I know it might be considered early to begin talking about next seasons expectations. Especially since the NFL draft has not even taken place. But, any real fan makes expectations whenever they feel like it. So, as a real fan, I am going to state my expectations for the Atlanta Falcons in the upcoming 2012 season.
First, I wanna start with a review of last season. The season started with a lot of hype after the draft day trade that allowed the Falcons to draft deadly rookie receiver Julio Jones out of Alabama. The Falcons believed that with Julio, they would be able to better stretch the field on longer more explosive plays. Something that the front office felt was lacking from the 2010 season that saw the number 1 seeded Falcons get embarrassed by the Packers in the playoffs. So now with a new weapon for Matty Ice to go along with his already vast arsenal, the expectations for the 2011 season were sky high. However, after the first week of the regular season many people became frustrated with the play of the Falcons. In the first game, the Chicago Bears ran all over the Falcons and cruised to a decisive victory.
Fortunately for the Falcons, they were able to turn it around the following week with a victory over the highly touted Philadelphia Eagles. This was believed to be a signature win for the Falcons in the early portion of the season. Especially since Matt Ryan had to orchestrate another of his patented come from behind victories. Many people, including myself, thought the Falcons would use this momentum and cruise to a victory over the rival Bucs the following week. However, this was not the case. The Falcons would alternate wins and losses for the first six weeks of the season before they could manage back-to-back wins. After a 3-3 start, the Falcons rallied and managed to pull of an 7-3 finish to cap off a 10-6 record and make the playoffs as a wild card team.
Even though they managed to right the ship and make the playoffs, the Falcons faced many obstacles during the year. One of those obstacles was the poor pass defense. This was really brought to the forefront in both games against the hated Saints. Drew Brees and his cadre of receivers were able to man handle the Falcons secondary. Another obstacle was the poor pass rush as well as the defenses inability to get off the field on third downs. All of these were made painfully obvious in the Saints games. If the Falcons are going to compete for the division next year and go deep into the playoffs, they are going to have to remedy these problems in the offseason.
Now for what they did well last season. The first thing that is worthy of noting is the fact that they made the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Something they had never done before. Matt Ryan increased his own personal career bests while leading his teammate to that playoff berth. Roddy White brought in 100 grabs for the second consecutive year. Thus firmly establishing himself as one of the top receivers in the game. Julio Jones also made a huge impression with his rookie campaign by coming just shy of 1000 yards receiving on only 54 receptions while also pulling in 8 touchdowns. This is more impressive if you take in the fact that he missed several games due to injury. And Micheal Turner broke the 1000 yard rushing mark once again. He was third in the league with over 1300 yards as well as rushing for 11 touchdowns. He also passed Gerald Riggs on the Falcons all-time rushing list with 50 career rushing touchdowns as a Falcon.
In retrospect, the offense was very good last year, it just was not that consistent. The main issue though is the defense. If we are to compete with the elite teams in the NFC, the defense is what needs vast improvement.
Now for my expectations for next season. There were a lot of changes made to the coaching staff made this offseason. So some people might think there will be a slow start to the season. I on the other hand think we will start off great. The two main coaches they brought in were Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan. These guys bring with them an immense amount of experience and leadership. With Mike Smith and Koetter and Nolan, I believe the Falcons have one of the best coaching staffs in the league. And with the weapons the Falcons have, there should be no issue with inconsistency on either side of the ball.
For Matty Ice I see him further increasing his personal best. I can easily see him throwing for 4500 yards and 35 touchdowns. For Roddy, I see another 100 reception season and 1300 yards. For Julio I can see 70 catches for around 1300 yards and over 10 touchdowns. The only person I see tailing off a bit is Micheal Turner. I don’t think it will be because of his own personal rate of play. I think it will be more likely due to Matt Ryan throwing the ball more. I still believe that he will get over 1000 yards and close to ten touchdowns. When you put this all together, I personally see no worse than a 12-4 record and a NFC South Division Title. And hopefully it will lead to Matt Ryan’s first of several playoff victories.