The Falcons continued their campaign of misery Sunday when they suffered another embarrassing blowout, this time at the hand of one of their closest rivals. Signs were leaning to the Panthers surpassing the Falcons in the NFC South as the biggest threat to the New Orleans Saints and it became official when they laid a 34-10 butt-whooping down on them. The season seems to be officially over at this point. Sad to say when the season is only halfway done. The Falcons would have to go undefeated in the second half just to get to 10-6. Oh, and they have the Seahawks, Niners, Packers, Redskins, Panthers, and Saints left on the schedule. At this point, it seems fairly likely that they may not win another game in 2013. Some hard decisions will have to come at the end of the season and the best fans can hope for is that they take pride and at least try to develop some talent going forward. To the ugliness that was………….
After a one year burst, the Falcons offense has gone back to what it was in previous years, a dink and dunk offense. Yes there’s the injuries excuse, but it’s been like this even before the injuries starting happening. The offense has become insanely predictable and overall really weak. And although he does have one of the worst offensive lines in football, Matt Ryan seems to be regressing. He is throwing into double and triple coverage often, throwing interceptions at a breakneck pace, and generally looking pretty awful. The routes, personnel, and creativity has become increasingly stale on offense. Dirk Koetter threw as many people under the bus as possible last week, including Matt Ryan among others. While other teams like the Patriots and Packers find a way to stay dynamic on offense even with injuries, the Falcons evidently are unwilling or unable to get back to their higher octane offense from 2012.
Maybe it’s working behind one of the worst OL’s in the NFL, a disconnect with his coordinator who threw him under the bus, or he’s just having a bad year, but Matt Ryan is looking bad. He no longer has the calm presence he once had and is really looking pretty atrocious lately. The load has been put squarely on his shoulders, but that’s what comes with signing a mega-contract. If alarm bells aren’t going off in Arthur Blank’s head about the overall direction and state of his team, they certainly are about his once Pro Bowl quarterback looking worse by the week. Dirk Koetter probably won’t have an issue throwing his QB under the bus for a second straight week.
What’s simply crazy is that the Falcons have been led by a coach who came to fame by being a good defensive coordinator and this Falcons team seems to be getting worse by the year on being able to tackle well. You look over at what the Panthers have done in just three years on defense, becoming one of the most dominant defenses in the entire NFL, and it’s simply inexcusable seeing what this defense has become in year 6. The Panthers chase and hit with a ferocity that’s never been seen by the Falcons. It’s fine if you want to load up your offense (that’s working really well right now), but that doesn’t mean you have to have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Falcons can’t tackle to save their life. In one particularly terrible sequence, 3 separate Falcons missed tackles on Cam Newton when they had a surefire sack with a 3rd and 12. He escaped and they converted. It’s been beaten to a pulp, but this defense is really bad.
Yes, injuries have played a part in the seasons plane crash script of a season, but it by no means is the only reason the Falcons look so poorly. Other teams have injuries and they aren’t missing a beat. The Falcons have lost less starters than the Patriots and their offense is still good. Also throw in the fact that several players have actually stepped up, including Harry Douglas, Drew Davis, Darius Johnson, Paul Worrilow, and Joplo Bartu, among others. Furthermore, injuries alone isn’t an excuse for a team to look this bad. They’re bad in all phases of the game. The offense is putrid. The defense is worse. And coaching is beyond terrible. Injuries will play a large role on any decision at the end of the year, but that excuse can only go so far.
Back in 2008, the Falcons were one of the younger teams in the NFL. 6 years later that’s no longer the case. A ton of veterans are either right at the age of 30 or over it. Asante Samuel (32), Tony Gonzalez (37), Jonathan Babineaux (32), Roddy White (32), Steven Jackson (30), Osi Umenyiora (32 in 2 weeks), and Justin Blalock (30 in December) among others. That’s what worries Falcons fans the most: that this team is either currently in rebuilding mode this year or that it surely will next season. The concern is that Smith and Thomas Dimitroff can get it right this time. There has been a massive failure to draft and develop players under this regime, and many fans have lost confidence in both to get it done. Dimitroff seems more obsessed with his image of “Trader Thomas” than he does with taking the best value at a position of need. How many pieces does this team really have to build around? Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, William Moore, Peter Konz, Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford. There’s probably a few more if you really reach, but not many. That’s not a great deal of players to rebuild around.
There wasn’t much to take from a 34-10 embarrassment to one of your biggest rivals, but a few things did stick out. The best sign was seeing Jonathan Massaquoi possibly taking the step on being the long sought after source of a pass rush. He was in the backfield all day, sacking Newton, hitting him, and generally getting good pressure. Very good sign. Just too bad it took 6 years to develop any pass rusher. Paul Worrilow wasn’t perfect, but he did really well making tackles sideline to sideline. He’s still got a little ways to go, but he shows promise going forward. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both had pretty good days, even though Trufant was the victim of some weak pass interference calls. Both rookie CBs had interceptions.
One of Smith’s biggest strengths was getting his team focused and able to avoid stupid and costly penalties and having the Falcons not beat themselves. That is no longer happening. False starts, pass interference, holding, facemask, missed tackles, missed assignments, and turnovers have led this team look as undisciplined and sloppy as any in the NFL. It appears that Smith has lost this team and the players just seem to be going through the motions. Matt Ryan’s confidence seems to be at an all-time low, as does the rest of the team. The team appears lifeless, and that’s squarely on the head coach.
One thing that these Falcons are not is tough. You look at other teams such as the Panthers, Niners, and Seahawks and you see a toughness. The defenses of the teams previously mentioned hit hard and do the best they can to impose their will on the other side. Offenses like the Packers and Saints impose their will on opposing defenses. The Falcons are neither. At least last season they were able to put up points on offense. It may have started way back in training camp when Smith wanted to avoid injuries at all costs and rarely had the team hitting. It’s true that some of it was due to the new union rules, but Smith went above and beyond to avoid contact. It’s a good idea to try to avoid injuries, but football is still a collision sport that’s won in the trenches.
The Falcons have remained a top contender in the NFC South since Smith took over in 2008. They made the playoffs as a wild card when the Panthers won the division in 2008, missed the playoffs in 2008, and have traded titles with the New Orleans Saints since then. Even though the Saints lost today, they appear to be leaving the Falcons behind in their own division. More concerning, however, is that the Panthers are surpassing the Falcons as the top contender with the Saints in the division. Fact is, you can’t count on division teams remaining bad for too long and it appears the Panthers have finally got it together, accented by the last two meetings being blowouts. The Falcons being a play away from beating the Saints in week one seems like decades ago. Whether Blank stands pat at the end of the season remains to be seen, but the facts are painfully clear that the Falcons are being left behind in their own division. Not a good sign at all.