Originally Published: September 2, 2010
Fernando Medina/US Presswire JOHN CLAYTON QB RANKING (13): After two promising seasons, Matt Ryan is hoping to take a big step forward in Year 3. He is 19-11 as a starter and has an 84.3 career QB rating.

Expert Picks (Consensus: 1st)

Intelligence Report

Five things you need to know about the Falcons:

1. Ryan ready to soar: Forget all the talk about Matt Ryan going through a sophomore slump last season. The Falcons don't believe that was the case at all, and they're right. While Ryan's numbers didn't take a huge leap forward, it wasn't because of any flaws on his part. Atlanta's offense never really got on track because slot receiver Harry Douglas got hurt early in training camp and running back Michael Turner started off slowly and later got banged up. That threw the whole offense out of whack. Douglas is healthy now, and Turner is in shape. You're going to see Ryan get a chance to shine in ways he never did last season.

2. Turner fit and focused: Turner is on a mission to prove his huge 2008 season wasn't a fluke. By his own admission, Turner got fat and out of shape during the offseason before 2009. He believes that's why he started slowly and why he got hurt last season. He's mad at himself for letting that happen and he's worked harder than ever on his conditioning. He's in top shape. The Falcons want to keep Turner to somewhere around 300 to 320 carries, and the plan is to make them all quality carries.

3. Turning the corner: Dunta Robinson will make a big difference in the secondary. The Falcons got all excited when they signed the free-agent cornerback from the Houston Texans. The rest of the league sort of shrugged and said, "Decent move." So why do the Falcons think this is such a big deal? They've got a true No. 1 cornerback for the first time in coach Mike Smith's tenure. That allows several guys who often were stuck on opponents' best receivers to be No. 2 or No. 3 cornerbacks. In a division in which you have to slow New Orleans' passing game to be a contender, Robinson's presence should make a big difference.

4. Kickstarting a career: The Falcons think they have a kicker who is what Jason Elam was supposed to be. That's Matt Bryant, who is getting a fresh start on his career in Atlanta. After going through a couple of rough family situations and a stint in the United Football League, Bryant won the job in training camp and has shown signs he's back to where he was a few years ago -- one of the league's more reliable veteran kickers. Elam was supposed to be that kind of guy, but age caught up to him last season and kicking woes might have cost the Falcons a victory or two. That shouldn't be an issue this season.

5. It all boils down to this: In the end, it's about the defensive front. The Falcons can talk all they want about their improved secondary and the speed at linebacker. That's true, but the fate of this defense rests on the front four. If the Falcons really hope to slow New Orleans' passing game or Carolina's running game, they've got to be better up front. They're getting defensive tackle Peria Jerry back from injury, and third-round pick Corey Peters looks like he can be a force in the middle. Team those guys with Jonathan Babineaux, and the Falcons might be all right in the interior and that might even help the defensive ends. But John Abraham, Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury have to generate more of a pass rush than last season if this defense is really going to improve.

-- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com

Scouts Inc.'s Fabulous Five

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