2012 Record: 13-3; lost to San Francisco 49ers in NFC Championship
Key Offseason Additions: Steven Jackson, RB (STL); Osi Uymenyiora, DE (NYG)
Key Offseason Losses: Michael Turner, RB (UFA); Mike Cox, FB (UFA); Todd McClure, C (Retired); Tyson Clabo, OT (UFA); John Abraham, DE (UFA); Duanta Robinson, CB (KC); Brent Grimes, CB (MIA)
The trio of Matt Ryan, Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff finally got over the hump by picking up Atlanta's first playoff win since the group arrived in 2008. The Falcons defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round and fell just 10 yards short of the franchise's second Superbowl berth in a heartbreaking NFC Championship loss to the 49ers.
Last season, Matt Ryan flourished in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's pass happy offense. Matty Ice set numerous franchise marks and ranked in the top 5 in the NFL in nearly every major statistical passing category. Atlanta also boasted arguably the most dynamic receiving corps in the league led by: the franchise's all time receiving leader, Roddy White, rising star and athletic freak of nature, Julio Jones and the great Tony Gonzalez, who proved he still had it even at age 37. The offensive line also performed more than admirably, and they were a major factor in the 2012 Falcons setting a NFL record for least penalties in a season. A 30 year old Michael Turner posted a career low 3.6 yards per carry and looked washed up. At this stage in his career it would be more appropriate to call him "the plodder" than "the burner".
The offense was among the league's best; however, the same certainly could not be said of Mike Nolan's 24th ranked defense. Atlanta defenders consistently whiffed on tackles throughout the season and as result opponents had little trouble running the ball against them. The team ranked 21st in run defense and led the NFL with 150 missed tackles last year (including playoffs). The Falcon defense also struggled to get to the quarterback and effectively cover tight ends. In their 4 losses last season, they averaged .75 sacks and allowed tight ends to average 8.15 receptions, 105 yards and 1.25 touchdowns a game.
The addition of Steven Jackson should make an already potent offensive attack even more explosive in 2013. Jackson is older and has logged more carries than Michael Turner; but unlike Turner he appears to have plenty left in the tank, and is a more than capable receiver out of the backfield. The return of Tony Gonzalez, and another year of experience for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in Koetter's high flying offense should also do wonders for the progression of this group.
Just as the quality of the offense continues to improve the quality of the defense continues to deteriorate. John Abraham was released in a salary cap move, and his absence will likely have a major impact. Abraham‘s 10 sacks accounted for more than a third of the team's production in that department last year. His replacement, Osi Umenyiora, is an adequate yet overrated pass rusher and a horrendous defender against the run. The departures of corners Duanta Robinson and Brent Grimes have turned a roster once rich in cornerback depth to one that is now very thin at the position. The Falcons enter this year's draft armed with 11 picks, so if two time executive of the year, Thomas Dimitroff, chooses wisely the defense will receive multiple upgrades. Look for him to address one of the team's more glaring needs on the first day of the draft by selecting a corner like Jamar Taylor or Desmond Trufant or an end like Bjeorn Werner or Cornellius Carradine.
The Falcons offense will be virtually unstoppable in 2013 and it should easily carry them to a playoff berth. However, the defense has numerous holes and is sorely lacking playmakers. If that side of the ball is not adequately addressed between now and September, then expect this unit to rank near the bottom of the league and for Atlanta to be in a number of shootouts. These defensive woes, a more difficult 2013 schedule to navigate through and the looming prospect of having to travel out west in the playoffs should prevent the Falcon franchise from taking yet another step forward this year.
How do Redskins match up:
When the teams matched up in week 5 last year the Redskins took two second half leads, and if not for a RG3 concussion or a Billy Cundiff 31 yard shank job then the good guys might have come away with the victory. In that game, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez torched the Washington secondary and Alfred Morris gashed the Atlanta defense to the tune of 115 yards on just 18 carries. Expect more of the same when the teams meet again this year. Ryan will look to pick apart the Redskins porous pass defense as Julio Jones and Roddy White abuse Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall respectively. Tony Gonzalez and London Fletcher will battle like two old men fighting over the last bingo card, with Gonzalez likely coming out on top again. As a result, the Falcon's prolific passing attack should have no problem putting up points against the Redskins 30th ranked pass defense from a year ago. The one defensive saving grace for the Redskins is that Ryan Kerrigan should be able to wreak havoc against Tyson Clabo's replacement at right tackle. The Redskins will also look to exploit their offensive mismatch, as the rushing attack led by Alfred Morris should easily run through the sieve like Falcon rush defense. This will serve a dual purpose by also keeping Ryan and company off of the field. Unfortunately, unlike last year the game will be played in Atlanta this time around where the Falcons are a NFC best 33-7 since 2008. All in all this will be a very difficult game, but with a healthy RG3 for the entire contest the Redskins will be more than capable of pulling off the road upset.