The Fourth Quarter: What to Expect

Rich Schultz

We're into the home stretch, it's time to put it together.

Coach Smith likes to break the season up into digestible segments, including breaking the season up into 4 game quarters. That means the Falcons are coming up on the start of their fourth quarter, so it's time to look forward to what we SHOULD start seeing from this team as we get closer to the second season.

Offense

As with the rest of the team, it has been an up and down season for the offense. However, some of that should be expected as the Falcons make the transition from a run-first to a pass-first offense. It's hard to know in the pre-season what you can and can not get away with offensively, which means some games during the season end up being experimental as you try new things out. I believe it's partly to blame for the Oakland and Arizona outings and for some of the struggles we had during the second New Orleans game.

That said, there have been signs that this offense can truly dominate. Matt Ryan has had a great season and has put up the type of stats many fans believed he was capable of. Roddy and Julio have both had good season and Tony G is putting up numbers that should belong to a 25 year old. Jaquizz has quietly emerged as the dynamic back he was thought to be and Peter Konz has started to settle into his role as RG. And while the offensive line has not been world beaters and have had some bad games, they've been better on average than against 2011.

Prediction:

This team now has 12 games of experience under this new offensive scheme. Ryan's chemistry with Julio is improving and Quizz is getting far more involved in the offense and contributing at a high level. The new dimension of a screen game has made this offense very dangerous at all three levels of the field.

I believe we'll start seeing all of this come together in one game, instead of in bits and pieces. The experimenting should be mostly over, and with a longer week to prepare, you can bet that the tape of the first 12 games has been reviewed extensively. I also believe we'll see more of the no-huddle, as the entire offense should now be more comfortable with the entire playbook. I also believe we'll see glimpses of a healthy and hungry Michael Turner. I don't think he's the same back he has been, but I do think he can be a contributor at a good level again, which is critical heading into the playoffs.

Call me a homer, but I think the best performances from this offense are about to show up.

Defense

Arguably the most pleasant surprise of the year, the defense - under new coordinator Mike Nolan - has been a completely different animal than from year's past. New corner Asante Samuel has infused a new attitude on the field, while players like Dunta Robinson and Thomas DeCoud have taken their games to new levels. Though the run defense to start the season was outright terrible, it has been slowly improving under the 3 Tackle alignment. The return of Corey Peters no doubt helped, and there are signs that it may be here to stay with solid performances against both Tampa and New Orleans.

Additionally, our pass defense has been dramatically improved and as a result, our pass rush has benefited as QBs have had to hold onto the ball a little longer. John Abraham has beasted this year with 10 sacks (and like, 14 bajillion hurries) while Kroy Biermann has had a nice season covering nearly every position on the field. Our safeties - DeCoud and Moore - have been very good, with both in consideration for the Pro Bowl. And even though we lost our best corner, guys like Robert McClain and Christopher Owens have truly blossomed under Mike Nolan and have played well in the nickel and on the outside.

Prediction:

Nolan has proven to be the mad genius we hoped he would be. He's had a dramatic impact on this team and the fact that he lead our D to hold Drew Brees to 13 points and no TDs (and 5 INTs!) is something we never could have dreamed of in the past.

I believe we'll continue to see this defense grow, with players like Robert McClain cementing their future in the NFL. And while our D gives up yardage, it's 6th in the league in points allowed. We will continue to see this, as the playmakers on our D get more comfortable in this new scheme.

So, what does it all add up to? I believe we'll start to see the complete team game we've all been hoping for - with the offense clicking and the defense dominating. I know that this season has been frustrating, but I also believe it has been for a reason. Our new coordinators needed real games to see what would and would not work. They needed to see the failures on the field so that they could adjust and devise game plans that played to the strengths of each player on the roster. We've had to play great running teams, great passing teams and great defenses to get the full gamut of lessons that are used to make a team better. We've done all of those now. The lessons are over, and it's time for the application.

So, what do you think? Is this overly optimistic, or is the best yet to come?

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