Four games in, there isn’t much about these Falcons not to like

There will be better Sundays. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The 2016 Falcons started 3-1 and wound up … well, you know where. The 2017 Falcons are 3-1 and look like the 2016 Falcons, which isn’t at all a terrible thing. Difference is, when you wind up where last year’s team wound up, you’re held to a higher standard. After games when you don’t look Super, we all wonder, “Why not?”

These Falcons have looked Super once – against Green Bay in Week 2. That’s the only game that couldn’t have gone the other way. If you’re an optimist, you’re saying 3-1 could easily be 4-0. If you’re a pessimist – and if you’re a Falcons fan, you probably are – you’re thinking they could be 1-3. Either way you’d be right, which says more about the NFL than it does these Falcons.

The NFL is not college football. There’s no Alabama among the pro set. Nobody wins big every given Sunday/Monday/Thursday. Every road game is a potential trap, and even home games aren’t gimmes. (To wit: Bills 23, Falcons 17.) Record-wise, the Falcons are fine. Not that everything in this world revolves around my predictions, but I had them at 3-1, albeit with the loss coming in Detroit. I also had them finishing 12-4, which would more than suffice.

Back to that part about these Falcons looking much like last year’s team: Among some folks, that won’t be cause for jubilation. There was hope that the 2017 assemblage would be Falcons 2.0 – a sleeker and swifter version of a team that should have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. They looked great in the first half against Green Bay and the first quarter against Detroit, but those are the only times. They had to hang on against the Bears and Lions; they needed a comeback, which didn’t quite materialize, against Buffalo.

I could recite a bunch of year-over-year numbers, but here’s all you need to know: The offense isn’t quite as irresistible as in 2016, while the defense is indeed much better. The Falcons are averaging 26 points, down by a touchdown per game off last season’s massive yield. Opponents are averaging 22.3 points, which is down by a field goal. The Falcons are fourth in total offense, down from last year’s second, but 13th in total defense, much better than last year’s 25th.

Football-wise, that was always going to be the story of this season: Can a better defense offset the loss of Kyle Shanahan? (Here we stipulate that, even had the offensive coordinator returned, the Falcons weren’t likely to be any better at moving and scoring than they were, last year having been a harmonic convergence.) Early returns have been encouraging. You can go a long way with a top-five offense and an almost-top-10 defense, which is what – yes, it’s a small sample size – the Falcons have.

In Sunday’s loss, the offense – by then minus Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu – managed two touchdowns. It turned the ball over three times in four second-half possessions. And yet: With three minutes left, the Falcons had the ball and a chance to win. A year ago, the offense had to keep scoring. This year, the defense is capable of holding up its end. In the grand scheme, that’s a good sign.

The offense under Steve Sarkisian hasn’t approached last year’s pinball wizardry, but it hasn’t been anywhere close to awful. Jones hasn’t scored a touchdown, which will surely change. (If it doesn’t, somebody needs to be fired.) Matt Ryan’s passer rating places him 22nd among qualifying quarterbacks, but that’s largely a function of five interceptions, three of which were tipped. ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating has him fourth, which is more like it.

The Falcons show no signs of needing to win games 13-10. Against Buffalo, 24 points would have carried the day. I haven’t found anything about this team I don’t like — hey, give me time – except that it’s getting hurt, which boils down to luck, or the absence thereof. Last year’s Falcons lost Desmond Trufant in early November and Jones for two December games, and that was it until Alex Mack broke his leg in the NFC title game. (He played in the Super Bowl anyway.)

With the NFL having a hard cap and free agency, there’s not much difference in talent. (Unless you’re the Browns. Then there is.) With nearly every Super Bowl team, we can say – after the fact – that it stayed reasonably healthy. With the injuries suffered by Ryan Schraeder, Vic Beasley Jr., Ricardo Allen and now Jones and Sanu, the Falcons already have been dinged in a way they weren’t last season. The good news: All of the above should return soon.

If the Falcons haven’t dazzled us yet – and in the main, they haven’t – that doesn’t mean they won’t make the playoffs. They should. They’re still good, just in a different way. To say, “This doesn’t look like a Super Bowl team” in early October means nothing. They’re 3-1, same as they were a year ago, and that team ended up … well, you know where.

