Know Your Enemy: Atlanta Falcons

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Sep 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) reacts after the Falcons scored a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) reacts after the Falcons scored a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons are one of the more perplexing teams in the league. After seemingly coming out of nowhere to dominating the Patriots for 45 minutes at the Super Bowl, last season was an amazing year for them. However, there are still plenty of questions to be had.

I’d like to thank one of my colleagues, Terrence Biggs, for helping out with this piece. He is responsible for the questions concerning the defensive side of the ball. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter at @TeeBiggs.

How does the loss of Kyle Shanahan hurt the Falcons?

Kyle Shanahan gained more praise than I have ever seen for a coordinator, maybe bar Buddy Ryan, last season during the Falcons’ Super Bowl run. However, with him departing to San Francisco, former USC head coach and Nick Saban assistant Steve Sarkisian takes the reigns. From what we have seen and heard about in practices and preseason games, his scheme is almost identical to Shanahan’s, so there shouldn’t be much of a difference. However, with any coaching change, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Was last season a fluke for Matt Ryan?

It still feels insanely weird to say “reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Matt Ryan”. Ryan put up immaculate numbers last season and was obviously a huge part of what got the Falcons into the situation in which they were in. However, he’s also gained many critics, including myself, who don’t believe his play backs up the numbers he’s been putting up. With a really good Bears pass rush against him, we will see how he truly handles the heat.

How will the rest of the offensive weapons be used?

The Falcons offense is a lot like the Patriots, in which they have a ton of names who don’t seem to have matching roles. However, like the Patriots still, they seemed to make it work last season. They had a perfect blend at running back, with Tevin Coleman playing more as a change of pace back complimenting Devonta Freeman, but that all has the possibility to change this year. Austin Hooper, who caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl, takes over for Levine Toilolo as Ryan’s number one tight end. The one main constant, however, is that the Falcons can use Julio Jones wherever they want and he will be successful. He is an absolute force, and going up against a weaker secondary like the Bears, he should be able to find himself a plethora of open looks.

Recently, the Falcons released NT Ra’Shede Hageman, how does this affect their run defense?

Due to an ongoing domestic violence investigation, the Falcons parted ways with the massive nose tackle. Hageman occupied the middle and clogging running lanes. However, the Falcons signed former Chiefs NT Dontari Poe to serve as an upgrade. Poe brings the same mass and earth-moving strength as Hageman, yet, his shocking nimbleness allows him to provide a degree of upfield push.

After a breakout 2016, where can Vic Beasley improve?

First, Beasley needs to acclimate to a brand new position. In the offseason, Atlanta decided to shift the talented edge rusher to strongside linebacker. While this move can reduce wear and tear, other concerns arise. Can Beasley effectively cover? While Beasley possesses the athletic ability to play the position, the question remains on how this switch pays dividends for the Falcons.

Which rookies will require attention?

Immediately, the name Takk McKinley pops to mind. The former UCLA standout gives Atlanta another pass rush threat on the perimeter. McKinley’s burst and determination to meet at the quarterback will suit him well. Additionally, the Falcons should limit his snaps to obvious passing situations. By working him in slowly, this provides a calmer learning curve.

How will the Atlanta defense rebound from the Super Bowl catastrophe?

Imagine having a twenty-five point lead in the second half, only to see it dissipate. Now, include this collapse during the biggest game of the season. The Falcons’ dream season ended nightmarishly in the Super Bowl. While the defense should shoulder the blame, the offense fell victim to befuddling play calling in the red zone.

With that said, this defense’s youth affords them short memories. With many years ahead, the further away from 28-3 they move, the better this unit should perform. To quote Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

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