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Preseason Power Rankings No. 12: Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan AP

The season hasn’t started, but the Falcons know the postseason will be a legacy building time for many of their key parts.

Atlanta hadn’t even posted winning records in back-to-back seasons when general manager Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan arrived in 2008.

Now, they’ve done it four straight times, with 43 wins and three playoff berths. Only the Patriots, Saints, Steelers and Ravens have won more regular season games over that span, which you’d think puts them in good company.

The only thing the Falcons lack is a playoff win, and that haunts and motivates them going into this season. If they can push through that barrier, this is a team that might be built for the long haul. But if they don’t do it soon, there are a few veterans who might not be around for the next push.

Strengths.

In a tough division that’s suddenly gone pass-happy, the Falcons can match skill position players on offense and defensive backs with anyone.

Matt Ryan’s a smart, polished quarterback, and only his lack of a playoff win mars an otherwise sharp resume. If they could protect him a little better, he’d probably get even better.

Wide receiver Roddy White’s still got game-breaking ability, and partner Julio Jones is on the verge of justifying the massive trade they made to acquire him in last year’s draft.

Coupled with tight end Tony Gonzalez (back for one more year trying to break his own winless-in-the-postseason streak) and running back Michael Turner (at least in the early part of the season before he tapers off), the Falcons can match fantasy draft picks with anyone.

They’ve also assembled a dream team of cornerbacks, trading for Asante Samuel to pair with franchise player Brent Grimes and 2010 free agent splurge Dunta Robinson.

Robinson will slide inside this year, giving them a solid nickel which they’ve lacked while leaving name-brand talent outside. That will allow them to match up well with the Saints when they try to spread the field.

Weaknesses.

The Falcons offensive line, for lack of a better word, is just a mess.

Former first-round pick Sam Baker has battled injuries and ineffectiveness, and was so bad last year they tried him inside at guard to see if they could get something out of him. They’re going to give him a chance to reclaim his job from backup Will Svitek, and if he doesn’t, it’s going to he hard to fix things. The right guard spot is equally unsettled. Garrett Reynolds couldn’t hold the job last year, and guys such as free Vince Manuwai and second-round pick Peter Konz will get a chance there, though Konz is the long-term replacement for Todd McClure in the middle.

They used their top two picks here (they lacked a first-rounder from the Julio Jones trade last year), and Konz and third-round tackle Lamar Holmes are pieces to build around even if neither ends up starting this year.

Fixing a bad group is the job of new position coach Pat Hill, and he’s got his work cut out for him.

Changes.

For a team that has created a sense of stability under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are changing both coordinators, and that could shape the way the team approaches things significantly.

With Mike Mularkey gone to Jacksonville as head coach, quarterback Matt Ryan’s safety blanket is gone. In his stead, new coordinator Dirk Koetter wants to move the ball downfield more, challenging Ryan and perhaps taking better advantage of his talented wideouts.

On defense, Mike Nolan’s new, replacing Brian Van Gorder (who took one of the best mustaches in the NFL back to Auburn). Nolan’s going to try to implement a hybrid 3-4 style, and find multiple pass-rush options besides steady veteran defensive end John Abraham. It sure would be nice if they’d get anything out of defensive end Ray Edwards, who responded to a five-year, $30 million contract with 3.5 sacks last year.

Having depth in the secondary (and signing veteran safety Chris Hope late in free agency shouldn’t be overlooked) will allow Nolan to take more chances on the front side, and they have some intriguing personnel up front such as utility defensive lineman Kroy Biermann and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux to make it interesting to see how it develops.

Camp battles.

The most interesting will be at middle linebacker, where former All-Pro Lofa Tatupu is back after a year on the shelf, battling with 2011 third-rounder Akeem Dent.

One of them is going to have to replace the production of Curtis Lofton, who left for New Orleans in free agency, the only significant loss for the team this offseason.

Dent’s a young and active player they like, who was very good on special teams last year and they think he deserves a bigger role.

But Tatupu would be an upgrade, if he’s well and playing like the Tatupu that went to Pro Bowls with the Seahawks. The 29-year-old was a smart and instinctive player then, and it will be interesting to see if he’s able to stay on the field long enough to make it a competition.

