This happens every off-season. A dull and desolate time when football fans have little to talk about but with a wealth of anticipation of what is to come. For many of us the period between early February and August is when we formulate our expectations for our beloved Atlanta Falcons.
In light of that I thought it would be best to contrast our hopes and fears for the upcoming season and how our offseason (and past seasons) have shaped what we all hope will be a successful season.
The sun doesn't shine this brightly during Falcon off-seasons...
1. Foundation of winning
Everyone that follows the Falcons (supporter or rival) knows that winning back to back seasons was a big deal for the franchise. Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff when they first came in talked about a "process." They never really went into detail but I think it is clear now what they meant by it.
The process was a means by which to build a consistent playoff contender. That means that a foundation of youthful players at the skill positions, several veterans who can esteem advice as well as a leader (or leaders). My question to you is, 'Do the Falcons have the foundation necessary to have a continued winning football team?'
In order to reach these teams they all have two common aspects about them, stability and consistency. For the most part they all have had the same coach of that period of time, the same Quaterback, same system, same ownership.The Falcons I believe are trying to emulate this through Dimitroff and Smith's acquisitions over the past two seasons. We have tried to build through youthful, talented and level-headed players (in the draft). We try to acquire several veterans who can guide this youth both on and off the field. And we have put in place a leader of our football team in Matt Ryan. If you cross-check with the other organisations I fore-mentioned you'll find the glaring similarities between us and them. It may just be about those two key factors, stability and consistency that would help develop on a foundation of winning.
2. Fresh blood invigorates
Looking at our off-season some have come to criticize others have reached praise. My view may be somewhat bias but looking at "the process" I can see the team being shaped with patience and talent. When the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson some saw it us the shut-down corner we so desperately needed. I disagree, but not to say Dunta is going to be completely useless. I think Dunta will at the very least bring some swagger to an otherwise faceless defense.
As well there are essentially two rookie classes for this team with Peria Jerry and Willy Mo coming into the lineup. I'm not all that confident in either of them to remain healthy the entire season, but if one of them proves their worth then all the better for the swaggerisation of the defense.
I think the front office identified that this defense needed some life, some edge, some kind of face lift that would invigorate the team. Swagger is just that, a sense of confidence that is on that fine line between arrogance and sureness.
Add to that the addition of Weatherspoon and you instantly get an infusion of swagger and talent. Sometimes it's all about the perception of how good a football team is and with vocal leaders such as Robinson, Peterson and soon to be Weatherspoon I believe that the rest of the defense may feel more confident and perform at a higher level.
3. Potential for greatness
Looking at our team there are a number of players we as fans look at and go, 'Yeah he'll come along and break-out this year.' The assumption is that the player will put all the pieces together and go out and execute at an all-pro level. There are several players that are in the eyes of us, "poised to breakout."
The first of these is the obvious, and that is Matt Ryan. Looking at Icy Veins Ryan many have seen his drop in percentages (Completion Percentage, TD to INT ratio etc) as a sophomore slump. Making excuses about injuries and schedule isn't going to justify it either. We need to be reasonable in how we view Ryan's progression and cannot place all our hopes into this upcoming season. Yes Ryan must show big strides this year, but that doesn't mean he has to throw for 4000 yards with 35 touchdowns. What it does mean is that he has to be more consistent in his performance. Now how can I quantify this? I don't know, but what I do know is that Ryan will progress, to what degree though is something that should be discussed, but at least statistically he's the best looking QB in the NFL.
Another player that is gaining momentum for his "potential" tag line is Kroy Biermann. His name invokes pride amongst many of us already confessed Falcoholic's and our hopes for the country kid from Montana are getting bigger by the minute. Many ESPN and other mainstream media analysts are downgrading the Falcons for not acquiring any player to increase the Falcons sack numbers. Many of us look to Biermann to solve our woes and I for one believe he is on the verge of capitalizing on his potential.
There are many other areas I could discuss in terms of potential but looking at the team it seems that there is a lot of positivity towards the direction we are heading because of the youthful potential of the players.
1. Consistent performance
As fans we find ourselves raising expectations either after a team's successful season(s) or because of much wanted new found change. With this sometimes we tend to overlook any unforeseen weaknesses with our team. Not only do fans overestimate a team's ability but sometimes the team does as well. It take just one thing to go wrong that triggers an unsuccessful NFL campaign. The NFL is like that, it is so unpredictable.
Looking back the past season it was evident to me that the team was up one moment and down the next. No doubt this is just the way the game is, but it seemed to happen right throughout the season. We got a great start, but could never build on top of that. It seemed to be a motif right throughout the year, we won our first two games but hit a streak of loses.
"Coach Murlakey, your play calling could be referred to as inconsistent."-Matt Ryan
We can make any excuse we want, the truth is that if this team wants to feared winners they have to go in for the kill more often. I look back at the Dallas game last year and I see a perfect example where this is the case.
The Falcons scored first with a touchdown to Roddy White but after that it stagnated and didn't get back until midway through the third but by that time the Cowboys were playing with a lead and playing it well.
My point is that the team needs to get more consistent if we are to make that next step.
2. An apple a day keeps the doctor away
I think it's fair to say that the Falcons weren't blessed by the almighty football gods last season. Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Harry Douglas, Ovie Mughelli, Harvey Dahl and every cornerback all suffered their fair share of injuries. We talked earlier about stability, well being healthy is a very good thing to stabilize a team.
I know I have already mentioned the Cowboys but they only had one player in their starting lineup injured at all last season for more than a week. And if you look at the playoff teams last season most of them remained healthy. The Saints still had their core working well on offense and defense, The Eagles, Vikings, Colts, Ravens all were relatively healthy.
To me if the Falcons are healthy they are easily a playoff team. But it's not always easy to remain uninjured, sometimes it's just down to lady luck.
I ask you my fellow Falcon fans, what is the good and the bad for this upcoming season? Where do you see us being successful and where are we at our weakest? Is health all that important this year? Or do we have the depth necessary to fill any gaps on the depth chart?
I guess I trust in our core of Ryan, Turner, White, Babineaux, Lofton and the newly acquired Robinson. Call me an idiot but this is the year we become an established successful team in the NFL, away with the pessimism in with the optimism, it's time to become a cheerful Falcoholic.