Atlanta Falcons: 3 Things Falcons Need to Do to Make the Playoffs

Zayne Grantham@ZPGSportsContributor IIIDecember 6, 2011

Atlanta Falcons: 3 Things Falcons Need to Do to Make the Playoffs

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    The Atlanta Falcons are very much in the 2011 playoff race.

    They are currently 7-5, and if the season ended today they would be in as the NFC's sixth seed. There are four games left in the regular season and the Falcons must finish strong to earn a second consecutive playoff berth.

    This team is dangerous, and if they make it to the playoffs they have the talent to make a run.

    The Falcons' play has been good in 2011, but there are areas they can improve on. They have just one team with a winning record on their remaining schedule and they can use this time to improve their team to get ready for the playoffs.

    In order to win these games and guarantee a spot in the postseason, the Falcons need to focus on three things.

    Let's take a look.

Feed Michael Turner

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    This is what the Falcons offense is built around; Michael Turner is the definition of a workhorse and Atlanta needs to get back to using him that way.

    The Falcons are 7-1 in games this season when Turner has over 18 touches a game. When he touches the ball less than 18 times, the Falcons are 0-4.

    That formula seems pretty simple. There have been times this year when the Falcons have tried to be a pass-heavy offense. They have the weapons to do this, but their offense just does not work as well without leaning on Turner and the run game.

    If the Falcons want to make the playoffs in 2011, then they need to get back to letting Turner be the workhorse that he is.

Play Good Defense

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    The Falcons have had the best defense in the NFC South this season and must continue playing great defense to make the playoffs.

    They absolutely cannot let teams run all over them like they did this past Sunday against the Texans. Going into that game the Falcons had the second-ranked run defense, but allowed the Texans to rush for 162 yards.

    The Falcons have been good at stopping the run this season, and they have to make sure that continues as the season comes to an end.

    The Falcons also need to improve their pass defense if they want to compete in the playoffs. They cannot expect to keep up with a team like the Saints or Packers with the 21st-ranked pass defense.

    The defense also needs to produce more turnovers. They only have 18 takeaways all year; they have come away with 11 picks and six fumble recoveries. They need to do better in this area to become a legitimate playoff threat.

    As far as quarterback pressure is concerned, the Falcons are 22nd in the NFL with 23 sacks. If the Falcons can begin to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, that will be a huge addition to their game. They brought in defensive end Ray Edwards in the offseason with the thought that he and John Abraham could cause havoc on opposing backfields

    That has not been the case so far, and that needs to change if the Falcons want to compete in the postseason.

Protect Matt Ryan

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    The Falcons have to do a better job of protecting Matt Ryan—in more than one area.

    If you look at the stat book, it looks like the Falcons offensive line has done a great job of protecting Matt Ryan this year. They have only allowed 22 sacks, which comes in at 11th in the NFL. However, Ryan has been hit a whopping 65 times this year—sixth most in the league.

    The Falcons could be facing teams like the Cowboys, Giants and Lions in the playoffs, all of which have over 30 sacks this season.

    The Falcons also have to do a better job of limiting Ryan's mistakes. Again, they need to throw the ball less and depend more on Turner and the run game. If they do this it will allow Ryan to work out of the play-action more often, which is where he plays his best football.

    The Falcons have tried to be a team similar to the Packers, Saints or Patriots this year, and they simply cannot do it. They attempted 47 passes against the Texans and Ryan only had a 42.6 percent completion percentage and threw two interceptions.

    Ryan has turned the ball over 16 times this year and the Falcons need to limit those mistakes if they want to make the playoffs. 

    Ryan is a good quarterback and the Falcons have a great offense full of weapons, but their passing game feeds off the run game. If the Falcons can protect Ryan from unnecessary hits and help him limit erroneous throws, then they should be able to secure a playoff spot.