32 teams in 32 days: Atlanta

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 15, 2008



 
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ... 
 
ATLANTA FALCONS
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2007 record: 4-12 (259-414)
 
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-6
 
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 4-12
 
All-time franchise record: 256-378-6 (.405)
 
Playoff record: 6-8 (.429)
 
Last five seasons: 35-45 (.438)
 
Best Quality Stat in 2007: Big Play Index (12th, tie)
 
Worst Quality Stat in 2007: Scoreability Index (31st)
 
Best game of 2007: 26-16 home win over Houston (Week 4). The Falcons did win a meaningless Week 17 game vs. Seattle, but their win over the Texans was the closest thing to a real Quality Win on the schedule.
 
Silly-season activity: The Falcons added RB Michael Turner from San Diego in one of the spotlight moves of the offseason, but cut loose six key veterans from 2008 (RB Warrick Dunn, TE Alge Crumpler, T Wayne Gandy, DT Rod Coleman, LB Demorrio Williams (FA to Kansas City) and S Chris Crocker). They also have reportedly dealt CB DeAngelo Hall to the Raiders for a No. 2 pick, a seventh starter leaving Atlanta. Starting QB Joey Harrington was cut and re-signed.
 
Strength: None. The Falcons were poor across the board last year, and didn't even get to mediocre in any notable category.
 
Weakness: Pass rush. The Falcons registered only 25 sacks, 10 of them by DE John Abraham. This clearly contributed to their 25th-ranked 88.2 Defensive Passer Rating, and doesn't speak well to the top-10 draft selection in 2007 of DE Jamaal Anderson.
 
Most underrated player: C Todd McClure. This former 7th-round pick has been a starter since 2000 for Atlanta, and hasn't missed a start in six years. Atlanta's Offensive Hogs were not quite respectable (t-23rd) last season, but the Falcons have had excellent lines throughout McClure's tenure. McClure has never made a Pro Bowl, but has been quietly getting it done up the middle for seven years.
 
Unit on the rise: Running backs. Just getting Warrick Dunn out of town should improve Atlanta's running game. Dunn was down to a 4.0 average as a 31-year-old in 2006, and without Michael Vick to keep defenses guessing his numbers slipped to 3.2 a carry in 2007. He failed to top 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his 10-year career, and will get a shot to be a backup in Tampa. That leaves the Falcons with two guys who have had nothing but success as No. 2 guys, Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. Between them they have just two starts over the last two seasons, but have combined for 2,064 yards on 353 carries – an incredible 5.8 YPA average. If they can team up to get within even a yard of that average in 2008, Falcon fans will have something to cheer about.
 
2007 Draft grade: B-. The Falcons do have building blocks, many of them from the 2007 draft. All of their top three picks (DE Jamaal Anderson, G Justin Blalock and CB Chris Houston) were starters, and three other draft picks started games. However, Anderson had zero sacks, and Atlanta's offensive line and secondary both struggled with rookies in key spots. The jury is still out.
 
2008 Draft power: 1st (3), 2nd (35 from Oakland for DeAngelo Hall), 2nd (38), 2nd (49 from Houston for Matt Schaub), 3rd (69), 4th (100), 5th (131), 6th (166), 7th (197).
 
General Draft strategy: Atlanta has mostly used its first-round picks on guys at the big-talent positions – pass rushers, shutdown corners and skill-position offensive players. But only three homegrown No. 1 picks are sure starters for 2008 – LB Keith Brooking, WR Roddy White and DE Jamaal Anderson. The Falcons have been drafting to build around Michael Vick for a half-decade, and with Vick obviously not in the 2008 plans and new GM Thomas Dimitroff now calling the shots, the Falcons are a different franchise. Atlanta has four picks in the first two rounds and six of the top 100, so they have as many options as any team. It'll be interesting to see whether the Falcons wheel and deal a lot on draft day, something Dimitroff's former employers in New England are famous for doing.
 
Youth/experience: The Falcons parted ways with the majority of their over-30 guys, a nod to the fact that there were 19 rookies and 11 first-year players on last year's roster. No team in the NFL figures to be younger than the Falcons.
 
Coaching: Without looking it up, who is the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons? One of the most faceless teams in the league also has an obscure new head man in Mike Smith, Jacksonville's defensive coordinator from 2003-07. His Jaguars defenses were quite good, averaging 9th out of 32 teams in scoring and 7th in yards allowed. If Bobby Petrino was a good choice to try and get the most out of Vick (oops!), Smith seems like a perfect fit for this anonymous bunch. Mike Mularkey comes on board as offensive coordinator, while Smith will get help from holdovers assistant head coach Emmitt Thomas and DC Brian VanGorder. Former Miami special teams coach Keith Armstrong comes to Atlanta this year to helm a unit that was 17th on our Special Teams Index last year.
 
Overview: The Falcons are one of the few teams that you can't make an offseason argument for as a potential playoff team. A new coach is usually a good thing, but the Falcons were actually a pretty well-disciplined bunch – they were 12th on the Big Play Index and committed the seventh-fewest penalties in the league. What they lacked is talent, and they've actually sent a good chunk of that talent out of town. It'll take more than a new coach and a new GM to turn this thing around. Atlanta is still recovering from Hurricane Vick, and will be for at least another season or two.

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