Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Only One Pig Will Need to Fly: Atlanta Falcons

OK, a few brief notes:

-- The Mariners just absolutely suck donkey balls against the A's.

-- The semi-joke in this title (which Gavin wasn't smart enough to figure out) is a play off the old saying.... when pigs fly. Well, this group has a small possibility of making it to the postseason, so instead of going with the super-difficult feat of pigs (plural) flying, the joke refers to only ONE pig (singluar) having to sprout wings and fly. Thus, a joke. It's ok, Gavin, I realize they don't teach joke-understanding in Electrical Theory.

-- Yes, I was basically drunk off heat-exhaustion towards the end of the Buffalo Bills piece. Basically, I live in Phoenix, and my car is parked 15 minutes from where I work (thank you ASU, for your awesome transportation services!). However, is there anything actually interesting there to write about Buffalo? Marv Levy is 150 years old, Dick Jauron is close behind, and they'll going to be terrible. Nothing more to write about that.

Whew. WIth that unpleasantness behind us, I move forward to a much more interesting team, one that started off 6-2 before Michael Vick-ing their way to an 8-8 record. All that Super Bowl talk before last season? Not hearing much of a peep before this season.

The main reason that this team remains outside of the postseason? One Michael Vick, aka Ron Mexico (for those of you who don't know that side story, just know that it's awesome and involves him needing an alias for an embarrassing reason). Before I dive into that, let me pose the question.... what was the difference between 6-2 and 2-6 for the Atlanta Falcons? Was their skid a product of injuries (Ed Hartwell, for one), or a harbinger of ills to come?

Avg throwing yards (6-2): 156 yds (one game Matt Schaub)
Avg throwing yards (2-6): 183 yds

Hmmmm. Nothing much to see there. If anything, there is improvement in the passing attack.

Avg rushing yards (6-2): 185 yds
Avg rushing yards (2-6): 135 yds

Wowsers. There's the beginning of a reason. The Atlanta Falcons are all about running the football, and sported the league's best running attack in 2004. It seemed to take another half of a season, but teams began to wake up to the fact that, in order to stop the Falcons offense, you needed to stop Dunn and the rushing attack. Make Vick beat you with his arm. Could Vick do that? Apparently not, and I'll get more into that later.

One more fun stat, this just doing with general wins and losses for the 2005 Atlanta Falcons (this is for the legions of fans who all feel that they are right back in the Super Bowl hunt this year.

W/L record of teams Falcons beat in 2005: 44-84 (New Orleans Saints twice!)
W/L record of teams Falcons lost to in 2005: 82-46

Yeah! You the man! Way to beat Detroit, Minnesota, Buffalo, and the Jets!

Enough of that. Let's move on to an actual preview of this season, and why both Gavin and I feel that this team has a long way to go before they prove themselves a contender.

Atlanta Falcons
2005 Record: 8-8
Huge Mega-Losses: Brian Finneran (injury)
Huge Mega-Upgrades: John Abraham, Lawyer Milloy, Jimmy Williams, Wayne Gandy

Quarterback: THE Michael Vick Experience

I admit, I enjoyed Michael Vick a lot more two-three years ago then I do now. When you watch him, you are still guaranteed to witness at least one amazing play, whether it is him shedding a would-be sacker or gallivanting his way through numerous defenders down the field, as he did to Seattle last season. He is a truly special athlete.

Emphasis on athlete.

As a quarterback, where, last time I checked, is the postion he plays, Vick has been, frankly, terrible. Here is the group that Vick finds himself in the DPAR (defense-adjusted points above replacement) rankings.....

22. Aaron Brooks (Gavin's favorite): 23.2
23. David Garrard (the fat wonder): 19.9
24. Trent Dilfer (I love him, but he sucks): 14.9
25. Josh McCown (the savior of Detroit): 13.1

26. Michael Vick (SUPERSTAR): 12.9, right above Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington.

As for DOVA (defense-adjusted value over average, meaning how much better Vick does in a game situation then would an average NFL quarterback)....

