The Falcons in 2012: The same players under better coaching

John Abraham didn't spread his wings and fly away. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

John Abraham didn't spread his wings and fly away. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Atlanta Falcons have told us what they think of themselves. They’ve told us they like their roster and have liked it all along. They’ve told us, tacitly if not flat-out, that they don’t believe a lack of manpower has stopped them short of the Super Bowl.

Otherwise they wouldn’t have spent the past three weeks re-upping nearly every free agent of consequence. John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Thomas DeCoud, Harry Douglas, Todd McClure, Chris Redman, Jason Snelling: They’re all coming back. So is Brent Grimes, tagged as a franchise player. Yes, the Falcons did lose middle linebacker Curtis Lofton to New Orleans and kick returner Eric Weems to Chicago, but still …

If we’d known a month ago that the Falcons would keep eight of their 10 key FAs — and that Grimes and Abraham would be among the eight — wouldn’t we have said, “Job well done”?

Some of us would have. Others would have wondered, and are surely wondering still, why a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since January 2005 is so consumed with preserving the status quo. And the answer is:

Rightly or wrongly, the Falcons believe that they require no major roster-cutting-and-pasting. They believe the same players can, with different coaching, yield better results.

A caveat: Teams sometimes overrate themselves, and general managers are rarely heard to admit, “You know what? I really need to dump all these bums I’ve drafted.” But let’s remember:

Before Thomas Dimitroff was hired as GM in January 2008, the Falcons had never known consecutive winning seasons. Under Dimitroff, they’ve never had anything but a winning season. The man has earned the benefit of every doubt.

That said, something needed to change. The now-winning Falcons have fallen at the first postseason hurdle three times, and the past two losses weren’t even close. When that happens, an organization must ask itself: Is it the coaching or the playing? The Falcons’ answer has been resounding.

On the one hand, there’s a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and a new line coach. On the other, there’s essentially the same roster. That’s not exactly a coded microdot of a message.

Heading into the playoff date with the Giants, the feeling in Flowery Branch was that the Falcons had the superior roster. (You’re free to argue. Wasn’t Eli Manning better than Matt Ryan? Wasn’t the Giants’ defensive front clearly stronger? I’m just telling you: That’s what the Falcons thought.) This presumed advantage resulted in a 24-2 loss on a day when the offense was, figuratively and literally, pointless.

This sorry showing was followed by an in-house sigh of relief when Jacksonville hired offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey as head coach, no real remorse when defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left for Auburn, and the not-very-difficult decision to fire line coach Paul Boudreau. A hint dropped in January has been confirmed in March: The Falcons didn’t see playing as their biggest failing.

As much as fans clamor for their team to land big-ticket free agents, that’s not always the path to glory. (Michael Turner? Great signing. Dunta Robinson? Less great. Ray Edwards? Too soon to tell.) The Falcons are banking on continuity, with a twist. The players are the same, but the schemes won’t be.

We can’t yet know if that will be enough to push a team starved for a Round 1 victory into the game bearing Roman numerals, but this much we can know: The architect sounds happy. In a text message Wednesday, Dimitroff wrote:

“Our ability to re-sign the bulk of our own targeted [unrestricted free agents] was a creative group effort by many in our organization, players included. In a year with many of our own players up for free agency, it takes give and take from both sides of the table. I am pleased and encouraged that we were able to keep our core together.”

The belief in this space was that the Falcons entered the 2011 season with the most gifted roster in team history. That feeling soon gave way to consternation: Why weren’t such good players being put to better use? The belief now is that the three new coaches — Dirk Koetter, Mike Nolan and Pat Hill — will do more for the Falcons than any pricey import, be it Mario Williams or Carl Nicks, would have.

The Falcons had enough players, and to their credit they’ve kept most of them. The roster may have remained status quo, but this organization is no longer in stasis.

By Mark Bradley

215 comments Add your comment

Andy

March 28th, 2012
11:17 am

Give me kudos or give me death.

Andy

March 28th, 2012
11:18 am

Thought of that one last year, Mark. Dang Rickster wouldn’t let me use it for the longest time. Time to read your article now.

Mark Bradley

March 28th, 2012
11:19 am

I’ll opt for kudos, Andy.

PMC

March 28th, 2012
11:23 am

Ok, so if they fail in the playoffs this year what happens to Thomas?

Is he publically flogged?

Rainman

March 28th, 2012
11:23 am

I’d like to see a couple of veterans with some playoff experience added, preferrably in the trenches. If we can utilize our playmakers better, Quizz, Douglas,White, Jones then I like our chances to challenge for the south.

Tommy Maddox

March 28th, 2012
11:24 am

I’m with Han Solo as concerns this year:

“I got a bad feeling about this.”

