Here are the five changes needed for a playoff push for the Falcons in 2015.
1 – The Falcons must find a pass rush
They finished in a tie with Oakland for the second-fewest sacks in the NFL with only 22. This has been a signature issue for the team for the last two seasons, and the result was a 10-22 record and head coach Mike Smith out of a job. The new coach will have to settle on a defensive scheme and then target players that can get after the quarterback. Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann failed miserably at putting pressure on the opponent’s signal-caller.
2 – The secondary must improve
Atlanta had the worst pass defense in the NFL, allowing 279.9 passing yards per game. Part of the problem was the loss of William Moore, who missed nine games due to injuries. Cornerback Robert Alford missed six games with injuries. The revolving door in the secondary did not help, but there is still a talent shortage that needs to be addressed in free agency and perhaps the draft.
3 – Atlanta must find a running back
The Falcons finished 24th in rushing with 93.6 yards per game. It was a slight improvement from a year ago, when Atlanta was last in the NFL with only 77.9 rushing yards per game. Steven Jackson missed only one game, but he finished with 707 yards. He’s got only 1250 yards in his two seasons with the Falcons. Rookie Devonta Freeman needed more snaps. He had 248 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. It’s hard to know if Freeman is ready for more of a prominent role, since they did not give him a bigger chance. The Falcons must address this, as Jackson is set to leave via free agency.
4 – The offensive line needs more help
Injuries hit the offensive line early on once again in 2014, as Mike Johnson and Sam Baker were both hurt in August. Then once the season started, center Joe Hawley was injured. Then two replacements, Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes, had season-ending injuries. The Falcons had to play rookie undrafted free agent James Stone and second-year undrafted free agent Ryan Schraeder in more significant roles. Justin Blalock missed some time for the first time in years and looked ordinary as he grows older. Rookie Jake Matthews was decent, but he played injured and had to switch to left tackle. The Falcons need to make decisions on the injured players and continue to improve the talent level.
5 – Talent at linebacker must improve
Sean Weatherspoon is a free agent. He missed all of 2014 with an injury. It’s still difficult to know how good Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu, two undrafted free agents from a year ago, are with little talent around them. The Falcons have neglected this area since they allowed Curtis Lofton to leave for New Orleans a few seasons ago. Since Weatherspoon can’t stay healthy, he might need to leave and they just need to start over here. But Will Thomas Dimitroff protect his draft pick? He usually does. An impact player is desperately needed here.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.
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