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2010 NFL Yearbook: Atlanta Falcons


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Written by Ralph Mancini Friday, 28 May 2010 04:38

While many fans thought Atlanta’s unexpected 9-7 record in 2008 was the precursor of greater things ahead, Mike Smith’s Big Red Machine hit some potholes in his second year as head coach. Although the team rallied late in the year with three straight victories to once again reach nine wins, the Falcons’ talent level suggests that they are capable of much more.

Those nine W’s weren’t enough to qualify Smith’s contingent for postseason play, and a primary reason for that was the team’s defense. In addition to a weakened pass rush, Atlanta’s secondary was downright atrocious, allowing opponents to score 28 points or more in nine of 16 regular season contests.

To add insult to injury, the Dirty Birds ranked 28th versus the pass and their defensive backfield surrendered eight more touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks than they did the year prior (23 versus 15).

Key injuries and a middle-of-the road ground game were also factors that prevented the Red and Black from making any discernable progress.

Quarterback Matt Ryan has already turned the page on last season and is fully confident that his squad has what it takes to be a contender in the NFC.

"We feel like we're a lot closer to 12 or 13 wins than we are to eight. Last year was frustrating because we didn't make the playoffs, but you always want to be in the mix. You always want to be playing for something, and really, until the last three weeks we were,” he said.

Quarterback: Upper and lower body injuries played a role in Ryan’s inconsistent performance in 2009. A sprained big toe, in particular, likely contributed to the young gunner’s declining completion percentage (58.3) and rise in interceptions (14). Expect him to bounce back. Ryan’s pocket presence and ability to quickly distribute the ball to his plethora of weapons make him a rising star. Dependable backup Chris Redman knows the offense like the back of his hand, while the scatter-armed John Parker Wilson can be serviceable when throwing short-to-intermediate passes. Grade: B+

Running Attack: In an effort to reemerge as one of the league’s most lethal backs, Michael Turner showed up to recent minicamp sessions in solid condition. “The Burner” himself has intimated that poor conditioning probably contributed to the injury woes that kept him out of five games in 2009. The silver lining to Turner’s ankle woes was Jason Snelling’s production in the latter part of the season. The 26-year-old ball carrier may not be as fast as Turner, but he runs just as hard by putting his head down and running low. Less promising are the prospects of speed back Jerious Norwood, who is already being plagued by the chronic hip issue that doomed him last year. He’ll never be able to handle 20-plus touches, but his wheels make him a terror in space. Rookie Dimitri Nance is an instinctive runner who must improve his ball security. Fullback Ovie Mughelli is a devastating lead blocker with good hands. Grade: B

Passing Game: When at full strength, Atlanta’s receiving corps is potentially one the most formidable in the NFL. Roddy White’s elite speed and surprising strength allow him to break games wide open. His effectiveness in running a variety of routes makes him a red-zone threat. The 6’4” Michael Jenkins has deep speed, but you would never know it from his mediocre play. The one thing he can do is block. Slot receiver Harry Douglas is returning from a torn ACL. Prior to the injury, he showed flashes of his speed, quickness and vision after the catch. Brian Finneran is also returning from an ACL tear, but his best days appear to be behind him. Rookie Kerry Meier is a raw, but fluid converted quarterback with instincts and a soft pair of mitts. At tight end, the 34-year-old Tony Gonzalez is still on top of his game, as evidenced by his leaping and separation skills. Backup Justin Peelle is used sparingly in the passing game, but he’s smart and agile when called upon. Grade: B

Offensive Line: A primary offseason objective of Atlanta’s brain trust was to beef up their front wall with “nasty” players. With that in mind, GM Thomas Dimitroff drafted C Joe Hawley from UNLV and G Mike Johnson from Alabama. Hawley has top-notch lateral quickness and should soon replace the aging Todd McClure. Johnson, on the other hand, is a wide-bodied mauler in the truest sense of the word. He may eventually replace Justin Blalock in the starting lineup…this year. Blalock’s fellow starting guard, Harvey Dahl, is a hard-charging assassin in the running game. Dahl’s return from ankle surgery will be a welcome sight, especially for Turner. At tackle, Sam Baker is a technically-sound performer on the blind side, while Tyson Clabo is a tough competitor who can manhandle his adversaries. The lack of depth at tackle is a concern, as Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds are both heavy-footed and stiff. Grade: B-

