Will Jackson's Boost in Running Game Fix Atlanta Falcons' Defensive Woes?
The story of the 2012 Atlanta Falcons wasn't complex. The offense would perfectly execute scripted drives in the first quarter, scoring points at will. Eventually the other offenses would catch up, figuring out how to attack Mike Nolan's defense.
Then the Falcons would need to run the football to control clock and keep the defense's legs under them. The problem was, they could never do it.
At no moment were these problems more evident than the playoffs, where the Falcons blew 27-7 and 17-0 leads in their respective games, nearly losing the first one and falling in heartbreaking fashion in the last one.
Too often has Matt Ryan been criticized for his inability to win big games, which baffles Falcons fans who have seen him finish miracle comebacks time and time again. The truth is, too often has Matt Ryan been asked to win a game with his arm, and the NFC Championship game was the first time his heroics fell short.
Baseball players would tell you, "The law of averages eventually catches up with you." The law caught up with Ryan when his fourth and fifth passes intended for Roddy White were knocked down (sans the possible pass interference), instigating a dreadful chorus of moans and disappointment from the Georgia Dome faithful.
Ryan is nowhere close to the problem, no matter what the media might want to tell you. National conversation on the Atlanta Falcons tabbed them as a "run first" team until last season.
Atlanta fans could easily tell you that this was a pass-first team for the past three seasons, when Michael Turner's flash-in-pan brilliance in Atlanta began to corrode.
Other than the quarterback, the easiest target for post-game blame has been the defense. Atlanta's defense did have tons of trouble stopping spread offenses in the playoffs, but the issues were with how often they were put on the field, especially in the second half of games.
This was a defense that was top-five in scoring and turnovers forced last year. They played fast, scrappy and made big plays when it counted, but eventually they got too spread out and worn down.
You may not see that story as much in 2013, thanks to the fact the Falcons will finally be able to compose a complete offense.
Hear it out.
Firstly, Turner was never versatile enough for package disguises that are necessary to constantly keep teams on their toes. His inability to be a consistent threat as a receiver meant that the rotation of him and Jacquizz Rodgers would constantly alert defenses.
As well, Turner simply was slow and incapable of being the game-finisher he was in the early stages of his career with the team.
Every time the Falcons were put in a situation where they needed to hold onto the ball, they usually still asked Matt Ryan to throw the football.
The tune of the Atlanta Falcons became score on every possession, or bust.
Steven Jackson is 30 years old, but if he was just a year younger pundits would see him as a young tailback. That change in numerals makes a big difference in the eyes of many.
Look at the tape. Jackson still has significantly more power, speed and versatility in him compared to Turner.
His ability to catch the football will help Atlanta stay fresh and creative on offense. His aggressive running style will help the Falcons convert first downs on the ground and keep the ball out of opposing quarterbacks' hands.
Adding Osi Umenyiora and a slew of rookies might not make the Falcons look any sexier on defense, but the evolution and completion of the Falcons offense could help them not just be a quick-strike passing attack, but also an offense that can dictate a game.
Never has that been the case in the past. Don't be surprised if Matt Ryan doesn't have as many game-winning drives in 2013. That's not to say he won't be capable; he may just not be asked to orchestrate them.
Mike Foster is a Featured Columnist for B/R and local sportswriter in northwest Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter!
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