After losing the past two games, many around Atlanta are wondering whether they should be prepared for yet another Falcons’ collapse or whether this team is different than the 2015 version.
Although last year’s team started 5-0, the general opinion is that this group of Falcons is better equipped to right the ship and reach the postseason.
Instead of just relying on an “Eh, trust me” approach as a basis for my belief that 2016 will be different, I thought it would be a good practice to compare both of these teams at this point in the season.
I will start with the 2015 team and look at opponent records, margin of victory, relevant offensive and defensive stats, key players and give a brief synopsis of the confidence in that team entering Week 8. I will then do the same for this year’s Falcons.
2015 Atlanta Falcons after Week 7 (6-1, 0-1 NFC South)
Opponent’s cumulative record through Week 7: 18-29 (38.3%)
Point differential: +43 points
Total offense: 2,822 yards (3rd in NFL)
Passing yards: 1,915 (8th)
Rushing yards: 907 (2nd)
Scoring offense: 193 points (3rd)
Offensive turnovers: 10 (T-15th)
Total defense: 2,473 yards (18th)
Passing yards allowed: 1,923 (26th)
Rushing yards allowed: 550 (4th)
Scoring defense: 150 points allowed (15th)
Defensive turnovers: 12 (T-7th)
Sacks: 8 (32nd)
Top offensive players
Matt Ryan: 172/267 (64.73%), 2,002 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs, 90 QB Rating, 18 carries, 49 yards
Devonta Freeman: 131 carries, 621 yards, 4.5 YPC, 9 TDs, 34 catches, 310 yards, 1 TD
Tevin Coleman: 42 carries, 183 yards, 4.34 YPC, 1 TD, 1 catch, 10 yards
Julio Jones: 89 targets, 58 catches, 730 yards, 5 TDs, 12.62 YPR
Jacob Tamme: 43 targets, 32 catches, 369 yards, 1 TD, 11.18 YPR
Top defensive players
Paul Worrilow: 47 total tackles, 1 INT
Justin Durant: 48 total tackles
William Moore: 36 total tackles, 2 INTs
Robert Alford: 19 total tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD
Vic Beasley: 17 total tackles, 2 sacks,
Although Atlanta jumped out to a quick 5-0 record, and pushed that record to 6-1 through seven games, there weren’t many performances indicative of that record. The only game in which the Falcons looked clearly better than their opponent was the 48-21 victory over Houston, and even then Atlanta let a 42-0 lead slowly melt during the fourth quarter.
There was a real sense of optimism in Atlanta after Week 7, but that was mainly due to the record than the team’s performance. Missing the playoffs after a 6-1 start would require a historic collapse, which many didn’t believe was possible at that point. The record could be considered misleading as it was the result of close wins over mediocre opponents.
2016 Atlanta Falcons after Week 7 (4-3, 2-1)
Opponent’s cumulative record through Week 7: 23-21-1
Point differential: +30 points
Total offense: 3,035 yards (1st)
Passing yards: 2,233 (2nd)
Rushing yards: 802 (14th)
Scoring offense: 229 points (1st)
Offensive turnovers: 6 (7th)
Total defense: 2,703 yards (26th)
Passing yards allowed: 2,060 (31st)
Rushing yards allowed: 643 (9th)
Scoring defense: 199 points allowed (27th)
Defensive turnovers: 8 (20th)
Sacks: 15 (T-14th)
Top offensive players
Matt Ryan: 165/244 (67.62%), 2,348 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs, 113.6 QB Rating, 19 carries, 60 yards
Devonta Freeman: 105 carries, 508 yards, 4.8 YPC, 2 TDs, 22 catches, 169 yards, 1 TD
Tevin Coleman: 59 carries, 234 yards, 4 YPC, 5 TDs, 19 catches, 330 yards, 1 TD
Julio Jones: 65 targets, 40 catches, 830 yards, 4 TDs, 20.8 YPR
Mohamed Sanu: 40 targets, 23 catches, 258 yards, 2 TDs, 11.2 YPR
Top defensive players
Deion Jones: 41 total tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD, 3 PD
Keanu Neal: 41 total tackles, 2 FF, 2 PD
Vic Beasley: 20 total tackles, 3 FF, 6.5 sacks
Robert Alford: 32 total tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD, 9 PD
Desmond Trufant: 22 total tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 sacks, 4 PD
It’s easy to see that the caliber of opponent Atlanta has faced this season is much greater than in 2015. In fact, the NFC South has dragged down the overall record of the Falcons’ opponents. The division is a cumulative 6-15, while Atlanta’s non-division opponents are 17-9-1. The Falcons have been in every single game they’ve lost while controlling several games this season.
Matt Ryan appears to be much more comfortable in his second year with Kyle Shannahan’s offense, which is easy to see on the field. Atlanta’s defense has taken a step backward, but that’s likely due to the number of rookies playing this year. That inexperience has cost the Falcons at times, but there have been positive signs from many of the young players on this defense, which leads me to believe the unit is trending in the right direction.
Atlanta has earned its record this season, whereas last year the Falcons played to the level of their opponent too often. This year, Atlanta has won some games comfortably – despite late-game defense making the score a little closer – and stood toe-to-toe with some playoff-caliber teams.
Of course, numbers only tell half of the story. What do you think, are these Falcons different than the ones that folded down the stretch last season?