Key fantasy questions around the NFC South
(This is the sixth of an eight-part, four-week series from Pat Thorman attempting to answer pressing fantasy questions in each of the NFL’s divisions. Follow the whole series here.)
As we do every July during the run-up to training camp, let’s take a spin around the league to ask – and attempt to correctly answer – one fantasy-relevant question of each team. Links to all divisions can be found here, and the NFC South is up next. This season, the division takes on defenses from the AFC North and NFC East.
(Want to research your questions for yourself? Sign up for a PFF Elite subscription and get access to all our stats.)
How can the Falcons bounce back from a fantasy-unfriendly season?
The narrative surrounding the Falcons’ 2017 offensive slump focuses on new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian failing where predecessor Kyle Shanahan succeeded. While there is truth to that, Atlanta still ranked in the top-10 for yards per game, per play, and per drive. The per-drive numbers are where things get interesting, because despite the solid showing, they ran a meaty 44 fewer red-zone plays than the prior season.
The loss of red-zone opportunities wasn’t reflected in overall play volume. In 2016, the Falcons ran 62.2 plays per game (seventh-fewest), and last season it was 61.5 (eighth-fewest). Of course, in 2016 they crushed most opponents and took their foot off the gas during the second halves of games (third-slowest snap pace) relative to first halves (10th-quickest). There is reason to believe the 2018 Falcons will pick the pace back up.
Back in 2014, during their final season with Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator, Atlanta ranked sixth-quickest in situation-neutral pace. The next year, in the first season under Kyle Shanahan, they slowed to 17th. During Shanahan’s second season, however, the Falcons were the fourth quickest situation-neutral offense. Last year, with Steve Sarkisian coordinating an NFL offense for the first time, Atlanta again slowed to 21st.
Other than first-round receiver Calvin Ridley, the Falcons offense is essentially the same, and now has a full year with Sarkisian under their belt – including four-fifths of our third-ranked offensive line. It’s not outlandish to expect another resurgence in snaps per second.