Falcons Season Recap


Making back to back playoff berths is nothing to be scoffed at. It is diffidult to win any game in the NFL. This is what the Falcons have accomplished.

Unfortunately, that is all they have accomplished.

It was such a season of high hopes. So many things were supposed to happen, be done differently, and make a Super Bowl run. Many changes did happen. They happened for the worse.

The explosive Falcons we came expectionf showed glimpses of that explosiveness, but nothing more. Early in the season, too much emphasis was placed on the big passing play, and as a result less big plays were made possible. The Falcons simply got away from what they were built to do: run the ball, and play action off of it effectively. The whole drop back and launch the ball approach would be lovely, but it was ineffective due to the way the line was built. The line can only truly pass block after running to set up those passes.

After much debate and converstation on the topic, the Atlanta coaching staff decided to get back to its roots. Running with Michael Turner would be key to winning. From the game against Seattle onwards, a commitment to Turner and running the ball was made. No matter what, carries were given to the running backs unless the score required passing.

Here is where things got difficult. Compared to last year, we did not run the ball very well. The play calling handcuffed the falcons as too many up the middle and between the tackles runs went for a loss of no gain. Third and long opportunities are much more difficult thatn third and short. And when a defense KNOWS you will pass,it infites them to dial up the pass rush. That is when the holes in the offensive line became most apparent.

The offensive line was in flux from the moment the new CBA was signed and free-agency began. Harvey Dahl left in free agency when the Falcons decided to re-sign Blalock & Clabo on the line. IT seemed reasonable with these two at LG and RT respectively, McClure would start at center, Baker at LT, and Garrett Reynolds and Mike Johnson were supposed to compete for RG. Baker performed horribly in rea playing time, Johnson was injured and out for the entire season. We learned that Reynolds was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t play just yet. Hawley (deemed the successor to McClure at C) was plugged in at RG, where he was an upgrade, but still not fantastic. When McClure was out, Reynolds was forced into playing, and that constant shifting was entirely too much shifting to have a consistently solid line that worked well together.

The LT position is very interesting to me. Baker was decentin run blocking, but amond the bottom of the barrell in pass blocking. To say he was bad was an understatement. But his injury allowed Will Svitek to step in and play. He was infinitely better in pass protection (still not elite) but not quite the run blocker. From this season we also learned Svitek is the better option, but the Falcons need an upgrade at LT. I wish Svitek were the long term option, but he isn’t. An upgrade is necessary.

Michael Turner may be done at running back. Obviously he may be with the Falcons a few more years, and things may be better if a new and effective offensive coordinator arrives, but he is getting older and it seems the massive number of carries are catching up to him. He can still be effective but at some point a strong and verrsitile back is necessary. Someone like LeSean McCoy who can run between the tackles, run outside, and catch passes equall well would be great for this team. Turner can’t catch, and Rodgers is a 3rd down/scatback. One back who can do it all is a must.

Roddy White has got to return to his 2010 form. He was sure handed, made exceptional catches, came back to the ball well, and was extremely productive. That seemed to change this year. Sure he had more than 100 catches, nearly 1300 yards and 8 touchdowns, but he dropped many key passes. Many of his tipped easy catches turned into interceptions and thats never a good thing. Several games could have been won had he made the plays he did in 2010 and stepped up instead of stepping back.

The other person whose play needs to be addressed is Matt Ryan’s I think he is a very solid QB, and the one we need tofro our franchise. He has been playing very inconsistently, however.  For the most part this is a result of poor blocking by the offensive line and not enough time to get the ball downfield. He generally has made great decisiont, good checks, accurate throws, and played well. The one area where Ryan has not been consistens has been in the deep passing game. On throws that travel 20 yards in the air and beyond, he has completed only about 1/4 of those passes. It is paltry given the talent he is, and the talent surrounding him. part of it can be chalked up to pressure on him. Alot of it though, needs to be placedon Ryan’s shoulders. The great thing about the coming year for Ryan is he will have a full season offseason with both White and Jones including OTAs and minicamps. As professional players I fully expect there to be a huge focus on hitting the deep passing routes to White and Jones. If it is necessary to increase his arm strength, then as a consumer of the Falcons product, I expect him to make that happen. I think it is more likely that he needs to work on his chemistry with his receivers on the deep routes and getting the timing right. With proper protection, he has enough arm strength, and it is up to him to work on his most glaring weakness.

