Well what an exciting NFL regular season that was. From injuries to midseason acquisitions to miracle plays to choke jobs. This was one of the more up-in-the-air seasons the NFL has seen in years. Favorites in the division like the Patriots and Rams did the job they were predicted to do, while others like the Eagles, Jags, and Falcons came up a bit flat. (Yes I know the Eagles are in the playoffs but it was not a comfortable season.) So, given how this season turned out, let’s dive in to see what each team needs to do this offseason to either improve or stay competitive for next season starting with, my team, the Atlanta Falcons.
Disappointing does not even begin to crack the surface of what happened in Atlanta this. Many people’s pick as a potential NFC Championship contender could only muster up a 7-9 record to finish second in the NFC South and out of playoff contention. Where did it all go wrong for this team and how can Dan Quinn begin to rejuvenate this aging offense and grow this young defense?
I am unsure if any team in the NFL had more impactful injuries in one group than the Falcons did this past year in the back seven. Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal were both on IR at one point during the season as well as LB Deion Jones. Now seeing that, some might think “well it’s only three players, no big deal.” Well those individuals do not know how important both Deion Jones and Keanu Neal are as young stars in the league and how thin the position is for the Falcons. Add that in with the loss of Devonta Freeman for multiple games and the constant uncertainty of Julio Jones health and that spells a recipe for disaster throughout a 16 game season.
Lack of Playmaking in the Front Seven
Dan Quinn is known as a defensive coordinator that could get the most of any player and a guy that prides himself on a defense that can get after the passer, cause havoc, and create plays. There was not a ton of that this year. Although the Flacons did finish the season T-9th in the NFL in interceptions with 15, they finished 14th in pass deflections, 22nd in sacks, 30th in forced fumbles and 31st in fumble recoveries. A guy like Vic Beasley who had 15.5 sacks in 2016 has only had 10 the last 2 years. He and Tak McKinley need to find some form next year and create havoc in the backfield.
More Balance on Offense
Many experts projected that the receiving core for Atlanta this season would be a dangerous group led by all pro Julio Jones and first round pick Calvin Ridley. What was missing from 2016’s Super Bowl run was balance in the form of a running game. Tevin Coleman and rookie Ito Smith filled in admirably but they could not replace the production of the pro bowl back Devonta Freeman and finished ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing overall. Getting up closer to the middle of the pack along with the 4th ranked passing offense would have seen them be competitive with the Saints in the NFC South.
Dan Quinn has already cleaned house to begin the offseason. He says that he will be taking over defensive playcalling for next season which seems like a good fit as he made his name as a defensive coordinator in Seattle. If Freeman comes back healthy, the running game will get back to where it was. Free agency and the draft will be a bit light in my opinion. The big need is on the defensive line, mainly DT beside Grady Jarrett with McClain getting older, offensive line depth (guard specifically) and depth in the back 7 of the defense. The Falcons might have to trade up if they are looking for a guy like Montez Sweat or Ed Oliver, but the offensive skill positions are locked down and stockpiling more picks is not gonna help this team get better now. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, I believe, has about 2 to 3 more elite seasons before they will begin to regress.
The future is now for this Atlanta Falcons organization and they need to take advantage of it while the team still has powder in the cannon. They have most if not all of the components on the offensive side, they just need to fine the right pieces on the defensive side of the ball.