NFC Championship Game 2013: What Falcons Must Do to Improve Next Season

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NFC Championship Game 2013: What Falcons Must Do to Improve Next Season
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The Atlanta Falcons moved one step closer to the Super Bowl than last year, but that isn't likely to offer fans much solace as they cope with a 28-24 defeat to the 49ers on Sunday. 

Most fans have to be looking for answers as to why their team can finish with the second-best record in the NFC for two straight years and have no Super Bowl appearances to show for it. 

Here are several things the Falcons can do this offseason to improve their chances. 

 

Ditch Michael Turner 

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Michael Turner's days as being an effective starting back in the NFL are over. That became abundantly clear this season. This is not surprising as the back is less than a month away from turning 31, which puts him one year past the age NFL running backs meet their end.

ESPN's Pat Yasinskas reports that the Falcons are likely going to set Turner free, unless he takes a drastic cut in pay.  

Turner is also set to earn $5.5 million for next season. The Falcons would be nuts to keep him on that deal. 

So that is the first step to revamping the run game, but they can't stop there. 

 

Boost the Run Game

This is a lot more complicated than replacing Michael Turner as the starter. When Matt Ryan trails only Julio Jones in yards per carry, there is something wrong with that team's running game, and it doesn't start with the backs. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Can Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers shoulder the load?

The NFL is flooded with backs who can produce behind a good run-blocking offensive line. Even Turner could still do that, and he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. His backup, Jacquizz Rodgers, was not much better as he averaged just 3.9 per carry. 

So, the Falcons don't need to invest a ton of money into a running back, but they need to find a way to improve the run-blocking up front. 

This is not an easy task for the Falcons, as that same group that struggled in the run game only allowed 28 sacks on the season. 

The logical place here would be to let free agent left tackle Sam Baker go and replace him with a more complete player by using some of the money saved on Turner.

 

Beef Up the Defensive Line

The Falcons struggled stopping the run this season. They finished 21st in rushing yards allowed. They also finished 29th in sacks. 

Considering the Falcons employ a 4-3, fixing these two problems begins with the defensive line. 

Atlanta has just one legitimate pass rush with John Abraham. He had 10 sacks on the season while no one else on the team had more than four. 

So the Falcons have to find someone to help out the 34-year-old Abraham. They also could use a monster defensive tackle to eat up blockers and penetrate into the backfield. 

They got decent play from their defensive tackles, but they need a true difference-maker at that position. 

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