The Falcons in 2012: I foresee a breakthrough – or a bellyflop

Is the sky the limit for the 2012 Falcons? Or is there a lower ceiling? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Is the sky the limit for the Falcons? Or will the ceiling be lower? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

For four seasons the Falcons were essentially the same team, give or take. Since the arrival of Thomas Dimitroff (general manager), Mike Smith (coach), Matt Ryan (quarterback) and Michael Turner (running back), the franchise that had never known consecutive winning seasons had known nothing else — no fewer than nine victories in any year, three playoff appearances in four tries.

But also: No playoff success.

The belief here is that the steady-as-she-goes dynamic is about to change. The Falcons, I submit, will get really good in 2012 — and by “really good” I mean play-for-the-NFC-title-good — or they’ll slip below .500. No more 10-6 or 11-5 and lose to the eventual champ in Round 1. Either it’s the big breakthrough or the big bellyflop.

The oft-expressed belief here is that the Falcons had outgrown their coaching, and by this I don’t mean Smith. (He’s the best coach in Falcons annals by some distance.) But the coordination, particularly on offense but also on defense, had gone stale. This team had gone as far with Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder doing the scheming as it could. Now there are different men in charge of both X’s and O’s, and now we’re about to see if the Bradley Theory was correct or, as has been the case with other Bradley Theories, as wrong as all get-out.

I kept counting heads — Ryan, Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, John Abraham, Curtis Lofton (since departed), Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson, Sean Weatherspoon — and telling myself: “There’s no reason for a team with this much talent not to win a playoff game.” I was telling myself as much even as I was watching this able aggregation lose 24-2 to the Giants in the Meadowlands. But here’s where I play devil’s advocate with myself and say, “Old son, what if you were again in error? What if this roster isn’t all that special?”

As much as I believe in what Dimitroff has done, I also confess to having moments of doubt. There are games when I’d wonder why White drops so many passes, if Turner isn’t already two steps over the hill, if Ryan is capable of leading a team to more than just respectability. I’d wonder about an offensive line incapable of getting an inch’s worth of push. I’d wonder about a defense that couldn’t trouble one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. In sum, I’d wonder if I hadn’t overrated the whole operation.

Let me be clear: I don’t think I had, or have. I thought/think this is one of the NFL’s most gifted teams. But now, for better or worse, we’re all about to find out. There can be no more excuses for these players. The defense has a new coordinator in Mike Nolan. The offense has a new coordinator in Dirk Koetter. The O-line has a new steward in Pat Hill. If Ryan can’t throw the deep ball or the linemen can’t get outside to block for a screen pass (which Koetter plans to feature), it won’t be Mularkey’s fault. He’s coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The belief here is that this team will indeed break upward, that the Falcons stand closer to the Super Bowl today than at any time this century. But with great expectation — and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels optimistic — comes intense pressure, and there’s a small part of me that thinks a sluggish start could spawn the sort of finger-pointing this team under Dimitroff/Smith has managed to avoid. (Only in 2009, when both Turner and Ryan were hurt, was there cause for real angst.)

And this schedule won’t be easy. Technically only five games will come against 2011 playoff qualifiers, but the Falcons must play six times against non-qualifiers who went 7-9 or better last season. Any given Sunday and all that.

I say again: I believe the 2012 Falcons will be stout enough to handle whatever comes their way. I believe that the new coaches will help lift this team to higher heights. But if these players don’t perform any better than they did under their old coaches, I don’t foresee (to invoke an infamous Falcons word) a plateau effect. If this doesn’t work, I see a cliff — and a fall.

Oh, and for all who feel this post was ambiguous as to my expectations for the Falcons … take a peek at this CineSport video.

By Mark Bradley

150 comments Add your comment

Benjamin

August 6th, 2012
3:32 pm

So it’s either going to be a good year or a bad one? That’s why they pay you the big bucks. ;)

First? Go Falcons!

david

August 6th, 2012
3:37 pm

mike addington

August 6th, 2012
3:40 pm

Mark, I think the Falcoms pinpointed at least one of their problems with the realization that they need players with that hard to define “big play” instinct. I think the roste is at least as good as the Giants, but every championship team needs a few big game players.

georgiadawg93

August 6th, 2012
3:45 pm

8-8, Smith gets MAYBE one more year. And I say this liking the guy.

