Every team has a variety of strengths and weaknesses that speak to how they will perform on the field with varying degrees of success and failure. How high is a team's ceiling, and how low is its basement? Can a team overcome its weaknesses to reach their ceiling, or will their weaknesses be too much for the team to overcome?
Let's start with the Falcons' strengths
MATT RYAN HASN'T EVEN REACHED HIS ZENITH YET
Matt Ryan is the best quarterback this franchise has ever had, and his best years are ahead of him. Each year the young quarterback has gotten better and better. He's always been a consistent quarterback in terms of winning football games with his impressive 57-26 all time record. Now people are tossing that E word (elite) around Ryan even more after winning his first playoff game and putting up the best season of his career with 32 TDs, 4,719 yards passing and a 68.6% completion percentage.
There isn't any reason why Matt Ryan can't improve on last season as that has been his MO his entire career. He is the key to the Falcon's success, and as long as he stays healthy, he can carry the Falcons to a spot in the playoffs at the very minimum.
THE RUNNING GAME SHOULD BE IMPROVED
Michael Turner and the offensive line did a poor job running the football last year, finishing 29th in the NFL in terms of rushing yardage per game. Steven Jackson has replaced Turner and has had a very good preseason and looks to improve a glaring hole in the Falcons offense last year which was conversions on third and short. The offensive line still needs to do a better job blocking, but Jackson is good enough that he can get a yard or two practically by himself if he needs to. Jackson's presence will make the Falcons passing game that much more dangerous as he's a great receiver, and his running ability will make opposing defenses not just sit on the Falcons pass game. The Falcons running game must be respected with the acquisition of Jackson.
THE OFFENSE COULD BE HISTORICALLY GOOD
When you have Matt Ryan at QB, Steven Jackson at RB, Julio Jones and Roddy White as your WRs and Tony Gonzalez as your TE, that is simply absurd. No offense in the NFL has this consistent firepower across the board heading into the season. If these players play up to their potential (and Jones has room for improvement, and he's already elite), then the Falcons should have an absolute powerhouse on the offensive side of the ball.
Now this is still dependent on the offensive line blocking, so there is some concern there, however, opposing defenses better hope they get pressure on Ryan. If not, this team has the capability to put up 30+ points a game with ease against anyone. There might not be a better offense collectively in terms of these positions in the NFL.
With that said, here are the negatives.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
This could be the very thing that could be the difference between a great season and a disappointing one. The Falcons defense is very much a bend but don't break defense, with the offense being the key to winning football games. If you've been reading our site, you know of Falcons101's concerns with the offensive line's play this year. All season they haven't gelled as a unit and have been beaten pretty consistently during the preseason. This could potentially destroy their powerful offense that we just mentioned.
After losing some integral pieces to the line after last season, some position changes and a key injury, the Falcons offensive line is questionable at best right now. That's not to say all hope is lost, and with the signing of Jeremy Trueblood a couple of days ago, it does make the Falcons a better team.
But the offensive line must become a consistent unit that is able to protect Matt Ryan against the scary schedule the Falcons are facing this year with some absolutely brutal defenses (San Francisco and Seattle especially). With all that offensive firepower, it will mean nothing if the offensive line can't even play up to at least average standards.
INABILITY TO GUARD MOBILE QUARTERBACKS
Last year, the Falcons were torn to shreds by the likes of Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. They were able to contain and at times make the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Eli Manning look silly with Mike Nolan's confusing schemes. This year the Falcons have to face Newton twice, Kaepernick, Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel. Now some of those quarterbacks are better than others, but they're all mobile quarterbacks and for whatever reason, Nolan's unit last year struggled to cover QBs who have the ability to take off. With seven games against mobile quarterbacks this year, this is concerning.
DEFENSIVE LINE AND YOUNG SECONDARY
With that crazy good looking offense the Falcons have, they've left the defense out to dry a bit. Yes they got Osi Umenyiora, but who else on the defensive line can generate consistent pressure on the quarterback? Umenyiora isn't even an improvement on the D-line over Abraham if you want to go by the statistics over the last five seasons. With the likes of Kroy Biermann, Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux, this is not a D-line that is going to generate a ton of pressure on the quarterback. There's one player who has the ability to rush the quarterback at a high level, and that is Umenyiora.
The young secondary at CB can be seen as a good thing and a bad thing. Good thing because Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have the chops to become fantastic players, bad because they've got a lot to learn before they'll be able to become fantastic players. They went through their struggles this preseason and had some flashes of brilliance. Trufant proved to be the better man coverage DB, and Alford got more pass deflections and interceptions.
However, this is expected. Did anyone expect Alford and Trufant to come in and just tear it up at the NFL level? If you thought that there would be no learning curve for these rookies than you're sorely mistaken. Over the course of the year, Trufant and Alford are going to struggle and they're going to shine. You just have to hope as a fan that they're able to catch on quickly.
Lastly, with all of these things in mind, the Falcons have a very hard schedule this year. There are a couple of supposed easy wins here against Arizona, Buffalo and the New York Jets. But outside of that, every game is going to be tough, or at least somewhat of a challenge. The Falcons face two contenders in the AFC East which includes the newly revamped Miami Dolphins and the always consistently great New England Patriots.
They face the terrifying NFC West duo of San Francisco and Seattle, the NFC North defending champions in Green Bay, and the defending NFC East champion Washington Redskins.
Oh yeah, then they have to face the Saints twice (who despite all these injuries have coach Sean Payton back, who is 6-2 against the Falcons, and some guy named Brees at QB), and the improved Panthers twice.
That's playing against four division winning teams from last year (San Francisco, New England, Green Bay and Washington) and another playoff team that many are picking to win the Super Bowl this year in Seattle.
This schedule is no cake walk for the Falcons, and for a team that has a lot of questions in the trenches and with their front seven, this will be a hard season.
However, the Falcons offense is so good that if the offensive line is able to protect Matt Ryan, the Falcons have the potential to simply outscore their opponents.
The Falcons are also lucky in never having to face any of these teams back to back. There is at least one game against an inferior team before having to face the likes of the five playoff teams on their schedule.
Falcons 101 predicts that the Falcons will go 11-5 and win the NFC south, becoming the first team in division history to win consecutive division titles. Their offense will be good enough to outscore anyone in the league, and the offensive line will hopefully improve as the season goes on. These two things happen and the Falcons can beat anyone. If not, it will be a long season down south.
What are your predictions? Let us know in the comments section!
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