The Falcons were one of the best offenses in terms of moving the ball last season. They finished seventh, right behind the powerhouse New England Patriots, in total yards per game and at times looked nearly unstoppable. The first four games were a work of art from an offensive standpoint. Atlanta was averaging well over 30 points a game on their way to a 4-0 record. It seemed as the new trio of Kyle Shanahan, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones could not be stopped.
That all changed by week 5, when the mistakes started to come and the praise around the new offense began to stop. The Falcons squeaked by with an OT victory over the Redskins but their flaws began to appear. The offensive line struggled, Matt Ryan began to forcing throws at the most inopportune times and just when things would start getting better somebody would fumble the football. It was an array of boneheaded turnovers along with drive killing penalties that turned this once dominant offense into one of the most inefficient in the league.
However, after numerous offensive personnel changes, and with Matt Ryan set to begin his second season in Shanahan’s system, Atlanta’s offense is poised to return to the top of the league.
Daniel Jeremiah had this to say of what he thinks the Falcons offense will look like in 2016,
"I think this offense is going to be very dynamic and score A LOT of points."
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) July 18, 2016
In a way this was already true last season. Atlanta could move the ball up and down the field, but they were downright awful when it came to putting points on the board. The Falcons were constantly turning the ball over in scoring positions and when they did score it seemed like it was always a field goal. Atlanta ranked 18th in TD scoring percentage in the redzone, scoring touchdowns on 54.72% of attempts. That number is down from 61.36% the Falcons registered in 2014.
Kyle Shanahan has to find creative ways to get the ball in the endzone this season. There was way too much forcing the ball to Julio Jones last year, and that killed Atlanta inside the 20’s. That should change this season with the new addition of Mohammed Sanu. Sanu has spent his entire four-year career with the Bengals as a third sometimes even fourth option for the team. With Atlanta, he will be the second option and could not have a better opportunity than playing across from Julio Jones. Jones, being the best receiver in the league, is going to require double-teams regularly, leaving Sanu open for one-one coverage. Sanu is not the fastest receiver, but he does have a unique ability to go up and get the ball in the air. In one-on-one situations, his ability to beat corners should make it much easier for the Falcons to score in the redzone.
One thing that was not a problem in 2015 was the Falcons’ rushing attack. The new Zone Blocking Scheme that Shanahan implicated was a major success. The offensive line improved greatly from 2014, allowing Devonta Freeman to enjoy an incredible season both as rusher and a pass catcher in his first year as a starter. Tevin Coleman also showed flashes of greatness in his rookie season. The two will combine to be one of the deadliest one-two punches in the NFL this season.
While the offensive line was terrific in run-blocking, they still had their struggles in protecting the quarterback. Matt Ryan did a great job of avoiding a lot of sacks, but he was still under constant pressure. The offensive lines lack of ability to consistently protect Ryan made it hard for the Falcons vertical passing game. Even with one of the league’s most dangerous deep ball receivers, the Falcons struggled to throw the ball down the field because of protection.
That should change this season with the introduction of new pro-bowl center, Alex Mack. Mack has been regarded as the best center in the league by many, but a lot people have never heard of him because he played for the Browns. Well get used to hearing a lot about him now. Pro Football Focus bumped what was no more than an average at best line to one the five best lines heading into next season, and the only addition that was made was Mack.
Top O-lines heading into next season:
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 12, 2016
Mack is that terrific, and the center positions is probably the most important on the whole line.
The Falcons offensive line is poised to be one of the best in the league, and if that happens the sky is the limit for this offense. The skill positions are covered. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman are one of the deadliest trios in the NFL. A revamped offensive line and the addition of Mohammed Sanu should be just what this offense needs to put them over the top. Kyle Shanahan is now in his second year as offensive coordinator and there will be no excuses for Matt Ryan this time around. This offense is ready to fly, and Ryan should have the best year of his career.