The Atlanta Falcons were definitely feeling pretty confident, and close to invincible heading into the 2010-2011 playoffs. Atlanta finished the year 13-3, having the second-best record in franchise history behind the 14-2 from 1998, which went all the way to the Super Bowl.
But fans who watched this team closely throughout the year knew better than to think the playoffs were going to be a cakewalk. In fact, many were dreading having to play the Green Bay Packers, mainly because the Packers had Aaron Rodgers and Atlanta was without cornerback Brian Williams.
That might have been one of the few kinks in the armor for the Falcons, but everyone talked about it heading into divisional championship week, and most turned out to be correct when claiming lack of depth in the secondary would be Atlanta's weakness.
Also, not having a powerful front seven also worried fans, and again it showed during the game versus the cheese heads.
Against the five-wide attack of Green Bay, Atlanta was picked a part and dominated, losing 48-21.
It was one of the more heartbreaking moments for an Atlanta sports fan, mainly because the season had been too magical to end in such a drag.
Of course, fans enter 2011 with optimism (for one, hoping there will be football played at the Georgia Dome in the fall) because this team was so solid during the 2010 regular season.
Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff won't let this team get worse, but there are definitely some issues that need to be addressed, and obviously the biggest game of the year's performance should be used as an indicator of what parts of the team need improvement and personnel changes.
The Falcons' main concern is definitely secondary depth. Chris Owens was torn apart by the Packers, who utilized five-wide sets to take advantage of Atlanta's weakest area.
Atlanta needs more talent to play nickel and dime defensive back positions. Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes make up what should be considered out of the better starting corner tandems in the NFC, but behind that there isn't a lot of hope. Drafting a fine-tuned and quick defensive back should be one of Atlanta's highest priorities.
But, it's hard to defend the pass without a treacherous pass rush, which is another area of Atlanta's young defensive unit that needs improvement. John Abraham is a sack machine, but he's also not very versatile, growing older, and always seems to be fighting injuries. With Abraham rotating on and off the field constantly, Atlanta loses consistency on defense with so many lineman shifting around through the course of the game.
The Falcons need more solidarity on the defensive line, which might mean taking a big time defensive end who could rush the pass and stuff the run when Abraham was off the field. Kroy Biermann is another guy, at the other starting defensive end spot, who maybe isn't a complete defensive end.
And, defensive tackle hasn't been the biggest position for the Falcons. Corey Peters was strong as a rookie last year, but he's not a long term option at the position. General manager Thomas Dimitroff might want to think about taking a defensive tackle with his first round pick, but the top defensive tackles in the draft will be well gone before the 27th pick arises.
The third spot Atlanta needs to draft for is tailback. Yes, Michael Turner is a Pro Bowl player, but he's another guy who isn't very versatile and can't carry an offense. It showed in the Green Bay game when the rushing offense never found a rhythm.
He's still bigger than he was in 2008, hasn't shown the burst he had either, and has seemed to struggle finding holes in the backfield. Atlanta needs an explosive presence in the backfield, and they have not had that since Jerious Norwood.
Norwood barely played over the past two seasons, mainly because of his limberness. He's injury prone, which may concern Falcons ownership enough to strive to go after a guy like DeMarco Murray (who's been injured before, but is much bulkier and should hold up better).
Falcons fans will breathe a big breath of fresh air if an explosive runner is finally added to make the offense more dynamic.
Another offensive area that needs to improve is receiver. Roddy White is great, but defenses never seem to really fear the other side of the field. Michael Jenkins is a nice possession receiver, but he's never been considered an optimal play maker or threat to a defense.
Drafting a receiver with the first pick could help open things up even more for the Birds.
And, finally, it was pretty evident in the Green Bay game that Atlanta's "finesse" offensive line isn't playoff built. They've been a solid unit for a while now, and can win a lot of regular season games, but going up against size is a daunting task for them.
The Falcons should definitely try to find size and power to build the offensive lineup a little bit more.
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