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Preseason Power Rankings No. 14: Atlanta Falcons

Mike Smith AP

It looked like the Falcons had finally broken through.

But then last season when a few players were broken, some deeper cracks were revealed.

After turning consistent regular season success (56 wins from 2008-12) into their first playoff win under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons fell apart dramatically last year.

The injuries to star wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White were the most evident, but the Falcons were also deeply flawed along both lines, and it began to show.

But this offseason, they have aggressively (how else) pursued a fix to the problems that doctors couldn’t work on.

They used the first hours of free agency to add heft to both lines, setting the stage for a shift to more of a 3-4 defense and the possibility of more of a run game.

Strengths.

Even with the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons ought to be able to score points with anyone.

Once Jones and White are back (they’re crossing their fingers on Jones being ready soon), Ryan should again be able to play pitch-and-catch with anyone in the league.

Fixing the offensive line will help, since it was the biggest problem last year other than injuries. They averaged a measly 77.9 rushing yards per game (last in the league) while allowing 44 sacks.

So the early spend on free agent guard Jon Asamoah and using their first-rounder on tackle Jake Matthews was an immediate upgrade for a line that needed toughness as much as bodies. They’ve installed those two on the right side, and hope that left tackle Sam Baker comes back a different player after knee surgery.

If nothing else, it should give running back Stephen Jackson a chance to look like himself again. The longtime Rams star saw his streak of eight straight 1,000-yard seasons snapped, and they brought in Devonta Freeman in the draft to add some between-the-tackles running depth (which they’ve lacked).

Weaknesses.

The Falcons haven’t completely escaped the injury bug, and suffered a huge blow when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon suffered a torn Achilles tendon in an offseason workout. That will push last year’s replacements and some rookies into more prominent roles.

Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu did yeoman’s work last year, and they’ll be pushed for playing time by a few rookies.

Fourth-rounder Prince Shembo looks like a player they can build around as well, but this is a group still in need of help, which might keep coming once cuts happen elsewhere.

Changes.

The problems with the linebacking corps could be helped by the fact some of their linemen might be standing up more often.

While the Falcons have been reluctant to talk about it, this offseason’s additions made it clear they’re looking at more of a 3-4 look.

Early free agency pickups Paul Soliai (a traditional nose tackle) and Tyson Jackson (a five-technique defensive end), are traditional 3-4 fits, and the price tags don’t indicate they were brought in to be role players.

They also drafted Ra’Shede Hageman in the second round with designs on using him at end, though they have a versatile group.

They brought back defensive tackles Corey Peters, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux this offseason, giving them some versatile options as coordinator Mike Nolan gets to play mix-and-match.

They needed to shake it up, as they couldn’t stop the run last year, next to last in the league at 135.8 yards per game allowed.

The changes will also be interesting as they pertain to veteran pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora, who had 7.5 sacks last year. They’ll give him a chance to do that again, but are casting a wide net for anyone to create pressure.

Camp Battles.

They’re still sorting out the center position, with Joe Hawley and Peter Konz competing there through the offseason.

Konz was given the first crack at replacing the retired Todd McClure a year ago, but it didn’t last the year, with Hawley taking over before the end of the year.

They appear inclined to give Konz, a former second-rounder, one more chance, though Hawley might have the edge.

The retirement of Gonzalez will change the way they line up, as there’s not a like-for-like replacement at the move tight end spot.

They’ll use veteran Bear Pascoe as a blocker, though they have hopes for second-year man Levine Toilolo as a red zone receving threat. But the reality is they’ll replace Gonalez’s production by committee.

Prospects.

The Falcons made the sort of moves teams make when they’re a bit desperate.

The free agency splash lasted about a day, and then they were forced to fine-tune with spare parts such as their trade for backup quarterback T.J. Yates (though return man Devin Hester may still have something left).

The Falcons are talented enough in the passing game to always have a chance, and the additions to both lines should help.

But with Weatherspoon’s injury and a revolving door in the middle of their defense and a division that only got better this offseason, it might be tough for them to reclaim their spot near the top of the NFC South.