Prospects.

With the problems in New Orleans, the Falcons have a shot to stake their claim to the NFC South. That’s always a tough road, as the division teams have taken turns excelling. The Saints will be a tough out despite lacking a coach, and the Panthers are clearly on the rise.

But grading the Falcons on what happens the first 16 games is almost moot. We know they can play well September through December.

Until they can push through with a January win, there will be questions about Smith and Ryan in particular.

This is the year to do it, as players such as Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner and John Abraham are at or near their functional end, and because of the aggressive moves they’ve made such as draft-day trades, the roster skews old.

If Sam Baker can play again in a contract year, and the line settles itself, it’s the kind of team you can see making a run. But if the pieces don’t fall into place on both lines, the Falcons could again the watching someone else make the postseason push.

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23 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 12: Atlanta Falcons”
  1. shackdelrio says: Jul 19, 2012 9:11 AM

    Every year, there is a playoff team that slips back. I think this year it will be the Falcons.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Smith’s last year and Blank goes after a big name coach like Cowher.

  2. mdd913 says: Jul 19, 2012 9:42 AM

    I can’t recall the last time the Falcons had even a halfway decent offensive line. And Ryan is overrated. This team is a paper tiger every single year.

  3. Buttsnake says: Jul 19, 2012 9:51 AM

    I really don’t see the Falcons winning more than 7 games. Their time has come and gone

  4. SeenThisB4 says: Jul 19, 2012 9:52 AM

    #12 is too high for this team, they should have been at or below #17.
    The logic for their prospects is flawed, if they truely believe they have a shot at the division championship, then why is there still one team in the division not yet profiled?

  5. medtxpack says: Jul 19, 2012 10:01 AM

    I dont get how this team is better than the Lions right now.

  6. jkjdawg1 says: Jul 19, 2012 10:03 AM

    as a long-time Falcons fan, i think this is a pretty great analysis. Going to the playoffs for a fourth time and ending up 0-4, is just not acceptable. Mike Smith clearly has raised the bar for a perpetually losing franchise though, where fan hopes have gone from more wins than losses, to getting a playoff win. that’s pretty huge in my opinion, after enduring many years of 3 to 7 win seasons. i really hope they do it this year, even just one playoff win, if only so Matt Ryan can finally get the praise he deserves as one of the best Falcon QB’s of all-time.

  7. jacobslatter says: Jul 19, 2012 10:06 AM

    Mike Smith isn’t going anywhere, he re-upped a while ago and will be given leeway this year with 2 new coordinators.

    Also to add to the above piece is that Dirk Koetter has added a screen game, Matt Ryan only gained @ 61 yards on screen passes last year, it was a one-liner topic a few weeks ago. The O-line really missed Harvey Dahl the RG who went to the Rams but Vince Manuwai or Peter Konz should do a bang up job. The defensive line though does need more than a pass rush than John Abraham, but the Ray Edwards 3.5 sacks is a lot better than former DE Jamaal Anderson, so all things are relative.

  8. chuckyd317 says: Jul 19, 2012 10:10 AM

    Regular season pre ranking.. 12…
    Post Season pre ranking.. 32…

    The Notre Dame of the NFL.. fans always think its their year only to be disappointed late in the season…

  9. flaccotoboldin says: Jul 19, 2012 10:11 AM

    How does the weaknesses not mention that Matt Ryan is, essentially, a choker who wilts under the pressure 3 years straight?

  10. ramofsteel says: Jul 19, 2012 10:22 AM

    I personally think this team can get to the Super Bowl. A guy to watch is Jacquizz Rodgers. Samuel, Grimes, Robinson has the best CBs in the division, Kroy Bierrman, Abraham, and Edwards a good trio of DEs, and Sean Weatherspoon is a beast.

  11. drobstad says: Jul 19, 2012 10:27 AM

    I don’t like Mike Smith because I question his ability to make solid in-game decisions but I think people in this comment section are jumping the gun damning the falcons all ready. They are in a very winnable division this season more than ever & Julio Jones is looking like he could be a break out star. You have to figure Roddie White will feel like he has something to prove and Tony Gonzalez shows no signs of slowing down in the passing game. Not saying they are going to win the super bowl or anything but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win that division this year.

