"NFL Total Access" has launched its "32 in 32" series, breaking down the biggest subplots of every NFL team as the 2013 season approaches. Around The League will follow along and offer our own take. Up next: The Atlanta Falcons.
1. Could the Falcons' offense be even better in 2013? It's a veritable all-star team with running back Steven Jackson joining what is arguably the top wide receiver-tight end trio in the NFL. Julio Jones looks even more explosive this year. Tony Gonzalez's 2012 season was his best in an Atlanta uniform. Matt Ryan is just hitting his stride after breaking a host of single-season franchise passing records while leading the NFL in completion percentage.
2. If there's one Achilles' heel that could trip up the offense, it's the front five. The Falcons have drafted offensive linemen Peter Konz, Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes in the early rounds recently so they would be ready to succeed veterans Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo by now. We'll find out quickly if the youngsters have developed into capable starters, as they are replacing a combined 294 games started between McClure and Clabo at center and right tackle.
3. Rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have impressed in offseason practices, but the pass rush and run defense could keep the Falcons from keeping pace with the NFC West superpowers. Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick simply had too much time in the pocket during last season's playoff games against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, respectively. Adding an interior defender with playoff experience such as Richard Seymour would help. Seymour remains open to signing with the Falcons, but talks have subsided for now.
4. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has been of the league's best executives of the past half-decade. His blockbuster trade for Jones was a masterstroke. But his failure to replace a washed-up Michael Turner might have cost his franchise its first Lombardi Trophy last season. The play-calling over the past two postseasons reflected the coaching staff's lack of faith in the alleged battering ram's ability to come through in crucial short-yardage and clock-killing situations.
Ryan's number was a called on a pair of botched fourth-and-inches attempts in the playoff loss to the New York Giants two seasons ago. With a 24-14 halftime lead a year later, Turner was trusted with just one second-half carry in the NFC Championship Game loss to the 49ers. Dimitroff is counting on Jackson to put the Falcons over the hump in crunch time this time around.
Our Takeaway: In Gonzalez's farewell tour, it's Super Bowl or bust. The Falcons tied for the best record in the NFL last season, but came up 10 yards shy of advancing to the Super Bowl. We can expect more of the same in 2013 unless the defense exceeds expectations.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.