Can the Falcons make the playoffs?

Sam Monson examines Atlanta's recent string of losses, asking whether Matt Ryan and company can get back to their winning ways this season.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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?

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • crosseyedlemon

    They say that a winning attitude is contagious but that might even be more true of losing. When you start losing games you should have won your mindset shifts and you start having doubts. Before long you are expecting bad things to happen (you play not to lose rather than to win) and naturally they do….making it even harder to overcome adversity. There is no magic cure for breaking out of a slump in any sport but getting back to the basic fundamentals is as good a place to start as any. If the Falcons get back to executing the simple fundamentals well again the rest should take care of itself.

  • FalconBoyz

    Like a game of whack a mole, they rebuild the oline – now it’s the Dline and Offensive Weapons that they’ve gotta fix. Ugh!

    • Johnny

      The Dline has always needed a tune up.

  • Backinmd

    Don’t what’s up with the Falcons .. Some games they look unbeatable and others they look downright awful ..That interception, pick six from Ryan, never should have happened — he looked like Sanchez (Eagles) on that play ..Falcons gave them the game on a silver platter …

  • JGaLaXY

    Matt Ryan is so suspect, I don’t know what to do with him on my fantasy team. Really might go get Winston and start him this week

  • Luke

    As a falcons fan, these games are getting a little tough to watch. Most of my concerns are directed at the o-line. Earlier in the season, during the 4-0 stretch, they looked among the best in the league, but have since fallen to earth. Even against indy’s weak d-line, Matty Ice was under constant pressure all game. I’m not saying its just them, but they are definitely a huge factor in these losses.

    • Reshaad10

      I don’t agree with you on that Sunday Indy was loading the box after freeman got hurt the o line can’t block eight people at once

  • there_are_no_user_names_left

    I wonder if it’s time to dust off Jake Long at right tackle?

  • Johnny

    The Falcons are losing because 1) Kyle Shanahan is consistenly out coached, one of the best rbs in the game but goes away from him constantly and 2) Matt Ryan fails to read a defense post snap, he predetermines his targets and forces throws in coverage. The Defense would be fine if the offense weren’t failing to stay on the field for more than three downs. Btw, this article didn’t even answer its own question. The answer is no.