Having a healthy Michael Vick wasn't the only reason that the Atlanta Falcons reached the NFC title game last season. The defense improved from last in the league in 2003 to the middle of the pack last year, and that was a major factor in Atlanta's success. Coach Jim Mora is a former defensive coordinator in San Francisco, and Falcons defensive boss Ed Donatell rehabilitated his image around the league after being ousted in Green Bay following a fourth-and-26 failure in a playoff loss at Philadelphia to end the 2003 season.
Defensive tackle Rod Coleman and defensive end Patrick Kerney were the keys, combining for 241/2 sacks during the regular season. The major addition this offseason was middle linebacker Edgerton Hartwell, signed as a free agent after playing alongside Ray Lewis in Baltimore. The Falcons also need second-year cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a first-round draft selection last year from Virginia Tech, to develop into the sort of top defender who can take an opponent's number one receiver out of the game.
Vick is the sport's most electrifying player but is not yet a complete quarterback because he remains such an inconsistent passer. For the Falcons to become a Super Bowl team, he probably needs to become more accurate in his throwing. But even if he doesn't, Atlanta is a threat to lead the league in rushing, as it did last season, because no other team has a quarterback capable of running for 1,000 yards per season.