Can the Falcons Learn from the Championship Four?

Lessons to Learn from the Jets, Saints, Vikings, and Colts?

 Taking a small break from examining the Falcons potential free agents and whether to sign ‘em or send ‘em, thought it might be intriguing to take a look at the teams playing in the conference championships and what the Birds can learn from their successful runs this year, and overall franchise. Obviously, these teams are probably built differently and asking the Falcons to throw the ball like the Colts might be a stretch, or playing the 3-4 defense like the Jets would likely be out of reach as well. The idea is to examine some certain philosophies, schemes, and systems that might benefit the Falcons as they attempt to build a long-run winner that can not just make the playoffs, but reach the ultimate game as the Saints, Colts, Vikings, and Jets have this Sunday.

New York Jets

The Falcons were the last team to beat the Jets and they have gone on an amazing run since then, going into both Cincinnati and San Diego after being underdogs in each contest and pulling out improbable wins. The Jets success is well-documented, run the ball and play aggressively tough defense. Probably the biggest asset of the Jets is their outstanding offensive line, allowing both running backs, veteran Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene to run wild, and play ball-control offense. It’s a tried and true success for all of football, especially the NFL playoffs. As a franchise, you have to admire the Jets ability to take risks and make bold moves that might help them. They signed several free agents that weren’t cheap Alan Faneca (LG) and Bart Scott (ILB), and brought in other guys that would help them with Rex Ryan’s new defense in Jim Leonhard (SS). The Jets rolled the dice and moved up to take Mark Sanchez in the first round and also moved to take Shonn Greene in the second round. They weren’t yet done either. They made a move to trade for then beleaguered wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Fortune sometimes favors the bold and its paying off now. Add that to the swagger that Ryan has brought to the team, and you see why they’re one game away from the Super Bowl. The Tony Gonzalez deal and Michael Turner acquisition ranks up there as bold, but will the Falcons pay top dollar for an offensive tackle, cornerback, or defensive end?

New Orleans Saints

Everyone knows about the Saints high-flying offense, but one of their greatest strengths is their depth, particularly on offense. They took a no-brainer in selecting Reggie Bush as the #2 overall pick in 2006, but they have been at their best when they added tough running backs Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Lynell Hamilton. They didn’t hesitate to sign Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister when their cornerbacks were hurt during the year. The Saints have hit on some big-time draft picks in Sean Payton’s era as well: Marques Colston (7th), Tracy Porter (2nd), Roman Harper (2nd), and Carl Nicks (5th). Like the Jets, they went big and bold when they felt it necessary as well. The Saints signed Drew Brees, and made trades for Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey. Besides the Saints good personnel decisions, Payton does an amazing job of spreading the ball around. The coach makes sure to get Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Heath Evans before he was injured. TD will be on his third draft so that ones still up on the air. But when you compare Payton’s ability to spread the ball to many threats to Mularkey and the Falcons zeroing in Roddy White, Michael Turner, and Tony Gonzalez most of the time, its easy to see an area for improvement.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have put an emphasis on the being big, strong, and aggressive on both lines of the football. It starts with their two defensive tackles and goes on from there. Both Pat Williams and Kevin Williams are well over 300 pounds and absolutely clog the middle. Not being satisfied with just those two, the Vikings went out and added Jared Allen to the line through a trade with Kansas City and he has absolutely flourished. After putting an emphasis on the defensive line and their players drawing double teams, opposite DE Ray Edwards has completed the line and is a force to reckon with. Throw in some tough and speedy linebackers and aggressive cornerbacks and you have the makings for one of the leagues best defenses. They don’t fall short on the offensive line either. After having bookend Bryant McKinnie, the Vikings signed Steve Hutchison, the highest paid guard at the time, and even added mammoth Phil Loadholt (6’8, 343) at right tackle in this year’s draft. They have drafted receivers, given them due time and they have thrived. Sidney Rice caught 3 TDs in the playoff win over the Cowboys and Percy Harvin won Offensive Rookie of the Year, even after many were scared away due to his failed drug test. They didn’t give up on Brett Favre, took the PR hit, and are so very close to a date in Miami. Have the Falcons taken many risks? Do they need to? By comparison, the Falcons offensive and defensive lines are minor lightweights compared to the goliaths in Minnesota.

