The 3 Biggest Strengths And Weaknesses Of The 2014 Falcons

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I caught some flak from those of you who believed I was being overly pessimistic about the Falcons' chances this upcoming season, which may be entirely fair. We've got months and months before we'll know, but there's plenty of time to discuss why we believe what we believe.

For me, it has a lot to do with the team's strengths and weaknesses. This Falcons team has a chance to be greatly improved over a year ago, but there are question marks surrounding this team that I believe could serve as limiting factors. To help us

3 Biggest Strengths

  1. Quarterback: Anytime you have a top ten quarterback in the NFL—and I'd put Ryan in the top 6-7—you've got a true strength. Ryan is reliable, has an underrated arm and runs the offense very effectively. There's little question he's one of the team's strongest assets, even if he catches plenty of doubt from fans and analysts alike, and he could have a career season in 2014.
  2. Wide receiver: We're debating whether Julio Jones belongs on the list of franchise greats already, Roddy White unquestionably is on that list, Harry Douglas is solid and the Falcons have some decent options behind those three. Go three wide and let your terrific quarterback air it out behind a hopefully improved line and a healthier, better Steven Jackson & Co. and you've got yourself an effective offense.
  3. Cornerback. Desmond Trufant is already one of the better young cornerbacks in the game, Robert Alford has that kind of potential, the team has as many as three quality options for nickel back and many people are high on rookie Ricardo Allen. If the Falcons can muster better production up front, these guys are going to have unbelievable seasons, particularly Tru and Alford.

3 Biggest Weaknesses

  1. Tight end. The Falcons went from a maybe declining Hall of Famer to Levine Toilolo, a relative unknown quantity, and blocking tight end Bear Pascoe. I'm more bullish on Toilolo than many, but there's no denying the offense will change and he won't be a top three option for Ryan. You don't need a great tight end when you have the receiving options the Falcons have, but if Toilolo falters badly, the team will be relying on Pascoe and down a red zone option.
  2. Pass rush. This team still doesn't have the makings of a great pass rush, and even a good one is a little bit up for debate. I expect improvement because of the re-alignment of assets on the defense and the bulk up front, but there's not a single player on this roster you can reasonably expect to put up double digit sacks and huge pressure numbers. That's a legitimate concern, and a limiting factor for this defense no matter how improved the run defense is and how good the secondary shapes up to be.
  3. Ground game. The Falcons took concrete steps to upgrade their pass protection with Jake Matthews and Jon Asamoah, but while they should be steps up in run blocking, they're not massive upgrades. The Falcons will lean heavily once more on Steven Jackson, who is over 30, Jacquizz Rodgers' middling running ability and rookie Devonta Freeman, who has promise but may not be ready for the limelight as a rookie.
Bottom line, the Falcons have two huge weaknesses on offense and two concerning deficiencies. On balance, the offense is still likely to be the better unit. The defense has but one glaring weakness—the pass rush—but isn't particularly likely to excel. When I look at that team on balance, I see a team that through injuries could finish with 7 wins, but just needs a little surprise from the pass rush, Toilolo and Jackson to finish with 10-11. That's why I'm splitting the difference and going with 9-7, with room for movement in either direction.

What say you?
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