After starting 5-0, the Falcons have now lost 5 of their last 6 and 4 in a row. It's a painful ride for fans whose hopes were lifted, and it's a reminder that the team that won just 10 games over two seasons was not going to be fixed overnight. The last 5 or 6 games have hammered home the reality that the Falcons are just not a good team right now. That doesn't mean they can't win any more games, but it does mean fans need to adjust their expectations to be in line with reality, or we'll all end up dying of liver failure. With that said, here are my takeaways from the game.
The defense is good, but is missing key pieces
Given their bottom of the league rankings in 2013 and 2014, it's clear that Dan Quinn has already made tremendous improvements in this Falcons defense. However, the best defenses have high-caliber players at each level, and after watching this team against the Vikings, it's clear the unit is still missing some key pieces.
None is more glaring than the hole at linebacker. Although Paul Worrilow has been a leading tackler on the team, it's clear his best role would be as a backup - not as the leader of the defense. Upgrading at linebacker is going to be critical this off-season. Likewise, the team needs a second pass rusher to go with Beasley (who played well, despite the missing stats) in 2016. Teams are providing extra help to take on Beasley, and no one else is able to consistently challenge the tackles on passing downs.
With that said, this defense does have some very nice pieces in place right now. Our play at defensive tackle has been very good, while our corners are playing very well overall. Jalen Collins looks rough, but is developing with each snap. Ricardo Allen has turned into a quality free safety while William Moore is beginning to settle into this new D.
If the Falcons can find just a few more players to fill the gaps, this could be a top-10 D in 2016 with the potential to be even more in the future.
The offense needs to be rebuilt
Fan frustration is rightfully focused on the offense right now, with varying people blaming either Ryan or Shanahan or both. As is normally the case in these situations, the reality is probably a mix of everything - rather than a single person or play being the sole culprit. But there's a larger issue at play, and it may be the "real" reason this offense has struggled.
The talent on this offense - outside of two or three guys - is woeful.
Let me be clear: Ryan needs to stop forcing the ball and play smarter. There's no excuse for some of his plays the past few weeks. But anyone expecting him to "carry" the offense needs to consider what is around him, because it is a factor in the decline of this offense.
The interior of this offensive line has steadily gotten worse in pass protection over this slide. The combination of Levitre, Person and Chester was never going to be the long-term solution anyhow, but it's painful to watch this unit blow protection calls or just get manhandled at times. On the failed fourth down conversion, Ryan literally had 1.1 seconds from the snap until he was hit. There isn't a single QB in the league that can compensate for that, and it needs to be fixed for the long-term.
At receiver, the drop off after Julio is pretty severe. Roddy is not able to consistently get separation anymore. Hankerson can get separation, but has terrible hands and has been absent a lot due to hamstring issues. Hardy is still too green to produce consistently, while Nick Williams just doesn't have the physical tools to challenge defenses much. Tamme is a good option, but also seems to struggle with creating separation consistently.
It's a sobering reality, but the failed draft classes from 2011-2013 have robbed this roster of talent. We've failed to properly replace guys like Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, and we're now fielding an offense that is built around just two offensive skill players in Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. The rebuild is underway, but it's going to take time.
This team is about 2016 and 2017
In case the previous two points didn't hammer it home, this one should: this team is - and has always been - about the 2016 and 2017 seasons. There are still too many holes on this roster for it to be a worthy contender, despite what the 5-0 start lead us to believe. The good news is that with another good off-season and draft class, there's no reason many of those holes can't be patched. It's just not going to happen this season, and the sooner we come to grips with that, the less frustrated we'll be.
What are your takeaways from the game against the Vikings?