Any team that is undefeated half way through the year MUST be the favorite to win the Super Bowl…right? Right? Not according to the talking heads on ESPN and other NFL-centric shows. Atlanta is considered by many to be the number 3 team…in their own conference! Only time will tell if the prognosticators know what they are talking about, but going undefeated this far into the season is no small feat. After Sunday night’s win over the Cowboys, the Atlanta Falcons are sporting an 8-0 record. How did owner Arthur Blank, GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith build this team? They have a great nucleus that has been building together for years now and they have found a way to add the right free agent pick ups and draft picks to add to their core.
The success of the Atlanta Falcons in 2012 and beyond rises and falls with quarterback Matt Ryan. A player that was taken #3 overall pick in 2008 as Dimitroff’s first draft selection as Atlanta’s GM. Matty Ice was tabbed for great things has come along at a more leisurely pace than people were hoping for. No one thought that Matt Ryan was going to be the next Peyton Manning, or the pre-Luck Andrew Luck, but over his first few years he had been more of a high end game manager that didn’t lose games and performed well in the clutch, but couldn’t win in the playoffs and wasn’t going to tear through most defenses. That all changed this year with the decline of Michael Turner, who fostered the Atlanta Falcons young offense for Ryan’s first couple seasons, and Mike Smith’s decision to hand the keys of the offense to Ryan.
The offensive core consists of Matt Ryan, wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Thomas Dimitroff has created a pass to set up the run team after relying on the run for Ryan’s first few years. Ryan, White and Jones are all Atlanta draft picks, with Jones being a big risk trade involving multiple future picks. Gonzalez is the best low-key free agent addition by Dimitroff and has contributed on a fantastic level both as an overall offensive option and as a great way to bring Ryan to the point he is at. Gonzalez has been a consistent safety valve for Ryan during his formative years and is now benefitting from the higher level of play that Ryan is showing. That core of 4 players is being flanked by a skilled but aging running back in Michael Turner and an offensive line that isn’t going to block every great defensive player in the league, but isn’t going to be anywhere near leading the league in sacks allowed. Not to mention that line is filled with Dimitroff’s own draft picks as well.
Dimitroff built this offensive side of the ball almost entirely through the draft, with the only major contributors that were added through free agency being Turner and Gonzalez. The offense is what is leading this team and Dimitroff built a monster with the potential to score at will with mismatches against almost any corner on both sides and against linebackers with White, Jones and Gonzalez.
Dimitroff, Blanks and Smith have concentrated on offense in the draft, leading to a lack of home grown players on defense. But, the Falcons have done a great job of building a defense through savvy free agent additions to go along with veterans that were hold overs from the pre-Ryan/Dimitroff era. The most significant hold over is definitely defensive end John Abraham.
Abraham leads the defensive line with 7 sacks on the season so far, and has put consistent pressure on the quarterback his entire career, this allows the Falcons coaching staff to do the types of things they want to without worrying about having a lack of pressure on the QB. Also on the defensive line, former number 1 pick of the Falcons, Peria Jerry, who has come along nicely since being drafted.
In the linebacking corp are former high draft picks Akeem Dent and Sean Weatherspoon along with free agent addition Mike Peterson. Thomas Decoud, ALSO a Dimitroff draft pick, leads the team in interceptions with 4.
Cornerback is where Dimitroff has been the most willing to bring in help from outside the organization to shore up that position. Instead of draft picks, which have paid off at almost every other position, offensive and defensive, he has enlisted the help of free agent pick up Dunta Robinson from the Texans and a great ball hawking corner in Asante Samuel, gotten for ONLY a 7th round pick.
Dimitroff has shown he is capable of putting together a roster the right way. He has built through the draft with great picks from the early rounds starting all over his roster and being able to find just the right amount of free agent additions and low risk, high reward trades to put this team over the top. Should an undefeated team be the Super Bowl favorites? Not always, but this roster looks formidable to any opponent. They are not unstoppable in any one area, but they aren’t weak in any area either. This balance may serve them well if they can hold home field advantage during the playoffs. Thomas Dimitroff, I salute you sir, don’t change your strategy one bit and this team could be a dynasty team for the middle and late years of the 20-teens.