The Falcons are stacked — on one side of the ball, anyway

The good news: The Falcons have five really good players, according to Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com. The not-so-good: Only one of them is a defender. That’d be John Abraham, ranked 92nd.

The others: Roddy White is 56th, Tony Gonzalez 47th and Matt Ryan 43rd. And Michael Turner is the highest-rated Bird at No. 38, which seems low for a guy who tied for second in the MVP voting. And I was surprised to see Turner rated below DeAngelo Williams, Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer. But quibbling isn’t why I’m here, at least not today. I come to highlight a theme.

The 2009 Falcons will be outstanding on offense, less so on D. The defense is young and reworked, and that’s not bad in and of itself. Last season’s unit was no colossus. (Remember third-and-16 in the desert? Yow.) But, if it was time for Keith Brooking and Michael Boley and Lawyer Milloy and maybe even lovable Grady Jackson to leave, it will nonetheless take time for their replacements to settle.

I see some 40-37 games coming this season, maybe three or four. Do I think the Falcons can win enough of those to take the NFC South? Yes, I do. But winning only because you’re scoring big is a tough way to go, especially when the head coach is a former defensive coordinator. And I note a precedent in Falcons history of a team overloaded on O that failed to fulfill its manifest destiny.

Will the Falcons' defense keep them from a winning season?

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From 1980 through 1983 the Falcons had eight different players named to the Pro Bowl a total of 21 times. Not one of those played defense, and it was the defense that undid all the offensive names — Bartkowski, Andrews, Jenkins, Miller, Kenn, Thielemann, Van Note and Billy White Shoes. It was the defense that couldn’t hold Dallas in that bitter playoff loss at the old stadium, the defense that couldn’t halt the Vikings in the Metrodome in Leeman Bennett’s final game atop Rankin Sr.’s plateau.

Understand: I’m not faulting Thomas Dimitroff’s reconstruction. He had a whole team to fix when he arrived 17 months ago, and he has gotten half of it right. The other half, which was the focus of the draft just past, will take a little longer.

In the interim, I’d advise you to fasten your seat belts. To borrow from that famous nickel back Bette Davis, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

105 comments Add your comment

Ernest

June 17th, 2009
6:49 am

Continuous improvement is what we should expect from the Falcons with respect to their roster makeup. I believe we have the right leadership in place to make that happen. Go Falcons!

bob

June 17th, 2009
7:02 am

For you older fans: I hope the Falcons use the old tight end screen pass with Gonzalez that the Baltimore Colts used with John Mackey

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 17th, 2009
7:07 am

Mark, totally agree with your assessment of the “D”.

The plays the D don’t make will not be becuase they are out ran or due to the lack of hitting, they’ll be mental errors.

Young and atheletic I’ll take. Coaching will bridge the curve.

Baracked the vote!

June 17th, 2009
7:15 am

back to the 1980? Dallas game, the offense couldn’t get it done when it counted. they went conservative, playing not to lose instead of trying to win the game, had a couple of 3 and outs and that was that. the defense wasn’t great that year, but they went 12-4.

Bill W.

June 17th, 2009
7:20 am

Mark, this current defense may turn out better than you think. Remember Last year some picked the falcon to win just one game. The coaching staff can coach them up. the difference in physical ability in the NFL is small, coaching is the key, Go Falcons!

Mark Bradley

June 17th, 2009
7:36 am

John Mackey? Don’t get me going on tight ends now. I could talk all day.

Falcons Maniac

June 17th, 2009
7:59 am

I’m sorry. I meant “In light of THEIR new marketing campaign…”

Sage of Bluesland

June 17th, 2009
8:07 am

The long-overdue removal of our vaunted Hometown Hero (Keith Brooking, he of the ankle-grabs eight yards downfield) will instantly improve the defense…A classic case of ‘addition-by-subtraction’.

(It’s funny how little good ol’ Brook is being paid now–finally commensurate with his performance as a non-playmaking pile-jumper! Sure, it only took hours into free-agency, but it ALSO shows you that our current front office has a real clue into pay-versus-performance and making decisions without letting emotion play a role…Dan Reeves or Giggles Funtime [Mora] would have still had our precious tankler among the highest paid LBs in the game…Also note that Mike Peterson signed with the Falcs for MORE than good ol’ Brook did with the ‘Boys, and is only a year or two younger, as well…)

It will take some more time, but the Falcons finally have decision-makers I trust and who put the needs of the team ahead of silly, emotional rot which doesn’t equate to wins on the field.

Finally.

Najeh Davenpoop

June 17th, 2009
8:20 am

Van Gorder’s third down zone means it doesn’t matter who is on defense.

Bill

June 17th, 2009
8:21 am

Good article Mark.I can’t see this team winning 11 games again. I am optimistic about the future.

Funny what happens when you have ownership that wants to win and makes an effort to hire the right management to run the team.

Cap

June 17th, 2009
8:26 am

Good defensive schemes/coaching can overcome marginal talent. Defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder is one of the best in the business and Mike Smith made a name for himself on that side of the line of scrimmage. The Falson’s D will surprise this year to the upside.

The Gamer09

June 17th, 2009
8:29 am

I think alot of people will be suprised this year how good the Falcons defense will be…I truly believe that William Moore, Peria Jerry, and new starting linbacker Stephen Nichols will surprise alot of people, but there will be some mental errors for these young players, but once there comfortable, they will be pretty scary for opposing offenses..Believe me Falcon Fans..Just watch!!!

STL Falcon

June 17th, 2009
8:31 am

I absolutely can’t wait to call someone “Giggles Funtime.” Thanks for the laugh, Sage.

Matty Ice-man

June 17th, 2009
8:47 am

While I think the defense is definitely a “work-in-progress”, its likely to be better than last year’s unit. The dirty little secret about the 2008 version of the Atlanta Falcons is that the defense was really bad but our offense was so good it went almost unnoticed. The defense did get a lot of key stops….we are replacing a lot of vets with some rookies or younger players but I don’t think the dropoff will be so severe. However, the schedule is much tougher this year than last – so there is enough difference to be confusing….bottom-line, Mike Peterson is an upgrade over Keith Brooking, Stephen Nicholas is an upgrade over Keith Brooking, Peria Jerry is an upgrade over Gravy Jackson. The only two positions where there could be a slight dropoff is at corner where we lost Dominque Foxworth and will replace with Chevis Jackson or Chris Owens and at safety where we lost Lawyer Milloy and will replace with William Moore or Thomas DeCoud. But I still like our secondary…….look for Falcons to go 10-6 and be a better team with that tougher schedule.

coastaljim

June 17th, 2009
8:52 am

Sage, maybe you should confine yourself to the Dawgs blog. Brooking was a great football player for the Falcons, and only a moron (or someone blinded by sophomoric allegiances to a college they probably couldn’t even get in to) wouldn’t recognize that. While it’s true Keith had “lost a step” due to age, he was a true professional, not to mention one of the best linebackers in football, for over a decade. Now, run along and check on your Hargrave Military transcripts.

Mark Bradley

June 17th, 2009
8:55 am

I’m thinking the Falcons’ coaches will indeed make the best of this defense. But it is, I think you’ll agree, a work in the early days of progress.

Greg

June 17th, 2009
9:04 am

Matty Ice-man is right on the button about the upgrades, especially to speed. But I’m not so sure the offense is going to be so dominating as you imply, Mark. Just looking at our own division, I can’t say we’ll be superior to NO’s or Carolina’s. And as Ice-man says, the schedule is a ball-buster. We’ll be a better team, more experienced in the system, more talented, younger, and faster, but I look for about 8-8.

Hawkdawg

June 17th, 2009
9:07 am

In 2009, I see very long, time-consuming drives that will keep the defense off the field. They will be fine.

Capt Caveman

June 17th, 2009
9:10 am

Actually Mark — wasn’t it Fulton Kuykendall’s great play that resulted in a big hit and a separated shoulder for Staubach that led to Danny White entering the game ?? It’s early in the morning and I’m just recalling off of the top of my head, But the Gritz Blitz defense wasn’t that bad was it ??

I guess maybe I remember it different b/c I was young and Greg Brezina went to my church so I liked him the best and always rooted for the defense.