Indianapolis Colts

What else can be said of the Colts organization? They have a superior scouting department and are unbelievably good at mining talent and knowing when to part ways with aging veterans. They know to build their team around Peyton Manning and it has obviously paid huge dividends. The Colts knew they had to protect their investment on the OL and either drafted or signed some great ones in Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, and Ryan Lilja. They have done a particularly good job of drafting receivers. Reggie Wayne goes without saying, but losing Anthony Gonzalez didn’t have them miss a beat. It helped when they mined excellent talent in Austin Collie (5th round) and Pierre Garcon (6th round). They knew when to let Edgerrin James walk; enter Joseph Addai, and as Addai started to slide, enter Donald Brown. They have one of the best abilities to reload instead of rebuilding. That’s not even considering they have a rookie coach. Stability has been an amazingly positive force for the Colts. The defense has many no-name players, other than Dwight Freeney and Kelvin Hayden, but they are tough and aggressive and love to fly under the radar. Dimitroff and Coach Smith have added stability, but will they protect Ryan as Manning has done? And will they provide him with a multitude of weapons as they’ve done for Peyton in Indianapolis?

What should the Falcons take from the Jets, Colts, Saints, and Vikings?

Is it impossible to compare the Falcons with these teams?

Enjoy………….

Check out DOL’s new blog on Coach Musgrave staying put

298 comments Add your comment

Box

January 22nd, 2010
12:00 am

As I stated on last blog…

Sarah B

January 22nd, 2010
12:16 am

A big part of the “high flying offenses” that you didn’t mention D3 was how quickly they got the ball back all the time due to the defense causing turnovers and recovering… Saints picked people off constantly mostly because teams were throwing a lot due to being behind and the Vikes D must have caused more strip fumbles than any other team although I haven’t looked it up yet.

RomeDawg

January 22nd, 2010
12:16 am

Each of these teams are very different except they are all well coached and win. I do think the Falcons are on the right track. Here is one key factor to all of these teams…..they didn’t lose much playing time to key players due to injury. And D3, I was born and raised in Rome. Went to Pepperell and still live in Silver Creek. I own a restaurant in Rome and would love to invite you and your family out to dinner next time you’re in town.

Box

January 22nd, 2010
12:18 am

I reiterate my comment on getting the OG\C from the Browns in FA. That is part of protecting MR for the future. That is job one.

Box

January 22nd, 2010
12:19 am

Sarah B.
What up BBG?

BT

January 22nd, 2010
5:22 am

Good job, D3

The only thing I see that each and every one of those teams have over the Falcons (at this point) is, O line play and pass defense.

That said, the Falcons are not that far away from being an elite level team.
Just a couple of more pieces in key spots, a little added depth, a bit more experience in some areas and the Falcon will be a very tough team to reckon with.

PoF

January 22nd, 2010
5:44 am

IMO I think they are about 2 years away from being an elite team. The mangement and coaching are set in place( and doing their job well ) and AB has already proven that he is willing to write the checks if the talent is there, so i say couple more drafts and a few more FA pick-ups will put us in striking range of a title.

nes

January 22nd, 2010
6:21 am

Great article! T.D. and coach Smith better draft better this year as got no playmakers last year. it is shame on them for drafting two oft-injured players in college, in 1st and 2nd rounds–big mistake! First things first, draft OT from Iowa who is 6-6 and 615 lbs. Find a fleet and fast running back or slot receiver who can catch and run. Then address the Defense. Must find a run stopper for the middle and J. Perry is way to light to be that player–much like Glen Dorsey in size and quickness so i hope he isn’t a flop. We missed the boat last year when could have had both Sean Smith and Vontae Davis as cornerbacks without trading up as they fell in our laps but T.D. passed on both. Let’s hope this year’s draft reaps play makers or another year of just missed playoffs again or one and out.

Unca' Bob

January 22nd, 2010
7:39 am

JJ,

These are team stats, but the last two charts show directions, yardage, and position. I know it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but it will show some tendencies.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
7:55 am

The Real Falcon

January 22nd, 2010
8:30 am

Been saying for a while the reason for Abe’s bad year is that no one else on the DL draws a double-team. That allows teams to double him. Grady had to be doubled and that allowed Abe to roam.
We also have to spend on a veteran shutdown corner. That will assist the DL greatly.
The OL has to have a real and durable OT who shuts down the pressure from that side. Must be athletic and did I say durable? Move Baker to RT and that takes care of Clabo.

Paddy O

January 22nd, 2010
8:48 am

I think everybody needs to know we are close to elite. If Elam makes 2 kicks, the Birds are 11-5. The key is to draft a Danielson or Stover as kicker. Then, we need a Patrick Kerney rusher, and a little better pass blocking. Unless or course, there is a Revis out there as a corner – he would make everything better; or a Palamaulo for safety. The Falcons are on the right track. NES – you have such an effective crystal ball on injuries – predict the super bowl winners, so we can all print it off and see how right you are . . . unless your just whining and blowing smoke.

mountain_jim

January 22nd, 2010
8:51 am

I see a need to find a better LT and move Baker to the right also.
I think the OC Mularkey needs to find some imagination and let Ryan run the no-huddle more, like his first year. Where was the screen game? Our offense was way to predictable and simple in the passing game.

