A 5-step program to ensure a better Falcons future

Step 1: Relax. This season was almost a worst-case scenario — defensive overhaul, tougher schedule, injuries by the boatload — and it wound up 9-7. This tells us the Falcons have the right kind of men in administrative places, and it also tells us the core of the team is talented enough to withstand a series of reversals.

Step 2: Get edgy. The Falcons ranked 28th in a 32-team league in pass defense, and I know what you’re going to say — because of the cornerbacks. And I won’t pretend that Brent Grimes and Chris Houston were the second coming of Lester Hayes and Michael Haynes, but even that Hall of Fame pairing would have struggled behind a pass rush that generated only 28 sacks. (Tied for 26th in the NFL.) Look for the Falcons to draft an edge player — a defensive end or an outside linebacker — in Round 1. Look for Lawrence Sidbury to contend for a starting position. Look for a wholesale commitment to rushing the passer.

Step 3: Give the secondary a second chance. Thomas Dimitroff made his reputation as a scout, and he’s known in the industry as a keen analyst of defensive backs. He believesHouston and Grimes and Christopher Owens can be solid NFL performers. And let’s not forget  safety William Moore, who missed 14 games due to injury but for whom Dimitroff’s hopes remain massive. These are all young guys. Give them the benefit of a pass rush and see how they fare.

Step 4: Trust Matt Ryan. The Falcons had 39 completions of 20-plus yards (tied for 21st in the league) and five of 40-plus (tied for 25th). In 2008 they had 45 and nine, respectively. For reasons unclear, they stopped throwing long. And it isn’t, as some continue to insist, that Ryan can’t deliver the deep ball. He can and has. The Falcons just stopped stretching defenses. They need to start again.

Step 5: Open the screen door. I’ve heard your pleas, and I’ve come to agree: Mike Mularkey needs to mix in the occasional screen pass. (He seems to favor reverses, which seldom work.) It’s believed the Falcons don’t like the screen because they feel duty-bound to keep a back in to pass-protect, but this goes back to Step 4. Ryan is no longer a rookie, and even when he was he didn’t act like one. He can handle a blitz. And I’m thinking Michael Turner would like the chance to get the ball in the open field. I’m thinking he’d like it a lot.

222 comments Add your comment

suwaneedawg

January 7th, 2010
8:59 am

I agree with everything you wrote here Mark. They need to go after a free agent DB. I am already looking forward to the draft already.

suwaneedawg

January 7th, 2010
9:00 am

And I didn’t say first like the goobers who get off on that crap.

Mark Bradley

January 7th, 2010
9:01 am

I noticed, Suwanee, and I appreciate your decision not to celebrate the awesome accomplishment. But kudos all the same.

WonderDawg

January 7th, 2010
9:03 am

Right on the money Mark. They’ve got to bring back the deep ball next year.

Bob Clark

January 7th, 2010
9:05 am

Keep up the great work Mark Bradley. You do a fine job. Now if only the powers that be would reconsider (again) and get us a good Braves announcer, who wants to listen to a sniggling, euphamism laden Chip Carey (nepotism at its best at work). We would love to have another Pete van Wieren, John Shiambi or Bob Rathman. Please pass this on tho whomever it concerns. Thank You, Bob Clark

DDawgDavis

January 7th, 2010
9:09 am

Good piece!

It’s going to be an interesting off-season with the FA and it’s effects on teams. I am eager for the rumor mill to gear up and I am already looking at 3rd-7th round picks in the draft (1st Round is easy Taylor Mays).

cattle dawg

January 7th, 2010
9:11 am

Didnt the falcons trade away a 2nd or 3rd round pick?

DDawgDavis

January 7th, 2010
9:13 am

Not that it matters that I personally am looking at 3rd-7th round picks or what the Falcons will do with it. Heck, the only thing I do is keep paying the season ticket prices hike each season. So, formally, as a season ticket-holder I ask that Arthur, TD, and CMS, please…please bring in playoff/Super Bowl talent! I have to convince the wife that yes, 20+ years of season ticket holding is worth it.

