As the season has finally concluded, I can truly say this has been a huge disappointment for the Atlanta Falcons. A season with such high expectations ended with a 4-12 record. Roddy White’s “SuperBowl or Bust” contention turned into “flat busted”. With the “high flying aerial display” we all witnessed in the 2012 campaign, an NFC Championship appearance, and a 2nd year with both your offensive and defensive coordinators, it was not a stretch to think that the “Dirty Birds” could soar to greater heights, but as some of us soon learned this roster was far from championship caliber. Now granted injuries, free agency departures, and cuts do happen within the course of an NFL season, but most teams seemed a whole lot better equipped to deal with the “flipping” of a roster than the Atlanta Falcons in 2013.
The Falcons took on the Carolina Panthers and lost by the score of 21-20, in Tony Gonzalez’s final football game. The battle of I-85 for the 2nd time looked a whole lot better than the initial contest. You can look for more details of the contest on 929thegame.com but the Falcons came out offensively very aggressive against the vaulted pass rush of the boys from Charlotte but eventually what continued to rear its ugly head for the Falcons in 2013 was the teams’ inability to protect Quarterback Matt Ryan, who in his defense wore Panthers Defensive End Greg Hardy like a shirt all day and the inability to convert “Red Zone” opportunities into touchdowns. The Panther defense had 9 sacks……NINE!! Inexcusable. Period. In stark contrast to the Panther defense was the Falcons stoppers who showed life by getting to Panther Quarterback Cam Newton early and often but the continuous problems of missed tackles, trouble with mobile quarterbacks, and the inability to stop the run killed any momentum they may have had. Before the game, I predicted that the Falcons would lose a close one but it would not have surprised me if they won because quite honestly the Panthers offense was “average” at best but just like the San Francisco game the week before, they have a hard-nosed offensive identity that if given time always seems to work against Atlanta.
Going forward, the final two football games even though resulting in losses kept me hopeful both as a fan and analyst of the Atlanta Falcons. There are some very promising pieces in place for this team. Your wide receiving corps is still solid although some decisions monetarily will have to be made with Roddy White and Julio Jones. They may still be in search of a tight end being that the team really does not know who they have in Levine Toilolo and oft-injured Chase Coffman. As far as the offensive line is concerned, no positions SHOULD be safe but some contracts may dictate certain parts of the lineup. As far as the quarterback position, as crazy as some discussion is regarding Matt Ryan, there should be no doubt that he is the franchise guy, solidifying his place in the Falcon lexicon. The man has taken a “beating” this season and at some points has not looked as accurate as in years’ past, but statistically this will be his 2nd best season in relation to yardage and completion percentage. I scanned social media after the game as I often do and found that Ryan continues to get the blame for the Falcons setbacks. I only say that if you study the tape, look at the games, and analyze the body of work you’ll see he is definitely one of the toughest players in this league, despite the contentions that he should run more or “stick his head in” to gain the extra yard. Defensively, I love what the team has in Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters in the interior despite the injury. I like the development of Jonathan Massaquoi and Malliciah Goodman and think they should play going forward. As far as Osi Umenyiora ironically next season he should be used like the Arizona Cardinals used former Falcon John Abraham, in exclusively rushing situations. Goodman has shown promise in both rushing the passer and stopping the run. At linebacker Atlanta must address the lack of depth in that area and some personnel that can cover in passing situations in the intermediate areas of the field. Rookies Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow have shown potential but are still very raw. Veterans Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas have had an up and down year; Weatherspoon primarily by injury and Nicholas by poor play. Some questions have to be answered going forward about what their roles will be. In relation to the secondary, rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will most likely be your starting corners in 2014. Asante’ Samuel is “long in the tooth” and is injured a great deal monetarily it may make sense for him to move on with the rest of his career. At safety William Moore is pretty much locked in but there is some uncertainty about Thomas DeCoud. A “ball hawking” safety to pair with Moore could serve well for the Falcon Defense. There are many questions going forward for the “Dirty Birds” but the franchise is not devoid of players. Continue to check out 929thegame.com for all things Falcons and all things NFL Playoffs.
Jamie Walker is a Producer and The Atlanta Falcons Blogger for 92.9 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @coachjdub21 or email him at Jamie.Walker@cbsradio.com.