Can our run defense improve with just hartwell coming back and the rookies having one more year experience or do we need some more talent there to stop other teams?
I think maybe. I'm not saying we can return the same 11 starters and have a top run defense like we had in 2004. But I'm thinking that we don't need a huge amount of changes to make a difference.
I think the emphasis on the defensive side of the ball should not be upgrading the entire unit per se, but plugging holes. There are several good players, and although we lack that one elite player at his position that current playoff teams have, I think we have the defensive talent to go toe to toe with most of them.
That elite player I'm referring to is a guy that I think is a Top 5 or so players at his position. Pittsburgh has Polamalu. Indy has Freeney. Denver has Al Wilson and Champ Bailey. New England has Seymour. Carolina has Peppers and Jenkins (if he ever returns to old form). Bears have Urlacher. Redskins have Arrington and Taylor. Seahawks don't have anybody that I would call a "1st tier" player. Neither do we, but like Seattle we have a number of 2nd tier guys IMO: Brooking, Coleman, Kerney, and potentially Hartwell and Hall. The Seahawks have Wistrom, and a number of young guys that could be considered to be moving into that group in the near future: Trufant, Boulware, Tatupu, etc.
I think the coaches on the Falcons understand how to win football games. I think they run the ball so much now because our passing game hasn't shown a lot of life or consistency to move the football on a consistent basis, so we can't have as balanced the offensive attack as we may wish. That should improve next year with Jenkins & WHite hopefully making big strides and Vick playing more like he did in November than he did in the other months of the year.
This team is headed in the right direction. We've had some hiccups, disappointments, and headaches along the way, and will have some more before we get to our final destination, but I have confidence this coaching staff and the majority of our personnel are capable of getting us there down the road.