Also, Arthur if you happen to read this, please get rid of the guy/gal who runs the music and marketing at the Dome. Worst stadium music in all of the major sports.

FalconDawg

January 7th, 2010
9:13 am

You are right on Mark!! I believe the corners are much better than some give them credit for. Heck I could get open if a quarterback had all day to sit and wait for me to do so without duress.

DDawgDavis

January 7th, 2010
9:13 am

2nd and that’s why I skipped it.

cattle dawg

January 7th, 2010
9:16 am

Tell mularkey to call mike bobo if he wants to install a screen pass. Also, that end for Iowa#94 I believe was a hause. What round will he go?

Paul

January 7th, 2010
9:17 am

The defense needs time and one more training camp with maybe a piece or two. For some reason, I think our offense looked old and sluggish this year at some positions. Harry Douglas will help, but we need to start grooming each line position (Reynolds being a start). The Defense will get better, and significantly so, next year.

Gatorzone

January 7th, 2010
9:18 am

Grimes showed tremendous improvement, and Owens looks like he has tremendous upside. We definitely need another D-lineman. Either another tackle or end. I dont care which.

Brian

January 7th, 2010
9:20 am

Do yall think we need to bolster the receiving ranks, or will the return of Harry Douglas be enough. We threw deep multiple times in the last few games, to Jenkins in particular, they just weren’t completed at a high percentage. Also the addition of Tony Gonzales probably resulted in a less vertical attack as Ryan looked to him often where last year we had little to no tight end presence in the passing game.

StockDog

January 7th, 2010
9:21 am

I agree wholeheartedly. I think generating a pass rush is more important than the secondary at this point. Also, as you wrote in your other columns, we need to let Norwood and Jenkins go and replace them with more productive players.

Gatorzone

January 7th, 2010
9:23 am

They need to pick up another wide reciever for depth in the later rounds, but I would not be adverse to drafting another RB in round 3.

Turtsnap

January 7th, 2010
9:23 am

Good read Mark. On step 3, it should be noted that Thomas Decoud is rounding out to be a good Safety, and there were some Falcons fans that doubted his ability.

As for Matt Ryan, in comparing his stats from last year to this year, there really wasn’t as bad a dropoff as some might think. He threw and completed around the same number of passes, his yards were 600 less than last year because, as you noted, the Falcons fell in love with the short game. I honestly think the injury to Harry Douglas hurt us here. Gotta keep in mind too, that Matt missed two games and played hurt in the last couple.

As you said, it was a season that could’ve gotten away from the Falcons, on the back to back winning seasons front, and probably would’ve in the Mora scheme. To finish 9-7 this year, and to be THIS close to having pulled off atleast one upset on the Saints, and competing admirably in both trips to the Meadowlands, is speaking volumes as to the direction of this team!

Charlie Dalton

January 7th, 2010
9:24 am

Right on brother!!! Lawrence Sidbury and Derrick Morgan teamed together would be interesting. Go Falcons.

JacketFan

January 7th, 2010
9:25 am

It will be intresting to see what the Falcons defense can do after anther year of gelling together and if they can stay healthy.

Sonny Clusters

January 7th, 2010
9:26 am

6. Sign a reliable kicker.

DK->

January 7th, 2010
9:26 am

Get after the quarterback and all things will be well. Get back to using the Ben Hartsock type tight end for the running game and put Tony in for 3rd down and red zone. Get a change up running back that can play for more than three games. Get a real kick return man. Keep the kickers we have now. Wear the throw back unis every game.

cattle dawg

January 7th, 2010
9:26 am

Back to the Granthem article. I heard back at Christmas he was the guy. But it was known then as now that CMR would make a legit run at Smart after his bowl game. From what I hear, Grantham is a really good guy and wants the UGA job.

willie martinez

January 7th, 2010
9:26 am

i’m not sure about the ‘trust matt ryan” part.

