In 2013, the Atlanta Falcons were awful.
Missing the postseason for the first time since 2009, Atlanta owned an abysmal 4-12 record, which placed them tied for last in their division and was the second-worst record in the NFC.
Part of the reason as to why they failed to meet expectations was injuries: running back Steven Jackson – whose no stranger to the sideline – was out on various occasions due to a nagging hamstring, Roddy White battled through knee/hamstring/ankle injuries, and Julio Jones was lost for the season because of a foot ailment.
Those are essentially all of Atlanta’s offensive weapons, and to the Falcons, if they perform without those players, their chances of coming out on top are slim because the team is built off of outscoring the opponent rather than stonewalling ’em. And that’s what Atlanta must do this upcoming season – score.
They also need quarterback Matt Ryan to quickly forget about last season as well.
Ryan, who will be entering his seventh go-round with the Falcons, threw a career-high 17 interceptions in 2013, and his 61.1 quarterback rating was the second-worst of his NFL tenure. Of course, losing his best target along with the rest of his supporting cast on offense derailed him, but Ryan must start making wiser decisions.
Far too often, Ryan was attempting to fit spirals into tight windows, and that’s never a good idea. Forcing passes will only result in turnovers, and because Atlanta doesn’t exactly own an intimidating defense, its best to keep the offense out there for long stretches at a time. Ryan’s always been a good clock-eater, but he needs to execute it better in 2014.
The issue here hasn’t been can Ryan lead, it’s been can he win? Deemed the closing name “Matty Ice,” Ryan’s been known to shut the door on his adversaries via fourth quarter marches, but can he replicate those efforts in the postseason? Owning a 1-4 record in the playoffs, Ryan’s been less than average in do-or-die situations, and he’s never made it past the conference championship game.
Amidst a mediocre NFC South, Ryan will have a great shot to prove the doubters wrong this season, considering both Carolina and Tampa Bay are huge question marks. Will Ryan’s team allow him to get back though? That’s the debate.
Jones and White are a tremendous receiving tandem, but they need to establish a formidable running game. So, if Jackson has finally filed his divorce papers with the injured reserve, he might actually be a force to be wrecking with this season. The passing game is only as good as how much pressure the running game alleviates off of it. And numbers don’t lie, Atlanta was dead last in rushing last season.
The other dilemma the Falcons are facing is their ineffective defense.
Other than Jason Babineaux, Sean Weatherspoon, and Osi Umenyiora, Atlanta doesn’t have any other leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Not to mention, their defense as a whole ranked in the bottom four for both interceptions (10) and sacks (32). And when you’re competing against quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Cam Newton, giving them more time to complete a play isn’t a top priority.
With the way the NFL changes year-after-year, you never really anticipate a team having an easy schedule, but Atlanta’s is pretty close. Despite going up against the Saints twice, the Falcons’ opponents altogether had a combined 91-99-2 record in 2013, and only four of them made the playoffs. So, for Atlanta, their odds of reaching the postseason are in their favor.
Now, can they take advantage of their schedule? Only time will tell.
The key for the Falcons is their offensive arsenal being able to suit up every game. You can make the argument that their defense needs to make a statement, but as I mentioned earlier, Atlanta wins games solely on how much they put up on the scoreboard.
But do I believe the Falcons can crossover into the playoffs? Absolutely. New Orleans will pose as the biggest threat, but they also just lost Darren Sproles, who was Mr. Everything for their dynamic offense. And it’s not like the Saints’ defense is anymore grueling than Atlanta’s.
Overall, if the Falcons play like they’re capable of, we should see them finish with a rough record of 11-5 and a postseason berth this season.
If not, head coach Mike Smith might want to fix up his resumé.