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http://nfl.si.com/20...?sct=nfl_t11_a0

Asante Samuel has had at least three interceptions a season every year since 2005. (AP)

With NFL training camps just around the corner, we’re taking a team-by-team look at how the offseason played out and what you can expect in 2012. Click here to read them all.

The 2011 Atlanta Falcons put together one of the quietest playoff seasons you will ever see. As the Saints pulled away in the NFC South, no one ever really talked about Atlanta as a threat to go the distance, despite its presence in the postseason.

The way in which Atlanta got to 10-6 might have had something to do with that. The Falcons beat just two teams that finished with winning records — the 10-6 Lions and the 9-7 Titans, who missed the playoffs; they lost twice to the Saints, while also dropping showcase games against Green Bay and Houston.

Yet, here we are, preparing for another season in which the Falcons are expected to contend, both in the NFC South and beyond. Is this the year Atlanta finally gets over the hump and becomes a legitimate Super Bowl contender?

2011 Record: 10-6 (second place, NFC South), lost in wild-card round to New York Giants

Key Additions: C Peter Konz, T Lamar Holmes, DB Asante Samuel, LB Lofa Tatupu

Key Subtractions: LB Curtis Lofton, FB Ovie Mughelli, KR/WR Eric Weems

Team Strengths: QB, WR, TE, CB, DL

Team Weaknesses: LB, OL

Three Things to Watch:

1. How big will Asante Samuel’s impact be?: The Falcons were not necessarily awful against the pass in 2011, but they did give up 270 yards or more eight times during the regular season and finished 20th in yards allowed.

Enter Asante Samuel, whom the Eagles wanted to unload because of his massive contract. Atlanta gave up just a seventh-round pick to get him, restructured his deal and plans to plug him right into the starting lineup. With Dunta Robinson and franchise-tagged Brent Grimes rounding out the top three at cornerback, Atlanta should be much stingier against the pass. Samuel, a four-time Pro Bowler, could be the guy to put this unit over the top.

2. Can Peter Konz help shore up the O-line?: To land Julio Jones in the 2011 draft, the Falcons handed a gift basket of picks to Cleveland. So Peter Konz was Atlanta’s first selection in 2012, at No. 55 overall. The offensive lineman out of Wisconsin looks like the team’s center of the future, but with veteran Todd McClure around for at least one more year, Konz will have to work his way into the lineup elsewhere. The obvious choice is at right guard, which was a gaping hole for the Falcons last season. He’ll have to beat out the likes of Mike Johnson and Vince Manuwai to claim that job, but definitely do not bet against him.

3. Will the Falcons’ offense take the next step?: Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why, but it just feels like this Falcons offense should be better. Maybe it’s because Matt Ryan now has four seasons under his belt as a starter or because Michael Turner has back-to-back seasons with more than 1,300 yards rushing. Or maybe it’s the presence of arguably the greatest tight end ever, Tony Gonzalez, and a talented receiving corps paced by Julio Jones and Roddy White.

But when the Falcons need their offense the most is when it often disappears. Case in point: A laughable 24-2 playoff loss to the Giants, in which the offense managed just 242 total yards.

Outlook: This is a difficult team to get a read on, because the Falcons have the look of a Super Bowl contender. And yet, despite three playoff berths and one division crown in the past four seasons, they’ve never really threatened to go the distance. The opportunity to win the NFC South appears to be there again — New Orleans is in turmoil, while Carolina and Tampa Bay are still building.

Maybe Samuel was the missing piece, Konz will help turn the offensive front into a road-paving machine, and Ryan and the offense will suddenly turn into Green Bay South. The Falcons should contend for a playoff spot, but there are still too many question to expect more.

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Still question marks imho, Will Koonz be that quality missing OL that has eluded us in recent drafts?

Will M. Johnson be injured free?

Will Ray earn his paycheck and actully show up?

Will Samuels improve his tackling?

Is Koetter an improvement over MM?

