Falcons’ defensive problems cost them playoff spot

Article originally published in The Talon: Dacula High School’s newspaper and is published with permission.

Despite being considered Super Bowl contenders at the beginning, the Atlanta Falcons weren’t at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in February. In a season filled with surprises, shocks and upsets, the Falcons finished 7-9, five of which were consecutive. There are two main reasons for this: a large number of defensive injuries, and the offense not performing their best at the beginning of the season.

Falcons vs Redskins 2006.jpg” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Before the season started, the Falcons lost all four of their preseason games, scoring just 27 points in total, including a 0-17 loss to the New Jersey Jets. The failure of the offense was because of quarterback Matt Ryan’s over-dependence on wide receiver Julio Jones. According to Fourth Quarter Sports, in the first game of the season, in which the Falcons lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 12-18, Jones caught 10 passes for 169 yards. That stat placed him near the top of the league in terms of quality of receivers, but here is the catch: not one of those ten catches resulted in touchdowns. In fact, Atlanta’s one touchdown against the Eagles came from a running play by Tevin Coleman.

But later on into the season, the Falcons faced a much larger, imminent issue. Three of the Falcons’ defensive starters–Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones–, along with running back Devonta Freeman, faced injuries, keeping them out for the rest of the season. After this, the Falcons’ defense was truly terrible. Between Sunday Sept. 23 and Sunday Oct. 7, they lost all three of their games, allowing 43 points from the New Orleans Saints, 37 against the Cincinnati Bengals and 41 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even with time left in the season, it did not get any better. The lowest point of the season came on Sunday Nov. 11, when the Falcons lost to the Cleveland Browns 16-28, a team which had won only once in two seasons.

Losses like these definitely knocked Atlanta’s beloved Falcons out of playoff contention, but the way the Falcons played offensively in those three consecutive losses were different from before. The difference? Yet again the name of WR Julio Jones pops up, except this time, in a good way. Although they conceded a lot of points in those losses, the Falcons also scored plenty, averaging 30 points per game in that time period. From that time onward, Jones did not just return to a good form, he showed up in spectacular form, the best of his career. His 1,500 yards resulted in seven rather important touchdowns, although mostly in vain thanks to the crippled defense. Perhaps if Matt Ryan played his passes smarter and Jones became more effective in the Red Zone (the 20 yards before an end zone), early wins would not have solved the defensive problems, but a few wins could have sealed a playoff spot for the red and black.

So what have they done about it? The Falcons have changed the way the management will run, as Head Coach Dan Quinn announced, by making some new appointments. The first of three appointments saw Kyle Flood being promoted to game management coach, who was an assistant offensive coach for two seasons. Dave Brock will coach the running backs after coaching wide receivers for two years, in order to boost the running game. Bernie Parmalee will give up his spot with the running backs to coach the special teams.

So far, these changes look to stabilize the offense, but there is not a clear plan yet as to how the defense will improve. Hopefully, the Falcons can sign some good players who were impressive this season going into the next season, and will also look for some good, young defenders in the NFL Draft. The Falcons finished third in the NFC South, behind the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints, but hopefully, next season, the Falcons can make improvements and rise up!

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