Any Atlanta sports fan will tell you, the city is cursed, especially in the playoffs.
With Atlanta’s embarrassing loss in their only Super Bowl appearance in 1998, the Atlanta Hawks’ lack of an NBA Finals appearances, and the Atlanta Braves only managing one championship with a monstrous pitching staff in the 90s with Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz, it’s sometimes frustrating to be an Atlanta sports fan.
This frustration seems to have no silver lining with the Falcons once again missing the playoffs in 2016, the Hawks getting swept out of the playoffs by LeBron James and his Cavaliers for the second season in a row, and the Braves currently holding the most losses in Major League Baseball.
That paragraph hurt to write.
But let’s try to take a positive look at the future. What do the Falcons need to do to be the team to break that horrible curse on the city of Atlanta? What do the Falcons need to do to bring that Lombardi trophy to the dirty south?
Hit the Quarterback
For the last several seasons, the Falcons’ pass rush was at the bottom of the league. Sacks, hits, and pressures were a rarity when the dirty bird defense was out on the field.
In order for Atlanta to become a championship contender, this has to change. Knowing this, Vic Beasley was drafted in 2015 and Dwight Freeney was signed this offseason to bring veteran experience to the front seven.
Dan Quinn’s defenses in Seattle and the University of Florida were known for their ability to pressure the quarterback so it’s time that manifested in Atlanta.
Win the Turnover Battle
The Atlanta Falcons had a -7 turnover margin in 2015, meaning the offense turned the ball over 7 more times than the defense caused a turnover. When the team gives up opportunities to score like that, it’s hard to win games.
The offense must learn to protect the ball. This falls heavily on the shoulders of Matt Ryan, who threw 16 interceptions in 2015, four of which came in the red zone. Also, running back Tevin Coleman seemed to have trouble holding on to the ball with 3 fumbles in 2015.
If Ryan can overcome his slump and Coleman can better protect the ball, that alone could bring the margin to zero. If the defense also steps up and causes more turnovers, then the Falcons suddenly find themselves in a much easier position to win games.
Create a Dynamic Offense
Kyle Shanahan was brought in as offensive coordinator by Dan Quinn in 2015. His scheme faced criticism from the media and fans due to a stalling offense. Ryan, who is usually regarded as a top 10 quarterback in the NFL, had a down year in the new offense. It seemed like the only plan was to send Julio Jones across the middle or let Devonta Freeman rush the ball outside.
With the additions of wide receiver Sanu and rookie tight end Austin Hooper, the Falcons can open up the playbook, with Jones no longer the only receiving threat. It’s simply up to Shanahan to take these more than capable players and turn them into a top 5 offense.
No one knows when the over 20-year title drought will end for the city of Atlanta. Some say the Hawks are knocking on the door with Budenholzer’s recent success, and some (like me) say the Falcons are just a few crucial steps from the big game.