“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of couchpotatogm.com analyze one offensive player and one defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2015 for their respective teams to have a successful 2015 campaign. The ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl but a successful season doesn’t always result in hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. No matter what “you” consider to be a success these counterparts are essential to achieving that goal.
Atlanta Falcons “Counterparts to be counted on” 2015
Julio Jones – The Atlanta Falcons took a huge gamble in the 2011 NFL Draft trading five draft picks to move up and select the All-American wide receiver out of Alabama. Thus far Jones has shown he was worth that gamble catching 267 receptions 4,165 yards and 26 TDs in his first 4 seasons despite missing 11 games in 2013. Jones put together his best season as pro last year leading the NFC with 104 catches and 1,593 receiving yards. The big play and consistent receiver is the NFL’s all-time leader (qualifying) in yards per game and will be the “counterpart to be counted on” for the Falcons in 2015.
The decision by the organization to trade up for Jones was a move made in order to put the Falcons over the top as they felt they were on the brink of their first championship. After making the playoffs in Jones’ first 2 seasons in the league including losing a heartbreaker to the 49ers in the 2012 NFC championship game, the Falcons has sputtered in the last 2 seasons with a 10-22 record. The days of having the “elite” Roddy White on the opposite side of field is all but over which puts pressure on Julio to beat double coverage and produce as the main guy within the offense. This is a role Jones relishes in and has demonstrated that he is a franchise player who has improved in the mental part of the game in deciphering coverages while showing tremendous route running abilities. If the Falcons want to get back into the playoffs, Julio and quarterback Matt Ryan will need to be more efficient inside the red zone. Jones, with all his receiving yards and catches only caught 6 touchdown passes and was only targeted 11 times in the red zone in 2014. To add to the puzzling misuse of Jones last season, he was only targeted 4 times inside the ten yard line compared to the now departed Harry Douglas’ 6 targets. For the Falcons to make the leap into the playoffs those numbers will have to increase exponentially.
Enter new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who has a history for peppering his X receiver (Andre Johnson and Pierre Garçon) with targets while moving his number 1 receiver around to multiple locations on the field within the formation. Expect a monster year from Julio who is undoubtedly the number 1 guy on the offense with an aging Roddy White (34), a weak tight end position, and an unproven running back committee. Julio will be counted on to carry the Falcons offense each and every week.
Vic Beasley – Take a trip with me for a moment to hone in on the futility of the Atlanta Falcons’ pass rush. New head coach Dan Quinn was brought in this offseason to improve the defense, more specifically the pass rush. The Falcons as a unit totaled a whopping 22 sacks last season, the same number as Justin Houston by himself. Over the last three seasons the team has tallied a league worst 83 sacks and haven’t had a double digit sack guy since the days of John Abraham. After going all of last offseason without addressing the need for a pass rusher the Falcons and Quinn took the opposite approach this offseason, bringing in a plethora of pass rushers including the “defensive counterpart to be counted on,” rookie Vic Beasley.
Falcons fans took a deep breath of relief during the 2015 draft when the Falcons selected the uber talented and one of the best if not the best collegiate pass rushers in the nation with the 8th overall pick. Finally they got a guy who they can rely on each week to cause havoc on opposing quarterbacks. CPGM has stressed how the NFL is now a passing league and to combat the new NFL rule changes which benefits the passing game, you need a ferocious defensive front to pressure the quarterback. No more relying on the likes of Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, Malliciah Goodman, and Stansly Maponga to anchor the pass rush. The Falcons not only brought in Beasley but also interior pass rusher Grady Jarrett, Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, and O’brien Schofield to hopefully improve a dreadful pass rush. But make no mistake about it, Beasley will be the guy the Falcons will rely on to lead the unit while trying to become only the third Top 10 pick over the last 10 seasons to register double digit sacks in their rookie season (Von Miller and Aldon Smith). Beasley should thrive in Coach Quinn’s LEO pass rushing scheme and hopefully, for the Falcons’ sake, be a consistent and disruptive force against the pass.