The Atlanta Falcons are coming off one of their worst seasons in recent memory. After finishing the season with a disappointing 4-12 record, you might think the entire team was a complete failure. While that may be partly true, it doesn’t tell the whole story of why the Falcons didn’t succeed in 2013. Let’s take a closer look at every Atlanta Falcon player on offense to see where the team can improve next season.
Disclaimer: This list will not contain practice squad members, players who didn’t play a snap, or played so little it is impossible to grade them.
Matt Ryan: This was easily the toughest year for Ryan since being drafted by Atlanta in 2008. He was sacked a career-high 44 times, while being forced to run for his life seemingly every other play. It is really a miracle that he didn’t suffer any serious injuries. Ryan lost his top weapon, Julio Jones, early on and didn't have a healthy Roddy White until late in the year. The Falcons also finished dead last in rushing yards, putting more pressure on Ryan and leaving the play-action fake all but useless. Yes, there were times when Ryan forced the ball in tight spaces trying to make something happen. He later admitted to pressing and wanting to do too much.
He finished the season with 4,515 yards, 26 touchdowns, a career-high 17 interceptions, and an 89.6 passer rating, which is right on par with his career average.
All things considered, I think this was a decent year for Ryan. He learned how to better avoid pressure in the pocket, and put up solid numbers without his best receivers. If Ryan wants to return to the elite class of quarterbacks, he will need much better protection from his offensive line.
Steven Jackson: We’ve all heard it before, but Steven Jackson was supposed to be the "missing piece" the Falcons needed to reach the Super Bowl. And just like before, we were fooled. Jackson dropped the game-winning pass Week 1 against the rival Saints and his season went mostly downhill from there. Jackson pulled his hamstring the following week against St. Louis and spent the next month and a half recovering. When he finally returned against Arizona, Jackson was completely ineffective with a 0.5 yards per carry average, although the Falcons offensive line rarely opened any running lanes for him. As the season went on, Jackson looked to be regaining his strength and vision with big days against Buffalo and Washington, totaling 4 touchdowns while blowing up Redskins’ defensive back Josh Wilson on a monstrous touchdown run at the goal line.
Jackson showed flashes of what the Falcons thought they were getting when they signed the former Rams Pro-Bowl running back at the start of free agency, though injuries and a struggling offensive line prevented him from reaching his full potential.
JacQuizz Rodgers: Although Rodgers will probably never be a feature back, he is everything you want in a backup. He runs with power (just ask Earl Thomas), quickness, catches out of the backfield, and shatters opponents ankles on a regular basis. He proved to be a quality back when Jackson went down, and became a dangerous weapon for the Falcons in the red-zone. Rodgers should be even more effective if the Falcons can upgrade the offensive line in the offseason.
Jason Snelling: Snelling’s season was marred after being arresting for drug possession, but that didn’t stop him from being a useful backup for the Falcons in 2013. He provided versatile depth for a position that’s been lacking a star since the Pro Bowl years of Michael "The Burner" Turner. Snelling spent some time at fullback, caught a few passes, and continued to fool everybody with that sneaky shovel-pass play. Although he was mostly dependable, he was largely unexciting.
Antone Smith: Alright, Smith didn’t play in many games, but how could I not include him on this list? Smith set Falcons Nation abuzz when he exploded with long touchdown runs against Tampa Bay and Buffalo. Had he not dropped a perfect deep pass from Matt Ryan in that same Buffalo game, fans might still be screaming for him to start. Coach Mike Smith surprisingly didn’t give him many more opportunities, but that should change in 2014. Not only did he average 29 yards per carry, Antone Smith played absolutely outstanding on special teams, frequently making impressive tackles down the field. He should’ve been in the Pro Bowl for his efforts.
Bradie Ewing: Ewing broke his shoulder in the second game of the season, but showed promise as a solid run blocker and receiver before he went down for the second year in a row. He needs to stay healthy in 2014 if he wants to remain on the roster going forward. If not, he’ll end up being the next Kerry Meier.
Patrick DiMarco: DiMarco exceeded expectations when he was called upon after Ewing went down. He provided solid run blocking, and had a great game against Panthers star linebacker Luke Keuchly in Carolina, neutralizing him for most of the contest. Other than that, he didn’t provide much else. He’ll be in the competition to start again next season.
Julio Jones: Jones went down with a foot injury early on and was put on IR. He was having a monster season before going down with 41catches, 580 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He was on pace for a Megatron-like 131 catches and 1,856 yards, which would have been absolutely ridiculous. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next season to see him fully blossom into an All-Pro receiver. Get well soon, Julio.
Roddy White: Roddy White wasn’t remotely close to the receiver we’ve all come to know and love until late into the season. Ankle and hamstring injuries sapped his play-making ability and speed, making him nothing more than a decoy in most games. Finally, in the last month of the season, he showed us what we had been missing by torching the respected defenses of Carolina and San Francisco for over 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If White would have given himself more time to heal from his high-ankle sprain, he would had another one of his 100+ catch and 1,000+ yard seasons. Here’s to a healthier 2014.
Harry Douglas: Douglas will never seem to get over his curse of coming up short in crucial moments. Although he had his first career 1,000 yard season in 2013, fans will never forget him tripping over himself on the way to a would-be easy touchdown in the NFC Championship game in 2012. He had his fair share of gaffes in 2013 as well. From losing a fumble on the final drive versus Seattle, to popping a pass up in the air, leading to a game-killing 89 yard defensive touchdown against the 49ers (again, on the final drive), Douglas might not ever be able to shake his label for rarely coming up clutch. Other than than his horribly bad luck, Douglas had the best season statistically of his career. He stepped up when White and Jones were injured, and is an important part of this receiving core.
