FLOWERY BRANCH – Two years ago, we expected too little. One year ago, we expected too much. So it’s safe to conclude that even with all that Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith have accomplished during their brief reign with the Falcons, they’ve managed to keep at least one tradition in tact: The team is still keeping us guessing.
But not this time.
Last month, they signed a legitimate cornerback (Dunta Robinson). This allowed the Falcons to cut back on its janitorial stuff because now somebody won’t have to run onto the field to sweep up the ashes after every opponent’s pass play.
Then came the draft. They needed an outside linebacker who could drop into coverage, help create some mayhem on the pass rush and, if at all possible, hit somebody. They found Sean Weatherspoon. They needed linemen on both sides of the ball. They took a defensive tackle and two guards with their next three picks. Think of a draft as you would an exam. Nobody is guaranteeing an A. But at least we know the Falcons studied the right chapters for the test.
At the very least, they will make the playoffs. If body parts don’t spontaneously combust as a year ago, they are capable of doing something special.
If reading that leaves you cross-eyed, think of this: What were the expectations of the New Orleans Saints a year ago when they were coming off two non-playoff seasons and a record of 15-17? Super Bowl champions?
Dimitroff isn’t the type to make guarantees. The most he would allow Saturday was: “There’s no question people should have expectations. Very solid expectations. We feel we’re going in the direction of a team that will be a perennial playoff contender.”
They went 11-5 when everything right. They went 9-7 when so much went wrong. Think about that: nine wins in a bad year. And then consider this:
♦ The schedule will be significantly easier in 2010. The combined record of opponents (127-129) ranks 20th, compared to last year’s schedule (150-105-1), which ranked fourth. Also, three outdoor road games in cold-weather cities – Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia – all take place by mid-October. No snow.
♦ Logic says the Falcons will have better fortune on the injury front. Last year wiped out the seasons of Peria Jerry, William Moore and Brian Williams early, and dented Michael Turner and Matt Ryan late.
♦ Look around the NFC: Philadelphia jettisoned Donovan McNabb and will be transitioning to an untested Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Arizona saw Kurt Warner retire, which means Matt Leinart just lost his safety net. The Eagles and Cardinals are two of last season’s six NFC playoff teams. The Dallas Cowboys’ schedule is ranked as the most difficult in the conference and No. 3 in the league (opponents’ record of 139-117). The Saints will still be good. But they open against Minnesota, play at Dallas on Thanksgiving and have four night games on their slate — “rewards” for being a marquee team.
The Falcons are not without questions. Sam Baker hasn’t proved he’s worthy of being a starting left tackle, let alone a first-round pick. Defensive end John Abraham has to stay healthy (and preferably visible). There is a significant drop-off at wide receiver from No. 1 (Roddy White) to whomever is No. 2 (Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, street free agent to be named later).
Also, there’s the Matt Ryan question: Were the bumps in Year 2 just normal signs of the NFL learning curve?
Dimitroff wouldn’t call 2009 a step back, saying only, “We learned a lot about a very young football team.”
Then he reiterated, “People should have expectations that the arrow is pointing up. It’s not static or sideways.”
High expectations seem safe this time.
Earlier Falcons draft posts