FLOWERY BRANCH – This is the way the season has gone for the Falcons. They win games, and people find flaws. They finally lose a game, and people scream, “Aha!”
As if the struggles of the running game, or the instability of the run defense, or the fact that Ray Edwards too often seemed more passionate about conquering the art of modeling than the art of a tackle should come as any surprise.
The Falcons have flaws, but so does every team, and they’re not going away. This is the NFL. Rosters don’t morph significantly during the season. The league has a salary cap. There is little roster flexibility. Unlike baseball, there aren’t pyrotechnics at the trade deadline. Once a season starts, the best a team can hope for is that a backup evolves and contributes more than expected, or a player released by another team can fill a void, or that drop-kicking a high-profile veteran like Edwards gets everybody’s attention.
But from September to January (playoffs included), strengths, weaknesses and perceptions generally don’t change much. In the Falcons’ case, perceptions are that they’re not an overly physical team, they can’t even convert third-and-1’s, and therefore they’re not going to be a great team down the stretch or in the postseason.
So much for basking in 8-1.
“If the NFL had rankings like college football, we’d be last,” safety William Moore mused. “Because we don’t get the love. We can win a million games, but we’d be like Boise State. Maybe they’d give us a decent bowl game. … I like Shreveport.”
With their options limited, credit the Falcons for cutting Edwards. It was a bold decision, even if it meant admitting they goofed by signing him. It says a lot about the player (in terms of how far Edwards had fallen) and the team’s mindset (believing releasing him was addition by subtraction). There is no financial benefit to cutting Edwards now. He’ll still get his $11 million guaranteed. The Falcons merely came to the realization that he was dragging them down, whether in performance, attitude or both.
The damning analysis from coach Mike Smith: “We did it to make our football team better today and in the future.”
This about a player that the organization was going gaga over seemingly five minutes ago.
Edwards couldn’t rush the passer. He couldn’t defend the run. He wasn’t nearly as versatile or athletic as one might think for a guy who so proudly showed off his abs in his 2012 modeling calendar (12 months, 12 poses). Younger, cheaper, hungrier players with a pulse were better options.
Everybody realized the Falcons would not be a great power-running team this season, despite the team’s continuous, “We will be a power-running team” declarations. Michael Turner showed signs of slowing down last season. He’s not running behind an overly physical offensive line. The new offensive scheme clearly would maximize the team’s main talents.
At some point, one would think the Falcons will be able to figure out how to convert a third-and-1.
Offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said, “I still think we have a chance to be a good short-yardage team. It’s not that we aren’t blocking well, we’re just not blocking the right people.”
As flaws go, that would seem to be a correctable one.
Everybody has issues. New England ranks 29th in pass defense, and it lost at home to Arizona. Pittsburgh lost to Oakland and Tennessee. Also, Ben Roethlisberger feels like a piano just fell on him. Chicago has one of the worst offenses in the league (28th), punctuated by one of the worst passing attacks (30th). The mean, nasty, rip-your-head-off Baltimore Ravens? They rank 27th in total defense.
In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers has been sacked more times (29) than any other quarterback. San Francisco’s offense is led by … Alex Smith. And they lost to Minnesota. Houston: Solid overall but not a great passing attack. Eli Manning has 11 interceptions — right between Cam Newton (10) and Brandon Weeden (12) — and has lost to three teams with losing records (Philadelphia, Dallas, Cincinnati).
None of this makes the Falcons better, it just illustrates that every team has to overcome something. We know the Falcons’ flaws. But 8-1 and flawed isn’t a bad place to be.
By Jeff Schultz