The Atlanta Falcons entered the Mike Smith era and immediately got better. Smith laid the foundation for a talented Falcons regime, exercised discipline in the draft and free agent markets, building an upwardly mobile franchise. Atlanta hit the post-season party four times before hitting the brick wall of 2103. It was a bad year, to say the least. Injuries decimated both the offense and defense and the Falcons slid into Christmas at 4-12.
2014 should completely different. The Falcons have bolstered their offensive line, a unit that gave up 44 sacks and allowed opposing defenses to ravage their quarterback, with the drafting of Jake Mathews. Steven Jackson is coming back healthy and even more importantly, both Julio Jones and Roddie White are whole again. Tony Gonzales is gone but Atlanta has Levine Toillo, a six-foot-eight prospect who can act as a safety valve for Matt Ryan.
The defense is now under the tutelage of Mike Nolan. Multiple players have been released after the pass rush became a joke. The line is being built around Paul Soliai, who brings at least some massive size and the ability to stop the run. Kroy Biermann, Corey Peters, and Paria Jerry will have to up their games. The bad news is that Sean Witherspoon is lost for the 2014 season. Atlanta did find a diamond in the rough with Paul Worrilow. The secondary will see some new faces also as Asanta Samuel was released. Marcus Trufant and Robert Alford will now get their chance to start.
The 2014 Atlanta Falcons should be nothing if not hungry. After getting a taste of the playoffs the last few years, sitting out in 2013, and suffering 12 losses, is enough to make any NFL team buckle for their dust. The problem is that the NFC South is going to be hugely competitive. The Carolina Panthers are defending a title. The New Orleans Saints now have a Top 10 defense to go along with their Top 5 offense. Even Tampa Bay shows signs on moving in the right direction. The battle for the NFC South title is going to be a brawl in itself and if a team can get past that, there’s still the Seahawks, 49ers, and probably the Packers or Bears to deal with.Eric Drouant