Continuing my series of team-by-team predictions for this year, it's the Atlanta Falcons!
Today’s absurd prediction: Chris Redman lasts two games as the Falcons’ starter.
Several things have to fall into place for this prediction to come true.
1) The most important one – Matt Ryan must not hold out on his contract. If he misses more than a week of training camp, he will not be ready. I think he’ll learn from the JaMarcus Russell situation last year and realize it’s not worth an extra million dollars to sit out forever. I also think Arthur Blank will be more reasonable with his contract offer.
2) The Falcons must fall significantly behind in their first two games. It’s certainly possible against Detroit, who has the weapons to put up a huge lead when they actually click. In week 2 they have Tampa Bay, who tends to play lower-scoring games. But let’s say Redman throws a pick-six or two. Out he goes, in comes Ryan to finish out the game once it’s lost.
3) Matt Ryan must perform well in the fourth quarter of both games, as well as the preseason. I think he will. From what I’ve seen, he struggles when the pressure is on, and he won’t have any pressure in those games. Based on those performances, he’ll seem ready.
4) Kansas City must appear to have an average or worse defense – if Tamba Hali and Glenn Dorsey look like the scariest young linemen in the league during the first two weeks, the Falcons brass may decide to pick a softer opponent for Ryan’s first start. It’s hard to imagine Kansas City not being bad again this year, but they WERE in the playoffs only two years ago.
The over/under is probably at week 8 at Philadelphia for Ryan’s first start. If so, take the under.
Coaching Changes: Total Overhaul II: The Wreckoning (C-)
Last year, the Falcons completely overhauled their coaching staff, bringing in Bobby Petrino's guys. Then Bobby Petrino absconded before the season ended. Two of the guys Petrino kept on are still there, running backs coach Emmitt Thomas and QBs coach Bill Musgrave. Brian VanGorder, the defensive coordinator, is the only Petrino guy still on the staff - no coincidence that he used to work in Jacksonville under new head coach Mike Smith. Basically, I'm saying there's a lot of turnover on Atlanta's staff, again. That will make things rough for some of the third- and fourth-year guys who are adjusting to their third coach in as many years. As for the new man in charge: Mike Smith didn't get rave reviews from some of his players in Jacksonville; the word is his defensive coordinator title was mostly honorary, since head coach Jack Del Rio handled the bulk of the brain work. The coaches don't have great resumes, either, with the exception of new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who has put together some decent offenses in the past. Terry Robiskie, the wide receivers coach, has been around, but in his stretches with the Redskins and Browns, there were no notable receivers I can think of. Both teams were severely lacking in the passing game during those years. So I wonder if he's actually any good, or just so nice people don't fire him. So while the new coaches may be an upgrade, all this change can’t be good for the short-term.
Draft: As Lilwound Once Said, Here's Hoping Size Doesn't Matter (B+)
Generally, in most situations, I would hate the drafting of Ryan. The best thing to do, in football terms, would have been to draft Glenn Dorsey, which with the hiring of Mike Smith would send the message that you aim to craft a defensive powerhouse. I understand the need for a new “face of the franchise,” though I never understood why a defender couldn’t be Atlanta’s “face,” like Ray Lewis in Baltimore or Brian Urlacher in Chicago. I think Dorsey’s face is more interesting than Ryan’s anyway. However, the situation in Atlanta is unique. This might be a case where the fans' emotional needs are more important than smart football decisions. Drafting Matt Ryan says "Forget Michael Vick." That's a huge message that should help the fans' psyche. Moving on: OT Sam Baker was a nice choice - he's not much of a downfield blocker, but he'll keep guys off your QB's back, and right now, that'll do the trick. I really like LB Curtis Lofton - he's versatile, fast, and has a great nose for the ball. He could be a dynamite special teamer while developing into a starting backer. They made decent use of their third round picks - DB Chevis Jackson appears to be a fine tackler and pass disrupter, though his speed may be a problem; WR Harry Douglas has guts, but he doesn't have the speed to be a successful 5'10" receiver in the NFL; S Thomas DeCoud may prove to be a steal in time - he's got the skills and the hunger, he just needs developing. They got a couple of 5th round linebackers in Robert James and Kroy Biermann, neither of whom I could find much information about - which tells me the pre-draft experts ignored them but the team scouts loved them. RB Thomas Brown is sized like Maurice Jones-Drew, but doesn't seem to bowl people over. His speed and gimmick ability might get him a few moments in the spotlight, but he probably won't factor into the starting picture. Not only are 7th rounders CB Wilrey Fontenot and TE Keith Zinger nothing to get excited about, they leave me saying, huh? You're really okay in the trenches right now? Sam Baker, that's all you needed up front? Amidst all those linebackers and secondary, you couldn't take a big guy or two? Baker is 315 pounds, Zinger is 260, and the third biggest guy in the draft was Lofton at a small 235. Their new quarterback comes in tied for 5th in weight in a class of 11 players. I'm kind of concerned about that, otherwise it's a solid draft.
Player Movement: You Know All Those Falcons You've Heard of? They're Gone. (C-)
If, four years ago, I'd told you that this offseason, the Falcons would cut Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich and retain Chris Redman as their #1 quarterback for the time being, you would have called me a nutjob. And while you may be right, that's not the point, because it's what happened, though Harrington ended up re-signing later. They also cut the only former Pro Bowlers their offense could boast, Warrick Dunn and Alge Crumpler, and traded DeAngelo Hall to the Raiders. So clearly, they're committed to this rebuilding thing. They picked up Michael Turner, of course, and Jason Elam replaces the near-senior citizen Morten Andersen, and they bolstered their secondary early in free agency with the additions of Von Hutchins and Erik Coleman. They added Ben Hartsock from the Titans, but it's hard to imagine the backup to Bo Scaife replacing Alge Crumpler. Interestingly, Crumpler and Hartsock have switched teams; it wasn't even a trade, yet Atlanta got fleeced. The Falcons also added C Alex Stepanovich and DEs Kindal Moorehead and Simon Fraser, young guys to provide some depth and starting options. Finally, they kept their offensive line pretty much intact save the addition of Baker, which is usually a pretty good move. With another year under the belt of youngsters Justin Blalock, Renardo Foster, and Tyson Clabo, the blocking might improve.
Other Considerations: We're Following The Leader, Whoever He May Be.
Seriously, who's this team's leader? Most of the seasoned veterans are recent pick-ups, like Joe Horn, Lawyer Milloy, and John Abraham. There's nobody who's been doing the Atlanta thing for years. It seems to me that right now Atlanta is a team without a foundation, very unstable. The collection of talent on defense was fine last year, yet they finished near the bottom of the league in almost every category. The Michael Turner pickup seems less likely to succeed than Edgerrin James in Arizona - the blockers just aren't there yet, and new systems take time. It seems that new GM Thomas Dimitroff and owner Arthur Blank finally have a plan, since many of these moves say "patience" to me, but since we're just talking about 2008 right here, it doesn't look very good.
Grade: You take one of the worst teams in the NFL and don't do much to improve it immediately... F.
Again, that's just for this year; their future looks a lot better than, say, Oakland's.