Why are the Atlanta Falcons in a freefall?
If I could answer that question about the Atlanta Falcons, I could get a fat check from one Arthur Blank. If I could actually fix the issue, I could become a full-time employee of the Falcons. Maybe with the title of QB whisperer since Matt Ryan carries much of the blame for the Falcons’ continuing meltdown that started about week six.
Atlanta started off hot as a firecracker at 5-0. Since then they have limped to a 1-5 record and sit at 6-5 overall. They are 0-2 in their own division against the bottom two teams, New Orleans and Tampa, and still have to face the best team in the NFL, undefeated Carolina, twice.
The meltdown started against Washington when Atlanta had to go to overtime at home to beat a Kirk Cousins led team. If not for a walk-off pick six by the ATL defense in overtime, Atlanta may not have gotten that win at all.
We have to be realistic about the 5-0 record. Atlanta was beating some bad teams in close games. Philly is atrocious. Dallas was led by Brandon Weeden. NY is mediocre. Houston was playing as bad as any team in the League at the time. Washington is up and down each week.
As for the lone win in the past six weeks. The Falcons eked out a three-point win over Tennessee who has since fired their head coach and won only two games this year. The Birds scored just ten points with Ryan, Julio, and Devonta all on the field.
The teams that have beaten Atlanta during this meltdown are mostly bottom feeders. New Orleans, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Indy are not good teams. Minnesota, the latest to conquer Atlanta in their home stadium, is decent.
The Falcons’ wins weren’t super impressive looking back, but their losses to low tier teams make the ATL look even worse.
Let’s start with Matt Ryan. He is making poor decisions and bad throws. Worse, he’s doing it in the red zone, costing his team precious points. The offense is racking up decent yardage. They just can’t score enough. The most points they’ve scored during their six-week slide is 21 as you can see below:
Ryan’s offense averaged 406 total yards in the first five weeks. They have fallen off to 382 yards per game the past six, but that average is 34 more than Carolina who has not lost a game. The difference? Carolina scores points. Over six more per game than Atlanta.
Points win games, not yards.
Atlanta is also giving the ball away too much, 21 times compared to Carolina’s 12 turnovers. Ryan has 15 turnovers on his own. See the full comparison between Atlanta and the Panthers.
The pressure is increasing as more questions are asked each week about Ryan’s bad play. Ryan is being accountable saying again after this week’s loss to Minnesota, “It starts with me and my decision making.”
Ryan said his second interception of the Vikings game was him “trying to make a play that wasn’t there.”
Coach Quinn backed up his guy as expected. You can’t throw your franchise QB under the bus of course. “I’m not backing off of Matt Ryan,” was Quinn’s statement in the post-game presser.
Even though Matt Ryan is saying all the right things after these losses, it doesn’t matter when he goes right back out the next week and does the same things. Eventually there has to be some accountability in terms of action.
I don’t know that benching Ryan does any good, but what else can wake the guy up?
I do know this. Matt Ryan needs a closed door meeting with Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. It’s entirely possible this new offense just doesn’t suit Ryan’s specific skill set. Matty Ice appears to operate much better in the two minute drill with no huddle. The problem is he’s having to run that offense each and every game after his team gets behind running the normal offense during the majority of the game.
I don’t expect Shanahan to scrap his entire offensive scheme, but if he’s unable to make some adjustments to help his franchise quarterback out then Shanahan isn’t talented enough to hold the title of offensive coordinator.
In the NFL, you have to adjust to what’s happening. Doing the same things repeatedly when they aren’t working is truly insane.
Ryan is not the only one to blame though he should bear most of the burden. He’s the face of the franchise and gets paid like it. But he does need help from his receivers. Julio cannot be the only guy he can look to. Someone has to step up. Roddy White, a forgotten man the first six weeks, has been purposely incorporated lately but to no avail. Leonard Hankerson is drop prone so Ryan has been forced to depend on tight end Jacob Tamme when Julio isn’t open.
Last year the Falcons’ woes were easy to diagnose. The defense was flimsy at best and the offensive line unable to protect Matt Ryan. The team was also getting nothing out of over the hill Steven Jackson at running back.
This season the defense is doing their job, ranking 11th, better than New England. The offensive line has been ranked at or near the top of most charts. And we know the running back position has been a blessing with Devonta Freeman second in touchdowns scored and fifth in yards from scrimmage despite missing all but six minutes of the past two games.
This 2015 season hinges on whether Matt Ryan can pull himself out of this funk.
Dan Quinn has done a magnificent job with the defense. Kyle Shanahan should be congratulated for how he has improved the O-line and the running game.
Now these two coaches better figure out a way to help their most important asset get back on track before the Falcons’ 5-0 start is completely wasted.