ATLANTA – It’s time to start looking at the 2018 Falcons differently.
In a game that Atlanta absolutely had to have in order to keep its waning playoff hopes alive, the offense hit a wall and the defense couldn’t make a stop when it mattered most.
The end result was a crushing 10-point home loss to the Ravens that not only dropped the Falcons to 4-8 on the year, it puts them in sole possession of last place of the NFC South with four games to go.
Let’s forget all that talk of squeaking into the NFC playoffs. The only chance the Falcons had at eking out a postseason berth was by stringing five straight wins together to close out the year and finishing 9-7 – and even then, there were no guarantees.
That’s not happening (although they haven't been mathematically eliminated as of yet).
The focus now must be inward and figuring out what it’s going to take to right this ship – not only for the remainder of this season but as they look ahead to 2019. The harsh reality is that the Falcons lost their fourth straight game and the wheels have come off their once-mighty offense in the process.
Like I wrote 10 days ago, the Falcons’ problems continue to stem from their play in the trenches.
While the Falcons have struggled to run the ball effectively all season long, it’s been particularly bad the last two games. Falcons runners combined for 34 yards on 15 carries against the Ravens on Sunday – that’s barely 2.3 yards per carry. On Thanksgiving, if you recall, the Falcons ran the ball 16 times for only 26 yards against the Saints.
Sixty yards in two games simply isn’t going to cut it, especially for an offense where so much is predicated off the run. For comparison’s sake, just look at what the Falcons’ last four opponents have done on the ground: Ravens (207), Saints (150), Cowboys (132) and Browns (211).
The Falcons have only eclipsed the 100-yard mark twice all year long – in a 31-24 win over the Panthers (170 yards) in Week 2 and the 38-14 win over the Redskins (154) in Week 9.
That’s it. And for what it's worth, Sunday's offensive output – 131 total yards – was the Falcons' lowest since 1999.
Speaking of Ryan, the Falcons have allowed 3.5 sacks per game over the recent four-game losing skid. The Ravens brought Ryan down three times, half as many times as the Saints sacked him on Thanksgiving Day (six).
With no running game and continuing pass protection breakdowns, Ryan has been running for his life behind this line lately. Against the Ravens, he completed 16 of 26 passes for only 131 yards and a touchdown. Those aren’t Ryan-like numbers at all.
If you can’t run and you can’t block, you can’t win. The Falcons have proven that much over their most recent losing streak.
Things weren’t much better on the defensive side of the ball, either. At one point during the second half the Falcons had run just six offensive plays compared to the Ravens’ 35. Atlanta was only down 13-10 at the time, but it didn’t matter – the Falcons defense couldn’t get off the field, even with the Ravens third-string quarterback (Robert Griffin III) taking a significant amount of snaps.
And there’s no question that addressing and evaluating the offensive and defensive lines will be a major focus over the final quarter of the season.
Yes, the goals for this team have changed, and making the playoffs is out the window. Falcons coach Dan Quinn admitted as much following the loss to the Ravens.
“Early on, you have that moment where it's, 'OK, we'll get it turned [around]. We'll get it turned,'” Quinn said. “I think when you hit reality and face that you're fighting to get to .500, yeah that stings and that hurts."
And the reality is that the Falcons have a lot of work to do if they hope to return to the postseason. Next year, that is.