If you thought we were going to let the bye week go by without healthy doses of celebration and a few dollops of nitpicking, you haven't been here for the last six years. Hi, I'm Dave Choate.
Today, I wanted to turn the microscope on four Falcons who are in need of improvement. These are some of the Falcons' finest players, guys who have made a real impact thus far in 2012 but have glaring weaknesses to their game that have cost the Falcons. With three close games in a row, it's fair to say that the Falcons could use a wider margin of error. Getting these guys playing at their very best can only help the Falcons.
Enough preamble. Let's go.
I know what you're thinking. "Dave," you're thinking, "the man has four interceptions and the best interview I can remember from a Falcons player in some time. What could possibly be wrong with him?"
The simple answer? Tackling. DeCoud has now, according to Pro Football Focus, whiffed on 11 tackles in six games. He's averaging nearly two missed tackles a game, which is making for longer plays, extending drives and contributing to other teams scoring. Against the Raiders, he missed four.
DeCoud is one of the best young safeties in the league, a true ballhawk and effective cover safety in Mike Nolan's defense. These tackling issues are costing the team and are the only major problem he has amid an otherwise stellar 2012 campaign, but it is a major problem. I'm hopeful he'll come out looking like a sure tackler after the bye.
'Spoon is one of the most dynamic linebackers in the NFL and has predictably been a pass-rushing asset when his number is called in Nolan's defense. What he has utterly failed to do this season is stop the run.
To be clear, this isn't a problem with 'Spoon alone, but it's telling that on a day where the Falcons were able to hold Darren McFadden to a relatively modest rushing total, he was one of the few guys who was a complete non-factor against the run. If 'Spoon and Nicholas aren't able to make these stops, the Falcons have to bring in Akeem Dent to help out, and he was pretty mediocre overall against the Raiders.
Getting 'Spoon to consistently be the complete player we know he is would go a long way.
I know what you're thinking. How dare I include Ryan on this list?
It's pretty simple, really. Ryan's effectiveness takes a dramatic dive when he's under pressure, which is not necessarily unusual for a quarterback. The problem is that Ryan does not always look for the easy read or the sideline when he's under considerable pressure, but he keeps looking to make a play. In that condensed time frame, when he has 275 pound linemen bearing down on him, Ryan's still looking to make the play. Since he's off-balance and under pressure, those plays don't always work out well for him. That's led to most of his mistakes this season.
If Ryan wants to go from truly excellent to so elite that he makes Skip Bayless drool, it would behoove him to hold up a little better under pressure. It's a nitpick, yes, but it's one that could help to cut down on the Falcons' turnovers and end any criticism of our man Matty Ice.
Of course, there's another way to solve this little problem.
The Atlanta Falcons have had some serious offensive line struggles this season. Many of those struggles center around the two oldest dudes on the line, Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo.
McClure has given his entire career to the Falcons. Clabo has given a lot of his. They've both been good at various points, and McClure's been truly excellent for much of his career. Both, however, have struggled blocking the run and blocking for Ryan.
Both need to improve or be replaced, to put it bluntly. The added pressure on Ryan leads to mistakes and turnovers, and the poor blocking for Turner means runs off-tackle and up the middle don't succeed at the same rate they should. The upshot is that the offense doesn't work nearly as efficiently as it should.
Those are my five players in need of improvement. Do you agree?