Mark Bradley

June 17th, 2009
9:10 am

New Orleans has a great offense. I’ll grant you that. But I’ll disagree that the Panthers’ O will be better. I really am underwhelmed by that team.

Hollywould

June 17th, 2009
9:12 am

Gonna be tough but man is it nice to have something to look forward to instead of all the drama.

Maurice

June 17th, 2009
9:14 am

Yeah, like all last year Mike Smith kept talking about “the process” like it was a secret among head coaches. Then the Falcons “proceeded” to an 11-5 season. “The process” will more than likely be Coach Smiths mantra until he stops coaching. Sorry, Bradley, I’m not falling for “the process” again. I think our defense is going to be a lot better than last year all because it will be hard to keep our offense off the field. Sure our secondary is suspect, but if we can get more pressure on the quarterback our secondary will be secondary.

rob

June 17th, 2009
9:18 am

I think the Falcons D will be improved over last year because of the improvement of the O. The D is younger and hungrier and we have the
Coaches/committent to a winning and positive attitude..The tougher schedule seems to be getting a lot of comments but just be aware the other teams wont be licking their chops when they see Atlanta on their schedules..Go Birds

Mark Bradley

June 17th, 2009
9:18 am

As I recall, the Gritz Blitz’s heyday was in 1977. In 1977 the Falcons yielded 129 points, fewest in the league. In 1980 they yielded 272, sixth-fewest. (Still good but not dominant.) By 1982, the strike season, they were actually outscored on the year but made the playoffs with a 5-4 record.

My point: There just wasn’t a dominant defender on the 1980 team or thereafter. In fact, the Falcons went 10 seasons — from 1978 through 1987 — without a single defender being named to the Pro Bowl. Know who broke the drought? (You’ll never guess.)

OK, enough suspense. Scott Case in ‘88.

Hawkdawg

June 17th, 2009
9:24 am

Scott Case had the gay porn star look. He was probably a stud in Midtown.

mryan

June 17th, 2009
9:33 am

Bradley, you’re the man as far as writing new Falcons stories. Nice to see positive comments now that….uh, never mind.

Ryno

June 17th, 2009
9:33 am

Mr. Bradley,

I thought the Ed Hartwell trade a couple of years ago would have been the key that put the Falcons defense back in the tops of the league, but he never really became the dcatalyst I thought he would.

I’m anxious to see the progression of our LB unit. Stop the Run Falcons!

PMC

June 17th, 2009
9:39 am

meh, the defense last year was suspect. This year they are faster and younger so they will blow some assignments but really bend don’t break should work this year. The Falcons again this season simply need to score and score early.

Capt Caveman

June 17th, 2009
9:42 am

The 1980 Falcons team is one of my all time favs. I wish Lynn Cain had gotten to 1,000 yards that year to go with William Andrews 1300. That would have been the first time for a team to have 2 1,000 yard rushers in the same backfield. And then Bart-man had 3500 passing yards, man we were stacked on offense that year. That was the year we were going to win the Super Bowl according to a lot people.

I think this years team has the same kind of offensive pop at every position. But the old adage holds true, offense wins games but defense wins championships.

mryan

June 17th, 2009
9:42 am

I believe we’re building longevity and consistency as a foundation for success. So, while the other teams like the Panthers and the Saints rebuild after their qbs get old, we’ll have Matthew Ice in his prime. And Josh Johson of the Bucs? Think Jamarcus Russell.

dap01

June 17th, 2009
9:43 am

I wish the Hawks had the same management ability as the Falcons.

mryan

June 17th, 2009
9:52 am

Whao, Dap. One miracle at a time. Hawks just need to land a superstar like Cleveland, LA, or Miami did. Hopefully, lady luck will shine on us and let Ty Lawson fall into our laps.

Mark Bradley

June 17th, 2009
9:54 am

I liked the Hartwell trade, too. I really liked the look of the Falcons in 2005, and at midseason they were 6-2 and (I thought) playing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Then Jim Mora took to coaching.

nola falcons fan

June 17th, 2009
9:54 am

Mark – could not agree w/ you more on the panthers. As long as Jake D is their quarterback, they lose 2-3 games they should win. And that should be enough to help put the Falcons over the top.

