In case you thought I'd forgotten about our schedule preview series...think again. There just hasn't been enough time to fit one in with so much other action going on in training camp. But when I start something, I finish it. Usually. So here we go again with another preview of a 2009 Saints opponent and this time we're talkin' bout the dirty birds. Instead of putting together a scouting report myself, I've decided to bring in a special guest and the foremost authority on the subject, fellow Falcons blogger Dave the Falconer [cue bird screech] of The Falcoholic. It's been so long since DTF has stopped by and I know you all crush on him hardcore. Here is what he had to say about everyones least favorite team.
Just like nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, nobody saw the Falcons' offense taking off quite like it did in 2008.
With Matt Ryan providing a calm hand to guide the ship and Michael Turner chewing up yardage like the second coming of Pacman, the Falcons went from being a solid offense in 2007 to a force of nature the next year. WR Roddy White deserves a big chunk of the credit for the turnaround, as he provided the young QB a steady target. Stalwart blocker and decent receiver Michael Jenkins and dynamic slot receiver Harry Douglas rounded out an offense that got a lot done despite lacking a true tight end.
In 2009, all those pieces will return, plus future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez at tight end. He'll provide a security blanket for Ryan, whose numbers will likely be boosted with a true second option in the passing game. The Falcons have promised to cut Turner's carries, but that should mean more touches for home run hitter Jerious Norwood and whoever sits below him on the depth chart. With a healthy, tough offensive line that gained a future run-blocking stud right tackle in Garrett Reynolds, this offense should be considered Top 10.
For the Saints, it's going to take very tough defense to stop a balanced attack like the Falcons'. Stopping Michael Turner was a huge piece of any team's gameplan last year, but in 2009 White and Gonzo will give Ryan a much better chance of weathering the storm when he's asked to air it out. Rattling Ryan would go a long way if the Saints can muster up a pass rush capable of doing so, but the key here is disruption.
The Falcons tuned up a lackluster defense with a strong draft, but the D will still be a giant question mark in 2009.
The key additions are DT Peria Jerry, a pass-rushing defensive tackle with great strength who ought to immediately upgrade the wince-worthy attack the front seven brought last year. Joining him are veterans John Abraham, a veritable sacking automaton, and some combination of space-eating tackle Trey Lewis and versatile tackle Jonathan Babineaux. The true weakness here might be on Abraham's other side, where so-far-bustworthy Jamaal Anderson and solid end Chauncey Davis will compete for snaps.
In the linebacking corps, emerging second year man Curtis Lofton will be flanked by veteran Mike Peterson, who is re-uniting with Mike Smith. He and Jamie Winborn, the potential other starter, are both sure tacklers who don't offer a ton of big play potential. The hope here in Atlanta is that Stephen Nicholas, who has a motor and good instincts, can seize the job from Winborn and prove a disruptive force.
The secondary remains a work in progress. Beyond Chris Houston at CB and Erik Coleman at FS, this team is just throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. Rookie William "C4" Moore is a huge hitter who will do wonders against the run if he gets the nod at strong safety, and he may prove to be a stabilizing force in the secondary. The second corner competition is up for grabs among Chevis Jackson (arguably the team's second best cover corner), Brent Grimes (a freakish athlete), Von Hutchins (a land barton and veteran corner), and rookies Chris Owens and William Middleton. It's a very young defense overall, and the real question is whether or not it can gel.
Against a potent offense like the Saints', the Falcons are going to have some trouble. I think that's inevitable. This is a deeper defense with more youth than last year, so there is a better chance that they'll be able to muster a game-changing big play or two. When you compare these two teams, though, it's pretty obvious that there's two strong offense and two average defense going up against one another. In 2009, that should be good for a couple of coronary-inducing shootouts, I would say.
Falcons 2008 Season
December 7th, 2008
Why the Saints Can Win
I don't like the Falcons.
Why the Saints Can Lose
Because the Falcons are actually pretty good now.
Split. Atlanta wins one and New Orleans wins one.
TE Tony Gonzalez
LB Mike Peterson
OLB Jamie Winborn
OL Adam Speer
2009 Draft Class
DT Peria Jerry
CB Christopher Owens
CB William Middleton
OT Garrett Reynolds
OLB Spencer Adkins
DT Vance Walker
QB Michael Vick
OT Wayne Gandy
DE/DT Simon Fraser
DT Rod Coleman
OLB Michael Boley
OLB Keith Brooking
CB David Irons
OL Jeremy Newberry