Not much was expected of the Atlanta Falcons this season. They had some exciting players on their team like wide receiver Julio Jones, but the expectation was that they would take this year to rebuild and get a little better. The Falcons had other plans to start the season thought. Atlanta came hot to start the season. They took out the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Texans and Redskins to start the season a surprising 5-0. Many began to look at what first-year head coach Dan Quinn was doing with this team and were impressed. Maybe the Falcons were better than advertised. Just maybe they could make the playoffs in the first year of Quinn’s regime. But ever since that hot start, the Falcons have been mediocre at best. The Falcons are 1-4 over their last five games. They were in great position to make the playoffs, but they now look to be struggling to even have a shot at it. In that 1-4 stretch, they lost to the lowly 49ers and they also barely beat a Tennessee Titans team that has struggled all season. The Falcons are fading fast and they have issues all over the place. They have to make some changes and they have to make them now to get this ship righted.
The first thing that is hindering the Falcons is their starting quarterback. Matt Ryan was electric as the starting quarterback of the Falcons to start the season. In his first six starts, Ryan had only two games that he had an interception (two games with two interceptions). Ryan was protecting the football and also making plays with wide receiver Julio Jones. But in the last four games, Ryan has been pretty careless with the football. He has thrown an interception in at least three of the last four games, including two games where he has had two or more interceptions. For the Falcons to make a run to the playoffs, they need Matty Ice to be the guy that takes care of the football and still makes it happen for the Falcons through the air. He has had a consistent running game with running back Devonta Freeman, so Ryan has no excuses as to why he is making some careless mistakes. One thing Ryan may want to do is get the football to veteran wide receiver Roddy White more. It seems like he has been phased out of the offense this year and Ryan rarely looks his way. He is on pace to have the least amount of catches and yards since his second year in the NFL. That just does not seem right and maybe if Ryan was spreading the football around a little more, he would not been having one of his worst interception seasons of his career.
But Ryan and the offense are not the only one having issues. The Falcons defense came out like a house on fire. If you watched Quinn’s defenses in Seattle, they were always flying all over the field and they made many plays. That same kind of effort was brought to the Falcons defense and that was something that was carrying them during their fast start. But over time, the real Falcons defense has shown up. And although the effort is still there, it is evident that they are still a work in progress. The biggest issue the Falcons have is creating pressure. The Falcons are tied for last in sacks in the NFL. For the defense that Quinn has to work, they have to get pressure and get to the quarterback. And if they are not able to get pressure consistently, that leaves their pass defense exposed. When they drafted defensive end Vic Beasley out of Clemson, he was supposed to be the guy that brought pressure consistently for Atlanta. But so far, he has not been as good as advertised in that area. He currently has only two sacks on the season and that has not been what they thought. For Quinn, he is going to have to find a way to generate more pressure until he can get Beasley up to speed. If not, the Falcons secondary will have to be exceedingly excellent against the pass all game long. That is a lot to ask of any secondary in terms of holding coverage for a long time.
The Falcons have six games left to make it happen. Included in those six games are two against the undefeated Carolina Panthers. Atlanta has to make a move to make the playoffs and make it right now. They have some issues to solve. They have a defense that cannot get consistent pressure and a veteran quarterback that is not valuing the football. If they are to make it, then they have to clean up the mistakes, make some plays defensively and fight for what they feel they want. Will they have the resolve to make that happen or not is the question they will have to answer on the field.