6 Things That Must Change for the Atlanta Falcons Before the Playoffs
They already have the inside track for home-field advantage, but they need to win at least one of their final three games. Unlike others, I won't sit here and complain about the problems the Falcons have in crushing teams' souls or losing to a team like the Panthers or Saints.
Instead, I'll offer six solutions that they need to have in order to be a team that will actually win in the playoffs. If they can't show they are able to improve in the following six fields, it will be a short playoff trip yet again.
Quit Overthinking the Offensive Play Calls
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The Atlanta Falcons are overthinking their offense too much this season. The Carolina Panthers game was just the iceberg flipping. As Tony Gonzalez was quoted by the official Falcons website, the offense needs to perform much better:
“Ridiculous. No doubt about it. We can’t leave our defense out there like we did, and we’ve got to put points up. We’re too good of an offense,” he said about the first-half Sunday. “We’ve got too many players. Too much talent.”
The best way to do that is to just go out there and play their game. It's tough for the Falcons to try to establish a running game. So they should go out there and try to pass the ball 50 times a game if that's what will get the win.
But to completely overthink every single play is what will create games like the last two, where they went a combined 3-for-19 (15.7 percent) on third downs. The Atlanta Falcons official website's own Jay Adams pointed out that even the Falcons know they are overthinking themselves.
When they know what the problem is, they need to just fix it. It has gotten out of control at this point, and the team just needs to go out and execute.early and often. The plan should be to run simple, easy to execute plays and challenge defenses to stop them.
Have Jacquizz Rodgers Be the Main and Feature Back
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Michael Turner is a drive-killer. This sounds crazy at this point in his career to say, but whenever Turner has gone in during a crucial situation, the Falcons offense stalls shortly after. It was abundantly clear that this was the case in the Carolina game.
Turner is averaging just 3.68 yards per carry this season on his reduced work load of 187 carries—a pace that puts him at just 230 carries for the season. He's also not a legitimate option out of the backfield with his constant drops and only 14 catches for 103 yards all season.
Taking out the four games where Turner averaged over four yards per carry and the long 60 yard reception versus Carolina in the first game, Turner is averaging just 2.53 yards per carry and 3.31 yards per catch. He's been completely ineffective and is a drive-killer.
On the other hand, Jacquizz Rodgers has been the man the Falcons lean on in the clutch situations. His ability to ice games has won the Falcons games versus Tampa and New Orleans in the past three weeks.
Rodgers has a 4.1 yards per carry average that has only gotten better since his role expanded six games ago. Add in his excellent receiving abilities—7.60 yards per catch—and the diminutive back looks like the better all-around option for the Falcons down the stretch.
It's time for them to start and feature Rodgers. If they don't, then expect the Falcons to have another short playoff run.
Get More Pass Rush
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As much as the Falcons want to say they have improved the pass rush this season, it's still the same unit as the 2011 one that was completely ineffective in the playoffs. There is better interior rush then last season, but the Falcons need to start blitzing more.
Part of what made the Falcons defense so good earlier in the season was the ability for Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas to get to the quarterback in the "Amoeba" sets. Add in some of the secondary blitzes and the Falcons could truly turn into a great pass-rushing unit.
Through 13 games, they have just 28 sacks. In 2011, the Falcons had just 33 sacks though. So it's a much better pass rush, but it's not the 40 sacks that Mike Nolan wants to see. If the Falcons want to go far in the playoffs, they won't just force poor throws, they will get actual sacks on their opponents.
If they can't develop a true pass rush that creates dead drives like sacks can, then they will have yet another quick exit.
Create More Defensive Turnovers and Limit Offensive and Special Teams Turnovers
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The Falcons have created 24 turnovers on defense this season and have also given the ball away 18 times. On the bright side 11 of the 18 giveaways have come from just three games—vs. Arizona, at Tampa Bay and vs. Oakland.
The Falcons' best turnover-creating games have come against some of the top offenses in the league. They created five interceptions against Drew Brees and the Saints in the second matchup of the season with them.
They also created eight interceptions against the AFC West quarterbacks as a whole to help give the Falcons a 4-0 record against them. It sounds like good football, but if the Falcons can create more turnovers on defense and limit their offensive turnovers, they will win a playoff game.
If the Falcons have to play in games where they can't create a turnover and turn the ball over with their offense, they will have yet another playoff exit.
Get and Stay Healthy
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This isn't as big of a deal as it seems. While most teams are fighting a ton of injuries this season, the Falcons are currently battling injuries to just Michael Turner (elbow), Peria Jerry (knee), William Moore (hamstring), Asante Samuel (shoulder) and Jonathan Babineaux (ankle).
The injuries are more of the "banged up through the season" variety than the "holding a guy out for multiple weeks" variety. However, if the Falcons can somehow win home-field advantage in the next two weeks, it would be prudent for them to rest players.
The players with injuries should be completely rested once everything is locked up. However, if the players don't have an injury, they should still play the first half of the game and then come out in the second.
By doing that, the Falcons would both get and stay healthy. It would also allow some younger players to get valuable experience down the stretch.
Get Everything Hitting on All Cylinders Early
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The biggest complaint about the Falcons is their inability to blow people out. The Falcons will need to prove that they can do that at some point this season. They have yet to play a complete game, one where they just crush a team's soul from the initial kickoff to the final buzzer.
The Falcons have yet to truly jump out to the ridiculously good start they need in enough games to silence the doubters. Beating a Philadelphia team senseless doesn't count at this point, as they are arguably one of the worst teams in the NFL.
For the Falcons to truly show that they can win in the playoffs, they need to win big in one of their final three games this year. Otherwise the questioning and the doubting won't stop.
If the Falcons don't get better, it won't be for lack of trying. Robert McClain tweeted the following after the loss to the Panthers:
There is no question we will get better. Got to move forward and prepare for next opponent. The grind never stops— Robert McClain (@bobbymac36) December 9, 2012
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.