Falcons won’t soar again

  • Tuesday, August 18, 2009 9:29pm
  • Sports


Two years ago nothing seemed to go right in Atlanta. Michael Vick was convicted on dogfighting charges, and the Falcons, now without their fleet-footed quarterback, were left to roam the landscape, battered and bruised.

Last year just about everything went right in Atlanta. First-year head coach Mike Smith brought a new era of accountability to the team and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan looked like the next big thing under center in the NFL. Atlanta went on to win 11 games — 10 more than the year before — behind the efficient passing of Ryan and the bulldozer-like running of Michael Turner.

Well, expect things to find middle ground this season. Atlanta wasn’t as bad as their record seemed to suggest in 2007 and not as good as last season. But why aren’t they going to improve on? I know, they dealt for Tony Gonzalez in the offseason to upgrade the passing game. They inked LB Mike Peterson and drafted D-lineman Peria Jerry to improve the defense.

So why? Look closer and you’ll see holes. The offensive line was anchored by two rookies — Tyson Clabo and Sam Baker. There’s not a long track record and one, or both, may have overachieved last season. Secondly, the Falcons were x-x when John Abraham recorded a sack, meaning when he was playing at full tick their defense was great. But Abraham has a long track record of injuries and if he goes down that will be a big blow to Atlanta’s defense. Thirdly, they may have signed Peterson but they lost two other starting linebackers to free agent. And lastly Atlanta’s defensive backfield is made up of young unknowns, including rookie William Moore.

I think all of this drags Atlanta back to the middle and likely 7 wins.

What about fantasy, though. Glad you asked:

QB: Matt Ryan is a good quarterback and will be a star in the NFL for many years to come. He was great in his rookie season, directing the offense and putting the Falcons in position to win week in and week out. But in terms of fantasy he was lackluster. Ryan threw for 3,440 yards, but he tossed only 16 touchdowns and had just five multiple-TD games. But his second year could be better. If I’m correct and I think Atlanta’s defense has a letdown, you can expect Ryan to be throwing a whole lot more this season. Last year Atlanta was the best team in the NFL in terms of building a first-half lead, which meant Ryan often spent the second half handing off to Turner. Expect Atlanta to put the ball in Ryan’s hands more often and unleash their prized quarterback. He’ll close in on 3,800 yards and toss 22 touchdowns. The downside? His interceptions will rise as well. But because you can draft Ryan late grab him if you believe the Falcons’ defense is in for a rough ride.

RB: Turner was a beast last year, running for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. But there’s one problem with Turner, and everybody seems to be harping on it. That’s for a good reason, though, because he doesn’t catch a lot of passes and that can drag a RBs value down. The chances of Turner running for 1,700 yards and staying healthy all season are slim, so if you have a top-4 pick go with somebody else like Steven Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew or Matt Forte.

WR: Roddy White is finally in camp and that’s a good thing. White, who had a breakout season with nearly 1,400 yards and 7 TDs in 2008, should be better this year. Some have argued that the addition of Gonzalez will hurt White by spreading the receiving numbers around more, but, as I wrote above, I think there’ll be more receiving yards to pass around. I was also going to promote Harry Douglass as a fourth WR, but now he’s out and that puts a cap on the fantasy talent here.

TE: Tony Gonzalez is a year older and on a new team for the first time in his career. Those usually mean a dip in production … and it should with Gonzalez as well. Before breaking out in a big way last season with 1,000+ yards and 10 scores, Big Tone caught just five TDs in each of the previous two seasons. I see a digression to that level again. Expect somewhere around 750 yards and 4-5 TDs. That puts him somewhere in the middle of the top-10 of the TE position. Let someone else take him too high.

DEF: As you can probably figure I’m not real high on this unit. The Falcons were solid last season, but were not a great fantasy defense. Atlanta gave up a respectable 20.3 ppg, but it had just 18 takeaways and was second worst in the NFC with just 17 sacks. Don’t bother with this unit.

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