigHittas

Steven Jackson, the pass catcher? The same one that dropped the go-ahead TD, likely game winning pass vs the Saints last year?

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

Sam Baker is a disappointment, but I'd rather his injury happen now than midway through the season. Hence it will give this o-line a chance to gel together, barring no more setbacks. Dimitroff signed Sam and it hasn't worked out along with Weatherspoon. I'm not saying it's Dimitroff's fault, but in the game of football you better have more hits than misses. Even at this point Mr. Blank has to be watching this coaching staff with a sharp eye.

keendaddy
keendaddy

Where are all the kool-aid drinkers?

Seriously, I hope that we do great, but I don't see the improvement needed to contend. As a matter of fact, I am worried about another 12 loss year. We have some good young kids, but little depth for starters. I always thought that you were supposed to build your team around your 2 lines of scrimmage. We need a Coach that believes in a Stout Defense, and a consistent Running game. ( And a GM that can judge talent better. )

MikeS777
MikeS777

I don't know what to think about who they can and can't afford to lose.  I would say Ryan, White, Jones, and Jackson, but that assumes they have an offensive line this year that will block for them.  Ryan was the most hit QB in the league.  It doesn't matter who you have at WR if he doesn't have time to set and find them.

My biggest concern is Weatherspoon.  The run defense looked bad against Houston.  In fact the first unit did not look very much improved at all.  Granted this is preseason, but if your having trouble stopping the run in preseason, what's going to happen when its for real?

Overall, the team made very bad personnel decisions in the offseason last year that may have doomed this team.  Anyone notice Tyson Clabo was starting for Houston and helping them run it right down our throats?  Regardless if you think he wasn't worth the money, he was better than what we ended up with.  Now with Baker going down again, Clabo would be very useful on the line.  Abraham and Grimes made the pro bowl last year for other teams, and probably will have good years again this year.  The Falcons sacrificed a lot of talent to pay a few skill position players, and now they have to live with the consequences.

To me it's a classic sign of a team that has no idea how to win.  You see it all the time from teams that fade in and out of the playoffs, while the ones that stay there always seem to make the right personnel decisions.

Falcons73
Falcons73

"has no idea how to win"...pure idiocy. This same team has compiled the second most wins in the NFL over the past six years.

keendaddy
keendaddy

73

You mean the team that almost got Rayan killed last year? Or do you mean the team that made the Texans look like a playoff contender? You think this team isworthy of the sec most wins in the last 6 years? I don't think "idiocy", means what you think it means...

Falcons73
Falcons73

Dude, let's start with the basics...it's Ryan not Rayan. Then, let's progress to your "worthy" comment. Whether you think this team is "worthy" or not, factually the Falcons have the secondary wins over the past six seasons (which includes 5 consecutive winning seasons, two #1 seeds over this spam, and an NFC championship game in 2013.)

If you are basing your argument on one preseason game, then I would suggest you rethink your assessment.

JSSN
JSSN

@Falcons73

The Falcons do not have the 2nd most wins since 2008. The Patriots have 72 wins, then the Saints have 63, the The Ravens have 62, then Packers and Falcons share 61 wins.

Coming into 2013 they had 57. Other teams ran past them when they faltered. The Colts are only a game back of them since they acquired Luck.  

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@MikeS777  The Falcons have had a huge run of success, the football time-dimension equivalent of the Braves run through the 90's minus the Super Bowl Championship. But I generally agree with you, tracing the start of the problems and the compounding of the problems to the Green Bay playoff game where the management "lost their way" and began questioning themselves and grasping for straws. Time to pay the piper.


The linebackers on this team are nothing short of horrible, except for a few good plays made by some of the backups against questionable competition. They could sign three players off the street and get similar results.

keendaddy
keendaddy

Dude, what are secondary wins? Wins by DB's? Also, try not to be such a d-bag. My spellchecker wrote Rayan. You might want to go easy on the kool-aid, Sunshine. We sucked all of last year. Didn't look very good beating Miami, and looked just like the team that lost 12 games last year, against the Mighty Texans. You also need to take off those Rose-colored glasses you're wearing...did I misspell anything? If not, Class Dismissed!

EricEllis
EricEllis

@MikeS777


Whole-heartedly agree with the bad moves from last off season.  Letting Abraham, Grimes, and Clabo walk out the door really doomed 2013, especially with the injuries sustained.  I understand they had cap issues and needed the room to sign Ryan but they needed to figure something out rather than letting 3 of their best starters walk...