  12. falcnfan says: Jul 19, 2012 10:46 AM

    They have to get it done this year, i realize they’ve been beat by the superbowl champs these past few years but thats no excuse. There’s no doubt they have the talent but they have to be able to execute. I think Matty Ice needs a new name bc its making him cold in the Playoffs, and thats coming from a long time Falcon Fan..Get it done MATT!

  13. hardh3ad says: Jul 19, 2012 10:50 AM

    “I dont get how this team is better than the Lions right now”

    Lol well lets see…ur qb drops back and throws jump balls to Calvin and people feel that makes him a great qb? Lol! This team played your lions last year in your house and won w/o Julio jones.W/o their starting fullback blocking for turner. W/o 3 starting lineman vs suh, Avril, and the others, and with Matt Ryan getting hurt in the game.

    Yet you question how their better? Lol!

     

  14. wludford says: Jul 19, 2012 11:31 AM

    Falcons should battle with the Bucs for the division. I like the Bucs to win it, though. Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina could all finish a close second.

  15. raideralex99 says: Jul 19, 2012 11:48 AM

    When these power rating are done … do they check the schedule?
    Atlanta has an easy schedule … only 4 Quality opponents (9+ wins) … as long as Smith does not make bone head decsions it should be an easy 10+ wins season for the Falcons.

  16. medtxpack says: Jul 19, 2012 12:29 PM

    @hardh3ad says:

    settle down on the lol’s bro….not my team.
    i was coming from the standpoint of for a preseason ranking going into this year, i would have the Lions ahead of the Falcons. …lol…

  17. mannyicey says: Jul 19, 2012 12:45 PM

    As a Falcons fan since 1990, I have always thought that Matt Ryan was a little above average prospect that became a little above average NFL quarterback.

    But this year is a make-or-break year for the Falcons. Making the playoffs shouldn’t be that hard this year because the team is good enough to beat enough teams to make it, but the last time the Falcons won a playoff game, Mike Vick was halfway playing around while making sure his dogfighting enterprise was making a profit.

    But they won playoff games with him. And a bad, undersized line. And older WRs. And with an offensive scheme so bad that the opposing defenses used to call out the plays to Vick and the line. And Vick not studying the playbook so much that the playbook never left the backseat of his car!

    So with all the Falcons have now, if we don’t win one playoff game, Arthur Blank needs to blow the team up.

  18. trefkennedy says: Jul 19, 2012 12:48 PM

    I don’t get how they can’t win a playoff game yet everyone won’t speak it, but somehow everyone rides Team Cowboys for our playoffs struggle

  19. londonfletcher says: Jul 19, 2012 12:55 PM

    I’m not a fan of either team by any means, but how are they ranked above the Lions?

  20. ebrownwareagle says: Jul 19, 2012 1:23 PM

    Every team that has beaten the Falcons in the playoffs have went to the Super Bowl. And 2 of the teams won ie. Green Bay NY. A loss is still a loss however, if I did or do loose in the playoffs it is to a Super Bowl team. So I guess you can say road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes thru ATL!

  21. ahostiletakeover says: Jul 19, 2012 2:43 PM

    Offense should be better but if I were a Falcon fan I would be a bit worried about the defensive transition. It is way too late in his career to start asking John Abraham to stand up and occassionally cover a back or tight end as a “hybrid” type OLB-DE that the 3-4 defense thrives on. Edwards has never been a 5 technique DE either on the other side, both guys are used to having two big pluggers in the middle beside them, something that is a rare look in a 3-4. I think Nolan is a solid coordinator, but does he have the right personnel for this scheme?

  22. phreakin says: Jul 19, 2012 2:57 PM

    As someone who watch Koetter DESTROY ASU, good luck on thinking he will do anyone in the NFL good. he hasn’t for some time.

  23. dirtybirds233 says: Jul 20, 2012 11:52 PM

    Uh here’s one for the doubters…we have 11/12 starters from last year, added Asante Samuel and Lofa Tatupu, and added a great coordinator in Mike Nolan….oh yeah and those 11/12 starters returning, have never had a losing season. Keep on hating.

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