Numbers crunched: These Falcons don’t add up

"We need to go for it. Or do we?" (Seth Wenig/AP photo)

“We need to go for it. Or do we?” (Seth Wenig/AP photo)

"We need to go for it. Or do we?" (Seth Wenig/AP photo)

“Guys, we need to go for it. Or do we?” (Seth Wenig/AP photo)

If the Atlanta Falcons’ record — they’re 2-4, the four losses having come by 10-plus points — didn’t tell you that there’s trouble afoot in Flowery Branch, these numbers will. Pro Football Focus grades the Falcons’ offensive line as the league’s 28th-best, which is actually an upgrade over last season, when it ranked 30th. Advanced Football Analytics assesses the Falcons’ defensive efficiency as the 32nd-best — there are 32 NFL teams — and the team as the league’s fifth-worst despite the presence of the 10th-most efficient offense.

FiveThirtyEight’s rankings have the Falcons as the seventh-worst team, and Nate Silver’s site affords them a seven percent chance of making the playoffs. Our friends at Football Outsiders are much more charitable: Their numbers indicate that the Falcons have a 26.6 percent chance at qualifying for the postseason, which is better than New Orleans (21 percent).

If any rating underscores the oddity these Falcons have become, it’s Football Outsiders’ proprietary DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). According to DVOA, the Falcons have two of the league’s top 10 units: Their offense ranks No. 7 and their special teams are No. 2 (thank Devin Hester). Their defense ranks next-to-last, dragging the team’s overall DVOA to No. 12.

I know, I know. These advanced numbers don’t tell us a whole lot we couldn’t have grasped just from watching, or from checking the basic total offense/defense numbers. (The Falcons are third-best in the former, second-worst in the latter.) But they offer further confirmation that what we’ve seen has basis in mathematical reality. The defense really is awful.

Oh, and one thing more: The advanced-analytics set loves to discuss the merits of going for it on fourth down, and Mike Smith’s decision to do just that on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons’ 29 with his team trailing by seven points and 4:40 and three timeouts remaining prompted the usual parsing.

As a rule, numbers-crunchers belive a coach should err on the side of daring, which is why so many of them have come to embrace Carolina’s Ron Rivera, the former ultra-conservative who started going for everything last season and saw his Panthers win the NFC South. “Riverboat Ron,” he was rechristened, although it’s worth noting that RR chose to kick a tying field goal on fourth-and-1 in overtime against Cincinnati on Sunday — a decision Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics conceded might have been sound.

Back to Smith: Andrew Healy of Football Perspective argues that the coach’s latest failed attempt in the Meadowlands was out of recent character, seeing as how the Falcons’ two fourth-and-1 whiffs in a January 2012 playoff game against the Giants had a chilling effect on what had been one of the league’s boldest coaches. Writes Healy: “From 2008-2011, Smith was the third-most aggressive coach of the last 20 years.”

Since then? Healy again:

By the 2012 regular season, Smith hadn’t just abandoned his prior tendency for aggressive strategy. He entirely reversed it. In 2012, he was the least aggressive coach in football, only going for it once in 91 qualifying fourth-down tries. He was similarly passive in 2013. His fourth down decision (against the Giants) was surprising given that trend.

The headline on Healy’s post: “Learning the wrong lessons from failure.”

Further reading from myajc: How bad is it? The Falcons have stopped coming close.

Further still: The 12-4 Falcons stand revealed as a house of cards.

Reader Comments 0

53 comments
bennyhayes
bennyhayes

The foundations for good teams--O line and D line. Falcons have neither. Best place to find these guys in the draft? SEC. Baltimore seems to have figured it out. Once a team gets the trenches in place, it gets easier to fill in guys at the skill positions. Falcons have done it backwards. That smacks of Fantasy Football. Not reality. Until a competent GM is in place to overhaul this mess, it will remain a fantasy. 

