Falcons owner Arthur Blank didn't help to build the Home Depot empire and create billions in wealth by shying away from challenges. If he has it his way, neither will the football team he owns.
"I'm no longer about back-to-back winning seasons," Blank said. "I'm about winning rings now."
The Falcons shook that four-decade-old albatross from around their necks in 2009 when they finished 9-7, and, for the first time in franchise history, enter a season off two consecutive winning campaigns.
While the '10 Falcons still might be too young to be considered a bona fide Super Bowl contender, the foundation for a bright future is in place on both sides of the ball.
Long-suffering Falcons fans are likely thinking, "If the Saints can win a Super Bowl, why not us?"
Offense: In Mike Mularkey's offense, things start with a power running attack that third-year QB Matt Ryan will then build around. The return to full health of running back Michael Turner and the continued growth of Ryan are critical to the Falcons' rushing success, and wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez are the main threats when Atlanta takes to the air.
When healthy, Turner, Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling provide the Falcons with a deep stable of running backs. Turner was not able to follow up his Pro Bowl season after suffering a high right-ankle sprain and then trying to come back too early from the injury. One of the more diligent workers in the weight room this offseason, Turner appears determined to prove the 1,699-yard season in 2008 was not a fluke.
Defense: The addition of top cornerback Dunta Robinson will improve the entire defense. The Falcons are counting on Robinson to play like a No. 1 cornerback. If Brian Williams can return from offseason knee surgery, the Falcons could have a quality set of starting cornerbacks for the first time since the late 1990s.
Kroy Biermann, DE. Biermann has improved in increments over his first two seasons. In his third year, he might be ready to explode onto the NFL scene. The plan to fortify the middle of the defense will allow Biermann to utilized his speed and pass-rush skills. He appears primed to turn in a double-digit sack season.
"Biermann is a guy who can get us some legitimate pressure. We truly believe as an organization that John Abraham still has the ability to get up the field and around the corner and can still bend naturally. We are hoping that through our continued concentration inside, whether it's with Peria Jerry coming back or Corey Peters, that we are going to open up things on the outside a little bit." — Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff
"The lasting impression that you come away from playing the Falcons is how hard they play. They don't have a bunch of Pro Bowlers on the field, but they are very strategic and organized in how they approach things. ...
"Ryan is going to be one of the great QBs in the league if he keeps improving. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but he's accurate and knows where to deliver the ball. They have done a good job of surrounding him with weapons in Turner, White and Gonzalez and fortifying that offensive line. What that line lacks in athletic ability, they make up for it with sheer nastiness. ...
"On defense, they had to do something with that secondary. They were weak at the corners, and their outside linebackers struggle in coverage. So, in the passing game there was usually somebody open. It was just a matter of getting the time to find the open receivers. The addition of Robinson is going to help that defense immensely."
Atlanta's roster is one of the youngest in the league, and success will depend on the continued development of Ryan and the return to health of Turner. Also, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton must become the leader on defense.
QB: Matt Ryan, Chris Redman
FB: Ovie Mughelli, Jason Snelling
RB: Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood
WR: Roddy White, Brian Finneran
WR: Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Justin Peelle
LT: Sam Baker, Will Svitek
LG: Justin Blalock, Garrett Reynolds
C: Todd McClure, Brett Romberg
RG: Harvey Dahl, Quinn Ojinnaka
RT: Tyson Clabo, Garrett Reynolds
DE: Kroy Biermann, Jamaal Anderson
DT: Jonathan Babineaux, Thomas Johnson
DT: Peria Jerry, Vance Walker
DE: John Abraham, Lawrence Sidbury
SLB: Stephen Nicholas, Robert James
MLB: Curtis Lofton, Coy Wire
WLB: Mike Peterson, Sean Weatherspoon
CB: Dunta Robinson, Christopher Owens
CB: Brian Williams, Brent Grimes
SS: Thomas DeCoud, Matt Giordano
FS: Erik Coleman, William Moore
K: Matt Bryant
P: Michael Koenen
KR: Dominique Franks
PR: Dominique Franks
LS: Joe Zelenka
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