As the dead zone of Falcons and Football rolls on, give your laundry list of concerns as the 2013 Atlanta Falcons Season is only months away. The Cage will be back with a full tilt of questions, answers, and thought processes, but at this point……..it’s your turn:
Sorry for the delay, had a ton going on recently. Most of you guys and gals have already mentioned most of what I had planned, but here goes The Cage list…….
We’re not going to mention the in famous name regarding Smith’s conservative nature for it may simply be unfair to blame only the head coach when something goes wrong in the second half. The second half collapses, bog downs, conservative mindsets, running out the clock, whatever you want to call them, came up and bit the Falcons at the worst time in the 2013 playoffs. A 3rd quarter collapse vs. the Seahawks nearly led to catastrophe and the 2nd half meltdown did lead to a loss in the NFC Championship game vs. the Niners. Fans aren’t expecting the Falcons to blow out every opponent 30 points, but if something isn’t done about these second half blow ups, than a Super Bowl will not be on the horizon.
Yes, let’s just go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room. Roddy White even went ahead with his brutal honesty and said that it’s “Super Bowl or Bust” for the 2013 Atlanta Falcons. There was always going to be pressure when Tony Gonzalez came back for one more year, but when they added Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora, it really accelerated the talking point. There’s been no silly and stupid mention of a dream team, but it’s a fairly obvious conclusion to draw if you look at the age of some of the players like Roddy White, Jonathan Babineaux, Gonzalez, Jackson, and others who have never even graced a Super Bowl. One of the greatest strengths that Mike Smith has shown is a magnificent ability for keeping his team focused both after wins and more importantly after losses. This season will need everything he’s got.
This will be analyzed more this summer as well as being researched heavily in the past, but this has to come to a merciful end this year. It’s well known that unless you’re a 1st or 2nd round pick (and even 2nd rd is pushing it) that you will likely not see the field for at least a year. Peter Konz famously didn’t even get a start until Garrett Reynolds was injured. Dimitroff seemed to throw a small gauntlet down in his post-draft conference when he said, in so many words, that we have to start developing and playing our own draft picks. Maybe fans are simply projecting and hanging on every single word said in the off-season vacuum, but with the various draft picks and subsequent releases, it seems as though the GM might be forcing Smith’s hand. However, seeing is believing.
The Atlanta Falcons defense has been the epitome of mediocrity for the longest time. It at least inched upward a little bit with Mike Nolan taking the helm, but it remains a side of the ball that is only “good enough” and not necessarily good. The hope is that in year two with a plethora of new and talented defensive players, that the defense can finally take a leap of the hump of mediocrity, but it remains to be seen whether or not that will happen.
Only 40% of the Falcons offensive line will be back in their same spots from 2013. Only Justin Blalock at left guard and Sam Baker at left tackle return to their same spots. Peter Konz appears ready to move over to center and the other two spots are up in the air. It looks like either Garrett Reynolds is again in pole position to win the right guard spot for the 3rd year. His first foray as a starter didn’t go well at all, but his second chance was much better until injury. Joe Hawley and maybe one of the practice squad players, namely Phillipkeith Manley, are also in consideration. At right tackle, it seems that 3rd round pick Lamar Holmes is ready to take over for Tyson Clabo. Former Crimson Tide player Mike Johnson has also been mentioned, even though guard seems more of a fit for Johnson. The experience factor will definitely take a hit, but the hope is that the infusion of talent and athleticism will make up for it.
One of the biggest complaints from fans regarding the draft was the failure of the Falcons to take not one linebacker or defensive tackle. Both positions seem to be adequate, if not spectacular at the top, but after that it gets dangerously thin. Babineaux and Peters seem to be OK as the DT starters if they can stay healthy, but Peria Jerry has done nothing and Travian Robertson is a complete unknown. Rumors of signing former Dawg Richard Seymour have quelled fans fears some, but nothing is official yet.
It gets even worse at linebacker. Weatherspoon is the only surefire stud, Nicholas is average, and Dent is still in unknown territory. Robert James is the only other LB on the roster. It seems that the Falcons will be relying on a bunch of undrafted free agents and Brian Banks to fill the void. Regardless of a possible new scheme, you need linebackers in some form to be successful. Maybe a more permanent LB role for Biermann is in the works.
After winning the NFC South and getting the top seed in the NFC in 2012, they will of course draw a tougher schedule in 2013. They face all the NFC divison winners (Packers, 49ers, Redskins) and also face the Patriots and Seahawks to go along with a much improved NFC South in the off-season. That’s not to mention teams like the Cardinals, Rams, and Dolphins who have seemingly improved as well. They didn’t fare very well in 2011, a year after they won their division and locked up the NFC top seed. Let’s hope this year is different.
Even though he’s been a hometown fan favorite since he was drafted in 2008, the former Jonesboro High product simply hasn’t lived up to his rookie performance. Maybe Douglas is just a victim of expectations that are just too high. He was injured in 2009 and did haul in 38 catches for almost 400 yards with 1 TD. Perhaps fans are expecting too much from a slot receiver when there’s so many other talented weapons on the field (Jones, White, Gonzalez, Rodgers, and now Jackson). However, it’s not necessarily the sheer amount of touches he gets, but rather what he does when he gets them. He just doesn’t seem to have that ability of separation he once showed as a rookie. There’s been flashes here and there, but most feel that he should be downright lethal with so much talent around him. He’s definitely safe as the Falcons slot receiver in 2013, but if he doesn’t show something more, his time may be up for 2014. Another to consider is that the Falcons will need Roddy White’s replacement sooner than later.
If you polled most Falcons fans this question in the next 2-3 months, the likely answer would be “don’t count on it.” Maybe this really is the year that the Falcons create some sort of consistent pass rush, but it’s been either John Abraham or Jonathan Babineaux the past 5 years. One is gone (Abe) and the other will turn 32 in October. The Falcons replaced with Osi Umenyiora, drafted two talented defensive ends, and have been developing two the past couple of years, but like many of these other concerns, seeing is definitely believing.
Most fans either actually screamed or wanted to when the Falcons set about drafting corners and safeties, but didn’t take on defensive tackle in the draft. Mike Nolan and Co. are clearly bucking the tried and true idea of “building from the inside-out,” which involves starting with interior linemen first (defensive tackles, defensive ends, and offensive linemen) and working your way outwards to the perimeter such as defensive backs, linebackers, and receivers. The idea is pretty sound since you’re building your foundation first (rushing the passer, shutting down the run, running the football, protecting the QB) and adding the fancy ornaments in a more secondary manner. The two Super Bowl teams, Ravens and 49ers, took this approach and it worked for both. The two teams that took the opposite approach (Falcons and Patriots) find themselves watching the big game from their couch. Are the Falcons doomed with their “outside-in” approach?
Not necessarily. The Packers, Saints, and Colts proved that a high-powered and talented offense can win the whole shebang. It should be said that the Packers, however, had a dominant defense. The Falcons have proven that building from the outside-in on offense actually worked pretty darn well in 2012 and even in the playoffs, which saw them dominate two of the best defenses in football (3 quarters vs. Seahawks, one half vs. Niners). It seems that they’re taking the same approach with the defense. On the surface is seems to make sense with the advent of the heavy passing in the NFL. Dimitroff and Nolan took two corners and two safeties in the draft, and it seems as though the Falcons will be relying on more of a nickel type coverage, be it the traditional 4-2-5 or 3-3-5. With the lack of LB depth, some think that Nolan may be ready to introduce a “big dime” of sorts, taking one of the LB’s in the regular nickel out and sub in a safety that can cover and hit. If nothing else, it seems to be interesting to see how this defense plays out.