Here’s the 5-step method for a Falcons’ Super Bowl surge

Roddy White wonders, "How come we don't throw it deep?" (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Roddy White wonders, "How come we don't throw it deep?" (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The Falcons remain a team on the rise, Saturday night’s cliff-dive notwithstanding. They’ve gone from 4-12 to 13-3 in four seasons. They should grace a Super Bowl very soon.  They don’t need wholesale change, but they do require the following nips/tucks.

1. Cut the malarkey. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was named the NFL’s top assistant by Sporting News, but let’s check the numbers: The Falcons were sixth among 32 NFL teams in total offense in 2008, Mularkey’s first season here; they were 16th last season, which could be partially ascribed to the injuries suffered by quarterback Matt Ryan and tailback Michael Turner. They were 16th again in 2010 — 16th with five Pro Bowlers.

Yes, Mularkey’s method has merit: When his offense is allowed to control the clock, the Falcons are nigh-unbeatable. But the better opponents didn’t allow Turner to break them down, and those were the games the Falcons lost. Should Mularkey wind up being someone else’s head coach, it wouldn’t be the worst possible news. If he stays, he must adjust. Because opponents — the good ones, anyway — have adjusted to him.

2. Get faster. Play faster. The Falcons have a Burner — that’s Turner’s nickname — but no true burner. They have no deep threat on the order of the Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin or the Steelers’ Mike Wallace. We mention those two because each had a reception against the Falcons of at least 58 yards. The Falcons didn’t have a completion of 50 yards all season. A stretch-the-field wideout must be targeted in either free agency — Malcom Floyd of San Diego, perhaps? — or the draft.

Beyond that, there’s the matter of tempo. Smith is forever preaching the need to play at a fast pace — every coach does — but his offense too often seems ponderous. This doesn’t mean the Falcons should use the no-huddle offense before every snap of every game, but they need to acquire more speed and then demonstrate — Dimitroff’s word here — greater urgency.

3. Free the face of the franchise. For all Ryan’s success, he sometimes gives the impression of having been overcoached. Note how his default mode when forced to look beyond his first receiver is to throw a five-yard pass. Note how Aaron Rodgers’ default mode Saturday was to throw a 20-yard pass.

It’s one thing to preach caution when you’re handing your team to a rookie, as the Falcons did with Ryan, but that was in 2008. He’s a three-year starter now, a Pro Bowler. Having seen Ryan lead this team to three consecutive winning seasons and two playoff berths, his coaches should trust him enough to throw deep and author the occasional improvisation. We’re not talking about him turning him into a sling-without-conscience Brett Favre, but a little more fire from Matty Ice would be welcome.

4. Procure more pressure. For all the hand-wringing over the secondary’s no-show against Rodgers, the crux of the issue is elsewhere. The Falcons had 31 sacks in 16 regular-season games to rank 22nd in the league, 13 of them by John Abraham. Kroy Biermann, the other starting end, managed three. The Falcons’ linebacking corps had four sacks, which suggests Brian VanGorder’s men don’t blitz often enough or well enough. (Surely the development of Sean Weatherspoon will be a boon here.)

Abraham turns 33 in May. His career has not been a study in consistency: He had 16 1/2 sacks in 2008, 5 1/2 in 2009. The Falcons must land a suitable replacement soon. Pass rushers aren’t easy to find, but the Georgia end-turned-linebacker Justin Houston might be available late in Round 1. He’s not quite as big as you’d like an NFL end to be — he’s 6-foot-3, 254 pounds — and he might not be an exact fit in VanGorder’s 4-3. But he can bring the heat.

5. Don’t panic. As shattering as the loss to Green Bay was, it wasn’t a reflection of a flawed design. The design simply needs more time to coalesce. The Falcons were the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but their record was inflated by a schedule that allowed them four games against the woebegone NFC West. (The Saints, who won 11 games, and Tampa Bay, which won 10, similarly benefited.)

On merit, the 13-3 Falcons probably should have been 11-5. That they got slightly ahead of themselves doesn’t mean they’re not on track. With the proper tweaks, they’ll get where they want to go.

By Mark Bradley

536 comments Add your comment

First

January 17th, 2011
12:39 pm

Paul H

January 17th, 2011
12:41 pm

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
12:41 pm

Kudos, Paul.

ZA

January 17th, 2011
12:41 pm

Paul H

January 17th, 2011
12:42 pm

Yes! Finally!

Jedi Falcon

January 17th, 2011
12:42 pm

Jedi Falcon

January 17th, 2011
12:42 pm

Screen Pass

January 17th, 2011
12:43 pm

Last. Good call on getting rid of Mularkey.

