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Did Falcons Do Enough This Offseason To Rebound In 2014?


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Did Falcons Do Enough This Offseason to Rebound in 2014?

By Knox Bardeen, NFC South Lead Writer

May 20, 2014

After a 2013 season where the Atlanta Falcons went 4-12, there had to be a moment shortly after season’s end where ownership and the front office sat down and wondered how they would fix their house.

In home improvement, planning a remodeling project is all about knowing how much work there is to do. Is it necessary to just touch up the paint, or does the house need to be gutted?

Fixing a four-win season sounds an awful lot like a gut job, but the foundation is solid on this team. Atlanta has in place a $103.75 million quarterback in Matt Ryan and one of the best duos at the wide receiver position in the NFL in Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Even with some uber-talented pieces (a strong foundation), there was still work to do. This Atlanta team still had a leaky roof (the offensive line) to fix, windows that needed shuttering (the defensive line) and some holes in the walls that needed filling (free safety, running back, tight end).

With all this work that needed to be done, is it possible that the Falcons were able to fix everything? Could they do enough remodeling to rebound in 2014?

That all depends on how much of a rebound is expected.

Did Atlanta do enough to return to 2012 form and grab a spot among the NFC powerhouse teams? No, not even close. Twice in the last four seasons, the Falcons have finished with a 13-3 record. This team won’t sniff that kind of success in 2014.

There’s also little chance this team will suffer through another season mired in the NFC South cellar. The Falcons will be better in 2014.

How much? Well, some of the problem areas were fixed, while some might have only had some duct tape applied to the problem. This is why Atlanta should be able to fight for a spot in the playoffs, but don’t expect a high seed, if the team makes it in at all.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger offseason improvement projects the Falcons took on.

Fixing the Offensive Line

To say Atlanta’s offensive line needed offseason attention is more than a mild understatement. Not only did Atlanta finish last in the league in rushing yards per game (77.9), its offensive line allowed more pressure on Ryan than any other offensive line in the league. According to Pro Football Focus(subscription required), Ryan faced 264 total pressures (a combination of sacks, hits and hurries) last season, 22 more than the Arizona Cardinals.

To help with both run blocking and pass protection, the Falcons added two starters in the offseason, right guard Jon Asamoah and right tackle Jake Matthews.

Asamoah was a free-agent acquisition from the Kansas City Chiefs. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the seventh-ranked guard in the NFL in pass protection last season and the 14th-ranked run-blocking right guard. Considering Garrett Reynolds ranked 43rd in pass protection and 18th as a run-blocker, Asamoah is a healthy improvement.

The Falcons also added rookie Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Matthews will instantly slide in as Atlanta’s right tackle and is expected to greatly bolster Ryan’s time in the pocket while simultaneously reducing the number of times the quarterback is mauled.

Fixing the Defensive Line

Atlanta's defensive line last season was deficient in multiple areas, most specifically in its ability to stop the run and get any kind of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Opposing teams ran for 135.8 yards per game against the Falcons; only one team was worse. When it came to rushing the passer, Atlanta only mustered 32 sacks in 2013; only two teams had fewer.

The Falcons did a good job of addressing the porous run defense, but it isn’t clear yet if they’ll be able to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

To help stop the run, nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson were added in free agency. Soliai was the second-best stopper of the run on the Miami Dolphins last season. And at 6’4” and 344 pounds, Soliai is a moose of a player in the middle of the defensive line and a great addition as Atlanta looks to play in a 3-4 scheme more in 2014.

Jackson, formerly of Kansas City, was the 10th-ranked 3-4 defensive end against the run in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s going to help Soliai solidify Atlanta’s run defense, a unit whose best agent against the run was defensive tackle Corey Peters. Peters earned a 7.8 run-stopping score from PFF (Soliai had a 7.9, while Jackson scored 15.5).

The jury is still out on whether or not Atlanta added enough pass-rushers to make a difference.

In the second round of the draft, Atlanta passed on Kyle Van Noy, Stephon Tuitt and Jeremiah Attaochu to take defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. The Falcons almost immediately announced they would move Hageman outside to the 5-technique.

The Falcons also added former Notre Dame outside linebacker Prince Shembo in the fourth round and outside linebacker Tyler Starr in the seventh round from South Dakota.

