Mike Smith and his excellent coaching staff have the tools to hold off all comers in the NFC South.
By Taylor JonesFoxSports
The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it's time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 13-3…eliminated in championship round by San Francisco
What must the team accomplish to consider the season a success?
With one-and-done playoff experiences in 2008, 2010 and 2011, Matt Ryan and Mike Smith have their eyes keenly focused on the Super Bowl. It took Matt Ryan five seasons before tasting his first career playoff win, and with fellow 2008 first-round draftee, Joe Flacco, winning the Super Bowl last year, the time is now for Ryan.
What is the team's biggest asset?
Coaching continuity. Last season was the first year for both coordinators on this staff and although head coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan spent time together in Baltimore, it was still a new scheme, coaching style and personality for the players to become familiar with. Offensively, Dirk Koetter enters his second year as play-caller and his relationship with Matt Ryan will continue to mature on the field. In fact, there isn’t one single coaching change on this entire staff and they are going to need that coaching continuity as they look to integrate some key players on both sides of the ball. The players will be getting a consistent message from a staff that had them up by 17 points in last year’s NFC Championship Game.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
The answer to his question is more about which rookie HAS to succeed for the Atlanta Falcons. Desmond Trufant has the ability and competitive spirit to be a lockdown corner in the NFL, but the Falcons can’t afford any growing pains from the rookie. Trufant was selected with the 22nd overall pick and was the third cornerback selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. He isn’t a typical rookie in that both of his older brothers, Marcus and Isaiah, both play in the NFL. He has been around the league and competed against NFL receivers in offseason training sessions, so he has the experience (as much as a rookie can have experience) to make an immediate impact. And that is exactly what the Flacons need from him after losing two starting corners in free agency. Brent Grimes signed with Miami and Dunta Robinson departed for Kansas City and that leaves a void opposite Asante Samuel that is even more important in the pass-happy NFC South. He will be tested early as the Falcons will face both Drew Brees and Tom Brady within the first four weeks of the season.
What is the team's biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
This is an interesting questions because the Falcons decided to part ways with two impact players this offseason, one on offense and one on defense, but both were replaced with similar players, both in age and ability. The 30 year-old Steven Jackson was brought in to replace the 31 year-old Michael Turner and while both have worn down tread on their tires, Jackson brings a fresh face and slightly more diverse skill-set to the backfield. Jackson brings a career average of 45 receptions to this offense, an area in which Turner was basically nonexistent over the course of the last five seasons. Turner has just 70 career receptions and a season-high of just 19 in Atlanta. When making the blockbuster draft day trade for Julio Jones, Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff made it clear they were looking to create the most explosive offense in the NFL and Jackson’s diversity gets them one step closer.
On the other side of the ball, it is the 31 year-old Osi Umenyiora replacing the 35 year-old John Abraham. Abraham may be four years older but he is putting up career-best numbers with 32.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Compare that to Osi’s 9 three-year sack average and it’s basically a wash, but it doesn’t come without a gamble. The last free-agent pass-rusher the Falcons brought in didn’t fair so well. Ray Edwards had just 3.5 sacks in 25 games before the Falcons cut ties with him midway through the season last year.
What's the outlook for 2013?
Since the four teams that make up the current NFC South were aligned in 2002, no team has been crowned division champions in back-to-back seasons. Most recently, the Falcons and Saints have ping-ponged the title back and forth for the past four seasons, but the Falcons are just too good and the Saints are just too vulnerable defensively to regain control of the division this year. This will be the year that there is finally a repeat champion in the NFC South.