musicrockinrobin
musicrockinrobin

The defense is partly to blame, mostly because of scheme...DE's can't cover WR's and MLB can't play FS. stupid tricky stuff that fools nobody.  But I feel the offense is not playing up to it's potential, and it's not Ryan's fault (unless he's calling the plays) Against the Bears last week there were fewer than 15 running plays, and 37 passes. No balance. My wife and I are season ticket holders, we left after the 3rd down failure that has become typical: 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and down by 6 points, 3rd and 1.... an incomplete pass to Julio Jones on a shallow crossing pattern. We were disgusted. I can't imagine how our running backs feel. Four really good backs that are completely wasted, any one of the four could've gotten a yard. Why have any of them if you're going to pass all the time? Replace OC with Mike Tice, and DC with Brian Cox and watch the difference. The talent is not Championship level, but they should be competitive. Players aren't buying in and it shows.

tyger
tyger

Jeff George TDS 154    INT 113   YDS   27,602   RTG  80.4

Matt Ryan      TDS 165    INT   85   YDS   25,322   RTG  90.8


Ryan's last two seasons:

2013                26TDS     17 INT         89.6 RTG

2014                12TDS       7 INT         92.7 RTG


Note: TB #32 ranked defense, DET #1, BAL #17




tyger
tyger

Can Falcons beat Ravens?


Normally I would say YES!

But, hanging on to ole' Falcons...

Gritty, scrappy to the wire Falcons...

Alas, those Falcons are gone...


Face it, that window has closed...

I don't know these Falcons...

Don't think anybody does...


They wear same uniforms...

Practice in Suwanee...

But don't play like Falcons...


Non-opportunistic bunch...

Another man's injury used to be...

Another man's opportunity...

Not so with this group...


Nobody jumps off the screen...

Except Antone Smith...


And he barely gets to play.

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

So basically we have a D that can't stop anyone; a coach in the midst of a personality crisis; and an offense good enough to keep us alive until the 4th qtr when they turn into pumpkins. This team and whole system for that matter is fatally flawed. Even in his prime, Matt Ryan could only lead us to last minute FGs not TDs to win key games. Nothing about this team gives me confidence that matters can be fixed quickly. Instead, change must start with the front office and coaching staff in order to build a brand new organization with a solid plan to build a successful team on both sides of the ball. I'm guessing we are looking at 3-5 years before the SB talk can begin again.

We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again
We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again

Every Falcons game follows the same predictable script: Matt Ryan gets thrown around like a ragdoll, the pass rush fails to deliver any kind of consistent pressure, and the secondary gets shredded to bits. The coaching staff clearly has no solutions to these persistent problems - which, to be fair, are not entirely of their own making - so a house-cleaning is in order. It's beyond old to watch week after week.

The bad news is Blank doesn't exactly have the most sterling track record when it comes to hiring coaches. The good news is that he has proven himself to be proactive about making changes when they're needed, and there should be no shortage of intriguing candidates available this offseason. Jim Harbaugh would be my dream pick if the speculation is true that he'll be on the open market after this season. More realistically, Jon Gruden and Art Briles are two more potential candidates who could bring some excitement and energy back to Atlanta.

Gman84
Gman84

Good to know my eyes aren't as bad as I thought. Only surprising number here is that anyone affords them a 27% chance of making the playoffs. I've got that number closer to 0%

PeteMTL
PeteMTL

We haven't seen Arthur roaming the sidelines much this year ?

Dawg69
Dawg69

@tiger - you can't put this on Matty Ice. He has been a good QB. If he had a decent OL, he would do much better and has shown as much in the past.  I don't know how many times he was hit in the Chicago game but I'm guessing it was double digits.  And the amount of money that the players are making is immaterial. But yes they are overpaying for the production they are getting which is Dims fault.  If the players made $10 or $10 million a game - I don't care as long as they win. But Dim is betting on the wrong horses.


@gfw - you got it right. if you don't have an OL and a DL, you're not gonna make it to the SB.

tyger
tyger

@Dawg69 I stated that Matt Ryan has not played badly but...

what difference does it make if you're 2-4 or 4-12 at end?  Might 

as well play TJ Yates for these results and save $20M to spend on

OL and Defense. Say its not his fault, but his salary prevents other 

improvements. Note: other losing teams have Rookie QBs...his results

are same as a rookie. And you're right Turner, Abraham, Grimes, Lofton 

covered his weaknesses. Now he's exposed...see Jeff George.

