A lot of things went right for the Falcons in 2008, as they climbed out of the wreckage left by the Bobby Petrino/Michael Vick disasters. It looked like the Falcons would be primed for an impressive encore in 2009, with the addition of Future HOF TE Tony Gonzalez, and a year of experience under the belt of wonder boy QB Matt Ryan. However, as often happens in the NFL, injuries and an unsympathetic schedule did them in.
Fat bottomed RB Michael Turner was in and out of the lineup all year after racking up heavy mileage in 2008, and when his presumed replacement Jerrious Norwood also went down, the run-heavy Falcons were left depending on 3rd string runner Jason Snelling for a good chunk of their offense. As for Ryan, his Y/A dropped by 18% vs. his rookie year, despite having Gonzalez added to his arsenal, and battled a turf toe injury that saw him miss 3 games during a miserable 2-6 midseason stretch that knocked the Falcons out of playoff contention after a 4-1 start.
While an offense that was supposed to be improved had injury issues, the defense made backwards strides as well, particulary against the pass. John Abraham went from 16 1/2 sacks in 08 to just 5 1/2 in 09, and a clown car of subpar defensive backs drove the Falcons to a 25th rank in the league in Y/A against the pass.
Not a whole lot. The Falcons offseason plan seems to be to get everybody healthy and back up to 2008 levels of production. The one big addition to the starting lineup is on the defensive side, where CB Dunta Robinson was brought in to help strengthen the struggling secondary. Robinson was the 10th pick in the 2004 draft by the Texans, had 6 picks in his rookie year, and looked like an elite corner in the making. Since then he's been OK, but for the most part disappointing. On the defensive line, the Falcons hope last year's 1st round pick, DT Peria Jerry, will be healthy this year after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Rumblings out of Falcons camp are that his recovery is iffy at best though. An added burden to that D line because its run defense anchor, Jonathan Babineux, is going to miss some time at the start of the season for a reefer suspension. This year's 19th overall pick, LB Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri), is probably going to start as an outside linebacker and should bring some playmaking ability and a second level pass rushing threat that the Falcons didn't have last year.
On offense, the Falcons are making a big bet that Michael Turner will be back in form after a year of recovering from his 370+ carry opus in 2008. He'll have the benefit of running behind a a good offensive line which remains intact from last year. If healthy, he should be a very effective piece to an offense that again features Ryan, Roddy White (85 catches, 1153 yards), and Tony Gonzalez (83 catches, 867 yards), while at the same time not taking the obscene amount of abuse he did to carry the Falcons to the postseason in 08.
HERE'S YOUR FORECAST
The Falcons obviously have faith in their roster, as it is virtually unchanged from last year. The skill position guys on offense can hang with anyone else's, and the offensive line is intact. If they can dodge the injury curse they had last year, the Falcons offense should put up a lot of points this year. However, the defense doesn't scare me or probably anybody else. Abraham is another year older and will have to bounce back after a big dropoff last year as the pass rushing threat, and their best defensive player, Jonathan Babineux, is going to miss time with the drug suspension. Add to that a still unimpressive secondary, and a pretty tough schedule outside the division (Arizona, San Fran, Cincinnati, and Baltimore all come to the Dome), and I think you're looking at a 9-7 type team. Mike Smith is a good enough coach though to get one more win out of them, so I say 10-6.