Defensive Line: John Abraham’s dramatic reduction in sacks from 2008 (5.5 versus 16.5) was due to some wear and tear on the 32-year-old, as well as a lack of support from all three levels of the defense. A season-ending injury to 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry deprived the unit of a penetrating force who could collapse the pocket. Luckily, tackle Jonathan Babineaux was able to provide a nice push of his own, utilizing his quickness to knife his way through blockers. But Babineaux’s effort alone wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding since he received no help from the ghost-like Jamaal Anderson. Kroy Bierman is an undersized, situational rusher who put up five sacks. The coaching staff is hoping that second-year end Lawrence Sidbury can refine his technique and chip in as a pass rusher. Rookie tackle Corey Peters has the quick hands and balance to be an instant contributor, while inside man Thomas Johnson is a steady backup who plays hard, but has no special skills. Vance Walker is long-armed, extremely strong and knows how to gain leverage. The line is definitely stronger inside than it is on the edges. Grade: B+

Linebackers: First round pick Sean Weatherspoon is a multi-dimensional defender who finds the ball and hits ball carriers with a purpose. Look for him to line up on the weak side due to his play-making skills in pass coverage. Three-down middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was a major reason why Atlanta was a top-10 defense against the run. His natural strength and ability to anticipate plays make him a spiritual leader. Probable starter Mike Peterson, 34, is clearly past his prime. He’s a non-factor as a blitzer and has diminishing skills in pass coverage. He’s probably just a two-down guy at this point. Backup Coy Wire isn’t an explosive option, but he’s smart and earns his keep as a textbook tackler in the running game. Stephen Nicholas is very athletic, but needs to make more plays. Spencer Adkins has some pass rushing potential, but has yet to emerge. Tony Gilbert is a very capable special teams player. Grade: C+

Secondary: The team did a fantastic job of shoring up a porous secondary by signing unrestricted free agent Dunta Robinson. The 28-yaer-old Athens native has the skills to shadow receivers one-on-one and also features the recognition to jump routes. His ball skills, though, could use some help. Look for Christopher Owens and Brent Grimes to battle it out for the starting corner spot opposite Robinson. Owens is a versatile cover man with tantalizing speed, but can be too much of a risk taker. Grimes had a slow start to the 2009 season, but is an opportunistic defender with tremendous hops. He started eight games and led Atlanta with six interceptions. Chevis Jackson is a quality nickel back who limits yards-after-catch totals with his exquisite tackling. Rookie Dominique Franks has nice burst and could contribute in the return game. Perhaps the best news here is that Chris Houston is no longer with the team. At strong safety, Erik Coleman can stick his nose in against the run as an extra linebacker, but he was routinely abused in coverage. His backpedal isn’t what it used to be. After an injury-riddled rookie campaign, the physical William Moore has the tools to step in as a replacement. Thomas DeCoud is developing into a stingy free safety with the way he denies receivers the ball with his tight coverage. He also forced two fumbles. Sixth round pick Shann Schillinger is a special teams option if he makes the team. Grade: C+

Special Teams: Eric Weems’ north-south running style in the return game was very effective, not to mention impressive. The Falcons are looking high and low for a kicker to take Matt Bryant’s job. The 35-year-old Bryant is solid from short range, but is very iffy on attempts from 40 yards and beyond. The likes of Stave Hauschka and Garrett Lindholm will be vying for his position. Punter Michael Koenen uses his booming leg to get serious hang time on his punts. Grade: C

Final Analysis: It all starts in the trenches and Atlanta is doing a fine job of reinforcing the offensive and defensive lines. Dimitroff and Smith realize the value of depth at the line of scrimmage, which will help them field a more successful team in the upcoming season. The healthy returns of Ryan and Turner will allow the offense to go toe-to-toe with elite competition when the defense has an off day. A revamped secondary continues to be the biggest question mark for the Falcons, who should be able give New Orleans a run for its money for the AFC South division title. The talent base is there for that to happen.

Projected Record: 11-5

http://www.nfldraftbible.com/Daily-Dose/2010-nfl-yearbook-atlanta-falcons.html

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"While many fans thought Atlanta’s unexpected 9-7 record in 2008 was the precursor of greater things ahead"

Newsflash, we went 11-5 in 2008. 9-7 was last season.

Wow...the first sentence and I didn't even catch it. I must be getting old. :(

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Great read all the way up to the part about us challenging the Saints for the AFC South title...:rolleyes:

Other than that, this article is spot on, especially the part about Houston.

He undergrades the linebackers and running backs.

The secondary could pan out to be much better as well.

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"While many fans thought Atlanta's unexpected 9-7 record in 2008 was the precursor of greater things ahead"

Newsflash, we went 11-5 in 2008. 9-7 was last season.

records doesnt tell the story here....

we were a better team in 09 than 08

we would have to be ...to get 9 wins with the luck we had, even with all the injuries, Bye week Schedule BS and The Saints in our Div, we are 11-5 in 09 if elam hits the 2 almost extra point size FGs vs Panthers and Giants

yea this team back fully healthy

with key additions to the secondary and lb core....

look out man.....

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He undergrades the linebackers and running backs.

The secondary could pan out to be much better as well.

