The Atlanta Falcons are the next team scheduled to talk about on our NFL 32 Team Preview. The Dirty Birds went 13-3 last season, in a tie with Denver for the best record in the NFL. Some questioned the hiring of Mike Smith in 2008, but he’s gone 57-28 with the team including 1 Playoff win. Atlanta is one of the heavy favorites to go to the Super Bowl in New York. They need to take advantage of their window and win the Falcons its first Title in franchise history. Mike Smith, being the Defensive minded coach that he is, needs to lead the Defense to a better ranking than 24th overall in 2013.
Offense: Atlanta placed 8th in Total Offense last season, ranking 6th in passing and 29th in the run. The key piece to the Birds’ Offense is Quarterback Matt Ryan. With 16 fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game winning drives in his career, Ryan might arguably be one of the most clutch quarterbacks the NFL has to offer. Matt had a career year passing last season with 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and a 68.6% completion percentage (tied for 1st with Peyton Manning). His two main targets, Julio Jones and Roddy White, are considered the best receiving tandem in the league. They both totaled 35 plays for 20 yards or more for the franchise last season. White has more than 80 catches and over 1,150 yards each season since 2007, with a total of 49 touchdowns. Roddy is a four-time Pro Bowler, who was already one of the best in the game when the organization chose Julio Jones with the 6th overall pick in 2011. He has had over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns during his 2-year career. Harry Douglas, Drew Davis and Tim Toone will be responsible for filling in during the advanced receiver sets. They’ll have plenty of chances to make plays with Defensive Backs focusing on the other main threats on field. Notably, Martel Moore was signed as an un-drafted free agent who played big for Northern Illinois in his college career. He has a great opportunity to see playing time with a solid performance during Training Camp. Another main threat that members of the Secondary have to account for is Tight End Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez returned this season, for a 17th year only, only due to the fact that he believes they’ll be contenders for the Super Bowl. Gonzalez had his best showing as a Falcon with 93 catches, 930 yards and 8 touchdowns. If White/Jones/Gonzalez can put up combined numbers of 3,509 yards and 25 touchdowns again this coming season, Atlanta shouldn’t have much problem being the force they’re expected to be through the air. On the ground the Birds’ needed improvement badly, so they made it a point to go after Steven Jackson during Free Agency. For the eighth season, Jackson went over 1,000 yards in 2012, scoring 4 times. Jackson is going to bring an element that will make the Falcons scary on Offense if he can stay healthy. He’s only started 16 games 3 times in his 9-year career. Jackson, if healthy throughout the 2013/2014 season, will be one of the more talked about x-factors on Atlanta. Backing him up will be Jacquizz Rodgers, who is a speedy passing catcher out of the backfield. Blocking upfront for the runners and signal-callers is Sam Baker, Peter Konz, Justin Blalock, Garrett Reynolds, and Mike Johnson. Baker (Left Tackle) and Johnson (Right Tackle) are going be personally responsible for keeping Ryan on his feet. Opening holes for the running game will be Blalock and Reynolds at Guard, with Konz at Center. Konz started 10 games for the team in his rookie year of 2012. Blalock was solid for the team last season while Reynolds’ season was shortened by a back injury. Atlanta has everything they need on Offense to be number 1 ranked by the end of the 2013 campaign. Defensive Coordinators are going to have trouble defending the run in receiver sets of 3 or greater if Steven Jackson is playing as he’s expected too.
Defense: Atlanta’s defense played better than it’s 20th rank against the rush and 23rd versus the pass. They were one of the top teams in turnovers with plenty of interceptions in the Secondary. The franchise has a great pair of Safetys in Thomas DeCoud and William Moore. With 156 tackles between them, DeCoud picked off 6 passes while Moore had 4. They both were selected to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and have a good probability of returning after 2013. Cornerback begins with Asante Samuel who, tied for 34th All-Time with 50 interceptions, took away 5 passes (one for the only Defensive score of the season) in his first year as a Falcon last season. He also led the team in pass deflections with 19. Desmond Trufant (22nd) and Robert Alford (60th) were selected early in the 2o13 Draft. Trufant should start right away; Alford should see significant playing time throughout the season. Trufant intercepted 6 passes over his 4-year career at Washington, while Alford intercepted 9 over the past two seasons playing at the smaller school of Southeastern Louisiana. Another Cornerback, Robert McCain, was claimed off waivers in 2011 and he deflected 10 passes last season. The Defensive Line got a pass rushing threat when they signed Osi Umenyiora off the Free Agent market. Having 75 sacks in his career, Umenyiora will be a pleasant addition to the line. Kroy Biermann, who registered 4 sacks in 2012, and Umenyiora should be moved around between End in a 4/3 and OLB in a 3/4 depending on the look that the Defense is giving. Jonathan Babineaux led the team in tackles for loss and will be at End and Tackle depending on the scheme being played. He has trouble playing the run so, with it being a contract year for him, he’s going to need to bring his best effort in this next season. Peria Jerry and Corey Peters are players who should see playing time as well along the line. At Linebacker, Stephen Nicholas was Atlanta’s main tackler in last year with 97 total tackles, 2 sacks, an interception and forced fumble. Almost mirroring those numbers was Sean Witherspoon with 95 total tackles, 3 sacks, an interception and forced fumble. Atlanta will need both of these players to be on top of their game throughout the entire season to help stop the running game. Linebacker Akeem Dent started 13 games for the franchise last season. He’ll be looked upon to be a full time starter for the first time in his career this coming year. The whole key for this Defense is to be able to bend but not break. They have plenty of ball-hawks in the Secondary to have turnovers in 2013, and will need their pass rushers to put pressure on Quarterbacks to create opportunities. If the Falcons can hold teams to under 20 points a game, they’ll win a lot of games.
End Result: It seems a little low, but when ranking how Atlanta would finish, I came to the conclusion of 10-6. I think their division will be a very difficult one to play in next season, as 3 out of the 4 teams have a legitimate chance to make the Playoffs.