Since the start of the season, the Atlanta Falcons have gone from Superbowl contenders to a 2-7 football team likely headed for a top-5 pick next April's draft. Even in today's up-and-down NFL (and considering the slew of unfortunate injuries to starters), that is one hell of a precipitous fall.
The season has, for all intents and purposes, become a lost one, and so naturally we begin to look ahead. he question on everyone's mind as we do so: who takes the fall?
Well I'm glad you ask, because today we delve into the 2013 Falcons Chopping Block Power Rankings! (*cheers and cries of indignation resound around the state of Georgia*).
Not Ranked: HC Mike Smith
I put Smitty on here not because I think there's any shot he will be fired at the conclusion of this pitiful excuse for a football season, but rather to emphasize what a long leash he has in Atlanta.
Remember: this is a football team infamous for firing a coach (Leeman Bennett) that had just taken the Falcons to three playoffs in three of the previous seasons. The coaches that followed him: Dan Henning, Marion Campbell and Jerry Glanville. Gross.
Dave already touched on Thomas Dimitroff's vote of confidence for the sixth-year head coach. And Arthur Blank, rich as he may be, is not so near-sighted and recognizes that Smitty has overseen a golden era of Falcons football: five straight winning seasons, four playoff appearances and a trip to the NFC title game last January. The mistakes have been more evident this season, but typically this has been one of the least-penalized teams in the league under Smith, as well. There are real problems with this football team, but as of now head coach is not one.
Not Ranked: QB Matt Ryan
Only the silliest of fans would call Ryan the problem. I'll say nothing more.
No. 9: GM Thomas Dimitroff
Are you shocked? This is less an expectation that Dimitroff will be fired this season or in the its aftermath and more an indictment of the way this team has been constructed the past couple of seasons.
If the preseason taught us anything, it's that this team lacked depth from the beginning, leaving it especially weak should a number of starters happen to go down with injury (hey, that happened!). The lack of a full compliment of draft picks for each of the past four seasons has fueled that to a degree.
Look at it this way: Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow were solid finds, but should Atlanta have to be starting two undrafted rookies at linebacker? No. There should have been players with more experience to step in (Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent didn't live up to that billing), but there weren't. The Falcons have also veritably whiffed on a number of draft picks in recent years, included but not limited to: Peria Jerry, Chris Owens, Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley and Dent. Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes have struggled mightily this year, and neither Jonathan Massaquoi nor Malliciah Goodman have been able to produce with consistency yet.
That, at least in part, falls upon scouting and the man who's ultimately pulling the trigger. It was just a matter of time before it caught up with the team. And that's not even considering the big-name free agent signings (Ray Edwards, Dunta Robinson) that have not panned out in Atlanta. Dimitroff has found good players, but he's made his share of bad moves, as well.
I think Blank remains satisfied with TD for now. But moving into next season or the year after that, there could be a bit more pressure on him.
No. 8: OT Sam Baker
That's one way to spend $41 million. Here's roughly how Baker's career arc has gone:
2008: "Lookin' good, rook."
2009-2011: "OK, not quite what we were hoping for in a first-round pick."
2012: "He's back and playing better."
I was never a big fan of resigning him back in March, and I'm certainly not now. He's either been injured or ineffective this season, and were he not owed about $25 million in guaranteed money I'd be expecting an imminent release. So while Baker is not earning the money he's been paid, he's still unlikely to get the ax this season even if his health remains an issue.
No. 7: FS Thomas DeCoud
By now it's easy to see what DeCoud's ceiling is as a player: a servicable starter who will make his share of plays and whiff on just as many. His biggest asset comes as a ballhawk, but there's been nothing of the sort from him this season and he's continued to employ his trademark bad-angle / missed-tackle combination in several games this year. He's got three years left with the team on his contract, so he probably stays, but I wouldn't automatically rule anything out this offseason.
No. 6: WR Harry Douglas
Again, here's another Falcons re-signing that made me scratch my head.
Douglas, a former third-rounder, is in the second season of his four-year, $12.5 million extension. And with Julio Jones out for the year and Roddy White hobbled for an extended period of time, Douglas' chance to shine was no better than this season.
Excluding two 100-yard games against the still-winless Buccaneers and Arizona, Douglas hasn't been able to become that consistent No. 1 man Atlanta needed. Really, he's been little more than a role player throughout his career with the Falcons, and that was certainly made clear against Seattle on Sunday. If you look at the entire body of work, it's not that great.
No. 5: LB Akeem Dent
Not sure this even needs much explaining. Dent has not lived up to his draft status and has been outperformed by a pair of UDFAs. He's a good thumper against the run, but more and more this game requires linebackers that can cover well in space, and he just hasn't developed well as a third-down defender. He and Stephen Nicholas would both seem to be on the outs right now.
No. 4: CB Asante Samuel
Pick-six hasn't had many of those this year (just one interception, actually). With Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford looking like the corners of the future, and of course the two years and roughly $8 million left on his deal, it's not a stretch to think that Samuel winds up as a free agent after the season as Atlanta looks to continue rebuilding on defense.
No. 3: OG Garrett Reynolds
The line's been terrible and Reynolds is one of the more obvious sore spots on the line, and with Konz and Holmes still in their second years he's the most likely to go. Here's another case of a lineman who looked good last year (when he was healthy) but struggled before that and has struggled this season. Why might that be? See the next entry.
No. 2: OL coach(es) Paul Dunn / Pat Hill
I'm not exactly sure how the duties are delegated between these two (maybe those beat reporters should get on that), but the offensive line has been indubitably bad this season.
Injuries to Baker and Mike Johnson may have affected this, but this team ranks last in the NFL averaging 64.3 yards rushing per game and has continued to struggle running the ball in short-yardage and goal-line situations. And though the line has only been credited with allowing 16 sacks on the year, the eye test tells us Ryan has been hit or pressured many, many times more.
This team has spent several draft picks on linemen and, so far, none have really attained consistency beyond a lone season here or there (though I would say the jury is still out on Konz and Holmes). I can't seem to remember a year where the line possessed quality depth, either. It's on one or both of these two coaches.
No. 1: DL coach Ray Hamilton
James touched on this previously, but I think there's no question that Atlanta's defensive line performance throughout Smith's tenure has not been on-par with what should be happening. It has come to a head this season and has left the linebackers and secondary dreadfully exposed.
Part of that falls upon Smitty, who is himself a former D-line coach, but as the head coach you become less directly involved with the day-to-day progression of players. Hamilton has been with the Falcons for the past six years, and in those six years the team has lacked any pass real rush outside of John Abraham or, this year, Osi Umenyiora.
Massaquoi, Goodman, Cliff Matthews, Lawrence Sidbury, and Stansly Maponga are all names that caused Falcons fans to feel hope, but how long must we wait for a pass rush? There absolutely needs to be a change in how this team approaches its defensive line.
It's important not to get too hasty with a team that just last January was one well-placed red zone pass away from appearing in its second ever Superbowl. But after a season like this, something has to change or else the fans grow restless and lose faith in the team's management.
What say the lot of you? Who should be next to go?