I hope Smith and TD saw that also and get Mularkey to open it up next year.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
8:58 am

D3, One of your best articles to date! Really enjoyed looking at each team through a GM’s view, especially with the draft coming. You packed more info (great research) in one article than paid journalist do in 10.

It really comes down to outstanding draft picks, especially in the trenches. All 4 teams have great lines on both sides of the ball. Still think its too early to call last yr a bust, but we can at least say it’s disappointing that we picked injury prone players with are first 2 picks. They also all (except Jets)have at least 2 playmaker WR’s, something we need to fix.

LRD

January 22nd, 2010
9:18 am

D3: Very Nice article!
I am going to come across as a smart alec here… but all those teams have one thing in common, rabid fanatical fans. Granted I do not see every home game of those 4 teams every sunday, but I bet their stadium is not half filled with opposing fans out yelling/screaming/hooting the home fans…. No offense meant, but just saying… its just one of my biffs with ATL sports in general ( and yes I was a skins fan when I first moved down here in 96).
But I believe our fan base is building, the momentum with the Falcons is building. I will sound like SW here, but I truly believe the Process is working. This draft and FA we pick up is going to be huge. I just hope Players and Owners reach some agreement so that we do not build this jaggernaut of a team only to have no season in 2011…

TommyP

January 22nd, 2010
9:35 am

Let’s not look at the Saints ’cause we’re not built that way. That’s a different philosophy.

This is closer to a Jets team than the other 3. We want, expect, need to run the ball with Turner. I’d like to continue building both interior lines. Great offensive line, great defensive line. Definitely need another threat at WR, though.

Like someone else said about defense, if there’s a Revis type or Polamalu available, you take that guy. If not, dominate the lines of scrimmage. It makes everyone else around them better.

dean

January 22nd, 2010
9:45 am

Keeping the faith that Dimitri, Smith,and company will keep The Process proceeding forward. So far so good.

topcat

January 22nd, 2010
10:03 am

Please stand pat on your 19th or 20th pick for one reason, “hold out”. This team does not need that type of preseason distaction.

Paddy O

January 22nd, 2010
10:31 am

Anybody have an idea why Ryan seemed to regress some passing wise? One game he was high the whole game (think it lead to two interceptions). I don’t see him looking-off DB’s the way the great QB’s do (it seemed he had a Tony G addiction for a while) . Also, anybody wish we still had Schaub? He turned out pretty good – i’d say better than Vick ever would have. We could use a Lawrence Taylor.

CBrass

January 22nd, 2010
10:35 am

As JJ stated D3 this is your best work yet. Excellent job.

Offensively we are more like the Jets in that we use the run to open up the pass but defensively we are more like the Colts in that we are small but fast.

How good is our D looking now in that fact that we held the Jets run game in check. You would think Cincy and San Diego would have followed suit and did more to shut down the run and make Sanchez bet them with his arm. Any way I’m getting off topic. D3 you stated it best. With TD and Smitty in charge were are heading in the right direction. Many have stated that we are one of two years away and I can see that.

tbhawksfan

January 22nd, 2010
11:44 am

We really need to upgrade the talent level in the lines.

OL: Draft an OT first. Move Clabo to his natural G position. Dahl is a great back-up/rotation guy.
DT: Jerry should be good. Babs moves to back up. JA98, Lewis, Johnson, Walker arn’t starter material. Some rotation players, need to upgrade the talent.
DE: Abe might have a good year or two left. Sid and Beer might emerge, but we need an end with the package. JA seems suited to be a rotation DT.
OLB: Need a stud play-maker. Nicholas and Patersen are OK to good, but not real good.
CB: Owens, Grimes are good bets, Houston needs a lot of improvement. One nice FA could unite the group.
S: Could always use a better safety.

I think they’ll keep the back-feild together. Norwood could become explosive again. The rest are solid.

WR could be OK with HD coming back. Jenkins should play better and it’s not too hard to find a decent fourth or fifth WR.

Fix the kicking.

