The Friday Blitz: 2011 and Beyond

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This past season has been a whirlwind as the lockout sent most of us straight to the online blogs and radio stations as furious fans rather than out purchasing the latest gadgets for the man caves. For months we were tortured with media outlet’s breaking news on Demaurice Smith. It was painful for fans everywhere, but particularly for us fans down south. Football is everything here, whether you bleed Red & Black or do the Gator chomp is a legitimate reason to have confrontations over. It seems crazy, but that is just how passionate fans are in the South. But as depressing as it was for fans, everyone seemed to get what they wanted.

The lockout eventually ended and fans flocked to their respective team’s camps. The Atlanta Falcons were just coming off of a magical season that ended in dismay at home by the hands of the Green Bay Packers. In April, we went out and shocked the world by trading up to the 6th pick to select Julio Jones. The Atlanta Falcons looked like they were willing to do anything to bring a championship to the city of Atlanta. It didn’t take long to see that Julio was going to be a star. The first day of open camp workouts my friends and I drove up to Flowery Branch to see just why Atlanta traded a treasure trove of draft picks to select him. He made an instant impact at camp, and slowly the doubters quickly changed their tune. The other young Falcon looking to make a jump was Sean Weatherspoon. “Spoon” was a fan favorite during camp because of his swagger. Overall the Falcons looked ready for big things.

The 2011 season began with the highest expectations I can remember as an Atlanta fan. Unfortunately, as we all know, things never quite clicked. The explosive plays never seemed to be effective early in the season. The running game was hot and cold and the defense once again could not get off the field on 3rd down. The Falcons defense had emerging playmakers like Spoon, Grimes, and Willie Mo. The fans were told not to worry, and that everything will work itself out soon enough. As the season pushed on Julio Jones began separating himself as a major playmaker on offense. He would finish with the most touchdowns by any of the rookie wide outs. Sean Weatherspoon flew all over the field and made plays week in and week out. John Gruden on Monday Night Football claimed that he had not seen as talented as a young line backing duo in a very long time (he was referring to Curtis Lofton as well). Injuries plagued the Falcons on defense and the offensive line that was at one time a force in the NFL looked horrific. Matt Ryan somehow managed to set franchise passing records with an offensive line that seemed to break down at the worst times. If you listen to any of the local sports stations, then you know that every week 70% of the callers complained about one thing, the poor play of the offensive line.

The Falcons would wrap up a wildcard birth and set a date with a supposed ailing New York Giants club. The Giants were at one point 7-7 and had to win out to even get in the playoffs, but once again it wasn’t Atlanta’s time. The offense looked lost with the poor QB protection, and the defense played their hearts out early on in the ball game, but without help from the offense, eventually gave up some big plays. This was supposed to be Matty Ice’s big moment, but all we saw was offense without an identity. The Giants would crush the Falcons and go on to an exciting Superbowl victory. As fans, we were outraged and heartbroken. We didn’t see our star player dancing in a club after a loss (i.e. doing a Gronk) but nevertheless outraged. Changes were coming and rightfully so. The first casualty was Brain Van Gorder as; he left to go to Auburn. Then finally, the fans rejoiced over Jacksonville’s hiring of Mike Mularkey. For years many of us attributed to the lack of an explosive offense directly to Malarkey. The heads were rolling and we felt vindicated for the lack of a postseason run. This action by the front office certainly proves that “average” will not be acceptable and this is truly appreciated by the fans. The next couple weeks proved to be very intriguing.

First, the falcons hire Dirk Koetter to take the reins of the offense. He is supposed to be a passing guru, but obviously in Jacksonville they had Mojo account for 99% of their yards due to the lack of talent elsewhere. I think change is good for the offense. The Falcons then hired Mike Nolan as DC. This was the hire everyone was hoping for on defense. He brings a 3-4 mentality but is on the record to utilize a scheme that will fit what the Falcons personnel wise. The defense has been mediocre for far too long in Atlanta, and hopefully Nolan is the man to change it up. As we enter the league’s new calendar year the fans are left to ponder who will be coming back as a Falcon. There are many big names that are free agents, and on the Grits Blitz Blog we will have articles out covering all the different aspects of free agency in the weeks to come. Next week the NFL Combine begins, the Falcons don’t have a 1st or a 4th round pick this year. This makes the scouting efforts to be much more important than they ever have been. TD & company can’t afford to make a mistake. The Falcons are a passion of mine and I hope this season I can write articles that convey the true emotions surrounding our team. Get ready to RISE UP!

Follow Mike on Twitter @ColossalChicken

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