Reader Comments 0

41 comments
McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Falcons in contention. The Cowboys aren't good as last year. And already beat Packers and Lions who are both 3-1. Eagles are decent and so are Panthers. Rams are a wildcard.


Falcons should at least make NFC title game. 

TideDawg
TideDawg

This is the same team that blew the Super Bowl......this also the same team that got to the Super Bowl. Only two teams accomplish that every year. Somethings missing....what, I don't know. It's not aging players, although Ryan can only go one way from his record year in 16. Ryan peaked last year.....one way to after a peak year. He doesn't have the same "Zing" he had last year. He is still good but don't expect him to be the record setting QB of last year.

TideDawg
TideDawg

I have to differ on the like part. Something is wrong with the Falcons. Some players don't believe in what they're doing. My guess is it's Ryan and the other offensive players. How did they manage to pick up Sark so quickly. Alabama canned him because of his play calling. Saban dropped him after he cost Alabama the NC with poor play calling. How could the Falcons possibly think he could do better as a professional OC? Sarkisian fought his way through an addiction that shattered his life. He recovered to the point of sobriety but alcohol destroys brain cells. I admire his determination to make it back and he has as far as non football activities are concerned. But, pro football is a nasty business and he's in the middle of it. He probably should have started much lower in the football world and worked his way back instead of jumping right into big time football. He is still to be admired for staying clean and overcoming the addiction that is always lurking and waiting to take over again.

Cousingeorgestone
Cousingeorgestone

You must be watching a different Falcons team play.  First, the Defense.  They've yet to stop anybody.


1) Chicago - they let a bum like Mike Glennon (who just reached his level and lost his job) direct drive, after drive, after drive.  The only, ONLY reason they won that game is due to luck, e.g., Bears receivers having stone hands.  Two things can be equally true.  Just because they were lucky does not mean the Defense played well- they clearly didn't in that game.


2) Green Bay-This was their best game but the Offense paved the way in this one- the Defense was just ok.


3) Detroit- See #1, Chicago. Luck.   Stafford wasn't even touched on the 91 yard drive down the field and but for an official's call they lose that game as well.  A receiver coming up 1/2 yard short on a freaking 91 yard drive at the end of the ballgame doesn't really count as a "stop'" in my view.  And this doesn't even take into account the pitiful play of Trufant to in this game and to date.


4 Buffalo- the Falcons have lost games like this with alarming frequency through the years as most of us who've followed them forever well know.  Sadly, I had the displeasure of watching the replay of this game yesterday.  What did it feature?  Giant, I mean GIANT gashes in the DL by the OL of Buffalo opening holes for McCoy and everybody else, the DL being dominated by a more powerful OL and linebackers out of position and missing tackle after tackle plus DB's blowing assignments.


Grade to this point?  C-.   If you feel like being generous maybe you give them a C but a B!  No freaking way.  

William Jackson-Pasadena
William Jackson-Pasadena

@Cousingeorgestone I agree with you. Same ole Falcons. Can't stop anybody in the 4th quarter. Terrible coaching. No adjustments at halftime. I hope they get it together in the 2nd half of the season. I have to disagree with the writer. AJC writers always drink the mgmt cool aid.

GSUEagle
GSUEagle

Just grind through the first half of the season then get hot the second half.  I'd rather them win ugly early rather that start hot and fade like two years ago.


Loss to Buffalo doesn't hurt much.  May be good for them.  Step up the focus!

DS
DS

I still can't believe the officials called Ryan's incomplete forward pass a fumble. That's 6 points right there, and the extra point made it 7. Falcons lost by 6.

So they not only had to beat the Bills, they also had to overcome bad officiating. It's too much.

DoubleSubject
DoubleSubject

They should have opened the roof. What was the excuse this time? No one to turn the crank?

Babycat
Babycat

Could care less about the NFL, period!

