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 Post subject: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 12:47 pm 
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Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
November 17th, 2012 Aaron Freeman
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

2012 Might be the Best We’ll Ever See of Matt Ryan

This is an idea that has been rattling around my brain for a couple of weeks now, and only now am I really putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) on the subject.

I have been thinking about where this team’s future lies, and it makes me wonder that if this year’s Falcon team doesn’t go deep into the playoffs, and I’m talking like conference championship deep, then they might live to regret it.

I have come to this conclusion because from what I can tell, the league as a whole is down. There is really no great team that everybody points to as saying the path to the Super Bowl goes through them. The team that many have ranked at or near the top throughout the entire season, the Houston Texans doesn’t quite fit our classic definition of a great team. At least no one looks at the Texans and sees them as “scary good,” a team that you’d immediate cross the proverbial street to avoid if seen coming around the corner. How does that compare to some recent years? Back in 2009, you had the Colts and Saints both nearly run the table and go 16-0. The following year you had the Patriots scoring in droves, as well as the Steelers sporting a dominant defense. In 2011, it was again the Packers nearly pushing for perfection, and you now had the 49ers thrown into the mix as the top team with a dominant defense.

Now this year, teams like Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco do sport those caliber of defenses. But all three offensively are primarily running teams. If teams helmed by Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, and/or Alex Smith respectively were playing in the Super Bowl, your first instinct is probably to put your money on the other team. All three quarterbacks have a long way to prove they can win the big games between now and February.

And offensively, the two lone standouts are the Patriots and Broncos. And while this year’s Patriot team is on pace to put up the most points it’s had since the 2007 season, it’s managing to also be on pace to give up more points than they did a year ago. With early season losses to Arizona and Seattle, and some other close shaves, this year’s Patriot team looks a lot more vulnerable than some recent years’ teams.

Maybe it’s because he’s on a different team, or because the Falcons beat them, or some other reason, but it’s hard to really buy the Peyton Manning-led Broncos as an elite team. They are a good team no doubt, but in comparison to past Colt teams and other teams in recent memory, they too look much more flawed.

Old reliables like the Steelers, Ravens, Saints, and Packers are also down in comparison to recent years. Baltimore and Pittsburgh, two teams that generally rely on their defenses to make deep runs in the playoffs, now sport old defenses that are nothing special. The Saints and Packers typically exploit high octane offenses to do their damage, but neither unit is really separating itself from the pack this year.

The point I’m slowly working my way towards is that we might look back on this season and see that everything was ripe for the taking. Without a clearly defined strong team that everyone has to go through to get to the Super Bowl, 2012 might represent the Falcons best chance.

Especially when you consider that this team is going to probably have to do some reloading and re-tooling starting next year. Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner are probably going to be gone. The offensive line still needs a lot of work. The defense has become average, and many of its top players (Abraham, Babineaux, Samuel, Robinson) are on the downsides of their careers. If the Falcons invest next off-season in young replacements for Gonzalez and Turner, as well as trying to beef up the offensive line, then those are investments that won’t be made defensively. Point being the Falcons are probably a couple of off-seasons away from being able to field a defense that comes close to what the Texans, Bears, or 49ers have. And it also might take Gonzo and Turner’s replacements a year or two to really get into their groove and grow into prominent roles offensively.

All this means that after this season, it could easily be another two or three years until the Falcons are able to put a team on the field that is better than the current one. And who knows by then what the landscape of the league is. Maybe the dynasty that many predicted the Packers would begin starting in 2010 comes to fruition. Maybe young QBs like RG3 and Andrew Luck have turned their respective teams into contenders. Maybe Cam Newton and the Panthers under the influence of a good head coach are now a team that regularly lives up to their potential. Who knows? It’s practically impossible to predict, and thus cannot be factored in the favor of the Falcons.

If the Falcons were to finish this year with a No. 3 seed, host a team like Seattle or New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs, win and then lose in the second round to a team like Chicago or San Francisco, would that be considered a disappointing year? For most, I do not think so, and there is certainly a big part of me that would also not consider that a disappointment. The Falcons get the monkey off their back, and of course in that scenario beating a rival like the Saints in the playoffs would be all the more sweeter.

