2010 NFL Question Marks: Atlanta Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - JULY 30: Chevis Jackson , Dunta Robinson  and Brent Grimes  of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate after a defensive turnover during opening day of training camp on July 30, 2010 at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Falcons, who still have some holdover questions from last year in their secondary.

When you look up and down the Falcons’ current depth chart, you don’t see a lot of weaknesses. Their offensive core of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez is outstanding and while their offensive line is comprised of five no-names (save for maybe former first rounder Sam Baker), they’re solid as a collective unit (even underrated to some extent).

Atlanta’s biggest question marks come on the defensive side of the ball, although they’re not as prevalent as some may think. John Abraham saw his sack total drop from 16.5 in 2008 to only 5.5 in 2009, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective. He still provided the Falcons with a steady pass rush – he just didn’t get to the quarterback as frequently as he did in ’08.

That said, the Falcons definitely need him to pick up his game if they’re going to make a trip back to the postseason this year. The good news is that he’ll have help in the form of Jonathan Babineaux (the team’s most underrated defensive player and best interior pass-rusher) and Peria Jerry (assuming he’s healthy), as well as two ends in Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury that I firmly believe will turn heads this season. Plus, if former 8th overall pick Jamaal Anderson ever lives up to the potential he displayed during his final year at Arkansas, the Falcons could have the makings of a great defensive line.

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Dunta Robinson a Falcon by the end of the day?

Using Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff’s exact words, the Falcons have publicly stated over the past couple weeks that they would be “fiscally responsible” when it comes to spending money on free agents this offseason. In other words, the Falcons are expected to be awfully quiet in free agency and instead focus on the draft.

But as of Friday morning, the Falcons appear to be a lock to land former Texan Dunta Robinson, who along with Leigh Bodden is one of the top cornerbacks on the market. Robinson is currently in Atlanta now and a deal could be wrapped up by the end of the day.

Despite Dimitroff’s stated plan to fly under the radar this offseason, the Falcons know that their number one need is in the secondary. They re-signed veteran Brian Williams to a one-year deal on Thursday, but he’s 31 and missed most of the 2009 season after tearing his ACL. Chris Houston (a 2007 second round pick) was eventually supposed to emerge as the team’s No. 1 corner and while he’s a tremendous athlete, he has trouble playing the ball when it’s in the air and often gets beat in coverage. Brent Grimes is arguably the team’s best athlete, but he can be beat by taller, more physical wideouts that tower over his listed 5-10 (that’s being generous) frame. Chevis Jackson and Chris Owens are bigger corners that Dimitroff drafted in the middle rounds over the last two years, but they still have a ways to go in their development.

For the Falcons, it’s all about matching up with the Saints. They know they need all the corner help they can get since they have to play New Orleans twice a year, which is why they’re willing to spend big on Robinson. Obviously we don’t know what the final contract numbers will be, but there’s a good chance Atlanta slightly overpays for Robinson because corner is such a need area.

Robinson failed to produce an interception last season, but still displayed the skills necessary to be a top-flight corner. He certainly wasn’t great in coverage, but with a new deal and a new team, he should be motivated to play well next year. If the Falcons do land him, they’ll be taking a significant step in their efforts to return to the playoffs.

12:20PM ET Update: Adam Schefter reports that the Falcons tried to acquire Robinson before the trade deadline last year. If that’s the case, whatever Atlanta signs Robinson for today will be a bargain, seeing as how they didn’t have to give up a draft pick on top of a long-term contract.

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Jets, Falcons suffer blows to their defenses

NFL.com is reporting that Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins is out for the season with a left knee injury, while FOX Sports reports that Falcons cornerback Brian Williams is done for year after tearing his ACL in Sunday night’s win over the Bears.

Defensive end Sione Pouha will likely move to nose tackle to fill the void left by Jenkins, while Marques Douglas or Mike DeVito enter the starting line up at end. The Jets’ run defense suffers the most with Jenkins’ injury, although Rex Ryan has mastered the art of masking defensive weaknesses so at least New York has that going for it.

Still, this isn’t a good sign for a defense that held opponents to only four rushing touchdowns in the first six weeks of the season. Jenkins has often proved to be a thorn in opposing teams’ sides and will be missed.

Williams was a great find for the Falcons after the Jaguars cut him right before the season. He added a veteran presence to an inexperienced Atlanta secondary and now the Falcons are once again highly susceptible through the air. Brent Grimes and Chris Houston will now be the starters, while Chevis Jackson, Ty Hill and rookie Chris Owens will see increased playing time.

The Falcons are hoping that Houston will eventually cash in on some of his athletic talent and become the No. 1 corner the team envisioned when they drafted him in the second round a couple years ago. Despite his great speed, he often gets burned in coverage by using poor technique and never gets a successful jam off the line. At this point, he looks like a bust but maybe Williams’ injury will motivate him to step up.

These two injuries could wind up exploiting weaknesses for the Jets and Falcons – especially for Atlanta seeing as how it still has to play the pass-happy Saints twice this season.

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