Oct 16, 2011; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson (22) is taken down by New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (72) at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
Two months after the tough loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game, and one month from the NFL draft I take a look at what the Atlanta Falcons have to date at each position compared to that season ending January game that had a little bit of everything but not quite enough to get to the Super Bowl. I’ll be using a unique Baseball grading metric since the season of the National pastime starts in less than a week. So lets play ball.
Quarterback – Home Run. Matt Ryan had an M.V.P type season last year, proved it is his team, showed he has the ability to pull out a comeback, ran the no huddle as good as anyone, should be even more in tune with Dirk and is awaiting a new contract. If D. Davis has the preseason of a year ago, he should be the birds second string Q.B., a very athletic young back up that could be successful given the offensive firepower at hand. Have the Falcons ever been so comfortable at this position in leadership and talent ?
Running Back – Triple. Jaquizz Rodgers got the touches that were predicted last preseason, and did not disappoint.
His role grew as the season progressed and now is firmly planted to a bigger role. The addition of Steven Jackson tops the departure of our friend, Turner the Burner, because I do believe Jackson can hit the hole a little quicker and it is well documented that he is a much better receiver out of the backfield. The screen pass was instituted last year over previous years and should only grow in the arsenal. It remains to be seen what Brady Ewing can bring. Antone Smith and Jason Snelling give decent required depth.
Receiving – Home run. With White and Jones each getting over a thousand yards and combining for seventeen touchdowns it is no secret the defensive nightmare Atlanta can field in the passing game.
The inspiring return of sure and steady Tony G not only keeps the potent offense of 2012 in order but
may also benefit the team in a tutoring role for a future replacement. Jackson and Jaquizz out of the backfield is a added bonus here and H.D in the slot should improve numbers from last year.
Offensive Line- Single. The hits keep coming when discussing the offense. The Offensive line with the re-signing of Baker and Reynolds, the veteran Clabo, the solid Blalock and the growth of Konz, Johnson and Hawley along with a promising Manley and Holmes gives the unit nice youth and better stability from the start of last season. The departure to the ring of honor by McClure will probably cost one draft pick in April to fill out the line. Only a single, but have the chance to steal a base by forming a cohesive unit early.
Kicking Game – Double. Bryant and Bosher were very sound in 2012. When the kicking game is not in the news or discussed on sports talk shows, it is doing a good job. Bryant’s fifty five yard field goal November 29th against the Saints was one of the years top five highlights. Just a double because I don’t think they both can leg out a combined year as they had last season, but this is not an area of concern.
Defensive Line – Line Out. I’m believing the Osi signing reports but look at that and Abraham’s departure as a wash. That leaves one of the biggest holes the birds must fix from that Championship game. They must pressure the quarterback and stuff the run, and hope for improvement of Massaquoi, Matthews and a year of health from Corey Peters. I trust Nolan already has a plan to address this area of concern. This is where the draft will be most valuable, and I hope two picks go to help shore the leaks. A top first round quality pick and some depth and the Line Out drops for a hit. This is without question the Falcons largest need.
Linebackers – Double. Weatherspoon, Nicholas, and Dent were fairly solid in 2012. Dent’s first full year and Spoon’s takeover of Lofton were major moves. Many rip the lack of tight end coverage during the season, and justifiably, but a better pass rush could help. Schiller has to take Peterson’s place and I suspect a draft pick is going to add depth to this group. Will be better with a year behind them.
Secondary – Single. Signing Moore to team with DeCoud was a solid move and stables the secondary for a few years. The departure of starter Robinson along with the loss of Owens and the corner back position is almost as in need as the defensive line. The draft will play a big role here as well, Taylor from Boise State or Slay from Mississippi State ( over Banks) would be nice second round picks. Peyton Thompson can add nice depth also with another year in camp. This single could stretch to a gap Triple if Grimes gets signed.
Coaching – Triple. Smith , Nolan and Koetter did better than expected in their first year together. That has to signal good things now that they have a year to work with and make adjustments. The new coordinators improved each unit they commanded from the start, and Smith’s “One game at a time” year long approach. Steadied every hiccup and gave the Birds a division title and almost a super bowl trip.
Intangibles – Home run. The schedule will be a little harder, but Ryan and crew proved they can win on the road. Then there is the Dome, where visitors’ know they are in for a rough time, and after seeing Football in January the fans are wild and some of the best. So far this off season, the birds have done the better job in the South division. With the new Stadium on the horizon, it’s the top of the first and Atlanta’s still Batting.