26. Michael Vick: -5.9%

Vick, as a quarterback, was barely superior to a replacement player, and worse than an average NFL quarterback. This should come as no surprise to those suckers who keep drafting him onto their fantasy squads, or to the poor saps who consider Michael Vick a top-tier NFL quarterback. He's not. The West Coast scheme has completely backfired, as Vick shows no accuracy and, frankly, not the intelligence necessary to pick up the system. Now, it usually does take three years to learn, so, if Vick magically turns everything around, I'll fall on my knees and pray for forgiveness for doubting such a special player. However, it just burns me that so much hype is wasted on this guy when he doesn't do his job that well. Um, Matt Schaub is a better quarterback. I believe that the Atlanta Falcons know this, which is why Matt Schaub is still an Atlanta Falcon.

Running Back:
Warrick Dunn
T.J. Duckett

Three reasons to explain the drop in the running game for the second half of the season.
-- Warrick Dunn was wearing down
-- The rushing game couldn't remain top tier during a horrible season by Duckett
-- Teams began to completely focus on the run

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I'm a huge Warrick Dunn fan, but he is a small one, and the pounding has to take a toll. Duckett managed to become a completely terrible player by the second half of last season, and the Falcons have to be hoping for a resurgence. Finally, teams are not stupid. They can see that Vick is struggling throwing the football and connect the dots. The point still remains: For now, if you stop the Falcons rushing attack, you stop the Falcons. This is the difference between the Falcons and other great rushing teams. The Steelers. The Broncos. The Seahawks. If you concentrate on only shutting down one area of the offense, those teams will rip you up through the air.

Wide Receivers:
Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Jerome Pathon, Alge Crumpler

Ouch. Don't get me wrong, there is some talent there. Crumpler, in particular, seems to be the one person Vick has no problem throwing the football too. White and Jenkings, however, are both young, with no history of being a go-to individual. Gone are Peerless Price and Brian Finneran, the top two Atlanta receivers a year ago (yes, I know Price wasn't super-awesome, but, talent-wise, he was still one of the top-two); Finneran being the biggest blow because he was white. Oh, and he was Vick's favorite non-tight-end target.

The question is..... can this group turn the Falcons aerial attack into a force? Answer: Probably not, because of the lack of experience, depth, and the simple fact that Michael Vick is the one throwing them the football.

Rushing Defense:
2005: 4.7 yds per carry

That's atrocious. I mean, that's truly terrible. Almost five yards every time the other team decides to run the football? People didn't need to throw the football against the Falcons. THe question is.... can they improve in this category?

Is John Abraham there to tackle opposing rushers? No.
Can Lawyer Milloy stop opposing rushers? No, he's old and the team he was on last year, Buffalo, was even worse against the run.
Can Edge Hartwell's return make a difference? Maybe, but this was developing as a problem even before Hartwell exited stage right.

Here's what I don't understand. The rushing defense, by and large, was the bane of this team last year (besides Vick, of course). What do they do? They go out and massively upgrade their passing defense (Abraham, Williams, Milloy, etc.). Their passing defense should be great, though the curse of having a rookie cornerback might fall upon them as well.

Basically, here are the reason to be optimistic if you are a Falcons fan:

-- Michael Vick is a superior athlete
-- Warrick Dunn still has some great years left in him
-- John Abraham should help the pass rush tremendously
-- You are set in the secondary for a good while

Can those reasons offset these?

-- Michael Vick is a terrible quarterback
-- TJ Duckett looked done
-- The wide receiving corps is weak
-- Little was done to upgrade the rushing defense

Tack that along with the simple fact that the Falcons couldn't beat anyone last year and have to play Tampa Bay and Carolina twice (along with a slightly improved New Orleans team), and you get a recipe that will make for a mighty interesting offseason. My guess? Either Mora or Vick is gone by the start of the 2007 season.

posted by colin_hesse @ 10:07 AM  0 comments


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