After a pair of really lousy seasons, the Atlanta Falcons’ 8-8 2015 campaign was certainly a step in the right direction. But now, the hard work of taking the next step is underway, and getting over the hump will surely be a challenge.
(Also read: 6 New Year’s resolutions every Atlantan should have)
It’s a fact that this roster was not deep enough to sustain a 5-0 start, nor is there enough talent at the most important positions on the field. Here are six things the Falcons can do in the offseason to increase the likelihood of a playoff berth in 2016.
1. Find veterans to fortify the offensive line.
Quarterback Matt Ryan had his worst passing year since 2011, and it’s only fair to put some of the blame on the offensive line. That line was still being built with free-agent pickups during the preseason – hardly a recipe for success.
Ryan will lead this team to the playoffs if and only if he has time to throw, and his offensive line hasn’t been good, or even decent, for years. Think about this: at no point in this season did Ryan have a center that could consistently snap him the ball properly in the shotgun formation. This is the National Football League, and the Falcons never possessed a center that could snap the ball correctly.
2. Get a pass-rusher – or three.
The Falcons will finish the 2015 season with the fewest sacks in the league – 19 in 16 games. Believe it or not, that’s actually down from the 22 they had a year ago, and that defensive line was putrid.
The drafting of Vic Beasley was supposed to help the Falcons in the sack department, but in Year 1, it didn’t. He needs veteran leadership to show him how to become a legitimate pass-rusher, and until he’s ready to be the guy, someone else needs to be brought in to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. The Falcons will never be good if opposing QBs are never hit, or even rushed to throw.
3. Revamp the defensive front seven.
To contend for championships, you must have a strong front seven on defense. Carolina was lousy until they did that, and so was San Francisco before them. Your defensive line must be able to pressure the opposing quarterback, and the linebackers have to be strong tacklers that take away the middle of the field on passing plays.
The Falcons have none of that right now. Until they fix those problems, they’ll never be good enough to make a deep playoff run.
4. Retain Roddy White, but groom a successor.
Wide receiver Justin Hardy had a decent rookie season, catching 17 balls for 130 yards in eight games. It remains to be seen if he’s good enough to have a long NFL career, but right now, it’s looking like Hardy will be a nice No. 3 receiver.
Roddy White needs to be back with the Falcons in 2016 because of all the things he does well, even as he gets older. Still, they need to be looking for the No. 2 receiver that will replace him. Julio Jones can’t do it all by himself, and adding another consistent receiver would help him immensely after White is gone. The Falcons need to start thinking about that now.
5. Another cornerback would be nice.
Desmond Trufant is an extremely good corner that will have a lengthy, successful career in the NFL. Robert Alford is a nice player that doesn’t play the ball nearly as often as he should. That means the Falcons are weak against the better offenses in the league – teams that have more than one good receiver.
The Falcons could be a playoff team with Alford on their roster, but it sure would be nice to see them go out and get someone better.
6. Get a new GM to make all these moves.
At this writing, Thomas Dimitroff is still the general manager of the Falcons. It’s beyond time to change that; at this point, I would support head coach Dan Quinn making moves more than this team’s GM. That’s not a good sign.
Owner Arthur Blank has been loyal to Dimitroff, but their business relationship must be severed and someone else needs to take control of this long-term rebuild.
Photo: AP/John BazemoreFollow @Sean_Breslin