With 103 days still remaining before we get Atlanta Falcons football that actually counts, we are right in the wheelhouse of the NFL’s “dead zone”.
One positive is the Falcons have OTAs throughout the month of June beginning today and again on Thursday and Friday. They finish up June 8-11 and June 15-18.
It’s not much but any football is still football. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to get caught up on some of the great Falcons’ content being produced out there.
Hit the jump to read all the Falcons goodness.
Pat Yasinskas from the NFC South Blog at ESPN provides us with Five NFC South players ready to pounce. Among the players on that list is the Falcons’ own gamebreaker, Harry Douglas. Douglas was a popular pick to breakout last season as well so here’s hoping he can stay healthy and deliver on his tremendous potential. Yaskinskas elaborates:
We’re getting back to the true formula for a comeback player here. Douglas missed all of last season after suffering an injury early in the preseason.
I still don’t think a lot of people realize how significant this injury was to the Falcons. They had huge plans for Douglas in his second season. He was going to be the third receiver in this offense. The Falcons were planning on using him in the slot and bringing a whole new dynamic to their offense.
The injury prevented that and really kept Atlanta’s offense from ever hitting its stride last season. But Douglas should be back at full strength and that alone could change the complexion of an offense that’s loaded just about everywhere else.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receiver Roddy White already are very good and wide receiver Michael Jenkins is dependable. Throw Douglas’ speed into the slot and Gonzalez, White and Jenkins immediately become even better. Quarterback Matt Ryan might even become great.
Yasinskas’ Saturday Mailbag also hinted at what every Falcons fan is hoping for – a division title.
Adrian in Georgia writes: with the Falcons having back a healthy Peria Jerry, William Moore, and Harry Douglas, Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner, and Matt Ryan for all 16 games, do they beat out the Saints for the division? Remember the Saints won two squeakers without those guys and the Saints was fully loaded.
Pat Yasinskas: I’ll save my predictions until right before the season. But I think you have to look at the Saints right now as the favorite to win the division. They won the Super Bowl and their roster hasn’t changed all that much. But I also think the Falcons, if healthy, can be a serious challenger.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle (via Forbes) points out that Atlanta hasn’t exactly been the hotbed of championships. This list is another reason why the Falcons (and/or Hawks) need to continue to get better and get their name off these embarrassing lists. From the article:
Forbes has ranked the most-losing teams in all of professional sports and placed two Atlanta teams among the very worst of the bunch.
The Atlanta Falcons, with its winning percentage of 0.415, came in as the sixth most-losing franchise.
“The Falcons have been to the Super Bowl (they lost), but are better known as the team that paid Michael Vick a lot of money before he was suspended and a team that loses a lot, which frustrates the football-mad denizens of the state of Georgia,” Forbes said.
The Atlanta Thrashers, with its winning percentage of 0.443, ranked as the ninth most-losing team in sports.
“The Thrashers currently have no coach or general manager,” Forbes noted. “Ownership is actively seeking new investors. And their top prospect is facing criminal charges for an on-ice hit. ‘Nuff said?”
Here are the top 10 worst teams, according to Forbes:
1. Memphis Grizzlies
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. Charlotte Bobcats
4. Houston Texans
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Atlanta Falcons
7. Tampa Bay Rays
8. Tampa Bay Lightning
9. Atlanta Thrashers
10. Columbus Blue Jackets
If you missed of the great Minicamp coverage provided by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, be sure to check out the NFL’s official Minicamp Gallery focusing on the Atlanta Falcons.
Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports ranked the league’s best running back groups and the Falcons trio of Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling ranked seventh in the NFL. Cole explains:
7. Atlanta Falcons: No team was impacted more by injuries in the backfield than Atlanta, which had both starter Michael Turner(notes) and main backup Jerious Norwood(notes) deal with injuries all season. Turner was never close to the guy he was in 2008, when the Falcons used him to protect rookie quarterback Matt Ryan(notes). Losing Norwood sapped the Falcons of any explosiveness to boot. Turner must return to health if the Falcons are going to be competitive.
