Atlanta Falcons Season Reveiw/Off Season Preview
The Falcons jumped out to 6-1 and were sitting comfortably in the playoffs. People joked about the thought that they would miss the playoffs and then they went 2-7 to close the season. It wasn’t losses in the NFL that was so surprising it was the fact that the quarterbacks included getting swept by rookie Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Hasselbeck, and Teddy Bridgewater. While the collapse was unreal, they still went 3-2 against playoff teams, one of the losses to Bridgewater and the playoff Vikings. The playoff wins included Washington and Houston, but also the highlight of their season and the Panthers only regular season loss when they beat them 20-13 in week 16.
During the collapse there was a lot of talk about Dan Quinn getting the boot. The thing is he basically trying to rebuild on the fly with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Speaking of Ryan he had a few struggles, and some of it could be chalked up to him being in a new offensive scheme for Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan will be back as he may have established a run game in Atlanta so if him and Ryan can gel in year two they can take that step forward.
While Matt Ryans numbers didnt see a significant drop off it seemed his interceptions, fumbles and mental breakdowns seemed to come at the absolute worst time for his team. You would hope that this was a result of bad luck, but at age 30 you have to be disappointed Ryan regressed this year. Still the Falcons have no other choice but to see where Ryan can take them.
Devonta Freeman won a lot of fantasy leagues and won the Falcons a large portion of their first six games. The Falcons were 5-1 in games that Freeman carried the ball 20 times, and the plan would be to get a full healthy season out of Freeman and the Falcons will be looking good. Especially if Tevin Coleman can advance as a change of pace guy in year two. If he can be better in the pass game it would get him more playing time, but Terron Ward is also signed so the Falcons will go forward with those three.
Wide Receiver and tight end play
Julio Jones remains status quo is pretty much locked into the top five wide receiver debate, the question is what else do they have beside him? Roddy White at 34 was fourth on the team in targets behind Jacob Tamme and Devonta Freeman this year. It should also be noted that Tamme and Freeman combined had 35 less targets than Julio Jones. White won’t be cut as he in a Falcon lifer, but you have to wonder if this is the last year for White as he is due 6 million in 2017. Justin Hardy as a rookie caught 21 balls, but his position is more suited in the slot, where he will battle Leonard Hankerson for time. That all said they could definitely use another outside threat, but receiver, as well as potentially tight end should be handled in the draft rather than free agency.
Offensive Line Play
The Falcons started to get some solid play out of Jake Matthews at left tackle this year. They now head into 2016 with him and Andy Levitre tied into the left side, and a need to improve most of the line around them. Mike Person is the leader in the clubhouse at center, but this could be a position either worked on in free agency, or the draft if the right player fell.
Defensive Line Play
Tyson Jackson has yet to record a sack in his 28 games since signing with the Falcons. He is still hard to cut this year, but more than likely can only be relied on a rotational defensive end, and only being four million on the books the Falcons can treat him that way. That does leave room for more pass rushers, and their is currently only Jackson and Vic Beasley coming off a rookie season with four sacks. He didn’t quite live up to draft expectations as a pass rusher in year one, but he is the only legitimate threat as a rookie. Adrian Clayborn had a decent year and can be signed to rotate with Jackson and Beasley but don’t be surprised if the Falcons put a little more money in the pass rush in the offseason.
As for the interior line, you are looking at one of the best units on the team. The Falcons got Ra’shede Hageman in his second year and developed him with rookie Grady Jarrett and between the two they really have a future on this line in the middle. With the two they have veteran Jonathan Babineaux, who is entering year eleven in the NFL. Babineaux is still putting in quality work, and it helps to have to youngsters to sub in for him.
The linebacker play wasn’t exactly the worst, but it could have been a lot better. O’Brien Schofield and Paul Worrilow are instinctive players, but neither wow you with athleticism. The team let go of Justin Durant who started twelve games and Phillip Wheeler, who only started two games due to injury is also a free agent unlikely to return. It leaves a giant hole next to the two linebackers and makes what could be an average unit look below average on paper.
The corner back position wasn’t really the problem for the Falcons this year. They didn’t have great pass defense statistics, but as mentioned the pass rush was next to nothing this year. Desmond Trufant is a top tier corner, and should be extended this offseason.The team also has Robert Alford due a contract, but will more than likely let him enter his last year as they have Jalen Collins who should be in competition for the number two spot. While the corner position is all squared up, it resembles the interior of the Falcons line. The safeties resemble the pass rush. Safety is non existent, and the Falcons should be searching all avenues to upgrade, and bring some bodies in to fill that position.
Where do they go?
The defense went from dead last in efficiency in 2014 to 25th in 2015. Small steps, but steps. As mentioned corner and tackle on defense should be fine, but safety and pass rush, as well as linebacker sees glaring issues. The offense has issues, but most can be fixed by Ryan raising his play in year two with Kyle Shanahan. As for the defense it needs to be addressed in both free agency in the draft. Priority two would then be wide receiver and tight end for the future and the offensive line.