FalconTough Posted September 1, 2010 Share Posted September 1, 2010 ATLANTA FALCONSWhat the Falcons do best: Run to set up the pass.Atlanta in 2008 found the perfect back to pound away with in its ball-control, power-running offensive scheme, and Michael Turner responded with a spectacular 1,699-yard rushing season and 17 touchdowns. But Turner the Burner blew a gasket last season, missing five games with a high ankle sprain and producing just 871 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He's healthy again, has shed a little excess weight, and looks as fast as he did while carrying the Falcons to a surprise playoff berth two years ago.With maturing quarterback Matt Ryan now entering his third NFL season, Turner won't have to shoulder quite the same load as he did in '08, when he got a whopping 376 rushes and still averaged 4.5 yards a pop. But he's still the engine that drives Atlanta's committed run-first offense, and if Turner is getting the job done, it'll put Ryan and his receivers in some enviable passing situations.What the Falcons need to improve: Pressure the QB.Atlanta finished 28th in pass defense last season, making it the easy culprit to point the finger at. But in the NFL, your pass defense usually has no shot unless your pass rush is working, and Atlanta's 28 sacks tied for 26th overall in 2009. That means the Falcons have to generate some increased heat some way, despite making no key addition to the pass rush this offseason.The best hope is a return to form by defensive end John Abraham, who slipped from 16½ sacks in 2008 to a paltry 5½ last year. But Abraham is entering his 11th NFL season and might be in permanent decline. Kroy Biermann (five sacks) is a high-effort presence at end, and any pressure he provides is more than the disappointing Jamaal Anderson can be counted on to deliver. Another potential upgrade is a healthy Peria Jerry, the 2009 first-round defensive tackle who missed all but two games of his rookie year due to knee surgery.Which Falcon needs to step up: Cornerback Dunta Robinson.The Falcons paid big for the free agent, who the Texans were rather ambivalent about losing. In theory Robinson gives Atlanta a first-tier cover man who will significantly tighten up a pass defense that surrendered 55 gains of 20 or more yards last year, second-worst in the NFC. But Texans fans will tell you that Robinson rarely seemed to get his hands on the ball (seven interceptions in his most recent five seasons) and was burned way too often to deserve elite status.The Falcons believe otherwise, of course, and think the big-play-making opportunities will be there for Robinson in their zone schemes. But Robinson hasn't played yet this preseason due to a hamstring injury and that's got to be making folks in Atlanta nervous, given that he was the team's centerpiece offseason acquisition. The sooner he returns and starts paying dividends in coverage, the better the back of Atlanta's defense will look.Predicted record: 10-6.Having finally rid themselves of that embarrassing streak of not posting consecutive winning seasons in the franchise's first 43 seasons, the Falcons are at least in position to again challenge for an NFC playoff berth. Matt Ryan remains an emerging star at quarterback, and look for him to make a sizable leap in his development after last year's half-step back. The key for Atlanta will be defensive improvement against the pass, and drawing Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger and Arizona without Kurt Warner in the season's opening two weeks sure doesn't hurt.Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/don_banks/08/31/nfc.south.preview/index.html?eref=sihp#ixzz0xTKsk29a Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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