Finally, it’s here — football season. Our beloved Falcons are reporting back to Flowery Branch to begin the journey from July to February hopefully. Maybe January, better be at least January, right? Surely the Falcons will make the playoffs with this roster and this coaching staff, right? The Falcons have just as many question marks as they do answers. Even within our fanbase, some believe this team isn’t very good while others have Super Bowl aspirations. Let’s examine.
The offense has been the team’s bell cow and with a former MVP at QB and one of the top WR threats in the NFL they should be. Matt Ryan has been consistently good in his Falcons career and looks primed to have another stellar season. However, many think the Falcons did themselves a disservice by signing the veteran QB to an extension that will pay him in the $30 million a year range. Around the NFL, Ryan is a polarizing figure as he is here in Atlanta. The mere words Matt Ryan will start a twitter frenzy of people on opposite sides of the QB’s talents. As we entertain the Matt Ryan debate inevitably, his offensive line will be discussed. While the OL was addressed greatly in the offseason as Head Coach Dan Quinn, General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, and even the team’s owner Arthur Blank informed us it would be. The Falcons brought in two free-agent offensive linemen and spent high draft picks on two more. While this excites many in the fanbase several others still aren’t convinced, after all, we haven’t seen these players perform yet. Rounding out the questions on offense is the running game and the oft-injured Devonta Freeman. Or is he often injured? Many statistics have been provided lately showing that Free has played much more than he has not, and last season was his only true injury year. There is still the contingent that given his running style Free will never complete an NFL season. There are even those who question Julio and feel he is injury prone and aging himself.
Defensively…. WHEW, where do we start? Gone from the team are Robert Alford and Brian Poole two members of the secondary. Enter Isaiah Oliver to start at cornerback, a second-year player the Falcons hope is ready to assume the position. Most fans feel he can’t be worse than what we already had, and he is cheaper. Opposite Oliver is Trufant who half the fanbase feels is a top corner while the other half wonders why he was signed to a lucrative extension. With our top two safeties both returning from a season-ending injury, the Falcons secondary has major question marks. Our linebacker core, led by Deion Jones is just as big of a mystery as the secondary.
Jones is an All-Pro type performer, but outside of him and the steady Devondre Campbell the rest of the linebacker group is filled with guys we are hoping can play good football. Last year rookie Foye Oluokun made strides and will be counted on to be a major contributor this year. If third-year LB Duke Riley will be counted on to provide playing time many fans may go roof diving. This brings us the elephant in the city, the defensive line. It seems the Falcons have been searching for pass rush since days of Chuck Smith, Shane Dronett, Lester Archambeau Biscuit…you get the point. Many don’t even know who these guys are; it has been so long. There is one player who has been discussed so much the past two years I don’t even have to type his name, and we all know who that is. The opinions on the DE/LB/edge rusher vary so much where fans can’t even agree what position he is playing or should be playing. The non-mentioned name is the only that will get fans riled up on twitter more than Matt Ryan. Grady Jarrett was just awarded a 4-year extension this week, and even that move drew the ire of fans and sports talk radio hosts in the city. Grady has been unbelievably good in his young career and even holds the record for sacks in the Super Bowl. Third-year DE Takk McKinley will begin to draw criticism this year if the stat sheets don’t show double-digit sack numbers because most fans equate DE play with sack totals.
Even the coaching staff has questions. Dan Quinn is still much chagrined for not using veto power during the Super Bowl a few years ago to demand Kyle Shanahan run the football. Quinn will resume his defensive play-calling duties this year after firing Marquand Manuel from the title last year. Dirk Koetter is back at the helm as OC after a brief stint as HC in Tampa. Can Dirk jump-start the running game? Mike Mularkey returns the origination as the TE coach, but his job is to assist in the running game and clock management which has certainly been an issue as well.
Which side are you on? Is Matt a HOF QB poised to lead his team to the pinnacle? Or is he an average guy making superstar money? Is Free ready to run for 1200 yds while being healthy and available? Can the OL open lanes for him and keep Matt upright? Do we see a declining Julio?
Can Deion Jones lead this defense to a top 10 ranking which many feel they can be? Can …. reach double-digit sacks? Does …. Even need to reach double-digit sacks? Can the team get off the field on 3rd down? Is the coaching staff the right fit for this group of talent? So according to our fanbase, we can win anywhere between 3 and 14 games this year. I know one thing for sure. I’m ready.