Another scenario could be the Falcons getting a 1-seed, beating a team like the Giants in the second round of the playoffs, and then playing a team like San Francisco or Green Bay in a winnable NFC Championship game. And there is another part of me that thinks that is not only an ideal scenario, but one which should be expected. Not achieving that could be regrettable, given if a few years from now we look back and see that whomever represented the AFC and NFC in the Super Bowl were highly flawed teams. And thus the 2012 season, the last hurrah for players like Tony Gonzalez, John Abraham, etc. was a missed opportunity for the Falcons.

Again, I’m completely aware of how unfair it is to expect a team that has not won one playoff game in 8 years to suddenly string two or three together and go to the Super Bowl. Especially considering the many flaws we have on this team (no running game, average defense). But I’m also aware that you have Matt Ryan playing at or near an MVP-level. There’s really no reason to think that Ryan is going to be any better over the next 5-7 years than he is now, especially when you consider he has a tight end and wide receiver playing at elite levels, and then a second wideout in Julio Jones who is not that far behind. Can you realistically expect the Falcons four best players to ever put together a season as good as this current one?

Matt Ryan is on pace to put up 4900 yards, 35 touchdowns, and over a 100 passer rating. Only five QBs in NFL history have ever had 4800-35-100 seasons. This essentially could be for Ryan what the ’84 season was for Dan Marino. Or even the 2001 season for Kurt Warner, who then had to wait another 7 years before he helmed a team with any sense of relevancy (more on that later).

Gonzo is putting up numbers that blow away anything he’s done thus far as a Falcon, and you have to go back to his prime days in Kansas City before you see numbers this good. And considering that he is competing with the likes of Roddy White and Julio Jones for touches rather than Eddie Kennison and a rookie Dwayne Bowe, indicates even more how extraordinary this season is for him. Meanwhile, Roddy is quietly on pace to set his career high in yards. And the team’s third receiver may wind up with around 80 catches, 1300 yards, and double digit touchdowns at his current pace.

I don’t know how many teams in NFL history have sported three 1000-yard receivers, but I do know that the last time one did, it played in the Super Bowl that year and nearly won it (2008 Arizona Cardinals). The Cardinals hadn’t had a winning season in 9 years prior to that Super Bowl year.

There are some similarities between that year and this year in the sense that the league wasn’t filled with classically great teams. The NFC’s best team was the Giants that year, who like this year’s teams was a good defensive team that had primarily a run-first offense. Next up, were the Carolina Panthers (led by Jake Delhomme), Atlanta Falcons (led by a rookie Ryan), and the Minnesota Vikings (led by Tarvaris Jackson & Gus Frerotte). In the AFC, the top team was the Kerry Collins-led Tennessee Titans, who began the year 10-0 thanks largely to a good defense and a very strong running game (again, that sounds familiar).

The team the Cardinals beat in the NFC Championship game was the Eagles, who had to win 4 of their last 5 just to make it as a 6th seed after spending the first three months barely above .500. This year’s analog for that team could potentially be the Saints.

It’s just all making me wonder if the Football Gods are weaving the Laces of Fate to make this 2012 season the Falcons best possible chance despite their multitude of issues to finally get that Lombardi Trophy to Flowery Branch. And if the Falcons don’t, or at least don’t get very close to doing so, will they ultimately live to regret it?

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 1:15 pm 
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One of my favorite articles I've ever read from you Pudge. It has me seriously thinking but I'm still going to lean towards it not being a bust. NFC is super deep this year, I still think its strongest its ever been in a long time. You have San Francisco, which is just a huge problem for Atlanta since that pass rush is scary. Giants are always a threat regardless of how poor they have played recently. Green Bay is probably the team I worry about the most because they are managing to still play well with so many injuries (2010 much?). Also Chicago is playing at a high level, even though they scare me the list. Not going to forget about New Orleans being a threat. The reason I'm not picking Seattle is because they struggle on the road and Russell Wilson is really not that good. The defense is good but I expect Atlanta to beat them without much worry.

In terms of the decline on defense, it's a bit alarming. Obviously Dimitroff is going to have to strike gold in the draft similar to 2008 to fix up the defense. Still have Nicholas, Weatherspoon, DeCoud, Moore, and McClain that are in their prime or "young". The front four worries me for the future. They'll have to seriously rebuild that or hope one of the young players that haven't played a lot step up. Peters and Dent will also be players that need to step up for the future.

