Enemy Intel: Falcons

Enemy Intel: Falcons
July 23, 2013, 1:15 pm

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Over the past four months, we’ve kept a watchful eye on the teams who appear on the Redskins’ 2013 schedule. 

We’ve tracked their free agent signings. We’ve examined their drafts. Now, in our final edition of Enemy Intel, we’re taking a look at three storylines that will dominate each team’s preseason.

Up today …

Opponent/Week: Falcons 

2012 record: 13-3

Key acquisitions: RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora

Draft picks: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford, DE Malliciah Goodman, TE Levine Toilolo, DE Stansly Maponga, DB Kemal Ishmael, S Zeke Motta  

Storyline No. 1: Last season, the Falcons ranked 28th in sacks with 29 – or three fewer than the Redskins.

In attempt to generate a more sustained pass rush and get a little younger, GM Thomas Dimitroff released 35-year-old John Abraham and signed the 31-year-old Umenyiora.

Umenyiora has seen his production decline in recent seasons and, a year ago, registered only six sacks while splitting time with Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul as a member of the Giants. Umenyiora’s career-high sack total – 14.5 – came in 2005.

The question is this: Are the Falcons getting the Umenyiora that used to make game-changing plays regularly, or the Umenyiora was occasionally impactful a year ago?

That said, the acquisition of Umenyiora definitely adds some intangibles. Two of them, to be exact. Umenyiora earned a pair of Super Bowl rings as a Giant and knows what it takes to get to the big game.

Storyline No. 2: Another area the NFC South champions needed to address was its 29th-ranked ground game.

Enter Steven Jackson, who had spent the previous nine seasons with the Rams. After voiding the final year of his contract in St. Louis, Jackson, who turned 30 on Monday, signed a three-year contract worth $12 million in Atlanta.

Jackson replaces Michael Turner, who was released after gaining 800 yards on 222 carries. It represented a precipitous drop from the back-to-back 1,300-plus yard seasons Turner produced in 2010 and 2011.  

Jackson, on the hand, has been a model of consistency throughout his career, surpassing 1,000 yards in each of the past eight seasons.

With Matt Ryan and pass-catching threats Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Falcons' offense (26.2 points per game in '12) doesn't need Jackson to be dominant. They just need him to be better than the 3.6 yards Turner averaged last season.

Storyline No. 3: Ryan, 56-22 as a starter and coming off consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is going to get a huge extension. But will it happen before the issue becomes a distraction? Players report to training camp Wednesday.

Negotiations are reportedly ongoing, though it’s unclear where exactly the talks stand. Ryan no doubt wants to be paid like elite signal callers Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning – all of whom earn in the $20 million per season range.

The question as the season approaches will be this: Will Ryan pull a Flacco, bet on himself and aim for an even bigger payday? Or will he opt for the safer move and push for a resolution in the coming weeks?

Either way, the longer this drags out, the more Ryan will be preoccupied by it and, of course, the more he'll be forced to answer questions about it.