The same, but different. It's and odd phrase right? I mean these two terms should be polar opposites right? I mean technically two things cannot be the same if their different, and conversely something cannot be different if it is the same right? Yet, it is one of those odd phrases that is widely used and accepted in the english language. After week 3 in this NFL season, i like so many other fans are looking for the word or phrase the properly articulates the pulse of my beloved team. After watching the falcons beat the chargers 27-3 i realized the best phrase to describe our falcons is " The same, but different.
I'm sure i am not alone in realizing my passion for the falcons at times makes me emotionally irrational in terms of what i want done to see the franchise succeed. I wanted the falcons to use draft picks to get big name free agents, but somehow magically keep all of our draft picks to pick every top college player ever. I wanted us to somehow sign Mario Williams, Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph, Marcus Mcneil, and Eric Winston resign Brent Grimes and extend Matt Ryan all while staying under the salary cap. Who am i kidding, i wanted Arthur Blank to use all of his home depot earnings as well as drain his life savings to build a time machine to get Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Ronnie Lott, Deion Sanders, and Lawrence Taylor all in their primes to sign with the falcons. Anything to make the team i love be the team everyone else hates because of their consistent success. Yes anything, but the most subtle thing....changing things from inside. I remember the start of the 2010 season and us losing ugly to the steelers 15 to 9. Dennis Dixon started in place of Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan really struggled throughout the duration of the game. Yet we managed to take the game to overtime, where Mendenhall properly slashed straight through our defense for the winning touchdown. Now we had a fantastic season finishing 13-3, securing a first round bye, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but we never felt quite as dominant as our record indicated. We won a lot of games that should have been blowouts by the skin of our teeth, including the miracle against the 49ers. Well our predictable playcalling and suspect defense caught up to us and we were routed in the playoffs.
The following year the consensus thinking was improve the pass rush, secondary, and unleash Matt Ryan. Almost of us were happy, but a little confused with drafting Julio Jones because we didn't really feel like the offense needed that much help. Akeem Dent and Cliff Matthews did really jump off the page to any of us, ad we drafted a punter, a guard and quizz with the rest of our picks. So i think we naturally felt we would be aggressive in free agency. In a way we were. I remember being pleased the we at least entered the Charles Johnson sweepstakes, and more pleased that we backed out when the price got to high. I liked Ray Edwards signing as a compliment to abe, but i didn't really see it as a power move. So overall we were fairly quiet. The 2011 season started like the 2010 season started and ended with the falcons looking very flat. We lost 30-12 to the bears and set off a season marred with inconsistency. That season ended with a 24-2 lost to the giants and a lot of questions. However, it also ended with a ray of hope disguised as a press conference. A press conference where Arthur Blank said everything short of " heads will roll". I felt good to see him, dimitroff, and mike smith all look visibly irritated with the outcome of the season. It was motivating to see the front office echo the frustrations of the fan base. Yet, it once again turned out to be a fairly (at least perception wise) quiet offseason. We let lofton walk and traded for asante samuel, also we drafted peter konz, lamar holes, bradie ewing, massaquoi, and robertson. Again none of these moves free agency wise or draft wise really moved the needle with the fanbase.
There were also two other offseason moves that looking back were sorely underestimated. Mike Mularkey " left" to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Brian Van Gorder " left" to become the defensive coordinator of the Auburn Tigers. The falcons hired Dirk Koetter as the offensive coordinator and Mike Nolan as the defensive coordinator respectfully. Now the Koetter hired was met with mixed reviews in atlanta. While we were excited to have mularkey gone, we were not overly impressed with koetter's recent resume. You see Koetter had just been the offensive coordinator for the jaguars who had finished 5-11 the previous year and their offense revolved around a runningback carrying the ball 25-30 times a game and the quarterback being a game manager. This, much to the dismay of fans seemed a lot like mularkey's offense. Some people were rational enough to take into consideration that the cupboard was bare for koetter, and it handcuffed his creativity but most of us were just gloomy. Now mike nolan on the other hand had an impressive resume, but there were still some who felt spagnuolo was the better defensive coordinator overall. Early in the season, smitty, dimitroff, and blank are proving they may have made the best free agent acquisitions of anyone. With a pro bowl quarterback. koetter is able to use the complete complient of creativity in his playbook. Matt Ryan is flourishing in this new more simplified version of the no huddle. Gone are the days of turner up the gut on obvious running downs and roddy and tony running the 5 yard hitch or post corner on obvious passing downs. Now there 3 wide sets, 4 wide sets, 2 TE sets, heck i saw HD line up in the backfield a couple of times. Matt Ryan has 8 td's to only 1 interception in this new very aggressive scheme and the team is 3-0 for the first time since 2004. Now to be outdone, nolan has the defense showing definitive improvement with each game. You have seen the points allowed go from 24 to 21 to 3 in three games. Two of those games against two of the nfl's better qb's and offenses. We have 10 takeaways to only one turnover, and are consistently getting off the field on third down. There was a time where the brent grimes injury would have decimated us, but it doesn't look like we have missed a beat. Sometimes success is predicated on growth, change, and never being content. Mularkey's offense was successful, but not sustainable. We had four winning seasons and offensively were ranked in the top 10-15 each year he was coordinator. Unfortunately, he lacked the innovation to truly utilize the weapons he had consistently. Never meant the weapons were faulty.
Brian Van Gorder's defensive schemes were not pathetic, but they were hardly intimidating. The bend don't break concept was simply doomed against the new ultra aggressive offenses of the NFL so a change however slight needed to be made. The other change that had to be made was growth. You see due to our almost instant success, the world forgot that Matt Ryan, Harry Douglas, and Decoud were all rookies in 08'. That William Moore was a rookie in 09' and Spoon a rookie in 2010. Think about it, Julio and Quizz were rookies last year in a lockout season and still were major contributors. I'm saying that to put things in perspective. The nucleus of our team was and is very young and developing as players and we still manage to make the playoffs three out of the last four years and could have easily made it four out of four had it not been for matt ryan and michael turner dealing with injury. There was no need to blow this team up. When you really think about it since 2008 the falcons have only released jenkins, traded for turner, gonzales, and samuel, signed robinson and edwards via free agency, and let koenon and lofton walk. Hardly earth shattering moves, but concise and strategic. This for the most part is the same team, but different.