PMC

March 28th, 2012
11:25 am

To his credit at least Andy Reid admitted he made some mistakes last year.

TD while being the best GM in this clubs 45 year history hasn’t admitted that he needs better players at a few positions in addition to better coaching.

zgoldatl

March 28th, 2012
11:27 am

as a season ticket holder, I’m definitely concerned about this year. However, I’ll be screaming in Section 301 nonetheless.

Mike

March 28th, 2012
11:30 am

It’s odd. It seems like post-Green Bay playoff beating, the Falcons plan has been.

“Get blown out, ignore secondary. Trade away a draft for a WR. Continue to struggle on D. Do nothing”

steverino

March 28th, 2012
11:34 am

The Pat Hill hire is going to yield favorable results, imo.

JSS

March 28th, 2012
11:38 am

Not really the same players, older and some noticeable losses. The problem see this team as being closer (like 1988 Hawks) than they truly are… The coaching only comes in handy if you’re close in the end…

Rickster

March 28th, 2012
11:41 am

Glad to help, Andy!

Paul

March 28th, 2012
11:47 am

I believe Curtis Lofton told the AJC after signing with the Saints that he believes the Saints have more talent than the Falcons. What truth might you see in that statement, Mark?

extremus

March 28th, 2012
11:49 am

While new schemes on both sides of the ball are definitely needed, I can’t help but be concerned about what lies in store for the Falcons in 2012. Let’s say they have an awesome regular season record (let’s say even 12-4 or 13-3) only to have yet another first-round exit (especially if they’re blown out again). Bye-bye Mike Smith and probably the rest of this newly-hired coaching staff, and the roster would be likely to have a LOT of turnover before the 2013 season. Talk about pressure, fair or not; everything really comes down to A) making the playoffs and B) winning absolutely no less than one game there this season.

To that point, I just am not certain whether the same group of guys who’ve had their butts handed to them for the past two playoff losses can really close such a gap in performance, even with better coaching. While I do credit Dimitroff for not blowing up the roster in some short-sided, panicky move, I’m also concerned that personnel needs that have been so glaring already seem largely to have gone unaddressed. There’s an unsettlingly Braves-like “We like the pieces we have in place” vibe going on, and only time will tell if such statements get 180ed come the end of the 2012 season.

realitycheck

March 28th, 2012
11:50 am

Last 2 losses by a combined 51 pts and no new additions and the subtraction of your leading tackler………Dimwit isn’t fooling me…….this team is going nowhere!

realitycheck

March 28th, 2012
11:53 am

Paul………..Falcons talent isn’t even close to that of the Saints………and we all know it whether we want to admit it or not. Only the dreamers will beg to differ.

Paul

March 28th, 2012
11:55 am

So, after 40+ years of mediocrity and the occasional playoff appearance, it seems fans expect whomever might replace Mike Smith — the most consistent coach to ever work for the Falcons — to be better than he in the record and playoff win department. You have got to give this man some time, beyond just this season, to learn how to be less conservative, more innovative, and continue winning 9+ games EVERY YEAR. If the Falcons begin to regress significantly this year or stop making the playoffs all together over the next two, then can the man. Until then, though, people need to calm down on the fire Mike Smith talk.

Rickster

March 28th, 2012
11:56 am

hopefully zgoldatl will be screaming with excitement – not frustration!

Tana

March 28th, 2012
11:57 am

I think the team is very close. Matt Ryan is considered on of the best QBs in the league, and out positions of White, Jones, Gonzalez, and Turner are some of the best at their positions. Defense was actually pretty good last year regardless of what anyone says. The offense was so muddled sometimes it took efforts y the defense to even keep games relatively close.

With Snelling and Rodgers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turner traded away for some draft picks. Snelling is essentially what Turner was in 2008 (a backup who proved they can carry a load). Snelling can catch make him a three down back as well.

I believe Edwards and Robinson are not bust deals. Robinson only gets his name called the few times he gets burned, because he does a strong job covering and forcing passes towards Grimes who has remarkable ball hawk skills.

This is a team who was 10th in offense last season and 12th in defense. We gave up less than 100 yards per game on the ground. that doesn’t sound like a flawed defense to me. We missed our best corner to close the season.

Don’t jump ship on the Falcons before the draft even comes around. This is why everyone dogs Atlanta fans…you flake out at the sign of a cloud in the sky.

Until the fans can go one a Falcons blog and be confident in their team, we will continue to be the laughing stock of professional sports.

Lee Jay

March 28th, 2012
11:58 am

Falcons are trying to do what the 49ers did last season with new coach Harbaugh. Nice theory but w/o playmakers it won’t work. Addition by subtraction (lofton) won’t work. Tatupu and Manuwai need to prove it all season long. Let’s hope the Falcons hit home runs in the draft.