He gave the RBs a B...I'm fine with that. That grade is justified due to Norwood's inability to stay healthy. As for the LBs, C+ is a solid grade. Our LBs play well against the run, but struggle in pass coverage. Since Spoon hasn't played a snap yet, the progress of the LB core has yet to be proven, but we did address the need. I mean, what more do you want? All As?? :D

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He gave the RBs a B...I'm fine with that. That grade is justified due to Norwood's inability to stay healthy. As for the LBs, C+ is a solid grade. Our LBs play well against the run, but struggle in pass coverage. Since Spoon hasn't played a snap yet, the progress of the LB core has yet to be proven, but we did address the need. I mean, what more do you want? All As?? :D

You can't grade assuming the players will not be healthy.

Lofton is a stud.

Peterson adds versatility, experience, and leadership.

Weatherspoon is the best cover LB in the draft.

Nicholas now moves to a startable reserve.

Wire is solid.

The linebacker corps are not "slightly better than fair".

Healthy ... Turner is elite. And has worked hard this offseason to return to that form.

Snelling had a breakout season last year and proved he can carry the load.

Norwood if healthy is an explosive multi-back with elite speed.

Our running back corps is top 5 ... that is better than a B.

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You can't grade assuming the players will not be healthy.

Lofton is a stud.

I agree.

Peterson adds versatility, experience, and leadership.

But how does he help in pass coverage? His speed has declined and it showed last season. Our LBs gave up a lot of plays in the passing game...have you forgotten? It's why we drafted Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon is the best cover LB in the draft.

On paper. He's still unproven in the NFL.

Nicholas now moves to a startable reserve.

Ok. Great depth.

Wire is solid.

Solid is good. Another depth player.

The linebacker corps are not "slightly better than fair".

Going by your statements, I'd give the LBs a B-, which is just about the same as a C+.

Healthy ... Turner is elite. And has worked hard this offseason to return to that form.

Snelling had a breakout season last year and proved he can carry the load.

Norwood if healthy is an explosive multi-back with elite speed.

Our running back corps is top 5 ... that is better than a B.

You said it right there. "If".

Right now, Norwood is an unknown, which is why I think the RBs got the B grade. If Norwood can play a full season and truly contribute on offense, I'm sure that grade would be different. The coaches already mentioned that they plan to use Snelling more within the offense too. Sorry to say, but Norwood's injuries have definately made him expendable.

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You can't grade assuming the players will not be healthy.

Lofton is a stud.

Peterson adds versatility, experience, and leadership.

Weatherspoon is the best cover LB in the draft.

Nicholas now moves to a startable reserve.

Wire is solid.

The linebacker corps are not "slightly better than fair".

Healthy ... Turner is elite. And has worked hard this offseason to return to that form.

Snelling had a breakout season last year and proved he can carry the load.

Norwood if healthy is an explosive multi-back with elite speed.

Our running back corps is top 5 ... that is better than a B.

Agreed ... the linebackers are at a least B.

The running backs are at least A-.

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Great read. This year should turn out to ba as memorable as the 1998 season. Hint hint. Two point that stuck out to me were:

"Upper and lower body injuries played a role in Ryan’s inconsistent performance in 2009"

I knew about the toe injury, but had no idea he had an upper body injury. How and when did that happen?

"Atlanta was a top-10 defense against the run"

With Jerry out and a line full of average guys we were still a top ten defense at stopping the run. I see that continuing next year and the strenghtened secondary should put our pass defense in the top 15. Yeah I said it!

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Great read. This year should turn out to ba as memorable as the 1998 season. Hint hint. Two point that stuck out to me were:

"Upper and lower body injuries played a role in Ryan’s inconsistent performance in 2009"

I knew about the toe injury, but had no idea he had an upper body injury. How and when did that happen?

The Falcons were definitely hush, hush about that. I've given it some thought and I think it was probably his shoulder. When we played the Pats, Matt got slammed really hard.. I forgot the players name that did it but Matt jumped up and started giving him crap like it didn't hurt. It reminded me of when a boxer gets his bell rung and he he starts talking like it didn't hurt. Matts game started going down from about that point until he came back from the toe injury, give or take a few good plays.

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How did our D-line get a B+? They were awful last year, we dont know what Peria or Peters will be like. I think our DT's should have the TBD label because while they have the ability to be a very good group as I have stated in another post it is stil a wait and see with PJ and Peters.

As for our DE's, John had a down year but I think he swill bounce back, Kroy showed enough in year 2 to warrant a good chance at being a starting DE but he still has to progress. Everyone is excited about Sid but he still has to show he can do it. Then we have Jam and Davis, anything extra that we get out of these 2 would be well extra, dont expect much out of these guys sacks wise but Chauncey imo has a couple of sacks in him.

While it looks really good we still have TBD players all over the line.

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