Stillers vs. Falcons Pre-game:
For two seasons, the Falcons have been one of the worst teams in football.� That doesn�t figure to change in 2001; Vick won�t be ready, the Falcon OL, while adequate at tackle, is soft and cheesy inside and their D-side is, generally, over-old and undersized.� If this were a regular season game, the Stillers should win easily.� However, since this is a pre-season tilt, winning just doesn�t matter.� What counts is commitment to a scheme, establishing identity and individual match-ups.� Here are some things I�ll be looking for when the Stillers have the ball:
Mike Mularkey has installed some pre-snap motion within his simplified scheme.� The NYG had success with this last year and, on paper, the Giants O-side personnel are no better than the group assembled here.� Motion threatens the match-ups that D-Heads seek to create with their waves of specialized, package defenders; motion can create some assignment blows.� Unless, or until, the Stillers can throw the ball downfield, they�ll be facing 8 in the box.� Make those defenders adjust; hell, with enough motion, opposing D-heads may have to unpack their box just to create room for their guys to maneuver.
Of course, pre-snap motion can lead to pre-snap penalties.� If the Stillers can work this smoothly on Friday, fine; if not, I hope they�ll stay with the concept.� Pre-season is for working out the kinks; the first real test of Coach Mularkey�s independence will come if the Stillers look like circus clowns Friday but still are working motion two weeks later.
The first possession:� In �97, the Stillers had been in Ireland scrimmaging the Bears.� When those two teams played their first pre-season game on the Emerald Isle, the Kordell-led Stillers came out and just torched that Chi-town secondary.� That year, the O-side ranked 6th overall and the Stillers went on to the AFC title game.� In the following three seasons, the Stiller O-side was ineffective from the first possession of the first pre-season game and, generally, throughout each of those miserable campaigns.� If the motion-full, simplified Mularkey scheme leads to a couple quick scores, this could build some confidence on the O-side and that could carry them through the tough times sure to come.
Pre-season is for building strength from weakness:� Atlanta has a small D-line and excluding Travis Hall, none of those men are good run defenders.� With MLB Jesse Tuggle out, this defense figures to be essentially helpless against the run.� If this were a regular season game, gut runs would be in order, all night long.� That�s not true for this game; at least in the early going, the Stillers should focus on working the pass.�
Ray Buchanon and Ashley Ambrose are quality CB; both are small but experienced and athletic.� Work Burress and Edwards against this pair; give Kordell and the young WR a chance to compete against a CB duo that is as good as any they�ll face in pre-season.� Atlanta�s first unit won�t be on the field for long; work the pass early and, later, let the young players re-establish Coach Cowher�s favored smash-mouth persona.
Seize the opportunity:� The Stillers don�t have a healthy FB; Kreider is out for another week and, in a development that apparently took the Stiller FO unawares, Jon Witman is hobbled by his chronically ailing back.� Bad news for the power-I but not so for the Stillers long-term prospects.� Friday, the O-side will have the opportunity to feature 3-wide sets, to work a split set with Amoz and Fu, a single back set with either, or even to line up multiple TE.� Ken Whisenhunt knows how to do this; this man coached the Jets TE a team that (often) carried just (1) FB (pass-catcher Ritchie Anderson) with as many as (4) TE.� Of course, the Jets featured RB was Schenley�s own multiple threat Curtis Martin.� The Bus may be as effective, in his way, as Martin but Friday there is no need to polish the power game.� Rather, the O-side needs a change of pace and the injuries at FB have offered a no-risk chance to experiment.�
Evidently, Coach Cowher has been tinkering at this spot.� Reportedly, Chukky Okobi has taken some snaps in camp at FB; this is absurd, Okobi is a stumpy interior O-linemen and, probably, has even less movement skill than, say, Big Jon Witman.� Lining-up Chukky at FB, even in short yardage, has all the deception previously reserved for our inevitable 3rd down screen.� Sure, Chukky might add some punch at the POA but playing this man at FB would be about equivalent to taping raw meat to some RB and chucking him in a shark tank.� With Cushing, Tuman or even Bruener in the backfield there would be some D-side doubt; with Okobi, very little.
I don�t want to see Fu at FB either, at least not in the power-I.� Fu has skill and explosiveness but lacks durability; lining him up as a battering ram is tantamount to hitching a boat trailer to that vintage Jag and heading towards the put-in.� In sum, if the Falcons are overmatched against the Stillers power-running game and, Friday, the Stillers will be undermanned in that department then please, for one night, work some alternative attacks.
When the Falcons have the ball, Michael Vick will get the bulk of their snaps at QB.� Chandler doesn�t need the pain and the other two guys just don�t matter. I don�t think Jamal Anderson will play much and both back-up RB, Rodney Thomas and Travis Jervey, are nearing the end.� Assuming the Falcons try to take flight, I�ll watch:
The D-line:� Vick can be neutralized with pressure up the middle.� Atlanta�s interior OL is weak; if Hampton can collapse the pocket Friday that will bode well for the 2001 Stiller pass rush.� This will be the rookie�s first test and it is one he should pass.� Reportedly DE Smith and Combs are both about 300#; that�s decent size for a 3-4 DE and good news since the Stillers best chance to step up in class on the D-line rests with both Hampton and a DE rotation of KVO, Smith and Combs.� Atlanta�s OT (Whitfield and Claridge) are good, tenacious players; Ephraim Salaam has started at ROT for (3) seasons but is now 2nd team; that trio of Falcon OT should be a pretty good test for the Stiller DE.
Underneath routes:� If Chandler plays, the Falcons won�t expose him with any slow developing plays.� The same may be true for Vick.� The Falcon top WR are Shawn Jefferson, Tony Martin and Terence Mathias.� Not fast, tiny to not real big and all on the wrong side of 30.� I don�t see these men getting deep and, if Scott and DW press, these WR will be entirely ineffective.� If the CB play off, then we�ll see whether Mike Jones has any hop left in those 32 year old legs.
Speed kills:� I want to see what happens when the Falcon pocket collapses and Kendrell Bell gets a run at Vick.�
Back-up OLB:� Whoever plays LOLB after Gildon sits down will, sooner or later, draw Salaam.� That man has started 40 games or so; this will be a decent test for Haggans or Kurpeikis.
Back-up DB:� The Falcon oldster WR can�t run much but Eugene Baker and Vinny Sutherland can motor.� Its time to see what Poteat can do at CB.