The Atlanta Falcons exceeded every expectation in 2008. After a miserable 2007 season, which saw their starting quarterback arrested and sent to jail and a head coach who headed for the hills of Arkansas, the Falcons were just hoping they’d finish around 500.
But owner Arthur Blank didn’t give up on this beloved birds. He hired an upcoming coach in Mike Smith from the Jacksonville Jaguars and drafted Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. Most NFL experts thought that since Ryan was a rookie quarterback, he would struggled, but to everyone’s surprise and delight, Ryan was a hit and led the Falcons to the playoffs and an 11-5 regular season record.
Ryan was name AP’s Offensive Rookie Player of the Year and the rest is history. He along with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, were the first rookie quarterbacks to not only play all 16 games, but to lead their teams to the playoffs.
Now, with the 2009 season on the horizon, the Falcons are no longer a team on the rise; they have arrived. They tightened up the offense so to speak by trading for future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez formally of the Kansas City Chiefs who should help improve the passing attack.
Not that Ryan struggled that much in the passing department, in fact he threw for almost 4,000 yards, but it couldn’t hurt to have a veteran such as Gonzalez in the backfield to help Ryan to continually improve. What really helped Ryan and the offense succeed last season was a great running game.
The Falcons running game was the second best running team in the league averaging almost 158 yards per game which was lead by 1,700 yard rusher Michael Turner. Turner was a threat to score every time he touched the ball and just that threat alone, will continue to help open up the passing game for Ryan.
While the offense continues to thrive, the defense sometimes struggled. The Falcons defense ranked 24th overall in the league on defense, giving up just over 20 points a game and almost 400 yards per contest. The defense put the offense in precarious positions at times last season by having them out score certain teams in order to win games.
Hopefully, with the drafting of Peria Jerry of Ole Miss in the first round, the defense will improve and defensive end John Abraham will have some more help in the defensive back field.
With the Falcons being primarily a running offense, the defense cannot afford to continue to give up that many points and expect to win especially against division rivals such the New Orleans Saints who were first in the league in offense and first in passing in 2008.
Although the Saints didn’t make the playoffs last season, it wasn’t because of their offense. With a veteran offense, they will be the biggest obstacle to the Falcons staying on top in 2009 along with the Carolina Panthers. If the Falcons can keep everyone healthy, focused and sure up the defense, there is no reason to believe why 2009 could not be their year.