Where This Meets That
We last left our beloved Atlanta Falcons struggling beneath a “Giant” burden in the Meadowlands.
For the second time in two years, our beloved birds made it to the playoffs only to poop the proverbial bed.
Several regular season performances last season had already revealed that Offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey needed to go if the Falcons were going to take that next step. The Giants game proved that in spades. Matt Ryan . . . Roddy White . . . Julio Jones . . . Michael Turner . . . Tony Gonzalez . . . ZERO POINTS!
Fortune smiled on both the Falcons and Mularkey by giving him a promotion in Jacksonville, thus allowing the Falcons to replace him more gracefully. Good for all. In exchange, the Falcons hired Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Jacksonville’s offense has never been too scary, but neither has its personnel. With middling talent surrounding him, Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew ran wild through opposing defenses under Koetter’s offense, and that bodes well for an Atlanta team stocked with top tier talent.
In limited preseason snaps, all the skill players appear to have absorbed Koetter’s offense like a thirsty sponge. Koetter appears primed to bring a very aggressive mentality to the offense, and that is a most welcome change. The prospect of a vertically-minded arsenal loaded as the Falcons are has me very excited.
The adoption of clever screen passes should help give Ryan a little breathing room, but I am disappointed that the Falcons weren’t able to upgrade the blindside tackle during the offseason. Sam Baker is inadequate and injury-prone. His back-up Will Svitek was challenging him for the job but is now out for the season. This position will define the Falcons’ success this season more than any other.
My one philosophical concern coming out of the preseason is Koetter’s play-calling in short yardage situations (something that drove me crazy under Mularkey). In the preseason – and yes, it was only the preseason, so strategy takes a back seat to other aspects of the game – Koetter’s play-calling was highly finesse with quick passes, pitches, etc.. Finesse at the goal line is a good tool in the chest but falls short as a philosophy. Let’s hope Koetter keeps a power mentality for the short game.
After the surprise defection of Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder to Auburn, the Falcons hired Mike Nolan, universally acclaimed as an upgrade. As with Koetter, Nolan figures to put a lot of pressure on opposing offenses. He likes to bring pressure from all over the field, whereas VanGorder tried continually to drive pressure with the front four. Applying relentless mental pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be necessary for the Falcons to claim superiority against Brees, Newton, and Freeman in the NFC South.
The inside linebacker position is the defensive key from a personnel standpoint. Curtis Lofton sadly departed for the Saints, and his apparent replacement from Seattle, Lofa Tatupu, is already lost for the season. Much of the Falcons defensive success falls to first year starter Akeem Dent, who has shown some promise but is unproven. The re-signing of veteran Mike Peterson is a good move for mentoring Dent, but the collective gasp when Dent went down in preseason highlights how thin the team is at that position.
If the left tackle and inside linebacker positions can hold their own, the Falcons’ prospects for 2012 are extraordinary.
It’s About Time
I sense a precious window in the NFC South this season with Falcon foes facing potential down years. The Saints’ formerly pristine halo became a noose this offseason. Even though players suspended in the bounty scandal have just won an appeal and will now be allowed to play, Head Coach Sean Payton remains in exile, and psychological wounds remain tender. If anyone can lead a team after such a costly offseason, it’s Drew Brees, but it will be quite a burden to carry. Meantime, Cam Newton was electric in his rookie season for the Carolina Panthers, but the team failed to significantly upgrade its weaknesses in the offseason. The Falcons should be able to exploit a vulnerable Panther secondary. At the same time, the Buccaneers bottomed out last season only to dip into college for a new head coach. History shows little promise for Tampa based on that fact alone, so here’s looking for continued struggles out of the Buccaneers.
Falcone’s Crystal Ball
So what will all this translate to for the Falcons in 2012? Here are my official predictions:
Here’s to a great 2012, Falcons. Time to Rise Up!