So here we are, fresh off a loss to the sports hated New Orleans Saints, dropping our hometown Atlanta Falcons to 8-8 to finish the 2015-16 campaign. This spells a 3rd straight trip out of the postseason for the Dirty Birds but an improved record overall. As a fan I am disappointed but as an analyst I can say that it is right on schedule with what this team realistically is comprised of.
Producing a show with Jon Chuckery back in August, we discussed what this team would be going forward. I predicted then that the team would be 9-7. The reason for that prediction at the time was it was never constructed previously for a quick turnaround, because along with Head Coach Dan Quinn being new, the entire offensive and defensive philosophies were new. The team still lacked quality trench players in both the offensive and defensive lines and you were not quite sure what you would get out of Rookie Linebacker/Defensive End Vic Beasley. Everyone counted on the offense being pretty good but did not know what the defense would give you.
We all received “fools gold” in that the team got out to a 5-0 start. They also featured a running game with Devonta Freeman along with the ability on defense to play “fast and physical”, one of Quinn’s mantras for the team. However after losing the next seven out of eight we soon found out that this teams was nowhere near SuperBowl ready. They would finish winning the last two out of three, including knocking off an undefeated Carolina Panthers team, but everyone can see this is definitely no means a finished product. There were some good, bad, and ugly for the Atlanta Falcons this season and I will address those, not in a “stat geek” sort of way but judging from a true football eye.
As previously stated Devonta Freeman, the second year running back out of Florida State showed flashes of his ability last year but this season was definitely his coming out party. Freeman was not the projected starter coming out of training camp but took advantage of an injury to Rookie Tevin Coleman, who to pundits was regarded as the better runner for this Kyle Shanahan Offensive System. Freeman soon established himself as the complementary piece to Wide Receiver Julio Jones in the Falcons’ Offense. Devonta Freeman ran with “bad intentions”, using speed, decisiveness, and body lean to become a true focal point for an opposing defense. I look forward to what he and Coleman will do as a 1-2 punch in 2016.
The pass rush for the Atlanta Falcons Defense was still little to non-existent. There were times that the rush would get in the backfield and knock opposing quarterbacks off their spots but most of the time there was plenty of time for them to step up in the pocket and make plays downfield. If the team cannot upgrade that position in the off-season then regardless of other major upgrades, quarterbacks within the division will continue to pick apart the Falcons’ Secondary. While there is some potential with 1st Round Draft Pick Vic Beasley, a complementary bookend would go great with his speed coming off the edge.
For 8 seasons, Matt Ryan has been a sure thing in Atlanta. Coming out of a quarterback carousel after the Bobby Petrino Era, Ryan was just the stability the franchise needed. He has produced outstanding numbers, particularly stratospheric numbers with former Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter, but under this 1st season with Kyle Shanahan it appears early that he has regressed. Coming into his 3rd offensive system, a learning curve was expected, however in 16 games, Ryan NEVER looked comfortable. Matt Ryan was just on the cusp of elite status coming into this season, but throwing untimely interceptions and looking absolutely “dazed and confused” in the pocket creates doubt as to whether or not he is on the decline or can he coexist with the new offense. I have always personally liked Ryan’s skill set but always questioned did they match what the offense is asking him to do. The franchise has locked up Ryan for several years to come but it will only go as far as #2’s right arm can take them.
Overall, the loss to the New Orleans Saints will sting for the rest of the off-season because they are a hated rival but the franchise is in good hands and has the potential to be back on the right track. The hiring of Dan Quinn was absolutely a win for the Atlanta Falcons. He brings toughness and grit to a team that needed it along with the technical aspect of the simplification of the defense. You can also see the potential in the offense with Jones and Freeman, giving both an “aerial assault” and ground attack.
However, there are some serious issues that need to be addressed. The overall upgrading of talent is paramount. Whether the front office remains in tact or not for the Falcons, more trench players must obtained by whatever means. Also a close analysis of whether or not Matt Ryan matches the offensive philosophy of Kyle Shanahan must be done. Pieces can always be obtained but if the one pulling the trigger is not adequate for the offense then something or someone has to change. Hopefully 2016 will be a banner year for the Atlanta Falcons and 92.9 The Game will have all your coverage as the flagship station.
Jamie Walker is a Producer, Reporter, and Blogger for Sports Radio 92.9 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @coachjdub21 or reach him through email at Jamie.Walker@cbsradio.com.