Why the Falcons’ flop was even worse that you thought

Says it all, doesn't it? (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

From 5-0 to “What the heck happened?” (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Today’s AJC contained a little something bearing the headline: “The Falcons’ Plan A fizzled. What’s Plan B?” Some among you might quibble with that, seeing as how this coaching staff and its Plan A has had but a season to work. I’d quibble with the quibbles, suggesting that:

1. The Falcons played what was, according to Football Outsiders, the NFL’s second-softest schedule. (The only reason it wasn’t the softest was that Carolina, which ranked last, couldn’t play itself twice. Three teams from the NFC South — Panthers, Falcons and Buccaneers — were 32nd, 31st and 30th.) Given that the Falcons were 6-10 last season against a slightly tougher schedule (the 27th-toughest, again according to Football Outsiders), finishing 8-8 seemed no great achievement.

2. Indeed, the Football Outsiders Almanac — a publication that has been prescient about this team over time — listed the Falcons’ mean projection at 8.9 wins. It’s hard to credit a team with a great leap forward when it actually underperformed by one game.

3. But wait. It gets worse. And so, per Football Outsiders, did the Falcons. Even at 6-10, the 2014 Falcons were rated as the NFL’s 20th-best team according to DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), the site’s proprietary measure. These Falcons were 26th.

4. OK, so the defense was better. It almost had to be, given that the 2014 Falcons finished last in that category according to DVOA. The 2015 defense was an encouraging 22nd. The offense, alas, fell off a cliff. Last year Football Outsiders ranked the Falcons’ offense 10th; this year it was 23rd, or worse than the defense. (Special teams were ranked 22nd, which means the Falcons weren’t very good at anything.)

5. That the’s scariest part of the whole season. The Falcons had a 4,500-yard passer, an 1,800-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher — and still they scored only 34 offensive touchdowns, which is roughly one per half. The Tennessee Titans, who finished 3-13 with a rookie quarterback who was hurt twice and with Mike Mularkey as their interim head coach, scored 35.

6. You’ll recall that Arthur Blank proclaimed last winter that his team was not in rebuild mode. He had good reason. The Falcons had a Top 10 quarterback, which is something 6-10 teams seldom do, and probably the most impressive new coach of his hiring class; they were about to play what was then rated as the league’s easiest schedule. But the Top 10 quarterback finished 20th in passer rating and third in interceptions and was a major reason the 5-0 start became a non-winning season. And if the regression of Matt Ryan has truly commenced, this franchise won’t win anything anytime soon.

7. The 2014 Falcons essentially gave away two games (Detroit at Wembley, Cleveland here) via Mike Smith’s mismanagement. Dan Quinn flubbed a fourth-and-goal decision at San Francisco, but every coach whiffs occasionally. (Even Belichick.) More problematic were the game-changing interceptions thrown on first down by Ryan against Indianapolis, where he didn’t see linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, and again against New Orleans, where the quarterback failed to spot two Saints who had a better chance to catch the ball than did Devonta Freeman. (The first came when the Falcons led by a touchdown, the second when they were tied. There should have been no desperation involved.) The part about not scoring touchdowns can be heaped at the feet of Kyle Shanahan; the part about throwing the ball to the wrong team with the game on the line cannot.

8. The Falcons were 5-0 and had eight games against teams that would finish 8-8 or worse remaining. They lost six of those eight. Even if they weren’t as good as 5-0 suggested, a halfway decent team could have scrambled to 10-6 after that rolling start. (At 5-0, Football Outsiders gave the Falcons a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs.) That they couldn’t indicates they weren’t, at least by season’s end, a halfway decent team.

9. Bottom line: The Falcons had an impressive new coach, a franchise quarterback (or so we thought) and a bunny schedule. This should not have been just a garden-variety transitional season. This coulda/shoulda been a playoff season. That it wasn’t tells us the Falcons are even flimsier than we’d thought. Meaning: Whoa, Nellie.

Reader Comments 0

61 comments
Happy_Smith
Happy_Smith

Fire Shanahan...  The Offensive Offense "Fell off the Cliff" because the OC DEMANDED a scheme that did not play to the STRENGTHS of the Personnel on the the team.  He ten refused to acknowledge he was wrong, and... KABOOM!


MR is too Politically Correct to call him out... ... and why would he...  MR is getting paid and knows where his bread is buttered.


So MR won't call Shanny out... what is left of the Fan Base will!!  AB... Get Rid of Shanny or Good Luck selling those Overpriced PSL's!!!!!

patriotdog
patriotdog

TD is still with the birds, and my guess is that if he isn't gone by now, he won't be. Same with Shanahan, unless his dad gets a head coaching job and hires him. On the other hand, TD is the only GM in sports who has no duties. Pioli runs the draft now, and Q sets the roster. Dimitroff has it made, and no one else would take the job without having any authority, I'd guess. It's not quantum physics, contrary to what ESPN and Fox talking heads will say. It's football. Build the lines of scrimmage or else you can't compete well.

Mike
Mike

Tommy D has a mountain bike, so shut up.