Drew Davis: Known mainly for his special teams abilities, Drew Davis was asked to do more in 2013 due to injuries. He had a big catch of 59 yards against San Francisco and another against Green Bay of 36 yards that went for a touchdown. He provided decent depth at wideout and was a good contributor on special teams. He struggled to get open at times and needs to improve on getting separation this offseason.
Darius Johnson: Darius "Hands of Truth" Johnson made the team as an undrafted free agent rookie out of SMU. He impressed in the preseason and was put on the practice squad at the start of the year. He made his season debut against Tampa Bay, and had his biggest game of the year against rival New Orleans with 6 catches and 67 yards. Johnson scored his first career touchdown against Seattle’s vaunted secondary. Johnson has a lot of upside, and could be the starting slot receiver down the line.
Tony Gonzalez: 2013 was the final season in the decorated career of the future Hall of Famer. Tony Gonzalez didn’t go out the way we had all hoped, but he did go out as a true professional. He didn’t ask for a trade when the Falcons were clearly out of playoff contention, and he didn’t throw anyone under the bus for the failed season. He simply strapped on his helmet, and enjoyed every second of his final year. He also spent time tutoring and setting an example for the young tight ends on the roster, showing them what it takes to be successful at the next level. Gonzalez will be sorely missed in 2014. He continually made impossible catches look easy, and was Matt Ryan’s security blanket. If it weren’t for his poor blocking that nearly got Ryan killed, he would get an A+.
Levine Toilolo: Standing at a sky-scraping 6’8’’, Levine Toilolo is the tallest player in the NFL at his position. He used his height in 2013 to become a red-zone threat and showed flashes that he deserves a chance to be first in line to attempt to replace legend Tony Gonzalez. He would have gotten more snaps this season had Gonzalez not been savoring every last moment (as he should have been). If Toilolo can put to use all the knowledge he learned from Gonzalez and improve his route running, he could be a very solid option going forward.
Chase Coffman: After showing huge potential during the preseason, Coffman disappeared when the games actually counted.
Sam Baker: Seemingly made of glass, Baker missed significant time with injury yet again. He didn’t come close to fulfilling his part of the six-year, 41 million dollar deal he signed this past offseason. In the few games he was healthy, Baker looked like a capable, but not dominating player his contract says he should be.
Lamar Holmes: Quite possibly the worst of the entire offensive line, Lamar Holmes was beaten badly week in and week out all season long. He did show some progression at year’s end, but clearly he wasn’t ready for the NFL this season. Holmes admitted to a lack of conditioning, which left many fans scratching their heads. How can a professional athlete possibly be out of shape? Holmes has a lot of work to do this offseason if he wants another chance at a starting job.
Jeremy Trueblood: Trueblood was a desperation signing once the Falcons lost Sam Baker to IR and realized Holmes couldn’t compete. Trueblood didn’t make any difference on this disaster of a position. He looked slow, old, and was constantly beat all year long. It wouldn’t be all that shocking if 2013 were his last in the NFL.
Mike Johnson: Johnson won the starting gig at right tackle in the preseason, but ended up not playing a single snap after breaking his leg early on. This is nothing new for Johnson. He simply can’t stay healthy long enough to make any sort of impact.
Ryan Schraeder: Hailing from Valdosta State, Schraeder impressed many after making the team as another undrafted free agent rookie. He got plenty of snaps toward the end of the year, and showed a ton of promise. Tony Gonzalez singled him out during an interview, saying that he believed Schraeder will turn out to be a great player one day.
Justin Blalock: A true model of consistency for the franchise, Blalock was the only consistent performer at a position that was anything but. Although he was only consistently average, he was still leaps and bounds better than every other Falcon guard in 2013.
Garrett Reynolds: After showing some promise before an injury in 2012, Reynolds completely imploded this past season. He made Falcon fans wonder how it was physically possible for a man so large to get tossed around like a rag doll. Reynolds was benched for Peter Konz, who was just as bad, if not worse.
Harland Gunn: 2013 was the year fans finally got to see Harland Gunn in real game action. After spending much of his young career on the practice squad, Gunn was placed on the active roster late in the season and looked like a man who was prepared to make the most of his opportunity. He showed power and aggression in the run game, and was steady pass blocking. Gunn could have a bigger role in 2014 if he continues to progress.
Peter Konz: Probably the biggest disappointment on the offensive line, Peter Konz simply had a disaster of a season. A former 2nd-round pick, Konz was supposed to come right in and take the reigns from retired Falcon great, Todd McClure, without the offense ever skipping a beat. Konz was abused and overpowered in almost every game until he was finally benched for Joe Hawley. Konz’s next start was at right guard, where he gave up three first quarter sacks to Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Konz never really showed any improvement, leaving many to label him as a massive bust. Suffice to say, Konz earned every bit of his grade.
Joe Hawley: Originally thought to be the successor of Todd McClure, Joe Hawley spent all of his time as a backup until 2013. Although he lost the battle to start in training camp to Peter Konz, he eventually replaced Konz after he was benched. Hawley came in and was an instant upgrade at center. He showed good technique and nastiness that the line was missing all year. Hawley never dominated, but he provided stability and called the correct blocking assignments that Atlanta badly needed all year.
This unit would have been better without injuries, but no excuse can be made for the offensive line’s dismal performance.
Cumulative Grade: C
Analyzing and Grading every 2013 Falcon Defender
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