Are we overreacting?
I’ve heard a lot of talk since the Falcons loss to the Packers from my fellow Falcon fans of the things that need to be changed in order to get to that mountaintop of the Super Bowl. The Packers exposed the Falcons quite a bit in that game, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And it had many a Falcon fan reeling. Wondering what needs to happen for the Falcons to be playing on this upcoming Sunday and being the team to beat in the NFC and NFL.
And you’ve heard a lot from Falcon fans, but the truth is that we’re probably overreacting as fans. I’ve heard many talking about making major changes to the roster and coaching staff. Some want one or both coordinators to be dismissed in order to revamp their entire offensive and/or defensive schemes. Others are looking at the list of free agents and thinking the Falcons should go after some of those big names.
And once again, we’re probably overreacting. If anything, considering that the Falcons are now in the thick of a tough bunch of NFC teams should only indicate that the path that Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith have set us upon is working. The Falcons only three seasons ago were widely considered to be the worst team in the NFL. And now the Falcons are within a game or two of the Super Bowl.
Should the Falcons make changes this off-season? Absolutely. But do the Falcons need to go out and get the biggest name free agents in order to do so? No. Do the Falcons need changes among their coaching staff? No. Coaches should re-examine their systems and go through some tweaks to those systems and schemes, but nobody needs to lose their job over the Falcons finishing 13-3.
The Falcons biggest weaknesses are clearly on the defensive side of the ball. While the Falcons defense had some nice games this year, for the most part their inability to make stops in critical moments is indicative of their weakness. The Falcons offense, with its ball control-style was critical to not allowing the defense to get exposed throughout this season. The Packers exposed that by scoring on all but two of their offensive possessions, which is practically unheard of at this level of play. Even in games where the Raiders scored 59 points against the Broncos, and the Patriots scored 45 against the Bears, they still had to punt 3 or 4 times. The Packers had zero punts.
Others may disagree, but from watching the Falcons defense throughout the year, the pass defense still remains a major weakness on that side of the ball. The pass rush still needs work. The linebackers struggle when asked to cover and play in space. And the Falcons managed to get by without a quality nickel corner for most of the year. All three of those weaknesses got exposed by the Packers and their potent pass attack, as well as other teams throughout the season. The Falcons struggle to get consistent, reliable pressure on the QB, and the middle of the field seems to always be open and susceptible to giving up big plays.
Offensively, the Falcons need to get more explosive. In terms of generating 20-yard passing plays, the Falcons ranked last in the NFL. Many will point the finger at Mike Mularkey for that, and there’s no doubt that his ball-control offensive system put minimal emphasis on that aspect throughout the year, but the Falcons need to find more explosive weapons for Ryan to throw to. Michael Jenkins, while having a relatively good year considering how poor he was a year ago, just isn’t a guy that is going to reliably make big plays. Harry Douglas was a no-show for most of the year. Brian FInneran is about as explosive as molasses. And Tony Gonzalez clearly is on his last legs, as he was basically a non-entity for the latter half of the season.
It all goes back to the process that Mike Smith constantly speaks about. The expectation that the Falcons can make several big moves and then move past the Packers or any other NFC power is naive. It’s been proven over and over again, that one cannot buy a championship. Championship-caliber teams are built via the draft, and if one looks at the Packers and Bears, almost every single one of their key players are guys that they’ve drafted over the past decade and developed.
The Falcons need to continue to focus on the draft, with the probability of supplementing their roster in free agency. So Falcon fans, take a breath and realize that the Falcons are on the right path and that the last thing the Falcons should be doing this off-season is trying to become the Washington Redskins by spending a ton of money on guys that just won’t be that good.