Jedi Falcon

January 17th, 2011
12:43 pm

Instant replay! I was first!

DawgFan

January 17th, 2011
12:43 pm

The immortal cry of a Falcon Fan…” WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR ” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Heard for 30+ years now

ZA

January 17th, 2011
12:44 pm

This is the life of a Atlanta Sports fan

jtdawg

January 17th, 2011
12:44 pm

jtdawg

January 17th, 2011
12:45 pm

After all these years… we still suck

jtdawg

January 17th, 2011
12:45 pm

Mark, what about real cover corners?

jtdawg

January 17th, 2011
12:46 pm

What about some better offensive linemen?

We just don’t scare legitimate teams with our line play.

We'll See

January 17th, 2011
12:46 pm

elroy

January 17th, 2011
12:46 pm

bradley you know $hit! another jack a$$ w/ an opinion.

Paul H

January 17th, 2011
12:47 pm

Now back to business. What happened to the defensive game plan we saw against the Saints? Even though Brees was able to elude pressure in that game, the fact that he was constantly pressured turned into some huge stops by the D. Did Rodgers even feel like he played a football game after this one?

matt r

January 17th, 2011
12:47 pm

Speaking of that 4-3, the last four teams left, and six of the final eight, run a 3-4.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

January 17th, 2011
12:49 pm

All I could think of was how so many UGA fans wanted BVG back. He was totally outclassed Saturday night by the Green Bay offense. Your points are spot on Mark. I thought Flacco was overrated after the Raven/Steelers game, but after having watched how Matt is coached it makes him appear overrated also. The team came out flat/soft and looked listless like my Dawgs did this season. I at one point thought I was watching a Georgia game.

Bruce

January 17th, 2011
12:49 pm

No mention of our awful secondary? In my opinion, Dun Tuh has been a complete waste of money. He can’t cover or tackle.

Mack1124

January 17th, 2011
12:51 pm

I love Jerious Norwood. I do believe he will become a free agent this year. Did the Falcons offense miss him this season? Could he be a difference maker if given the chance? How much of the offense game plan is on Smith, than Mularkley.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
12:52 pm

Real cover corners are like true centers in the NBA: There aren’t many.

Dawgdad (The Original)

January 17th, 2011
12:52 pm

Mark, I like the confidence. But as one, who has been here since Lou Kiowic (sp) put that first toe to leather, I have trouble believing it is as simple as you suggest. Since 1966, we have been playing not to lose. I watched Barkowski get big leads and then have Leamon Bennett put them in the “prevent” offense and employ the “prevent defense” to insure their defeat. They play scared. The Claude Humphrey Gritz blitz would be amazing at the begging of the game, but low and behold we would decend into the bend but don’t break by the end of the game and lose by 3.

It is a culture. Smith and company have made strides to overcome the Pat Peppler, Marion Campblell, Dan Henning, and Jim Mora culture, but there is still lots to be done, mentally.

Hockey Biltong

January 17th, 2011
12:52 pm

First? What’s that?

J.J.M.

January 17th, 2011
12:52 pm

what about a DT?I think one of the williams tackles from the vikings will be a free agent, but I assume we wont focus on DTs this offseason

Ignernt

January 17th, 2011
12:53 pm

Thank you for being a voice of reason. I was almost convinced by ESPN that the Falcons needed to scrap the whole team and start from scratch. I’m still waiting on the loud voice of the lunatic fringe saying we need to trade Matt Ryan for Michael Vick.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
12:53 pm

This offense has missed Norwood since he was drafted.

Kane337

January 17th, 2011
12:54 pm

Mark, your #4 should be #1 in my opinion. Kroy needs to be a backup DE. He’s been AWOL since the Cleveland game. Our secondary can’t cover the receivers forever. We need a 4-3 pass rush like the Bears and Giants bring to the table. Defense wins championships? We are a long ways from that with the current front four.

Bruce

January 17th, 2011
12:55 pm

Mark, if there is a lockout will a draft still take place?

J.C.fromN.GA

January 17th, 2011
12:55 pm

I have been on the bandwagon for awhile through the “Gritz Blitz”, “Miller Time” and Glanville’s “Calf. State Championship.” Saturday I was devestated. Vangorder needs to go back to Athens, he is in way over his head playing with the Big Boys!!!

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 17th, 2011
12:55 pm

are there any true burners that will be available in this years draft in the later rounds ? I don’t see the birds taking a receiver early .

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
12:56 pm

Biermann did seem to recede as the season unfolded.