It will be curious to see what that means for the future, as coach Mike Smith is entering his seventh season, with one playoff win to show for it.

That’s nearing the point when people start grumbling (he can ask his new division neighbor Lovie Smith about that), so it will be interesting to see if Smith’s seat ever gets warm over the course of the year.

They’ve done nothing but win games under his watch, but the lack of a big postseason payoff could make him less secure than he might initially appear.

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61 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 14: Atlanta Falcons”
  1. hartcarluncarlun says: Jul 16, 2014 9:06 AM

    Falcons have improved dramatically and will win the South this year. Panthers have no recievers, Tampa have no QB and the Saints will see just how important Sproles was to their offense. Atlanta at 100% could beat any team in the league.

  2. spicymudbugs says: Jul 16, 2014 9:09 AM

    6-10 at best and will again be Sean Payton’s b@tch.
    Could possibly finish at the bottom of the division

  3. hodous says: Jul 16, 2014 9:11 AM

    About right for a team that underachieved with a bunch of talent on offense that got bit by the injury bug, but they do have a systemic history of discipline issues on defense will keep them between 7 and 10 wins.

    Playoffs possible.

  4. computojon says: Jul 16, 2014 9:12 AM

    So the Falcons, who went 4-12 last year, are 6 spots higher than the Rams, who went 7-9 despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. But hey… let’s not let facts and logic affect our assessments.

  5. coot says: Jul 16, 2014 9:13 AM

    I’m a Falcons fan, and this report is pretty accurate.

    Until the defense steps up, and the O-line proves they can keep Matt Ryan clean, then they will just be an exciting 8 to 9 win team.

    However, no one wants to see Atlanta on their schedule.

    And please save the “Matty Melt” retardedness. Look at his playoff stats. He destroyed the Niners and Seahawks defense in 2012 playoffs. He can’t play DE, LB and CB.

  6. poetry4class says: Jul 16, 2014 9:15 AM

    Pleasantly surprised to see a media outlet rank the Falcons in the top half of the league. Anyone who thinks last year’s 4-12 season is a a sign of things to come has no idea what kind of offseason we had. The Falcons will be strong again next year. Count on it.

  7. waldoampere says: Jul 16, 2014 9:18 AM

    Too high unless everything breaks right for them.

  8. jetsmmt says: Jul 16, 2014 9:18 AM

    Falcons were my pick to go to the SB last year, that went well. Maybe this year they can put it all together and make a run.

  9. ctiggs says: Jul 16, 2014 9:19 AM

    Overrated Coach and Overrated QB. This team should be ranked just as high as Houston is Matty Natty Ice lol #Goniners #Nobodyhasitbetter #KapwillgetusSIX

  10. bassplucker says: Jul 16, 2014 9:22 AM

    Count me among those who think that last year’s debacle was just an aberration and that this team will bounce back well this year.

    Matt Ryan and the OL questions definitely put a ceiling on the Falcons’ potential, but there’s no reason to think they won’t be back to above .500 (at least) this year.

  11. thedownwardspiral says: Jul 16, 2014 9:26 AM

    Mike Smith 2-8 vs. Sean Payton

  12. tjacks7 says: Jul 16, 2014 9:31 AM

    Assuming they score 35+ points per game, I could see them winning 10 games. Otherwise, no chance they make the playoffs.

  13. hartcarluncarlun says: Jul 16, 2014 9:31 AM

    Crazy how you idiots talk about Ryan!!! Most hit Qb….Most pressured Qb…..Most sacked Qb….still completes 69% of his passes for almost 4600 yards with 27 Td’s. Yeah he’s nothing(sacastic)….SMH!

  14. johnnybuc says: Jul 16, 2014 9:32 AM

    If Jones goes down again, they’ll be lucky to reach .500. If he stays healthy, they may finish 9-7, 10-6 if they get as lucky as they have been the last 6 seasons (not including last seasons debacle). A defense that will be lucky to finish in the top 2o makes it difficult to do much better, but considering all the cap $$ they have tied up with the most overrated quarterback in the league, what more can one expect?