BooBooBear
BooBooBear

From out on the frontier, only getting snippets of Falcons games on NFL Game Day and Yahoo sports box score, it would appear Matt Ryan is a 100+ rating QB through 3 quarters.  Then, after the defense has put the game out of reach, he falters bad in the 4th quarter.  In the entire time Mike Smith and Matt Ryan (et al) have been in Atlanta, they have featured a ground game that could at least rush for a total of 100 yards, with games when Mike Turner would rush for over 100.  The entire time, 2008-today, the Falcons have been known for crappy defense.  The entire time the O-line has been paltry and unheralded.  Winning meant keep our defense off the field with sustained drives.  With Mike Turner they won in spite of our faults, but since he has been gone, for that loser Steven Jackson has exposed all weaknesses, with no plan to change and cover them up.  A team that gives up quick points, but then grinds out 10-play drives to match the score, gets better in the 4th quarter because the other team's defense is more spent, at least more times than not. 

notPlanB
notPlanB

@BooBooBear  Agree with most but S Jax is running behind a different OL. A Smith still, should get more touches.

Dawg69
Dawg69

@GT71 - nope  it was Norm Van Brocklin who said that when he was coaching the Falcons. Like most guys from GT you're over confident of your mental abilities , often wrong but never in doubt.

tyger
tyger

It's Even Worse...Fallen Angels


Been holding out hope...for a pulse...

Looks bleak...3 straight Ls...flat lined...

2-4 w/ BAL, DET, CAR...2-6 at bye week?

4-12 season?


Here's the real problem:


Matty Ice has not played badly, but...

$21M for consecutive 4-12 seasons???

5yrs/$104M thru 2019 for what?


You would think he was on IR...

But no, he plays every game...

Is this the best he can do???

Of  2-4 or less teams...rookie QBs


Yes, he puts up guady numbers...

He passes 40-50 times per game...

Yet, his guady stats do not translate to wins...


Roster/salaries disproportionate to performance...


Sam Baker 6yrs./$41M thru 2019? For what?

Sean Weatherspoon 5yrs/$14M For what?

Steven Jackson 3yrs/$12M For what?

Osi Umenyiori 2yrs/$8.5M For what?

Kroy Bierman  3yrs/$9M For what?

Peter Konz   4yrs/$3.5M  For what?

Lamar Holmes 4yrs/$2.6M For what?

Levine Toilolo  4yrs/$2.4M For what?


Toss in $75M for R.White, T.Jackson, Soliai...

And the picture becomes clearer....


Falcons made numerous bad investments...

Junk bonds...higher risk of default or adverse credit event....

i.e. they probably wont pay back...fallen angels.






mark513
mark513

Worst defense in the league, it was terrible last year not any better this year and committed a lot of money on a line that is worse! Bad decisions by Dimitroff and bad coaching by Smith, both have to go. Blank does not replace both, Blank becomes Rankin Smith! For all those that love Blank and I used to be one of them, the crap he is spewing about plenty of talent is a Joke. 

reckingball
reckingball

$100million dollar QB, ..........$19.95 OLine. ------DLine pathetic,..........pass rush nill $0.00.

Been this way since Dimitroff took over. Something has to give.

SimpleDawg
SimpleDawg

Sure will be lonely in that big ol', brand new stadium......


'Turn out the lights, the party's over.....'

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

You don't need statistics to figure out this team.  The three most important things in the NFL today are throwing the ball (the Falcons excel at this), protecting the passer (the Falcons suck at this), and rushing the passer (the Falcons suck at this) in that order.  When you suck at two of the three most important things in the game, the team will suck.


Why aren't the Falcons good on either line?  I've got a few reasons:

1. Sam Baker ($6.05 million) - mediocre to bad tackle to begin with and not playing.

2. Osi Umenyiora ($4.75 million) - zero production.

3. Steven Jackson ($4.16 million) - Other than a speech during Hard Knocks, you can match his production with much lower priced rookies (Like Devonta Freeman)


That's almost $15 million for zero production.  $15 million which could have been more judiciously used on things like depth, and, in Steven Jackson's case, in a position of actual value.


One more point on Steven Jackson.  The Falcons average 4.6ypc.  New Orleans averages 5.2 and spends $850k less on their entire backfield as The Falcons spend on Jackson.  

notPlanB
notPlanB

@RichardKPE  Add Biermann's 3 mil and you can get 2 good pass rushers. I said you could, not TD could. He hasn't in 6 years.  You also haven't lost that much. Can you tell which way I'm leaning on TD & MS?


