The 2009 Atlanta Falcons have a much better outlook than the 2008 Atlanta Falcons did.
Every sports media entity in America had picked Atlanta to be the worst team in the league. They had decided to put their fate into the hands of a rookie quarterback. They signed the best player of the entire off-season in Michael Turner. But surely, that would not lead to success.
Ryan threw a touchdown pass 60+ yards to Michael Jenkins on the first of what would be many touchdowns that the Lions gave up last season. From there, it appeared he was destined for greatness.
Then, in his first division road test against Tampa Bay, reality set it. The Bucs hit him in the mouth the entire game and Ryan struggled tremendously. It was very rare last season for the Falcons to struggle.
The most important game last season had to be the win Atlanta had against the Chicago Bears. Both teams were trying to fight their way into the playoffs, with Carolina and Tampa Bay matching Atlanta win for win. The Bears scored with eleven seconds left. The next set of scenarios are just mind blowing even to a fan:
- You squib kick the ball around the 35 yard line rather than kicking it deep and just hoping your kick coverage team can make a play and run some more time off the clock.
- You have to stop one play. You can allow the pass over the middle. You can put the safeties deep to prevent the deep ball. The ONLY thing you can't do is allow a deep out catch on the sideline to stop the clock with Atlanta having no timeouts remaining. That didn't happen.
- The kicking game came through (finally) and Atlanta let that win roll them into the playoffs.
In all reality, Atlanta should've beaten Arizona in their first round match-up. Near the end of the game, as fate would have it, Atlanta defenders did the one thing THEY shouldn't do. Keith Brooking bit on a play fake and left the tight end wide open over the middle allowing Warner to find him for the first down conversion. From there, the rest is routine.
Keith Brooking won't be making those plays in Atlanta anymore. Bon voyage is all I can say. Michael Boley is gone as well. Mike Peterson was brought in from Jacksonville, and I am certain Lofton will move to Outside linebacker so the veteran Peterson can anchor the defense. Stephen Nicholas will replace Michael Boley.
The secondary may be the biggest issue. Domique Foxworth is gone and so is Lawyer Milloy. William Moore was taken in the second round from Missouri in hopes of filling Milloy's spot, but look for Atlanta to address this issue more through free agency as the off-season progresses.
Chevis Jackson and Chris Houston are slated to be the starting corner backs. Personally, I'd like to see Atlanta address this issue as well because I like Jackson better as a nickel corner, but we shall see how that plays itself out.
Atlanta is $20 million under the cap, even with Michael Vick's contract on the books. It is very possible for the team to improve itself defensively. As long as the offense continues to progress, it won't need any work.
Tony Gonzalez is going to be this year's Michael Turner as far as off-season difference makers go. He will make the entire Falcons' offense better. Teams have to account for an extra player offensively that they didn't have to last season. Good times are here for the Falcons again.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the outlook appears much brighter for the Falcons for years to come. I think that nothing short of at least a Wild Card playoff appearance would be considered a failure.
The NFC South should be the toughest division in football, but the Falcons should stay competitive thanks to their explosive offense.
The biggest concern for the Falcons will be the defense. They have lost five starters from last year's defense and mainly addressed those roles through the draft. The defense must learn from their mistakes and play with fundamentals rather than trying to be one man superstars. If the offense can put up points on a consistent basis until this defense can gel together, Atlanta will be a team to be reckoned with in 2009.