The Falcons appeared to be a team with few to no glaring weaknesses during their 13-3 season. Although the team made it to the NFC Championship Game, their season was defined by players and fans alike as “Super Bowl or Bust.” The Falcons’ high-octane offense and speedy, if not smallish, defense was designed to play an up-tempo game that wore down opponents; particularly on the Georgia Dome’s fast track surface. However, with the loss to the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, the Falcons’ weaknesses were exposed.
Matt Ryan is the franchise quarterback, and figures to get a lifetime deal from the team in the coming weeks. He is the cornerstone of what the Falcons do, and expects to be the focal point of their offense for the rest of his career. However, the Falcons had struggles in the running game, as an aging, plodding Michael Turner became less elusive and explosive. Although Jacquizz Rodgers provided a much-needed burst of speed an agility (especially in the passing game), the Falcons desperately needed a pounding back who could still be explosive in the open field. In order to accomplish this, the Falcons signed former Rams stalwart, Steven Jackson.
Atlanta features arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL, led by outspoken Roddy White, Julio Jones and featuring Harry Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was convinced to return for 2013 (partly due to the team’s disappointing end to last season). Not much figures to change offensively with the Falcons, nor should it, as it was one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2013. The addition of Jackson should allow for an added dimension, as he is also a capable pass-catcher in the flat and across the middle, which was not a strength of Michael Turner.
Defensively, the Falcons’ smallish pieces were exposed against a bigger and faster offensive line of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Although the team made a lateral move by expunging one pass rusher with one-dimensional abilities (John Abraham) for another (Osi Umenyiora), their strength was at the linebacking corps led by Sean Weatherspoon. That unit only figures to be better, as injuries plagued Weatherspoon, Steven Nicholas and Akeem Dent, who figures to see more playing time.
The Falcons’ secondary was ravaged by injuries last season, and it showed. Brent Grimes was lost before the season began, Asante Samuel was plagued with a variety of leg injuries, William Moore was in and out of the lineup all season. While Atlanta jettisoned Dunta Robinson, Grimes and nickel corner Chris Owens left via free agency. These moves made it clear that the Falcons were going to focus on their secondary in the 2013 Draft, and they did just that. Atlanta was fortunate to have CB Desmond Trufant (Washington) fall to 22nd overall, while also snagging Robert Alford (Southeast Louisiana) at 60th overall. It remains to be seen how quickly two rookies who will undoubtedly be counted on heavily, will be able to contribute to the Falcons’ defensive fortunes.
If the Falcons are going to be Super Bowl champions, their front seven must be more stout, and they must get important contributions not only from the aforementioned rookies, but also from veterans such as Moore and Samuel.