Eric_C
Eric_C

The schedule has been tougher so far this season.  In 2016, the Falcons started with TB, OAK, NO, and CAR...only one of which made the playoffs.  This season, they have likely faced three playoff teams already - GB, DET, and BUF, and they beat the Bears in CHI where PIT lost.  The combined record so far of their opponents is 10-6, and half of those losses were to the Falcons.     

jcarson
jcarson

You just have to play well enough early to survive.  Of course there would be an adjustment period with a new OC.  I expect this team to get stronger as the season goes on.  The loss of Schraeder has had a massive impact because we were already breaking in a new right guard (Wes has steadily improved btw...58, 68, 75 last 3 weeks according to PFF).  I think we will be fine.

PeteMTL
PeteMTL

What's not to like about the Falcons ? Their fans. My guess, 20,000 + empty seats vs Miami in 2 weeks.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@PeteMTL

Oh, look--another fan blamer.

ONE championship from FIVE pro teams in 170-PLUS seasons of competition spanning more than half a damn century, but it's the fans' fault.

Idiot.

David McCallum
David McCallum

The Falcons must replace Jack Crawford with someone who could be at least a lesser version of Crawford. what also has to be taken into account is the injury history of Claiborne. This guy is definitely prone to injury. How about Joey Mbu? is he around? He;s been in many Falcons camps he should know the system a bit, even if he's not that talented.

Big Wally
Big Wally

Someone is sniffing glue.  Offense is no where near what it was last year.  Right side of the OL is horrible, Ryan has happy feet again, Julio is hurt, yet, again, injuries are piling up,  Duke Riley doesn't know what he is doing.  It's a miracle they are 3-1.  Should be 1-3.  When they are 4-6 or 5-5 after 10 games, it will be interesting to see what Bradley says then.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@Big Wally 4-6 after the first 10 weeks...when did you start shooting up crack?

TideDawg
TideDawg

This OC may not have it!! The Falcons have already repeated the same mistake that probably cost them the Super Bowl victory, and it probably cost them the game against Buffalo.......maybe Ryan doesn't have it either!

TOJacket
TOJacket

@TideDawg You mutt fans are a queer crew???...Ryan doesn't have it?...that might be the silliest post I've seen since the season began....he QB'ed the 7-8 best offense in NFL HISTORY last year along with a unanimous MVP...damn!!

TideDawg
TideDawg

Regardless of the hype about Ryan and Sark being on the same page. It's no different than the first year of Ryan & Shannahan. Ryan is obviously not comfortable with Sark......why should he be. Sark should be listening to Ryan's input so they can jell.  Don't forget Ryan's age. He's old for a QB in the NFL. Last year may have been his last good one and it's downhill from there. Injuries, age, and a new OC......doesn't look good for the rest of the year.

gfw
gfw

Put aside the interceptions.  Beginning with the second game Ryan has not been accurate with his passes...short, medium, or long.  His gifted receivers are often contorting to catch the ball.  He wasn't without these problems last year, but it seems worse this year.  How often, even on short passes in the flat or slants over the middle, has he thrown behind the receiver?  A lot.

Techmate
Techmate

@gfw Yes, I agree that Matty Ice has been less accurate this year. That could be because he is not yet confident in the O-line. They are not protecting him as well as they did last year. Injuries and new guys are the issue. 

Maybe time for more roll-outs or play action in order to give him another second to throw. But I do feel confident that they will figure it out. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

"They’re 3-1, same as they were a year ago, and that team ended up … well, you know where."

_____________

Yeah, we know where alright--on the losing end of the greatest collapse in SB history.

That's where.

Techmate
Techmate

@kevkat @Jupiter_Jim @DawgNole Funny! Most people seem to forget that the Falcons were on no ones radar a year ago to even be near the Super Bowl. Not with the defense they had. The fact that they got as far as they did was testament to their unique offense and Quinn's coaching the D the last part of the season.

Gotta have skill and luck (with injuries) to make it to the SB.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Jupiter_Jim

Same way yours puts up with your incessant defense of losing.

Raise your lowly standards.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Techmate

They've been "on no ones [sic] radar . . . to even be near the Super Bowl" for 51 years.

You act like that's some sort of positive.