Living in Atlanta and being a fervent listener to sports talk radio I have heard the opinions of many fans, as well as the hosts, with regard to how the Atlanta Falcons plan on taking the “next step” forward for the franchise. The opinions range from, “we need to get a better quarterback”, “get a better head coach”, and even “get a better general manager”. While these are the extreme opinions, they are still fan’s opinions. However, just like butt holes everyone has one and they all stink. Well with regards to the former and not the later this is my stinky opinion on what it will take for the Falcons to get that ever illusive first playoff win and even bring the championship home to Atlanta.
As a fan, I am sure you have heard that the League has changed. It has “evolved” into more of a passing league now with the rule changes and there is less emphasis on running the football. While this I believe to be true, I also believe that it is defense that wins championships. There are some that may argue you need a dominant defense to win a championship like the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 or the Tampa Buccaneers of 2003, I would have to disagree. When you look at the history of the Super Bowl the last dominant defense to win was the 2003 Buccaneers, as painful to say as it is. So you don’t need a “dominant” defense, but you do need a defense that can make the stop when they have their opponent in 3rd and 15, something the Falcons have not able to do all last couple of years. That’s easy enough to say but how do the Falcons get better on defense.
The Falcons made the first step with hiring new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. When a team reaches their full potential behind a coordinator or coach allot of times the results are usually shown on the field with lack of productivity on either side of the ball. In the Falcons case it was shown on both sides of the ball and it was a clear indication that a change was needed. Now comes the tricky part. Now does the team move from the 4-3 defense they have been used to for so long or do they make the move to the 3-4 defense? Or should we spend more money on a big name sack machine to get things rolling along? Well, I would say let’s do none of the above. Yep, I said let’s do none of that, and I can hear Falcon fans beginning to grumble. How about we take a completely different approach and actually create a scheme that fits the pieces we already have in place just to throw everyone off. Look, the NFL is a copy cat league and there is nothing new under the sun especially in football, and I have never bought into the whole you MUST run either the 3-4 defense or the 4-3 defense. Why be like everyone else in the league, how about creating a defense that fits the players you already have in place, let’s be creative. The Atlanta Falcons do not have the luxury to throw away money and players so they can fit “perfectly” into the 4-3 or the 3-4. If they want to win and win now, become creative and I guarantee that first playoff win because I am that confident with the players and the talent level they have on the team. My second key to success for the Falcons, keep Matt Ryan on his feet and off his butt.
In Atlanta the criticism of Matt Ryan is over the top. The guy has only gotten better every season since being drafted by the Falcons. This is evident by his passer rating over his career as well as his command of the game on the field. What the stats also tell us is that his protection has gotten worse. Ryan was sacked a total of 28 times the last 2 seasons and I am sure he was hurried more times than sacked. The Falcons have taken several steps this off season to keep Ryan upright. The first and most obvious is hiring Dirk Koetter as the new offensive coordinator. The second and as equally important was the hire of Pat Hill as the new offensive line coach. Now, the other question on offense has been talent. Does Atlanta have the necessary talent to be able to keep Ryan off the turf, much less win a playoff game? I believe with a fresh set of eyes in Coach Hill that the Falcons will become better on the offensive line. On offense as on defense scheme is everything. The only way to create the best scheme is to play to the strength of your players. One thing that tipped me off to Hill getting the most out of his players was the resigning of “the president” tackle Andrew Jackson. Jackson played for Hill at Fresno State where he was a captain on offense. I believe Hill will get the most out of his players and I do believe the offensive line will make strides this season and end up surprising allot of doubters.
I know neither one of my keys to success for the Atlanta Falcons will come as a surprise to most fans, but I believe most will be shocked by my philosophy. In football more than any other sport having the best scheme for your team is the key to success. And unfortunately the Atlanta Falcons do not have the luxury to buy the right players to fit what a coaching staff wants to do. This coaching staff will have to play with the cards they have been dealt. Why not throw a Joker in the deck and keep teams guessing. Besides, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.