  15. ragnarthegreat says: Jul 16, 2014 9:33 AM

    This is too high. They have been inconsistent, strong one week, weak the next. No pass rush and mediocre QB play most of the time. They are not a bad team but until they consistently beat the teams they should and lose only to superior teams, they are not top echelon. I like Atlanta, and love their wideouts but they have a ways to go.

  16. moeman79 says: Jul 16, 2014 9:45 AM

    Some great skill players but much like the Lions the wealth is not spread evenly enough leaveing holes in to many areas. Maybe they evened them out enough in the off season time will tell.

  17. sportsfan18 says: Jul 16, 2014 9:46 AM

    Like all NFL teams, they have a fairly significant range they could finish in depending on injuries.

    Could they win 10 games? Yes.

    Could they only win 6 games. Yes.

    I see them being around .500 this yr and depending on good health, a few lucky breaks, they could finish at 9 & 7 or 10 & 6 and slide into the playoffs.

    The division will be won by the Saints though regardless.

  18. nflgiant says: Jul 16, 2014 9:49 AM

    9-7 at best…………6-10 at worst…….

  19. vaughnjoe says: Jul 16, 2014 9:49 AM

    Hahahaha your lists are becoming laughable.

  20. andrewluck12 says: Jul 16, 2014 9:51 AM

    Do you crackpots really think the browns are better than half the nfl!?

  21. robf2010 says: Jul 16, 2014 9:57 AM

    White and Jones are good players but the loss of Tony G is going to hurt their production. Tony was their first down maker. Their main problems are within the division, though. They were 1-5 in the division last year and 3-3 the year before when they finished 13-3.

  22. txbearmeat says: Jul 16, 2014 10:00 AM

    Unless Brees gets hurt the Saints will walk away with this division. The Falcons gave away too many picks for Jones (who is admittedly great) and their poor OL and DL play since 2010 have proven that out.

    They might go 8-8 because the Panthers were a one year wonder and Lovie couldn’t find a team that scores 20 points consistently if it hit him in the head. Bad division.

    Division Power Rankings:

    1. NFCW
    2. NFCN
    (BIG drop)
    3. AFCW
    4. AFCN
    5. NFCS
    6. AFCE
    8. NFCE

  23. southpaw2k says: Jul 16, 2014 10:04 AM

    I don’t see Atlanta being much better than they were last year. I expect New Orleans to still be a powerhouse, Carolina will be decent (though their wide receiver situation could be a major issue for them this season), and I see Tampa being the upstart team of 2014 to win the division outright. That leaves Atlanta on the bottom once again.

    Tough draw.

  24. flexx91 says: Jul 16, 2014 10:10 AM

    No where near close to winning the NFC South. The 3rd best team in that division at best. Still no pass rush, an unproven OL, inexperience at the LB position, loss of their HOF/Pro Bowl TE, and a worn out and washed up Steven Jackson. 8-8 at best.

  25. whodeybacker says: Jul 16, 2014 10:12 AM

    A little high imo

  26. heavyjumbo says: Jul 16, 2014 10:13 AM

    andrewluck12 says:
    Jul 16, 2014 9:51 AM

    Do you crackpots really think the browns are better than half the nfl!?
    ——————————————–
    They listed the Browns at 22, still too high, but you should always get your facts straight before shooting your mouth off.

  27. fballguy says: Jul 16, 2014 10:15 AM

    Come December, you’re going to look at where you ranked the Rams compared to some of these other teams and hang your head in shame.

  28. kane337 says: Jul 16, 2014 10:20 AM

    The Falcons will win the NFC South this year for sure.

  29. bhlobos says: Jul 16, 2014 10:22 AM

    A healthy WR corps is a strength, but I don’t know how you put the running game in that category. It was a HUGE weakness last year, and they’ve made some upgrades… so that should be listed as “potentially better”, not a strength… plus, with all those new bodies on the line, it might take 4-8 weeks before they come together as a unit.