Johnny Falco

August 6th, 2012
3:45 pm

If they cut Turner’s runs, they lose what made them contenders. Too much change isn’t good when you have something that works.

DawginLex

August 6th, 2012
3:47 pm

It’s kinda like UGA. Saints are reeling from all their “stuff”, time to pounce. Falcons can win the division.

Problem is: San Francisco

They are going to the Super Bowl, not Atlanta

jonathan

August 6th, 2012
3:48 pm

Does coaching have something to do with getting less than an inch… or we’re we just that predictable?

Born2Buzz

August 6th, 2012
3:49 pm

Way to go out on a limb there MB. Pick one, will ya.

I will. They will be better this year and play in the conference finals. There, see how easy that was.

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2012
3:51 pm

I have picked. I’ve said they’re going to the Super Bowl.

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2012
3:53 pm

Stinger 2

August 6th, 2012
3:55 pm

Mark: Not sure about this, but I heard that Falcon`s schedule is rated only the 24th hardest in NFL.

D'OH!

August 6th, 2012
3:57 pm

BELLY FLOP!
Just like every previous year. The Falcons will be lucky to win this year. Does not matter the schedule…. They just flat out stink up the place. Maybe we can ship them off to LA!

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2012
3:58 pm

The schedule doesn’t look all that hard at first blush, I’ll concede. But Philadelphia and San Diego and Dallas and Arizona and Kansas City and Oakland were either 7-9 or 8-8 last season, and those teams scare you.

Losersville

August 6th, 2012
4:01 pm

Falcons in Super Bowl? Not gonna happen

D'OH!

August 6th, 2012
4:04 pm

who wins in a game between tech and the falcons????

lanier

August 6th, 2012
4:07 pm

glad you didnt make a forecast this time

BW

August 6th, 2012
4:09 pm

Mark

What do you think of the team sweeping its first 6 games? The pre-bye week schedule is very favorable especially catching Peyton Manning and a rebuilding San Diego team early in the season. Simply splitting the rest of the schedule will assure a playoff berth at 11-5.

mark

August 6th, 2012
4:12 pm

Mark- great leap of faith, either a good year or bad year based on performance way to go out on the ledge. My question to the my fellow fans is this, if we fail to advance in the playoffs much less make the playoffs is that the end of Smith? Bill Cowher who everyone loves did not win a Superbowl until his 14th season. Same with Ryan do we get rid of him after this contract Peyton did not win his first playoff game until year 5 and only one Superbowl which most people feel was due to balance attack and defense. What about Dimitroff- Bill Polian has one Super Bowl victory as an executive yet is considered on of the all time greats. Let’s dump all three if we don’t win the super bowl and start over with the trifecta of Marion Campbell, Scott Campbell and Ken Herock those where the halcyon days!

FourthN1

August 6th, 2012
4:12 pm

Great call MB….The Falcons have a lot to prove to the rest of the league and more importantly themselves. This team is built to win this year regardless of the schedule or the division. The coaching staff is tight and on the same page, we have the best front office in the NFL. If you’ve come here looking for the same team of years past…don’t waist your time. Let the era begin, either you’re in or out. GO FALCONS…it’s clear where I stand.

rick

August 6th, 2012
4:16 pm

I agree with you and when you look at the roster, they should be that good….they should be really special. The only thing I see missing is “the fire in the eye”. They consistently look flat and without any passion…..I hate to say it ..but the team has Smith’s personality…..

I am hoping that these new coordinators will spark a fire and create a focus on game day…..Im hoping that they will find their mojo…and I am optimistic that they willl…..

If the coordinators do not provide this spark…this team and Smitty could be in trouble……I hope this doesnt happen

y3ll0wjacket

August 6th, 2012
4:18 pm

Falcon fan living in KC…will be at the Sept 9th game at Arrowhead and rooting for the Falcons. If you listen to the radio here, you’d think the Chiefs were going to the Super Bowl. I’m thinking the Falcons will be able to move the ball pretty well on the ground and that Matty Ryan will be able to complete enough passes to win a conservatively played game. I am much more confident in the Falcons than the Chiefs, but then again I’m usually wrong.

