The Atlanta Falcons still bear the scars of their defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Dan Quinn’s men have lost the magic on offense that carried them to a 28-3 lead at NRG Stadium. Matt Ryan was outstanding in the 2016 season and appeared to be on his way to crowning a memorable season by becoming the first quarterback since Kurt Warner to win the regular season MVP award and Super Bowl MVP.
However, the quarterback has not been the same player he was before the collapse, even though his statistics in the 2018 term were just as impressive as the campaign that saw him crowned the NFL’s most valuable player. The departure of Kyle Shanahan played a significant role in that. Steve Sarkisian failed to bring out the best in a talented group of players on offense, and now, Dirk Koetter returns to the fold after being fired after three seasons as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Koetter did enjoy success as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator between 2012 and 2014, and he inherits a unit that finished in the top 10 in yards and scoring, although Ryan and All-Pro Julio Jones are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. More worryingly for the Falcons is their prospects on defense, especially on the coaching staff where Quinn has worked his way through two defensive coordinators. Quinn himself will take on the play-calling role next season following the firing of Marquand Manuel.
As seen elsewhere in the NFL, such as the Green Bay Packers and Mike McCarthy, firing key staff is seen as the last action of a man struggling to retain his position. There is a lot of pressure on Quinn heading into the 2019 season and reaching the post-season is a must. The early odds reflect the Falcons’ position backing them at 28/1 to win the Super Bowl, which could be worth a punt as an outside option with bet365 on a free bet, earning up to £100 in free credits by signing up through Oddschecker. Stranger things have happened in the NFL, and the NFC South tends to be one of the most unpredictable of the eight divisions.
The changes on the Falcons’ defensive staff were curious considering the hand that Manuel was dealt last season. Atlanta lost the core of their defense when Deion Jones and Keanu Neal suffered severe injuries. Jones managed to return later in the campaign but was not operating at the peak of his powers, while Neal was ruled out for the entire term. Ricardo Allen and Derrick Shelby were also missing, and the players remaining on the roster failed to pick up the slack outside of a few exceptions such as Damontae Kazee.
Vic Beasley has regressed since notching 16.5 sacks in the 2016 season, compiling 10 in his last 30 regular season games. The front office will be thinking long and hard about releasing him, or at the very least, restructuring his deal that will pay him nearly $13 million in 2019. Takkarist McKinley has been struggling with off-the-field issues, while the club’s best defensive lineman Grady Jarrett is in line for a huge deal. Atlanta can either apply the franchise-tag or offer him a long-term deal, but either way, it won’t leave much cap space to maneuver. Quinn’s cover-three system that was brought over from his days in Seattle has been hit-and-miss.
When the unit is firing on all cylinders, and playing with pace and passion, they’re a pretty formidable defense. However, when the pass-rush and coverage fail to act in cohesion, there can be chaos on the field. They’re not the only ones to have been victimized as Pete Carroll in Seattle has discovered, while Gus Bradley has also seen his defenses struggle as the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers. It will give Quinn food for thought as the team is not looking overly stocked in talent on defense outside of Neal, Jones and Desmond Trufant, especially if Jarrett leaves for pastures new.
Ryan kept the Falcons competitive last season. Without him, their 7-9 campaign could have easily been 4-12 or perhaps even worse. The 33-year-old enjoyed the second-best statistical campaign of his career, throwing for 4,924 yards along with 35 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. He was let down by his defense at crucial times, but he and Jones were the connection that kept the Falcons in games. Jones had issues finding the endzone before last season, although Sarkisian, Ryan and the wideout managed to work through the problems to notch him eight touchdowns in 2018.
Calvin Ridley displayed all the tools that he flashed during his college days, even though his production slowed towards the end of the campaign. Mohamed Sanu continued to prove that he is solid number two option in the offense. Austin Hooper broke out and made the Pro-Bowl, but in a tight end heavy 2019 Draft, the front office could be eyeing his replacement to hand Ryan a more dynamic player at the position, especially considering his contract will be up at the end of 2019.
Devonta Freeman managed just two games last season, suffering from a spate of lower body injuries. Atlanta backed Freeman over Tevin Coleman when deciding on long-term deals for their talented running backs. Coleman proved that he was capable of being a number one in the backfield and will likely move on, removing the one-two punch that the Falcons enjoyed during their 2016 campaign. Freeman’s durability will be crucial moving forward as his new backup Ito Smith wasn’t overly convincing. The offense will be fine with Ryan operating at the top of his game, but whether it will be the well-oiled machine week in – week out that it needs to be to win the NFC South and challenge in the NFC Conference remains to be seen.