G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the weekly contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. If anybody remembers this from last year, basically each week dunlagh and I will outline some keys to the game on both the positive and negative side. I’ll be dealing with the best case, while he’ll be dealing worst case. Just a warning, I’ll probably be saying ‘colour’ and ‘defence’ at least once this season, don’t fret about the backwards spelling, it’s just how Australians get it done. Let’s get stuck in.
I think I speak for everyone here when I say "Thank the lord football is back". After 4 weeks of (mostly) avoiding injuries and some less than stellar preseason games, the Falcons head to Soldier Field to challenge the NFC runner ups – the Chicago Bears. This game is the perfect chance for the Falcons to unveil our new look offense, and if we can move the chains against the famed Bears defence I’d say we’ll be well on the way to another shot at the NFC South (at the very least). In my opinion, the best case this week is that Julio Jones explodes onto the scene, Ray Edwards steps up and the O-Line gel.
Julio Jones explodes onto the scene: There were mixed reactions to the aggressive move to acquire Jones in the draft, but now that everyone has settled down the general consensus seems to be that JJ will open up our offense big time. While our preseason wasn’t that glorious, JJ did show a fair bit of potential. I think we were all pretty keen to see how he’d go in limited snaps and, in my opinion, he didn’t disappoint. He looked pretty comfortable out there and caught a couple of 20+ yard passes, which is exactly why we drafted him. Hell, we even saw a Falcons wide receiver rush the ball for more than -3 yards on a reverse. Try telling that to the 2010 Falcons. The Chicago defence is going to be a baptism of fire for our entire offense, but will be particularly tough on a rookie still coming to terms with the system. While JJ looks a lot like he could develop into 2008-10 Roddy White, we could easily see an ’05 White performance out of Jones if he gets rattled early by the Bears D. On the other hand, if Ryan can connect with Jones a few times early, all of a sudden White gets less coverage, HD frees up, Gonzalez can have his way with the middle of the field, Turner faces less box pressure and Mike Smith cures the common cold. The upside to Jones has no ceiling, and if he can spark the offense early then we could see a very strong Bears defence struggle to contain the explosive Falcons offense.
Ray Edwards steps up: Ok so in terms of preseason Ray Edwards didn’t exactly set the world on fire. He didn’t even set the world to uncomfortably warm. To be honest I heard rumours they’re making Ice Age 5: Ray Edwards’ preseason. Not to worry though guys, we all know what Big Play Ray is capable of. As far back as I can remember the Falcons have needed a compliment pass rusher to John Abraham. Kroy Biermann came along quite a long way last year, but he’ll certainly benefit from a more even rotation. I’m of the opinion that if we can shore up our D-Line the rest of the defence will fall into place. That’s where Ray comes in. Edwards is a beast. I have nothing but faith in him stepping up once he crosses that line for a regular season game. Similar to the JJ situation, if Edwards steps up the rest of the D improves exponentially. The Bears have a fairly settled O-Line to my knowledge in terms of personel, however they did give up a massive 56 sacks last year (the most of any team). There’s no doubt that having to deal with the Predator and Ray Edwards is a test for any side. Having Edwards also allows guys like Biermann to take a few less snaps, and perhaps focus on special teams. Biermann is one of the best in terms of kickoff coverage, and we’ll need him full of energy if we want to stop Devin Hester scoring a few from kickoffs. If Edwards can block out his preseason production issues and step up to the plate come Sunday, I have a good feeling we’ll see a 6/7 sack, and all round strong, day from our D.
The O-Line gels: Our O-Line was possibly the league’s best last year. We allowed the 2nd fewest sacks, had a power running game firmly established and usually gave Ryan as much time as he needed to make his reads. Oh how much fun the offseason can be. Harvey Dahl has left us, Todd McClure and Mike Johnson have emerged from the preseason injured and Garrett Reynolds and Joe Hawley are going to have to step into starting roles for the first time. I have a few concerns about our line without the veteran presence of McClure, especially considering the pass rushing prowess of the Bears defence. The jury is still out about T-Rex Baker, so we’ve really only got Tyson Clabo and Justin Blalock set in stone as go to guys on the O-Line. Things have changed slightly with the addition of Jones and the (seeming/hopeful) emergence of Harry Douglas in the slot, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that our offense will still rely on getting Michael Turner and co running well early. Getting Ovie Mughelli going early will be important in assisting the inexperienced offensive line, so he should basically be viewed as the 6th lineman. If the offensive line gel and perform, Julius Peppers and the excellent LB corps of Chicago could have a quiet day; if not we could see some dropped snaps, a running game that struggles and Ryan hitting the deck a fair few times. In my opinion, Hawley and Baker’s performance is going to be what decides the game. Either way, the O-Line gelling is definitely crucial to the Falcons flying back to Atlanta with a win.
Alrighty guys, that’s the first Best Case Scenario for the 2011 season done! Hopefully you enjoyed it, if not just bag me out in front of the entire Falcoholic and I’ll try and sort myself out for next week. Any feedback about the article style/content or just about the game in general would be great. Be sure to check out dunlagh’s Worst Case Scenario article here. Thanks for reading, and let’s get the season started strong! Go Falcons!