The club should have powerful running, with a contingent of big, capable backs led by Ken Willard; good passing, with a hale Brodie throwing to Gene Washington, who could be superb—as could Ted Kwalick, a second-year man.
The defense, from the front line through a good and deep set of linebackers to an experienced, very fast secondary, is of top quality. With Gossett, the kicking should be an asset for a change—that is if the 49ers can come up with a center who can make the long snap.
That leaves morale, and one veteran 49er lineman may have analyzed the problem of the club when he said, "Maybe we don't have enough fear in us." Fear, that is, for their jobs. Nolan is a quiet man, like Tom Landry, but this year he has enough people vying for positions to instill some trepidation.
Fear is no problem for the Falcons. The hard-bitten, incisive and exceptionally blunt Van Brocklin once fired a linebacker at the half, telling him to get out of his uniform, into his suit and go up in the stands and sit with his mother, where he belonged. The rest of the team played a spirited second half, although it didn't win. It will probably win more this year than heretofore, but even the Dutchman can't make it into a better club than the Rams and shouldn't make it better than the 49ers.
Van Brocklin is a reticent man and not known for predicting, but he has said, "We'll have the best team the Atlanta Falcons have ever had this year. We have the best people we've ever had. You might say we have just scratched the surface of what we hope to do. Our next goal is...to be among the four or five leading teams in the league."
He is certainly making strong progress. The Falcons are probably superior to New Orleans and they have a hex on San Francisco, having beaten the 49ers twice in league play last year. With Baltimore out of the running, that leaves Los Angeles, a club high on Van Brocklin's hate list, and he is a past master at getting a team ready for a single game.
The defense should benefit from a healthy Tommy Nobis, who has apparently recovered from major knee surgery and who rates among the top three middle linebackers in the game. The Falcons have a better-than-adequate defensive line (End Claude Humphrey is the stickout) and a fair secondary, but in the past their linebackers have had to help shore up the deep defense. If the secondary improves, the defense could, too, dramatically.
The Sack of Atlanta
Van Brocklin's problem has been at quarterback, where neither Randy Johnson nor Bob Berry are top rung. Last year they were injured often, not surprising when you consider that they worked behind a line that allowed defenders to dump the quarterback 63 times, an average of almost five times per contest. The young offensive line should be better this year, if only for an added year's experience. If they can open any cracks the Falcons have plenty of running talent to exploit it.