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 4:06 pm 
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What decline on defense? I'm a bit confused here... In the past several years, our defense has been a sieve. Now, it's somewhat respectable, even if our defensive line can't get pressure.

On offense, Michael Turner might as well not be on the field this year. Do we need to find a replacement? Sure, but we don't need to go big to get one. We need to build a very good offensive line. If we do that, then the person carrying the ball isn't as important.

As far as Gonzales goes, I agree that we need to find a replacement for him... I'm even willing to use a high pick on a TE if the right one drops to us.

That said, this isn't the best that Matt Ryan will ever be. He is just now coming into his own. If you think, based on what we've seen of him so far, that he's going to start dropping off after this year, I think that you're really underestimating the guy.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 7:33 pm 
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RobertAP wrote:
That said, this isn't the best that Matt Ryan will ever be. He is just now coming into his own. If you think, based on what we've seen of him so far, that he's going to start dropping off after this year, I think that you're really underestimating the guy.

I think you're falling into the classic trap that many fall into with the assumption that things get better with age. The cold, harsh reality is that this is not often the case in the NFL.

Now maybe Ryan gets better, maybe he doesn't. It's really impossible to know, and to assume it's going to go one way versus the other is somewhat naive. Ryan may be no less a player for the next 10 years of his career, but he may never be as productive as he is this year.

Look at his deep passing. He's Top 5 after spending most of his career as Bottom 5. His production there is exceptionally high for him given his previous career, and would be considered a great year for even the league's best vertical passers. It's not sustainable long term, and law of averages says there will be dropoff in the years to come. And what you often find is that the highly productive years that QBs tend to have coincide with them being very effective vertical passers.

Any number of unforeseen factors/variables could come into play that could make Ryan less effective than he is this year. Injuries to Ryan and/or other key players around him could have a dramatic impact on his future effectiveness. Changes in the coaching staff could disrupt, and anybody that has been a Falcon fan for long enough knows that it's foolish to assume that things tend to get better with new coaches.

Think Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Drew Bledsoe, Boomer Esiason, Donovan McNabb, Kurt Warner, etc. A lot of good/great QBs "peaked" early in their careers, and would go onto to continue have excellent careers, but never really approach or surpass the success they had earleier. It may very well be that one day Ryan does have a season as good or better than this one, but it could easily be on a Falcon team that features no player/coach currently on the team.

Peyton Manning has been ridiculously good since the 2004 season. But none of those years have come close to approaching how good he was in that year.

Again, I'm not saying it will happen one way or the other. But basically it happens to every QB. They "plateau" at some point between the ages of 25 and 28. Some will continue to trend upwards, many will level off, and some will see a decline. And when you factor in how much better Ryan is this year than he has been any year to date, there's no reason not to believe this is the mountaintop. What happens from here is anybody's guess, but I would not assume that there is another taller peak on the horizon.

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 8:35 pm 
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I think you make a good point about the team as a whole, and the league as a whole, but not about the offense. How much better would this offense be with a versatile back, a stud OG, and a legit 3rd receiver? I'd think leagues better, and all those guys are cheap in FA or 2nd to 4th rounders in the draft.

I think, if Gonzo stayed, the Falcons could invest in OG, RB, WR and have a top offense for years (assuming they can replace gonzo the next year.) Even with just a pretty good TE, but who can split the seams, you'll get a lot of production...particularly if paired with a RB who is a threat in the passing game, and a good 3WR.

I think the offense winds down as Roddy winds down, so I'm hoping that means a solid 5 years.

On D, it's different. I think the worst thing that could be done is ignoring these few pieces that would put the offense over the top for years in order to make the D decent. We're very far away from a top team there, and being mediocre isn't going to make much difference. We need to invest heavily in DL for a few years.

The lack of a run game, good OL, versatile run/catcher, and 3rd WR makes it hard for me to see this as a great year for the offense to carry the entire team.

I do think with a FA OG, mid range TE, RB, 3WR, this team is ready for primetime. Maybe you get most of those in FA, and draft heavy on the DL and late round WR/RB and you get mostly there in one year. Were we to get OG, decent TE, decent 3WR, decent RB in FA (all of which are 2m other than the OG) and go DE, DT, WR, LB, RB in the draft, we could be far better. That's the hope at least. But I've expected similar concepts for a couple of years (OG and then many passing weapons) and we haven't gone that direction. I do think Ryan will be even better in that offense, you're not as worried about one weapon going down as you have several, and you can devote your early draft to DL and OL while picking up 3rd and 4th round Rbs and WRs to develop.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:04 pm 
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For a guy who doesn't like to look at stats a lot, you sure love pointing out stats about Ryan. I don't care if Ryan never gets to 4800 yards again, he's going to continue to improve. To say this is the best season will ever get is ridiculous. Numbers aren't everything.

