Thursday, August 14, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA FALCONS                                          

2013 Record: 4-12-0

Key Additions: CB Javier Arenas; DL Tyson Jackson; WR-KR Devin Hester; OL Jon Asamoah; DL Paul Solaia.

Key Losses: TE Tony Gonzalez; CB Asante Samuel; S Thomas DeCoud; OL Jeremy Trueblood; LB Stephen Nicholas; OL Sean Locklear; OL Garrett Reynolds.

HEAD COACH: Mike Smith

Offense: Quarterback Matt Ryan is the key to the Falcons offense after passing for 4,515 yards with 26 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last year. The seventh year QB had an "off" season by his standards but the running game also lacked as Steven Jackson ran for only 543 yards with a paltry 3.5 ypc average and scored only six touchdowns. Jacquizz Rodgers backs up and had 332 yards (3.5 ypc) with two scores.
The wide receiving corps has Roddy White (63 receptions for 711 yard and three TD) along with Julio Jones, who had 41 receptions for 580 yards and two touchdowns in only five games played last season. Tight end Tony Gonzalez retired so that leaves Levine Toilolo and Bear Pascoe as the potential starters in 2014. Other wideouts looking to contribute to the offense will be Harry Douglas, who led the injury depleted wide receivers last season with 85 catches, good  for 1,067 yards and two touchdowns. Drew Davis (12, 216, two TD) and possibly Devin Hester (who is also a top notch kick returner coming over this season from Chicago) will be on hand as well.
The offensive line has center Joe Hawley, guards Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock and tackles Sam Baker and rookie Jake Matthews (Texas A & M), whom the team drafted sixth overall in the NFL Draft. Backups include Gabe Carimi, Ryan Schraeder, Peter Konz, Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes.

STATS - Atlanta ranked 14th last season in the NFL, averaging 343 yards per game. The passing game gained 265 yards (7th in NFL) but the running game ran for a league worst 78 yards per game. The Falcons turned the football over 28 times with 17 picks and 11 fumbles while their quarterbacks were sacked 44 times last year. In addition, the Falcons finished 22nd overall in scoring, averaging 22 points per game.

Defense: The 4-3 set for the Falcons will see Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Massaquoi (four QB sacks) playing the end positions with Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux at the tackle spots. Top rookie draft pick Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota) will get a long look in the pre-season as he attempts to crack the starting line.
The team also employs the 3-4 set and when they do this, they have outside linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and either Kroy Bierman or rookie Prince Shembo (Notre Dame) along with inside backers Paul Worrilow and Akeem Dent. Osi Umenyiora (7.5 sacks) can play linebacker or defensive end and he was the team leader in sacks last season.
The secondary will go with William Moore (three interceptions) and Dwight Lowery at the safety positions while Desmond Trufant and either Robert Alford (two picks), Javier Arenas or Josh Wilson will be at the cornerback spots.

STATS -  Atlanta was weak against the run (31st overall) as they allowed 136 yards per game a year ago. The pas defense finished 21st by allowing 243 yards each game. Overall, the Falcons finished 27th in total defense, giving up 379 yards per game. They also finished 27th in the NFL in scoring D a they gave up just under 28 points per game last year. Turnovers were low as Atlanta intercepted just ten passes all season and sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times.

OUTLOOK: Was last year just a hiccup in the recent run of success for the Atlanta Falcoins or do they have some serious issues as the 2014 NFL season approaches?
Head Coach Mike Smith wants answers and fast as the team needs to rebound on both ends of the ball.
Matt Ryan is the unquestioned leader of the offense and he needs a full fleet of healthy wide receivers this season. The running game would get a huge boost if Steven Jackson comes back from the nagging injuries that limited him to his lowest production as a pro player. You don't replace a future Hall-of-Famer like TE Tony Gonzalez, but the Falcons would like to see production from that spot as well this year.
The defense needs to get back to their ball hawking ways that produced so many turnovers two years ago when the team narrowly missed going to the Super Bowl. Better pressure on opposing team quarterbacks would be welcome this season to help the secondary out.
The Falcons did lose twelve games last season, but seven of those were one score games, meaning a break here and there would make a difference in the overall record this time around. The players have to make that happen and if they do, this team could be back in business (AND the post-season as well) in 2014.
Look for a slight bounce back this season as Carolina and New Orleans loom large in the NFC South along with an improving Tampa Bay squad as well. The Falcons should finish 8-8 this year, but could be better if the offense avoids the injury bug, the defense plays more consistent and Ryan returns to his old form from the playoff seasons. That could be asking too much, but it's a new season and Atlanta would prefer to forget last season.

Week 1- vs. New Orleans
Week 2- at Cincinnati
Week 3- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 4- at Minnesota
Week 5- at NY Giants
Week 6- vs. Chicago
Week 7- at Baltimore
Week 8- vs. Detroit (London, England)
Week 9- BYE WEEK
Week 10- at Tampa Bay
Week 11- at Carolina
Week 12- vs. Cleveland
Week 13- vs. Arizona
Week 14- at Green Bay
Week 15- vs. Pittsburgh
Week 16- at New Orleans
Week 17- vs. Carolina

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