As we gear up for training camps, preseason prognostications, fantasy drafts, Red Zone purchasing, and all the other attendant trappings of another NFL season, every fan draws hope and optimism from the sacred reservoir of an 0-0 record. A clean slate and limitless possibilities can do wonders for the constitution and attitude of even the most downtrodden fan base. (Well, maybe not Jacksonville.) Most fans though, if they're truly honest with themselves, acknowledge not only the glowing facets that could, with the right confluence of luck and circumstance, find their teams still active deep into January, but also the flaws that might prevent such bliss. With New Orleans as (relatively) weakened as they'll ever be until Drew Brees retires, and the Bucs and Panthers still not complete enough to pose viable threats, 2012 will the Falcons' best shot at the NFC South in the immediate future. Here are five things I wish Atlanta would fix sometime before the season starts at best and by the trade deadline at worst.
1. Better distribution of carries. I've been griping about this for three seasons now, but it bears repeating: Michael Turner cannot handle the amount of touches the Falcons give him every year. We've seen it time and time again. Right around week 13, "Burner" starts looking not-quite-himself. By the time the playoffs roll around, he's utterly spent, hitting the hole like a '73 Pinto instead of a Mack Truck, and his dilapidated abilities have a crippling effect on the rest of the offense. I know Turner is a rhythm runner, and he needs his carries to get into the flow of a game, but Mike Mularkey habitually placed far too heavy a burden on him, and it killed Atlanta in key spots more often than not. New OC Dirk Koetter will likely favor a more pass-oriented attack anyway, but let's hope he also has the good sense to look at the bench and say to himself "hey, I've got Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers over there, and those guys can play. Maybe I should come up with some ways to use them more often so our primary back isn't dead on his feet by Christmas." Just a thought.
2. Linebacker depth. That this hasn't traditionally been an outstanding element of the team hasn't hurt them too terribly, but with Curtis Lofton's departure and the recently-announced injury of Lofa Tatupu, the Falcons' best two linebackers are Sean Weatherspoon and, um ... Robert James, I guess? Do those names strike fear in your heart? (Sadly, Falcons fans are nodding for the wrong reasons. Opponents, not so much.) Before Tatupu went down, Atlanta would have been thin but functional at the position. Now, bolstering the LB corps quickly is of paramount import.
3. Left Tackle. Left Tackle. Left Tackle. Pray for a miracle emergence from draft pick Lamar Holmes in camp, but if it doesn't happen, do something. Trade, beg, barter, visit a crossroads at midnight, whatever. Here's an incomplete list of possible starters at left tackle that would be better than Will Svitek and Sam Baker:
- A cow. Preferably one of the Chick-fil-A mascots, as they'll feel comfortable Atlanta, can't accidentally eat the Georgia Dome's artificial turf, and appear to be bovines of above-average intelligence.
- Former Falcons coach Dan Reeves.
- Russell Brand. (Won't help protect Matt Ryan, but only good can come of having him repeatedly trampled into the turf. I hate Russell Brand.)
- The Kia that Blake Griffin jumped over in the Slam Dunk Contest. Uvo definitely plays funk better than Will Svitek, and might, in fact, play left tackle better too.
- Blake Griffin.
- A Sam-Baker-shaped patch of air. Roughly as effective as a patch of air actually occupied by Sam Baker, but with zero salary cap ramifications.
- Bartleby the Scrivener. Sure, a fictional 19th-century longhand document copier won't do much good against NFL defensive ends, but at least he'll have a ready-made answer for every media question he's ever asked. "Why didn't you block Da'Quan Bowers on 2nd and 8?" "I preferred not to."
- My 87-year old grandpa.
- You, if you're reading this ... unless you're Will Svitek or Sam Baker.
5. Mike Smith needs electroshock therapy any time he even contemplates Turner-up-the-gut on 4th and short. YOU DON'T HAVE OVIE MUGHELLI CLEARING HOLES ANYMORE MIKE!!! THAT WON'T WORK!!!. Ahem, sorry. Bad memories. Bad, bad memories. /recalls O.T. against the Saints and playoff game against NY last season. *cringes.*
There you go. Five wee wishes. A pentagram of paltry requests. A quintet of quintessential queries. It's not too much to ask. Right?