5 Things the Atlanta Falcons Must Improve to Win Super Bowl
The Atlanta Falcons are on the way to one of the best seasons of franchise history this season. The Falcons have a couple of improvements they need to make in order to win the Super Bowl.
With nine wins already, the Falcons have proven that they can produce winning seasons like they are nothing. At this point, they need to win a Super Bowl in order to have Mike Smith, Thomas Dimitroff and Matt Ryan prove to the world that they are one of the best general manager, head coach and quarterback combinations.
Get Explosive Plays in the Running Game
Interestingly enough, the Falcons' 2012 team has a very large comparison to their 2010 team—running the ball. The problem is that the 3.8 yards per carry in 2010 looked like a much more efficient run game than the current offense that is putting up just 3.7 yards per carry.
The biggest difference this year is the Falcons' ability to get long gains on the ground. In 2010, the Falcons had 12 runs of 20 or more yards. In 2011, they had 11 runs of 20 yards or more. This year, they have just four so far this season.
The explosive run is completely missing from the Falcons' 2012 arsenal and is more than needed this year. If they can somehow bring in this element to the offense, not only would the running game look better as a whole, it would open more holes for a passing attack that has dominated this season.
Getting Those 3rd-and-Short Situations Ironed out
The Atlanta Falcons have completed 63-of-127 third-down conversions this year—or 49.6 percent. The biggest issue that they have had is on their 3rd-and-2-or-less situations. While good for those situations is closer between 65-70 percent, the Falcons are only 15-of-29 on those (51.7 percent).
On the mid-range third downs is when the Falcons truly thrive, converting 34-of-56 of those (60.7 percent). However, if they want to truly become a Super Bowl contender, they will need to be able to pick up a yard or two when it's needed.
Stopping Long Runs
Look no further than the past two games to see the Falcons' biggest weakness in the running game. Three long runs over the past two games show that the Falcons have a run defense that can be exposed with certain schemes.
In the New Orleans game, Atlanta allowed 5.10 yards per carry on the 148 yards allowed. However, take out the one 56-yard touchdown run by Chris Ivory and the Falcons allowed just 92 yards on 28 runs—good for a paltry 3.28 yards per carry.
Against Arizona, it was more of the same. Only this time it was a pair of runs that brought the average up to 5.26 on 26 carries. Take out the 40- and 52-yard runs by LaRod Stephens-Howling and the Falcons allow a minimal 45 yards on 24 carries for a miniscule 1.88 yards per carry.
If the Falcons can stop the long runs and allow just 10 on the plays they are allowing 40 and 50 yards on, they will be in great shape. Nonetheless, it's imperative to stop the long runs in order to win a Super Bowl. If they can't, then San Francisco and Chicago will dominate them in the playoffs and they won't even make it.
Getting to the Quarterback
Yes, the Falcons have been much better in 2012 at getting to the quarterback. However, this is something that always needs to improve. The Falcons get a quarterback disruption on 43.6 percent of all pass-rushing snaps.
While it's nice to see the Falcons getting that many disruptions, it would be better if they could actually hit the quarterback more than just 14.7 percent of the time. The best way to beat quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees is to rock them in the backfield.
By making opposing quarterbacks skittish and turning the attention more to the pass rush than the coverage, the Falcons could end up with more turnovers and on pace for more than the 38 they are currently on pace for.
Not Playing Down to Competition at Home
The biggest issue the Falcons face is playing down to competition. When they play teams who are hyped up as a top team to beat them, the Falcons tend to step their game up and dominate—like in San Diego or versus Denver.
However, the fact that they have beaten Carolina, Oakland, Arizona and Dallas by less than a touchdown in home games is not a great sign. The Falcons need to have a couple of games where they just dominate a lesser opponent at home.
The best way to start would be versus the Saints on Thursday Night Football. But first, they have to beat the Buccaneers. Here's hoping for some runs of 20 or more yards, some more sacks and hits, not letting Doug Martin get a run over 10 yards and converting every 3rd-and-2 or less.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.