Can Falcons Regroup After Flat Finish Last Season?
Guest Post By Parker Jones
The Atlanta Falcons overachieved and underachieved at the same time last season. While they finished with the best record in the NFC at 13-3, they didn’t play well in the playoffs (or really even show up). Seattle nearly beat them, and the team fell horribly flat against San Francisco.
So while the Falcons don’t have too much work to do (to remain one of the NFC’s better teams), they know another listless postseason won’t cut it. In fact, many pundits don’t mention the Falcons in the same breath as the 49ers, Packers or Redskins, in terms of NFC favorites in 2013. But maybe getting overlooked is a good thing. Overall, what should we think about heading into a new season?
What do the Falcons have going for them?
Plenty. They’re one of only a handful of teams that has a true franchise quarterback in place. Matt Ryan put up crazy numbers, throwing for 4,719 yards, with 32 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions. When you’re throwing to Roddy White (1,351 yards) and Julio Jones (1,198), finding success gets a whole lot easier. Tony Gonzalez (a team-high 93 catches in 2012) returns for one more season at tight end. And Stephen Jackson brings his eight-year 1,000-yard streak from St. Louis to replace Michael Turner in the backfield, with impressive youngster Jacquizz Rodgers serving as his understudy.
So what went wrong?
The team lacked a good pass rush (29 collective sacks, 28th in the NFL) and fell flat defensively in the playoffs. So Osi Umenyiora was brought in from the Giants to bolster the front four. The defense also surrendered too many yards (365.6 per game, 24th in the league) and drafted two cornerbacks – Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford – to hopefully lock down opposing wideouts more regularly.
Unfortunately, draft pick Stansly Maponga—an excellent defensive lineman for the TCU Horned Frogs football team last year—hasn’t figured much into Atlanta’s plans, thus far. Is he a bust? A foot injury has hampered him, but he’s played with second-and third-stringers to this point as he competes just to stay on the roster. Having to sit out OTAs and mini-camp with that foot injury did not help his cause.
Did the Falcons spend money wisely?
It would seem so. Ryan was given a five-year, $103.75 million extension after last season. Jackson was brought in at a veteran’s discount rate, while money wasn’t spent on the aging Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson.
What do they need to improve upon to get over the hump?
Pass rush, as mentioned above. Also, the running game disappeared in the playoffs last season, leaving Ryan isolated as he was forced to throw every down for much of both playoff games. Jackson – who is also an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield – knows how to win and should help take some of the load off in the big games.
How high will the Falcons soar?
Quite high. They beat up on a down NFC South last season, but New Orleans and Tampa Bay should return to their winning ways in 2013. Even so, though, the Saints and Bucs don’t have enough to catch up to the Falcons. Atlanta benefits from playing the AFC East in the inter-conference portion of the schedule and should get three easy wins – they actually could claim all four with New England missing some of its firepower. Winning 13 isn’t realistic, but 11 wins and a return to the playoffs seem a sure bet.