The Falcons were a popular Super Bowl pick for not just people in the city of Atlanta, but media people everywhere. When looking at rosters coming into 2018, it was hard to find any spot where they had a clear weakness. No team is perfect, but Atlanta appeared to be a team right in the middle of their Super Bowl window.
After thirteen weeks of football, the Falcons sit at 4-8 and out of the playoff conversation for all intensive purposes. Things have not gone right, like several tight games going the other way and an injury report longer than a 12-year old’s Christmas list. However, if you are looking at this from the perspective that Atlanta’s season would have been totally different had injuries not occurred, you could not be more wrong. Here are the three reasons- in order of importance- the Falcons are one of the worst teams in football.
This will be the first thing most Falcons fans point to when talking about the struggles of this team. It is understandable, as seven of their starters hit injured reserve relatively early in the season.
Pro-Bowlers Deion Jones and Keanu Neal were lost in a week one loss to the Eagles. A week later, Andy Levitre joined them with torn triceps. Then, it was Ricardo Allen, followed by Devonta Freeman, Brandon Fusco and finally Derrick Shelby.
There are few teams that are going to survive all of those casualties, but that does not clear the rest of the team of responsibility for a 4-8 record. Some of the replacements have not been all that bad. Damontae Kazee established himself as a rising star. Both Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland had starting experience, and neither was much worse than Levitre or Fusco. Tevin Coleman was widely considered an equal to Freeman before the season.
Injuries killed the depth of this squad and made it highly unlikely they could ever reach their peak and win a Super Bowl; however, the Falcons are staring at a top 5 pick for far greater reasons than their injury issues.
2. No talent rushing the passer
Coming into the year, most people would have agreed this was the biggest area of concern. Vic Beasley took a giant step back from 2016, when he led the league in sacks, to 2017 where he recorded a measly five. One hoped 2016 Vic would be back in 2018, but that year appears to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. Beasley probably could not have had a worse season. He is the last ranked defensive end according to Pro Football Focus and only has 13 tackles the entire season. That is right, he is averaging about a tackle a game! Not only can Vic not sack the quarterback, but he can also rarely even tally a pressure. There has to be a serious evaluation of his role for 2019.
Takk McKinley is a promising second-year pass rusher that many thought could take the next step and have a year as Beasley did in his second season. After beginning the year on fire, recording 4.5 sacks in his first three starts, McKinley only has one sack since. There is still hope he can develop into a fine pass rusher for Atlanta, but there is no way he should have been expected to be the best pass rusher on this team.
Outside of those two, I am not really sure where Atlanta expected to get pressure from. Sure, Grady Jarrett is talented enough to create some from the interior, but that is about it. The McKinley and Beasley duo has been a major disappointment, and the Falcons have to add some pass rushers before the start of 2019.
1. Aging, Fading Players
It happens quick, doesn’t it? Many of these players were critical in the Falcons success over the last two years, but have looked completely different this year. That is the way the NFL works. The prime of the careers- for a lot of these players- is only a few years, and the Falcons are finding out the hard way how quickly you can go from All-Pro to out of the league.
Both corners, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have put together their worst seasons as pros, and it is not a coincidence. Neither of them is a spring chicken any longer. Trufant, 28 and in his sixth season, has not looked like the Pro-Bowl corner he once was since suffering season-ending shoulder surgery in 2016. Alford will be 31 next season and clearly lost a step this year. Both of these players look to be on the downside of their careers, and there are not many corners who show improvement once they hit thirty.
On the offensive line, several players showed their age. I thought this was a group that had the opportunity to be the best offensive line in the league. Alex Mack (33), has been in the conversation for best center in the NFL for quite some time. He has not been egregious in 2018 but has not been the same guy we saw during his previous two years in Atlanta. Ryan Schraeder, who has been an unsung hero in Atlanta, is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He will be turning 31 this offseason. And for what it is worth, their two guards who have been out basically the entire season, are also on the wrong side of the 30.
The Falcons desperately need to get younger this offseason.