While the Falcons got a much-needed win in their home opener against the Eagles, there is sill room for improvement. Through two games, admittedly a small sample size, the Falcons have a top ten passing offence and, unbelievably, a top three defence in yards.
However, there are two areas where they need to make big improvements if they are to compete for the playoffs. The window is well & truly open for them. Injuries to Drew Brees and Cam Newton have limited their main rivals. Of course, it doesn’t rule out the Saints or Panthers – or the Buccaneers for that matter, but the race is now wide open.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, it doesn’t appear that they’ll face their division rivals whilst wounded. The Falcons face a brutal run late in the season, playing all of their division games in the final eight weeks of the season. It may help the Falcons to develop as a team before their divisional contests. However, if the Saints and Panthers are to come back improved teams with healthy QBs in the second half of the year, Atlanta will want to stack wins early to build up a buffer.
Defensive Efficiency Issues
While the Falcons have started well on defence, allowing only 277.5 yards/game, bettered only by the Ravens & Patriots, who have had the benefit of playing the Dolphins, the same can’t be said for their efficiency. Atlanta rank 21st in points allowed, conceding 24 points/game.
Unsurprisingly a big problem here is getting off the field. The Vikings and Eagles converted 14 of 28 third downs against Atlanta, keeping drives alive and tiring the defence. They also converted two of three fourth downs against the Falcons.
The stats aren’t too grim, again it’s only two games, but the Falcons are mid-table against the run. Teams are avoiding Grady Jarrett and testing the Falcons’ outside run D. In time, that will affect the pass rush, if they are having to focus on rush defence, and play action, on a regular basis.
Where’s Devonta Freeman?
The bigger concern for the Falcons has to be the running game. It will be a bigger issue if the defence’s form declines at all, as the Falcons won’t be able to control the clock, see Super Bowl LI. Atlanta are bottom five in rushing yards. That said, their 3.8 yards a carry is 22nd in the league, so they aren’t quite as inefficient as it looks.
However, part of why the Falcons made offensive line such a focus was to re-establish the running game. That hasn’t happened. They’ve also allowed 5 sacks which is mid-table. Chris Lindstrom is on IR, which hasn’t helped, but the whole group need to improve.
Ito Smith has been promising, with 63 yards on 10 carries. However, for Devonta Freeman, it’s a different story. The sixth year pro as ran for just 41 yards on 19 carries. It has been against good rush defences in the Vikings and Eagles but Freeman isn’t even troubling 3 yards a carry.
I know it may seem like I am overly negative on the Falcons. They got a crucial win against the Eagles and are, arguably, the current favourites for the division. But for them to seriously challenge beyond winning a weak division, they have to address these issues.
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