1.) Pro Bowlers on offensive line. Panthers: Center Ryan Kalil, Guard Trai Turner, Cardinals: Guard Mike Iupati, The Patriots had no All Pros but they overcame injuries using over a dozen different combinations of starting five to protect Tom Brady. That's depth, something the Falcons haven't had in the trenches the last three years.
Like it or not Matt Ryan is the franchise quarterback. The Falcons have given over a hundred million dollars in guaranteed money to Ryan & Julio Jones. Yet they spend a fraction of that protecting their investment with a patchwork offensive line. Cobbled together less than a week before the season began, the line showed initial success and then was exploited up the middle. Ryan, like all quarterbacks, needs to be able to step up in the pocket. That's hard to do when Andy Levitre is being pushed into the backfield or Chris Chester is stepping on your foot.
Getting the snap to the QB is also an important part of the equation. No team looked more Mickey Mouse in the shotgun than the Falcons this year. Jake Mathews & Ryan Schraeder did a solid job, the left and right tackle spots are secure, but we have to draft well and sign quality free agents at guard and center or we'll repeat the collapse of 2015.
2.) Stud Linebackers... Broncos: Von Miller, Panthers: Luke Kuechly & Thomas Davis, Patriots: Jamie Collins & Jabaal Sheard. Who's Jabaal Sheard? A dude with 8 sacks. I could have listed Dont'a Hightower as one of many playmakers in a sum of its parts New England defense.
Paul Worrilow works his butt off, leads the team in tackles and wouldn't be starting for any of the teams playing this weekend. How many of those 95 tackles were for loss? Five. Worrilow had zero sacks. Brooks Reed when healthy was ineffective. Justin Durant was solid when healthy, unfortunately he was rarely at 100% this season. There are no playmakers/difference makers at LB for the Falcons, period.
3.) Pass Rush/Defensive Line. Broncos: DeMarcus Ware & Von Miller, Panthers: KaWann Short, Patriots: Chandler Jones. Cardinals: Calais Campbell
You have to go back to the 2004 season with Patrick Kearney & Rod Coleman to find two Falcons with double digit sacks, (they combined for 24.5 that season). That's more than the entire Falcons team in 2014. This year under Dan Quinn we totaled 32 sacks. With Cam Newton likely to win this year's MVP and the emergence of Jameis Winston in Tampa the Falcons are facing 2 big physical QBs for the foreseeable future. We need some hombres that can get these dudes on the ground.
4.) Swagger. Attitude. Like most Falcons fans it burns my butt that Carolina may get their hands on the Lombardi Trophy before we do. If that happens everybody in the NFC South will have a Super Bowl win but us. Say what ya want about Cam Newton and many of you do (LOL), but the guy is having an amazing season. You might not like the dabbing and pulling all that nonsense after a score but tell me you wouldn't want that kind of energy in The Dome?
Your kid wouldn't want a football from Matt Ryan? Unfortunately, he only gives them to opposing linebackers.
I thought we were gonna be "fast and physical" this year? Losing to Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers by settling for a field goal instead of going for the game-winning touchdown from the 2 YARD LINE WITH LESS THAN 3 MINUTES LEFT still baffles me. In the midst of the 6 game losing streak, you could have played any of Matt Ryan or Dan Quinn's sound bites from October or November and not known the difference. Does anybody get fired up around here?
5.) GM/Offensive Coordinator: The Patriots business model only works with Bill Belichick calling the shots. As seen in Kansas City under Scott Pioli or here in Atlanta, without The Dark Lord it just doesn't come together. Josh McDaniels may have bitten off more than he can chew in Denver as a head coach, but his ability to adjust game plans on a weekly basis for the Patriots is amazing. How many offensive coordinators get to the Conference Championship rushing for less than 30 yards? Bruce Arians has resurrected Larry Fitzgerald & Carson Palmer's careers, and it's now clear he was the brains of the operation in Indy. Dave Gettleman the Panthers GM made some tough decisions the last 3 years including jettisoning Steve Smith and sticking with Ron Rivera. He brought in a bunch of cast offs at wide receiver to overcome the loss of Kelvin Benjamin and the Panthers haven't missed a beat.
The number one reason we haven't been to the playoffs the last three years is that our General Manager has missed on so many draft picks and free agents. Why do we have zero playmakers on defense? Why do we have to go searching for offensive linemen Labor Day Weekend? Our inadequacies are the result of a fundamental lack of understanding the trenches by our personnel department. Lionel Vital was offered a demotion but decided to split, meanwhile, Thomas Dimitroff keeps his gig. His knack for survivability is impressive. Throw Mike Smith under the bus, cozy up to new coach Dan Quinn and use a long time assistant as a scapegoat.
You don't see the teams in the Conference Championship games operating that way.
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