FLOWERY BRANCH – Let’s start with the two biggest mistakes of the Falcons’ offseason.
One was not adequately replacing punter Michael Koenen after he fled for free-agent riches in Tampa. The Falcons drafted Matt Bosher and for some reason have kept him, as if holding out hopes that on one glorious Sunday, the bingo card will hit. The other was letting guard Harvey Dahl leave in free agency. It robbed the offensive line of its toughest, nastiest, limb-ripping creature, which is a problem when management is still waiting for left tackle Sam Baker to evolve into a species more intimidating than a Peep.
But that doesn’t explain everything.
The Falcons are 2-3. Even their most impressive win suddenly isn’t looking so impressive (Philadelphia is 1-4). There is no shortage of problems on defense, but that wasn’t the primary issue in Sunday night’s meltdown against Green Bay. The offense produced two touchdowns and 140 yards in the first two drives, then seemed to be vaporized. The rest of the game produced five punts, four three-and-outs, two interceptions and zero points.
There was a similar fizzle the week before in Seattle. The Falcons led 24-7 at halftime, then produced two field goals in the second half.
Bottom-line numbers: The Falcons, who promised us pyrotechnics, haven’t even provided improvement. They rank 19th in total offense (338.4 yards), 23rd in rushing (98.8), 22nd in pass-efficiency rating (79.9) and 20th in scoring (20.8) — all drops from a year ago. Some of the struggles can be attributed to the wailing wall up front. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been sacked 14 times in five games. He was dropped 23 times all of last season. He also has been less accurate and consistent in his decision-making.
But production or lack thereof generally starts with the guy pulling the strings. In this case, that’s Mike Mularkey.
It’s an offensive coordinator’s job to put players in the best position to win games. Whether the Falcons have become too predictable in play-calling, or players aren’t executing, or for whatever reason can’t stay focused for four quarters, it’s still about coaching and getting players to perform.
Here’s the most remarkable stat that has come out of the Falcons’ slow start: They’ve been outscored 61-13 in the third quarter. When presented those numbers Tuesday, Mularkey’s response was, “We try to score every time we get the ball, so that’s irrelevant to me.”
Should it be?
Coaches make halftime adjustments. The logical conclusion is defensive coaches are adjusting to Falcons’ play-calling and the offense then sputters. In the second halves of five games this season, the offensive has produced 0, 2, 1, 0 and 0 touchdowns. Is that just a coincidence?
Mularkey dismissed the adjustments theory, saying, “That’s the outside sources who would say that.” (I would be the outside source here.) He then pointed to penalties and breakdowns, not play-calling, as reasons for the scoring drop.
“The general public and yourself would not know that unless you studied film, knew what the game plan was and knew what was happening in the first half and not the second half,” he said.
He’s right. I don’t study game film. I also can’t rebuild a transmission, but I’m pretty sure I can tell when one blows up.
Mularkey doesn’t completely absolve himself of culpability (”We have to clean things up, and it starts with me.”) But he doesn’t look at tape on Mondays and declare, “Wow, did I blow that call,” at least not that he admits.
“We’re not doing it consistently now because something has happened in one place or another that has made that drive stall,” he said. “It’s not just penalties or a mistake. It’s a drop, a sack or something else. The same plays are being called.
“You ask if I second-guess myself? No, I don’t. Not like you guys do.”
He’s not too sensitive.
Mularkey actually managed a smile when asked if he was feeling heat.
“This is heat?” he cracked.
That was to be expected from someone who was a head coach in Buffalo (he resigned after two years). But until the turnaround comes, the questions won’t stop, and it’s only going to get hotter.
By Jeff Schultz