***Apologies for letting post expire.
As the Atlanta Falcons get ready to end one of the worst seasons in recent memory, most of the talk, discussion, and thoughts about the Falcons has turned to the upcoming off-season and 2014. Most fans are completely expecting their team to fall to the next two opponents, the Niners and rival Panthers. Two teams that are the exact opposite of the red and black team: tough and physical. The question now turns to whether or not the Falcons can actually fix all that ails this team in one season. Theory would have it that since the team from Flowery Branch has been so successful the last 5 out of 6 seasons, that it would be like riding a bike and they could easily slip back into success.
However, as Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast my friend.” If you look at the Falcons problems in a one-season vacuum, it would be easy to chalk it up to just a bad year, injuries, or whatever reaching rationalization that makes one feel better, even though having nothing to do with actual reality. But if you look at the Falcons problems as more gradual and systemic problems that have finally had a dam burst of awfulness, it’s less easy to assume the Falcons are just a “few tweaks away,” with the assumption that no major changes will be made, such as a head coaching change. Some minor changes are likely to come, such as a few position coaches, the nutritionist, the towel washer, the turf manager and whomever else they deem worthy of being scapegoated. A look at some bright points going forward and some storm clouds as well……….
Even in the doldrums of the trainwreck-boat sink-plane crash season that is the Falcons 2013 campaign, there has been some bright spots to look forward to going forward. There are some major areas of strength that have emerged in the wake of injuries and other variables. The wide receiving corps has always been a strength of the Falcons with Roddy White and Julio Jones as a 1-2 punch and Harry Douglas has been solid, if not spectacular in the slot. The #4 and #5 spots have been a rotating door until 2013 saw an explosion of talent from the top spot all the way to #5. Harry Douglas is set to go over the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career and both Drew Davis and undrafted free agent Darius Johnson have shown great potential when given the chances. Of all the positions, this one should already be penciled in for 2014.
The linebacker corps seems right behind it. Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu have emerged as potential starters and playmakers even when everyone comes back to full health. Worrilow has pulled down 109 tackles and 1 sack (that was really impressive) in only 10 starts. Bartu has 68 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 11 starts. With one or two more sacks, he could have the most sacks for any Falcons LB in the last 6 years. Sean Weatherspoon has shown spurts, but his constant injury status is starting to call in the once great “potential” he had when he was selected #19 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. First round linebackers should be out-and-out playmakers, and Spoon has only shown one season of that. Taking a look at what 1st round LB’s Luke Kuelchy or Patrick Willis have done, and Weatherspoon doesn’t even enter that conversation. Even so, this is possibly the most talent the Falcons have had at the LB corps in quite a while, and that’s not including Kroy Biermann coming back to health in 2014.
Finally, the defensive backfield is littered with young talent, save for the free safety spot. William Moore is arguably the heart and soul of the team and one of the few who brings a tenacity and toughness to the plate. He has ups and downs, but he’s not getting much help from his defensive line or his free safety. Desmond Trufant has had a stellar rookie year overall, considering that he’s essentially been the #1 CB for awhile now. He’s not been perfect, but overall had a really excellent year for a rookie CB. Robert Alford has shown some potential and had his share of lumps, but the future looks bright with Trufant and Alford going forward. Robert McClain has come back to his old ways after a less-than-stellar start to the season. They don’t have a ton of depth at CB, assuming that Asante Samuel will be gone in the off-season. Perhaps the biggest weakness is Thomas DeCoud at free safety. Whatever progress that DeCoud showed is long gone. Smith’s adamant refusal to look objectively at FS is just one of many reasons that fans are fed up with this current staff, but overall has good talent going forward.
One of the greatest complaints about Head Coach Mike Smith is his seeming inflexibility to pretty much everything that represents the Falcons. The same issues that were thought to be solved when the Falcons got two new coordinators and a new OL coach are reappearing. How can one of the best 3-4 defensive minds in the NFL in Mike Nolan, not immediately be able to implement that defense wholeheartedly in Atlanta? How is it that Nolan literally has had major success everywhere he’s been as a DC (Baltimore, San Francisco, Denver, Miami), but be so bad in Atlanta? Why are the exact same problems occurring that have plagued this team since 2008: blows leads all the time, can’t finish, can’t adjust, comes out flat, relies on the QB to save the day, a veteran preference program that sacrifices young talent, and a refusal to put young players in unless they’re a first round draft pick?
Matt Ryan was interviewed this week on a local sports talk station, and he said how Mike Smith hates anything, such as a Monday Night Football game, that in any way disrupts the normal routine. That’s just a microcosm of how Smith operates: in total control and micro-managing, unsuccessfully mind you, every single part of the Falcons organization. No talk about wanting a great challenge or being on the biggest stage or anything like that. Just upset that it’s messing up the “normal routine.” Because that’s worked so very well this year.
***Rest of post coming shortly…………