The Falcons have a lot to prove this season. It's about as high stakes as it gets in the NFL, with fans expecting the best while absolutely dreading the worst. If you're bad and everyone knows you're bad, lackluster back to back seasons are tolerable. Just ask the Jaguars. When you're pretty good, both theoretically and on paper, then underachievement gets people fired. So it suffices to say that the Falcons need to win and they need to win now. There's very little room for excuses going forward.
But all that said, 2013 is over and done with. It's in the past, just like Dave's 90 days of sobriety and Alex's respectable hairline. And while 2013 was admittedly less-than-ideal for reasons we've touched on all off-season, there's plenty of room for optimism. Both Grantland's Bill Barnwell and Sports Illustrated's Peter King put out articles today discussing why that's true.
Barnwell thinks the Falcons have done everything possible to fix the flaws that plagued them in 2013.
Nobody could have predicted that Atlanta would fall all the way to 4-12, but there were noticeable flaws with the personnel assembled by general manager Thomas Dimitroff. The good news, if you’re a Falcons fan, is that Dimitroff has used this offseason to work on fixing or at least concealing those flaws.
And meanwhile, King believes the Falcons have a three-step recipe for success.
Three keys: The left side of the offensive line has to keep Matt Ryan clean so he can achieve his stated goal of 70% completions; guard Justin Blalock and tackle Sam Baker have to play well … A pass-rusher must be found. Maybe it’s Osi Umenyiora, though he may play but 50% of the snaps. The Falcons couldn’t solve everything that ailed them in 2013, and of their unresolved issues the most glaring is rushing the passer. Without a pass-rush, Drew Brees and Cam Newton will score too much for Matt Ryan to keep up … A secondary led by two underrated elements—corner Desmond Trufant, a rookie star in 2013, and free safety Dwight Lowery, can unnerve a schedule full of top quarterbacks.
Both articles are well-written and contain thoughtful analysis you often don't see in Falcons-related national media. They both hit on the central themes of the Falcons' return to playoff contention.
First, dominate at the line of scrimmage. Both the offensive and defensive lines have a new look in 2014, and they have to develop a mean streak.
Second, whether schematically or by use of magic fairy dust, the Falcons need to rush the passer. Make it happen, Mike Nolan.
Last, the Falcons need the young members of their defense to step up. I don't want to say they need to "Rise Up," because I know a lot of you hate that mantra. But it rings true here. Do all three of those things and there's just no way they don't go far in the playoffs. Do two of them and they're not in it for the long haul.