Julio Jones Impressing Early, but Can Falcons Make Jump to Elite Offense?
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That potential wasn’t realized in 2011, however, and questions plague the unit asking not when, but if this team can become the offensive juggernaut it should be.
The Falcons finished seventh in the NFL last year after they averaged 25.1 points per game. The team ranked 10th with 376.6 yards per game. That’s a lot of talent for production that can’t be called elite.
What went wrong?
Problem: The O-line struggled
Injuries, a lack of continuity and erratic play from the boys up front kept pressure on Ryan and failed the team in short-yardage situations at times last season.
2012 solution: An all-out position battle royal
Head coach Mike Smith has called all positions on the offensive line "up for grabs," and the team used its first two picks in the draft on linemen. The Falcons hired a new offensive line coach in Pat Hill, and he's focusing this offseason on protection and adding a screen pass to the arsenal.
Problem: Lack of a deep threat
Matt Ryan ranked 19th in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, on passing yards on throws of 20 yards or more last season. He was 15-of-60 for 497 yards on those long passes.
2012 solution: A new coordinator and some strength training
The Falcons brought in Dirk Koetter to run the offense in 2012, a guy who's known as a coordinator who can install a vertical attack. In preparation for that vertical attack, Ryan’s been working out in the offseason. Ryan hopes his new muscle will help with the deep ball and keep him intact in case the offensive line is still a little shaky.
Those aren’t the only problems that Atlanta’s offense—a unit that didn’t manage a point in its playoff game in New York—faced in 2011, but two of the bigger issues. Early news out of Falcons OTAs seem to show that the Falcons are well on their way to soaring on offense.
Not only has second-year stud Jones cut off his dreads—a move he made to benefit a children’s cancer charity—he’s spent an enormous amount of time working with Ryan on timing, routes and general football thoughts, according to Atlanta Field Report.
“The biggest thing that I see now is that me and Matt, we’ve got a better chemistry, and we’re on time more,” said Jones. “Last year was kind of like they just threw me in the fire.”
Jones continued by saying, “I didn’t have that time, that chemistry with Matt. Last year I was just out there running full speed. And now me and Matt can sit down and talk, hey you cruise on this route, or do this on this route.”
Jones also said that he felt bigger and faster heading into 2012. If early sessions from Falcons OTAs are an indicator, Jones is ready to make a huge leap in 2012. He's blowing by defenders and making incredible catches in traffic. Jones and Ryan already look to have their timing down pat.
Even if there’s no improvement from year one to year two from Jones, adding the almost four games he missed because of injury in 2011 will greatly benefit the Falcons.
If everything goes according to plan, and everyone stays healthy, will Atlanta have a top-five offense in 2012?
But add in a learning curve—the one Jones and Ryan are working through now because they finally get to work together under team supervision in the offseason—and Jones might just put up some Roddy White-type numbers.
If the Falcons' offensive line can show improvement under Hill, if Ryan truly has improved on his deep throws and, most importantly, if the Koetter’s new wrinkles can spark Atlanta’s offense, this offense can "Rise Up" in 2012.
There’s no reason to think that Atlanta’s offense can’t become a top-five offense if everything goes according to plan. It’s going to take health and the absence of any injuries during the season, and it’s going to take the unit learning some new schemes and protections. But in the end, there is too much talent on this roster for Atlanta not to be an elite offense in 2012.
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