2008 saw a huge step forward for the Falcons offense mainly through the rushing attack of Michael “Burner” Turner and Rookie of the Year “Matty Ice” Ryan. The fans in Atlanta were blown away by the productivity as the team bounced from the fourth worst offense in the league to the tenth best in only one year. As the team enters their second year under head coach Mike Smith, they look to build off their success towards becoming a premier threat on offense in the NFC.
The biggest potential setback for the 2009 Falcons is the offensive line. They are strong in the starting positions with left tackle Sam Baker and right tackle Tyson Clabo anchoring the line. Guards Blalock and Dahl and center McClure are solid players who were key factors to the Falcons posting the league’s second best rushing attack in 2008.
The concerns for the line lie in the depth chart. After the starting five, the quality of play drops off significantly which could be big problems for the rushing game and also the protection of Matt Ryan. Barring a long-term injury from one of the starters, the O-line should provide the solid core needed to build the rest of the team around but be prepared for some instability in the second string players.
In the backfield, the Falcons are as solid as they come. Last year’s free agent acquisition Michael Turner has become a sensation; able to bruise through the line for the tough yards while still possessing the speed for the breakaway run. They have no problems with depth either with a consistent number two man in Jerious Norwood. He is a player who would be a starter on most teams in the league and is able to come in and perform in any situation.
Statistically, Turner is the most important facet of the offense determining the outcome of the game. In 2008 wins Turner averaged 127.3 yards per game but only 56.7 in losses. His consistency is important not only for the rushing attack. His yards are also needed to open up the defense for Ryan to work his magic through the air.
Matt Ryan posted insane numbers for a rookie last year with his 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns. What was also impressive was his accuracy with a 61.1% completion rate and only 11 interceptions. Ryan exceeded all expectations in 2008 both on and off the field; posting veteran numbers and also becoming a vocal leader of the team. With the early success, there is a lot of pressure on the young man to perform at a high level in 2009. Ryan is up for the challenge through and has all the potential needed to continue growing into his role as the general of the team.
One of the strong units for the Falcons team is their receiving corps. They are led by Roddy White who was fourth best in the league with 1,382 receiving yards. He averaged 86.4 yards per game and crossed the century mark in seven different games. The roster at receiver is deep too as Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran, and Harry Douglas are all legitimate receivers capable of making the big play.
Although the Falcons did not draft an offensive player until fifth round there was big news coming out of free agency in the offseason; the acquisition of veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez from Kansas City. Gonzalez has been the league’s most consistent tight end for the past decade and should fill the void left when Algae Crumpler moved to the Titans last year. With this new addition for the Falcons, they not only acquire needed veteran leadership but also a solid blocking and receiving tight end.
One major strength for the team should be a high productivity in the red zone. Opposing defenses will have trouble stopping the multidimensional attack of the Falcons. Teams will be forced do defend the outside threat of a fade or quick slant to Roddy White while Tony Gonzalez will be patrolling the middle of the end zone. In the backfield, Turner is a danger both to pound the inside run or bounce it outside to the corner. Matt Ryan will have plenty of options to help him lead the team to a high touchdown percentage inside the red zone.
Fans should be excited about the balanced attack on offense from the Falcons in 2009. If the offensive line can stay healthy then the team has potential to be very prolific. Turner will try to build off his breakout year and Ryan will be pushing himself to assume the role of one of the league’s top quarterbacks. The Falcons will likely improve in 2009 on the offensive side of the ball as players become more experienced individually and team unites as a whole.