The Atlanta Falcons got off to a blistering 4-0 start, but have had a couple shaky performances the last two weeks to land them at 5-1. Since the arrival of head coach Dan Quinn there have been numerous improvements. The offensive line is one of the best units in the NFL, and the Falcons running attack has been one of the most effective in the NFL. The defense is playing with a sense of physicality that it lacked under Mike Smith. However, there are still many problem areas that Atlanta will have to improve upon, if they plan on being serious Super Bowl contenders come late in the season.
In 2014, the Falcons’ defense ranked 30th in sacks with a mere 22 over the course of the entire season. Over the offseason, the number one priority it seemed was to add guys who could get after the quarterback. Atlanta drafted Vic Beasley with the 8th overall pick and signed the likes of Adrian Clayborn, O’Brien Schofield and Brooks Reed. While the defense has clearly improved as a unit, the pass rush is still non existent. Atlanta currently ranks tied for last with just 7 sacks on the season and is actually on pace to finish with less sacks than they had last year. Beasley, Clayborn and Schofield have shown glimpses of greatness, but they have not been able to consistently put pressure on the quarterback. Drew Brees was the first elite quarterback the Falcons have had to face all season, and he was able to shred the Atlanta defense because he was rarely pressured. Great quarterbacks will dismantle any defense if they are not pressured. Thursday night’s game should serve as a warning. Atlanta needs to find a pass rush.
A Reliable Receiving Option Outside of Julio Jones
There is no doubt Jones is one of the most talented wide receivers in the game. He got off to an unbelievable start by racking up over 400 yard in the first three games. However, Jones has slowed down significantly since and a lot of that has to do with a hamstring injury that has been bothering him. He has failed to accumulate over 200 yards in his last three starts, and the offense has not been nearly as efficient.
Right now, Atlanta’s second best receiving option is Devonta Freeman. That has to change if Atlanta wants to beat great defenses. Either Leonard Hankerson or Roddy White has to step up and start playing a bigger role. Hankerson has put together some nice performances, but has been wildly inconsistent and dropped a lot of passes. White has seemingly been non-existent all season. He voiced that he wanted the ball more after the Falcons week 4 win over the Texans, but has yet to make much of an impact since. Both of these receivers are talented and have the abilities to handle the #2 wide receiver role. It is time for one of them to step up. Without a #2 wide receiver presence, great defenses will be able to take Julio Jones out of the game.
Defense Against the Short and Intermediate Passing Game
Thursday night was the first night it cost the Falcons, but the defense against short and intermediate passes has been atrocious all season. Paul Worillow, who has been very solid against the run this year, has struggled mightily in pass coverage. If he can become better in pass coverage he has the ability to be one of the better inside linebackers in the league, but if he does not, changes have to be made. William Moore has also struggled mightily in pass coverage all year. Almost every week you can see tight ends and running backs running free around the field and catching easy passes for a first down. Benjamin Watson turned the clock WAY back last week, catching 10 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. He was not even covered at times. These kind of plays are simply unacceptable at any level and need to be fixed.