2014 ATLANTA FALCONS FOOTBALL PREVIEW
July 2, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
2014 ATLANTA FALCONS FOOTBALL PREVIEW
HEAD COACH: MIKE SMITH
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: DIRK KOETTER
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: MIKE NOLAN
OFFENSE PPG: 22.1
TOTAL OFFENSE: 343.1
DEFENSE PPG: 27.7
TOTAL DEFENSE: 379.4
TURNOVER +/-: -7
If the Atlanta Falcons were going to win a Super Bowl they should have done it in 2010 or 2012. We kept picking them to win the championship and every time they let us down. Now there isn’t enough talent left to get the job done. They do have QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones but after that the talent just isn’t there.
Injuries didn’t help the Falcons in 2013 especially to Jones. He was leading the NFL in receptions when he went down in week 5 and they never recovered going 4-12. The good news for the Falcons is they battled last season losing 7 games by a touchdown or less and they cleaned house on the offensive and defensive lines. Atlanta hired a new GM in former KC GM Scott Pioli to get this ship turned around.
Atlanta still has one of the elite QB’s in the NFL in Matt Ryan. Ryan was hurt by Atlanta’s line allowing 44 sacks in 2013. Ryan also posted a career-high 17 interceptions while throwing 426 touchdowns. Atlanta’s line was one of the worst in the NFL so be drafted Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M with their first selection. Chances are Matthews will start immediately at right tackle but eventually may see time at left tackle. The Falcons also added guard Jon Asamoah (Kansas City) and guard Gabe Carimi (Tampa Bay) to help solidify things up front. Sam Baker will return as the left tackle at least for now. Center Peter Konz is back and tackle Mike Johnson is expected to return after suffering a season ending injury last year.
Julio Jones wasn’t the only significant injury last year as wide receiver Roddy White suffered a high ankle sprain and running back Steven Jackson had multiple injuries and finished with his worst yards per carry average in his career at 3.5. All are expected to be back and healthy entering training camp. One of the biggest losses will come it tight end with the retirement of Tony Gonzalez. In his final season, Gonzalez hauled in 83 passes for 859 yards and eight touchdowns. Joining Jones and White as the number three receiver will be Harry Douglas who had a career-high 85 receptions for 1067 yards. The running game was the worst in the NFL averaging only 77.9 yards per game. The Falcons will count on a healthy Steven Jackson along with Jacquizz Rodgers, Roosevelt Nix and Patrick DiMarco to upgrade the running attack. The Falcons also drafted Florida State running back Devonta Freeman with their fourth-round selection.
Atlanta’s defense is apparently moving to a 3-4 alignment. Coordinator Mike Nolan has built this defense with personnel more fitting for a 3-4 scheme. Signing defensive tackle Paul Soliai (Miami) as a free agent as well as defensive end Tyson Jackson (Kansas City) will give Atlanta more depth in their front seven. Several rookies will get a chance to play right away for the Falcons including defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman, outside linebacker Prince Shembo, inside linebacker Marquis Spruill, free safety Dezmen Southward and inside linebacker Yawin Smallwood. The Falcons also have linebacker Kroy Biermann returning from a season ending torn Achilles. Also in the mix will be veteran pass rusher Osi Umenyiora, LB Sean Weatherspoon, defensive end Jonathan Babineaux and tackle Corey Peters who is returning from an Achilles injury in 2013. Atlanta’s secondary managed only 10 interceptions in 2013 good enough for 29th in the NFL. Atlanta’s secondary will consist of Dwight Lowery, William Moore, Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. The backups will include Robert McClain, Josh Wilson and Zeek Motta.
Age has apparently caught up with his football team and it will be tough to compete in this division trying to catch quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Cam Newton. If both lines of scrimmage aren’t better this year don’t expect Atlanta to make the playoffs let alone think about a Super Bowl bid.
Here are the Falcons' 2014 NFL Draft results.
