To Falcons fans across the board, the 2018 season has been a colossal failure, and many are wondering what exactly went wrong with a team that had such high preseason expectations. Currently sitting at 4-9 on the year, Atlanta is poised to hold an early pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. While it remains to be seen what they will do with the pick itself, one thing is for sure, the team has plenty of issues to cover at season’s end.
For starters, the Falcons need to address their edge pass rush. Just two years removed from being the NFL’s sack leader, Vic Beasley has seemingly disappeared from being a defensive threat, and it is almost certain that the Falcons will make a change in the spot before the 2019 season gets underway. The organization has a few different ways they could acquire a solid pass rusher, like getting an experienced vet via free agency or trade, or they could take a new face early in the draft. The incoming collegiate talent for the NFL draft is loaded with defensive prospects, and a player like Houston’s Ed Oliver would fit perfectly in the slot the Falcons need.
Away from just singling out particular players on the roster, the entire Atlanta defense has been abysmal, largely in part due to injuries. Considering playoffs are out of reach at this point, the remaining games of 2018 should be approached with caution, as an opportunity for extra rest time for banged up players. Without seeing its most influential players on the field, healthy for the majority of the season, it’s hard to judge the club’s exact needs for next year. To be safe, the Falcons should make moves in positions in which they 100 percent need immediate help (pass rushers), but be relatively cautious in other areas where they have not been at full strength all year long (secondary).
For the majority of the season, all the talk has been about the defense, but we can’t ignore what has been happening to the Falcons offense of late. The Steve Sarkisian era in Atlanta has had some bright spots but falls well short of the tremendous efficiency of which the offense produced at while coordinated by Kyle Shanahan. Yes, it can’t be expected for an offense to put up that kind of numbers week in and week out, but there is frankly no excuse for Sark not to lead such a talented offense to more consistent success. With weapons like Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, and Matt Ryan, Sark’s lack of productivity seems to be wasting what could be one of the most prominent NFL offenses. I’m not all for firing Sark yet, but I’d say with every game in which he doesn’t even come close to the expected level of productivity, his seat is getting hotter and hotter. At this point, it’s melting.
Sarkisian is not completely at fault for the Falcons offensive woes. Even with all the playmaking weapons available, the offensive line has been a weak point for the club all season long and undoubtedly needs to see changes in personnel in the offseason. Regardless of his criticisms, Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback, and the two-headed monster of Freeman and Coleman (who will be a free agent) at running back combined with Ito Smith’s emergence on the scene provides the blueprint to offensive success. However, they can’t do their job without a solid line up front. This year has exploited the fact that the Falcons need to make some changes on their offensive line, but the downside is that there isn’t going to be many high caliber linemen on the market this offseason. If they choose to go another route with their pick in the draft, selecting a young and talented lineman to protect Ryan may be the way to go.
Let me be clear, there is no set-in-stone way for the Falcons to immediately return to relevance in 2019. With so many players underachieving, options are aplenty to improve their stability moving forward.