There are a fair number of fans who don't believe everything is going to be roses and angel farts for the Atlanta Falcons this season. I suppose it would be fair to characterize most of our writing staff as fairly optimistic, occasionally bordering on fanatically so. I understand that these fans may feel like they're shouting into the wilderness.
So what I'm going to do here is talk about why, perhaps, that optimism is running too high. Before I do, let's note something here: You're not being particularly realistic by saying the Falcons are 8-8, any more than I'm being particularly realistic by saying they're going to be 11-5. We're just inferring off of past experience and our perceptions of the roster. So however the discussion following this post goes, let's not act like we've got all the answers. Okay? Okay.
If you'll hit the jump with me, we're start the dour power hour.
- Matt Ryan hasn't shown much ability to single-handedly win games, at least when it counts. The best quarterbacks in the NFL can put the team on their back. Ryan's led game-winning drives but hasn't been able to truly elevate his game when it's a do-or-die situation. I firmly believe Ryan is a great young quarterback and slots in nicely in the bottom half of the top ten in the NFL. I also believe he hasn't shown an extra gear in four NFL seasons.
- Michael Turner is on the wrong side of 30. I know Mike Mularkey killed him and I know the Falcons will be more mindful of his carries this year, but I still believe he's on the wrong side of his career arc. We don't know if Jacquizz Rodgers can really carry the load if Turner can't.
- The offensive line hasn't changed. To me, this is absolutely huge. There are some young guys who could step up and a few adjustments that could be made, but the Falcons haven't made a single concrete improvement yet besides signing an actual NFL guard to play right guard. Considering Ryan took a career-high number of sacks in 2012, that's a huge limiting factor for the offense.
- The team is banking rather heavily on the coordinators. If you believe Mularkey and Brian Van Gorder were actually hurting this team, it's hard to believe that Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan won't improve their respective units. But it's far from a lock, and the Falcons are counting on squeezing better production out of almost every position on the roster of a 10-6 team that put up only two points against a middling defense without major personnel turnover. I'm pretty optimistic about this, but it would be impossible to fault you if you weren't.
- Where is the pass rush going to come from? John Abraham can still play at a high level and Ray Edwards produced in the past, but who else is going to step up. There's a host of unknowns here even if Mike Nolan's scheme really does result in a more aggressive pass rush.
- There's a lot of young players in the secondary, but is that enough? William Moore gets banged up, Thomas DeCoud has talent but is inconsistent, Dunta Robinson was putrid last season and Dominique Franks and Darrin Walls haven't taken the league by storm. An injury in the secondary could be absolutely devastating.
I'm sure I'm leaving out points, but taken as a whole, what's most crippling is the uncertainty. It's easy to say the Falcons will get better in 2012, but a hell of a lot harder to prove it. If you assume the Falcons topped on on talent as a 10-6 team last year, watched the Buccaneers get better and saw the Panthers and Saints not get un-better (?), you could be forgiven for thinking this team will actually take a step backwards.
Again, I really do think the coordinator changes and what I can only hope is a strong draft will help to keep the Falcons in the thick of the playoff race. A more aggressive defense and a pass-friendlier offense might make all the difference in the world. But I'm also aware that neither of those things may materialize, and if so, it's not going to be a particularly fun year for any of us.
Sound off in the comments, if you would.