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 11:25 pm 
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Look not getting to the Qb, or not being able to tackle is not nothing.

Projections into the future are fine, but today's Falcon defense is only as good as the Qb their playing against. In other words its very average; maybe good enough to win a playoff game but some teams are going to have to give it to us. Our defense will not improve this
year; no one is playing below their standard!!

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 12:06 am 
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I do agree with Pudge about the current and future of the Falcons. Maybe the offense catches fire in the playoffs and carries us to the promised land but usually teams with solid defenses and a decent offense will go far in the playoffs. Our defense will have to play much better and the offense will have to get it done especially on short yardage situations to go deep in the playoffs.I think teams like the 49ers,Giants,Bears,Packers will eventually win out and knock off the Falcons ending their season.

The biggest obstacle for the Falcons in the future will be the defense. It seems we have been looking for pass rushers for the last 5 years and still can't find one to go opposite ABE.I believe TD will have to invest high draft picks on the def line starting this coming draft to rebuild the defense for the future. There simply is no easy answer other than adding defensive linemen with premium picks to solve the pass rush dilemma .

Looking at the team we have holes at running back,tight end (when Gonzo retires), off guard,tackle,def end, def tackle,linebacker and that probably isn't all of them.In short not drafting well other than the 08 draft has come back to bite the Falcon's. TD has not added enough young players with high potential and the Falcons ultimately will have to take a step back to rebuild or retool to get to a championship level after this year. Gonzo and ABE will need successors who are not on the roster now.

It's going to take a combination of the right free agents and drafting to keep the team competitive to go far in the playoffs on a yearly basis. It would be nice to sign a top tier free agent when one is available instead of losing out to other teams. It always seems teams like the Bears (signing Peppers)Patriots or dark horse Bills (Williams) find the money to sign the better players and the Falcons sit and wait it out for the middle tier free agents. You don't want to be like the Redskins and sign the wrong free agents and then have problems with the cap. Evaluating players to be the right fit is critical to succeed in today's game.

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 4:47 am 
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We can start building the D and be good in 5 years, or we can get an OG, TE, 3rd WR and be good for the next 5 years while we build a defense. I'd much prefer the latter and think it is very doable.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:11 am 
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I think we started on offense because we went Ryan, Baker, then
Turner. It might be Super Bowl or bust for Blank but that would just show his stupidity.

We need to go defense next, lets try to keep Gonzo and a third round running back.... Everything else defense..... We're only pathetic at
defensive end.... Lets cut Sid, and stop the projects.

Again winning against good teams is tough without a rush or playing against the pass.

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 1:35 pm 
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The future of this team will depend on how much we invest in the lines over the next few years. We have the QB, the WR's, and the depth on offense to get us where we need to go. What we don't have is an offensive line that's worth a darn. If we focus on the line, it won't matter who the RB is, and it really won't matter who the WR's are so long as they are able to run routes and catch balls. We have seen what Ryan is like without time to throw. Imagine what Ryan would be like with time.

On defense, we can't stop the run, and we can't get to the QB. The defensive line is one of the weakest that I've ever seen in the NFL. The rest of the defense is pretty darn good. It is the inability to hold at the point of attack that's making our defense look bad. Unfortunately, we have invested heavily in the defensive line, and those investments have not paid off very well. Jerry, our first round pick, has been injured, and not very effective. Peters, our 2nd round pick, has been ok, but he has been injured a lot as well. Edwards, our big free agent, is no longer on the team. Babineaux has been ok, but his strength is his ability to penetrate, not to hold at the point of attack. Biermann is a great utility player, but again, he's not good at holding at the point of attack. I believe that the defense could be considerably better if we could obtain one 3-4 nose tackle. Such a player would allow us to use our current DT's as DE's, and our current DE's as OLB's. I believe that this would solidify our front 7 with a minimal amount of investment. It would also be easier for us to find depth, as 3-4 LB's and DE's are more plentiful than 4-3 OLB's and DE's.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 1:56 pm 
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I don't know that we are all in this year but, clearly, there are some aging pieces whose shelf life is long now and we are presently squeezing the last bit of goody out of. But we have not gone out like the Eagles did and tried to buy a championship which is probably amazing that teams still do this when you consider how seldom if ever that it works. I do not agree with the idea that MR can get it done no matter who he is throwing to. He has three top drawer WRs and if in the future his production tails a bit I think that will be part of the reason. It is no coincidence that whenever JJ is out that our O seems to stagnate a bit.

