Atlanta Falcons Offensive Line
During the offseason and preseason many seemingly minor changes took place with the Falcons. However these tweaks will prove themselves with major results.
The offensive line that was in flux and turmoil all last season will be effective enough for success for several reasons.
First of all, Sam Baker is much healthier than he has been in a long time. I think he held up surprisingly well last season, considering he had disc material impinging on nerves in his back. Most people would have had trouble getting off the couch to grab a beer much less tussle with a 300-pound guy trying to push his way past him.
This year, after surgery, Sam Baker has shown he can not only hold his ground but can be the lead blocker on screen passes out of the backfield.
In addition, the offensive line that was in disarray after Harvey Dahl left in free agency, has now had time to work together and coordinate better.
Last year the offensive line did not benefit from the threat of a viable screen pass play. Just the threat will reduce pressure on the offensive line and therefore Matt Ryan.
Last year Ryan threw for over 4000 yards and that was while he was running for his life. This season he will have a better pocket to work from and that will lead to trouble for opposing teams.
My only criticism of Ryan is that he still has trouble gauging the long throw. Two years ago I saw Arron Rodgers holding two footballs. He threw one towards a net 50 yards away and before it landed he threw the second ball and they both went in the net. During the preseason it looked like Dominique Davis could do this, but Matt Ryan needs more practice.
The good news is that none of the Falcons' players have to be perfect, only better than they were last year.
The Atlanta Falcons defense will also show great improvement because of changes that appear to be less than monumental.
The pass-rush will be better because of scheme and because of Asante Samuel upgrading the secondary. Mike Nolan's attacking style that can emanate from anywhere, will not only keep opponents off guard in devising protection for their quarterback but will improve Atlanta's linebackers' ability to drop back into coverage.
Smaller faster linebackers will play well against passing attacks, which is a significant improvement over last year.
The only area of the team that remains unanswered for me is the special teams. Which player is going to distinguish himself as a punt or kick return man?
When you ask, what has emerged lately as a political question, "Are you better off today than you were last year?" I would have to answer in the affirmative. Little improvements will add up to more than the sum of the parts.