The Falcons are still months away from playing actual football, but it's never too early to dive in on what they'll need to do in order to be successful during the 2015 season. After seeing the draft class, considering Dan Quinn's rough outline of a plan for this football team and looking at how poorly they fared the last two years, I have three questions I'll need to see answered before I can feel truly confident that the Falcons will be a good football team this season.
Let's break 'em down.
Can they rush the passer?
This is a big one. Adding Vic Beasley to an improved front seven that now includes Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn, O'Brien Schofield and Justin Durant should open up opportunities that simply were not there a year ago. The question is whether it will be enough to give the Falcons a legitimately useful pass rush, or if they'll be just intermittently effective.
The season may swing on the answer to that question, because this defense isn't elite otherwise. The secondary promises to be good and the run defense should be improved, but the team's inability to pressure quarterbacks on third downs—especially long ones—has killed them in the past. If that doesn't change, teams are still going to be able to punish this defense, and the offense is going to have to carry a heavy burden once again.
If Beasley can spin up quickly and Clayborn and the holdovers show improvement, we might just see our first decent pass rush in Atlanta since...well, a while.
Can they run the football?
On paper, the answer is "yes." Certainly at a better clip than they have the last two seasons.
The answer is a little more complicated. You never quite know what rookie backs will do, even ones as talented as Tevin Coleman. Devonta Freeman is coming off an uninspiring rookie season as a runner, largely due to a makeshift offensive line. Antone Smith is recovering from a major injury, and the team may be counting on a fullback as its short yardage option. For this to work, Coleman will have to be good right away, and Freeman will have to be better.
Oh, and the line. Assuming health and a successful wholesale rollout of more advanced zone blocking principles, this line should be able to open holes in a way it hasn't for several years now. We'll have to see this unit get to the season intact and see how the trouble spot at left guard is filled before we declare victory, however.
Will they be better coached?
I think we're all taking this one for granted, which is natural considering the strength of the staff assembled and the competence and gregarious nature Dan Quinn has shown thus far. But it's still a question we need to have answered.
Mike Smith was continually dinged for his clock management, his decision-making in pressurized situations and for the way the team deployed its players. We're assuming all of those will be either minimized or absent under Quinn and his staff, but considering Quinn is going to be a first-time head coach, it's not exactly safe to assume that just yet.
Obviously, if this team can run the ball better, actually rush the passer and cut out some of the boneheaded errors that sadly marred Mike Smith and staff's last couple of years in Atlanta, this team will be at least marginally improved over 2013 and 2014. I'm optimistic, but not certain just yet.
What questions must the Falcons answer, in your opinion?