ESPN's Mina Kimes previewed the NFC South on "The Mina Kimes Show" recently and offered her thoughts and questions surrounding each team.
Kimes was joined by NFL analyst Warren Sharp, the founder of Sharp Football Stats and Sharp Football Analysis, on this episode where they debated the strengths and weaknesses of each team.
As one of Matt Ryan’s biggest advocates in the media, Kimes started off the show by saying when she watched the tape and looked at the statistics from the 2019 season, she found "a lot of excuses for Matt Ryan."
Kimes and Sharp both point to Atlanta's subpar play along the offensive line and limited production in the run game as two major factors in the Falcons finishing 7-9 last season.
"The offensive line was a problem last year," Kimes said. "They are an interesting problem because it's an area where they've invested a lot of draft capital. This shouldn't be a rebuilding team given where the talent is, yet they have a re-building offensive line to my eye especially in pass protection."
Ryan was sacked 48 times in the 2019 season – the most in his career – and the Falcons finished No. 30 in rushing offense averaging 85.1 yards per game.
"The fact that they had very little run game just is a problem," Sharp said. "While [they] don't need the run game to do a lot for them and [they] are going to get [their] most efficient production through the air, they can't have a run game that is completely absent. If they can get better protection from their offensive line and better run blocking that is going to help Matt Ryan tremendously."
Sharp pointed to Atlanta's lack of efficiency in the use of two-back sets on offense as an area they'll need to better in to be more successful in the run game.
"They used a lot of two-back sets last year," Sharp said. "They ran the ball from 21 or 22 personnel on 121 rushing attempts which is not a small amount. They recorded just 2.6 yards per carry and had a 38 percent success rate. They ranked dead last in yards per carry and success rate of 18 teams that ran the ball at least 50 times from two-back sets."
On the defensive side of the ball, Kimes' biggest questions come from Atlanta's secondary.
"There's a lot of question marks … you've got Keanu Neal coming back from injury," Kimes said. "I thought Deion Jones looked really good at the end of the season. You have parted ways with Vic Beasley and you've replaced him with Dante Fowler. I think there's potential for this defensive line and linebacking group to be OK, I just cannot see this secondary being above average.'
The Falcons drafted cornerback A.J. Terrell with the No. 16 overall pick in hopes to continue to bolster the secondary. Terrell and Isaiah Oliver will likely start at cornerback with Kendall Sheffield taking over the nickel role.
The Falcons ranked No. 22 against the pass in 2019 allowing 244.9 yards per game through the air.