The Atlanta Falcons offense was considered one of the best of all time in 2016, and rightfully so. It was led by league MVP Matt Ryan who had an endless amount of talented playmakers at his disposal to pick apart defenses. The running combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman proved once again to be one of the league’s most explosive backfields. All of this was done with a young defense that made significant strides as the year went on despite losing arguably its best defensive player in Desmond Trufant early in the season to injury. The entire team prospered while buying into head coach Dan Quinn’s system of “Brotherhood.” Although the Super Bowl’s result was not what the Falcons would have liked, the future, especially on the offensive side of the football, appears to be bright in Atlanta. With Kyle Shanahan gone to San Francisco and Steve Sarkisian taking over the role of offensive coordinator for the Falcons, many wonder if the offense can maintain such a high level of play in 2017. Here are 4 things the Falcons must do to keep that level of success going:
PROTECT MATT RYAN
Matt Ryan was the MVP of the NFL in 2016 for a reason, easily posting the best season of his career. Much of Ryan’s outstanding play can be attributed to a solid offensive line in 2016. Led by Alex Mack, arguably the best free agent signing of last offseason, the offensive line played extremely well throughout the year to give Ryan the time he needed to make his throws. Statistics and metrics tell you that Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when under pressure and when given a clean pocket. Nevertheless, it would be in the Falcons’ best interest to keep Matt Ryan as upright as possible so that he can lead the Falcons back to where they want to be. The departure of starting guard Chris Chester to retirement means the offensive line will have a new starter in 2017. As long as the unit can come together again and protect Matt Ryan, the offense will put up great numbers.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE RUN
While the NFL seems to be a pass-happy league these days, the value of a good running game couldn’t be higher. Many of the NFL’s best teams (Cowboys, Steelers, etc.) have a strong running game and it produces results. The Falcons have the best 1-2 punch in the entire NFL with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Last year, the pair combined for nearly 1,600 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. It’s simple: don’t abandon the running game when you have two incredible running backs. Having these two players allows the Falcons to eat up the clock, tire out defenses and even open up the passing game. Freeman and Coleman are both amazing athletes, and hopefully last year’s Super Bowl was a reminder never to forget about these guys.
GET THE BALL TO TAYLOR GABRIEL
Turbo Taylor, as he’s now known around Atlanta, burst onto the scene in 2016 after being cut by the Cleveland Browns and gave the Falcons offense a level of explosiveness it hadn’t had in years past. Watching the film on Gabriel provides some eye popping moments. He has the potential to take it the distance each and every time he touches the ball. His speed and quickness make him a deadly option in the slot and a matchup nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs alike. Now that he’s had a year with the Falcons, expect Gabriel to be even more involved in the offense this year. Despite his lack of size, Gabriel has proven to be a durable, reliable playmaker that any NFL coach would love to have on his roster. His game serves as a nice complement to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. If the Falcons want to continue in 2017, look for number 18 to get a lot of touches.
IGNORE THE SUPER BOWL TALK
Every coach and player on Atlanta’s roster will be asked about last year’s Super Bowl over and over. The Falcons’ offense and play calling were both criticized heavily after the loss. The best thing the players on offense (and really the entire team) can do is to ignore any talk about last year or last year’s Super Bowl. The Falcons want to get back to this season’s Super Bowl and they can’t let last year’s epic collapse against the Patriots be a distraction going forward. The best way the Falcons can shut down the Super Bowl talk is to simply keep their focus going forward and start winning again. Last year’s success was just the beginning of what Dan Quinn is trying to build in Atlanta. The ultimate goal is to bring back multiple Lombardi Trophies to the city. Those seem like lofty expectations, but Dan Quinn and the Brotherhood fully expect to be playing for several Super Bowls in the future.