Tana

March 28th, 2012
11:59 am

In what the hell world do the 49ers have more play makers than the Falcons Lee Jay?

Tana

March 28th, 2012
12:01 pm

Ryan is better than Smith.
Turner is better than Gore.
Gonzalez and Davis may be among equals.
White and Jones are better than any WR on their roster.

J-Man

March 28th, 2012
12:02 pm

IMO it was a mistake not to resign Curtis Lofton. He was called a “2 down Linebacker” yet he has been in the top 5 in tackles since he came into the league. What really hurts is the fact he went to the Saints and that defense will be improved from this move whish is bad for Atlanta. Another thing I don’t understand is the wasting of cap-room on certain players. By that I mean paying $10 million for Grimes, Keeping Sam Baker and Peria Jerry on the team, paying Babineaux 5 mil when he has injury concerns, and paying Ovie Mughelli 4 million as a FB and not restructuring Matt Ryans contract and signing him to an extension to where he doesnt count as 13.5 million against the cap. Wasteful spending plain and simple. Also many Falcons fans are upset because Dimitroff said that he would be active in free agency…….obviously that isnt true so far.

Tana

March 28th, 2012
12:03 pm

San Francisco ranked 26th in offense but they have built a strong defense because Singletary was a DEFENSIVE GURU. Yet he was axed because the offense was bad. So Harbaugh comes in gets a little from a an offense with an amazing defense and gets all the credit.

**Frederick(Bailey)Douglass**

March 28th, 2012
12:04 pm

Mark,

The last piece that you DID NOT mention…if these changes bear the same fruit in 2012, there is only one coaching position left to change…

Choosing Abraham over Lofton is a mistake. Abraham has not had mutiple sack games against teams with winning records in quite some time. Lofton is not Patrick Willis or John Vilma…but he had more heart that any other player on the 2011 Falcons defense.

Only time will tell. However, hiring yes men and patting each other on the back rarely works out.

FBD

Tana

March 28th, 2012
12:07 pm

Peyton Manning lost his first three playoff appearances and the last one was a bigger blow out than ours. Enough said. Given the chance to build a team that was dismantled after 2008 takes more than 1 free agent signing or 1 draft.

Atlanta is a laughable city to the rest of the country because fans have no faith in their organizations decisions regardless.

SeminoleWarrior

March 28th, 2012
12:11 pm

Great post, Mark…

matt

March 28th, 2012
12:14 pm

Well Tom is a draft guru lets see if we can build a team through the draft but for a moment i was so looking forward to having super mario and the saints still have a man named brees they will be tough

zgoldatl

March 28th, 2012
12:17 pm

Knowing the Falcons, it will certainly be some of both Rickster

RobbE33

March 28th, 2012
12:19 pm

Conjecture is just that. Me, I’ll resign to be patiently optimistic.
It’s going to be a long summer.

Next Year (always next year for GA teams ......)

March 28th, 2012
12:19 pm

they still need some sort of play maker whether by FA or draft …. they may have a few new coaches but they still have the same offence and they still scored 0 offensive points against NY (and it would be ridiculous to completely blame MM for that) and that’s not good.

Khao$

March 28th, 2012
12:28 pm

Bad scheming by BVG isn’t the reason why our defensive front wiffed on tackles/shots on QB’s like Brees, Rodgers, and Eli. BVG wasn’t the reason Decoud missed some easy interceptions. It wasn’t BVG’s fault that his defense got tired because the offense couldn’t stay on the field in NY.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t a BVG fan. I despise his non-aggressive soft zone. However to lay blame solely at the feet of the coordinators is irresponsible. True, they have to put players in positions to make plays. However, once in position, the players must make plays. Nothing Decoud has shown me suggests he can do that. Yet he stays and Lofton goes.

Fire Smitty and Dimitroff.

BravesFan79

March 28th, 2012
12:29 pm

What choice did we have? If we had lost all those free agents who would we of replaced them with? unproven rookies? We did the best thing for the team. Which is once again a playoff contender. Which is all you can ask for in sports. Just ask the last 2 superbowl champs.

SimpleDawg

March 28th, 2012
12:32 pm

“Returning a bunch of players from a team that lost a bunch of games, usually isn’t a very good idea.”

John McKay

maurice

March 28th, 2012
12:39 pm

I didn’t see anything wrong with our defense against the Giants, it was the offense that was stagnant. No throws to Douglas. Hardly used Jaquizz. No protection for Ryan. We get a safety in the endzone and can’t score a touchdown after. That was the turning point in the game. MM stunk in this game BVG did as much as he could but with offense going 3 and out all the time the defense got tired. Not his fault. Our offense will be a lot better with protection for Ryan, a blocker for Turner, and using Quizz, Snelling, Julio, and Douglas on screen plays.