One more point. Someone else's, not mine. If MR hadn't gotten an early contract, he would have been re signing after a 4-12 season instead of a 13-3. If that info is correct, it's another screw up by TD.


I think Renfree is much better than Yates. Yates had one good preseason game. Renfree played well in all the games. I guess that means that if MR goes down, Yates will get the job.

gfw
gfw

Did anybody hear Bill Cowher last week?  He said that he determined early on as a head coach that THE most important thing was building a dominating offensive line, both for running and for pass protection.  He said you've got to have that as a foundation in order to win consistently in the NFL.  The Atlanta experience seems to confirm Cowher's judgment, and it's a damning criticism of our GM.  I would be shocked if Blank doesn't fire him before next season.  In fact, if he doesn't fire him, we'll have to try to imagine what kind of irrational explanation there is for that.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

When you are thin on talent to begin with injuries are killers. They've lost their starting left tackle, starting center, and two backup tackles, their #1 draft pick tackle is hurt. Their only experienced linebacker of any ability went down before the season. Teams with talent can rebound from 2-4, but this team is so weak on defense and the offensive line they really have no chance at the playoffs, and may not for years to come.

KatieR620
KatieR620

Look,  several people including myself have been on this for several years now. The problems begin with hubris and a confounding unwillingness to admit error.   They don't analyze themselves correctly at all otherwise they would have never paid Sam Baker 60 million dollars to never be available.  He's been healthy once in 7 years.   Both Smith and Dimitroff are incredibly stubborn and it has finally come to a head.  


It's a talent acquisition business,  we have not been proficient in that area.  The coaching staff has been unfailingly unwilling over their tenure to even try to introduce young players who might produce over veteran players who obviously cannot produce.  


It's not as if this group couldn't stay together and win again,  the Giants have proven that capable,  but they have to humble themselves realize that they haven't performed in the last few years and the plan,  was a poor one.  


When comparing their peers,  this is not a very talented football team and they don't appear well coached.  They once did, they don't anymore.

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

Well said. Only thing I'd add is the Falcons history of ill-conceived decisions dates all the way back to the McKay era. Selecting Jamal Anderson DE in top 10; rolling out the red carpet to Peerless Price WR; and signing Brooking to a large contract knowing he couldn't tackle anyone within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage are just a few of the terrible moves this guy made. The fact his body of work somehow got him promoted to President gives me pause in thinking this organization can fix itself. My guess is the troubled waters in Flowery Branch run much deeper than Smith and TD.

lv1822
lv1822

Who would even want to try and repair this mess when Blank wants a "Football Show" as in flash.

Aren't many highlights of good, solid line play.

inoto20
inoto20

We knew the d was gonna be bad again. It's the offense that hasn't lived up to expectations. Those numbers are skewed from 2 games. The tampa and no game. Especially the tampa. Take it out and i bet the off stats tumble. The past 3 games have shown an anemic offense. I thought we had a top 5 qb and all these playmakers. As for the o line, yeah again we knew it wouldn't be a top o line. That's why you duh make adjustments. Like employing a hurry up offense at all times. You can't be a drop back in the pocket sit and wait as ryan has tried with an o line that can't block every play. SO you make changes. but the falcons coaches are too dumb to realize this. How many times have they done the hurry up at the end of games and scored with a couple minutes left? A lot.

You play to your advantages. They have the receivers for a hurry up to work. That's been proven. 

But stupid as always, they think they have a top o line. And ryan sits there. Heck how about having ryan in the shotgun! And after the snap get the heck out of the pocket. Noooo. They just need to get rid of the td and ms.

inoto20
inoto20

I'll add the patriots have a weak run game and defense. yet what happened last night? Brady at 37, threw 2 td passes while..gasp..running!! Do these pats have as good receivers as the falcons??? Not even close. But they are smart enough to realize you can't just have the qb stand in the pocket like a duck waiting to get sacked. Amazing how stupid the coaching and mgmt is here.

Dawg69
Dawg69

It makes no difference if it is pee wee, high school or professional football, good strong line play will take you a long way and win a lot of football games.  Even a mediocre back can run through a hole big enough to drive a truck through. And if the defensive line can stop the run it puts the pressure on the passing attack where Norm Van Brocklin said 3 things can happen on a pass and two of them are bad.

