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Are these the 2015 Falcons again, or are we closer to the 2016 team than we think?

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Mulling over where Atlanta stands.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, the sky is falling. Or is it?

In this article, we’ll take a look at what everyone really wants to know: Is the offense closer to 2015, 2016, or is it flat out worse than both? When you think of the Falcons’ offense you think of a couple key guys: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. They were some of the main conduits of this offense in 2015 and are still here today. So those are the guys we will key in on, while others will be mentioned later on.

2015:

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We all remember 2015. The very first season with new head coach Dan Quinn, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. We remember the demise of Roddy White and the Shanahan-led offense finishing 8-8 after a great 5-1 start. But let’s not forget: lost in this otherwise mediocre season was the emergence of Devonta Freeman—though the fall of Roddy White, the lack of execution later in the season, and the center struggles overshadowed it.

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan’s stats games 1-6 in 2015.

Julio Jones

Julio Jones’ stats games 1-6 in 2015.

Devonta Freeman

Devonta Freeman’s stats games 1-6 in 2015.

Tevin Coleman

Tevin Coleman’s stats games 1-6 in 2015 (note, he did not play week 3 or 4.)

As you can see, Ryan had a pretty decent first 6 games. He put up 8 TDs to 4 INTs, 1,751 yards and completed less than 65% of his passes just once in those first 6 weeks. Freeman came out of no where, literally, during the game against the Dallas Cowboys and he never looked back; notching 9 rushing TDs and a receiving touchdown in the first 6 games of the 2015 campaign, along with 3 games of 100 yards or more. Julio was Julio and had an INSANE first 3 games of 130 or more yards, and kind of came back down to WR1 status (Because he was even above that those first 3 games). Overall, the team did pretty well those first 6 weeks. We all know how it ended up, however.

2016

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In the offseason, the Falcons brought in highly respected center Alex Mack, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, and claimed Taylor Gabriel off of wavers prior to the 2016 season. They also added tight end Austin Hooper in the draft. That led to much better results in the first six games, as you’ll see below. We’ll add in Mohamed Sanu because he was brought to Atlanta to be the wide receiver opposite of Julio Jones.

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan’s stats games 1-6 in 2016.

Julio Jones

Julio Jones’ stats games 1-6 in 2016.

Mohamed Sanu

Mohamed Sanu’s stats games 1-6 in 2016.

Devonta Freeman

Devonta Freeman’s stats games 1-6 in 2016.

Tevin Coleman

Tevin Coleman’s stats games 1-6 in 2016.

The first thing that separates 2016 from 2015 is Matt Ryan’s TD to interception ratio. Going from 8 TDs and 4 INTs to 15 TDs and 3 INTs is pretty wild. Now, no one knew Ryan would finish the way he did, but the beginning of the season was pretty crazy considering he also had over 2,000 at that 6 game mark. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman got off to a pretty slow start, but they ended up combining for 8 total touchdowns at that point in the season. Mohamed Sanu had a nice opening game for the Falcons and then kind of took a back seat. Julio had 3 games of over 100 yards, including that insane 300 yard game against the Carolina Panthers.

Overall, the team wasn’t all that different in the first 6 games of 2016 and 2015. The team even had a better record at that point in 2015. Of course you have to factor in opposing defenses, and schematics and what-not, but the glaring difference was Ryan having a crazy start to the season in 2016, which appeared to be due to an increased comfort level with the offense. Freeman had a better campaign after 6 games in 2015 as opposed to 2016, but let’s continue.

2017

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In the offseason the team didn’t really add any offensive weapons, or lose any. So they should be 6-0 right? Well, they aren't—so “we suck again!” Lets look at things statistically and see what the problem is. “We’re cursed” isn’t technically a statistical analysis.

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan’s stats games 1-6 in 2017.

Julio Jones

Julio Jones’ stats games 1-6 in 2017. (He missed part of the Buffalo game)

Mohamed Sanu

Mohamed Sanu’s stats games 1-6 in 2017. (He missed part of the Buffalo game and did not play against Miami)

Devonta Freeman

Devonta Freeman’s stats games 1-6 in 2017)

Tevin Coleman

Tevin Coleman’s stats games 1-6 in 2017.

Okay, so...we suck. End of story, have a nice day!

Okay, just kidding. The eye popping number is Ryan’s TD to INT ratio. 7 TDs and 6 INTs, after that crazy 15/3 in 2016. Let’s note that 3 or so of Ryan’s interceptions were off tipped balls from his own targets, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt in that regard. Ryan has 1,590 yards on the year which is 500+ less than he had at the same point in 2016, but it’s also less than he had in 2015 by around 200+ yards. Devonta Freeman has 5 touchdowns on the year which is more than he had in 2016 but less than what he had in 2015. But let’s remember, he had games of back to back 3 TD games in 2015. Sanu is producing at about the same rate as in 2016.

Summary

Looking at the basic stats, you can’t find that many differences. Ryan's numbers, however, are closer to 2015. The running back receiving targets have dropped a bit, from 45 to under 40. But not by much, they have run the ball around the same amount of times (but that SWEEP ON 4TH AND GOAL!) But looking at 2017 to 2016, there really aren’t that many differences in the beginning of the season—which gives reason to be optimistic, even if the results in terms of points scored has been less than ideal.

There aren't many differences from 2017 to 2015 also, which makes you wonder just how close this team is to being significantly better in the near future. Statistically, they’re pretty close to how they’ve performed the past two seasons. So hold your breath and hope the trajectory points up like 2016, rather than down like in 2015. We must have pride in knowing that the defense has improved and seems to get better each week. So either way, at least we’re not the Buccaneers.