We're going to give early grades, get your grades and much, much more in the days and weeks ahead as we learn more about this draft class and how each player within it will fit in Atlanta. Because a few of you have asked, I wanted to share a few initial thoughts.
The weakness of this class is that it does not prominently feature a ready edge rusher. Prince Shembo might be useful in that capacity down the line, but the Falcons spent an entire offseason shopping for upgrades that didn't come. If Jonathan Massaquoi takes a big step forward and the Falcons properly harness the rest of their rotation, they could surprise other teams, but this won't be anything close to an elite pass rush once again.
At the same time, though, the Falcons made some important picks here, and for once they didn't let character concerns or the desire for polished players dictate their draft strategy. Hageman has a chance to be a truly dominant interior pass rusher and 3-4 end, Southward has all the tools to be an above average starting safety and Shembo, Allen and Spruill all have legitimate upside. Smallwood and Starr are late-round picks to try to shore up a group of linebackers that frankly needs the help, joining Spruill and Shembo as options for a linebacking corps that will need some re-tooling in the Falcons' 3-4 sets. Starr and Shembo will likely stay outside, while Spruill and Smallwood move inside.
Freeman gives them a potential lead back in a committee down the line, while Matthews gives them a potential top five left tackle for many years to come. It's a high-variance class, which means it could get Thomas Dimitroff fired a couple of years down the line or prove to be more successful than the most optimistic among us currently are inclined to think.
Me? Aside from the glaring and disappointing lack of an edge rusher, I thought the Falcons stuck to their stated offseason goals, and I think it was overdue. This team is bigger and tougher along the lines of scrimmage than it was a year ago and has added pieces to a disappointing defense with an eye on remaking the unit. Whether that translates into more wins is an open question we'll have to wait to answer, but it's a step in a direction I hope will be productive. That and the 3-4 sets the Falcons are running more often, gosh it. Couple that with the improvements they've made to the right side of the line and it's easier to see a bounceback year, even if's unlikely they'll be legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2014.
Your thoughts? Thanks, as always, for being Falcoholics, and stay tuned for a lot more content in the days ahead.
SCHEDULE: A CLOSER LOOK
The National Football League today released the 2014 regular season schedule. This year, Atlanta’s schedule includes two nationally televised games, including an appearance on Thursday Night Football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 3) and a Monday Night matchup at Green Bay (Week 14). Along with a pair of primetime games, Atlanta will also host the Detroit Lions at Wembley Stadium (Week 13) in London, England.
In 2014, the Falcons will face their customary NFC South rivals, Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay both at home and on the road. Atlanta will also battle the NFC North in intra-conference play as well as the AFC North in inter-conference play. The Birds will travel to New York to face the NFC East’s New York Giants and host the Arizona Cardinals.
Atlanta’s 2014 opponents posted a combined 103-103-2 (.500) record last season and since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, the Falcons are 34-38 (.472) against the NFC South. Under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have posted a 60-36 (.625) overall record, which is tied for the sixth-best record in the NFL over the last six seasons. Since 2008, Atlanta owns a 33-24 (.579) record against its 2014 opponents.
The Falcons will face four playoff teams from 2013, including two games against both Carolina (Week 11 & Week 17) and New Orleans (Week 1 & Week 16). The Falcons will also travel to Green Bay (Week 14) and Cincinnati (Week 2).
The Falcons play two teams featuring first time head coaches, Cleveland (Week 12) under new coach Mike Pettine and Minnesota (Week 4) under first-time head coach Mike Zimmer. Smith has compiled a 12-1 record against first-time head coaches in his six seasons in Atlanta.
The Falcons open the season at home for the first time since 2009 when they host the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. Atlanta owns a 46-43 advantage in the all-time series against the Saints, including a 24-20 record at home. The two rival clubs played on Thursday Night Football at the Georgia Dome in each of the last two seasons, including a 17-13 Saints win last season. RB Steven Jackson scored his first rushing touchdown as a Falcon in the loss while K Matt Bryant became the third player in franchise history to record 500 points. Bryant joined Morten Andersen (806) and Mick Luckhurst (558) as the only players in club history to accomplish that feat.
