Before 2009 the Atlanta Falcons had never had never had back to back winning seasons and had only ever won 3 Division Title’s in its history, the team was formed in 1966.
Since the new era of new General Manager, Thomas Dimitroff, new Head Coach Mike Smith and newly drafted quarterback Matt Ryan began in 2008 the Falcons have had 5 straight winning seasons, two Division Title’s, have posted the most wins in the NFC and the second most in the NFL over that period. Only the Patriots and Ravens have also had 5 straight winning seasons since 2008.
The Falcons were due a bad season and boy this is most definitely it. It would be easy to blame the poor showing on the large number of key injuries the Falcons have sustained in 2013. The have lost 4 starters for the season, 1 starter until at least week 11 and a further 6 starters have missed significant playing time. The problems for the Falcons started before the injuries came and some were a follow on from the 2012 season in which the Falcons were 10 yards from the SuperBowl and that may have hidden some of the deficiencies.
The Defense is where the main problems lie and the only surprise about the defense being ranked 22nd overall is that it is not ranked 32! The Birds have been unable to generate much of a pass rush, a problem that has been around for a few years now but losing Kroy Biermann for the season meant the defense could not switch from the 4-3 to a hybrid 3-4, confusing opposing QB’s as a result.
Other injuries to all 3 starting linebackers from last year including the leader and play caller Sean Weatherspoon has meant that they have had to play 2 undrafted rookie free agents at this position.
The defense as a whole needs an injection of talent starting up front with a premier defensive end, perhaps Javedon Clowney via the draft. It also needs a playmaker at linebacker through free agency (Brian Orakpo?) although the continued playing time for the rookies Bartu and Worrilow will be a good thing in the long run but Stephen Nicolas’ time in Atlanta is up.
Playmakers is not what the Falcons need on offense as they have plenty of them although they will need to replace future hall of famer Tony Gonzalez at Tight End unless he decides that he doesn’t want his last season to be a losing one, although this is unlikely.
The over-riding problem on the offense is again up front on the offensive line and again it’s not a new problem. Last year the Falcons couldn’t run the ball very well this year they can’t run it at all despite the addition and upgrade of Stephen Jackson over Michael Turner at running back. No surprise that the Birds rank dead last in rushing yards.
The pass protection has slightly improved but the line is still not holding blocks long enough to let any downfield plays progress, leading to more screens and a shorter passing game. Despite that the Falcons rank 4th overall in passing yards and a large dose of credit has to go to quarterback Matt Ryan.
In short an injection of new talent is needed and the one and only negative from all those winning seasons is a low draft selection each time. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff will be under extreme pressure to get the 2014 draft right as he has had mixed results in his previous five attempts. A good outing in 2008 was followed by terrible drafts in 2009 and 2012 with the remainder being just above average. For the record I still say the trade for Julio Jones in the 2011 draft was a good one.
Therefore the 2014 off season will be an important one for Dimitroff and will start with free agency were he’ll need to make a splash at linebacker and offensive line and possibly tight end, should salary cap space allow it. As for the draft the first five rounds should look something like this, defensive end, offensive line x2, defensive line and free safety. The Falcons fan base will be watching, waiting and expecting.