Despite entering the final game of the 2014 season with a 6-9 mark, the Atlanta Falcons were one-game away from an NFC South Division title and an automatic playoff berth. Atlanta saw its playoff chances blown up with a 34-3 loss to Carolina in the final game of the season and then the team was blown up, starting with the firing of coach Mike Smith.
Enter Dan Quinn, a defensive-minded coach who led the Seattle Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
The Falcons also changed a bunch on defense, which was needed after a season where the squad was last in the NFL in yards allowed and passing yards allowed.
Quinn will have a strong offense, led by a strong passing game. If the Falcons can find a consistent running attack and improve defensively, they could make some noise in the division this year.
Let’s look at their projected roster:
WR: Julio Jones
QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Devonta Freeman
FB: Patrick DiMarco
LT: Jake Matthews
LG: Chris Chester
C: Joe Hawley
RG: Jon Asamoah
RT: Ryan Schraeder
TE: Levine Toilo
WR: Roddy White
The Falcons’ offense is led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and at least 25 touchdowns in each of his last four seasons. The passing game is potent with receivers Julio Jones (career highs 104 catches and 1,593 yards) and Roddy White, who had 80 catches.
For the Falcons’ offense to be even more explosive, it will have to get a running attack. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is hoping his zone-blocking scheme can be mastered by either Devonta Freeman or third-round draft pick Tevin Coleman out of Indiana.
If this unit, especially in the running game, can get going, Atlanta’s offense could be really dangerous.
DE: Vic Beasley
DT: Paul Solial
DT: Ra’Shede Hageman
DE: Adrian Clayborn
LB: Brooks Reed
LB: Paul Worrilow
LB: Justin Durant
CB: Desmond Trufant
CB: Robert Alford
S: William Moore
S: Dezmon Southward
The Falcons’ defense was a mess in 2014 and it started up front. Only Cincinnati had fewer than Atlanta’s 22 sacks in 2014. Quinn took immediate action to change that.
Atlanta signed former Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who has a high-motor but struggled throughout his career with injuries. Then with the No. 8 pick in the draft, the Falcons selected rush end Vic Beasley out of Clemson. The team asked Ra’Shede Hageman to lose some weight to play the 3-technique and become a disruption in the middle of the defense.
At linebacker, the Falcons signed Brooks Reed and Justin Durant to man the outside. Both players are athletic and fast. Reed can be used as a blitzer or in coverage, while Durant plays especially well in coverage.
It will begin with the defensive line, however. Any improvement will start with those players.
Notes: Atlanta’s three-day mini-camp (June 16-18) will be open to the public. It will be held at the Flowery Branch training facility at 4400 Falcon Parkway.