Can the Falcons make the playoffs?
The Atlanta Falcons are not only busy wasting their good start (5-0) to the season (while losing ground to the undefeated Panthers in the NFC South), but they are now fading fast in the NFC Wild Card picture, too.
The Falcons have become a team that is making big, costly mistakes, having undone in a heartbeat what took them significant time and effort to accomplish.
Take QB Matt Ryan’s performance against the Colts on Sunday as a prime example. Ryan executed a lot of good plays and earned his team some impressive gains, but when he did make a mistake, it turned out to be a deadly one. His pick-six was one of the worst throws of the week, and simply gifted LB D’Qwell Jackson and the Colts seven points at a time when the Falcons were ahead by seven early in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons are becoming too reliant on Ryan playing mistake-free football—and on WR Julio Jones bailing them out with big plays.
Devonta Freeman, the fourth-ranked running back for PFF (86.1), is having an excellent season, but when he was forced to exit the game with a concussion early in the contest, the drop in talent down to rookie Tevin Coleman was significant. Coleman was ineffective (-2.9) for the game, and has been a disappointment so far this season (67th ranked RB at 43.0).
The Falcons have been trying to get other weapons involved in the passing game, but WR Roddy White (102nd ranked WR at 52.9) is not the player he once was and seems unable to consistently separate, while WR Leonard Hankerson (111th ranked WR at 48.5) has dropped eight passes on just 44 targets (compared to just six dropped from Jones on 127).
While the defense has improved considerably since last season (17th-ranked, compared to 27th in 2014), they are still dealing with a large share of issues. It’s their inability to make the big play that has hurt them this season. The team leader has just two sacks, and there isn’t a single player with more than 23 total pressures. Compare that to Denver LB Von Miller, who leads the NFL with 56 total pressures—more than Atlanta’s top two edge rushers combined.
This lack of pressure has made it tough for the coverage units on the back end, and even though CB Desmond Trufant (sixth-ranked CB at 87.9) is thriving despite those conditions, the same cannot be said for the rest of the Falcons’ back seven. Atlanta now has 11 players with negative grades at linebacker or in the secondary.
In hindsight, Atlanta’s season looks far less impressive now due to a fast start that featured wins over some pretty bad teams. Yet, all three games during their recent losing streak by a combined seven total points were games the Falcons have to feel were theirs for the taking.
This isn’t a bad football team, but they now must prove themselves down the stretch, starting with a huge home game versus Minnesota and two upcoming games against 10-0 Carolina.
Will the Falcons continue to fade, or will they right the ship on both sides of the ball?