The Atlanta Falcons have quite a few challenges ahead of them in season two of the Dan Quinn era in the dirty south. Here are some questions that they have to answer in order to be successful in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.
1. Can Matt Ryan get the ball in the end zone more in 2016?
Matt Ryan had one of his most puzzling seasons to date as he moved the ball down the field but couldn’t seem to put it in the end zone enough and his production dropped off in the process. His 21 touchdown passes were his least since 2009 and he needs to gain back control if he is to make the Falcons an elite offense once again. He seemed to struggle in Kyle Shannahan’s scheme and has to get on the same page if he wants to turn things around. It will also be interesting to see how he adjusts to life without Roddy White.
2. Can Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman become an elite duo?
Devonta Freeman had his coming out party in 2015 as he broke the 1,000 yard plateau and seemed to be headed for the record books but slowed up down the stretch mainly because his sidekick Tevin Coleman battled injuries and fumbling problems his rookie season. Both Freeman and Coleman thrive in the Zone-Blocking run scheme with their speed and game breaking ability but can they produce while in a rotation? I think they can. With Freeman’s dual threat ability and Coleman’s sprinter type speed, it could spell trouble for opposing defenses. Especially with the offseason acquisition of Alex Mack. Mack is a proven leader and signal caller on the offensive line. Look for a very good year from these two.
3. Can Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen finally give the Falcons stability at the safety position?
The Falcons have been in turmoil at the safety position for the past couple of seasons and haven’t really had any stability with injury prone, William Moore and a lot of other fill ins at both positions. Atlanta needed a new face back there, and Neal is a hybrid safety/linebacker that has the versatility to play the run and cover the middle of the field. Those are both strong areas of need for the Falcons. Neal will also have help from Ricardo Allen, a converted safety who filled in nicely in his new role. Allen proved to be a nice fixture in coach Quinn’s scheme with his cornerback instincts. They helped in his transition process as he intercepted 3 passes and collected 69 tackles. Neal has impressed coaches so far in camp and Allen is looking to continue his growth as a safety, the Falcons may finally have two cornerstones in the back end of their secondary.
4. Will Vic Beasley become more productive in year two as a OLB?
Vic Beasley had a good rookie season last year, but had trouble adjusting to a new position at defensive end. In 2016, he will return to a position on the field that better fits his skill set and that’s at SAM linebacker. Beasley had 4 sacks his rookie season and it didn’t seem like a lot but he played well against some of the best offensive tackles in the game and showed his potential. There was still something missing, and that was finishing plays. Last year, Beasley had to try to beat tackles with his strength, but if all goes well he could use his 4.5 speed to get after the QB a little more. He also spent sometime playing in coverage and picked of a pass and defended 3 others. Quinn will work with Beasley to see exactly how he fits into his scheme the best.
5. Will Kyle Shanahan finally open up the playbook this season?
The Falcons seemed to have it all together the first 5 games of the 2015, as their offense played extremely well. The season was looking promising, but then the offense just fell apart as the Falcons started becoming predictable and players were just not on the same page. Roddy White wasn’t a major part in the offense, Devonta Freeman cooled off and Jacob Tamme was the second leading receiver on the team. Kyle Shanahan became a bit too conservative and wasn’t opening up the playbook with the talent he had on the offensive side of the ball. Sure Ryan had over 4,500 yards and Julio caught 138 passes, but the key is putting it all together and to do that, Shanahan will have to utilize his offensive players strengths and go for more big plays and use play action to set up his running back duo. If he can put it all together, Atlanta can score with any team in the league.
These questions will be answered in 2016 for Atlanta as they try to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the year they played in the NFC Championship game.