Of those guys who left the D… who is missed the most? I think its clearly Grady. He made tons if plays in the backfield and he was one reason Lofton had a good year (holding blockers)

Mark Bradley

June 17th, 2009
9:55 am

Oh, and to MRyan: Thanks for the kind words, and I, too, wouldn’t mind seeing Tywon Lawson as a Hawk.

leggomyego

June 17th, 2009
9:57 am

Badmouth Scott Case and he might jump out of the bushes and knock your *%&$ in your watch pocket. He was a no doubt Headhunter, an absolute killer. Broke my heart to see him leave to the stinkin’ Cowboys. I’d give up 2 Prime Time’s for that dude. But that’s just me. No flash, just straight up bringing the pain. He was our Ronnie Lott.

Falcon57

June 17th, 2009
9:57 am

Mark, I love reading your articles!! Great job!!

Now about our defense this year. One, I think Mularkey will call a more ‘move the chains’ game plan just to keep the defense off the field. Even Gonzalas mentioned after arriving in Atlanta that he was adept at keeping the chains moving. Between him, Turner and mixing in White and Jenkins to keep the defense honest, we’ll move the chains and eat up clock. Our defense will learn as the season progresses. I think you’ll see a much better defense the 2nd half of the season and by then we’ll see the offense open it up to match!! We just need to survive the first quarter of the season without getting too far behind in our division.

Looking for a great year.

P-Man

June 17th, 2009
10:00 am

Mark,
What was interesting about the Falcons in ‘77 was that they still only finished 7-7, even though they gave up only 129 points. And the next year, when they made the playoffs for the first time with an 8-6 record, the most points they scored in any one game was 23, against the Giants. Those were some great defenses, but truly wretched offenses.

D Money

June 17th, 2009
10:00 am

I love what the Falcons are doing but like many I’m hesitant to say that our secondary will be fine. Coleman will be fine but I can’t say the same for the rest. The games that I’m worried about are New Orleans with Brees, Patriots, and the Eagles. I think the defense will do just fine against everyone else on the schedule.

duke

June 17th, 2009
10:01 am

Caveman, it was Robert Pennywell who laid out Staubach in that playoff. Of course, nowadays that play would be considered illegal and Pennywell would be fined and possibly suspended and be talked about on Sportscenter for being a terrible human being for hitting the quarterback.

Magnus23

June 17th, 2009
10:09 am

Mark,

You are doing the conventional wisdom thing again.

It burned you last year.

Brian Van Gorder has a lot more players to work his magic with this year.

The Falcons defensive line can actually be a strong point for the Falcons with a returning Trey Lewis and the best pass rushing DT in this year’s draft.

Davis and Babs are coming into their prime, and if Jamaal’s light does not come on … we have options with Biermann and Sibury. We have good depth as well with Walker and Johnson.

Our LB corps will be upgraded with Peterson, Nicholas and Lofton – now entering his second year.

I like our safeties with Coleman the most underrated DB in the league, and with athletic and agressive Decoud and Moore fighting it out at SS.

Houston showed flashes of dominance last season and should only get better … Dimitroff prides himself on DB selections … which means we are high on Owens and Jackson at the remaing CB and NB positions.

Until TD whiffs on a selection he has my vote of confidence. And with this line … the secondary should have opportunity to shine.

I top 15 defense should be all we need anyway.

Doyle, Winder

June 17th, 2009
10:12 am

1980…what a year. Mark, you probably don’t remember, but there were “BirdDawg” t-shirts out then for all the Falcon and Georgia fans! Maybe we can have a repeat of 1980 in the next few years before I get to freeking old to even realize it!

nola falcons fan

June 17th, 2009
10:19 am

wow, i like your optimism Magnus… you might have me convinced. Falcons – top rated D in 2009!

Mark Bradley

June 17th, 2009
10:23 am

I don’t remember, Doyle. I wasn’t here then. But I saw Georgia play in person — I was covering Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader then — and I remember covering a Bengals-Falcons game in 1978 when the playoff-bound Falcons were thrashed by a Cincinnati team coached by … wait for it … Homer Rice.

