Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Outlook on the 2015 Season

The smell of a new season is in the air, a time when every team is (0-0) and theoretically every ones odds to make it to the big game are the same. Though our Atlanta Falcons are far from the worst team in the NFL, most analysts don't think we even have a shot to make the playoffs. So as the 2015 season approaches, let's take a look at 5 reasons why this year's Atlanta Falcons will be major contenders.

 Ladies and Gentlemen…. Mr. Matt Ryan:

Matt Ryan has been nothing short of solid for the Atlanta Falcons since he stepped on the scene in 2008. We're talking about a man whose very first NFL pass was a 62 yard touchdown, a man who has the most comebacks in the 4th quarter/overtime since 2008 (ICE), and a man who consistently performs at a high level despite shaky o-line play and a lack of a solid running game. The past two seasons Atlanta, especially across the offensive line plagued by injuries. As a result, Matt was sacked a whopping 75 times. Though he was sacked often, his high level of play didn't fall short. Ryan went on to throw for 4515 yards and 26 touchdown passes in 2013 (also without Julio Jones and a healthy Roddy White) followed by posting 4694 passing yards and 28 touchdowns in 2014. When Matt Ryan did have a healthy offensive line, a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White, and a defense that did just enough to hold everything together, he had a career year posting 4719 passing yards and a franchise record 32 touchdown passes. This year, Matt Ryan is primed for an MVP season and to lead his team to solid victories, both in the regular and post season.

Who Lee Oh (Julio) Jones:

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) during the first half on Sunday. The Falcons’ victory kept them in a first-place tie with New Orleans in the NFC South. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Julio Jones is a threat to be reckoned with. The Atlanta Falcons number one receiver had the best season of his young career last year racking up 1593 yards, even though he missed a game. Jones is a top five wide receiver in the league and primed for another huge season. Falcons fans should get excited as Jones states that he is bigger, faster, and stronger than he's ever been. This spells trouble for defenses facing Jones and the Falcons this year as Jones should have help from a revamped rushing attack under coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Speaking of a running game….

A Legit Rushing Attack:

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman breaks loose for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo)

2011 was the last time  the Atlanta Falcons witnessed a 1000 yard rushing season by a running back. Since 2011, the absence a rushing attack and multiple changes in the backfield turned the Falcons rushing attack into one of the league's worst units. This off-season, Coach Quinn chose to add Kyle Shanahan to his staff as the Offensive Coordinator. Shanahan brings with him the zone-blocking-scheme, which benefits running backs with low expectations produce at a high-level. In 2012, Alfred Morris, a 6th round draft pick by the Washington Redskins, came into the scheme and rushed for 1613 rushing yards as a rookie. Yes, one thousand six hundred and thirteen yards. Though Morris made a lot of progression in a short period of time to have such an amazing season, the scheme played a major part into his success. Last season, Coach Shanahan would instill the scheme to use in Cleveland where his running back duo of Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West racked up a combined 1280 yards on the ground. This year the scheme will undoubtedly feed the quick, shifty second year running back Devonta Freeman and the explosive 3rd round selection in the draft, Tevin Coleman, who currently have an ongoing battle for the starting position that will fuel this rushing attack. Balance is the last thing that opposing defenses would like to face considering how explosive the Atlanta Falcons passing attack can be when healthy.

Ease of Schedule… Who’s got it better?:

The Atlanta Falcons are blessed with the easiest schedule in the National Football League in 2015. The opponents that Atlanta will play have a combined win percentage of a whopping 40% from 2014. Yes, many of the teams on our schedule have made significant changes headed into this season, but it would be unsound to think that majority of our opponents would suddenly jump to become one of the NFL's best. Last year, Atlanta excelled in the NFC South with a dominant 5-1 record losing only to Carolina in the final game of the season. Each of our division rivals have serious questions that cannot be ignored. Will the departure of Jimmy Graham signal the end to the “scary good” Saints? Will Jameis Winston have heightened interception numbers as he transitions to the NFL? Which version of the Carolina Panthers will show up to play this year? And many more. Outside of our division opponents, the Atlanta Falcons will play the Eagles, Redskins, Vikings, Texans, Colts, Cowboys, Giants, 49ers, Jaguars, and Titans. The only match up that poses a major threat is the Week 11 matchup against the Colts in the GA Dome. 16-0?

Dan Quinn is not Mike Smith:

Dan Quinn, the new man with a plan in Atlanta

In the off-season, the Falcons acquired what could turn out to be one of the most important piece to the major turnaround in Atlanta. A change in what could be called the brain of the football team. Yes, Mike Smith took the organization by storm winning the AP Coach of the Year award in 2008, leading the Atlanta Falcons to the NFC Championship game in 2012, and racking up the most wins and highest win percentage of any head coach in Falcons history. But, the Mike Smith that we came to know and love disappeared the past two seasons making crucial in game mistakes (see vs. Detroit and vs. Cleveland 2014) and questionable personnel decisions. Once a tire goes flat, you have to change it. After a dismal 6-10 season leading to the departure of Mike Smith, Dan Quinn is coming to Atlanta to launch a new era of Falcons football. Coach Quinn brings a level of intensity, grit, and passion to the team that can be seen across country in the stingy Seattle defense. No one truly expects Quinn to come in take the Falcons to the Super Bowl in year 1, but if he can put together a solid defense that can keep major points off the board, and pairs that with the dynamic offense that the Falcons are well known for, it could be trouble for the league and Atlanta could return as one of the league's elite contenders.

--- Alphonso Thomas (@_fortheloveofAj)

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