Wednesday, August 11, 2010

2010 Preview: Atlanta Falcons

2009 Record: 9-7

2009 Rankings:
Total Offense - 16
Run Offense - 15
Pass Offense - 14
Scoring Offense - 13
Total Defense - 21
Run Defense - 10
Pass Defense - 28
Scoring Defense - 14

After a surprising 2008 where the Falcons went from last place to the playoffs, they took a step back in 2009, putting up very pedestrian numbers on both offense and defense. The Falcons were plagued by the injury bug, with starting QB Matt Ryan missing 2 games (0-2 without him), RB Michael Turner missing 5 games (2-3 without him), and first round pick Peria Jerry missing most of the season. Their biggest move this offseason was the signing of CB Dunta Robinson in free agency and the drafting of LB Sean Witherspoon (Missouri). Both should be instant upgrades to the Falcons defense. Former first round pick Jamaal Anderson needs to prove he was worthy of the investment and finally have a big season or else the Falcons will be looking for pass rushers next year. In his 3 years in the league, Anderson has only put up 2.5 sacks (or 3 sacks less than his counterpart John Abraham put up all of last season). The Falcons need to put more pressure on opposing QBs, lest their secondary get picked to shreds.

On offense, everyone knows the Falcons are perfectly capable of moving the ball. Matt Ryan should take a step forward this year into the second tier of quarterbacks in the league. With Roddy White (85 rec, 1153 yds, 11 TD) and Tony Gonzalez (83 rec, 867 yds, 6 TD) as his main targets, he is more than capable of picking defenses apart. The offense will still need success from the running game, and Michael "The Burner" Turner is perfectly capable of carrying the load. The Falcons have a good run-blocking O-line, which should free up the play-action game. Atlanta will still lean on the running game to help control the clock and not force Matt Ryan to win games on his own. However, this is also a team perfectly capable of going the distance in a shootout. Both White and Gonzalez had over 80 catches last year. The one weakness is the depth at receiver. Michael Jenkins is a decent #2 (50 catches, 635 yds, 1 TD in 2009), but is a big drop-off in talent from White. Behind Jenkins, no receivers pulled in more than 20 receptions last season.

The key to the Falcons having a good year is for their stars to stay healthy. Running back is really the only position where they have a lot of depth. This team has the talent to make a run at the division title this year, but they will need a healthy Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner, and defense in order to do so. They can play with anyone in the league, but they could also be knocked off by someone like Tampa. I fully expect this team to have a hot start to the season, but watch out once December rolls around. They have 3 consecutive road games against Tampa, Carolina, and Seattle followed by home games against New Orleans and Carolina. If the Falcons are beat up heading down the stretch, this team is capable of losing at least 4 of these games. Despite that, I still feel like this team is good enough to make a run at the division title and is definitely in the hunt for the playoffs.

Ian's Prediction: 10-6

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