Sabermetric Meister

August 6th, 2012
4:27 pm

I generally agree that it is all about the coordinators, MB. That said, will there be an adjustment period like we saw with UGA when they hired Grantham and it wasn’t until YEAR 2 that we saw the leap forward? I know these guys are pro’s but they’re still human and there is a learning curve with new things. I expect a team that should get better as the season goes on. Hopefully, they’re peaking come playoff time with a decent playoff draw.

I think it might be next season that we see a huge leap forward though….hopefully they are quick studies though.

Gman 84

August 6th, 2012
4:31 pm

Guessing the Falcons revert to the norm this year.

Nolan seems like a good hire. Not sure about Dirk though. What exactly is he known for and why do we assume he will improve the offense?

This being the Falcons, they are always capable of surprises, though the surprises are rarely pleasant.

glorydays

August 6th, 2012
4:32 pm

Reduced carries for Turner means fewer in Q1-3 and more in Q4 assuming they are close or ahead in score. I admit I got this from Vince Dooley, he often bounces ideas off me because he considers me his equal….excuse me I have to take my medication now.

Ted M

August 6th, 2012
4:32 pm

it saddens me to say but its gonna be … the big bellyflop.

Average and Nice

August 6th, 2012
4:32 pm

How did Falcons get two of the most unimaginative OC’s in NFL history? Under both Gregg Knapp and Mike Mularkey, fans could guess 8/10 plays before they happened. I can’t imagine how easy it was for the opposing DC’s. Come to think of it, our defenses have only been slightly more exciting than our offenses. Until Falcons start taking chances on the field, they will never be known for anything including playoff wins.

Jeffrey

August 6th, 2012
4:39 pm

I think it’s a pretty tough schedule that could make them look like they won’t make the playoffs if they lose a few. My guess is they barely make the playoffs but then do a lot of damage when they get there because of the tough regular season. I’ll go as far as to say they get to the super bowl and the just maybe.

Irate Ostrich

August 6th, 2012
4:40 pm

If we can get Matt Ryan a new arm sewn on we should be fine.

j

August 6th, 2012
4:41 pm

We need a good running back to win. Sim

D'OH!

August 6th, 2012
4:42 pm

6 Wins tops this year!!! They are not a good team.

a country boy can survive

August 6th, 2012
4:51 pm

yep just like uga…underperforming and overpromising…super bowl, haha…just like uga is the preseason ncaa national champion EVERY season, the falcons are following the same path…saints looked just like the same team that lit atlanta up the last time they played….8-8 for the falcants, tied with carolina in division after 11-5 saints…just like richt, i hope yall keep smith forever…

PMC

August 6th, 2012
4:53 pm

Just having an offseason is going to improve them a lot this year. Especially early on.

If TD whiffs on the line choices again this year he may not get to make anymore picks. These are his guys. This is his team through and through.

I thought I was feeling negative as far as doing much in the playoffs this year. They are going to be a very good football team this year folks, I just don’t think it’s a superbowl year. I don’t feel like they are quite where they need to be in terms of talent on the offensive line.

Maxwell the chihuahua hunter

August 6th, 2012
4:55 pm

Turner is done. Ryan most overrated qb in NFC. 6-10 in 2012. Seems like you Falcon’s fans would be used to failure by now.

PMC

August 6th, 2012
4:57 pm

Hey, people predict demise every single year. They’ve been wrong each of the last 4 years.

Moorman

August 6th, 2012
4:58 pm

The belief here is that the falcons are just getting exposed in the playoffs. Have you noticed, when they play physical teams, they fold. This is WHY the move to a offense that is geared more to finessing the defense ( running screens) is more suited to a team that doesnt have a dominant offensive line… On defense, i feel havent been tough enuf up the middle, outside of william moore. I like TWO safeties that can hit and a ” nose” tackle that can control the middle, two things the falcons dont have….

