There's an interesting read over on the Redskins' official site, detailing Mike Smith's perspective on the hallmarks of a disappointing season. Gabe Hiatt has crafted an interesting comparative between the Redskins and the Falcons, and you should read it.
Both teams won their respective divisions and were playoff teams last season. Both teams had high expectations coming into this season. Both teams did not live up to those high expectations in any way, shape or form.
Smitty referenced Atlanta's turnover ratio, the tendency to give up explosive plays, and third down defense as key elements of the Falcons' struggles this season. He didn't mention the injuries, and Smitty has been resolute about not using injuries as an excuse, but they certainly have been a factor in most of those elements.
As far as turnovers, the Falcons are currently ranked 28th in the league with a turnover ratio of -11. Last season, the Falcons finished the regular season with a turnover ratio of +13, good for sixth in the league. The Redskins are currently 20th in the NFL with a turnover ratio of -3, and finished the 2012 season with a ratio of +17, which was good for third in the league. Both teams have experienced precipitous drops in that category, and both teams are suffering for it.
In terms of explosive plays, the Falcons haven't gotten any better in an area they struggled with at times in 2012. Last season the team gave up a total of 53 plays of 20 or more passing yards, and this season, with three games remaining, they have given up 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards. The Falcons were 28th in the league in 2012 for explosive rushing plays, giving up 16 rushing plays of 20 or more yards. This season they have given up 10 rushing plays of 20 yards or more.
Washington is actually worse than the Falcons as far as allowing explosive passing plays. The Redskins have given up 52 explosive passing plays this season--good news for Matt Ryan and company. They gave up 58 such plays through the entirety of the 2012 regular season. The Redskins have given up nine explosive rushing plays this season--the same number they allowed all last season.
Smitty's third criterion for a bad season is third down defense, and the Falcons are currently dead last in the league in this category. The Falcons weren't great at this last season, allowing opponents to convert 40% of third down attempts, which put them 25th in the league, but this season's 46% third down conversion percentage for opponents is definitely a step back.
This is an area in which the Redskins have actually improved from last season. They finished 2012 ranked last in the league for third down defense, with opponents managing a conversion percentage of 44%. This season's 35% conversion rate is good for seventh in the league. It's a big turnaround, and a bright spot for a team going through some dark days.
The Redskins and the Falcons have more similarities than just their records. It will be interesting to see how these two struggling teams match up on Sunday.