As to the lines, yeah, you can easily look over them and they are, in Smitty's words, the players "closest to the ball" and the ones he said his focus would be on. We've singed some "shiny hood ornament" players but to act like the lines have been neglected is erroneous, in my view. High picks and big $ FA signings have been made--they just haven't all worked out (Jerry, Baker, Konz, Edwards). Lest we forget, Dahl was a street FA and now we all act like he was the second coming of Russ Grimm.

Gonz and Abe are our two vets on their last legs, in some ways, though they are still producing well. Tony seems like he could play 3 more years without embarrassing himself at all. But athletes can seem to lose it all of a sudden. Some of these young OL like Johnson, Hawley and Konz may surprise us. Plenty of teams would love to have our problems.

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 7:17 pm 
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No one wants to have our problems. Crappy OL and DL? No, no one wants that. If our problems were, "we have too many good WR's or too many good RB's, yeah, people would want those problems. People do not want to be gashed in the run game. They don't want to have suspect pass and run blocking. Those are not problems that people want.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 7:23 pm 
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Jesus, Robt, go ahead and kill yourself. Life sucks. :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 9:09 pm 
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Life doesn't suck. And I'm not hating on the team. I'm simply pointing out that no one out there wants our problems. They'd love to have the parts of our team that aren't problems, but I doubt there's many teams out there that would love to have our OL or our DL at this point.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 9:21 pm 
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It's a figure of speech with the inference being most teams would happily take 9-1 with some issues--just a sall teams have--as opposed to, say, being the Panthers or Browns. Some guys would get a masterful blow job and complain because the girl's tits weren't big enough.

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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 1:18 am 
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I'm aware of the figure of speech, but you used it incorrectly. The figure of speech implies that the problems that we are having are, "good problems to have." Again, a good example would be having too many good RB's and having to find a way to split their carries fairly. That's an example of a problem that someone would like to have.

You know, it's great that we can sit here and argue about figures of speech instead of how badly our team played today. Being 9-1 is nice.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 19, 2012 2:06 pm 
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The phrase is used both ways. It can be used to indicate surplus, a choosing between two good things.

It also is often used to mean problems which aren't huge in the scope of things, because one has a pretty good life/team. For instance, a guy who gets dumped, but still has a great job, friends, etc. "Just remember, most of the world would pay to have your problems." No one would pay to get their heart ripped out. The phrase actually means, most people would be ecstatic to have "Only" your problems, with all the rest of your life as well.

Just as many teams would like to have a franchise QB, top 2WR, top TE, good secondary, good LB corps, and know they need to just add 2 good OL players and two good DL players (along with decent RB, and WR depth) to be dominant for years.

But trench problems are always real problems because they can negate your strengths.


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2012 9:20 pm 
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Excellent read, Pudge. This has been on my mind as well. The question I'm curious about, however, is this... What if we finish once again with a one-and-done season? What would we be able to do? Would that warrant a firing of Mike Smith, regardless of how well he's done in the playoffs? What about Matt Ryan?

I'm not saying that's what we should do at all but I'm just wondering what else we'd be able to do in the offseason if we were to fail yet again to go deeper in the playoffs...


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 Post subject: Re: Super Bowl or Bust for 2012 Falcons?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:43 am 
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I don't think the outcome of this season really changes our offseason plans. I say that because ultimatley the Falcons are probably going to lose due to their poor O-line, weak running game, and/or weak defense. These are the areas they need to work on regardless of this year's outcome.

If they are once again one and done then I don't think Snotty is fired. But he will be on the hot seat in 2013. A losing year or no playoff win and I believe he'll be gone.

I think Ryan should get an extension. His postseason performance shouldn't affect whether he gets a deal, but another poor game and it should affect the size of the deal.

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