Baseball's no fun from now until September, and we can only watch old NFL highlights on YouTube for so long before we need to start prognosticating on the '06-'07 NFL season. Fall can't come soon enough. In the meantime, here's the second of our 32 team previews for the upcoming season, the Atlanta Falcons.
TOM'S TAKE: I'll refrain from going through how I feel about Michael Vick in detail again. Let me just say this -- despite all of the positives on this team (and there are a few), they'll never live up to their full potential with the Vick of today. So let's move on.
The rest of the offense is teetering on the edge of mediocrity, as well. Vick's got a cannon arm, but he can't throw when he's running. Which is just about always. They've had a few failed experiments at receiver (by a few we mean every one they've tried thus far). The team has invested their last two #1 picks on wide receivers (Michael Jenkins and Roddy White), but despite claims each year that Vick is gaining a rapport with his receivers, we've yet to see those results translate to the field. When your tight end (Alge Crumpler) is your best chance at success vertically, your air offense can best be described as anemic. Where the Falcons have excelled tremendously recently is on the ground with the DVD attack (as in -- Dunn, Vick, Duckett), but that strategy, like its namesake, will be obsolete soon. Dunn has confounded expectations his entire career and was able to pick up 1,416 yards last year. But he's 31 now -- the age where running backs typically fall apart (see MARTIN, CURTIS). Vick is always one ill-advised sprint from the pocket from pulling a Culpepper (think three simultaneous ligament tears Culpep, not sex boat Culpep -- although, I always wondered what became of Ron Mexico). And there are rumors surrounding T.J. Duckett and a deal that could land him in Pittsburgh. They drafted Jerious Norwood in the third round, but he's a slash-runner like Dunn, not the type of goal-line and tough yardage back they'll need to replace Duckett if he departs.
The injury to Brady Smith last year left Atlanta's usually stellar run defense woefully shorthanded -- the right side of their defensive line was Ellis Island-wide for anyone who wanted to break through. To remedy that they traded their first rounder this year for John Abraham and offered him a ton of money. He'll occupy two defenders, leaving room for Ed Hartwell, Keith Brooking, and Rod Coleman to get into the backfield undisturbed. The back four is better with the addition of Lawyer Milloy, who's hard-hitting style and good coverage skills will benefit all aspects of the defense, but the Falcons could have picked better than slip-sliding Jimmy Williams in the second. Williams has good size but character troubles who was originally projected as a first round prospect but plummeted because of questions about his ability to upgrade to the NFL level.
The Falcons, for the most part, stayed quiet and plans to let their younger talent develop. This idle strategy won't get them very far in a tough NFC South where every other team has been proactive in improving themselves from a year ago. This will leave the Falcons in the dark come playoff time. With a schedule as tough as theirs, they might not make it to Week 9 against Detroit any better than 1-6 or 2-5, and the schedule doesn't get any easier in the second half of the season with games against Dallas, Washington, and Carolina. Expect a below .500 season, Falcons fans.
KYLE'S TAKE: Let me just say, I agree with everything Tom's already had to say about Michael Vick. He's just declined and declined. In fact, the only impressive feat he's accomplished is the number of pundits he gets to blow him (or vice versa). What broadcaster or sports reporter isn't on Vick's nuts? He may have a decent cannon; however, a cannon means nothing when it doesn't hit its targets. I've seen plenty of plays where Vick just misplaced a ball. And now that teams know how to spy him, his legs aren't the deadly force they used to be -- he's forced to pass. When it comes to passing, Vick is par at best. But on the bright side, at least he's not a gun-toting, knee-cracking, sexual-harrassing ass like his brother.
The Falcons best chance at QB is if Vick gets hurt and backup (and UVA alum) Matt Schaub plays. Why? Well, Vick's never had year where his passer rating was higher than 81.6. Last year, Schaub played 4 games and has a passer rating of 98.1. Let's look at the receivers. Brian Finneran had 611 yards and Michael Jenkins had 508. Let's put that in perspective -- Chris Chambers had 1 less yard than those two combined. In fact, the only one worth anything in the reception catagory is Alge Crumpler. He's the only one on the team in the top 40 NFL receiving stats.
I've always loved their running duo though. Warrick Dunn put up monster numbers last year. He had 1416 rushing yards and averaged 5.1 YPC. He only had 3 TDs rushing (1 receiving) but that's because all close goalline carries went to powerhouse T.J. Duckett, who had 8 TDs. Their rushing was the bright spot in the Falcons offense.
The Falcons have a pretty good defense. They have LBs Keith Brooking and Demorrio Williams, who had 115 and 127 tackles respectively last year. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall rocked out with 6 interceptions and 60 solo tackles. But when it comes to team stats, they're in the middle of the pack with total TDs allowed (38) and average yards allowed (325.0). Those aren't playoff-winning numbers, especially averaging 326.6 yards a game and scoring 39 TDs overall on offense. That 1 extra yard and 6 extra points doesn't scream playoff success.
The Falcons have a pretty tough schedule and are pretty much the same team as last year. The only big moves made were picking up Milloy at safety, strengthing their secondary, and Abraham to improve their defensive line. But with just those moves and a draft to not really brag about, the Falcons might fall behind the pack. Their first pick was in the 2nd round where they took VaTech corner Jimmy Williams. It's not a bad move to take a corner from a defensively solid team to strengthen their secondary even more. But it's not enough.
The Falcons will not make the playoffs. They've got a tough division with a new-look Saints team, an up-and-coming Bucs team, and the Carolina Panthers, who are always a threat not just for the playoffs but the Superbowl. They will most likely finish 3rd in the division, but with the Saints, who knows? The Falcons could finish last. With the poor year they're about to put up, the question I have is when Atlanta fans will realize that Mike Vick is not the real deal.