By Knox Bardeen

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — I’ll be honest, I laughed – now, I did so in a really low voice so no one could hear – last offseason when Matt Ryan came out less than a week into training camp and proclaimed that the Falcons could average 30 points per game in 2016. I felt it was an unfair question; a query Ryan had to answer affirmatively to and an outlandish idea since only 25 NFL teams had done so since 1990.

In the first four weeks of the season Atlanta pasted 35 on Oakland, 45 on the Saints and 48 at home versus Carolina and sat at the 2016 quarter pole at 38 points per game. The Falcons finished the season with 540 points, good to tie the 2000 “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams for the seventh most prolific offense in the league over the last 26 years.

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As the Falcons go through offseason workouts, questions about a repeat offensive performance, maybe even an improvement, have been lobbed p for every offensive player available. Once again they’re probably not fair and each player has answered yes. This Atlanta offense can be better in 2017.

I’m not laughing this year.

Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu got the question:

“I think so,” said the receiver headed into his second season in Atlanta. “There is definitely room for improvement. I don’t feel like we reached our full potential last year. That’s what we intend to do this year, keep growing and growing. We have to start back and square one and keep building.”

A week later, 1,079-yard rusher Devonta Freeman got the same question:

“Last year I definitely left some stuff out there,” said Freeman, who scored 11 touchdowns on the ground and two through the air. “But, I got better from my sophomore year in the NFL. It’s just little things like breaking arm tackles, running through. I feel like I can get better at helping the offensive linemen out ’cause those guys they bust their butts and they don’t get to rotate. … Helping those guys out by giving them a blow, breaking a big tackle.”

“Last year I left some runs out there. Also, open field; continuing to make guys miss, punishing guys. I just want to be really disrespectful this year.”

Sanu and Freeman sure feel this offense can get better. But how? How does an offense that was so elite last season take a step forward.

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Consider this, because there’s not all that much room for improvement. I mean let’s get serious, the Falcons would be happy just to repeat last season’s success. Right?

Well a repeat could mean improvement. Here’s how.

While there’s not much room for growth offensively, Atlanta defense does have a way to go before it’s elite like the offense. We saw a marked improvement on defense after the Falcons’ bye week. Whether that was an effect of head coach Dan Quinn taking over defensive play-calling or just the natural progression of a unit with four rookie starters finally putting the pieces together, the defense that finished the season was much better than the group that started it.

What if that defense can play the entire 2017 season like it played the final six regular season games and its march to the Super Bowl? That could equate to a defense that finished 27th in points allowed last year jumping up to the mid- to late-teens by holding teams to fewer points.

What if Atlanta’s defense makes an improvement from last year’s finish? Could this unit become a top-10 defense?

If so – and consider this the case in both scenarios – the 2017 Falcons defense could get off the field quicker than its predecessor. By getting off the field quicker, the defense would be handing Atlanta offense extra plays, maybe an extra series or two per game.

What could Atlanta’s offense do if it was just similarly prolific to last season with an extra series or two per game? The easy answer… more points. An even simpler reaction… wow.

Click on the link below where I joined the Andy Bunker Show to talk about this topic and few others related to the Falcons.

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