Hopfully all of the above and I for one won't be satisfied with just an PO appearance. Need a PO win to get us over the hump.

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So many doubters.

It's not like we've made the playoffs 3 times in the last 4 years by accident.

We have a solid team. Period.

In my opinion, we lost no major pieces, and only added better players, and new co-ordinators.

This year could be a good year for us.

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No diss intended, but that was the most tepid analysis that I can imagine. I didn't learn anything from it (being a fan). It's almost as if he had to write something, so instead of digging and reporting, the writer just went off of the top of his head and wrote what he already knew. If that was in Athlon's or Street & Smith's football annuals, I'd try to get my money back.

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No diss intended, but that was the most tepid analysis that I can imagine. I didn't learn anything from it (being a fan). It's almost as if he had to write something, so instead of digging and reporting, the writer just went off of the top of his head and wrote what he already knew. If that was in Athlon's or Street & Smith's football annuals, I'd try to get my money back.

Good point. It is not like the media really pays attention to the Birds anyways. I really think we will all be watching this new screen based offense develop, and to see where Nolan's "cornerback happy" defensive schemes take us.

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Team Strengths:

DL

Team Weaknesses:

LB

are we talking about the same team or did he just get things reversed? i mean spoon is good, nic is solid, but the mike is the question.

Our DL should be a weakness, while our LB corps should be neither.

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This is not a awful article but there are several things that I do not agree with. I would not classify our DL a strength, nor our LB a weakness. If we had a true weakness I agree with OL but would have to add secondary.

The whole point of this article as well as the point I feel now that every sports analyst is trying to make is that when you have a team that has multiple winning seasons in a row, a budding defense that shows signs of a top 5 (one day), and a offense that has talent coming out of the ears, you expect more from them. It is time.

i have been the first one on any topic to say that Atlanta has had a lot of success and we should be so happy and stop being spoiled brats about what we have not done. yet, the more I read and the more i think about our team, it is time to "RISE UP" as they are claiming for the fans. We have to step up into the role we know that our team can feel and stop messing around. We are a good team on the verge of becoming a great team.

Our players, coaches, and staff need to realize that we need them to do what they have shown they can do. This is not a impossible task, this is just a team that needs to light a fire in their heart and mind and fight for what they deserve.

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Still question marks imho, Will Koonz be that quality missing OL that has eluded us in recent drafts?

Will M. Johnson be injured free?

Will Ray earn his paycheck and actully show up?

Will Samuels improve his tackling?

Is Koetter an improvement over MM?

Hopfully all of the above and I for one won't be satisfied with just an PO appearance. Need a PO win to get us over the hump.

Is Koetter an improvement over MM? This is a very easy one.... Our biggest weakness left when he walked out the door. This one move is 10 times better than any other move we've made since last year.. So Glad about this, Just wait my friends and you'll see what a huge problem MM was .

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Is Koetter an improvement over MM? This is a very easy one.... Our biggest weakness left when he walked out the door. This one move is 10 times better than any other move we've made since last year.. So Glad about this, Just wait my friends and you'll see what a huge problem MM was .

I hope your right, but teams change coaches all the time and most of the time unsuccessfully. I will say this though, i didn't like MM and I for one am glad he's gone.

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Is Koetter an improvement over MM? This is a very easy one.... Our biggest weakness left when he walked out the door. This one move is 10 times better than any other move we've made since last year.. So Glad about this, Just wait my friends and you'll see what a huge problem MM was .

Hopefully ur right, but, I have this gut feeling that that's not the case. MM, like previous OC'S have been handicapped due to the criminal inattentiion to this team achille's heel, (Oline) in my most recent memory. I'll gladly eat my words if ur prediction proves accurate.

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Hopefully ur right, but, I have this gut feeling that that's not the case. MM, like previous OC'S have been handicapped due to the criminal inattentiion to this team achille's heel, (Oline) in my most recent memory. I'll gladly eat my words if ur prediction proves accurate.

