Offseason personnel changes will have some big effects on how the Falcon's draw things up on offense and defense. Here are some things to look for from the playbook in 2009:
It can't be overstated just how big an effect Tony Gonzalez can have on this Falcons offense. He looks to be the only major personnel change for Atlanta's O but tight ends like Gonzalez, with the ability to catch and block, provide so much flexibility to a coordinator and they provide a big headache for opposing defenses in so many ways.
At the minimum, he provides a physically big target with soft hands for young QB Matt Ryan.
Watch for Falcons OC Mike Mularkey to keep Gonzalez planted firmly beside the Falcons O-Line and not in the slot. Harry Douglas provides enough of a threat from there. Gonzalez will make a huge difference in the red zone and on play action, so look for the Falcons to call more passes near the end-zone and on 3rd-and-short.
Atlanta's dynamic running game lead by Micheal Turner will benefit as defenses won't be able to use single coverage linebackers to cover Gonzalez in cover-two like they did with Jordan Peele. Teams will have to rely on smaller members of the secondary to cover the TE and Turner will have a field day running over them.
Also look for less sets featuring three wide receivers and virtually none with four wideouts, even in obvious passing downs.
Speedy ankle breaker Jerious Norwood is the perfect compliment to Turner and his ability to catch the ball out of the back field or in the slot will make him like another receiver. Gonzales will deliver some monster blocks against the nickle and dime defenses freeing up Norwood for monster gains on 3rd-and-long draw plays.
Finally, Roddy White and Micheal Jenkins proved themselves as threats at wide receiver last year but will see even more one-on-one chances thanks to Gonzo's presence. Safeties were already creeping up to try to stop Turner and will be having to keep another eye on the tight end as well.
The Falcons spent their entire draft on defense. They needed to. That's not because their defense was terrible, but it showed some age at times. They ranked 11th in points allowed per game but, 24th in yards allowed per game.
They ranked 21st against the pass and 25th against the run. Veteran DT Grady Jackson, MLB Keith Brooking, OLB Michael Boley, and CB Dominique Foxworth were all lost to free agency. That a lot of experience gone.
The injected youth all over the defense. With so many position battles going on its still hard to tell what the main effect will be on play calling for Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. I expect the D to be deeper, faster, and more aggressive with more rotations to keep them fresh.
First-round pick DT Peria Jerry should be an upgrade over Grady Jackson. His size will make him an obvious force against the run but his athleticism can bring heat to QBs. This will hopefully give third-year DE Jamal Anderson a chance to shine.
The former first-round pick has been a bit of a disappointment, even with the hard-charging DE John Abraham often drawing two linesman.
Look for the Falcons to mix up pressure packages in the front seven. Abraham is getting older and is a injury concern. He will still be dominating at times but production will fall in 2009 and will leave the Falcons looking for other ways to get pressure on opposing QBs.
With the loss of Brooking it will be up to second-year MLB Curtis Lofton to step up and provide stability in the middle of the defense. He has great talent but is still developing instincts. If he can take charge reading the opposing scheme that will free up the outside linebackers to join in on the sack party.
The Falcons a depth of talent in the secondary. FS William Moore, a steal in the second-round of the draft, will be a ball hog as the Falcons will spend even more of their time in the Cover Two thanks to a strong D-line.
Corner Von Hutchens needs to stay healthily for the secondary to stay flexible with its safeties. Look for Brent Grimes and Owens, a nice one-on-one specialist, to do a good job while splitting time at the other CB spot.
The Falcons will have to make some tough decisions in their secondary but with upgrades on the D-line and youth at linebacker they well add flexibility and aggressiveness to the playbook and increase the chance of big plays and turnovers.