Offseason optimism for Falcons

Atlanta Falcons/Jay Adams

After a 2011 campaign that saw the Falcons post a 10-6 record and once again return to the playoffs, the team continues to make adjustments in order to get over the figurative hump and make a deeper run next season. Tweaks to the roster were necessary after the Falcons were unceremoniously defeated in the playoffs by the eventual champions, the New York Giants.

Major coaching changes were among the first moves made during this offseason as former offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, accepted the head coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ironically, the Falcons hired Dirk Koetter, who served as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator since 2007, to replace Mularkey. To go along with a new offensive guru, the Falcons also had to replace defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who took the same position with Auburn. The team went with a bigger name to guide the defense as former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan was hired just two days after Koetter’s arrival.


With plenty of explosive weapons on the offensive side of the ball, head coach Mike Smith and Koetter have been working diligently during OTAs in order to maximize the potential of the offense and quarterback Matt Ryan. Koetter’s main focus in his offensive schemes is the use of vertical passing game, which, with Pro Bowl-level receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, should improve Ryan’s ability to get these playmakers the ball more consistently.

White has remained one of the league’s best receivers, while Jones looks to improve on his impressive rookie season, when he led all rookies with eight touchdowns. Jones also shared 54 receptions and 959 yards, second among rookies in both categories to the Bengals’ A.J. Green. Although Koetter brings a new voice to go along with his offensive sets, major changes to the already potent offense will not be necessary.

“They’ve adjusted their schemes and terminology to what we were doing and fitting in,” center Todd McClure said. “It’s been an easy adjustment for us.”


On the defensive side of the ball, it was clear that after last season’s tough end that improvements would be needed. In particular, the secondary, which struggled to stop some of the game’s top wide outs, needed work. For just a seventh-round draft pick, the Falcons were able to upgrade the secondary by trading for four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel. Samuel brings a winning attitude to the team as he is a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots and, since 2006, Samuel has led the NFL with 38 interceptions.

Acquiring Samuel from Philadelphia to go along with cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes adds significant depth to the secondary and allows the Falcons flexibility to formulate defensive schemes that cater to each player’s strengths. Samuel recently stated where he wants to be positioned as he looks to become a prominent figure in Nolan’s system.

“I want to be on the left-side [of the ball],” Samuel told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is a right-handed league and I want to be where the ball is coming.”

With a desire to play mostly where the ball is, the team will expect Samuel to sustain his Pro Bowl-caliber play as the Falcons look to improve on their ability to shut down the league’s elite passing offenses.


In April’s draft, the Falcons were without a first-round pick due to the draft-day trade last season to acquire Jones. The team used all six of its picks to address other key needs. In Round 2, they selected center Peter Konz, out of Wisconsin, in order to provide offensive line stability and as a future replacement to veteran center McClure. Many believe the 14-year veteran is in the twilight of a solid Falcons career. In Round 3, another offensive lineman was taken as offensive tackle Lamar Holmes out of Southern Miss became the Falcons’ pick.

Holmes’ impressive physique, at 6-foot-6, 333 pounds, adds depth to the line and increased quarterback protection of Matt Ryan. After the release of Pro Bowler Ovie Mughelli, the role of fifth-round selection Bradie Ewing, a fullback out of Wisconsin, will likely be significant his rookie season. Ewing will be battling former Georgia Tech star Mike Cox for the starting fullback spot. Also in the fifth round, the Falcons began addressing defense, taking defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi out of Troy. The team hopes that Massaquoi will become an effective pass-rusher as he will learn under the tutelage of veteran defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards. Round 6 saw the Falcons add depth at safety, with Charles Mitchell out of Mississippi State. Mitchell started three seasons for the Bulldogs. The team’s final selection was another SEC-product as defensive tackle Travian Robertson was taken in the seventh round.

For the Falcons to return to the postseason for the third-straight season, they will face a brutal slate of games against some of the league’s best. There are few, if any, games that the Falcons can consider easier than others. The team will battle against AFC West foes early, traveling to Kansas City to start the season, welcoming Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos at the Georgia Dome for Monday Night Football in Week 2, then heading out west for a date with the Chargers in Week 3. As if that isn’t tough enough, the schedule also includes the NFC East, which will see the Falcons travel to Washington and Philadelphia to go along with home games against Dallas on Monday Night Football and the aforementioned Giants. The usual tough home-and-home divisional matchups against the Saints, Panthers, and Buccaneers are also on the schedule, and the team will also have to travel to Detroit to take on the explosive Lions, whom they knocked off at Ford Field last season.

With fresh faces and new voices guiding the team, there is reason for optimism in Atlanta once again. With Ryan under center, Michael Turner in the backfield and a receiving core of White, Jones and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, the offense should remain as explosive as ever. The acquisition of Samuel should spark the overall attitude of the defense as the team looks to shake off two straight disappointing finishes to the season.

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One Response to “Offseason optimism for Falcons”

  1. Krater
    June 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Good work man!!

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