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The phrase that didn't bother me at all throughout the offseason was “ten yards away from the Super Bowl”. It was a phrase said repeatedly by Falcon fans still bitter about the NFC
Championship loss to the 49ers. Many people were devastated by the loss, while I took a different perspective considering that I actually had the 49ers winning that game.
What impressed me the most from last season was how the Falcons managed to make it so far in the playoffs without having a running game or pass rush. Those are considered to be two of the more essential things you need to be a championship team, besides having a franchise quarterback. With the addition of Steven Jackson and the return of Tony Gonzalez, it seemed to truly be the year that the Falcons would finally “rise up”, as all true Falcon fans like to say.
It's only mid October and the season looks just about finished. They are 1-4 in the standings, with all four losses being by single digits. You could only imagine how many writers are going to write about “if they only made that play” article in a month or so. The horrifying news of Julio Jones out for the season is the icing on the cake of what has become a nightmare season for the Falcons.
Kroy Biermann and Bradie Ewing were already done for the season. The best defensive player Sean Weatherspoon isn’t going to be back by late November at the earliest. Roddy White’s health seems to be improving, but the high ankle sprain continues to linger on. Also who can forget Sam Baker, who received a huge contract in the off-season has been injured as well. The list can go on and on with Steven Jackson likely coming back for week seven. If Jackson was 26 years old, I might have a little glimpse of hope for the Falcons.
This article will be a blend of an analysis from Monday night’s game to the aftermath of the Julio Jones’ injury. It’s much easier to blend both topics into one. These are dark days in Atlanta and the front office needs to make a move, if they want to make this 2013 season at least a respectable one.
How the Falcons allowed Geno Smith to look like an all-pro.
The Jets’ couldn’t have made manufactured a game plan to have success throwing against the Falcons. It’s a recipe that I’m sure teams will use, until Sean Weatherspoon comes back at least. There is no point in taking a chance by throwing it in the direction of Asante Samuel. You can take your shots throwing it at Desmond Trufant, who has been inconsistent in his rookie year. If you want to have a 75 percent completion rate, teams will simply throw it in the middle of the field.
Most of Geno Smith’s throws were on crossing routes that were in the middle of the field. They attacked Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu, who are both undrafted rookies. If they see Stephen Nicholas, then they know it’s an immediate mismatch. Nicholas has always been a solid run stopper, but his inability to stay five yards within coverage of any tight end will likely lead him to being cut in the off-season.
If quarterbacks can’t pick on the inexperienced linebackers, they’ll target Robert McClain. McClain broke out last year as a solid nickel back, but has been picked apart this season. It may be just a matter of time before second round pick Robert Alford gets a shot at nickel back. It’s pretty clear that teams will continue to throw the ball in the middle of the field, where they have simply had no answer for teams regardless of how skilled they are.
Improvement in the red zone
You have to take improvement step by step. I’ve taken that approach with Lamar Holmes and he’s starting to improve. At times, we’ll see him get overpowered late in games. Then there are moments, when he’s mauling the opposition and giving Matt Ryan time to look through his options. Hopefully now the red zone problems are slowly going away, after Atlanta went four for five last night.
Of course, the one miss could arguably be a game changer, when the Falcons decided to go for it. Unlike most people, I didn’t hate the decision considering they were at the one-yard line. The fact that they ran the ball up the gut with Jacquizz Rodgers was an appalling decision. Dirk Koetter has gone from a hot prospect that may possibly be a head coach to someone that Falcon fans are starting to lose faith in. Jason Snelling would have been a better option, even though the blocking was once again horrendous.
It was nice to see Levine Toilolo make the most out of his big opportunity. At six foot eight, he could be a major problem for any defense in the red zone. He made up for last week with a huge catch that gave them the lead. With Tony Gonzalez getting mauled at the line of scrimmage in the red zone, it’ll be up to Toilolo to take advantage of single coverage. He should be able to with his size and athletic ability, as long as he holds on to the ball.
Aftermath of Julio Jones’ injury
Everyone knows how valuable Julio Jones is to the Falcons’ offense. He’s arguably their only vertical threat, especially with Roddy White playing hurt. While fans say the Falcons gave up too much to get him, nobody can deny that he has certainly lived up to the hype. Jones has carried the Falcons’ offense at times in his career and who can forget his performance in the first half against the 49ers in the NFC championship?
This is a loss that could lead to Atlanta getting a top ten pick. Unless Atlanta trades for a receiver like Josh Gordon or Cecil Shorts, it will get ugly. Harry Douglas has run his course and will never develop into anything more than a role player. Drew Davis and Kevin Cone are mostly special teams players, although Cone is an excellent run blocker.
If they can trade a third round pick for Gordon or Shorts, they be foolish not to take that deal. Even though they have obvious holes on both the offensive and defensive line, both receivers are young and have proven to be game changers. Could you imagine Jones, White, and Gordon on the same team in 2014? I’d love to see it happen, but reports are stating that the Falcons don’t want to imagine that happening.
Since Gordon has had major problems off the field, I can’t blame them for not wanting to invest in sending a second round pick for him. There is a big difference between a second round pick and a third round pick. Gordon is a special talent, but a second round pick is too valuable for someone that would miss an entire season if he fails another drug test. Shorts would be a nice alternative, considering he’s 25 years old and has been productive in an unstable quarterback situation in Jacksonville. If they can add either player, the passing attack would look much more respectable without Jones.
I’ve always had trust in Thomas Dimitroff, as he is someone who helped resurrect the franchise in 2008. Some people have turned on him due to what has occurred this season. I’m still a believer in Dimitroff, based on him being a draft evaluator and making decisions on whom to pick up. My only issue with him is that he has obviously put too much trust in young talent in certain areas from the offensive line to the secondary. Also, there has yet to be one pass rusher that has truly developed in Atlanta. We can only hope that Massaqoui, Goodman, or Maponga breaks that trend.
Dimitroff had his moments of brilliance and we can only hope he recognizes how dire the situation is at wide receiver. Let’s not forget that Roddy White is going to be 32 years old in November, which means it could be the start of his decline. He has started to play more in the slot in the past year, so he’ll be accustomed to playing in the slot for the majority of the snaps if a trade were to take place. They’ll need to add a young receiver eventually, so what better time than now? In the process, you can make the 2013 season into a respectable one and bring a lot of hope for the 2014 season.
If Dimitroff doesn’t bring in another wide receiver, then get ready for long Sunday afternoons watching the Falcons offense. I already feel horrible for Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez, considering how good they’ve been this year. Ryan has a rating over 100 for the season, yet he still garners some of the blame for the 1-4 start (which is downright ludicrous). Hopefully Atlanta doesn’t tank the season away and give the fans something to get excited about in the upcoming weeks. That needs to be started with a trade for either Gordon or Shorts.
You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk