If the Falcons had not botched multiple blown leads, this team would stand at 6-3. Instead, Atlanta is headed into the bye week after winning three of their last four games, 3-6. Interim head coach Raheem Morris has done a phenomenal job preparing and motivating his team week in and week out since taking over and is one play away (Todd Gurley‘s mishap touchdown against Detroit) from being undefeated as the interim. This does not mean Morris is the leading option for next year’s head coaching vacancy. Instead, it proves that a competent coach can win with the roster in its current state.
I wrote an article exploring the idea that in one effective offseason, this roster could compete for a playoff spot in 2021. This notion that Atlanta can compete in the playoffs immediately, instead of a total overhaul in personnel, is entirely predicated on the belief Arthur Blank and Rich McKay hire the right individuals to lead the team. There is an extensive and complicated list of to-dos for the eventual general manager and head coach.
The general manager must be capable of persuading multiple high-priced veterans to restructure their current deals into more team-friendly terms to lessen their financial burden on the salary cap. Said GM must also be able to assess the current roster to trim the fat off, so to speak, and find value in free agency. Most importantly, the GM must be a wizard in the draft and find immediate difference makers. He must navigate a shrinking salary cap, all while improving the talent on defense and maintaining it on offense.
The head coach is not without responsibility when it comes to personnel. The pair must collaborate and collectively assess the current roster and 2021 free agents for said HC’s specific scheme. The HC must make the GM aware of what he needs and does not need in terms of talent currently on and missing from the roster. The HC must then develop a system that highlights the roster’s strengths and mitigate its weaknesses. Execution is critical; if the HC cannot communicate effectively to his GM or his players what he expects, there will be miscues both in the front office and on the field.
If those things go right, Matt Ryan could be in a position to lead the Falcons on another Super Bowl run. The offense is humming, producing 397 yards per game — fifth in the league — and scoring 27 points per game — 13th in the league. Matt Ryan is having an impressive year, throwing for 290 yards per game with a 67% completion percentage. Through Week 9, the Falcons 106.8 yards per game on the ground — 13th-lowest in the league — has prevented the offense from maximum effectiveness.
In part, this is due to Dirk Koetter’s offensive system not utilizing the team’s assets to the fullest. His system has played it too safe and is not creative enough, particularly in the red zone. But Ryan has shown no signs of regression since Quinn and Dimitroff were fired, so why draft a replacement when he is performing like the old Matty Ice in a poor system. The argument for keeping the offense mostly intact is naturally forming as the unit continues to produce points. However, the same argument for the defense has not even started to form.
The defense has done Matt Ryan no favors. Through nine games, Atlanta has given up 27.9 points per game (10th-most in the NFL) while allowing opposing offenses to average 410 total yards per game (fifth-most in the NFL). This team patronizes the “defense wins championship” slogan. The Falcons feature a highly effective offense countered by a notoriously inconsistent defense that has allowed opposing teams to get back into games late, resulting in brutal losses, which is the exact opposite of championship-caliber DNA. So there are clear grounds for reconstructing this defense.
With an average defense, a new offensive scheme, and serviceable personnel changes, this team led by Matt Ryan can compete for a Super Bowl. There are obviously many factors to consider when evaluating this team. Still, I believe the right GM and HC pair is all the Falcons need to maximize the rest of Matt Ryan’s career in Atlanta while holding off a rebuild.