Bob Hunnicutt
Bob Hunnicutt

arthur "blanked" , got just what he deserved ....  hey arthur , use your retirement to fix your face 

Drexel-Gal
Drexel-Gal

They would have had a better season, had George W. Bush not been president for eight years.

Timl62
Timl62

Nice headline - "...worse that you thought". 

chattboy
chattboy

I agree that the offense was very disappointing. They didn't score 30 points in any game!!  In defense of the offense's performance, though, you didn't mention the newness of the O line and the new scheme they were working with.  I was really concerned about the season when the offensive line wasn't set until just before the season started and they were starting castoffs from other teams.  It's common knowledge that the O line requires time playing  together to be effective, especially in the passing game, and they had the new scheme to cope with too.  As a result Ryan was under pressure a lot, especially on 3rd and longs when the line couldn't pick up blitzes and stunts.  On the other hand, the team lost five games by a total of only 14 points, a very small margin.  If three of those five had gone the other way, they'd be in the playoffs now.

DGAD
DGAD

Maybe Blank is getting like Jerry Jones. His new stadium will make money anyway, with bowl games and college playoffs. Why spend money for a decent NFL product?

Mike Smith 2015
Mike Smith 2015

I think Arthur Blank should get some of the blame for the Falcon's problems also. He is always hanging around. He needs to go away and let his GM, team president and others do their jobs. If these guys aren't performing then they all deserve to go. Look at the Steelers, Giants and Packers. You don't see their owners meddling around. Jerry Jones is always meddling and look at what it has done to the Cowboys. I think Arthur is a great owner but please stay away from the football operations because it is not Home Depot. Matt Ryan needs to cut down the picks, they need to commit more to the run and of course there are many other areas that need improvement. Give Matt Ryan another year or two the most and if he doesn't work then look in another direction. 

HardyFalcon
HardyFalcon

Diminroff needs to be fired, another defensive flop in Vic Beasley, he's under sized and under classed. When will Arthur WAKE UP

TOJacket
TOJacket

@HardyFalcon Good grief!........give the guy a chance?.......what team did you play for?

Bob Hunnicutt
Bob Hunnicutt

@TOJacket @HardyFalcon hey , arthur was successful with a retail home improvement venture .... why shouldn't he be able to do the same with an NFL team ???? ....lol ... arthur ... you suk

candlin14
candlin14

You are an absolute Moron Mark Bradley. Its hard to even read your garbage!

Chilidawg
Chilidawg

@candlin14 Why is Mark Bradley a moron?  What specifically in his column causes you a problem?

CMPINATL
CMPINATL

If TD is back next year this team isnt going anywhere.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@CMPINATL  The Falcons aren't going anywhere next year regardless of whether TD is back or not.

Doc3060
Doc3060

It seems to me the falcons have linebackers that hustle but are slow to cover in a zone defense and cant stop the quick pass for an eight to ten Yard gain..offensively we need s center who can get the ball to the quarterback without fumbling it in or near the ted zone. With no turnerovers including stupid interceptions or sloppy special special teams play that robbed us of points we would have won acouple more games. Such sloppy play and execution Is

Usually due to coaching.

Let's hope ryans poor play especially in critical

Situations was a fluke this year.

UGA75
UGA75

Mark Badly is only capable of pointing out bad things, when he "Guaranteed" the playoffs for the Falcon's he made a mistake. Based on the way he jumps on mistakes by others he should not only be fired but tarred and feathered. I personally will supply rail to ride him out of town on if the AJC Editors will just fire his candy butt (family paper don't you know).


The Falcons need lines, offensive and defensive, that hardly qualifies as a revelation. Matt Ryan spent more time on his back the last three years than Badly's girlfriend when he's out of town. If Ryan is shell shocked, it isn't surprising. That he completed the number of passes he did is amazing. Unlike Badly, I'm no expert, I don't know what to fix first, but like all Falcon fans, I sure am hoping those paid to find an answer do so quickly.

Starik
Starik

Every NFL team but Green Bay is owned by a very rich man whose ego can get in the way of doing what needs to be done.

CrashTestChris
CrashTestChris

Dimitroff should be canned for the simple reason of passing on Todd Gurley for an undersized defensive project who couldn't sack potatos.... Did anybody even touch Drew Brees the whole game?

TOJacket
TOJacket

@CrashTestChris Are the Rams in the play-offs?......Gurley is a rule breaker, not a record breaker.

Home Team Critic
Home Team Critic

Home Depot would not have accomplished all it has if mediocre CEOs were allowed to stay forever.

How many GMs did you fail to fire and instead find something else for them to do?

There will not be a Christian rebellion if 3 or 4 of the failures were finally shown the door.

Maybe one if you don't.

Dan_Bruce
Dan_Bruce

Even mediocrity earns one a $billion stadium. Talk about welfare queens!

E983
E983

At least Matt Ryan wasn't in Las Vegas with a blonde wig and a mustash.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Edgar 

He did grow the 'stache, actually. Don't know about Vegas, though--probably not his kinda town.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

#10, Blank's girlfriend was so disgusted, she cut him off

oakislandbeachbum
oakislandbeachbum

Prior to joining Falcons, the OC's reputation for red zone success was dismally poor.  Why he was hired is anyone's guess.

Jokurone
Jokurone

it's the Direct tv thing just the same ole darn thing..T Dummytroff needs to go...

jthoroughman
jthoroughman

 Mark, I've been reading your columns since you had dark curly hair and a moustache, and I totally agree with you. I think Dan Quinn deserves a pass here as a rookie coach who inherited the roster he did.Moving forward, though, this will be more his team and he should and will be more accountable.I was impressed with the progress the Falcons made on defense with many of the same guys as last year. That's a huge positive.  The talent level here is disturbing, and I have no idea how the same GM could made seemingly brilliant moves his first two seasons and miss so badly in the draft and free agency from that point on.  Any thoughts on why this is so? I have to think Dimitroff's missteps are a large part of the problem here.

KFinGeorgia
KFinGeorgia

Nah, they weren't worse than I thought. Sadly, I didn't underestimate their floppiness even a tiny bit.

LorenHorton
LorenHorton

I was excited in 1966 when the Falcons came to town. Became a season ticket holder in 1973 when I got out of the Navy. Gave them up in 2009 after too many disappointments and Blanks screwing over Club seat owners.

Quit watching this year as it is obvious they have no clue how to draft, coach, or lead a team. If you continue to support them. You will continue to get more of the same results. A GM that can't draft and an owner who won't fire him. They will look back on Mike Smith as the high point in Blank's ownership regime.

AdmiralObvious53
AdmiralObvious53

And based upon this article why hasn't Dummytroff been fired yet?

GaLatino
GaLatino

@AdmiralObvious53 Because Blank is an out of touch old billionaire who refuses to fire front office folks as long as they remain yes men and give his fiancee the occasional roll in the hay that he apparently can't anymore...

Coach Howard
Coach Howard

Don't know enough but what really bothers me is comment by NO player who said his coach recognized the play coming out of the formation and to jump the route (go for the interception). Doesn't sound like it's all on Matt Ryan.

Eddie Artist
Eddie Artist

@coachhoward All teams study tendencies & formations. That's how Patriots picked off Seahawks to win Superbowl. Matt has done this all season. Staring down covered receivers, and throwing bad balls down the middle, while ignoring wide-open receivers on the edges. Tampa, Indy, Minn, and N.O. are games we could've won with better play from QB2.

Peachtree Bart
Peachtree Bart

This won't be fixed next season unless they get stronger yet on the OL and get a real pass rusher.

50Concept
50Concept

where do you get that ryan is a "top 10 quarterback"? Total myth---the dude chokes throughout the year---not even top 20.

mark513
mark513

Its really hard to stay optimistic about the future given no changes in the staff. When you look at the drafts and see how many misses this team has had under Dimitroff it is staggering. To not let him go last year was a big mistake and now it looks as though he is coming back. I am not sure what Blank sees that is making him believe in Dimitroff. I get he picked Ryan and made the Julio trade but at the end of the day neither has brought you a Superbowl and as currently constructed there is no reason to think this team will get better.  Way too many misses on the both lines of scrimmage and an entire draft class (2012) not on the team should have been the final nail.Look at  this years draft, Beasly addressed a glaring need on pass rush and its early for him but Dimitroff/Quinn chose to go corner and running back in rounds 2 & 3 instead of offensive line. You have Kyle Shannan bringing a zone blocking scheme and you know what type of talent you have yet you chose to do nothing on the o-line in early rounds. The same could be said for linebacker as well, Quinn is not prepared to handle personnel and Dimitroff is incompetent. Blank is failing as an owner, as a fan of the team it is a very sad thing to witness. 

CardiganBoy
CardiganBoy

"That the’s scariest part of the whole season. The Falcons had a 4,500-yard passer, an 1,800-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher — and still they scored only 34 offensive touchdowns, which is roughly one per half."


Good stuff.


Seems like the curse of June Jones.  Racking up big numbers between the twenty yard lines - and having nothing to show for the gaudy statistics.  We killed ourselves this year.  

We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again
We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again

You nailed it, Mark. This season leaves an even worse taste in my mouth than 2013 and 2014. At least those seasons could be chalked up to significant injuries and major holes at key positions. Not to say that this team wasn't flawed, but there was really no excuse for them not to make the playoffs against such an easy schedule. Getting swept by bad Bucs and Saints teams was unacceptable, as were the losses to the 49ers and the Luck-less Colts. 


I'll only disagree with you on one point: I'm not impressed with Dan Quinn, at least not yet. I'm not sure how you can call the coach impressive when the team, by your own admission, underachieved. I'm not going to give up on Quinn, but I haven't seen anything after one year that convinces me he's the answer for this franchise.

extremus
extremus

As long as Dimitroff is making personnel and Draft decisions (i.e. the status quo) this team won't get better, and incredibly it appears that Blank is going to retain him for yet ANOTHER season.  Way to kill fans' hope for next year literally on Black Monday if that's the case, Mr. Blank.