Atlanta travels to Cincinnati for the first time since 2006 in Week 2. The trip marks the 13th meeting between the Falcons and Bengals and the first since a 39-32 Falcons win at the Georgia Dome in 2010. Cincinnati leads the all-time series 7-5, but Atlanta has won each of the last three matchups. The last time the two teams met, WR Roddy White posted one of the best games of his career, catching 11 passes for 201 yards with two touchdowns.
The Falcons make their first primetime appearance in Week 3, hosting a division contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons topped the Bucs 31-23 at the Georgia Dome snapping a three-game losing streak in 2013. The Falcons improved to 5-1 following the bye week under Head Coach Mike Smith with the win. QB Matt Ryan finished the game completing 20 of 26 passes for 273 with three touchdowns and a career-high 148.4 passer rating. He has led the Falcons to an 18-1 record when he throws three-or-more touchdown passes. The win also marked a breakout game for WR Harry Douglas as he caught seven passes for a career-high 149 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown strike.
Atlanta’s Week 4 trip to Minnesota will be the club’s first since 2008. With the Vikings new stadium under construction, the two teams will square off at TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Falcons have won each of their last two games against the Vikings, including a 24-14 victory at the Georgia Dome in 2011. Ryan completed 27 of 34 passes for 262 yards with three touchdowns and a 128.2 passer rating, while White caught 10 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown. Atlanta’s defense stopped the Vikings on four straight plays, including a fourth down stop by LB Sean Weatherspoon to seal the win in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons play back-to-back road games twice in 2014, beginning with a Week 5 trip to MetLife Stadium to face the New York Giants. Atlanta owns an 11-10 advantage in the all-time series between the two clubs, including a 34-0 win over New York at the Georgia Dome in 2012. Ryan tossed three touchdowns in the win while completing 82.1 percent of his passes (23 of 28) and notched a 142.6 passer rating in the win.
Atlanta returns to the Georgia Dome in Week 6 to host the Chicago Bears. The matchup marks the 26th meeting between the two NFC clubs and the first since 2011. The Bears own a 13-12 advantage in the all-time series, including a 30-12 win over the Falcons in the 2011 season opener at Soldier Field. DE Kroy Biermann scored his third career touchdown when he intercepted a QB Jay Cutler pass and returned it 50 yards for a score. Additionally, the matchup with the Bears will mark the first time newly minted Falcons WR Devin Hester will face off against his old team. Hester appeared in 123 games, including 46 starts in eight seasons in Chicago where he tied the NFL record for return touchdowns (19).
The Falcons and Ravens will meet for the fifth time when the Falcons travel to Baltimore in Week 7. The two teams have split the all-time series at two games each with the Falcons winning the last meeting 26-21 in 2010. Trailing 21-20, the Falcons drove 80 yards on seven plays in the final 65 seconds of the game with Ryan finding White for a 33-yard touchdown to snatch the win. The Birds have only played one regular season game at M&T Bank Stadium, a 24-10 loss to the Ravens in 2006.
The Falcons will host the Detroit Lions at Wembley Stadium in London, England on Sunday, October 26 during Week 8 as part of the NFL’s 2014 International Series. Atlanta’s trip to the UK will mark the first time in the club’s 47-year history that it has played in London. The Falcons played a pre-season game in Tokyo, Japan in 2000 and 2005, defeating the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, at the Tokyo Dome. The Lions own a 23-12 advantage in the all-time series between the two clubs, but the Falcons have won each of the last three meetings dating back to 2008. Atlanta picked up a 31-18 win at Ford Field in 2012 and Head Coach Mike Smith picked up his first career win in his coaching debut against the Lions in the 2008 season opener at the Georgia Dome.