So MM was predictable, uncreative, didn't run screens, misdirection or utilize HD, Meier, Quizz, Snelling and Weems because of the OLine?

The only thing Koetter will have different is Konz at RG. Our OLine wasn't terrible in 08-10. That is not enough of an excuse. The Packers OLine was awful in 09 and they still scored points. Eli was hit more than Ryan and won the Super Bowl. Screens slow down any pass rush significantly because it gives them another dimension to account for. So does misdirection. See: Packers game 2011.

We didn't have an elite OLine, but it wasn't so bad Ryan was looking like Gabbert. Yes, we couldn't go balls to the wall and heave it 50 yards down the field, but spreading the field and getting your playmakers the ball in space doesn't require an elite OLine. When you get down by 10+ point and the defense knows you will not run a screen or misdirection no matter how hard you pressure the QB, they will pin their ears back like what happened this year.

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So MM was predictable, uncreative, didn't run screens, misdirection or utilize HD, Meier, Quizz, Snelling and Weems because of the OLine?

The only thing Koetter will have different is Konz at RG. Our OLine wasn't terrible in 08-10. That is not enough of an excuse. The Packers OLine was awful in 09 and they still scored points. Eli was hit more than Ryan and won the Super Bowl. Screens slow down any pass rush significantly because it gives them another dimension to account for. So does misdirection. See: Packers game 2011.

We didn't have an elite OLine, but it wasn't so bad Ryan was looking like Gabbert. Yes, we couldn't go balls to the wall and heave it 50 yards down the field, but spreading the field and getting your playmakers the ball in space doesn't require an elite OLine. When you get down by 10+ point and the defense knows you will not run a screen or misdirection no matter how hard you pressure the QB, they will pin their ears back like what happened this year.

Absolutely correct, we didn't have an elite OL, not even adequate against quality/playoff teams, but to somehow blame our OC for our lack of talent to gain short yardage on a couple of 4th and inches is beyond stupid.

You and others just need to face it, Ryan, like Vick has covered up the Oline inadequcies that have plaqued this team for quite awhile.

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Absolutely correct, we didn't have an elite OL, not even adequate against quality/playoff teams, but to somehow blame our OC for our lack of talent to gain short yardage on a couple of 4th and inches is beyond stupid.

You and others just need to face it, Ryan, like Vick has covered up the Oline inadequcies that have plaqued this team for quite awhile.

Yes, us not getting inches is not MM's fault. But the lack of belief that you can outscheme the Giants is MM. The lack of screens or misdirection to slow down the rush is MM's fault. Remember two years ago we faced the Eagles and they had a truly depleted OLine? Andy Reid ran all new plays and a bunch of misdirection and embarrassed us, did he not? We thought Abe and the Dline were going to eat Kolb alive because they were starting a poor OLine. We got beat why? Misdirection and brand new plays that weren't on film. That falls on the OC/HC beating us, not the players. You can't stop what you can't see.

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Burke's failure to mention Koetter and Nolan in his "Off-season Breakdown" is a significant omission. To me, those two moves may make the most difference between the Falcons of the last 4 seasons and the team in 2012.

good point, socal.

I don't think the outside media who did not watch 16 games of Falcons every year like most of us do - have any idea how poor this team has been coached schematically on both sided of the ball.

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I don't think the outside media who did not watch 16 games of Falcons every year like most of us do - have any idea how poor this team has been coached schematically on both sided of the ball.

^ this ^

you can't really see it if you only watch highlights/lowlights on ESPN or whatever. but if you watch every play of every game, it becomes painfully obvious.

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The one that got me was when MM said "we didn't have the personnel" to run screens. I'm assuming he's talking about the OLine. That excuse is laughable. These are professional athletes. I've seen little league teams execute screens perfectly.

Or maybe he was talking about Matt Ryan's acting ability, if the AirTran commercial was any indication. ;)

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