It’s commonly said that it’s hard to win in the NFL and the majority of the time that’s true, so winning 13 games in 2010 could not have been a fluke or have been entirely down to playing a weak schedule or any other anomaly that you want to throw out there.
The Falcons of course won’t need reminding of how their season ended, a 48-21 blow out loss at home in the divisional round of the playoffs for which Atlanta was the number one seed. The Falcons front office felt that the team was only a couple of key components away from getting to the Superbowl. Those key components were a wide receiver that could stretch the field, make the offense more explosive and enable it to score points quickly when needed.
The answer? Julio Jones. The other missing piece was and a legitimate pass rusher to play opposite John Abraham to help the pass defense that was badly exposed in that playoff game. The Falcons gave up a lot to get Jones but I loved the move at the time and still do, how are all those additional draft picks working out for the Cleveland Browns?
The addition of Ray Edwards was needed although at this stage it would seem that another free agent, Jason Babin would have been the better option. The only notable departure was Guard Harvey Dahl, lost to the Rams in free agency. For those who dismissed the loss of Dahl as un-important would be foolish as the Falcons ‘no name’ offensive line has played well the last two years, blocking for Michael Turner and keeping Matt Ryan upright. Ryan was sacked only 23 times last year.
The O-line struggled early on in 2011 and an injury to veteran centre Todd McClure didn’t help, however their production has improved and they are currently playing near the level they did last year. The addition of Alabama wide out Julio Jones seemed to confuse offensive co-ordinator Mike Mularkey more than help him. Atlanta went away from what they do best, run the ball, although their mini resurgence of late has coincided with them re-establishing their run game.
From the outside looking in it would seem that Mularkey’s play calling is a little of date in today’s NFL especially with the talent available on the offense. How many times do the Falcons run a screen, or a reverse? In fact the reverse has only been added to this year’s playbook thanks to the arrival of the speedy Jones, even so it’s been used sparingly.
Murlarkey is also not exploiting the talent of another rookie, JaQuizz Rodgers who can run between the tackles or catch passes out of the backfield and is a tough,quick,elusive runner in fact he is the perfect player to run a screen play with. I can’t remember the last time I saw the Falcons run a trick play.
Admittedly the Falcons early season schedule was tough and they currently sit at 5-4 and second in the NFC South. However this could have been 6-3 and top of the division had Mike Smith not decided to go for it on 4th down at his own 29 yard line in overtime against the Saints last week, both the decision and the play that was called were both highly questionable.
With that field position if you make it, that doesn’t guarantee you anything, if you don’t make it pretty much guarantees that you lose. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing and who knows what would have happened if the first down had been made or the Falcons had punted. I didn’t agree with the call then and I don’t now.
It’s conceivable however that the Falcons could win their next five games before they visit the Saints on December 26th. That game could decide who wins the South but there’s a lot of football to be played before then and a lot bigger calls to be made.
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