The Atlanta Falcons were viewed as a darkhorse Super Bowl contender by many going into this season, including myself. A former MVP at quarterback, a dynamic receiving corps, a healthier, improving defense; what’s not to like?
Apparently, a lot of things, as the Falcons never even competed for a playoff spot this year and are 6-9 heading into their final game of the 2019 NFL campaign.
This will mark Atlanta’s second straight year without a postseason appearance in spite of a talented roster, which certainly does not sit well with Falcons fans.
So, here are the five biggest takeaways for Atlanta this season:
5. The offensive line is still a problem
Last year, the Falcons had one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, as Matt Ryan was sacked 42 times.
As a result, Atlanta invested heavily in the offensive line during the offseason, using a couple of draft picks on linemen and signing a pair of them in free agency.
The result? More of the same.
Through 16 weeks, Ryan has been dropped 42 times, and keep in mid that he has only played in 14 of a possible 15 games (which was, ironically, due to a sprained ankle caused from a hit the line allowed).
Not only that, but the Falcons’ running game has been unable to get off the ground (no pun intended) all season.
Atlanta has a supremely talented offense, but if guys aren’t blocking, it’s not going to matter.
4. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley may be the NFL’s best receiver duo
We heard all of the talk about Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in Cleveland going into 2019, but the true best wide receiver duo in the NFL may very well be Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
We know how good Jones is. The man has been arguably the best wide out in the NFL for the better part of the last decade, and he has shown no signs of slowing down this season with 92 receptions for 1,316 yards and six touchdowns.
The bigger question was what Ridley would do for an encore after a tremendous rookie campaign, and while an abdominal injury knocked him out for the year after 13 games, he delivered when he was on the field, catching 63 passes for 866 yards and seven scores.
You can’t overstate just how lethal the combination of Jones and Ridley is, and when you throw tight end Austin Hooper into the equation, Ryan and the Falcons have one of the deadliest aerial attacks in the league.
3. Devonta Freeman may no longer be a No. 1 back
These last two seasons have certainly be trying for Devonta Freeman.
A groin injury limited the two-time Pro Bowl running back to just two games in 2018, and in 13 contests this season, Freeman has rushed for just 598 yards and a couple of touchdowns while averaging a meager 3.6 yards per carry.
With injuries also ending Ito Smith’s season after seven games, Atlanta has been starving for production on the ground, which is something it hasn’t gotten all year.
There was a time when Freeman was a 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown threat, but those days appear long gone, as Freeman hasn’t tallied 1,000 yards or double-figure touchdowns since 2016.
It may be time for the Falcons to begin transitioning away from Freeman as the No. 1 back next season. Whether Smith or Brian Hill are up to the challenge of getting more touches remains to be seen, but it does appear that Freeman’s time in the sun is coming to a close.
2. The pass rush stinks
Atlanta has recorded just 27 sacks on the season, which is tied for fourth-to-last in the NFL.
Not a single Falcons player has logged double-digit sacks through 15 games, with Vic Beasley leading the way with eight. Coming in second is Grady Jarrett, who has totaled 6.5.
Obviously, Atlanta desperately needs help in this area, as this was an issue that also plagued the Falcons last season when they finished with 37 sacks as a team.
The scary part is that Atlanta’s pass rush has actually gotten worse, which is awful news for a defense that isn’t all that good in other areas, either.
In order for the Falcons to think about contending again, they need to put together some semblance of a pass rush.
1. Dan Quinn needs to go even if Atlanta is bringing him back
Earlier this week, Falcons owner Arthur Blank announced he would bringing back head coach Dan Quinn (as well as general manager Thomas Dimitroff) for another season.
You never want to see anyone lose their job, so for Quinn as an individual, this is good.
But there is also no question that Atlanta seems to have stalled under Quinn, especially since former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan took the San Francisco 49ers’ head-coaching job in 2017.
After reaching the Super Bowl during the 2016-17 campaign, the Falcons won 10 games and were knocked out of the Divisional Round the following year. Then, last season, Atlanta didn’t even make the playoffs, a trend that has continued in 2019.
This roster is far too talented to be struggling the way it has over the last couple of seasons, and that reflects rather poorly on the job Quinn has done.
The Falcons probably need a change at head coach.