Pamela

March 28th, 2012
12:41 pm

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Now that’s too funny! :) This is a sorry team..the Failcant’s suck big time! :) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah…that’s left to be seen! UMMM…didn’t they say the SAME EXACT thing LAST year? Hmmmm :)

ROD

March 28th, 2012
12:45 pm

Really? Do the FALCONS think we believe they have gotten better. Really? Hmmm….can I say the BUCS!!! I’ve been a long time Falcons fan, and I don’t have a good feeling about this. To resign Kroy B, who did absolutely nothing. Should have sign a better slot receiver, and not Douglas. I’m still concern about our quarterback. To me, this is a make or break year for him. If we do not make the playoffs, nor the Superbowl, the coach and QB needs to go. The draft will be very important for me.

Pamela

March 28th, 2012
12:47 pm

Now that I am off the floor laughing so hard at this article….you Failcant’s fans need to stick with your team. You all are the sorriest bunch of ’so called’ fans there is! New Orleans Saints fans..we are with them no matter what…and guess what? You and the entire world saw that we won the Superbowl the 1st time we played in it and now we are going for that ring again…we will not stop until we get another one….GEAUX SAINTS!!! :) :) :)

Reality

March 28th, 2012
12:54 pm

Tana, We “flake” because those clouds generally result in extended downpours.

Always thought CCR understood what it is like to be an Atl sports fan:

Long as I remember
The rain been coming down
Clouds of mystery falling
Confusion on the ground
Good men through the ages
Trying to find a sun
And I wonder, still I wonder
Who’ll stop the rain

maurice

March 28th, 2012
12:55 pm

@Pamela….Your team has no head coach,haven’t resigned your quarterback and you have the audacity to troll a Falcons blog? Get right with your team before you spew your vomit on ours.

SavDawg

March 28th, 2012
1:00 pm

If we don’t improve our OL we will not improve our FB team or our record! We can march almost any team with our skill reople but if MR doesn’t have time what good are our Skill people? our running game needs holes!! We have not spent our resources where we need to. LINE OF SCRIMMAGE.

SWAT Native

March 28th, 2012
1:00 pm

What’s amazing is that neither the Falcons, Hawks nor Braves felt that they needed any significant changes but remained committed to their cores. It will be interesting to see how all of that works out.

SavDawg

March 28th, 2012
1:01 pm

We can match “sorry”

Khao$

March 28th, 2012
1:02 pm

Pamela, no disrespect…you worry about finding an interim coach and whether half your roster will be suspended as a result of bounty gate and we’ll worry about the ineptitude of our team’s leadership.

Fire Smitty and Dimitroff.

JB

March 28th, 2012
1:04 pm

I do know that Georgia’s defense under Grantham resembles nothing of the Dawgs D under Willie Martinez, so there is hope.

Jimmy Crack

March 28th, 2012
1:06 pm

We had the players to win and we did win on mostly talent. Let’s just chalk up the past few season’s playoff failures to Mularkey having no creativity, and darn sure no appetite for halftime adjustments against quality teams.

Our defense in that playoff game, without our best Corner, held the eventual Super Bowl winners to 10 points until the 2:44 mark at the end of the 3rd Quarter of that game. It was the failure of our offense to win that game.

Matt Ryan's Dad

March 28th, 2012
1:06 pm

I’m just glad the Falcon’s don’t have any fans named Pamela…I’d take our hot Falcon women any day over those fuglies in New Orleans

BigHittas

March 28th, 2012
1:07 pm

Sorry, but DeCoupe wheels done fell off. If re-signing a safety with no pass coverage skills is promising, then I guess we’ll get more of the same. Especially since the teams that are dominating these days are pass happy.

Jonas Pate

March 28th, 2012
1:12 pm

birds fan’s who call for the head of the Comrade and Smitty are, to be polite, total idiots. Pls. disregard them. Those who understand football know what a good job they’ve done.

Fact: Lofton’s first year he was a two down backer. Falcons were 13th in the league in 3rd down D. Lofton’s 2nd and 3rd and 4th year he was a three down backer. Falcons were 22, 32, 29 in 3rd down D. Notice a pattern? Letting Lofton go to the Saints is the best move we ever made.

Spanish Speaking Sicilian

March 28th, 2012
1:12 pm

I know Dunta hasn’t really lived up to his ENORMOUS contract, but he’s still a top 15 corner. We don’t give him much credit. If he had a good (or even mildly decent) safety to watch his back, he would be a top 5 corner.