After finishing 4-12 a year ago, the Atlanta Falcons have gone through a busy offseason, drafting new players, adding free agents and releasing others who simply could not get the job done. This offseason, Falcons head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have restructured and revamped this team in hopes of returning as a dominant competitor in the NFC South division in the upcoming year.
Last year, the Falcons’ defense fell apart, finishing 27th in yards allowed per game, 31st in yards rushing and 21st in yards passing per game. However, expect these things to be much different in 2014. Now committed to using multiple looks on defense, both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, the defense should see better success on the field. Acquiring players like defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson to play alongside with Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux, Osi Umenyiora and Peria Jerry gives the Falcons a great combination of players on the defensive line who will wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines within the upcoming season.
It brings a sense of balance in terms of producing a strong pass rush and limiting opposing running backs for huge chunks of yards. Thus, in doing so, it takes pressure off the Falcons’ young linebackers. However, youth is not bad, the four linebackers Atlanta selected in this year’s NFL Draft as well as the free agent signings are highly talented and will be ready to make an impact for the team when the season starts.
The Falcons’ secondary was questionable last season, giving up nearly 3,900 yards through the air. Although losing Thomas DeCoud, bringing in young but talented cornerbacks in Javier Wilson from the Arizona and Josh Wilson from Washington, the secondary should see improvements from a year ago.
Overall, the Falcons defense has gotten much stronger and physical up front and talented in middle and secondary. Nevertheless, on offense lies the final offseason move that needs to be made. The quarterback position is solid with Matt Ryan and T.J. Yates as a strong backup. At running back, with Steven Jackson getting old, drafting running back Devonta Freeman was an excellent choice by the Falcons. His strength and quickness will become great assets for Matt Ryan, giving him the ability to spread the ball around to his different wide receivers.
However, the player who impacted the Falcons offense the most is gone: Tony Gonzalez. His replacement is by far the most important offseason move that still needs to be solidified. There are multiple options at the tight end position such as Brian Wozniak, Levine Toilolo, Mickey Shuler, Jacob Pedersen and Bear Pascoe. Pascoe and Shuler have the most experience out of the six total on the roster. Nevertheless, whoever gets the starting position will have big shoes to fill. Gonzalez was the second leading receiver on the team behind Harry Douglas last year.
It will be very important for the Falcons receiving corps to be in sync with Ryan this year as I feel like he will be relying on them more due to retirement of Gonzalez. Bringing in Devin Hester and recently adding former Saints receiver and kickoff returner Courtney Roby to the wide receiver mix, it gives the Falcons depth at the position.
Thus, if one of the six tight ends can step up at the position, this will truly be ideal for Ryan throughout the season. However, because the greatest amount of experience at the position is six years, adding depth at the wide receiver position will truly benefit Atlanta down the stretch of the season.