PlanB

January 22nd, 2010
12:15 pm

I agree w/mtn jim on tackles & Mularkey’s play calls and screens. I would like to get the 6′6″ 615 lb guy from Iowa. Think I’d play him both ways. We need top notch FA Corner, DE & DT. If we could get 2 of the 3, I would be happy. Was Grady on a 1 yr contract w/Detroit? Has anyone seen Ryan complete a pass when rolling right. Seems like a wasted play. Team seems to be going in the right direction. Arthur, open up the wallet. GO FALCONS!!!!!!!

bro

January 22nd, 2010
12:29 pm

Need better blocking on O-line, both run and pass. Got to have better defensive line play-need two good def ends and really good def tackles. With really good Def-tackles you can get by with just good def ends. Line backing is weak. D-backs will never be good without a better D-line and linebackers. Mularkey is just that-mularkey. Need to be a little more pro-active on offense–better receivers that can get off the the line and get separation will make all the difference. Better pass patterns would help them a lot.

tbhawksfan

January 22nd, 2010
12:50 pm

Dunlap could be the BPA by far and at a position of need. Hard to pass up.

I’d love to see TD trade up after the first and turn those other 7 picks into about 5 better picks.

Kindle could be had in the second. Our third and our supplemental third could get him.

Those two could transform the D.

tbhawksfan

January 22nd, 2010
12:53 pm

A good OT like Bruce might be there in the second also. After the second it’s hit or miss…mostly miss.

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Unca' Bob

January 22nd, 2010
1:22 pm

tbhawksfan,

We don’t have a second round pick. We traded it to KC for TG.

LRD

January 22nd, 2010
4:01 pm

I saw Saints vs Colts ….. Bueller??

waw

January 22nd, 2010
4:09 pm

Others have said this – As happy as we are with Ryan, he has not yet proved himself in big games like Manning, Farve, and Brees. That’s the one lesson I would take from the championship four (well three, at least).

Glad to see so much emphasis here on the O-line. Can’t understand why Bradley did not bring that up to Dimitroff in the recent interview.

geno

January 22nd, 2010
5:42 pm

Good article…..Bottom line: the falcons need playmakers forget about the OL/DL …(coach em up for a change)…Playmakers win championships…..fast wide recievers, fast running backs, ball-hawking line backers and DBs.

BT

January 22nd, 2010
5:44 pm

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
7:03 pm

D3, my picks:
- MINN>aints (D takes out brees and crowd) (taking points as well)
- INDY>jets (giving points), blowout win

SB: Manning vs FAVRE, maybe he’ll retire if he wins this time!

BT

January 22nd, 2010
7:20 pm

Geno,
The only time we forget about O and D-line play is in seven on seven drills.
The rest of the time, (like in real games) the O and D line play is a critical component in allowing the play makers the opportunity to make plays.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
7:30 pm

BT, well said. Part of the reason these 4 teams are in championship games are because of their lines.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
7:31 pm

Nice high 5 from DOL.

BT

January 22nd, 2010
7:31 pm

JJ,
I don`t know if, I can stomach two weeks of Favre verses Manning hype if, the Vikings and Colts win?
I would just have to avoid the papers, ESPN and the NFL Network to steer clear of it.
I promise you, it would be disgusting.
Give me a break!

That said, The Saints beat and cover against the Vikqueens.
The Colts win but do not cover against the Jets.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
7:33 pm

Just think, maybe he’ll retire for good!!!

falcon21

January 22nd, 2010
7:34 pm

My picks are Saints 34 Vikings 24. Colts 20 Jets 10. BTW JJ, Harvin may not be playing.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
7:40 pm

f21, he’ll pop a few vicadin before the game and burn the aints. Hope they blow them out or I’ll be physically ill if the aints win. It’ll be close I know, just cant root for them.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
7:42 pm

Shockly too! :)

D3

January 22nd, 2010
7:54 pm

Great Best Day of the Week Cagers! Hope all of you are doing well as we start the weekend and are smack dab in the middle of some excellent off-season talk here in the Cage. The Falcons season never ends here in the Bird Cage. I used to dread the dark clouds of “No Football”, but now I’m as happy as if the season were in swing (well, at least close). Anyway, I digress………

Sarah B – Perfectly said. That is a big one on their success. They are probably the most opportunisitic team in terms of turnovers. Greg Williams and his aggressive D was a match made in heaven for Payton and his aggressive O.

RomeDawg – Would love to. Shoot me an email and the CEO and I will definitely try to come by. Pepperrell knows themselves some football. Proud Armuchee High School Alumnus here.

Box – Nice find. That could be really sweet. Would we still sign Dahl or no? Could be guessing, but methinks TD will give Romberg every chance to take over for McClure. How goes it in Ark?

BT – The OT first round pick is rolling and picking up steam and even I’m on board, and this is coming from a skill-first guy. Bulaga or bust.