Hageman and Shembo have upside galore but were not elite pass-rushers in college. Atlanta is banking on them transitioning into that role and excelling at it rather quickly. Starr has already impressed at rookie minicamp, but he, along with Hageman and Shembo, have a long way to go before any one makes people forget that the Falcons didn’t draft a true edge-rush kind of player.

Adding Missing Pieces

With the departure of Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta needed to find a starting free safety in the draft or via free agency. Dwight Lowery was added in free agency after spending three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Lowery’s last two seasons have been injury plagued; he’s only played in 12 games since 2011. The 28-year-old will have to prove he can stay healthy and then stave off rookie Dezmen Southward, Atlanta’s third-round draft pick.

Southward is a versatile defensive back, a guy who can play both cornerback and safety. He’s known more as a hard-hitting enforcer over the middle of the field instead of the center-fielding safety the Falcons needed to help in coverage. Southward might need some time to adjust to a starting role in the NFL.

Atlanta was somewhat weak at free safety last season and might not be any better in 2014. One of the two added pieces must step up.

Atlanta did not add a tight end prior to, or during, the draft. If you’re waiting for the next Tony Gonzalez to come walking through the door, stop wasting your time.

The Falcons will continue to use, and develop, second-year tight end Levine Toilolo. But also expect this offense in 2014 to look at the tight end position as a tool for blocking instead of a route-running weapon for Ryan.

At running back, the Falcons added a bigger, more explosive version of Jacquizz Rodgers in the fourth round in running back Devonta Freeman. If rookie minicamp is any indication, Freeman could quickly begin taking touches away from Rodgers.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was impressed with Freeman, and he reported that head coach Mike Smith was as well.

FREEMAN’S A KEEPER: Running back Devonta Freeman is a keeper. He caught the ball with his hands and showed a great burst of speed. “Devonta is a fast and quick guy,” Smith said. “He has very good vision and he’s able to stick his foot in the ground and transition into a different direction.”

The Falcons had a decent free-agency period and an average draft that could turn into a great one if Hageman develops into the first-round talent some draft pundits tagged him as. If Atlanta can avoid injuries in 2014, this team could more than double its win total from last season and possibly be in the mix come January for a postseason berth.

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The only thing I disagree with is saying Atlanta had an 'average' draft.

IMO, Atlanta had one he'll of a draft. Possibly the best since I have been a fan.

What made it so much better than anyone else's in the South?

Other than Matthews, every pick has some real question marks.

Yet, you keep trying to say you're not a homer.tongue.png

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Well considering the Falcons do presumably well in the regular season, I think keeping matt ryan clean will help us out.

if we make the playoffs

and that is a BIG IF

we will lose in the first round again, mainly because our Defense may not be what it needs to be.

if Julio goes down this season again I will start to refer to him as a bust.

mainly since he has not yet played a full season.

but realistically

Saints win the division

Saints 12-4

Panthers 11-5 or 10-6

Bucs or Falcons will either be 10-6 or 9-7

we will have a positive outcome this season.

if the falcons make the playoffs it will be with a 10-6 record.

Edited by VoidedSaint
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besides i believe 2 more seasons with better drafting maybe a new GM and or a hungry head coach we will be back in contention for a sb run.

i mean 2 more seasons so that we can draft better guys on the Defensive side of the ball and Offensive.

in a few years we are going to need another wideout.

next years draft I suspect we go TE in the first round. unless a very good defensive player is there we will take him. but i do believe a TE being drafted is in the near future.

it would be better to continue drafting offensive linemen who can open up holes for running and better pass protecting.

but that doesn't mean anything if you have no pass rush to stop the other team on 3rd down.

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Well considering the Falcons do presumably well in the regular season, I think keeping matt ryan clean will help us out.

if we make the playoffs

and that is a BIG IF

we will lose in the first round again, mainly because our Defense may not be what it needs to be.

if Julio goes down this season again I will start to refer to him as a bust.

mainly since he has not yet played a full season.

but realistically

Saints win the division

Saints 12-4

Panthers 11-5 or 10-6

Bucs or Falcons will either be 10-6 or 9-7

we will have a positive outcome this season.

if the falcons make the playoffs it will be with a 10-6 record.

