The window is not exactly closing for the Falcons, but the road to a championship is also not getting any easier. Perhaps one area of concern for this team over the offseason is supplementing younger talent onto the roster. In 2012, the Falcons were the oldest team in the NFC with an average age right at 27-years old. Age certainly does not decide a season, but acquiring youthful talent should be the primary focus for general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
As for the rest of the NFC, young talent seems to be at every corner, especially at the quarterback position, and it looks like the Falcons will have to deal with it for a long time. These young and athletically-gifted quarterbacks have grabbed all the attention in the NFL this season, and the Falcons will have to start building now to stop them. How all of these young guns ended up in the NFC is just the way the hand was dealt, so the AFC may be off the hook for now. For the Falcons, it is almost a certainty they will be facing one of these new prototypes under center on their future paths to the Super Bowl.
YOUNG GUNS …
Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are all in the NFC and have shown the ability to lead a franchise early in their careers. The Falcons were 3-2 this year against this quartet, but it does not take an NFL expert to notice that these guys were improving with each game and will be back with a vengeance to continue disrupting the NFL’s hierarchy of big-name quarterbacks. When Atlanta played Washington early in the season, RGIII was 10-for-15 passing with the Redskins holding a lead before the Falcons’ Sean Weatherspoon sidelined him with a concussion. As for the other four matchups with the young quarterbacks, there was rarely an answer to stop them.
Newton, Wilson and Kaepernick, whether it was on the ground or in the air, found the end zone against Atlanta to the tune of 10 total touchdowns in the four games with just one interception. The sole interception was Wilson’s hail mary caught by Julio Jones on the final play of the divisional playoff game. The running ability of the quarterbacks led to 283 rushing yards on only 27 carries (10.48 per carry) and out of those four games, the new quarterbacks posted an average 116.6 passer rating.
Disrupting a young quarterback should not seem impossible, but in the NFC Championship, Kaepernick was not phased and picked apart Atlanta’s defense while standing strong in the pocket. When the Falcons blitzed, Kaepernick was 9-for-11 for 129 yards and a touchdown. The defense was forced to play zone to make sure the quarterbacks would not keep the ball and run free, and without an effective pass rush, it was a game of pitch and catch.
SECRET SOLUTION …
A good defensive line is the most important group for an NFL defense, and especially important when offenses are running the zone read like these young quarterbacks seemingly have mastered. Falcons defensive end John Abraham had an ankle injury to give him the benefit of the doubt on a quiet postseason, but players such as defensive end Kroy Biermann struggled to establish themselves in the postseason. Biermann finished the postseason with just three tackles in the two games against Wilson and Kaepernick.
Mike Nolan did a great job this season taking his personnel and coordinating a defense that shut out Eli Manning, forced Drew Brees into his first five-interception game and forced Peyton Manning into three interceptions in the first quarter of the Monday Night matchup.
The good news for the Falcons is the roster boasts enough talent elsewhere to be a great team. Atlanta seems to just be missing a pass rusher opposite Abraham as the final piece to the Super Bowl puzzle.