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.