One of the main reasons the Packers are in the title game is of course due to the fact that they are one of the best teams in the NFL in drafting and developing their own players. Sure, they’ve splashed a few free agents like Charles Woodson, but for the most part they draft well and make sure that their players are being developed correctly. They of course struck gold with the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year and 2 time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews (drafted 2 spots after Peria Jerry) and BJ Raji in the first round. But they also have drafted and developed several lower round guys who have made a huge impact for them including Desmond Bishop (6th round – 2007), James Jones (3rd round – 2007), Jermichael Finley (3rd round 2008), and Andrew Quarless (5th round – 2010).
They also haven’t shied away from drafting multiple players at the skill position. After drafting Greg Jennings in the 2nd round in 2006, they went back to the wide receiver well with James Jones in 2007 and Jordy Nelson in 2008 (2nd round). They also are the masters of undrafted free agents and developing them into studs. Both Tramon Williams and Ryan Grant were undrafted free agents and have been integral to their success (even though Grant was hurt). They’ve missed on a few (Justin Harrell, Brian Brohm), but that hasn’t kept them from taking risks on guys. They stick with guys and develop them superbly. Are the Falcons developing their players on the same level? Dominique Franks, Lawrence Sidbury, Spencer Adkins, Chris Owens, and Garrett Reynolds are just a few who have not made an impact after being highly touted coming in. Mike McCarthy also wasn’t afraid to change defensive coordinators only one year removed from being a few plays from the Super Bowl in 2007. When he hired Dom Capers to install and run the 3-4, the defense immediately jumped from 21st in total defense to top 5 in one year. In 2010, they are top 5 in virtually every defensive category.
Starting with their head coach, outspoken and inspiring Rex Ryan, the New York Jets follow their demeanor of their coach in terms of how their team is shaped. Of all the NFL teams, the Jets are the least afraid to go big and bold to achieve what they need and what they want. After hiring Ryan in 2009 (who was interviewed for the Atlanta Falcons opening in 2008), they traded draft picks away to go get their franchise QB in Mark Sanchez. They have hit on some excellent draft picks such as Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene, but they are best known for throwing caution to the wind and making deals they think will help their team.
Another big issue with the Jets and their head coach is attitude. They have no problem of talking about the other team and getting themselves in the news or on bulletin boards because they know they’re going to back it up. A team that gets destroyed by the Patriots 45-3 and is somehow able to come out and beat them in their own house after talking trash to them and about them all week in the media. You likely won’t see any unabashed smack coming from Flowery Branch anytime soon, because as Roddy White (tweet war w/ New Orleans) and John Abraham (Rodgers dance), you better be ready to back it up, especially towards the end of the season and in the playoffs. Even though not copying the Jets blurbs in the media, could they borrow some of their swagger?
The Bears are probably most aligned to the current Falcons in their fairly conservative offensive and overall approach. They are similar to the Falcons in that they are a run-oriented football team. They may not have the overall talent on offense that the Birds have in terms of Pro Bowl players, but they do possess a solid running football team coupled with immense speed at the receiver position. Their two starting wide receivers are absolutely burners in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. They have some possession guys in Earl Bennett and Greg Olsen also, but they are able to stretch the field much more the Falcons ever have or ever do. Concerning their defense, they’ve always had a solid defense but decided to go and grab the biggest free agent prize in the market in Julius Peppers. The results have led them one game away from the Super Bowl. After years of Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton type of QBs, they traded the house for Jay Cutler and after initially not paying off, they finally have their franchise QB who sling the ball deep to those speedy receivers.
Lovie Smith also didn’t hesitate to change his coordinators until he found the right mix. Being on the hot seat for this upcoming year, Smith went out and got Mike Martz, who’s been bouncing around the NFL for quite some time since his days as a head coach in St. Louis. Looks like he may have finally found a home. Should Brian Van Gorder and Mike Mularkey feel the heat if they’re not getting it done?
What else is there to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers, who own the most Lombardi Trophies in NFL history at 6. They’ve won two Super Bowls in the last decade and are poised to win their 3rd. In terms of coaching, they definitely get their guy and stick with them. Chuck Noll was the Steelers coach for an astonishing 23 years. Then they go with a guy named Bill Cowher who coached them for 15 years. They decide not to go in a different direction after a few losing seasons and many misses in the playoffs at all levels including losing in the Super Bowl. After he retired, they struck gold with Mike Tomlin who has already won a Lomardi Trophy in his short career.
Personnel wise, there’s a reason that the Steelers have more Lombardi’s than any other team. They are amazing at scouting, drafting, and developing players. They usually know just when to either re-sign a player or let him go to free agency (compare Hines Ward to Antwan Randle-El). They also are enormously tied to the team concept. No one player is bigger than the team. If they were willing to ship the 2009 Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes out the door, than no one is safe if they don’t tow the company line. There were rumors that they were even shopping Ben Roethlisberger after his issues. They do one of the best jobs of drafting great talent and developing it, particularly on defense. Just a few home grown products: Roethlisberger, Holmes (traded), Willie Colon, Lamar Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and of course Troy Polamalu. They also completely revamped their wide receiver corps in just two drafts with 3rd round draft pick Mike Wallace in 2009 and rookie wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (3rd round – 2010) and Antonio Brown (6th round- 2010). Above all, the Pittsburgh Steelers are known for gritty, tough, and even mean football players that will hit you first, hardest, and longest. Do the Falcons develop correctly? Do they have a hard-hitting, punishing attitude? They sure could borrow some.
-What qualities do you admire from the Championship Four?
-What team should the Falcons model the most?
-What team should the Falcons model the least?
-Which is the biggest and most important thing the Falcons can do to improve?
-Do the Falcons need to draft smarter?
-Is there a serious problem with player development?
-Should the Falcons take more risks in Free Agency?
-All teams are known for being dominant and aggressive on at least one side of the ball. What are the Falcons known for?
-Does the coaching staff need an attitude or an edge?
-Predict the winners, the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl victor?
-How close are the Birds: very, medium, or long ways to go?