2004 Atlanta Falcons Season Preview

<b>Head Coach: </b> Jim Mora, Jr. - First year as an NFL Head Coach, no record. Former Defensive Coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers.. <br><br> <b> Last Season's Record: </b> 5-11 overall, 2-4 in the NFC South, Last place in the NFC South.

09/12/04 @San Francisco
09/19/04 St. Louis
09/26/04 Arizona
10/03/04 @Carolina
10/10/04 Detroit
10/17/04 San Diego
10/24/04 @Kansas City
10/31/04 @Denver
11/14/04 Tampa Bay
11/21/04 @NY Giants
11//28/04 New Orleans
12/05/04 @Tampa Bay
12/12/04 Oakland
12/18/04 Carolina
12/26/04 @New Orleans
01/02/05 @Seattle
Quarterback Michael Vick #7 of the Atlanta Falcons looks to toss out injuries and loosing record for 2004.
Getty Images/Jamie Squire

Last Play Off Appearance: January 11, 2003 - a 20-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Playoffs.

Key matchup(s): October 3 - at Carolina, November 14 - Tampa Bay, November 28 - New Orleans, December 5 - at Tampa Bay, December 18 - Carolina, December 26 - at New Orleans.

Star Power: Michael Vick (QB, 4th year, 6'1", 215 lbs.), Warrick Dunn (RB, 8th year, 5'9", 180 lbs.), T.J. Duckett (RB, 3rd year, 6'1", 254 lbs.), Peerless Price (WR, 6th year, 5'11", 190 lbs), Alge Crumpler (TE, 4th year, 6'2", 262 lbs.)

Notable Additions: Ty Detmer (QB, 9th year, 6'1", 189 lbs.), Aaron Beasley (CB, 9th year, 6'1", 205 lbs.), Rod Coleman (DT, 6th year, 6'2", 285 lbs.), Jason Webster (CB, 5th year, 5'10", 187 lbs.), Dez White (5th year, 6'1", 215 lbs.).

Notable Subtractions: Ray Buchanan (CB, 12th year, 5'9", 185 pounds - Raiders), Juran Bolden (CB, 8th year 6'2", 207 lbs. - Jaguars),

Notable Returnees: Brian Finneran (WR, 6th year, 6'5", 210 lbs.), Todd Weiner (T, 7th year, 6'4", 297 lbs.), Keith Brooking (LB, 7th year, 6'2", 245 lbs.),

Offensive Overview: No doubt that Michael Vick's injury sideswiped the Falcons in 2003…but even if he stays healthy in 2004, there's a fairly major mountain for him to climb. Mora and new offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp limited Vick to only 27 reps behind center in the team's preseason, including a disastrous finale against the Redskins in which Vick went 0 for 3 with an INT and a fumble. Vick will have to learn the West Coast Offense, an extremely complex timing-based system which requires a total team concept and is generally thought to take more than a season for the most savvy quarterback to master. To expect Vick to jump into this offense, no matter how incredible his talents, may be dangerous. The quarterback who has served the Falcons best in the preseason has been third-round pick Matt Schaub. Displaying incredible poise and accuracy for a rookie in his first few games, Schaub completed 54 passes in only 86 attempts for an NFL-high 655 yards, 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Mora and Knapp have may some interesting choices to make as Vick learns a system Schaub seems more primed for in the short-term. The Falcons also acquired veteran Ty Detmer to help Vick acclimate. At RB, the Falcons have no such conundrum - the only question Is how to maximize the talents of Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. Dunn is the savvy veteran who can also be productive as a receiver, which will be crucial to the new offense. Duckett is "Mr. Inside" for the Falcons. It will be his task to work on blitz pickup and catching the ball. WR Peerless Price, the Falcons' key free agent acquisition in 2003, had a disappointing season but looks to rebound as the team's deep threat. Price will need opposing defenses to focus on Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran, as there are questions about his ability to be the #1 receiver without another threat to take away double teams. Jenkins, the team's second-round choice, has impressed through the preseason, and Finneran is more of an interior possession receiver. Finneran could have a big year, as the WCO likes the tough guy who can grab the short pass and move the chains. Dez White, picked up from Chicago, may start or share time with Finneran. Alge Crumpler is a high-quality TE. Perhaps the most important move the Falcons made this season was hiring offensive line guru Alex Gibbs. Gibbs, who made his name training quick, undersized lines to protect mobile QBs in Denver, will try to perform magic on an Atlanta line that features no real standouts. However, there are some quality players that Gibbs can put in the system. Todd Weiner will protect the left-handed Vick's blind side at RT and will be joined by LT Kevin Shaffer, LG Michael Moore, RG Kynan Forney and C Todd McClure.

Defensive Overview: The 2003 Falcons finished last in the NFL in total defense - 29th against the run and 32nd against the pass. They allowed 422 points, which is far more than any competitive team can hope to get away with. Mora made his name developing a fast, aggressive defense in San Francisco, and he's scrapped the 3-4 in Atlanta in favor of a more conventional look. DT Rod Coleman, acquired from Oakland, will star on the line. Coleman is good against the run and has excellent pass-rush skills from the inside. Talented tackle Chad Lavalais, the team's 5th round pick, will join Coleman on the inside. DEs Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith should benefit from switching to the 4-3 if they can stay healthy. Both players missed parts of the preseason with various injuries. Former Pro Bowl LB Keith Brooking moves from the inside to the weakside position. Brooking is at his best in space and should prosper in the new system. He's joined by Matt Stewart on the strongside and Chris Draft in the middle. Draft missed time in the preseason due to asthma-related issues but should be ready for the regular season. Fourth-round pick Demorrio Williams could provide competition for Stewart on the strongside sooner than expected. The secondary took a big hit when first-round pick DeAngelo Hall fractured his hip in late August. Hall will miss 6-10 weeks, but he does have the potential to be a great CB. Tod McBride and Aaron Beasley will keep Hall's slot warm until he returns. The Falcons acquired Jason Webster from the 49ers, and the coaches are happy with his progress. Webster is a physical CB who will specialize in press coverage at the line. Bryan Hall and Cory Scott will get the nod at the safety positions.

Special Teams Overview: Punter Chris Mohr has good leg strength and is very accurate. Opposing teams returned only 35 of his 87 punts last season. Kicker Jay Feely struggled with accuracy last year but looks to rebound. The Falcons may have expected DeAngelo Hall to function as a return man, but now it will likely be a committee of backups who will perform that role.

The Falcons will rebound from a disappointing 2003 season if:..... Vick can slow down enough implement the new offense, Dunn and Duckett can carry the load, Price has the year the Falcons expect, and the defense begins to turn it around. In truth, Mora is performing major cosmetic surgery on a team that needed it. If the Falcons are not competitive in 2004, they can at least take the first steps toward a bright future.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview
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