Following a Week 9 bye, the Falcons head south to Tampa Bay to battle the division rival Buccaneers in Week 10. Atlanta has won two of its last three games at Raymond James Stadium, with the Buccaneers capturing a 41-28 win in Tampa in 2013. WR Harry Douglas posted his third 100-yard game of the season after catching six passes for 134 yards, including a career-long 80-yard touchdown pass. LB Paul Worrilow continued his breakout rookie campaign notching 16 tackles (13 solo) with one tackle for loss giving him three straight games with double digit stops.
Atlanta heads up interstate 85 to Charlotte to battle the Carolina Panthers in Week 11 marking the Birds second straight division game. The Falcons and Panthers will meet for the 20th time at Bank of America Stadium with Carolina holding a 10-9 lead in the all-time series. Despite a 34-10 loss in Charlotte in 2013, Ryan broke QB Steve Bartkowski’s franchise record for career completions with his 1,872nd career completion on a 32-yard pass to WR Harry Douglas.
After back-to-back road games, Atlanta returns to the Georgia Dome in Week 12 to host Cleveland for the first time since 2006. The Browns own a 10-3 advantage in the all-time series with the Falcons winning the last meeting between the two clubs, 20-10, in 2010. Biermann scored his second career touchdown after returning an interception 31 yards for a score to give the Falcons their 10-point winning margin while White caught five passes for 101 yards with one touchdown in the victory.
In their only back-to-back home contests, the Falcons square off against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13, marking the fourth time in the last five seasons the two clubs will meet. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 15-12, but the Falcons have won six of the last nine meetings, including a 23-19 win at the Georgia Dome in 2012. Despite throwing five interceptions, Ryan led the Falcons offense on a seven-play, 70-yard drive to set up the game winning touchdown.
A Monday Night Football matchup in Week 14 has the Falcons traveling to Lambeau Field for the second straight season to battle the Green Bay Packers. The Packers prevailed, 22-21, in a tightly contested matchup last season that saw LB Sean Weatherspoon score his first career touchdown, returning an interception 71 yards inside the final two minutes of the first half. He intercepted a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by DT Peria Jerry and then careened off of Worrilow’s foot and into Weatherspoon’s waiting arms. WR Drew Davis posted the longest reception of his career catching a 36-yard touchdown from Ryan. With that score, Ryan eclipsed the 20 touchdown mark for the fifth straight season.
Atlanta hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since 2006 in Week 15. Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 12-2-1 and the two teams last met in the 2010 season opener when the Steelers captured a 15-9 win in overtime. White set a career high, catching 13 passes for 111 yards. White has hauled in double digit receptions 11 times during his nine-year career. Under Head Coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have posted a 3-1 record against the AFC North.
The Falcons travel to New Orleans to battle their NFC South Division rival Saints in Week 16. New Orleans owns a 23-22 edge over Atlanta in New Orleans, including a 20-17 advantage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints handed the Falcons a 23-17 season-opening loss at the Superdome in 2013. Trailing by six with 3:12 remaining in the game, Ryan drove the offense 77 yards on 10 plays, but his bid for another fourth-quarter comeback win fell short after his fourth-down pass was intercepted in the endzone. He tossed a pair of touchdowns while completing 25 of 38 pass attempts for 304 yards and a 96.8 QB rating in the loss.
For the second straight year, the Falcons will host the Carolina Panthers in the season finale. Atlanta has tackled a division opponent in the final week of the season in each of the last five years. The Falcons own a 23-15 all-time record against the Panthers, including a 14-5 mark at the Dome. The Falcons closed out the 2013 season with a 21-20 loss to the Panthers pushing Head Coach Mike Smith’s record against Carolina to 7-5 dating back to 2008. Ryan became the Falcons all-time leading passer in the 2013 season finale after completing 28 of 40 passes for 280 yards. He broke Bartkowski’s club record 23,470 yards and enters the 2014 season with 23,472 career passing yards.