There are a lot of people out there that are going to raise their hands and say they never thought the Atlanta Falcons could make it through the 2012 season with an undefeated record.
Even more hands will go up among people who think the Falcons will fall prey again to another loss this season. And an even larger number of people will respond and tell you that no matter what happens in the regular season, Atlanta can’t win a playoff game.
A lot of the negativity, especially surrounding the lack of a playoff win, comes from the last four years of history—three one-and-done postseason debacles. Some of it came from the fact that this previously-8-0 team squeaked out a few close wins against teams that the Falcons should have blown off the field.
Is it the lack of a killer instinct? Is it that this Atlanta team just isn’t really as good as its record?
The real answer to those questions won’t be answered for a few more weeks. But the answers to the Falcons turning these naysayers around and showing them this team deserves a seat at the big-boy table, can be found right here.
Run a Balanced Offensive Attack
This isn’t going to be one of those suggestions to Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter begging them to pull out the game-day spreadsheet and make sure the team throws once and then passes once and to make sure each side of the sheet is balanced.
The Falcons don’t need to bring a run-pass balance to the field every week.
But what the Falcons do need to do is perform well in both the run and the passing games.
To go along with those 411 passing yards, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers added just 44 yards on the ground. The Falcons’ rushing attack could help more. It needs to help more.
If the Falcons aren’t going to—or can’t, for some reason—increase the output of the running game, they at least need to get the running backs more involved.
Rodgers and Jason Snelling added 45 receiving yards to the tally of the running backs’ 44 rushing yards. As a running back corps, Atlanta gained just 89 yards against the Saints.
When the running backs are involved it forces the defense to alter its depth and at least consider the threat in the box or underneath. If the Falcons can’t make a defense feel threatened by their running backs, the defense can sit back and take the top off the deep routes.
Moving forward, the Atlanta running back corps must produce much more than 89 yards per game.
Shore up the Run Defense
The Falcons allow 129.8 rushing yards per game to opponents, making them the No. 25 run defense in the league. In Week 10, Atlanta allowed one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL, the Saints, to put up 148 yards on the ground.
That was somewhat of an embarrassment to the Falcons.
Whether it’s tinkering with the personnel on obvious running downs, or changing things schematically like Mike Nolan’s done recently by using three defensive tackles on the line at times, something has to be done.
It was just last season when the Falcons were a top-10 run defense. And other than Ray Edwards not being around anymore, the players up front are the same. It’s possible that the line missed Corey Peters, who missed the first eight weeks because of an injury and still isn’t up to full speed, but there’s still more going wrong than Peters’ absence.
Atlanta has to become a better unit against the run.
If you look at the last two teams to win the Super Bowl—the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants—making it to the big game isn’t a matter of crushing it in the regular season. These two teams avoided injury, for the most part, and got extremely hot at the right time.
The heart and soul of this Falcons defense, Sean Weatherspoon, has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and still hasn’t practiced this week leading into Atlanta’s Week 11 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday that Julio Jones will be a game-time decision because he’s having trouble with an ankle injury.
Jones missed three games last season and most of a fourth and is an integral part of this offense.
Atlanta already has suffered through roster-altering injuries this year. Starting cornerback Brent Grimes was lost back in September with an Achilles injury and starting guard Garrett Reynolds was placed in injured reserve on Nov. 6 with a back injury.
The Falcons can ill afford to lose more players because of injury.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.