If you are a meticulous fan and know the ins and outs of the NFL general managers (or just simply heard a friend talk about the book War Room), then you know that the Chiefs and Falcons are linked. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff* and Chiefs GM Scott Pioli are best friends, or as close of friends as you can have being competitors in the National Football League. And while these two Bill Belichick products might know the other’s team inside and out, fans might not.
*Notice Dimitroff is the only one not bobbing his head in the commercial.
Chiefs fans who visit this website are kept informed of everything going on with the team; whether it be Tamba Hali’s suspension for Week 1, or the injuries the team has on defense (Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers, Kendrick Lewis), you are kept informed. But how informed are you on the Atlanta Falcons?
That’s where I come in.
Here is your Week 1 “Get to Know” post that I hope to publish before every opponent. Hopefully you enjoy it and become just a little more informed about the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses – as well as some use(less)ful trivia – than before you decided to read it*. So here we go:
*It seems other writers for this blog had similar ideas, but fortunately, mine is the most entertaining.
2011: Passing – 262.0 yards per game (8th in NFL); Rushing – 114.6 ypg (17th in NFL)
A lot of things changed with the Falcons when Dimitroff took over in 2008. He drafted Matt Ryan in the first round and took Turner from the Chargers. That year Ryan threw for 3,440 yards and Turner ran for 1,699. 2009 was a down year for both – Ryan passing for 2,916 yards and Turner running for 871 – but they both bounced back in 2010 when they went 13-3 and the team was the top seed in the NFC. That season, Ryan threw for 3,705 yards and Turner rushed for 1,371. Finally, in 2011, Ryan threw for 4,177 yards and Turner ran for 1,340*.
*And if you’re curious, Burner Turner has 1,189 rushing attempts in his four seasons in Atlanta. Which begs the question: how much longer does he have?
One interesting thing with these numbers is that Ryan’s passing yards increased by 472 yards from 2010 to 2011, but his number of pass attempts actually decreased from 571 to 566. So with five fewer pass attempts he gained an extra 472 yards? That’s where Julio Jones comes in.
With Dimitroff preaching the implementation of “urgent athleticism” to his scouts, he found it his best option to move up in the 2011 draft to grab Jones out of Alabama. The second wide receiver off the board in 2011 (after AJ Green and before the Chiefs’ Jon Baldwin), Jones made an instant impact. Battling injury for a little bit during the season, he still went on to record 54 catches for 959 yards (17.8 yards per catch, good for fourth in the NFL for players with at least 50 catches) and eight TDs. Paired up with another former first-round pick, Roddy White, the two would go on to account for 2,255 yards and 16 TDs*.
*It should be noted that last season’s offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, is now the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Dick Koetter, formerly with the Jaguars as OC from 2007-2011, takes over for Mularkey. Replacing coordinators isn’t always a smooth transition (i.e. 2011 Chiefs).
And what post about the Falcons would be complete without a mention of the great Tony Gonzalez. A homecoming for TG, the tight end has reportedly considered retirement but is coming back for what might be his last season in the NFL. And why not? While his speed is all but gone, his future Hall of Fame hands and route running ability are still there. He’s coming off a season where he had 80 catches for 852 yards and seven TDs. So yeah, he’s still got it.
Finally the last piece of the puzzle: the offensive line. The Falcons used their two highest 2012 draft picks, number 55 overall, on Peter Konz out of Wisconsin, and number 91 overall on Lamar Holmes, a tackle out of Southern Miss. These draft picks were because the Falcons offensive line was so dreadful last season. Evan Silva of RotoWorld ranked the 2012 Falcons offensive line as the fifth worst in the NFL (by the way, he ranked the Chiefs line as the fourth best). Lining up from left to right, it’s Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Peter Konz, and Tyson Clabo.*
*Bonus points: Which one of those players did ProFootball Focus label a bust?
2011: Pass – 236.6 yards allowed per game (20th in NFL); Rush – 97 yards per game (sixth in NFL)
Smith, a defensive mind through and through, takes a lot of pride in his defense. A meticulous eye for detail and strategy is what got him the Falcons head coaching job – after being the Jaguars* defensive coordinator for five years – in the first place. Having the 12th overall defense in 2011, however, might not have been good enough.
*Noticing this strange connection between the Falcons and Jaguars yet?
In what was a resignation, and what some believe was forced, Brian VanGorder left the Falcons as the DC to take the same position at Auburn. The Falcons later fired their defensive backs coach, Alvin Reynolds. Replacing VanGorder and trying to bring some defensive consistency to a team that has been embarrassingly blown out in the playoffs the last two seasons in a row is Mike Nolan.* Nolan spent the last two seasons as the Dolphins DC.
*You might remember him from his dapper days as the head coach of the 49ers.
And Nolan’s cupboard is not bare. In his 4-3 defense, he has one of the most consistent pass rushers in the league with 34 year old John Abraham, and a fast developing weak side linebacker in Sean Weatherspoon, whom the team drafted out of MIZZOU in the first round of 2010.
The team also still has Brent Grimes, one of the best cover corners in the league, and acquired Asante Samuel in the offseason. And while Samuel has struggled with blown coverages over the last couple of seasons, he fits in well with the zone schemes the Falcons run. Dunta Robinson should also do well in sliding over to cover the slot.
The defensive line was a large reason why the Falcons were so good at stopping the run last season. Anchored on either end by Abraham and Ray Edwards, they proved in the regular season it’s not easy to move the ball on the ground against them.
One thing that many people covering the Falcons are concerned about, however, is the loss of Curtis Lofton. The inside linebacker took his talents to New Orleans, and Akeem Dent, the Falcons’ third-round pick in 2011 from Georgia, is there to take his place. He was the leader of that defense, and it won’t be easy to replace him.
The Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud, a third-round pick in 2008, had four interceptions and 86 tackles last season and William Moore, a second round pick in 2009 from MIZ(SEC), had two INTs for 54 tackles in 12 starts. While these numbers are decent, one has to remember that the Falcons were 20th in the NFL is pass defense, so they had a lot of opportunities since teams passed against them so often.
I’ll keep this part short and sweet. Matt Bryant is the kicker, he went 27/29 last season and his only two misses came in the 40-49 yard range.
Eric Weems is the kick returner, he averaged 23.5 yards on kickoff returns and just 9.8 yards on punts. Although these numbers don’t rank very high on the list of returners, he did return two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2010, including one in the playoffs.
That concludes our “Getting To Know” the Atlanta Falcons. Hope you are now better informed than five minutes ago. If you guys like it, I’ll definitely do it again next week.