Falcons by the Numbers: 2013 Stats Atlanta Must Improve in 2014
When a team goes 4-12, there are key stats that they are near the bottom of the league in. The Atlanta Falcons were mediocre or worse in almost every statistical category in 2013. If they don't improve in these areas in 2014, they will be in line for yet another mediocre record.
On the bright side, Atlanta has already made some moves to improve its offensive and defensive lines, and those should help some of the areas that will be covered. However, it could also improve its safety group and possibly even bring in an edge player on defense to help with the pass rush.
2013 Rank: 32nd (77.9 yards per game)
2014 Goal: 115 yards per game (projects to be top 20)
Atlanta has been a weak rushing team since right guard Harvey Dahl left for St. Louis in the 2011 offseason. Then, Michael Turner's talent fell off of a cliff, and the Falcons had to replace him. 2014 should be a much better season for Atlanta.
Not only have the Falcons replaced their offensive line coach with one known for improving run offenses in Mike Tice, they have already brought in the nasty, aggressive Jon Asamoah to team up with Joe Hawley and Justin Blalock on the interior offensive line.
They still need to improve running back depth after Jason Snelling retired, but the draft could be the easiest way to do that. Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith should be a good three-man rotation for Atlanta heading into the draft.
However, improving the offensive line some more and adding a home-run threat would be ideal for the Falcons. If they can do that, the average could rise up the same way the team wants to. If they can't gain at least 100 yards per game in 2014, they will continue to have a poor record.
2013 Rank: 22nd (51.92 percent)
2014 Goal: 58 percent (projects to be in the top 10)
Atlanta lost seven games by one score in 2014. The only way for this to improve is to turn field goals in the red zone into touchdowns in the red zone. Atlanta needs to figure out how to replace Tony Gonzalez in the red zone as well.
His seven touchdowns will have to be redistributed around the offense. With Julio Jones and Roddy White hopefully completely healthy in 2014, the offense should be able to replace Gonzalez's production. However, a great tight end or actually utilizing the 6'8" Levine Toilolo would be ideal.
Improving the offensive line and running game would be a huge addition to the red-zone offense as well. Jon Asamoah at right guard should help there, but getting and keeping Steven Jackson healthy should also be a huge priority in 2014 for the red-zone benefits.
2013 Rank: 31st in yards per game (135.8 YPG), 31st in yards per carry (4.8 YPC)
2014 Goal: under 110 YPG, under 4.0 YPC (projects to top 10 in both)
Ranking second-to-last in run defense in 2013, the Falcons had to make some moves this offseason to correct it. So they brought in 340-pound nose tackle Paul Soliai and 300-pound defensive end/defensive tackle Tyson Jackson to help with the run defense.
Atlanta's current group of Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters added to Soliai and Jackson should give the Falcons a shot at improving this area dramatically. They should help the Falcons linebackers keep clean by eating double teams.
Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu should all do better in 2014 against the run, as they won't be fighting blocks from offensive linemen every single play. With the perfect players for his scheme finally in place, Mike Nolan should be able to get the pieces to work well against the run.
2013 Rank: 29th (32 sacks)
2014 Goal: 45 sacks (projects to top 10)
Atlanta's pass rush has been terrible the past four years. It needs to figure out how to get to the quarterback; otherwise its overall pass defense will get completely decimated in 2014. It's aggravating to watch a team get so little pressure on the quarterback.
And this problem was two-fold: coaching and talent. Coaching should be addressed with Bryan Cox taking the reins as defensive line coach. As it stands right now, the Falcons still have their leading pass-rushers from 2013 on the roster in Jonathan Massaquoi, Osi Umenyiora, Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux.
However, they need to add someone who is a premier pass-rusher in the draft or through free agency. With Jared Allen out there in free agency, as well as having the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft, Atlanta could easily fix its pass-rush situation.
There are also quite a few options in the second and third rounds of the draft who would be instant starters. As long as the Falcons actually invest in their edge rushers, they should be able to get to the quarterback in 2014.
Pass Deflections and Interceptions
2013 Rank: 31st in pass deflections (56), 29th in interceptions (10)
2014 Goal: 85 pass deflections (projects to the top 10), 20 interceptions (projected top five)
Pass defense isn't just getting after the quarterback in the backfield. It's disrupting the passes before they even get to the receivers. Atlanta needs to make sure that it knocks as many balls away and intercepts as many passes as possible so that it can create momentum and stuff opposing offenses.
Atlanta making as many plays on the ball as possible comes from having players who are better in coverage than it had in 2013. So Robert Alford, Desmond Trufant and William Moore have to step up as playmakers in the secondary for the defense to improve.
The big question is who the Falcons bring in for free safety and whether they can retain their improving nickel defender Robert McClain, as he's currently a restricted free agent. Options at free safety have to be instinctual playmakers like every other defensive back brought in under Mike Nolan.
That means the Falcons will have to look to the draft to improve this area. And just like any other area they need to improve, it will take more than just a talent upgrade. They need to have an attitude upgrade throughout the entire team. No more conservative nature is needed. Aggression is how you win in today's NFL.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.