Changes in The Atlanta Falcons Playbook For 2009

Tim DarnellContributor IMay 10, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons reacts during the NFC Wild Card Game against the Arizona Cardinals on January 3, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Falcons enjoyed a stable offseason in terms of its coaching staff. After receiving a tiny bit of interest from other teams searching to fill their head coaching voids, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey returns for a second season, thus ensuring that sophomore QB Matt Ryan won’t suffer the same fate as other first-round signal callers such as Alex Smith – that being, enduring a revolving door of coordinators.

The addition of Kansas City Pro Bowl TE Tony Gonzalez means the offensive playbook will be opened up a bit in terms of the tight end.

Last season, Gonzalez played in a scheme developed by offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, that’s similar to Mularkey’s. This means that Gonzalez is coming to a system that’s familiar to him, one that he won’t have to learn from scratch.

It also means the Falcons have a legitimate, downfield vertical threat at the position, which it didn’t have last year.

Expect Mularkey to employ more two tight end formations in 2009, along with other TEs Ben Hartsock (returning from an injury) and sophomore Justin Peelle, who showed some pass-catching abilities in ‘08.

The Falcons were weak on defense in ’08, and the team made some strong strides in this year’s NFL draft to remedy that situation.

DE John Abraham, who set a franchise record for sacks last year (16.5), started all 17 games, but he’s another year older and still showing signs of fragile hamstrings. Gone are aging defensive veterans Grady Jackson, Lawyer Milloy, and iconic linebacker Keith Brooking.

There will be a lot of rookies on defense this year, including the Falcons’ first-round draft pick, DT Peria Jerry, who will be expected to start with Abraham and Jonathan Babineuax.

This defense will have to grow up fast, because the Falcons face one of the league’s most formidable offensive squadrons this year, notably New England, Dallas, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants, not to mention Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears, and possibly rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith was known for his work on Jack del Rio’s Jacksonville Jaguars staff, and he will have his work cut out for him this year, molding a very young defense to play solidly and with a lot of composure in the face of some intimidating firepower.

Smith is smart enough not to blitz veteran QBs with solid offensive lines, such as those found in Philadelphia.

He’ll have to come up with some creative packages and schemes for a young defense to have a chance against some veteran offenses, some of which he has probably only just begun to develop.