Russ Loede over at Falcons Gab reveals his Three Breakthrough Candidates for 2010. Tops on the list is William Moore (previewed below). Head over to Falcons Gab for the rest of the list.
Safety William Moore: The second round selection from Mizzou appeared in only two games registering just two tackles in ‘09. Look for him to replace Erik Coleman, who is merely a stop-gap for a secondary that added Pro-Bowl CB Dunta Robinson in the off-season. Coleman is not the solution, he’s too small and doesn’t make enough plays, barely being average. Moore is the answer. The Falcons need a more aggressive play making strong safety next to Thomas DeCoud, and Moore fits the description. He’s got an abundance of athletic gifts at his disposal and if he stays healthy he will give Falcon fans something to cheer for on Sundays.
Knox Bardeen of Fanhouse fame gives us a video glimpse of coach Mike Smith’s offseason goals. Bardeen summarizes:
Head Coach Mike Smith says that the Atlanta Falcons are going to stress consistency this offseason — not just on the field, but in the classroom.
It’ll be of great help that just about every player on the roster is in camp for OTA’s. Only John Abraham — coach Smith alluded to having open talks with the defensive end and knowing where he is — and Dominique Franks are missing.
Pat Kirwan at NFL.com picks 20 players who could have breakout seasons and the Falcons bring three players to the list.
1. Kroy Biermann, Atlanta Falcons, DE: The 2008 fifth-round pick from Montana had five sacks a year ago and is capable of a 10-sack campaign with his nonstop motor. Is he headed for a career path like Kyle Vanden Bosch? Oh by the way, he can kickoff when need be.
6. Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons, S: Had a conversation with DeCoud this week and this cool, calm athlete is ready for the big time. In 2009, his first season as a starter, he had 68 tackles, seven passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Still, he feels he has plenty of work to do.
17. Curtis Lofton, Atlanta Falcons, LB: Curtis has probably been overlooked a bit. He had 94 tackles as a rookie and came back last season with 133. Ask anyone who follows the Falcons and they will tell you he’s already a star.
Kirwan’s fellow writer, Bucky Brooks, suggests if Matt Ryan performs well, the Falcons could contend for a Super Bowl.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
The 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year has shown flashes of brilliance since being taken by the Falcons third overall.
Ryan became only the second rookie in NFL history to pass for more than 3,000 yards (Peyton Manning was the first in 1998). During his award-winning campaign, Ryan connected on 61.1 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His 87.7 passer rating ranked 11th in the league, and he enjoyed a nine-game streak with at least 200 passing yards.
Ryan’s ability to produce explosive plays complemented the rugged running of Michael Turner, thus diversifying the offense, and propelled the Falcons to 11 wins en route to an unlikely playoff berth. Additionally, his pinpoint passing enabled WR Roddy White to earn his first Pro Bowl nod.
However, Ryan’s play dipped a bit last season as injuries to Turner stymied the Falcons’ running game. Without the threat to dictate eight-man fronts with single coverage on the outside, Ryan struggled at times to deliver the ball into open windows against soft-zone looks. As a result, Ryan connected on only 58.3 percent of his passes, and suffered through a six-game slump where he tossed 11 of his 14 interceptions. The Falcons went 3-3 during that stretch, which hurt their postseason chances.
To his credit, Ryan overcame his midseason woes to post a respectable 80.9 passer rating. Furthermore, he guided the Falcons to three straight wins to cap the season, creating some momentum for 2010.
Given another offseason to work with Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas and White, Ryan is poised to pick up where he left off at season’s end. With the game plan tailored to accentuate his strengths (accuracy, anticipation and timing) it will lead to more confidence and better play.
Considering how close the Falcons were to posting back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history, Ryan’s improvement could be the difference.