“Twenty-eight to three” are four words fans of the Atlanta Falcons have heard for the past few years, usually from Saints fans who are referencing the Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl LI.
Atlanta was up by the score of 28-3 in the second half against the New England Patriots, only for Tom Brady and the Patriots to make one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history.
Since then, the Falcons have been trying to get the bad taste of that Super Bowl loss out of their mouths. The taste still lingers like mouthwash does after you brush your teeth.
The Falcons lost in the NFC Divisional Round two seasons ago. Last year, they failed to make the playoffs. In 2019, Dan Quinn is ready to lead his team back to the postseason and avenge that embarrassing loss to the Patriots.
Matt Ryan is still under center and the offense is loaded with weapons. Even though the offense hasn’t been the issue in the past few seasons, the defense has.
Heading into 2019, the Falcons have a few concerns. Here they are:
3. Health of Devonta Freeman
Before the 2018 season, the expectations were high for the Falcons. Their offense boasted Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield, all while having Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley at receiver.
Things were set up for the Falcons to fight for the top spot in the NFC South, until injuries started mounting for Atlanta. Most notably, Freeman missed 14 games in 2018 due to a foot injury and a sports hernia.
The Falcons’ running back required surgery on his sports hernia; that caused his season to end prematurely. This season, Freeman returns to the starting lineup and figures to see a heavy workload with the departure of Coleman.
Before the injuries last year, Freeman was becoming a top running back in the NFL. For the Falcons’ offense to run at full capacity, Freeman must remain healthy throughout the 2019 campaign.
2. The Secondary
Among the avalanche of injuries for the Falcons, their secondary became decimated early on. Keanu Neal injured his knee in Week 1 and was placed on injured reserve after finding out that the injury was more serious than first thought.
Then, soon after Neal went down with an injury, Ricardo Allen suffered a torn Achilles that would end his season. That left just two starters remaining in their secondary: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.
The Falcons had to deploy the “next man up” mantra, but the defense struggled all season to stop the pass. In 2018, Atlanta had the 27th-ranked pass defense and allowed the fourth-most touchdowns through the air.
Although injuries played a part in their shortcomings, that can’t be the entirety of the reason for the secondary’s performance. Quinn knows the secondary has to play better regardless of who is in there. There were other teams in the NFL which had injuries in their secondary but managed to cope.
This season, the Falcons get both Neal and Allen back into their secondary. That should help the defense improve even with the departure of Alford at the second cornerback spot.
1. Lack of a Pass Rush
In today’s NFL, every team needs to be able to get to the quarterback with a bevy of pass rushers. Last season, the Falcons struggled at getting to the quarterback.
Despite having talented rushers Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley, the Falcons ranked 22nd in the NFL in sacks with just 37. Beasley disappeared for the majority of the season with McKinley having the second-most sacks on the team.
One of the biggest head-scratchers has been: What exactly has happened to Vic Beasley? In 2016, Beasley had 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles on his way to his first All-Pro selection. It seemed 2016 was a coming-out party for the Falcons’ edge rusher, but since then, he’s failed to reciprocate what he did three years ago.
This season, the Falcons are hoping for Beasley to return to his once-dominant form. Plus, the Falcons brought back Adrian Clayborn and signed Jack Crawford in hopes of improving their pass rush.