David

January 17th, 2011
12:56 pm

Step 6: Go back to the old uniforms, and scrap the space ghost logo.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
12:56 pm

Not sure what the timetable is regarding labor intervention, Bruce.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
12:57 pm

I think the Falcons’ chances of finding a fast receiver are better in free agency than the draft.

O'Brien

January 17th, 2011
12:57 pm

Mark,

This is from one of your articles dated 10/4 (after the 49ers game).

“Mike Mularkey is getting the big heat from a certain segment of Falcons fans. They say he runs the ball up the middle on first down every time. They say he never lets Matt Ryan throw it deep. They say his conservative coordination will keep this team from true greatness.” MB .

http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2010/10/04/is-the-falcons-offensive-indeed-uncoordinated-no-i-submit/

Sound familiar? Maybe the fans knew what they were saying after all.

J.J.M.

January 17th, 2011
12:58 pm

norwood wont be back with the falcons unless he signs for chump chamge money…He wanted too much on my madden franchise so I let him go

Timny

January 17th, 2011
12:59 pm

I appreciate this excellent analysis. This was an overachieving team. All the experts picked the Packers. Also, I saw an “injured-will play” scroll that included Roddy White (knee), Babinaux and Abraham (groin)

Tron5000

January 17th, 2011
12:59 pm

Mark, I’ve defended Mularkey based on the stats (5th in scoring, fewest penalties, Top 3 in 1st downs, 3rd- and 4th-down %), but it’s time for him to go. With the athletes we have on this offense, there’s no way I should be able to predict darn near half the plays before they occur. We don’t mix it up, create mismatches and catch the opposing D off guard (as opposing offenses so often do to our D).

There’s no reason for all this vanilla playcalling when your offense boasts talent like Ryan, White, Gonzalez, Turner, Douglas & Snelling. They should (and could) be piling up yards and points at a massive clip. Mularkey simply does not utilize his talent in the best manner. He could get a lot more out of his O than he currently is.

I think Mike Smith needs to seriously consider bringing in Josh McDaniels. He did great in NE with Brady, and I bet he would be intrigued by the idea of taking over an offense with a 25-year-old Matt Ryan. Bring in McDaniels, allow him to run the offense and call the plays as he sees fit, and see it we’re not in the SB in a couple years.

Let’s get a new Twitter topic trending: #Falcons4McDaniels

Brad

January 17th, 2011
12:59 pm

Looking forward to next season. Sign a freee agent or two and Falcons are right on.

Mack1124

January 17th, 2011
12:59 pm

I’m with Bruce Bradley, what about the secondary? Dunta Robinson was an upgrade. As much as I love Grimes and I do, his height comes into play, he covered Jones well on the TD play but his lack of height gave up 6 points.

Hoping your next article will be who and what FALCONS need to target in upcoming Draft.

Henry

January 17th, 2011
1:02 pm

Mark, if there is a lockout, does that mean players lose a year on their contracts? So if a player has 3 more years now (11,12,13) and next year is a lockout he’ll only have 2 left (12, 13)? Or does it all carryover? Thanks for all the hard work!

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
1:03 pm

No secondary can cover without a pass rush. They’ve already spent big on Dunta Robinson. Time to find another pass-rusher.

5150 P.O.A.D

January 17th, 2011
1:03 pm

The Falcons need to draft better! The recent picks have been a bust except for Matt Ryan! They have been needing a wideout with speed for years but don’t have the guts to pull the trigger!

Lowcountry Bulldawg

January 17th, 2011
1:03 pm

Atlanta will be drafting 27th so depending on Houston’s combine number he may very well be there. I actually would look at drafting a WR. I would go DL/DE/OL in the first round then comeback to the WR position in the 2nd.

fundad

January 17th, 2011
1:04 pm

While I agree with much of what your saying, the fact is that was an ass whuppin of cachteclismic proportions. Ive never seen a championship calebre team so unprepared for a game in my whole life. Very disapointing. We stunk on both sides of the ball & you cant do playing a team with a QB as good as Aaron Rogers who had an amazing game. We were totally outcoached and outplayed & our guys seemed to be in a funk all night long. We looked good the first quarter when we our D was blitzing and getting after Rogers, but then they adjusted and we just seemed to lay down. We played with no fire or emotion and it showed. Atl fans deserved better.

Starring Kam Fong as Chin Ho

January 17th, 2011
1:05 pm

Same old Falcons.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

January 17th, 2011
1:05 pm

Let’s also be realistic, once Jones started catching the balls thrown to him we knew it was going to be a long night.

Mark Bradley

January 17th, 2011
1:06 pm

Regarding the lockout: There will be still be a draft no matter what.

But I’m pretty sure there won’t be a lockout. The NFLPA isn’t strong enough to fight the owners over a long haul.