Despite loss, 2012 Falcons can be viewed through clear lens


Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) makes a touchdown catch against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown (25) during the second quarter of the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2012 season, there were a tremendous amount of questions about this Atlanta Falcons team. How would the Falcons generate a pass rush? Without an influx of talent on the defensive line, how would they perform? Would new OC Dirk Koetter change up the play-calling to take full advantage of Matt Ryan’s skills and the explosive players they have? How on earth would an Atlanta offensive line that got pushed around in 2011 respond?

Sometimes if a team makes the Super Bowl, many of their deficiencies are totally overlooked. Now, I want the Atlanta Falcons to be in the big game, there’s no doubt about it. Winning the Super Bowl is the only thing that matters. But if you aren’t going to win the Super Bowl, it’s good to have a true sense of ones self, especially in the last game of the season. And even though the Falcons didn’t win in the NFC Championship game, they discovered they’re a very good team, but not without deficiencies.

Looking at them with a critical eye, you can certainly laud the Atlanta Falcons for some things, and criticize them for others. I’ll run through some of those items.

The Falcons were outstanding in pass protection. There was one play where LT Sam Baker was matched up one-on-one with Aldon Smith, and got pushed completely over. Were it not for Ryan getting rid of that pass quickly, he would have gotten mashed up by Smith. Now that’s not completely true late in the game when the Falcons were down and weren’t running the ball anymore. Then, San Francisco got to Ryan often, and he was beaten up badly. He was even injured. So it shows that having some sort of run game allows the line to pass protect more easily, and then the Falcons o-line is outstanding.

The combination of Julio Jones and Roddy White is explosive, and probably the most outstanding tandem in the NFL. I can’t imagine having another pair of receivers that are quite as physical as well as being fast and great route-runners. Jones performance against the Niners was so great. 11 catches for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And he showed a little bit of everything. Great speed, great hands, great route running, great physicality, great leaping ability. Even though Tony Gonzalez is hanging it up, Roddy White is still dominant, and Julio Jones is going to be great for this franchise for years to come.

I’m slightly troubled at runningback. Jacquizz Rodgers is exactly what the Falcons need as a third down back. He’s a very good receiver, he runs tough between the tackles, and he’s one of the better backs as far as pass protection as there is in the NFL. But he’s not going to carry the load. Michael Turner has seen the end of the road in Atlanta, as he isn’t very successful anymore. The Falcons are going to need an additional young, strong back who can carry the rock 15+ times per game.

On defense is where the Falcons need the most help. First and foremost, the Falcons need a dominant pass-rushing defensive end. John Abraham once filled that role, but he’s declining, and will probably end  his career in the next year or two. The Falcons absolutely need to find someone to rush. I can’t say just yet who that might be, but he’ll come through the draft. The biggest problem that the Falcons had was in obvious passing downs this postseason, the quarterback could sit back, with infinite time to throw, and find receivers in the intermediate part of the field.

That had a trickledown effect on the rest of the defense. It forced the Falcons to blitz, leaving large portions of the field wide open. Generally they blitzed a linebacker, or he got caught in the box trying to defend the run. It left the tight ends with free-releases, and they always found the void. Then, with a full head of steam, the Falcons had a difficult time tackling them.

On the back-end, the Falcons did a reasonably good job all season long, and in the championship game. Asante Samuel did a very good job, and even Dunta Robinson was very good. But the true testament to the Falcons success in the secondary was the emergence of safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. They really came on in 2012 season, and are both headed to the Pro-Bowl. Robinson and Samuel are older, which is the only problem I foresee coming from the secondary in the years to come.

There are some minor problems on the offensive line and at running back that need to be addressed. Defensively, there are some very large issues, especially on the defensive line. But they don’t prevent the defense from being functional, especially against immobile quarterbacks on passing downs. It will be interesting to see how much the personnel changes in the months ahead.