  30. unbridledsexy says: Jul 16, 2014 10:25 AM

    Wait, so you’re telling me that a team as craptastic as the Falcons were last year are ranked higher on your list, in the top 15, then both the Chiefs and the Chargers who made the playoffs? *eye roll

  31. polo550 says: Jul 16, 2014 10:28 AM

    I’m not quite sure why people keep saying Ryan is a mediocre QB. The guy got sacked a ton last year because of a terrible O-line, both of his starting WRs were hurt and he had virtually no running game to speak of. He still threw for 4500 yds. I wish I got that from Flacco.

  32. northlandwi says: Jul 16, 2014 10:40 AM

    About right. Atlanta’s always been an average team. They will continue to be average. 14 is middle of the pack. Similar teams: Cowboys, Bears, Jets All win some and lose just as many kind of teams.

  33. jjackwagon says: Jul 16, 2014 10:44 AM

    Maybe better than the Chargers Steelers or Chiefs but not better than all three.

  34. psj3809 says: Jul 16, 2014 11:17 AM

    Think the biggest weakness is Steven Jackson. Yeah they had a lot of o-line issues but i think hes showing his age quite badly now, surprised they didnt trade for a young backup (like they did with Michael Turner). Cant see Jackson doing much

  35. largent80100 says: Jul 16, 2014 11:23 AM

    Too high, they look like an average team but closer to Giants/Jets than with teams that have yet to appear like the Bears.

    I like Ryan despite all the hating on him because of his lack of playoff success, he has been a starter since day one and hasn’t had a down year yet, everybody knows how good their weapons are, but Gonzo retired, Jones is coming back from a major injury but he could’ve had a record-breaking season last year and White is entering the final years of his career.

    Also like their draft picks, Matthews can avoid another season of Ryan being killed (last season he was the most pressured QB of the entire league), Hageman can improve the almost non-existent pass rush and Davonta Freeman address the running game woes.

    But their defense overall is still below-average and everybody knows how awful their depth is.

    Can be a wildcard team, Saints seem a lot stronger and on path to win the division, but they need at least 10 wins, probably more since Bears and Cardinals missed it in 2012 and 2013, respectively

    9-7 is my final bet.

  36. cassrangers says: Jul 16, 2014 11:27 AM

    I think this is a lil high for them…

  37. winningisabrees says: Jul 16, 2014 12:04 PM

    ATL will ALWAYS be Saints lil brother

  38. brokebackbrees says: Jul 16, 2014 12:09 PM

    Too high!! WR injuries aside, that entire team was a mess last year. Tampa/Saints/Panthers are all better than them. Enjoy the NFCS basement this year.

  39. mdd913 says: Jul 16, 2014 12:23 PM

    This is the definition of a 6-10 team.

  40. boisestatewhodat says: Jul 16, 2014 12:24 PM

    Falcons biggest weakness:

    The New Orleans Saints (AKA, Big Brutha)!

  41. sbc85 says: Jul 16, 2014 12:48 PM

    I am a Saints fan who hates the Falcons, but I would be kind of surprised if they didn’t rebound this season. I would also be shocked if they won the division. I do think losing Tony G. will hurt the offense more than people seem to be talking about – he was very productive and a security blanket for Ryan. A few years ago when they had a still-decent Turner, White, Jones and Gonzalez, the offense seemed pretty scary. Now, not so much. Jones is the one serious threat. White is going downhill, Jackson and Hester have probably seen their best days, and Gonzalez/Turner are done. Maybe their offensive line will be better. It will be interesting to see how they rank at the end of the season. I think as long as they go 8-8 or higher Mike Smith is still safe.

  42. northeastkiller says: Jul 16, 2014 12:57 PM

    Typical Falcon media drool on this way too high ranking. Matty Hype doesn’t deserve the consideration he gets from talking heads. Downthumb all the “big brother” posts you want, 13-3 since the Brees/Payton era started doesn’t lie…geez, even in 2012 the Falcons could only go .500 against New Orleans…couldn’t sweep Brees by himself, haha.

