2018 NFL Season Preview- Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons may have been the only NFC team to return to the playoffs from last season but in a lot of ways, it was disappointing.
Starting the season 4-4, Atlanta began rolling and claimed the sixth and final playoff spot. After an upset win over the Los Angeles Rams, the Falcons fell to the top seeded Eagles who were playing with their backup quarterback.
The main problems were with the offense under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The 4th and 2 play on the final possession against the Eagles was half hearted and a perfect example of how things went for them in 2017. Quarterback Matt Ryan's play dipped from his MVP level. He threw for 18 fewer touchdowns and five more interceptions than he did in 2016. His 20 touchdowns were his lowest since his rookie year and seven of his interceptions were attributed to dropped or tipped passes. Running back Devonta Freeman was slowed by a concussion and a knee injury. He missed three games and failed to rush for 1,000 yards after two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Telvin Coleman ran much stronger and finished with over 900 combined yards and eight total touchdowns. Tight end Austin Hooper started the year strong with a 100 yard receiving game but then lost the confidence of the team and Matt Ryan. Levine Toilolo was essentially a blocking tight end due to dropping too many passes early in his career. Wide receiver Julio Jones had offseason foot surgery and never looked like his best self. Mohammed Sanu tied his career high with five touchdowns. However, Jones and Sanu combined for 13 dropped passes. Justin Hardy and Taylor Gabriel were steady, but not spectacular. A big reason Atlanta made it to the Super Bowl last year was the offensive line started every game. In 2017, they couldn't dodge the injury bug. Right guard Wes Schweitzer was a liability against elite defensive tackles while left guard Andy Levitre was solid.
With defensive tackle Dontari Pie and Grady Jarrett manning the middle, the defense drastically improved against the run and the pass. Brooks Reed was stellar against the run while Adrian Clayborn had his best season with 9.5 sacks. Linebacker Deion Jones continued to develop into one of the best young linebackers in the league. Vic Beasley moved from weak side to strong side and his sacks dropped from 15.5 to five as he was required to drop more into coverage. Cornerback was more a liability than anything. He led the team with seven penalties, including five holding calls and two pass interferences, and only had one interception. Desmond Trufant played poor down the stretch against players like Ted Ginn, Robert Woods, and Alshon Jeffrey. Brian Poole was a solid nickel corner and a surprisingly tough blitzer. Safety Ricardo Allen was solid and took better angles to the ball.
Kicker Matt Bryant showed no signs of slowing down and was the reason Atlanta reached the playoffs.
The team produced four Pro Bowlers in wide receiver Julio Jones, center Alex Mack, linebacker Deion Jones, and safety Keanu Neal. Even in a down year, Jones registered 88 catches for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns. Mack made his fifth Pro Bowl and third All-Pro team. Jones led the team with 138 tackles and three interceptions. Neal continued to grow and provided the defense with a physical presence.
The rookie class has a lot to prove in year two. Defensive end Takkarist McKinley finished with eight sacks, including two in the playoffs, as a rotation player. Linebacker Duke Riley started the season as the starting weak side linebacker, but missed too many tackles.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
After the 10-6 season, head coach Dan Quinn has to make some changes in order to get Atlanta back to Super Bowl form. The Falcons look attached to Steve Sarkisian for the near future, but the offense has to get better if they expect to compete.
Notable Additions- TE Logan Paulsen, DT Terrell McClain, S Ron Parker
Notable Departures- FB Derrick Coleman, WR Taylor Gabriel, WR Andre Roberts, TE Levine Toilolo, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Courtney Upshaw, DT Dontari Poe, DT Ahtyba Rubin, LB Sean Weatherspoon
Falcons 2017 Highlights
2018 NFL Draft
Having the 26th overall pick in the draft, the Falcons have to make some changes if the expect to get back to a Super Bowl. Particularly at wide receiver, guard, and defensive tackle.
The offense needs a speedy receiver to take the top off the defense is needed to play in the slot or opposite Julio Jones.
Wes Schweitzer was awful against elite talent. The Falcons need to bring life back into their zone blocking scheme and inside pass protection.
The defensive line lost four guys in the offseason. Takkarist McKinley looks to be ready to start, but Terrell McClain is far from Dontari Poe.
On draft day, Atlanta decided to draft Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley with the 26th overall pick. Ridley has the best release of any receiver in this class, but lacks the bulk and strength needed against press coverage.
The Falcons also notably drafted Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver in the second round and Southern Miss running back Ito Smith in the fourth. Oliver has the arm length to recover when he finds himself out of position, but must improve his footwork in and out of route breaks. Smith is just one of 10 players in NCAA history to have 4,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards, but his obvious size limitations make him lack the power to break tackles.
Calvin Ridley Highlights
What To Expect
Looking at this team as a whole, little seems to have changed for Atlanta.
Matt Ryan showed he wasn't the same quarterback under Steve Sarkisian as he was with Kyle Shanahan. When you look at his career as a whole, he's more on the level of Andy Dalton rather than Aaron Rodgers. I can't see Ryan returning to his MVP form under Sarkisian unless he has more freedom to audible. Devonta Freeman and Telvin Coleman have developed into one of the best running back tandems in the league. The key for them, especially Freeman, will be to stay healthy. Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu will look to have rebound years while Calvin Ridley looks to be a solid number two receiver able to play on the outside or in the slot. Austin Hooper needs a bounce back year as well and has to get stronger to fight back towards the ball. Logan Paulsen will basically serve as the blocking tight end, but not sure what he'll have to offer as a receiver. There is still concerns at the inside of the offensive line and whether or not Wes Schweitzer can get stronger to combat better defensive tackles.
The defensive line took a big step back from 2017. Takkarist McKinley looks to be a solid upgrade over Adrian Clayborne, but without Dontari Poe the line lacks push to stop the run consistently. Deion Jones showed continue become one of the better NFL linebackers, but I do believe Vic Beasley is better suited as a weak side linebacker so he can rack up the sacks. Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant have to play better in order for Dan Quinn's defense to work. If one can't, Isaiah Oliver is capable of stepping in.
The Falcons can handle the Panthers and Buccaneers fairly easy but given the offensive scheme and questions on defense, I can't see them challenging the Saints for the NFC South title.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 10-6