This is how I see it as well. I can't believe I'm agreeing with a Saints fan lol

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i said it once and i'll say it agian, i love being the underdog,......its better to be picked to fail and succeed than it is picked to succeed and fail.

Where does being picked to fail and actually failing fall in that spectrum?

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i mean lets be honest here...at worst the falcons fail this season and this thread is forgotten.....at best this thread is revived and poked fun of all season

Believe me. If the Falcons fail this season, there isn't too much of anything that's been posted these last few weeks that will be forgotten.

1133509_o.gif

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Oh lol your screenname confused me

it would. I have had this screen name before I really became a football fan(i am not a long time falcon fan by any means, I do not know the history of it) I was at first a panther fan when i was a little kid and the panthers were introduced into the league, I got a carolina winter coat for christmas, I liked the panthers because their logo was awesome(i was a kid so what).

but growing up and not watching a whole lot of football, when i came back to it, matt ryan was in his second season and i just started to become a fan of the falcons. I read a lot about the franchise and other players, but to this day some I still dont know.

But this screen name is used on just about everything twitter, xbox, ps3, etc.

sorry to confuse ya :)

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our division predicts us to fail every season, so one season isn't enough to call us failures.

two in a row however will.

actually we were huge favorites by most to win the division last year, even the superbowl. these articles were all about the saints and panthers last year.
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it would. I have had this screen name before I really became a football fan(i am not a long time falcon fan by any means, I do not know the history of it) I was at first a panther fan when i was a little kid and the panthers were introduced into the league, I got a carolina winter coat for christmas, I liked the panthers because their logo was awesome(i was a kid so what).

but growing up and not watching a whole lot of football, when i came back to it, matt ryan was in his second season and i just started to become a fan of the falcons. I read a lot about the franchise and other players, but to this day some I still dont know.

But this screen name is used on just about everything twitter, xbox, ps3, etc.

sorry to confuse ya smile.png

Oh gotcha its chill

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I can't see how even the most Homeristic of Falcon fans will disagree with most of what's said in this article.

But of course some will.cool.png

Here ya go

This article is dumb. I would say before this year the falcons were able to hide some holes well and there was a year or two where they probably were not as good as their record. Last year they were better than their record, but some small holes became major ones due to key injuries. What is irritating about this article is that it does not point out that offensively, the Falcons were still very respectable in the passing game, although their running game was terrible. At one point they had both starting WR, the entire backfield and both starting tackles out because of injury. This not only put pressure on the offense but more on the defense.

If we avoid injury this year just the upgrade in Oline is probably going to translate to 5 or 6 more wins. I believe the D is also much better, not because we addressed the pass rush, but because we addressed the run defense. If nothing else changes teams will not be able to chew up the clock and sustain long drives because our run defense is going to be much better. When you can defend the run effectively you can defend the pass much better.

I know the pass rush is still a huge question, but I think we are better in the secondary and all along the front seven in stopping the run. I think that is worth at least one more win and maybe two.

I would be surprised if we do worse than 11 - 5 next year. I really would.

We may not have a *great* o line, but it's no longer an empty tank. And we're way better on D, especially against the run.

11 wins is *very* doable, and 13 or 14 is feasible. A lot of people seem to have forgotten how good Matt Ryan and our receivers really are.

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I can't see how even the most Homeristic of Falcon fans will disagree with most of what's said in this article.

But of course some will.cool.png

I do agree, and it was a great read.

I know pass rush is the biggest question mark, but I don't think there's a question mark at OL or run stop anymore, meaning those problems were OBVIOUSLY upgraded. And the more I think about it, the more I'm pleased to have shored up the RUN DEFENSE over the pass rush, given a choice between the two. I F'N HATE getting run over; I hate getting passed on also, but the pass game has TWO components, rush and secondary... and I think our secondary this year can help our pass rush. But the run game has only one component...big, nasty dudes at the line... and we did that in spades.

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I think they did enough to be play off contenders but I also think every one else in the division is too. And in order to come out of the NFC for the SB you better be able to play defense and I don't think ATL will have one that's good enough. Their offense will bring them success in the reg season but assuming they make the postseason they won't get very far. So imo they're playoff contenders but not SB contenders.

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