Dave the Falconer, from our Falcon's blog (The Falcoholic), put together a fantastic scouting report on his beloved team. He covers the running game, passing game and overall defense with the kind of detail that a truly obsessive fan could provide. I also provided him with a scouting report on the Cardinals running game and defense (check it out right here) so enjoy and let us know what you think.
The Atlanta Falcons are a team annihilating expectations.
No one at the beginning of the season could have possibly predicted a playoff berth for the Falcons, who were widely panned as the most woeful team in the NFL. They've gotten this far through excellent scheming, a potent run game, a terrific rookie quarterback and a better-than-expected defense. I'll take a brief look at all of them here, to give you guys a better idea of what you're up against.
Start with the coaching. Mike Smith was largely unknown when he was hired from Jacksonville, but he proved his mettle very early on. The defensively-minded coach proved in his gruff, cursing way that he could relate well to his players and knew how to delegate to a talented team of coordinators. He also presides over an aggressive game plan that pulls no punches early on, allowing the Falcons to become one of the league's most successful teams in the first quarter. If Smith has a weakness, it's that he often lets up when the Falcons have a lead and turns over to a conservative scheme that often lets opponents back in. That may not happen against the Cardinals, who are likely to keep the game close because of their big-play potential. Smith is a legitimate coach of the year candidate for the way he's turned around the culture, attitude and play of the Falcons.
The Falcons have lived and died by the run over the last six or seven years. With Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett in the backfield, they used to regularly put up huge rushing totals and take pressure off of Michael Vick or whoever was replacing him at QB. This year, Michael Turner has dominated while Jerious Norwood provides a change of pace and handles pass-catching duties. The combination has been extremely successful and will be in the spotlight in Arizona. The only concern for Falcons' fans is that Turner's workload may be too heavy; he's almost certain to hit the 400 carry milestone in this game or (if they advance!) in the next round of the playoffs.
Then there's the passing game. Look no further than Matt Ryan and Roddy White. I booed the selection of Ryan fiercely, burned as I was by years of franchise quarterback talk that turned sour for our team. I can now say that I'm a big fat dummy who doesn't deserve to talk. Ryan has been a complete revelation, putting up one of the best seasons ever by a rookie quarterback and making everyone around him look better. The lone exception to that rule has been Roddy White, who already looked as though he'd be awesome this season. That tandem carried the passing game through much of the first half of the season, where White simply couldn't be stopped by mortal corner backs. In the latter half of the season, the Falcons began to see contributions from second receiver Michael Jenkins, who is a huge target, and young speedster Harry Douglas. Still, Ryan is always looking for White, which can be a problem when he forces throws or lofts one of his occasional excruciating rainbows. Keep an eye on those two.
Finally, the defense. The D will determine whether the Falcons win this game. They've been bad at times, good at others, but they always allow quite a bit of yardage at the expense of touchdowns. When the Falcons are truly on their game, John Abraham is a sack machine and they get solid pass rush from everyone involved. When the Falcons are at their best, the secondary limits receivers effectively. Against the Cardinals, they're going to have to be superb at minimum. I have nothing but respect for Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and even Steve Breaston, and I know it's going to take harrying Warner to really slow any of them down. The offense will get out there and do their job, but if we can't stop you we just can't win this game.
Should be a terrific match-up, and I hope we enjoy it a little more than you do. Good luck out there, Cards fans!
Many thanks to Dave. What do you think of the Falcons and their dream season?