Jacketfan1302

January 7th, 2010
9:27 am

“Charlie Dalton: Right on brother!!! Lawrence Sidbury and Derrick Morgan teamed together would be interesting. Go Falcons.”

I don’t think Morgan will be on the board by the time the Falcons pick. Would be pretty sweet though.

Geoff Schultz

January 7th, 2010
9:28 am

Mark, are you referring to the Michael Haynes from Northern Arizona or the Michael Haynes of Arizona State?

I’m sure it’s the ASU Michael Haynes but I don’t want people to get confused with the Michael Haynes of Northern Arizona fame.

Larry A

January 7th, 2010
9:28 am

Spot on.

Defense works as a unit, no pass rush, there is no way corners can cover… I am not suggesting that we have adequate corners but they may not be as bad as we think they are.

I am glad someone else noticed that long balls seemed to decrease dramatically. Of course, that could be correlate to lack of a running game and fewer teams bringing safeties up to support the run. The Falcons also seemed unwilling to commit to the run this season. Last year, they seemed willing to accept some 3 and outs in order to establish the run, not so much this year….

I had not really considered the lack of screens but that is a good observation.

suwaneedawg

January 7th, 2010
9:28 am

Brian,Harry Does bolster the WR ranks but, I think we need another #2. I wonder what is out there in F/A?

willie martinez

January 7th, 2010
9:29 am

Mark, the things i enjoy most: being first and spreading humor seem to be in disfavor now.

sadly, willie

Bob Horner

January 7th, 2010
9:30 am

The Falcons stopped stretching defenses because they are looking for Tony Gonzalez first on every passing play. I would like to see less of a dependence on the TE in 2010, and remember that 84 is your deep threat.

collegeballfan

January 7th, 2010
9:35 am

I agree with most of these observations. Selected free agents and a good draft. Need help at DE, DB, WR and OL. Will they take the proverbial “best available” this year?

George Holman

January 7th, 2010
9:38 am

We are close to several years of winning seasons/playoffs, etc. I am really pleased with how the Falcons are progressing!

Mark Bradley

January 7th, 2010
9:43 am

It’s a cyclical process, Coach Willie. Your day will come again.

Charles Jackson

January 7th, 2010
9:44 am

More pass rush, DB and Mozart at the Dome would be kinda, say, edgy don’t you think?

Sonny Clusters

January 7th, 2010
9:45 am

We was thinking that.

Mark Bradley

January 7th, 2010
9:46 am

The Falcons did give up a Round 2 pick in the Tony Gonzalez transaction.

Voice of Reason

January 7th, 2010
9:49 am

I would like to see Champ Bailey brought in to solidify the secondary – i believe that Denver is going to try to overhaul their defense and he could be available. What an addition he would be to have a shut down corner and a locker room presence for those young DB’s. Bring Champ home!

Greg

January 7th, 2010
9:50 am

Ryan looked like a 2nd-year player in ‘08, but he looked like a rookie in ‘09. His accuracy was below average for an NFL QB, even when he was getting plenty of time. Even easy throws in the flat, or on quick slants, were rarely right on target. Balls went high most of the time, but there were plenty in the dirt, too, especially in the flat, where he was no doubt afraid of being picked. The key word there is ‘afraid’. He looked jittery this year, nervous feet and all. And he wasn’t following through on his throws with his front foot, probably in an effort to get the ball out quickly (see “high throws,” above). I know everyone keeps saying this is just a matter of coaching and experience, but I’m wondering if he can get his mojo back. He’s all confidence off the field, but on it he seems to lack it. An answer to Bob Horner’s good point about the overuse of the TE may be that he didn’t feel he had time to wait for patterns to develop down field, so he panicked and looked for Tony. Video re-plays consistently showed that Ryan wasn’t under pressure, but he sure looked like he THOUGHT he was under pressure.

