Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Premature Evaluations 2008 – Atlanta Falcons

Life gone crazy? Nothing makes sense anymore? No discernable road back to the golden days? A little failure will go a long way towards fixing your life, or at least your perspective. You know what was one of the best parts for me of last week’s DNC? John Kerry. Four years after the most improbably, mishandled, embarrassing political loss imaginable, this was a completely different John Kerry from 2004. This guy had a look in his eyes that only comes from having nothing else to lose. Fear has no hold any more, expectations mean nothing, and you just let loose. This was the angry looseness that was so unforgivably absent when the pressure was on, and it made me realize why everybody thought he might be a good guy to have in charge four years earlier. He owes this newfound confidence, this filling of his former personal gaps, to failure. Having touched the bottom, John Kerry was forced to come face to face with the things that didn’t work at his very core, and, possessing the kind of strength that comes from a life of achievement, he came back ready to fix those flaws.

Ask yourself if it can get any worse for the Atlanta Falcons.

After six years invested in one of the most dynamic quarterbacks ever, and really the only thing that Falcons had about which they could get excited, the Falcons had their vision for 2007 crushed when Michael Vick was arrested for charges stemming from his dogfighting ring. From there, things only got worse. Despite a serviceable (note that I didn’t say good…just serviceable) performance from Joey Harrington, the team simply couldn’t get any real offense going (note their anemic 95 YPG rushing and ask yourself how important Vick was to this team). Furthermore, the defense was atrocious, posting fourth worst in the league totals in both yards allowed and points allowed. Then, to cap everything off, with games left to play in the season, head coach Bobby Petrino left town in the dead of night, leaving only a Dear John letter for the team he’d led into the abyss. If you ask me, the dogs got the easy way out compared to what Joey Heisman was put through last season. So, with nothing left off of which they could build save for a receiver with one good year under his belt, the team went out and picked up no-nonsense Jacksonville assistant Mike Smith to coach the team, and went to work figuring out not how to fix the team, but how to change the vision for what the team was even supposed to look like.

The good news is that the reboot began on draft day. For all the talk about Glenn Dorsey being the right choice, I’ve come around to the team’s selection of QB Matt Ryan in the first round last April. The kid beat out veteran competition at a clear position of need (I defend him, but DAMN Joey, you can’t hold the ball like that behind a line like this), and that alone should have fans feeling a little more secure. Better still, this isn’t like some incredible physical dropoff from the Vick era; instead, it’s a different kind of physicality, one that has been proven to work (Big Ben) instead of one that is waiting to be brought to fruition somewhere (VY, this is your year). Ryan has downfield vision and size, and can throw on the move. In other words, the team gets to see what Joey Harrington would have looked like if he’d been raised right (he needs to do one of those “confront your past” one-on-ones with Matt Millen.).

Even better news is that the team has given him pieces with which he can grow. Ironically, one of those pieces was meant for Michael Vick, but WR Roddy White proved last year that maybe it was you, not him, Ron Mexico. Putting up over 1000 yards while catching passes from insurance salesmen, failed college stars, and Byron Leftwich, White proved to be more than capable of carrying the offensive load throught he air. Beyond his development, the team began to put the pieces in place to establish the kind of ground offense that used to define it. The addition of LT Sam Baker should give some stability to a line that was anything but reliable last year, and the sleeper hit acquisition of the offseason was the addition of RB Michael Turner to the backfield. Let the naysayers say nay all they want, but dude put up over 6 yards a carry in the season where he had the most attempts, and has yet to post a season under 4. And just in case he can’t carry the entire load on the ground, well, that’s ok, because he doesn’t have to. RB Jerious Norwood, who has a CAREER average of over 6 YPC (on even more carries than Turner) should be able to help fill whatever gaps exist. Somebody tell me why smashmouth football enthusiasts aren’t all hot and heavy for this squad yet?

Of course, none of this is meant to suggest that this team is all better. The defense is still full of holes, and there’s no other proven receiver outside of White. But that’s kind of the point; they don’t need to be, at least not yet. Instead, the “fix” this team needed was a plan, a new idea for how to make things better. They’ve got that. More interesting still, they’re in a division that has shown how quickly team’s can turn around if everything falls into place. Sure, the Saints offense is hot, but how many points can they put up with these guys running all over the field and eating clock like it’s no tomorrow? And does anyone REALLY think that the Bucs or Panthers are in a different league than Atlanta? Point is, this team could surprise a lot of people and pull off something wonderful after everybody saw them dead on the roadside last year. And if they can’t, then fuck it, they’re just happy to still be here, and there’s always next year. Like I said failure is either the cure, or a hell of a placebo, and this team could use both.

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