With the first week of playoff preparation fully underway, the Falcons' work towards the divisional round remains in its early stages. Meanwhile, their future opponent, whether it's the Redskins, Vikings or Seahawks, are set to take the field in just a few days.
The week of rest Atlanta earned in the regular season is playing some major dividends, especially with some key players looking to get healthy. Would William Moore, Dunta Robinson and John Abraham all be ready to go this weekend? Probably not, yet all three will be in action on the 13th.
The added break will give Coach Smith plenty of issues to patch up, the most important issue being the run defense.
Leadership Taking Over in Bye Week
While having two weeks to rest and prepare for a playoff game has its benefits, it can also have some drawbacks if the situation isn't approached the right way.
When there's no contest to look forward to on Sunday, it can be difficult for a football team to remain focused. This is where veteran leadership comes into play, as leaders such as Mike Peterson are keeping the Falcons on their toes and
“You don’t want to be two months from now saying, ‘I wish I would have did this on the bye week,’ ‘We should have done this,’ ‘Why didn’t we do this?’ This is the time to do it now,” Peterson said. “That’s the living-in-the-moment-type thing.”
Koetter Signs Extension
Now that Dirk Koetter has signed a two-year extension with the Falcons as their offensive coordinator, the franchise is set to receive some much needed stability at that position. If there's anyone that will benefit from Koetter's continued presence, it's Matt Ryan.
“The thing I think everybody respects and likes the most is that he trusts our guys to go out there and make the plays,” Ryan said on Wednesday. “He’s not afraid to be aggressive. It’s been fun.”
Screen Pass Has Become Extension of Run Attack
Under the guidance of Koetter, the Falcons have done a good job this season implementing the screen pass—something they were unable to do effectively when Mike Mularkey was the OC.
“The screen game for us is an extension of our run game,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “It’s putting the ball in our backs’ hands and our wide outs’ hands in space with short, quick throws.”
“Our philosophy is to try to turn it into a punt return,” Koetter said. “The screen game is good when you’ve got good guys to throw it to. We’ve got good guys who can make plays. Our linemen have bought into it.”
Nolan Still Interviewing Elsewhere
While Koetter has made his intentions beyond this season clear, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has yet to do the same. As we've discussed earlier, losing Nolan would be a major blow to this organization, and far more detrimental than the loss of any coach other than Mike Smith. While Atlanta's D still has its flaws—most notably in the run-stopping department—it's made some major strides in 2012. If Nolan stays on board next year, his unit would almost surely continue its development. If he departs, however, it will become unclear what to expect from the Falcons D in 2013.
Could Tony Gonzalez Return in 2013?
We've all heard Tony Gonzalez talk about his retirement plans. As it stands, he's roughly 95 percent sure that he will hang up the helmet at the conclusion of this season; and if the Falcons win the Super Bowl, that will be it.
But what if Atlanta doesn't win it all and that 5 percent window stays open into the summer?
There's no doubting Gonzalez's talent, nor his ability to produce at such an old age. The only issue here is his motivation to return to the grind and put his body through another NFL season. Regardless of how well the Falcons do in the playoffs this year, they will still have the talent in place to make another Super Bowl run, and Tony knows it.
Fortunately, Matt Ryan has plenty of weapons to work with in the forms of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. But there's no replacing Gonzalez.