The Atlanta Falcons are considered one of the worst NFL franchises, in a historical sense. They have not had back-to-back winning seasons since the franchise was founded in 1966. What does all of this mean? It means Mike Smith and Matt Ryan need to stay focused during the offseason.
Last season the Falcons made a huge step towards actually contending for a Super Bowl. This was accomplished last season by acquiring Michael Turner (Pictured above), Matt Ryan, and Mike Smith.
Although all were acquired in different ways—free-agency, the draft, and hiring, respectively—they all have one thing in common and that is the 2008 Sporting News executive of the year, Thomas Dimitroff. It was he who made these hirings possible and he who put these Falcons together.
All of these forces joined together to give the Falcons a very respectful and surprising record of 11-5 an amazing improvement over the disastrous 2007 campaign of a 4-12 record. The turn around was quick and effective. This is all great but this was just one season.
In my opinion there are five things that the Falcons must do this offseason...
1. The Falcons must figure out how to take some of the load off of Turner. Turner had a career and NFL high 376 carries in 2008. Although it lead the Falcons to the second best rushing attack in the NFL it most likely shortened Turner's career by a year.
This problem can easily be solved the Falcons already have on of the best "scat backs" in the league in Jerious Norwood and a young back named Jason Snelling who has very soft hands and big frame.
Mike Mularkey, offensive coordinator, needs to find a way to get the ball into Snelling and Norwood's hands.
Although neither of them are of the same quality of back that Turner is, they can both provide a different dimension to the offense and more importantly provide relief to the star back.
2. Figure out the linebacker problem. The Michael Boley era although short lived appears to be over already and Keith Brooking's age has caused him to become more of a liability and less of a playmaker.
Both of these linebackers appear to be on there way out which leaves two enormous holes on the defensive side of the ball. Coy Wire played well but he is to old (30) to be the long term solution. The answer to this problem appears to be the draft.
With the 24th overall pick the Falcons could solve this with linebackers such as Brian Cushings (USC) or Larry English (N. Illinois).
Either of them will be able to start from day one and will help with the pass rush.
3. Find a side-kick for John Abraham. Abraham is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL with 16.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Jamaal Anderson appears to be approaching the status of being considered a bust at least by pass rushing standards.
Two sacks in 31 games. Although Jonathan Babineaux has emerged as a rising star in the defensive tackle position it is still not sufficient.
The Falcons follow Mike Smith's system so they will not bring linebackers on the blitz that often. So they will need to find through free-agency or the draft a true pass rusher at the Left end position or an enormous space eating DT to replace Grady Jackson. Speculation the Falcons might pursue Albert Hayensworth of the Tennessee Titans.
This appears to be a dream scenario, but in all reality will not happen, because it will go against the "process" which is building through the draft.
4. The secondary needs to define itself. During the course of the season 3 different corners started for the Falcons. Only one of them showed true potential to be a starter in the league (Chris Houston). And Foxworth could be a solution for the nickleback position, but there is not true No. 1 corner.
Then there is the problem with the safeties. Erik Coleman emerged as a true starter and can hold his own in run support and pass coverage. Lawyer Milloy however, like Brooking, has lost a step and has become a liability.
There are not many free agents that can fix this problem so the Falcons might consider acquiring one through a trade or they could trade down from the 24th pick or up from their other picks to draft William Moore our of Missouri.
5. Don't break the mold. The Falcons have created a mold that many teams have used to win championships. They have a consistent defense and a power running game. The development of Matt Ryan although great can have negative effects.
If the Falcons decide to put to much trust on Ryan it could slow down his development. The running game needs to stay a constant.
This is the hardest of the problems because it is very tempting to shy away from. I believe however that Smith will not let this happen he will keep the team true.
Even if the Falcons accomplish one or two of these goals they will most likely advance past the first round. Three or four and they are Super Bowl contenders. But if they can accomplish all five of them, then there is truly no reason why they should not be in Super Bowl XLIV.
The hardest thing will be to not regress they must keep moving foreword.
All Stats provided by NFL.com