The Atlanta Falcons have a lot going for them. They went 13-3 last year, have a top quarterback, three deadly receiving threats, and seem poised to make a Super Bowl run. Yet these facts mask a lot of their underlying issues, especially on defense.
The Falcons ranked 12th in defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders (DVOA adjusts for strength of schedule, down and distance, etc.). That is not bad at all, in fact it is above average. Unfortunately this offseason they lost two key contributors though, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson. Robinson was due to make $8 million and his release was a necessary one, but it will be felt in the secondary. The thinning of the secondary also puts more pressure on veteran Asante Samuel. Samuel has also been a good cornerback, but at age 32 one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank.
Losing Abraham may have been even worse, though. Abraham will be replaced by ex-New York Giant Osi Umenyiora. Abraham was a much better player last year, but Umenyiora could replace most of the value. He will have to for the defense to be successful, but that proposition is probably dubious. Umenyiora excels at getting to the quarterback but struggles with containing runs and mobile quarterbacks (like rival Cam Newton). Umenyiora is also not used to playing every down as the Giants constantly rotate their defensive line. Not only that but Umenyiora is on the wrong side of 30, and there is no promise he will not have a sharp decline. The success of the pass defense is riding on Umenyiora’s play, and to many fans that is not a comforting situation.
Still, the Falcons are going to score. A lot. They bring back the solid Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez trio, with Matt Ryan at the helm. Ryan has quietly entered the top 5 quarterback discussion, and with another solid year he could put himself there. Not only that, but the addition of Steven Jackson should further bolster a run game that was waning with Michael Turner running the ball. Atlanta will have some games where they will just have to simply outscore opponents, but with an offense like this, that will not necessarily be a problem.
If the Falcons avoid injuries and can slow down opposing passing games by getting pressure either in creative ways or because Umenyiora plays well, this team can go far. If not, their defense will struggle against good passing offenses and mobile quarterbacks.
10 wins seems reasonable and will probably be enough to win the division. The Falcons could really make some noise in the playoffs, but until the questions on defense are answered they are probably behind the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers as candidates to win the NFC.
Jay Cullen is a New York Giants writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter at JayCullen92 or add him to your network on Google.