By: Raynard Churchwell
As the 2019 season has come to a close, the Atlanta Falcons’ season has been a disappointment. After what was expected to be the Falcons’ redemption season, they finished with a 7-9 record for the second year in a row. Although fans were anything short of happy, nobody can deny that the Falcons showed tremendous heart in the second half of the season as they won six of their last eight games. They will look to take what they have learned from this disappointing season and use it as fuel next fall.
Despite the Falcons’ struggles, Matt Ryan had a solid year. Ryan finished the season with 4,446 passing yards, which ranked fifth in the league. The 11-year vet also threw for 26 passing touchdowns, which ranked eighth in the league. The only knock I can have on Matt Ryan this year was the turnovers. Ryan had 14 interceptions on the season, which are tied for the second-most season interceptions he’s had in his career. Some of these turnovers could be contributed to poor offensive line play, but Ryan knows he left many points on the field because of him not taking care of the ball.
Running Back: D
The Falcons running game in 2019 can be summed up as non-existent. Atlanta average an atrocious 85 yards per game which ranked 30th out of the 32 teams. Starting running back Devonta Freeman had another disappointing year. He finished the year with 635 rushing yards while averaging a below-average 3.6 yards per carry. Freeman also failed to get into the endzone much, scoring a measly two touchdowns. However, Freeman did make an impact in the receiving game recording 410 yards and 4 touchdowns. Running Back Brian Hill also pitched in with 323 yards on limited carries. With that being said, I would not be surprised to see the Falcons address the position in this year’s draft.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends: A
The wide receivers have been a bright spot in the Falcons’ offense for many years now. In 2019, they did not disappoint. Julio Jones once again showed why many consider him the best receiver in the game. His 1,394 receiving yards ranked second in the NFL and earned him a Second-Team All-Pro selection. Calvin Ridley also had a solid season with 866 yards and 7 touchdowns. Since the midseason trade of Mohammad Sanu, the Falcons have been looking for a third receiver to emerge. Russel Gage accepted the challenge and showed tremendous potential as he recorded 49 catches for 787 yards. As for the tight end position, Austin Hooper established himself as one of the best tight ends in the game this season. Despite missing three games, Hooper finished with 787 yards which ranked fifth among tight ends. He has become another reliable target for Matt Ryan.
Offensive Line: D
The offensive line was expected to be the most improved position in the 2019 season. The Falcons signed James Carpenter and drafted Chris Lindstrom & Kaleb McGary in the first round, but the O-line continued to be a disappointment. Things started out rough for the O-Line in Week 1 when Lindstrom injured his foot. Since then everything has been downhill. Due to the many starting lineups used, the line showed a lack of cohesiveness. This prevented them from being able to open any running lanes and constantly having Matt Ryan under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, the Falcons offensive line finished this season ranked 24th in the NFL.
Defensive Line: D
The defensive line has been a problem for years, and 2019 showed zero improvements. The Falcons finished with 28 sacks which tied for the 29th in the league. Only the Miami Dolphins had fewer sacks with 23, and everyone knows they were in full rebuild mode this season. The only reason the defensive line didn’t receive a failing grade is because of the outstanding play of Grady Jarrett. Jarrett’s play lived up to his new 68-million-dollar contract. The 4th year defensive tackle recorded career highs in tackles (69) and sacks (7.5). These numbers earned Jarrett a spot in the Pro Bowl and he was named Second Team All-Pro as well. Defensive end Vic Beasley ended the year on a strong note as he finished the season with a career-high 42 tackles. His 8 sacks were solid but far from what the Falcons believe he can achieve. With Beasley’s contract ending in 2019, the Falcons will have a big decision on their hands deciding if Beasley will remain a Falcon or not in 2020. As for the rest of the defensive line, I would be shocked if some demotions or cuts don’t take place.
The linebacker group made a complete 180 degree turn from the first half of the season. The group was one of the few bright spots in the Falcons defense. Both De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones were tackling machines this season. Campbell finished the year with 129 tackles which ranked 13th in the NFL, along with recording 2 sacks and 2 interceptions. Deion Jones looked like he had returned to his old self by recording 110 tackles and 9 tackles for loss. One play that summarized Jones this season was in the last game against Tampa Bay. Jones snagged the walk-off interception in overtime and ran it back for a touchdown to end the game. Coverage was an issue at times for the group, but overall, I was impressed with their solid play.
There is no need to sugarcoat anything. The Falcons secondary was flat out terrible this season. They ranked 22nd in passing yards given up and recorded only 12 interceptions all year. The lack of communication between the players and missed coverages turned out to be an opposing quarterback’s dream and a Falcons fan’s nightmare. At times, playmakers were left wide open, and opposing offenses were able to throw the ball with ease. One reason for this can be contributed to inexperience. With JJ Wilcox and Keanu Neal going down with season-ending injuries early, the depth at the safety position was severely compromised. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver and backup safety Kemal Ishmael hadn’t gotten much playing time before this season, and it showed. Coaching should also receive some blame as Dan Quinn didn’t seem to make any effective adjustments as the secondary played poorly almost every week.
Special Teams: B
For the first time in a decade, the Falcons brought in a new kicker. Matt Bryant was known by Falcon fans as Mr. Reliable since joining the team in 2009. However, the Falcons released the beloved veteran mid-season. The Falcons signed former Chargers Kicker Younghoe Koo to replace him. Koo had a great year for the Falcons, hitting 23 of his 26 field goals. In the return game, Kenyon Barner also made a name for himself averaging 23.9 yards per kick return and scoring a touchdown as a punt returner.