The defensive side of the ball is another issue that needs to be addressed. There are several huge strengths in the defense, and several holes that are just as big. The strengths are clearly the defensive tackles, the linebackers, William Moore and Brent Grimes. Having a rotation of Babineaux, a great young tackle in Corey Peters, and Peria Jerry who had shown flashes, the tackles can be good for a while. Linebacking may be the biggest strength. Weatherspoon is a terriffic player, Lofton is very good, and Nicholas is alow outstanding. The three of them make up the most complete corps in the division, and one of the best in the conference. In the secondary, William Moore is a hard hitter at strong safety and makes good heads up plays. Brent Grimes is a good cover corner, the best on the team when healthy.

The stars on the team are playing alongside the average players. to complement the tackles, there is no great unstoppable pass rushing defensive end. Abraham was that at a time, but he isnt any longer. He is also a free agent, and it may be wise for salary cap reason to let him walk. Aside from him, nobody else is great. Ray Edwards is looking like another free agent signing bust, as he benefitted from a great team defensive line in Minnesota and was igven many one on one matchups. In Atlanta he generally gets a chip from a back and rarely gets the kind of pressure necessary to force errors by the quarterback. He plays hard, and also plays the run well, but he isn’t the difference maker the Falcons expected and counted on him to be. Kroy Biermann has turn in highlight plays each of the last two seasons, but his value is limited and he is not much more than a role player. Lawrence Sidbury could end up being a solid DE, but he still isn’t great yet.

Corner may be the most important defensive position in the NFL right now, and the Falcons are very behind here. Dunta Robinson is absolutely awful in coverage, its unreal how bad he is. He has the coverage skill of a linebacker. There is nothing good comming from Robinson and I believe that fully. Chris Owens played horribly last year against Gereen Bay and hes been relegated to 4th corner at times. He saved many big plays this season, and played well against the Giants. Those saves and pass deflections may have saved him his job. Franks is very raw. Sometimes he plays well, sometimes he completely blows coverage. Better cover corners are necessary.

It is easy to gang up on the defense and call them out for giving up too many point throughout the season. But the top teams in this league are predicated on playing great offensively, and creating turnovers on defense. The Packers, Saints, Patriots all give up ungodly amount of yards, but because they score touchdowns and force turnovers, they win. Our defense had played fairly well in some situations, especially the game against the Packers, and the first game against the Saints. Holding those offenses to 25 and 26 points respectively seemed like huge victories for the defenses. There was the bad game on Monday Night Football against the Saints, but for the most part this defense was servicable. Against the Giants the Falcons missed some tackles and had communication issues, resulting in the terrible score from the playoff game. I think more attention needs to be tuurned to the offensive defincies rather than a complete overhaul of the defense. Our defense can stand up for a while, but at a point the offense need to do its job and actually put points on the board. James Sanders will not score for us very often.

Another thing that I have begun to think about is the mindset of the coaching staff in recent weeks. It seems like they are trying harder not to lose the game than to win the game. It seems like every team in the NFL that is successful offensively takes chances, rolls the dice, trusts its personnel, and big plays happen. They perform like a championship boxer; they continue to land body shot after body shot, and eventually land that knockout blow to the opposing team. The Falcons seem like they are always the overmatched underdog who is trying not to get killed out there, is not taking chances, is just going jab, jab, jab, trying to survive the bout. The only time this season when we saw the Falcons play with reckless abandon was the second half against the Panthers, when Ryan went off, the offense clicked, and everything seemed to go our way. When we check down, punt, check down, get sacked, run for no gain, punt, and in generally play extremely timidly, we lose. The most timid game of the season was this postseason game against the Giants, and no offensive points were scored. The coaching staff needs to take charge and play to win. As the legendary Herm Edwards once said, “You play to win the game!”

These were the issues we had all season land, but they were truly highlighted on MFN and against the Giants in the playoff game. It became a microcosm of the season with all its inconsistencies, poor execution, poor play calling, and bad situational play calling. Not scoring offensive points in unacceptable and I expect heads on the coaching staff to roll after this debilitating performance.