Kurt

January 7th, 2010
9:51 am

I’m with Sonny. Get the kicking game fixed, period. I realize we thought it was fixed with Elam, but we HAVE to get a Mr. Automatic from 40 yards in. Even with all the injuries and the hellacious schedule, in my opinion, we make the playoffs if Elam makes a few of those kicks that should have been a gimme for a millionaire, professional kicker (especially one who kicks indoors).

GaDawg

January 7th, 2010
9:52 am

Michael Jenkins in my opinion is not a legit # 2. Maybe TO on an incentive laden contract at 1yr with an option if he pans out. Roddy, TO, Gonzalez & hopefully Harry Douglas plus TO I don’t believe would cost us any compensation, just saying!

boiler up

January 7th, 2010
9:52 am

For sure draft an end or lb. But it is obvious that our secondary is questionable at best. Continue to add depth to the o-line and get a future tight end while you can along with a rb. Our offense has potential to be as unstoppable as Indy’s if we add depth. Free agent db.. Great article and i’d loooove for the Falcons to draft a Boilermaker.

Jt

January 7th, 2010
9:52 am

Mark, I agree with your assessments, which scares me actually. I am not sure that their cornerbacks are the answer, but NO ONE can cover a receiver forever. A pass rush has to be generated. I am curious as to the disappearance of John Abraham- is he losing it? Was he double teamed? Also, I know you cannot blitz every play-even though teams like Philly used to do so-but there has to be more attempts to generate pressure on the QB. Give even an average qb time to throw and he is going to pick you apart.

But, there is a sense of stability in the organization that I have not known very often in my many years of following the Falcons

Sonny Clusters

January 7th, 2010
9:52 am

Clusters can help improve some ball clubs. If we was working with the Falcons we’d buy some helmets that don’t come off when you get tackled. How many players lost their helmets this season? We was thinking bungee cords might work, too. A player without a helmet out there is asking for trouble. Also, now that professional athletes are taking guns into the locker room we was wondering if they have any targets set up in the Dome for practicing? Or is that just NBA? How about Chipper if he sees a deer around Turner Field?

tom

January 7th, 2010
9:53 am

Agree on most points. Grimes and company need to go. Can’t handle the tall tight ends and receivers no matter how much effort is given. Also, Redman should go back to insurance.

Coach Crem

January 7th, 2010
9:56 am

5 EASY STEP TO IMPROVE THE FALCONS FOR 2010:

5. Get rid of the sideline-patroling, cheap-hardware-peddling owner.

4. Allow only D. Orlando Ledbetter and Mark Bradley to cover the Falcons

3. Bring back the team’s REAL Quarterback

2. Serve Banana Pudding at the Georgia Dome Concession Stands

1. Move the team to Los Angeles before Buffalo or Jacksonville can.

NC Braves Fan

January 7th, 2010
9:56 am

I only got to see a couple of Falcons games on the telly this year – but it puzzled me a bit that the Falcons didn’t throw more screen passes … especially since the O-line seemed to really struggle at times to protect the QB.

Jt

January 7th, 2010
9:57 am

Tom, with all due respect, exactly who would you like to have as a backup QB? Chris Redman is one of the best backups in the league. Name 5 who are better.

DAWGS73

January 7th, 2010
9:57 am

Some mock drafts have CJ Spiller still around when the Falcons pick. I say let Norwood go and grab Spiller. He is a game changer, much like Percy Harvin. He worked out pretty good for the Vikings.

Mark Bradley

January 7th, 2010
9:58 am

“Find a placekicker” would have been on the list. But I figured that went without saying.

Realist

January 7th, 2010
9:58 am

The difference between 39 pass plays over 20 yards last year and 45 plays this year is virtually nothing, especially when you consider Chris Redman played for the better part of three games. The only reason this offense scored fewer points than last year is the kicking game and the injuries. The offense is fine. Check the stats on the end-arounds, too. I think they worked more often than “seldom.”

Jt

January 7th, 2010
9:58 am

I would not get rid of Brent Grimes. Despite his size he is one of the toughest players in the league. Maybe he is overmatched as a starting CB, but special teams and nickel back- I would take him any day