The young quarterback took over the starting role in his rookie campaign and looked like a veteran the entire season. Ryan threw for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns to help improve the Falcons offense. Atlanta jumped from being ranked 23rd in the NFL in total offense to 6th, averaging 361 yards per game.
However, as important as Ryan was in changing the passing attack, it may not have been nearly as important as Michael Turner posting close to 1700 yards on the season, placing 2nd behind Adrian Peterson.
Behind the legs of Turner, Atlanta was second best in the NFL in rushing offense, which was also a big improvement.
On the other hand, the Falcons had problems on the defensive side of the ball.
The defensive unit allowed nearly 350 yards per game, which ranked in the bottom half of the NFL. The secondary received a lot of the blame, with their inability to stop teams from converting third downs. That will be an area of interest heading into the new season.
We look forward to seeing how Ryan will respond in his sophomore season, and to see if the defense can find any way to compliment the offense.
Off Season -
Atlanta did a nice job of re-signing some of the big guys that opened up holes for Michael Turner last year. Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl both had big seasons on the offensive front. Both players signed one-year deals and they could be in a similar situation again at the end of the season.
But on the defensive side, Atlanta lost some key guys that may hamper their chances of repeating last year's surprise run. CB Dominique Foxworth had a great season in Atlanta, but signed a four-year deal with Baltimore. Losing Foxworth adds to an already weak secondary who may be at opposing offenses' will this upcoming season.
But perhaps, the biggest move of this offseason, was when the Falcons landed TE Tony Gonzalez from the KC Chiefs.
Gonzalez may be getting up there in age, but he put together a solid season for the Chiefs, eclipsing the 1,000 yard barrier in their putrid offense.
So after all those transactions were completed, the Falcons only had one focus left during the draft, and that was solely on the defensive side of the ball.
The Falcons' first five selections were all defensive players in an attempt to find some emerging playmakers. Atlanta drafted Peria Jerry out of Mississippi with the No. 24 overall selection. Jerry is not as big as normal defensive tackles, but makes up for it with his quickness.
However, the Falcons could have made a better first round pick.
The Falcons selected defensive back William Moore in the second round. Moore is a former Missouri standout that could likely be placed at the free safety position, considering there is nobody to backup current starter Erik Coleman. Atlanta continued striving to improve the defense with draft picks CB Christopher Owens, DE Laurence Sidbury, and CB William Middleton.
It is safe to say that the Falcons wanted to add some depth to the secondary, which was a main area of focus.
The front office and coaches did a great job filling their needs over the off-season, but now we'll see if they have the right players to do the job.
2009 Preview -
It will be very interesting to see if Matt Ryan can continue his surprising play from his rookie season. Tony Gonzalez should really make an impact on the offense, mainly because he should be able to take a lot of focus off Roddy White. Defenses narrowed down on White last season, as he was the only true consistent threat to make plays catching the football. The addition of Gonzalez may impact the team a lot more than many would expect.
However, we still have to question the defense.
The Falcons added a lot of young guys in the secondary, but nobody in particular jumps out that would make an immediate impact. Also, the Falcons lost linebackers Michael Boley and Keith Brooking after last season. They are very thin at the LB position and that has to be a concern.
2009 Prediction -
The NFC South has historically been a wide open division that has been difficult to predict, and this year will be no different.
The main issue holding the team back will be the defense. Not only is the secondary bad, but now they are even worse at the linebacker position, and we don’t see how anything is going to get better on that side of the ball.
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