PoF – 100% in line with ya. I had hoped that TG might play 2 more years and that 2011 would be the year, but from the sounds, this maybe TG’s last year. Gotta add TE to the needs list since he even considered not returning for 2010.

nes – Thanks for the props, and joining us here in the Cage. The jury’s still out on Jerry and Moore, but TD did choose two guys who were injury prone and sure enough…..they got hurt. However, I think Chris Owens is a starting CB for us for a long time (maybe not a #1 CB, but who knows one day), Lawrence Sidbury Jr. may well be starting by 2010 or 2011 at the latest, Garrett Reynolds may end up taking over for Clabo, and Vance Walker has definitely secured his place in the 4-5 man DT rotation for a long time. All of that is a best-case scenario, and it took quite awhile for the late picks to shine, but Moore and Jerry’s injury history shouldn’t overshadow what looks to be a good back half of the draft. All draft picks except for two (William Middleton and Wilrey Fontenot) have made the team. Robert James was waived after he was injuried.

Paddy O, mountain_jim, dean, topcat, Real Falcon, TommyP, Plan B, bro, waw, and Geno – Great to have you guys aboard here in the Cage. Excellent comments.

falcon21

January 22nd, 2010
7:55 pm

I’m not gonna root for the Saints either but I think the home field will be too much for the Vikes to overcome.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
8:07 pm

yea, I’m afraid of that too.

D3

January 22nd, 2010
8:11 pm

C’mon guys………..a Favre/Manning Super Bowl would be Unbelievable! Add to that the fact that I’m sick of the Saints run and you know who I’m rooting for. Some may argue that we should pull for the NFC South the way we pull for our SEC brethren, but I say hogwash. NFL and College are totally different.

Colts/Vikings Super Bowl – great Super Bowl lights out!

falcon21

January 22nd, 2010
8:17 pm

D3, I would like to see the purple people win it all but it “aint” gonna happen.

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
8:20 pm

JJ

January 22nd, 2010
8:50 pm

God bless Haiti and their people!!!
Watching the telecast, very moving.

D3

January 22nd, 2010
9:20 pm

Whaddup Cage? – Here’s a little 1st round Defensive End research. Not completed, but it’s giving some insight on what to expect from first round DEnds……..

Defensive Ends

2002
(2nd) Julius Peppers – 35 Tackles, 12 Sacks, 4 PDef, 1 Int, 5 FF
(11th) Dwight Freeney – 41 Tackles, 13 Sacks, 1 PDef, 9 FF
(22nd) Bryan Thomas – 9 Tackles, 0.5 Sack
(25th) Charles Grant – 37 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 4 PDef, 4 FF

2003
(10th) Terrell Suggs – 27 Tackles, 12 Sacks, 2 PDef, 1 Int, 6 FF
(13th) Ty Warren – 33 Tackles, 1 Sack, 2 PDef
(14th) Michael Haynes – 21 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 1 PDef, 1 FF
(15th) Jerome McDougal – 9 Tackles, 0 Sacks, 1 PDef, 1 FF
(18th) Calvin Pace – 32 Tackles, 1 Sack
(32nd) Tyler Brayton – 61 Tackles, 2.5 Sacks, 1 PDef

2004
(18th) Will Smith – 40 Tackles, 7.5 Sacks, 2 PDef, 6 FF
(20th) Kenechi Udeze – 35 Tackles, 5 Sacks, 1 PDef, 1 FF
(27th) Jason Babin – 63 Tackles, 4 Sacks, 4 PDef

2005
(18th) Erasmus James – 28 Tackles, 4 Sacks, 2 PDef, 1 FF
(20th) Marcus Spears – 31 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks, 1 PDef

Early returns on the research says that you can expect some big plays from your rookie D.End. (Pepper, Freeney, Grant, Suggs) and others had sacks over 4 in their rookie year. However, a second take at some of these DEnds reveals that many are not even in the game anymore (James, McDougal, Haynes, Udeze, Thomas) and others are completely also-ran back-ups (Babin) or took a complete nose-dive after their rookie year (Brayton, Warren). That being said, if you pick right, you just may snag your D.End of the future (Freeney, Suggs, Peppers, Grant, Smith).

How does this D.End class stack up? Risk or Risk-Averse?

waw

January 22nd, 2010
9:36 pm

Nice. Your top five average out as a 13th pick…

Sarah B

January 22nd, 2010
11:23 pm

D3 glad you at least see the importance of turnoverers. Both teams are adept at them and we need to be as well. Strip, Strip. Strip…