Whiznot
Whiznot

It doesn't matter who the Falcons lose. Even at full strength they are terrible. Management discarded a good team so that they could grossly overpay Matt Ryan. As a fan, I'm disgusted by personnel decisions made over the last couple of years. Worn our players like Steven Jackson and Devin Hester add nothing.

ReggieTheMailman
ReggieTheMailman

Yea this article lost all credibility when you said TJ Yates was an upgrade to anything. Sean Renfree already has surpassed him on the depth chart.

Wilbo
Wilbo

This tepid article is fitting for this tepid team and its tepid players.


Reading this and thinking quickly about the implications of who is on this team and who this team is now forced to count on makes me think the future of the Atlanta Falcons is very, very bleak. 


I believe Matt Ryan's best hope in the NFL is to get injured, lose a couple of years finding an opportunity w another team - develop some mental toughness during that time - and evolve into a better player somewhere else. 


Don't we as Atlanta fans somewhere, sometime deserve intelligent reporters who will tell us the truth about how amateurly our pro sports franchises are run? Apparently not.

AlwaysReady
AlwaysReady

It's not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive

but those who can best manage change.


GO IRISH
GO IRISH

Permit me, Jeff, to shatter your list here: 1. Ryan - 1-5 in playoffs. 2. Jones - has had history of injuries since high school; won't finish the season. 3. White - getting too long in the tooth. 4. Trufant - maybe. 5. Umenyiora - has done nothing since he's been here; his NYG stats are meaningless. 6.  Moore - a joke. 7. Jackson - never should have been acquired; over the hill; won't finish the season due to injuries. Falcons finish 8-8 (if that), fire Smith and put GM Tom D. on the hot seat.  

Big Wally
Big Wally

It's a race to the bottom to see who can be the worse GM in Atlanta.  Right now Wren is in the lead, but Dimitroff and his draft duds are closing real fast.

Big Wally
Big Wally

This is what happens when you make a GM out of someone who only got donuts and coffee for Bilichek when he was in NE.  Arthur you got scammed big time on the Dimitroff hire.  Next spring when your looking for a new GM, don't get dazzled by the hair gel this time. 

keendaddy
keendaddy

I'm sure that T.D., has it under control. He's probably already extended Baker's contract an additional 4-5 years, with most of the money guaranteed! That way, he can assure us that he's serious about fixing the OL. If TD worried about the future of the Falcons, as much as he worries about his hair, we'd still be competitive.

GSU93
GSU93

Time to start searching the waiver wire for someone else's has-beens and discards.  Yet another Dimitroff bust who he traded away 3 picks for.  And people wonder why this team has no depth...

keendaddy
keendaddy

Yates sucks, unless you like interceptions....

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

The Falcons have already lost at least two players who should be on this list. Osi is WAY overrated, and Steven Jackson is akin the student who won't show up for class. If Yates is the backup QB pray pray pray Ryan doesn't get hurt.


Too many holes on this team to expect a playoff appearance. Let them prove what they are on the field.

keendaddy
keendaddy

Let's see, last year Mike Smith promised our OL was going to be just fine, and of course, the rest was history. Did you see just howbad we looked aagainst the mighty, mighty Texans? Many of us (the fans), called for more emphasis on improving the OL. Matthews, was a start. The 2 free agents they picked up, were less than impressive. It's like last year, no sense of urgency. Oh well, typical loser logic...

We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again
We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again

The Falcons have spent four first-round draft picks since 2008 on players who haven't been able to consistently stay on the field. Yes, I'm including Julio in that group with Baker, Peria Jerry, and Sean Weatherspoon. To make matters worse, last year's prized free-agent acquisition (Steven Jackson) has also constantly been out of commission.

This is devastating for a franchise to invest so much into so many injury-prone players. Whether or not Dimitroff is at fault for this is up for debate. I could be wrong, but I don't remember any of the aforementioned draft picks having chronic injury problems in college, and Jackson was always durable with the Rams. It doesn't really matter whose fault it is, though. The fact is the Falcons are entering another season with two starters already done for the year and Jackson in limbo. After last year's carnage, it's very disheartening to see it happening again.

Addy
Addy

Lamar Holmes is the worst player ever in the history of the NFL. Did you not see him play last year ??? I cannot believe how such a dreadful player can even stay on an NFL roster. If Lamar Holmes is your starting LT or RT, then 3-13 , here we come.

JackClemens
JackClemens

Jeff, do you know how many games Julio has missed? It's a lot. You're right, he's necessary.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

First to say I can co-sign on the top 6......not number 7!