By Matthew Asher
How long has it been since the Atlanta Falcons won an NFL Playoff game? January 15, 2005 was the last time when the Dirty Birds, led by Michael Vick, thumped the St. Louis Rams 47-17. George W. Bush had just been reelected president, Matt Ryan was a Sophomore at Boston College and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins had yet to be released.
Just one current Falcon was on that 2004 NFC South Champion team: Todd McClure. So what do these current Falcons have to do in order to end the one-and-done playoff drought? The good news is they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just keep doing what made them a successful team this season.
Spread the ball to Atlanta’s Big Three. Good luck to any teams attempting to shut down the three-headed monster that is Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White. These three receivers caught 264 passes for 3,479 yards and 25 touchdowns. Ryan finished the season with 422 completions, 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns.
For those who love math, that means these receivers caught 63 percent of Ryan’s completions, 74 percent of his passing yards and 78 percent of his touchdowns. Roddy and Julio were the only NFC tandem to each get at least 1,000 receiving yards this season and Tony was just 70 yards shy of the milestone himself. It doesn’t matter which of these receivers you try to cover because you can’t stop all three in the same game.
Limit “Beast Mode”. As mentioned earlier this week, keep the Skittles out of Marshawn Lynch’s hands. Atlanta’s defense gives up about 123 rushing yards each game while Lynch averaged just under 1,600 yards for the regular season.
Throughout the entire season, the Falcons defense has had the “bend but don’t break” mentality. While the team gives up lots of yardage, (they rank in the bottom 10 in most categories regarding yardage given up) the end result of most scoring drives are field goals rather than touchdowns. The 18.7 points given up each game are the fifth least this season. If Atlanta can limit big runs by Lynch and just keep him out of the end zone, it’ll go a long way for a Falcons victory.
Much like Lynch, Atlanta’s defense needs to contain Russell Wilson. While Wilson will never be confused for Mike Vick in his prime, he’s no pushover when it comes to running the ball. “He does a nice job of running,” Smitty said about Wilson. “He’ll get down. He won’t take a hit. I have not seen many people get big hits on him because he’s very astute at knowing when to get down.” This means that Dunta Robinson better wrap up Wilson rather than trying a Muscle Hamster tackle.
Don’t Dwell on the Past. This basically means not thinking about the previous playoff failures. While the team may appear to be the same one on paper as the 2011 and 2010 teams, the new offensive and defensive coordinators for the Falcons this season have completely changed the landscape of the team.
Atlanta no longer is a run-first team. Given how poorly Michael Turner has done this season, that’s a good thing. So long as the offensive line can protect Ryan, there’s no reason to believe Atlanta cannot march into the Georgia Dome and lay the smackdown on Seattle this Sunday.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.