2012 Season Review:
The Atlanta Falcons had a dream season in 2013. Thanks to the NFL schedule makers, and the NFL office for dismantling the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons played a total of two playoff teams the entire season. In fact in the entire season the Falcons played a total of two team with winning records. Either way you look at it, the Falcons feasted on their weak schedule to have the best record in all of football. In a surprise for the usually run oriented Falcons, their rushing attack seemed to stall out this year finishing 29th, but the passing game made up for it finishing 6th in the league. The Falcons tried to make it a magical last season for their tight end Tony Gonzalez. Entering the season Tony Gonzalez had never won a playoff game in his illustrious career, but in the Divisional Round of the playoffs the Falcons changed that history. They jumped out to a 20 -00 halftime lead and ended up coughing up the lead until Matt Ryan led the team to a game winning Matt Bryant field goal. In the NFC Championship game again the Falcons jumped out to a lead, only to watch it evaporate in the fourth quarter. This time they could not muster a comeback and they ended up losing to the San Francisco 49ers.
2013 Off Season Priorities
Mike Smith has turned around a team in turmoil when he took over. The problem with Mike Smith prior to the season was the teams inability to win a playoff game, but the Falcons trumped that criticism this past season. Smith is supposed to be a defensive coach, but the defense ha not lived up to the billing.
Matt Ryan has been dubbed the savior of Atlanta. he has led the team out of the disaster that was Mike Vick and Bobby Petrino. Ryan stepped up this year throwing for over 4,700 yards and 32 touchdowns. Ryan not only threw for a ridiculous amount of yards, but he also led the team to great comeback wins, which showed his ability to live up to his nickname “Matty Ice.” Ryan ended up taking every snap this season, and has not had any injury concerns so the back up position in Atlanta is a good spot to put a veteran free agent, or a late round rookie QB. Finding a veteran that would liek to be a back up is going to be tough in free agency, so the best bet is to get a young back up in the later rounds like Jordan Rogers – QB – Vanderbilt, or Collin Klein – QB – Kansas State.
Michael Turner had a down year this year. Whether that is a sign of wear and tear is tough to tell. Turner has had more carries than any other back in the league since he came to Atlanta. One thing that Turner does well is find the endzone. One of the reasons for Turner’s decline in yardage was the expansion of the role of Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers proved he can carry the ball between the tackles, but he is a major threat in the passing game for screens and check downs. With the two small backs, Jason Snelling acts as the big bruiser. Each of their backs complements each other and they can use all three in various ways to keep variety in the play calling.
The wide receiver position is the strength of Atlanta. Julio Jones stepped up and made a name for himself this year as he made the Pro Bowl and finished with 10 touchdowns. Roddy White led the team in catches and yards and with these two on the outside, it is no wonder why Matt Ryan threw for 4,700 yards. Harry Douglas as the slot receiver is a decent player and with two studs on the outside, Douglas will reap the benefits of the one on one coverage and the open spots of the zone.
At tight end obviously Tony Gonzalez is a Hall of Famer and he announced his retirement prior to the season starting. He has yet to send his papers into the league so the Falcons will be trying to plead with him to come back for one more go around to get a shot to play in the Super Bowl. Behind Gonzalez there is not much there for the Falcons to utilize, they will have to use the Draft and free agency to address the tight end position. In free agency a guy like Martellus Bennett – NYG could be a player that the Falcons try to target to replace Gonzalez as a pass catching tight end. In the Draft if Gonzalez is retired, and even if he is not, there are two top flight tight ends Zach Ertz – TE – Stanford, is a true tight end, as far as blocking and pass catching is concerned. Tyler Eifert – TE – Notre Dame is more of the athletic tight end that teams are jumping at. He is a match up problem and has been used as a wide out in the Notre Dame offense and has the ability to out jump smaller cornerbacks and run by safeties and linebackers.
The offensive line in Atlanta was actually good at keeping Matt Ryan clean in the passing game. The problem is their running game was a poor effort in 2012. Sam Baker at left tackle is a free agent. Baker is not exactly a lock at left tackle, but with the lack of talent in the free agent market when you take out guys like Jake Long – Mia, who will be franchised and not really hit the market, the Falcons may be forced to bring Baker back for another go around. On the right side Tyson Clabo is a very good right tackle. he is able to handle different types of rushers with good feet and power. Both Justin Blalock and Peter Koncz are second round picks, Blalock in 2007 and Koncz last year. both players are set in their spots, but the Falcons could use depth in the draft in the middle or late rounds. The center Todd McClure is a free agent and should not cost too much to bring back and is worthy of a 3-4 year contract for the way he has played over his Falcons career.
The Falcons defenive line has been a work in progress wrapped around one wily vet. Johnathan Abraham has been a terror in his career, but he has had injury issues over the last few years and he has never been a player known to play through pain. His limitations means that the Falcons need to have a deep rotation if they keep Abraham on the roster and use him in mostly passing situations. The good news for the Falcons is that Kroy Bierman has stepped up as a reasonable defensive end that can play every down. The other good news for the Falcons is that the defensive end position is a deep position in this draft. A player like Margus Hunt – DE – SMU or Alex Okafor – DE – Texas could find their way to Atlanta.
Johnathan Babineaux at defensive tackle is a very good player. He sucks up blocks in the middle and allows the linebackers to be free to make plays. Peria Jerry is a first round draft pick from 2009 that the Falcons are still waiting to reach his potential. if he does not get it done this year this could be his last year in Atlanta, but he has too much money left on his contract to cut bait now. Defensive tackle is another deep position in the draft so a mid round pick would allow the Falcons to get depth on the defensive line rotations.
Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon at linebacker led the team in tackles. Weatherspoon is a great talent and plays botht he run and the pass well. Nicholas just had a career year, so he need s to prove again if he is up to the task. Akeem Dent played worthy in the middle, but again the Falcons need depth at the middle linebacker position. This is a position where a veteran could make all the difference for the Falcons. One fan friendly move may be to bring Keith Brooking – Den back to ATlanta, or Ernie Sims – Dal as a veteran to help the Falcons defense.
The Falcons have one of the better secondaries in the league. Asante Samuel is a clutch player. he guesses a lot, but he makes it work more times than not. Dunta Robinson on the other side is another corner that likes to gamble, but he has the speed to make up for his gambling. Brent grimes was franchised last year, so he is likely to find a different team. Dominique Franks could step up as the nickle corner. Thomas DeCoud led the team in interceptions with 6 from the safety position. William Moore was a Pro Bowl safety this season and is a free agent but if a long term deal is not reached the franchise tag will be used on him until they work out a longer deal.
The Falcons will have to either begin the post Tony Gonzalez era this year or get him to come back and begin to plan for that era. Zach Ertz is the number one tight end in the draft. In the Challengeflag mock draft he is off the board already so it makes it easy to go to Tyler Eifert – TE – Notre Dame. The Falcons do not have holes elsewhere in the starting line up, so they should use the rest of the draft to get depth at almost every position. They need depth at linebacker, defensive line, and offensive line. They also could use a late round pick on a quarterback to be the back up to Matt Ryan and learn the system for years down the road.
The Falcons finally got that playoff win that critics used against them all year long. The problem with the Falcons season was that the way they played in the post season. Both games they played they coughed up large first half leads. The Falcons will not have the luck of the schedule next year, and they will not have the Saints crippled by the league office. The Falcons will have to find a way to get Tony Gonzalez to come back or make plans for life without him.
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