Reebok

August 6th, 2012
5:08 pm

The Falcons do have some pretty good skill players, but they are unimpressive on both lines. I figure they’ll be somewhere between 7-9 and 10-6…yes, they will likely make it to the playoffs, but as they have showed over the past several seasons, they are far from being an elite or Super-Bowl caliber team.

LT

August 6th, 2012
5:23 pm

Funny how that awesome panoply of talent you categorized didn’t include a single trench fighter (other than Tony Gonzalez; but that really doesn’t count). The Falcons have gone for sizzle without the steak; they will be paying for the execrable Julio Jones deal for several more years. No matter how good the “talent” positions are, without the grunts doing the heavy work up front, the prancers get smashed. The Falcons will fall flat on their faces this year.

Greg Mendel

August 6th, 2012
5:23 pm

The only reason for a total collapse this season would be critical injuries. The out-for-the-season kind, affecting multiple players. Plus, every team can have bad luck, as in turnovers, but turnovers are somewhat controllable and can go either way.

Overall, the Falcons are a solid team with talent. So are the Saints, Packers and Eagles — who didn’t get to the Superbowl last season.

The biggest single question, in my opinion, is the offensive line. If Ryan has more time, we’ll be in good shape. If he has significantly more time, we’ll be in the SB.

John

August 6th, 2012
5:29 pm

The Falcons will go either 11-5 or 12-4. The Falcons will win in the playoffs and contend for the Lombardy trophy this year and for many years to come. GO FALCONS!!!!!! You Mighty Birds of Prey

dawg4u

August 6th, 2012
5:49 pm

I agree that Mike Smith has been the best Falcon coach as far as the regular season goes. If we decide to include the playoffs then both Dan Reeves and Leeman Bennett are better. I would much rather go 9-7 or 10-6 and win a playoff game or two than lose big in the first playoff game year after year. That familiar pattern seems to be something the Falcons just can’t get out of their heads and until we win a playoff game the frustration will continue to rise. The Falcons have probably been the least predictable of any team in the NFL over the course of their history!

Dwayne C

August 6th, 2012
5:51 pm

I’m not optimistic…but I was wrong when I predicted the Falcons would go 8-8 or 9-7 last year. As for 2012 I’m inclined to believe the “belly flop” scenario more than the “break through”. Prediction: 9-7, 2nd place in the NFC South and no playoffs(the Philly Eagles and and Detroit LIons get the wildcards – NY Giants, NO Saints, GB Packers and SF 49ers get the division titles).

GRD

August 6th, 2012
5:55 pm

Prediction
Falcons will go 10-6 and lose again first round and Bradley will write, with this new off scheme and new coordinators, we are just one or 2 players away from breaking through and 2013 will be the year. Mark it down, no pun intended.

But What About The

August 6th, 2012
5:58 pm

OFFENSIVE LINE? No significant upgrades to the Falcons OL that can’t protect the QB. Ryan can’t hit Roddy or Julio if he’s staring up at the circus tent.

Jack

August 6th, 2012
5:59 pm

I’ve not missed watching more than two games since the Falcons started playing. I used to get excited thinking this year’s the year. I don’t get excited anymore. That 24-2 loss to the Giants was the biggest disappointment.

falCANS

August 6th, 2012
6:06 pm

Im mad everybody keeps pushin for a playoff win IM THINKING SUPERBOWL!!! Really wish a bold prediction came out of our locker room

Jay

August 6th, 2012
6:11 pm

Man up and take a position, one way or the other.

falCANS

August 6th, 2012
6:15 pm

Super Bowl in New Orleans!!!! Haaaaa!!!

Big Crimson 75

August 6th, 2012
6:17 pm

At least Coach Smith can’t use the word “process” anymore.
For Smitty, it’s now or never. I think the Players feel the heat on their Coach.
I look for big things this season.
Playoff win(s) are a must. Anything less is not good enough.
This is on paper the most talented, experienced Team the Falcons have had.
Go Falcons. Julio for MVP!!

marko

August 6th, 2012
6:20 pm

Break through or belly flop? You know if you really wanted to go out on a limb, you could through in mediocre.

P2BigPoppa

August 6th, 2012
6:26 pm

Keep hope alive falcon fans!!!!!! They still have to get pass the Saints. Who Dat??????