2011 Atlanta Falcons – One and Done… again

It’s been 4 days since my Falcons were pulverized by the New York Giants, and it’s taken that long for me to collect my thoughts in a coherent fashion. It’s one thing for me to go off half-cocked but I like my ability to be subjective about the subject matter so it’s taken me a week to stand back and calm down.

Looking back at the season and the disappointing outcome, it’s easy to lose yourself in exactly what the Falcons have accomplished over the last 4 years.

After the Bobby Petrino – Michael Vick debacle of 2007, if someone walked up to me and said “would you take a 43-21 regular season record but a 0-3 in the playoffs for the next 4 years” you’d be hard pressed to find any Falcon fan that wouldn’t leap at that. But that’s not the way the NFL works in it’s “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” and constantly increasing expectations.

So for those fickle fans screaming for Mularkey, Brian Van Gorder, TD or Mike Smith’s head, I think a little bit of proper perspective is needed. The Falcons over the past 4 years have been very successful, it’s transformation into a consistent winner is something that you can’t just discount.

But still, the 24-2 dismantling of the Dirty Birds showed that last year’s whipping to the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers was no “aberration” as Mike Smith likes to put it. Simply put, the Falcons have a long way to go before they are ready to compete with the Packers and Saints of the NFC.

As I did with the losses against Green Bay and Arizona, the team once again failed to rise to the occasion and seize the moment. For all the talk of being “explosive” and the aggressive moves to draft Julio Jones, the Falcons were anything but last Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

3 things I took away from Sunday’s loss

1. Michael Turner has fulfilled the Curse of the 360. pretty simple right? The NFL is a meat grinder and running backs have a short shelf life, especially when taking on such huge workloads as Turner has (335+ carries every season). see Shaun Alexander.

  • From 2008-2010, the Falcons converted 33 of 51 4th down conversions for a disgusting 65% success rate.
  • In 2011 this conversion rate fell to 31 % with numerous key 4th down failed conversions against the Giants as well as the Saints (Mike Smith’s infamous overtime failed conversion)
2. The Falcons over-extended their expectations of the offense and Mularkey mismanaged key situations in games
  • 1. They got an offense that scored zero points against a team that surrendered 400 points during the regular season, the most by any playoff team.
  • Caught up in the hype of the passing league and believing the offense was a Julio Jones away from becoming a Saints or Packers like offense led TD to neglect the offensive line.
  • They got zero movement from their offensive line in two key short-yardage situations and lacked the ability to consistently give Matt Ryan time.
  • You are on the road in a hostile environment and your 1300-yard wrecking ball of a running back is standing on the sidelines while your franchise QB attempts not ONE failed 4th and 1, but TWO.
3. The Falcons lost their identity this year.
  • The Falcons pride themselves on playing smart, tough football and being a run first physical team. And the first half of the season was lost as the offense awkwardly bumbled trying to become this high flying passing attack.
  • When Matt Ryan throws the ball more than 40 times, the Falcons are 1-7.
  • Instead of addressing clear issues on defense and the offensive line, the Falcons gambled on draft day moving up to take Julio Jones.
What has that move gotten them in 2011? Take a look :

2010 Record 13-3 – Playoff seed No. 1 – Points scored 414 – Points allowed 288

2011 Record 10-6 – Playoff seed No. 5 – Points scored 402 – Points allowed 350

Winning less games, scored fewer points, gave up more points and fell from the first seed to the fifth. Yes the Falcons underachieved horribly, and the front office knows it.

To be fair, the Falcons have acted quickly and as Dimitroff said in Wednesday’s press conference, that there was not “going to be a minor tweak, like changing the color of socks.” When a team sweeps both coordinators out of the door, it’s clear that there will be change.

But who will replace Mularkey and Brian Van Gorder? Who can make this offense click and operate without targeting Roddy White 200 times in a season? And the real kicker, who can take Matt Ryan to the next level?

Because with the meek showing in NY, Ryan now faces a crossroads for the first time in his career. No longer is he the boy wonder that broke the record for winning as a QB in his first four years, bucking the trend of struggling rookie quarterbacks.

Now the focus and whispers are that Matt Ryan comes up small in big situations, hey it may sting to hear, but that’s the reality of it. If he wants to change this perception, it’s up to him.

And perhaps more importantly who will help transform the defense from a soft zone pudding to an “aggressive, attacking” defense as Dimitroff spoke about on Wednesday. A defense that can get off the field in a 3rd and long situation for once. A defense that doesn’t play the docile bend but don’t break philosophy.

A scheme change is definitely something the Falcons should discuss, but do they have the personnel? I’ll get into that later.

These are all questions that need to be seriously contemplated this off-season, not to mention issues regarding free agents, RB, OL and FS.

But for the meantime, I can still say I am proud to be a Falcons fan, and I’m proud of the way the team fought through the season. I’m not happy with how the season ended, but I’m excited for the future and what moves will bring Atlanta their first Super Bowl Championship.

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