By: Raynard Churchwell
This season for the Atlanta Falcons has been nothing short of a disaster thus far. With a record of 1-6, Atlanta is currently tied for the worst record in the NFC and the second-worst record in the entire NFL. Fans are currently calling for a change in every aspect of the team. Head Coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff are both currently on the hot seat. With the 49ers, Panthers, and the huge rival Saints still looming on the schedule, it is hard to think that the Falcons will be capable of turning the season around. Entering Week 9 of the 2019 season, here is my report card for each position group of the Dirty Birds.
Despite the Falcons’ record, Quarterback Matt Ryan should not be the face of the Falcons’ mishaps. Before an ankle injury against the Rams in Week 6, Ryan was ranked third in the league in passing yards. Ryan’s 15 passing touchdowns have also been a positive for the Falcons. However, the turnover department is where Matty Ice has struggled. The 11-Year Vet currently has eight interceptions on the year which already eclipses his total amount of interceptions in last year’s whole season. Some of this can be attributed to new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s new system, but Matt Ryan is not playing at the MVP caliber level fans know he can play at. Backup Quarterback Matt Schaub also deserves some credit as well. After not starting a game in four years, Schaub played well in place of Matt Ryan last week. This shows that if the Falcons must play without Ryan for an extended amount of time, the quarterback play will be adequate enough to keep them in games.
Running Back: D
Starting running back Devonta Freeman has been a huge disappointment this season. So much so that he was very close to being traded to the Detroit Lions at last week’s trade deadline. Freeman has put up an uninspiring 333 rushing yards, 3.4 yards per carry, and 0 rushing touchdowns. However, Freeman has been a reliable pass catcher with 272 yards and 3 touchdowns. Backup Ito Smith hasn’t been able to get anything going either. The running game has been pretty much obsolete and poses no threat to opposing defenses. This has caused the entire offense to become one dimensional, and not look like the high-powered offense that it was expected to be.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A
This year’s wide receiver/tight end group has looked very good thus far and has clearly shown themselves to be the strength of the team. Superstar wide receiver Julio Jones has continued to dominate as usual. Jones currently has the third-most receiving yards in the league with 712. Jones also has four touchdowns on the season, and is always a matchup nightmare anywhere he lines up. Tight End Austin Hooper is having a breakout season. He currently has the most receiving yards among all tight ends with 591 and leads the team with five receiving touchdowns. Second-year receiver Calvin Ridley is having an average season, but not the breakout season many predicted for him. With the Falcons trading Mohammad Sanu to the Patriots, Ridley is expected to get more targets and have his numbers improve significantly. Outside of those three, the Falcons need someone else to step up their play. No other wide receiver/tight end has more than 11 catches on the season.
Offensive Line: D
The Falcons’ offensive line has once again been awful. Though the lack of cohesiveness and playing in a new system has played a large part in their performance, injuries have been the biggest reason for the unit’s dysfunction. The Falcons had their starting offensive line begin to crumble in Week 1 when first-round pick Chris Lindstrom went down with a foot injury. Since then, they have used several different starting lineups, but none of them have been successful. The offensive line currently ranks 20th in sacks allowed and hasn’t been able to produce any running lanes for the running backs. If this continues, the Falcons’ offense will continue to underperform and get Matt Ryan injured again.
Defensive Line: F
When it comes to the Falcons’ defensive line, you truly have to feel bad for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. While his play has been a bright spot for the line, everyone else has been terrible. Vic Beasley has been so bad that the Falcons tried to trade him at the deadline but couldn’t find a trade partner. His 1.5 sacks on the season are not going to cut it for a person making 12 million dollars this year. Takkarist McKinnley has also been nonexistent this year, only recording half a sack. Tyeler Davison has shown some flashes this season but has shown nothing that will stand out on the stat sheet. The Falcons rank dead last in sacks this season and went a whole 4.5 games without recording a single one. Their play has become embarrassing and will need to be the first thing the Falcons address in the draft and free agency this offseason.
What was supposed to be a strength of the team this season, has been somewhat of a disappointment. The linebacking group has been average at best. Deion Jones was expected to build on last season’s performance and become one of the league’s premier linebackers. However, his play has regressed, and he doesn’t look like the star in the making we have seen in the previous two seasons. De’Vondre Campbell has recorded respectable numbers thus far. Campbell currently ranks 7th in the league in tackles with 70. However, Campbell hasn’t looked like himself in coverage so far this season. Given that this a contract year for him, he must continue to play well in the run game and improve in his coverage within the next half of the season. If not, he may not be wearing the black and red next season. The duo was which is known for its speed and physicality seems to have lost a bit of it. I believe that this can be corrected, and they will return to form in this season’s next half.
The secondary has been by far the worst group of the team. The lack of fight and communication between the players has been atrocious. Players have looked completely lost on the field, and opposing quarterbacks have shredded them to pieces all year. Playmakers have been left wide open for huge plays and touchdowns as well. Losing safety Keanu Neal to a torn Achilles was a tremendous blow for the secondary. It’s pretty much been all downhill from there. Inexperience can be blamed for some of the secondary’s woes, as cornerback Isiah Oliver and backup safety, Kemal Ishmael hasn’t gotten much playing time before this season. Coaching should also receive some blame as Dan Quinn hasn’t seemed to make any correct adjustments with the secondary playing poorly every week. With the Falcons going to New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints next week, we can only pray the secondary doesn’t become the laughing stock of the league.
Special Teams: D
For the first time in a decade, the Falcons are in need of a new kicker. Matt Bryant was known by Falcons fans as Mr. Reliable since joining the team in 2009. However, the Falcons released the beloved veteran on Friday. Bryant missed five field goals through the first eight games, after missing a total of six in 29 games between 2017 and 2018. The Falcons recently signed former Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo to replace him.