By Sergio Jewell
The Falcons began the 2012-2013 season with an emphasis on saving their best football for the second season. After three straight post-season defeats, Mike Smith and the rest of the Dirty Birds are ready to prove to NFL enthusiasts across the nation that they are the team to beat in the playoffs.
After last year’s pitiful defeat against the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons Owner Arthur Blank decided that his team needed a change in philosophy on both sides of the ball. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff settled the issue by terminating former coordinators Mike Mularkey and Brian Van Goarder and brought in two new faces with more know-how as far as utilizing talent. Experienced defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and creative offensive coordinator Dirk Koettier joined the Falcons with only one goal in mind. To have the team playing at the Mercedes-Benz Dome come February.
The addition of coordinator Dirk has really brought out the best in Matt Ryan. He’s put up career bests in all statistical categories and has a total quarterback rating of 74.5, which is good enough to rank 4th in the NFL behind Denver’s Peyton Manning, New England’s Tom Brady, and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. One of the criticisms on Ryan before this season was that he lacked the arm strength to attack defenses deep. This year, he has definitely focused on completing more passes down field His work in the off season resulted in him breaking Atlanta’s franchise record for passing yards in a season (4,719) and is averaging 7.7 yards per throw.
Even in my earliest assessment of Matt Ryan, I knew he had all the tools to be a top ten or even five QB. He works and studies hard, is very intelligent, well spoken, and is a leader of men. The only thing keeping him out of elite company was Mike Smith’s love of playing conservative and running the football. Now that he has coordinator that can design plays to his strengths, Ryan’s best football may be yet to come.
Even with Matt Ryan’s emergence, the importance of balance hasn’t left Mike Smith’s philosophy. The days of Turner averaging 100 yards per carry may be gone, but we still have the threat of a run game with Jason Snelling and role-player Jacquizz Rodgers. Defenses will also have to deal with the threat of three ProBowl receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez. Even Harry Douglas has shown he can be a dual-threat playing in the slot while full-time punt-return duties.
Mike Nolan has had just as big of an impact on defense as Dirk did on offense. Atlanta is currently 5th in points allowed; holding opponents to just under 19 (18.7) points a game. While D-Block (what the defense refers to themselves) gives up a lot of yards on the ground and through the air, they have found ways to keep teams out of the endzone. They’re also good at forcing turnovers, accumulating 31 for the season. This is a defense that likes to take a lot of risks but when they do it usually pays off.
Atlanta is a team that prides themselves on playing as one. There is a lot of pressure on head coach Mike Smith to win it all this year. Throughout the season, the team has responded very well to pressure. Seven of their 13 games were determined by seven points or less. Atlanta always had talent but this season I think they showed that they have the grit to make a deep playoff run to the SB. All the Falcons have to do now is show that they can