  43. sbc85 says: Jul 16, 2014 12:57 PM

    computojon says:
    Jul 16, 2014 9:12 AM
    So the Falcons, who went 4-12 last year, are 6 spots higher than the Rams, who went 7-9 despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. But hey… let’s not let facts and logic affect our assessments.
    ===
    I hate the Falcons so it kills me to do anything resembling defending them, but they had like 5 straight winning seasons before going 4-12 with Smith/Ryan. People are more apt to consider that a fluke. Whereas the Rams have a losing record year-in and year-out. So people are less likely to assume this is the year they will finally jump up and start winning more than they lose. Plus they still have to play SEA and SF twice.

  44. kneelbeforesod says: Jul 16, 2014 1:00 PM

    Roddy will drop more of Ryan’s passes, and Mike Smith will play it even MORE conservatively: 7-9

  45. yetimonster says: Jul 16, 2014 1:11 PM

    Way, way too high. Maybe 10 spots too high.

  46. newtonworth says: Jul 16, 2014 1:21 PM

    I Love how everybody trashes Carolina for not having recievers when really this years is just as good. Smith had sub par #’s that K.Benjiman could put up 700 yds 6 tds? NE is gonna learn this year how bad lafells hand are when he’s 5th on the depth chart again cotchery could replace that 400 yds and 3 td. And underwood for Ginn realisic compareson between the two. We still have olsen who is probly the most underated guy on the team. Take note also gettelman deveoped V.Cruz out of nowhere for the giants a couple years ago and he got a bunch of great prospects to do the same with also the LT position they have some great prospects. Anyway ill be in tampa week 1 to see bejiman hauling in tds. #keeppounding

  47. beckzhere says: Jul 16, 2014 1:26 PM

    As a Falcons fan, I think the preseason assessment is close to accurate. However, I see this years team around 10-11 wins and a sure shot for the playoffs.

  48. gammynomnom says: Jul 16, 2014 1:28 PM

    8 wins tops. I’m being kind. 3rd in the South.

  49. fanme57 says: Jul 16, 2014 1:34 PM

    What are they planning to do for a defense?

    Denver showed in the Super Bowl what happens when a great offensive team matches up with a great defensive team….they get spanked.

    Atalanta has the makings of a great offense, (if their line gels), but they are still very suspect on defense.

    Chance for a wild card berth…… if they were an AFC team…..in the NFC, it’s gonna take at least 10 wins to even make the playoffs.

    Just don’t see it without a defense.

  50. ncarolinabluze says: Jul 16, 2014 1:41 PM

    Though I hate them, Falcons have bounce-back written all over them if they can get healthy. They were trendy Super Bowl picks last year for a reason. A QB that 75% of the NFL would love to have, stud WRs, a proven every-down RB, addressed the O-line issues, and some nice players on D. Could definitely have another down year, but also very possible they get 10 wins.

    NFC South haters keep going, while all 4 teams ranked in this top-14. Objective people recognize that each of the NFCS teams is at least capable of a playoff run.

  51. dallascowboysdishingthereal says: Jul 16, 2014 1:45 PM

    Ranking too high IMO. I like what the Falcons did in the draft and I look for this team to improve in 2014 but concerns still remain on both sides of the ball.

  52. 12heartskevinlanflisi says: Jul 16, 2014 1:51 PM

    this one one is completely baffling….4-12 to no. 14?……they got gashed on defense last year didnt upgrade it at all….this one made me laugh……”They’ve done nothing but win games under his watch”….right, including 4 of them last season!……sorry PFT, but you really whiffed here on finding the bonce back team

  53. lowdownmofo says: Jul 16, 2014 2:48 PM

    Roddy White leans in closer to the screen from his La-Z-Boy and squints… “This isn’t the Singing Program I like!” and spills his pudding on his army surplus khakis.

