Best of 2010: Storylines

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With the end of the Falcons’ season, AtlantaFalcons.com managing editor Jay Adams and contributing writer Daniel Cox will take a look back at a tremendous 13-3 regular season that was filled with thrills and chills in this week’s ‘Best of 2010' series. Today, Daniel Cox ranks the top five storylines that made the season unforgettable.

5. On the Line Together:2010 was the third straight season that the Falcons starting offensive line was together and the unit continued its rise, receiving praise this season as a unit that works better together than individually.

It features a unique collection of NFL players with a variety of experiences and this season the offensive line did two things really well: Protect quarterback Matt Ryan and lead the running game.

All five players started every game and with few exceptions saw every snap on offense this season. Along the way, they allowed the third fewest sacks in the league. They also gave up the eighth fewest QB hits in the NFL.

Atlanta's run game was in the top five in the NFC and the offense ranked among the league leaders in many passing categories. Most notable of all was the 25.9 points-per-game the Falcons averaged, fifth in the NFL.

The five on the line laid it all out in 2010 and the Falcons were one of the best teams in the league because of it.

4. Calculated Chance-Taker:The appreciation for head coach Mike Smith around the league grew a little more this season as he earned his second *Sporting News *Coach of the Year honors this season for Atlanta's 13-3 finish.

Smith is appreciated for his calm approach to preparation and the handling of his players. He's also appreciated for his at-times fiery attitude on the sidelines.

One of the things that caught many by surprise this year was Smith's calculated approach to going for it on fourth downs. The reasoning for his decisions shows the pragmatic side of Smith and reveals a lot about his study of the game and the time he puts in to getting ready for every scenario that could come up within a game.

Atlanta's 73 percent conversion rate on fourth down this season was the best in the NFL. It's even more impressive when he's grouped with the amount of points the Falcons scored. Going for it on fourth down can be a costly decision, one usually made in the red zone when three points could be a given.

Smith's approach to fourth downs is one of the many things that are causing those that cover the league to begin to consider him one of the true thinkers in the game.

3. The Magical Number Seven:Getting Falcons into the Pro Bowl can be a difficult thing, but this year the fans did their part and the rest of the league noticed what was happening in Atlanta and seven players were recognized with Pro Bowl bids.

In all five Falcons were named as starters and two are backups. Two more, tackle Tyson Clabo and kicker Matt Bryant, have been listed as alternates.

What it says is the Falcons had a great season, but beneath that is shows the job Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have done in acquiring talent and the league-leading total was a point of pride for fans when the teams were announced.

The seven matched the franchise record for players receiving the honor set in 1981 and 1969.

2. More MoCity:When safety William Moore was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, fans thought the pick was perfect. Moore was expected to come in as a rookie and battle veteran Erik Coleman for a starting job and show the NFL why he was once considered a high first-round pick.

Moore instead couldn't stay healthy in his rookie season. He was eventually placed on injured reserve halfway through the season with knee and hamstring injuries.

The safety stayed in Atlanta during the offseason and committed to conditioning and learning to play football at an NFL level.

When Coleman suffered an injury during Week 1's loss to the Steelers, Moore a season-long streak of starts that began to show the potential on which he was drafted.

Fans grew to love Moore's hard hammering hits and he showed the same ballhawking, play-making ability that he showed at Missouri when he lead the nation in interceptions as a junior. The safety tied cornerback Brent Grimes for the team lead with five interceptions.

The season Moore had placed him on the map and showed he will be a staple in the defense for years to come in Atlanta.

1. Next-level Roddy:Roddy White was already considered a top receiver in the league entering the 2010 season, but after what he did on the field this year, he's considered among the small elite class of receivers in the NFL.

Few took notice when offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said during OTAs that White was having the best offseason of any player he'd ever coached. The commitment to all things football was hard to ignore when training camp began and White looked and played happier and better than he ever has.

The result was a league-leading 115 catches and NFC-leading 1,389 receiving yards and a reputation as a guy that must be focused on within the Falcons offense every single week. Despite often being double-teamed, White made clutch catch after clutch catch during the 2010 season. Each week, it seemed, White did something in a Falcons win that had everyone talking the next day.

Already a player fans were excited about, White has now given fans something to look forward to: the Ryan to White connection for years to come.

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