Before each season, every football coach promises to take more shots downfield on offense and get after the quarterback more on defense. Every strength and conditioning program is so much more advanced than last year's program, which apparently involved mostly chocolate cake.
Every metal band's album is proclaimed as being heavier than its predecessor. Every baseball player is in the shape of his life in spring training. Every Taco Bell invention is cheesier and crunchier than previously considered possible. Let's not even get started on sports videogames or government initiatives, and I'm not sure which is worse here.
So why do I actually believe the Atlanta Falcons when they say they're going to take more shots downfield and get after the quarterback more in 2011?
Maybe because they were the most aggressive team in the draft, taking out a loan to pick up a player who's a home run threat even while catching screens. The mantra from Arthur Blank on down, before the draft and since, has been "explosiveness," which the team has repeated when talking about Jacquizz Rodgers and Ray Edwards and not quite Matt Bosher yet.
But it's been clear since Game 1 -- lit'rally -- that Matt Ryan is capable of making deep throws, and since shortly after that that he works better without huddles, all of which should play right into Mike Mularkey's strengths, judging by his Steelers days. And it's been clear for years that, despite Brian VanGorder's status as perhaps the best coordinator in team history, his zone blitzing system tends to call off the dogs once the team has any sort of a late lead.
The brass knows it takes aggression to win championships. The Falcons had a great regular season thanks to a batch of close wins, but were clubbed out of the playoffs by a team without a running game. Looking at the recent list of Super Bowl winners, it takes a while to reach a team you wouldn't characterize as especially ballsy on offense, defense or both ... maybe the 2007 Giants, but how about before that?
For hideous and uncomfortable example, the 2009 Saints were known for Drew Brees' aerial attack, but they might've been even more fearless on defense.
Mike Smith has implemented a philosophy in Atlanta that's led to the best three-year run in franchise history. The team doesn't make mistakes, and I think the relatively short leashes for Ryan and the defense lead back to Smith more than to his coordinators. He's called for more verve and violence in years past, but based on the uniformity of message coming out of Flowery Branch this year, I think this really is the year he feels the team is ready to express itself.