ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 16: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons passes against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome on October 16, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
It's too little, too late for the last few seasons, but all indications are that the Falcons are changing to fit the times.
When Mike Smith & Co. rolled into town in 2008, they sought to build a team that would be as strong fundamentally as they were fun to watch. That meant bringing in a bruising running back, installing fairly conservative offenses and defenses and bringing in quality players to implement that.
It was mighty effective, especially from 2008-2010, when the Falcons won a ton of games against all expectations to the contrary. But a funny thing happened to this collection of bright football minds and terrific young players along the way.
The league morphed. And now, finally, it has forced the Falcons to morph with it.
Throughout the 2000's, the league was evolving into something pass-friendlier. Quarterbacks were at a premium, receivers were increasingly important and the rules themselves changed to make hucking the ball around a little easier. Running backs, meanwhile, became increasingly devalued.
The Falcons were not, necessarily, on top of this trend. They brought aboard Tony Gonzalez and certainly passed plenty in recent years, but there's was a game built of running the football and connecting on short-to-medium passes. Yet every time the Falcons made it to the playoffs over the last four years, they were trounced by some of the best passing offenses in the game (Cardinals in 2008, Packers in 2010, Giants in 2011).
This was a team that was not built to bomb the ball downfield and make up huge deficits, and it was not a defense equipped to deal with strong pockets and multiple receiving options. The Falcons won plenty during the regular season because they had talent and they stuck to a style that has worked exceptionally well for teams for the better part of 40 years.
2012 stands to be the epitaph for that style. Offensively, the team installed a new offensive coordinator who seems to believe in more creative passing plays and is more willing to use the no-huddle and strikes downfield. Defensively, they've added a coordinator known for his ability to squeeze a pass rush out of multiple players and brought aboard one of the finest ball-hawking cornerbacks of this generation to help out the secondary. Everything they've done this off-season right down to the draft has been about catching up to the rest of the league.
This is not an indictment of the Falcons brain trust. They did what they thought was best and brought this franchise a ton of success, and while we can certainly debate whether it took them too long to do so, they've realized that changes were necessary.
Given its strong receiving options, (hopefully) improved line, better schemes and upgraded secondary, this Falcons team should be built to hang with the league's elite passing teams. It may not happen overnight and we're sure to experience unpleasant growing pains, but the talent is there. The Falcons have changed with the NFL, and they may just wreak havoc on the league because of it.
That's worth celebrating, in my humble opinion. How about yours?