ATLANTA – In each one of the Atlanta’s previous six games prior to Sunday’s 27-point loss here to the Los Angeles Rams, there were usually one or two things the Falcons could hang their hats on as positives.
You know, reminders that this team still has a good number of talented players and are capable of living up to all of the lofty expectations writers like myself had for them back in August.
This one was different. It wasn’t just the defense everyone could point at as the lone culprit coming out of this one; the offense and special teams were equally at fault.
To be honest with you, even though I predicted during the summer that this team would finish 10-6 and go 4-2 in the NFC South, I thought there was a good chance they might emerge as one of the top three or four teams in the NFC.
And, let’s face it, I was wrong. Every single reason why I thought the Falcons would be contenders in 2019 has been proven wrong – one by one, game by game. I did not see this coming.
Surely, with Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen back in the lineup the defense would have to be greatly improved over last season, right? Even if Keanu Neal’s return was short-lived, Jones and Allen would provide the leadership and communication that would elevate the play around them, right?
Let’s go back to the end of the 2018 season when Falcons coach Dan Quinn parted ways with all three of his coordinators and took over as the defensive coordinator and play-caller.
No one knew for sure what to expect from the Falcons defense under Quinn, but the general consensus back in August was that the unit would be more aggressive and Quinn could get the most out of players like edge rushers Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley.
Coming into the Rams game, the Falcons ranked 31st in the league in points allowed per game (31.0) and 27th in yards allowed per game (388.8). Those numbers got worse against the Rams. On top of the 37 points put up on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium scoreboard, Los Angeles also rolled up 381 yards of total offense.
There are more telling defensive stats, too.
Atlanta has now gone four straight games without registering a sack and five consecutive contests without forcing a turnover.
Who saw that any of that coming? I didn’t, especially not after Quinn said that he was going to take much more of a “hands-on” approach with Beasley during the NFL combine back in February and bolstering the defensive front with players like Tyeler Davison, Allen Bailey and Adrian Clayborn in free agency.
While the offense has looked strong in spurts this season, not all is well there.
Remember when I wrote back in March that when Devonta Freeman is healthy and playing, the Falcons are a different (and much better) team offensively? Well, through seven games, Freeman is averaging just 45.8 yards per game and has zero rushing touchdowns.
Let’s be clear, Freeman’s numbers are a byproduct of a larger problem. I wrote that column seven months ago assuming the Falcons offensive line would be much improved this season.
Here’s the long and short of it, the offensive line has not shown the improvement we thought it would.
Matt Ryan was hit nine times and sacked five times by the Rams, and the last one knocked the Falcons quarterback out of the game with an ankle injury. Through seven games, Ryan has been sacked 19 times.
Think about that for a minute. For every sack the Falcons are registering on defense this season, they’re surrendering four in return.
In case you forgot, Ryan was sacked 42 times in 2018. And who could forget when Falcons owner Arthur Blank said, “This is my 19th year as an owner and one of the things I’ve learned is that Matt (Ryan) plays much better vertically than horizontally.”
As of right now no one knows how many games Ryan will miss, but the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are the Falcons’ next three opponents.
Even the Falcons special teams has been problematic. From the punt block on the Falcons’ very first series of the season in Minnesota to being burned on a fake punt by the Rams to a pair of rare misses by “Money” Matt Bryant over the last two games, the mistakes have been costly and, at the very least, demoralizing momentum-changers.
So here we are, a game away from the midpoint of the season, and the losses are mounting. I certainly don’t have an answer on how to fix everything that ails the Falcons, but I can tell you with confidence that I did not see this coming.
“At the end of the day it’s on us,” Falcons defensive end Takk McKinley said after the game. “We have enough talent in this room to win games.”
I thought the same, too.