  54. dirtybird70 says: Jul 16, 2014 2:52 PM

    Ignorant NFL fans. Most of these comments prove that there’s still a plethora

  55. dirtybird70 says: Jul 16, 2014 2:54 PM

    12heartskevinlanflisi says:Jul 16, 2014 1:51 PM

    this one one is completely baffling….4-12 to no. 14?……they got gashed on defense last year didnt upgrade it at all….this one made me laugh……”They’ve done nothing but win games under his watch”….right, including 4 of them last season!……sorry PFT, but you really whiffed here on finding the bonce back team
    *******************************************

    Didn’t upgrade the defense at all? Like I said…ignorant.

  56. 12heartskevinlanflisi says: Jul 16, 2014 3:51 PM

    ok, tell me how they did……please enlighten me dirtybird,…..tell me how they upgraded it?…….soliai and jackson?……that is the huge upgrade?….i am ignorant becuase i questioned the 14 ranking?…..20 i could understand, but other than the 2 young linebackers and nolan…..there is nothing to get excited about on the defensive side……sorry for the wake up call dude…every publication i have read ranks Atl. def 2nd to worst, even after the huge acquistions of jackson and soliai…..pretty sure they will get run over agian this year……better plan on scoring 35 a game……which the offense is capable of doing…..just wouldnt like to count on that

  57. thefiesty1 says: Jul 16, 2014 4:12 PM

    Bounce back year your hoping for?

  58. wiztopher says: Jul 16, 2014 4:16 PM

    Falcons def had an off year. I’d say this assessment is correct bc Matty Ice is Matty Ice: def has Pro Bowl ability and any team with a Pro Bowl caliber QB has a great shot.

  59. gammynomnom says: Jul 16, 2014 5:06 PM

    And HOMERS… Matt Ryan was not sacked the most times in 2013.Tannehill was sacked 58 times and had only two less td’s. Flacco was sacked 48. And some guy named Russell Wilson was sacked the same # as Ryan, 44. What did he do last year? Same #of TDs and 8 less ints on 250 less attempts. Oh yea, and a LOMBARDI!!!!

  60. gammynomnom says: Jul 16, 2014 8:53 PM

    I like thumbs down when everything I said was the truth, lol.

  61. tmar1961 says: Jul 19, 2014 11:46 AM

    ok, tell me how they did……please enlighten me dirtybird,…..tell me how they upgraded it?…….soliai and jackson?……that is the huge upgrade?….i am ignorant becuase i questioned the 14 ranking?…..20 i could understand, but other than the 2 young linebackers and nolan…..there is nothing to get excited about on the defensive side……sorry for the wake up call dude…every publication i have read ranks Atl. def 2nd to worst, even after the huge acquistions of jackson and soliai…..pretty sure they will get run over agian this year……better plan on scoring 35 a game……which the offense is capable of doing…..just wouldnt like to count on that
    __________________________________

    I am not going to pile on and call you ignorant, but I will say you don’t have knowledge of Mike Nolan. Strahan, John Abraham, Terrell Suggs, Patrick Willis, Elvis Dumervil, Cameron Wake are all LBs he has had a hand in shaping so when he gets what he wants good things happen. No doubt about it, 2014 was Mike Nolan’s draft, with the exception of Matthews and Devonta Freeman.
    If you look at the defensive front 7 now, Nolan finally has the type of talent to properly run his defensive schemes and do their part; 3-4 doesnt require “superstar” pass rushers as most OLBs will be in the 4.6 range and the ones Atlanta now have fit the mold of all Nolan’s past LBs: 255lbs (ish), smart, aggressive and athletic. The back end is already a good unit: Trufant, Alford, and McClain are 3 quality CBs, the only question being who joins Moore at safety. The football fan in me (that being the non homer side :D ) can see the Falcons fielding a “high mid tier” defense, meaning in the 12-17 ranking. That combined with the off season moves on the Falcon’s Oline, a season of experience for the backups, and added DEPTH should give Ryan more time to find receivers and open lanes for the RBs. As for losing Spoon, Bartu and Warrilow are coming into season 2 in Nolan’s scheme and we all know big jumps occur in 2nd season for LBs; that being said, I do agree we have an EXTREMELY young LB core and that is the potential weak spot if the injury bug bits the Falcons again.

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