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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Should the Falcons sign T.O.?

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posed the question of whether or not the Falcons should sign free agent wideout Terrell Owens.

Here’s my answer: Why is this even a question?

The Falcons’ receiving corps is somewhat a concern heading into the season. Roddy White is a stud, but Michael Jenkins has proven to be more of a blocker than a pass catcher and Harry Douglas is coming off major knee surgery. Behind them is the aging Brian Finneran, special teamer Eric Weams and fifth round pick Kerry Meier (who essentially is a younger Finneran in the making).

On the surface, it might make sense to throw T.O. in the mix. On paper, giving Matt Ryan White, T.O. and Tony Gonzalez to play with might make sense. Besides, the Falcons would only sign Owens to a one-year deal, so if it didn’t work they could move on after the year and not think twice about it.

But let’s not forget that the Falcons’ strength is actually running the ball with Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood (for the 11 plays he gets a year). Adding T.O. doesn’t make much sense given Douglas’ potential, Ryan’s familiarity with White and Gonzalez, and yes, even Jenkins’ blocking ability. (Fans like to rag on Jenkins for not being much of a receiver, but he’s by far their best blocker and that holds value for a team that often likes to set the tone with their ground game.)

While I applaud Ledbetter for trying to drum up conversation now that OTAs are underway, this topic should be put to rest immediately. T.O. won’t be a Falcon. It isn’t worth it for the team to sacrifice Douglas’ development in the offense and who knows what would happen if Ryan didn’t get Owens the ball enough. Atlanta just doesn’t need a potential distraction like that, especially with Ryan heading into his third year.

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Turner due for a bounce back year in 2010?

Michael Turner didn’t want to hear about the “Curse of 370” heading into last season, but after ankle injuries limited him to only 871 yards on 178 carries, it appears as though “the Burner” is well aware of the damages a full workload can have on a running back.

And so are the Falcons.

Turner recently admitted that he fell out of shape last offseason, which may have contributed to his slow start. Turner didn’t really resemble the ’08 version of himself until a Week 8 Monday night effort against the Saints in which he rushed for 151 yards on 20 carries with one touchdown. Until that point, Turner didn’t appear to be hitting holes with much authority and even looked slow at times.

But Turner apparently learned a lesson from last offseason, because he reported to a recent Falcons mini-camp in great shape according to several reports. Head coach Mike Smith was even quoted as saying his running back was in “outstanding shape” and was moving “extremely well” in his first day back. That’s great news for Turner, the Falcons and a handful of fantasy owners that were burned (no pun intended) by the running back’s production (or lack thereof) last season.

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Reason No. 4,049 why I don’t get some athletes

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Falcons’ defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was arrested Thursday night for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. He was also nailed for having suspended tags and driving without a license.

This is devastating news for an Atlanta team that 1) is hosting the best team in the league on Sunday and 2) is already crippled by injuries to Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and three-fifths of their offensive line. Babineaux might not be a household name, but he’s been far and away the Falcons’ best defensive linemen this season and the only one that provides a consistent rush at the quarterback.

Babineaux is the same player that was arrested a couple years ago for allegedly killing his girlfriend’s dog (what’s with dog-killers in Atlanta?), Kilo. Given his most recent arrest, “Kilo” is an awfully ironic name for the dog.

With the Saints coming to town, one would think that Babineaux would be a little more focused – especially considering the Falcons’ playoff hopes are on life support. Instead, he’s out trolling the streets with expired tags, no license and enough pot on him for the cops to charge him with intent to sell.. I’m shocked the moron didn’t have a sign outside his window that read: I’M HAVE POT IN THE CAR.

I just don’t get it. And the sad part is, we’ve heard a similar song and dance before when it comes to athletes.

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No need to hit the panic button on Matt Ryan

In his first four games of the 2009 season, Atlanta Falcons second-year quarterback Matt Ryan had a QB rating of 98.0, 122.2, 82.3 and 110.0. He was off to a fantastic start and people started to assume that he would have Tom Brady-like numbers every game.

But in his last three outings, Ryan has QB ratings of 68.4, 66.1 and 46.6 and now all of a sudden he’s drawing comparisons to Rex Grossman. (Okay, so Ryan has never been compared to Grossman, but you get my feeble attempt at exaggerating my point.)

After his three-interception game last Monday night against the Saints, I’ve read at least two articles from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how Ryan doesn’t look like the same player he was as a rookie. The overall tone of the articles was that the Falcons should be worried, because “Matty Ice” hasn’t played well in three games.

But people need to take their hand off the ejection button, because Ryan is fine – he’s just going through typical growing pains. He had one of the best (if not the best) rookie season of any quarterback to ever play in the NFL, while leading what many believed was a 3-13 team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Entering his second season, the expectations were sky high and now that he’s not playing well, some want to question whether or not last season was a fluke.

I’ll admit that following his performance in New Orleans on Monday night that he hasn’t looked like the same player he was last year or at the beginning of this year. He seems to be rushing his throws more and making bad decisions. His cool, calm pocket presence has turned into a rushed dance where he doesn’t always work through all of his progressions and set his feet to throw. He also seems to be locking in on Tony Gonzalez or Roddy White and therefore throwing a high number of interceptions. (He’s thrown eight in his last four games.)

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