Thursday, January 2, 2014
Atlanta Falcons season wrap-up
By Vaughn McClure
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 26
Preseason Power Ranking: 4
Biggest surprise: Paul Worrilow came to the Falcons as an undrafted rookie from Delaware just trying to make an impression on special teams. Injuries at linebacker gave him an opportunity to step into the lineup, and he proceeded to earn a starting job. His back-to-back 19-tackle performances against Carolina and Seattle made doubters start to take him seriously. Worrilow's ability to play multiple linebacker positions impressed the coaching staff. He reached double digits in tackles in six straight games from Weeks 9 to 14. He has become a better blitzer and improved his coverage skills, although Worrilow would be the first to say he still has a long way to go.
Biggest disappointment: The offensive line as a whole. Although the group lost Todd McClure to retirement, Tyson Clabo to the Miami Dolphins and Mike Johnson to a preseason injury, the line was expected to show improvement throughout the season. Such wasn't the case, at least not until the year was nearly over. Losing left tackle Sam Baker to season-ending knee surgery didn't help, although Baker obviously wasn't the same player he was last season before being placed on injured reserve. Tackles Lamar Holmes and Jeremy Trueblood, guard Garrett Reynolds and center Peter Konz were all benched at some point during the season. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter helped cover up the line's inability to pass block consistently by asking quarterback Matt Ryan to take shorter drops and deliver the ball quicker. But the Falcons couldn't mask the line's inability to run block. The Falcons have to upgrade the line either through free agency or the draft.
Biggest need: While the offensive line definitely needs to be addressed, the Falcons have an equally pressing need on the other side of the ball. Opposing quarterbacks had it rather easy this season as the Falcons failed to generate much of a pass rush. General manager Thomas Dimitroff no doubt has done his homework on possible pass-rushers capable of having an immediate impact as a disruptive force. Free agency could be an option, but the name most talked about is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the most physically gifted player in the draft. But draft positioning might be an issue if the Falcons desire to add Clowney. Dimitroff has rolled the dice in moving up in the draft before (see Julio Jones).
Team MVP: Is there any doubt? Tony Gonzalez opted not to retire in order to chase that elusive Super Bowl ring. When the Falcons became the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention, Gonzalez didn't sulk or regret his decision. He simply continued to go out and perform at a high level every day, showing the younger players what true professionalism is all about. Gonzalez played through the pain of a nagging toe injury and didn't miss a game. The only time he truly rested was when the Falcons went with an extra tackle and asked him not to block on certain plays. Despite facing double-teams throughout the season, the 37-year-old Gonzalez continued to find ways to get open and be the sure-handed receiver he's always been. The offense will miss his unique skills. The team will miss his galvanizing leadership.