There are so many questions to be asked about this Falcons team. So many. The biggest one of all is whether they will be, or even can be, as good in 2017 as they were this year, when they pushed to an improbable Super Bowl berth before falling short. I’m inclined to think yes, but it’s going to be a long time before we know the answer.
Here’s three questions we can learn the answers to over the course of the offseason and early season that will certainly help determine the course of this franchise. No pressure, though, guys!
It is worth noting that this list of questions has changed considerably in the last few days as the Falcons have lost coaches, fired coaches, and hired coaches, getting way out ahead on the question of just who was going to be the offensive coordinator.
What will the coaching changes mean for Atlanta?
Kyle Shanahan, Bobby Turner, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel are gone from the offensive side of the ball, while Bryan Cox is out and Richard Smith will have (at best) a diminished role on the defensive side of the ball. Those are not trivial changes.
The Falcons don’t have a quarterbacks coach, DL coach or defensive coordinator named yet, but those names and their success with their responsibilities are going to make a difference for this team in 2017. Dan Quinn is still the unifying force and the team appears intent on keep the schemes as consistent as possible, but there’s little point in denying that particularly on the offensive side of the ball, they’re losing some bright, capable people.
How will the Falcons improve the pass rush?
Atlanta did an excellent job getting after Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, all things considered, but it was evident that a better pass rush would have made an even bigger difference in this one. Grady Jarrett and Dwight Freeney were sometimes the only two men on the field getting any pressure.
This isn’t to ignore the run defense, which was a legitimate problem at times this season and certainly last night, but I still think a quality pass rush is so key. Vic Beasley made huge strides but is not yet a consistently great pass rusher, Freeney is a free agent contemplating retirement, and the team still badly needs more talent at defensive tackle to pair with Jarrett. Getting a couple of truly useful pass rushers and getting a little more out of the likes of Beasley and Adrian Clayborn could make a world of difference.
Will this team stick to the plan?
When the Falcons fell short in 2010, they swung a huge trade for Julio Jones in response. When they fell short in 2012, they decided to cut some essential veterans and re-tool in hopes of chasing contention a little longer. The Julio move worked out brilliantly over the long haul, but it left the team short on draft picks for a couple of seasons, and the 2012 decisions were nothing short of disasters.
Thomas Dimitroff went through that process and surely isn’t keen to repeat it, and Dan Quinn has shown himself to have a vision that he’s willing to execute on aggressively. What the Falcons can’t afford to do is get caught up in the notion that they’re a piece or two away—even if they might be—and start swapping away valuable assets to pursue that piece. This is a team that needs to accumulate more talent and depth and build up the pieces it already has, and with 26 free agents in total, they’re going to want to be sensible about how they build the roster this coming season.