The Atlanta Falcons have a long ways to go. While they were close to making the playoffs last year it would have been with a losing record which isn't anything to brag about. This team was within a drive in 2012 of going to the Super Bowl. Since then it has gone down hill. Their defense is horrible, the offensive line is not good, and the running game is pretty sad. It doesn't mean there aren't good things the team can build on but it may take a while to be competitive again.
On offense Atlanta has a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan, a stud receiver in Julio Jones and an excellent compliment on the other side in receiver Roddy White. That is where the good news ends. The success of the running game will rest on second year back Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman. Their youth doesn't mean they can't succeed but with an offensive line that was average on it's best days it is hard to say what the Falcons will get. The offensive line didn't get better through the draft so hopefully the personnel changes that have occurred combined with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his zone-blocking scheme will mean we'll see some improved play. This team needs to be able to run to help open up things for what has been in the past, and can be again, a top passing offense. But it will all begin and end with the line. Ryan has been sacked a total of 75 times the past two seasons. That can't continue if this offense is to succeed.
The defense was terrible last year by almost any measure which is why owner Arthur Blank chose defensive coordinator Dan Quinn of the Seattle Seahawks to be the new Atlanta coach. I'm not sure there is any group on defense that is settled. The defensive backs have some decent parts in Desmond Trufant and William Moore but that isn't enough to carry the defense. Number one draft pick Vic Beasley will be expected to produce a pass rush, something the Falcons haven't had consistently in years. A lot to ask of a rookie. The coaching staff have a huge project ahead of them in fixing all the issues on defense.
For me this is all about the offensive line and the defense. There have to be major gains in each group for Atlanta to make the turn. The Falcons issues will take another year or two see major improvements. That said their division is not a strong one and their schedule is not a hard one. What does that mean? Maybe Atlanta does surprise everyone makes some big strides. I do think they can win eight games and with some luck even win 9. In the NFC South that might win the division. I don't say that with pride but it may be a reality. I like the Quinn hiring and with some luck he'll get Atlanta back on track. I, like most fans, have hope and I think we'll see some better play from the Falcons this year.