GT71
GT71

@Dawg69  I thought that was Woody Hayes (OSU head coach of the past if you don't remember the name) who said that.  But then, you're a Dawg and we know you must be richt.

PeteMTL
PeteMTL

@Dawg69 

That ain't true anymore. If you pass 2 good things can happen, a completion and a pass interference.

WhopperDawg
WhopperDawg

Yeah, it is a mess and will get worse. Baltimore at Baltimore this week, oh boy. How does 2 - 5 grab you? Looking ahead, we could  beat Tampa Bay @ Tampa Bay, maybe Cleveland at home, Pitt at home and Carolina at home. So, let's say they win all of those (not likely), and you are 6 - 10 and waiting on the magic of TD to fix us in the draft.


Think of it this way, if Blank were walking in the door for the first time now, would he clean house?


I am thinking he would. I am thinking anyone would. And I am thinking he should after the season. But if you just shoot Smith, that is like lopping the top off of a weed, it will grow back. To get it all, you have to get the root, and the root is also TD.

hardworkinman
hardworkinman

@WhopperDawg If the Falcons don't show improvement this week, they'll lose to Tampa. That will be a revenge game for the Buccaneers after the way they were embarrassed in Atlanta.  I can't see the Falcons winning more than two more games to finish at 4-12.

gfw
gfw

@WhopperDawg Good points.  I'll just add that the way Cleveland played against Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago I don't see the Falcons beating them even if they are in the Dome.  In fact, I don't see them beating the Browns, the Steelers, or the Cardinals at home, though it wouldn't shock me to see them eke out one of those.

Dawg69
Dawg69

I'm not so convinced Smith is doing a bad job regardless of the 4th and 1 at the 29. I think that call was based on the theory that the offense performs better than the defense, and if Smith gives the ball back to the Giants, they score and the game is over for sure.  I think the real target is Dimitrioff. Smith can only work with what Dimitrioff has given him. And Dim has not given him much to work with.  His draft picks have not been sterling to say the least.  To me - the blame is with Dim and that is who needs replacing.  As one responder says, the OL and DL needs a complete overall.  Falcons have some pretty good backs but there are no holes for them to run through.  The defensive line can't stop anyone's running game.

notPlanB
notPlanB

@Dawg69  MS's WPP has caused this team to have no depth. They didn't even know the capabilities of the inexperienced young players until last years injuries exposed them. He seems to go to his old team for get coaches and FA's too often and the Jaguars are about the only team worse than ours. A team that spends to the cap should be better than this. TD is a bigger problem but not the only one.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Time to rebalance the portfolio, too much invested on the sexy assets, (offense), and not enough on less volatile investments (sound OL and DL lines).  Probably need new financial advisers, as the portfolio has not performed as well as the general market for sometime now.

GoFalcons
GoFalcons

I do not need any of the analysis, Falcons #32 in every darn thing. Smith and TD together have built a team over the years to be #32 in all category. 


TIME FOR BOTH TO GO and Pull ourselves out of Jacksonville Jaguar coaching experience.

WhopperDawg
WhopperDawg

@GoFalcons 

That is an interesting point, they have successfully transformed the Falcons into the franchise they model themselves after the Jaguars.

Alphaman
Alphaman

It time for the Falcons and Mike Smith to part ways!

seminoleking
seminoleking

i got a better one. in pro football, most offenses put too much pressure on their defense. with the falcons, they are in the 10 percent that their defense actually puts more pressure on their offense. there are lots of decisions ( bad throws by ryan trying to force things, smith going for it on 4th down inside is 30 yard line, etc.) that are a direct result of their defense.........

Bug
Bug

Thank you Dimitroff!

Sports_Junky
Sports_Junky

The Falcons will make the playoffs.

Arthur Blank will stay in the owner's suite.

Mike Smith will have a job next year.

and wait for it...

The government will protect us from Ebola.

notPlanB
notPlanB

@Sports_Junky  Why does the "Like" change to "Unlike" when I click on it? I've asked this before.

Jack_®
Jack_®

The Dawgs could defeat the Falcons. 

Dman
Dman

Really? Ide like to see a bunch of amatures beat a team full of former college standouts.