Trainwreck

June 17th, 2009
10:47 am

We may not be great on D, but we weren’t great last year. As an extreme Falcon optimist I can see the Falcons defense being a lot like last year with the bend but don’t break approach of giving up tons of yards but not tons of points. We will be young, so there will be plenty of blown assingments, but I trust our coaching staff to have these boys ready to compete.

Coach D

June 17th, 2009
10:53 am

I think the key in the NFL is to have a QB who can make all the throws and move the chains. I realize that may be oversimplfying it, but “the best defensive is a good offense” saying is pretty accurate in the NFL. Not to say that defense isn’t important because it is, and you can’t win championships in the NFL without at least a decent defense. But it’s very possible to be a playoff team with a mediocre defense, which is a reasonable goal for the Falcons this year. And because there is so much parity in the NFL, consistency at the QB position is key.

To prove my point, in 2007 the Falcons finished 4-12. Now there were a LOT of outside destractions going on, but the biggest sin of the Bobby Petrino debacle was the inconsistency at QB. There were 4-5 games that the Falcons could have won had they had a QB who could make the throws and turn drives into points. There were times when the defense would give the ball to the offense on like their 30 yard line, and Harrington/Redmon/Leftwich wouldn’t be able to get a TD or field goal out of that. It was horrendous! But now that the Falcons have a QB and a running game with big play potential, it allows the defense time to rest as well as allowing Van Gorder to get creative with his blitz’s.

MyView

June 17th, 2009
11:00 am

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I see the Falcons D being better than last years even with all the turnover. I also think Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas in his second year will be big time contributors. The D will be 10-15th by the end of the season. Offense will be between 4th and 9th and the Falcons win 10 to take the division.

mobetta

June 17th, 2009
11:04 am

Who knows how good we will be, stars come out of this league every year…maybe even your boy Ziggy MB!!!

CauCajon Pimp

June 17th, 2009
11:16 am

Very, very good work, Mr. Bradley. You really know Falcon football. I was looking forward to the end of the Hawks season to start reading some of your work. Again, good work!

Before this year’s draft, I was heavy on drafting Brandon Pettigrew. I was able to perceive how a good blockiing/catching combo tight end would change the dynamics of our entire team (offense and defense). Having a tight end that can stay in the game for four downs, would allow so many options (two tight end sets, increased running plays, an added option on passing plays, created single matches for outside receivers, created one-on-one matches with slower linebackers, middle of the field attacks, etc., etc., freakin’ etc.). As Hawkdawg, rob and Matty Ice-man mentioned earlier, our defense is going to eat up so much clock, with all our offensive options, our defense will be able to play a better game. Offensive opponents will have to play a lot of catch-up ball, forcing more passing plays. If we can get a legitimate pass rush out of our front seven, our defensive backfield can hold their own, under three seconds.

Enter Tony Gonzalez; that move is just as good as drafting a young Pettigrew. Last year, we controlled the clock in most of our contests. I’m not certain where we ranked in the league with total time-of-possession but I do recall that in most games, our time-of-possession outweighed our opponents. Gonzo is only going to add to that. Which means, our defense will stay on the sideline dissecting their opponents. Which, in turn, will make an average, young defense look all-pro. Again, the key will be the, yet unproven, pass rush. If we can get some improved play out of Anderson, Jerry and Nicholas (Abraham, Babineaux, Lofton and maybe Peterson are proven), we’re bound for the Super Bowl.

f leghorn

June 17th, 2009
11:31 am

In the 1980 game against Dallas, Ed Jones tip-toed down the neutral zone on third and short, was not called for offsides, luckily landed in the spot where the play was directed, and led to a punt. Atlanta was probably too conservative, as has been mentioned, but after all, it was Leeman Bennett. I punched a hole through a wicker ottoman when that play occurred. Still, it was a great season, in spite of Rolland Lawrence and Rick Byas.

As great as that team was, I am even more excited about this one. The schedule this year is tougher, but so is our team. That 1980 team started out 1 – 3, then finished strong at 12 -4, and won the division. Maybe these guys can do the same.