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Know Your Enemy: 28-3

28-3! The final chapter in the Know Your Enemy series is the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons made it to the Super Bowl only to blow the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. Dan Quinn returns as Head Coach but both coordinators are new. Matt Ryan won MVP with a 117 QB rating and gives the Falcons a great chance at 2017 success.

Stats
The Falcons scored 33.8 PPG which was best in the league and in the top 10 all-time for points score. Atlanta went 11-5 by winning 5-3 at the Georgia Dome and notching a 6-2 record on the road. Atlanta opens a brand new stadium in 2017.

The Falcons beat Seattle and Green Bay (crushed them) to advance to the Super Bowl but blew the big lead against the Patriots. Ryan had the 117 QB rating with 69.9 percent completion, 9.3 YPA, 38 TDs and 7 interceptions. The Falcons added 19, 28 yards rushing (5th) at 4.6 YPC. Falcon’s offense was running on all cylinders in 2016 with very little injuries.

Atlanta’s young defense improved as the year went on despite the late season injury to Desmond Trufant (CB1). Trufant got a huge 5 year 68 million dollar extension this offseason despite the injury.

Atlanta gave up 25.4 PPG which was 27th in the league. Atlanta had to improve their pass rush (34 sacks and lack of consistent pressure), run defense and coverage. Atlanta forced 22 turnovers but only turned the ball over 11 times in 2016. Atlanta gave up 1,672 yards rushing (17th) but at 4.5 YPC. Atlanta allowed a 92.5 QB rating which was 22nd in the league.

Strengths
QB
Matt Ryan broke out of his low 90s QB rating streak and earned a 117 QB rating. He was well protected, had a run game, protected the ball and had a plethora of weapons including Julio Jones. Ryan should have another 100+ QB rating season in 2017.

Weapons
Julio Jones is a monster and had 1,409 yards and 6 TDS on 129 targets. Jones can do more which is scary. Mohammed Sanu was a big free agent signing and added 653 yards and 4 TDs. Taylor Gabriel only had 35 catches but stretched the field with 579 yards and 6 TDs. Austin Hooper was a rookie and injured but added 271 yards and 3 TDs. Andre Roberts was signed in the offseason to replace Aldrick Robinson (323 yards and 2 TDs). Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both notched over 400 yards receiving as well with 5 TDs combined. The Falcons have a stacked deck for Matty Ice.

Run Game
The Falcons were 5th in rushing yards with a great combination. Devonta Freeman had 1,079 yards 4.8 YPC with 7 TDs on 227 carries. Tevin Coleman added 520 yards at 4.4 YPC on 118 carries. Brian Hill was drafted in Round 5 and will battle Terron Ward (31 carries 151 yards at 4.9 YPC with 2 TDs). Atlanta has the backs and the run blocking for rushing success in this league.

Offensive Line
The Falcons return four out of five starters on the offensive line. Jake Matthews is a good left tackle and Ryan Schraeder is a very good right tackle. Andy Levitre had a good year at left guard and Alex Mack revived his career at center. Rookie Sean Harlow (Round 4) and Wes Schweitzer (2016 Round 6) will battle for the right guard spot replacing retired Chris Chester. The Falcons line is strong and has interior depth but lacks tackle depth.

Weaknesses

Defensive Line
The Falcons have a beast in Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks in 2016). However, they struggled producing pressure other than Beasley. Brooks Reed had 2 sacks last year and Grady Jarrett broke out with a nice playoff performance after 3 sacks in the regular season at DT. Dontari Poe was added on a one year 8 million dollar deal. Poe can clog the run game at nose tackle and provide a little pass rush. Takkarist McKinley was drafted in Round 1 out of UCLA. McKinley had shoulder surgery but should boost the Falcons rush this offseason. Courtney Upshaw was also added at DT from the Ravens. Adrian Clayborn had 4.5 sacks and returns from a major injury in the playoffs. Ra’Shede Hageman still has a chance to be a contributor after disappointing since 2014 as a 2nd round pick.
The Falcons defensive line has some upgraded talent but must prove it on the field to be a strength.

Linebacker
The Falcons had some young linebackers with talent but had some growing pains early. Deion Jones mans the middle now and De’Vondre Campbell is the SAM. Both boosted Atlanta last year with their play down the stretch. Duke Riley was drafted in Round 3 of this draft to play Will LB. Atlanta will grow at LB but it still isn’t a strength yet and lacks some depth.

Secondary
Desmond Trufant returns from injury and signed a big deal. He will be the Falcons shut down corner. Robert Alford is solid and Jalen Collins had a decent 2016 season. Collins can play CB or safety. Keanu Neal was the Falcons 2016 1st round pick and should progress at safety. Ricardo Allen had a solid year surprisingly for Atlanta as a 2014 5th round pick. Kemal Ishmael provides some experienced safety depth. Finally, Brian Poole, CJ Goodwin and rookie 5th round pick Damontae Kazee battle for the nickel job.

Atlanta has talent but that talent isn’t experienced enough to produce a low QB rating allowed and high interceptions. Atlanta needs more pass rush for this secondary to be more successful.

Summary
Atlanta should be a playoff team again but may have the Super Bowl losing curse. They were quite healthy in 2016 and may have normal injuries in 2017 which hurts them. Atlanta travels to Chicago in Week 1 and hosts Green Bay Week 2 on Sunday Night football to open their new stadium. The Falcons travel to Detroit for a Week 3 matchup at Ford Field and host the Vikings in Week 13.

The Falcons could beat all four NFC North teams and at worse split with the NFC North. The Falcons should be healthy early playing the Bears, Packers and Lions in the first three weeks. It should be an exciting 2017 season. I can’t wait to see how all the games play out.