The Atlanta Falcons offense was expected to carry this team to another deep playoff run, but injuries on both sides of the ball have severely curtailed the Falcons chances of even getting to the playoffs. This week’s game against the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have been a cakewalk for the Falcons, but injuries could make this Falcons team just as dysfunctional as the Bucs organization is due to poor coaching from Greg Schiano. Julio Jones is out for the season, Steven Jackson hasn’t played in a while and won’t play this week, Roddy White will miss the first game of his career, Sam Baker will be out once again, Sean Weatherspoon is on the short-term I.R., and Kroy Biermann is on the real injured reserve. The Atlanta Falcons defense is in shambles, and the offense is in dire straits due to some incredibly damaging injuries.
So yeah, that’s the bleak stuff as we get into today’s “Notes and Analysis” feature on the Atlanta Falcons.
1. What do the injuries mean for the offense?
It’s not like the Falcons haven’t dealt with Steven Jackson and Sam Baker being out before (heck, Jackson has only played in one career game with the Falcons), and Matt Ryan and the passing offense was so good that they could overcome that. They couldn’t overcome a horrid defense to this point, and that’s the major reason why they sit at 1-4. Now without both star WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones for the first time this season, the Falcons are in some major trouble. Darrelle Revis is going to shut down whoever he faces, so it’s anyone’s guess as to who will step up for the Falcons offense. We know Tony Gonzalez will be solid, but Harry Douglas needs to play at a high level and another WR needs to emerge.
A key difference between the Falcons and a team like the New England Patriots is defense. A team like the Patriots can get away with having injuries and/or inconsistency among its pass-catchers, and it goes beyond having an elite quarterback (I hate the “Oh, because Tom Brady is Tom Brady” narrative). I mean, Matt Ryan is pretty darn good too. The Falcons are like the Green Bay Packers, because they rely so much on a star QB and top-notch group of WRs to carry the team. When a guy like Jones is lost for the season, it’s just a disaster.
So how can they overcome it? It’s all about getting guys to step up, and the Falcons need Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling to give the Falcons a consistent running game. Jackson and White should be back next week, but the Falcons shouldn’t just be looking to survive with a win this week against the Buccaneers. They need a few players to show that they can be relied upon for a whole season, and I sadly don’t see that in either back.
2. Now for the defense
The Falcons desperately need a consistent pass rush, they need their secondary to cut down on the obscene 7.8 yards per attempt allowed, and they need their run defense to tighten up. At 1-4, the Falcons can’t afford to just wait for Sean Weatherspoon to get healthy to fix all of their problems, and it’s not like one player is going to solve everything. That might be true in the case of their run defense, but the Falcons pass defense is such a detriment that they probably won’t be able to win any shootouts anymore. Matt Ryan is as good as ever, but his receivers certainly aren’t. Winning shootouts is as much about the guys defending the pass as it is about the man behind center, which is an argument I always have to bring up to Tony Romo haters.
If the Atlanta Falcons defense has major issues this week against the Buccaneers, then even more red flags will be thrown. It’s all about finding consistency in the secondary, and the Falcons have struggled to find it. A lot of the coverage woes should actually be directed at the linebackers, but it’s still very frustrating to see a guy like Thomas DeCoud blow assignments.
3. Now for Sunday…why the Falcons will win
Even with the all the injuries on offense and the struggles of the Falcons defense, I just can’t see the Buccaneers pulling this game out. Maybe it’s because I’m playing into the QB/HC head-to-head argument too much, but the Falcons are still the more talented team. It’s going to be close, but I think Ryan pulls this one out and the defense does enough. Or, rather, Ryan does enough to make sure that the defense doesn’t lose this one. It’s just insane how quickly the tide has turned against this Falcons team, and this is why it is so important to be strong on both sides of the ball and have depth. Deeper teams are better teams (see the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks- well, except for the OL- as examples of deep teams), because they can better overcome injuries. This is more related to the Falcons on defense than offense.
4. Matt Ryan is playing at an elite level
I have no idea why Matt Ryan is getting more attention, because he has easily been one of the best QBs in the league so far this season. In fact, only Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers are throwing the ball better than Matt Ryan. Is it because the Falcons are losing? Well look, that definitely isn’t at the fault of Ryan, and he is literally carrying this team on his back. The receivers have been hobbled all year even before Jones was lost for the year and White was ruled out, the Falcons offensive line is a mess, and the Falcons defense isn’t much better either. We always talk about Aaron Rodgers being able to overcome major deficiencies around him, which is true, but I don’t think we apply that argument to Matt Ryan nearly enough. The Boston College product is undoubtedly the fifth best QB in the game behind that commonly named “elite four”, which should be extended to an “elite five”. Ryan is elite for sure, and he has a QB Rating at 100.9 to prove it. QB Rating isn’t the best way to evaluate QBs at all, but I definitely think his QB Rating is indicative of how well he has played this season.
We talk about how this could be Tom Brady’s finest season if he pulls it together with the youth and turnover at WR, but we need to be talking about the job Ryan is doing more. Another star QB who played in the Boston-area, Ryan could really stamp out a legacy if he continues to play this well with issues at WR. He did most of his work this year with Jones healthy and beasting, so let’s see if he can continue it with Jones out. What I do know is that the Falcons defense was so bad that it undid a lot of good work from Ryan.
5. All is not lost
The defense isn’t going to get a whole lot better, but Sean Weatherspoon will help them out big time once he’s back. Plus, the corners have been better than some think. The offensive line will once Sam Baker is healthy (though, OL will still be an issue), and Steven Jackson is going to give the Atlanta Falcons a consistent rushing attack once he’s back (well, hopefully he does). Roddy White will be back in the near future from nagging ankle and hamstring injuries, and a top pass-catching trio of White, Gonzalez, and Douglas with Ryan throwing the ball isn’t bad at all. It’s easy to forget, but Douglas is averaging 44 receiving yards per game this season, and that’s mostly as the Falcons No. 4 target in the passing attack. The Falcons also have a nice duo of pass-catching RBs in Rodgers and Snelling, and that somewhat makes up for their inconsistent play on the ground.
All is not lost for the Falcons, and I wouldn’t rule out a Hakeem Nicks deal either if Thomas Dimitroff is feeling especially bullish. I doubt that happens, but people need to pump the breaks with the Falcons. It’s still too early to give up, but the really worrisome thing (at least from my perspective) is the defense and not the injuries.
Ryan is so good that he will pull this one out against the Bucs, and hopefully the defense gets a surprise breakout player or two as the season wears on.