What Do the Atlanta Falcons Need to Regain Championship Swagger?


Nov 21, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive end Keyunta Dawson (55) and defensive end Akiem Hicks (76) in the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Saints won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Another game, another loss for the Atlanta Falcons. What’s even more shocking is the fact that even though the Falcons are 2-9 this season (wow, pinch me I must be dreaming…), they are losing games in Atlanta, which prior to this year was something Matt Ryan just did not do as an NFL starter.

Now, the Falcons have lost some close games, they’ve gotten blown out, we’ve seen it all, really. It’s not like they are losing on a last-second field goal every game, and they could just as easily be 9-2. Obviously there are some games the Falcons could have/should have won, and there are certainly a lot of games people thought they would win, but I can’t help but be shocked by the fact that in a pick ’em league I find myself choosing the Saints on the road against Atlanta in a prime time matchup.

That’s just not normal.

So what is it that the Falcons are really missing this year? Well, as is often the case, teams that are struggling like this are usually struggling in the trenches, possibly on both sides of the ball, and that’s exactly what has happened to the Falcons.

It’s hard to see for Falcons fans, especially with the expectations of a Super Bowl run in 2013. The team convinced Tony Gonzalez to come back for another season, and they brought in some big names like Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson to help the cause.

Still, it’s tough to overcome the poor offensive and defensive line play that we’ve seen from the Falcons this year, and that’s precisely what I think we’ll see them attack in the draft.

So what do the Falcons need to regain championship form? They already have a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, as well as a proven head coach in Mike Smith. They obviously have some pieces offensively that are exciting, but you can’t help but wonder if the Falcons are going to have to go into near complete rebuilding mode in the 2014 offseason to get back where they want to be. Here are some areas they need to upgrade.

1. Defensive Line

If the Falcons continue to play like they have been, they’ll be in prime position to select one of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or UCLA pass rusher Anthony Barr. Both play vastly different positions and both have different skill sets, but they are pretty much unanimously the top defensive prospects in this draft, and they upgrade a significant area of need for the Falcons.

2. Offensive Line

The Falcons are still sixth in the NFL in passing offense, but Matt Ryan has been sacked 24 times this season already, and the Falcons are 30th in the NFL in rushing. While injuries are part to blame for the poor play of the Falcons’ offensive line, having used five different combinations up front and no continuity or chemistry.

3. Running Back

Well, as much as some would hate to admit it, the running back position has been one of weakness for the Falcons this year. Jacquizz Rodgers is the leading rusher this year, and he has just 79 carries for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He is a good receiver for a back, but he’s not a featured running back in the NFL.

Steven Jackson has been a major disappointment with his lack of production and injuries, to say the least. Jason Snelling can’t be relied upon either. Expect the Falcons to add a running back or two this offseason to try and get back that element of their offense that was so key in the last few years.

4. Healthy Receivers

This seems obvious, but Roddy White has been unable to stay on the field and Julio Jones obviously had the season-ending injury. They need both of these guys to be at full strength, and with the emergence of Harry Douglas in their absence, this position should be of no concern going forward.

5. Rebuild the Defensive Backfield

The Falcons did a good job of getting some young guys in the secondary this year, but they need to go after some veteran or maybe multiple veterans in free agency that can add that element back to their defense that they had last season, where they were opportunistic and were able to force a lot of turnovers. I think they figured they had enough pieces in place to keep some continuity, but it really hasn’t worked out.

This year, they have just six interceptions and two recovered fumbles.

The Solution

Get Jadeveon Clowney or Anthony Barr. The Falcons need to get a little bit lucky in terms of draft position, but because of the supply/demand of quarterbacks and the fact that there are two elite defenders in this draft, they should be able to come away with one.

You would think.

If not, the Falcons have to get the best offensive tackle in the draft, and as we saw last year, that could change even in the month leading up to the time they are on the clock. Hopefully it won’t be a long road back to the top for the Falcons, but their division is getting better and better and they seem to be the one team that’s on a steep decline right now.