Though last Sunday's 24-14 win over the underwhelming Minnesota Vikings may not seem have seemed all that exciting, what I saw on the field is a team that is built to last (unlike so many Falcons teams of, say, the last 40+ years).
The Falcons have a GM in Thomas Dimitroff who each year is not only finding talented players, but also ones that fill a predetermined role and maintain a sense of team coherence. On the other hand, in the Mora Jr. years you had guys like DeAngelo Hall who, while talented, were poison in the locker room. It's the change of culture that's worked so well since Dimitroff's arrival that has given the Falcons this mental boost.
What this team also possesses that many previous ones did not is depth. For instance: Sam Baker to be out three to four weeks, you say? Who cares when we have an undrafted journeyman in Will Svitek who's playing better at the moment. Heck, the team's No. 4 and No. 5 corners (Owens and Franks) will be sharing starting time this week, and I'm not even that worried. I'm surprised I can say that with a straight face.
Injuries aside, the Falcons are talented and have a bright future. And this week, I'm here to talk about three of those guys- all draftees, and all are coming off big games. I'll start off with...
LB Sean Weatherspoon
When I say 'Spoon is a star in the making, I mean star. He plays the run better than most other 'backers in the league, holds his own in coverage, has the speed and explosiveness to come up with a few sacks here and there, and most of all he possesses a knack for big plays. Weatherspoon can do it all.
But more importantly, he brings a swagger to the defense that hasn't really been there before. No, not the DeAngelo Hall kind of swagger that picks fights with coaches. 'Spoon is loud, aggressive, emotional, and loves doing this thing when he makes a big play.
Looking at last year's first-round pick from a more statistical perspective, he's been just as impressive. His monster day against the Vikings (10 tackles, three for a loss, a sack and a QB hit) was simply a microcosm of the great season the Mizzou linebacker has been having. On the season, he's been credited with 89 stops, 11 for a loss, which good for 13th in the league.
WR Harry Douglas
Though Douglas only managed two catches against the Vikings, he's made them count as he has all year. One was an 18-yard pickup, and the other was a 27-yard touchdown. In the absence of Julio Jones, Douglas has finally found his niche in this Falcons offense, establishing himself as someone comfortable making catches over the middle.
He's also become quite the big play threat. He's made 31 catches for 428 yards on the season with an impressive average of 13.8 yards per catch. But in recent weeks he's especially made an impact: he's recorded a catch for 20 yards or more five times in his last six appearances.
Like so many Falcons draft picks, it was never a question of talent, only health. Now that he's finally starting to regain that breakaway speed, it's been Douglas that has picked up the slack in the "explosive play" department in lieu of Jones. Looking towards the future, with Tony Gonzalez likely calling it a career very soon it's nice to see Ryan building rapport with a pass-catcher not named Gonzalez or Roddy.
Spreading the ball around to multiple receivers is key for Ryan, and for Douglas it has meant success.
DE Lawrence Sidbury
If I were to ask you who currently leads the Falcons in sacks, those who would guess John Abraham would be correct. Those who guess Sidbury would also be correct, as both are tied for the team lead with 4.0 on the year.
Now Atlanta's pass rush has been pretty mediocre this year. While the D-line has been the No. 1 unit in the league when stopping the run according to Football Outsiders, their adjusted sack rate of 5.4% ranks 26th.
However, you can count Sidbury out of any criticism, as he's been the team's best situational pass rusher by far. Against the Vikings, the Richmond product had two sacks, a tackle for loss and two QB hits. Even Smitty has given out a compliment or two.
Perhaps there really is something about the whole "third-year defensive lineman" trend. Like quarterbacks, DEs usually need a few years to adjust to the speed of the NFL, and in especially in the case of Sidbury coming from small AA Richmond.
Right now the Falcons have a great complement to a solid starting tandem of Abraham and Edwards, but if Sidbury keeps this production up maybe the Falcons will have found their eventual replacement for the great Abe. His pass rushing ability is ever-improving, and his ability to play the run has also been solid.
Sid now seems to finally be fulfilling some of that potential Dimitroff and Smitty must've seen in him.
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