The Atlanta Falcons offense has helped propel the team to three victories in four tries in 2017, but has it been the same caliber of unit under Steve Sarkisian that it was in 2016 under Kyle Shanahan?
I’ll spoil that for you: No. The Falcons’ offense is still among the league’s best, and is still on pace for a largely impressive season, but they’ve got a ways to go if they’re going to equal last year’s production. To help illustrate where they’re at, I thought it would be useful to see how the Falcons project to look in 2017 based on the last four games, and where they wound up in 2016.
All italicized, bracketed numbers below are from 2016, so you can see how this year’s pace compares to last year’s pace.
6,220 total yards (6,653)
4,200 passing yards (4,725)
2,020 rushing yards (1,928)
QB Matt Ryan: 332/540, 65.2% completion, 4,436 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 20 interceptions
(373/534, 69.3% completion, 4,944 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, 7 interceptions)
RB Devonta Freeman: 280 carries, 1,130 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 20 touchdowns, 36 receptions, 280 yards
(227 carries, 1,079 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns, 54 receptions, 462 yards, 2 receiving touchdowns)
RB Tevin Coleman: 116 carries, 732 yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 52 receptions, 612 yards, 4 receiving touchdowns
(118 carries, 520 yards, 8 touchdowns, 31 receptions, 421 yards, 3 receiving touchdowns)
WR Julio Jones: 76 receptions, 1,180 yards, 15.5 yards per reception
(83 receptions, 1,409 yards, 17 yards per reception, 6 touchdowns)
WR Mohamed Sanu: 64 receptions, 652 yards, 10.2 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns
(59 receptions, 653 yards, 11.1 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns)
WR Taylor Gabriel: 40 receptions, 516 yards, 12.9 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns
(35 receptions, 579 yards, 16.5 yards per reception, 6 touchdowns)
WR Justin Hardy: 12 catches, 124 yards, 10.3 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns
(21 receptions, 203 yards, 9.7 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns)
WR Nick Williams: 12 receptions, 120 yards, 10 yards per reception
(5 receptions, 59 yards, 11.8 yards per reception)
WR Andre Roberts: 4 receptions, 48 yards, 12 yards per reception
TE Austin Hooper: 40 receptions, 576 yards, 19.4 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns
(19 receptions, 271 yards, 14.3 yards per reception, 3 touchdowns)
TE Levine Toilolo: 12 receptions, 84 yards, 7 yards per reception
(13 receptions, 264 yards, 20.3 yards per reception, 2 touchdowns)
FB Derrick Coleman: 4 catches, 44 yards, 11 yards per reception
Suffice to say the offense is behind last year’s record-breaking pace, which is to be expected. The Falcons are en route to a better rushing season than they had in 2016, sure, but they’re also on pace to pass for 500+ fewer yards, and Ryan’s on pace to have his worst season since...well, 2015. If he actually threw 20 touchdowns and 20 picks, it’d be the worst effort he ever put together on the surface, but I doubt that’s gonna happen.
The larger concern here is that the passing game has been demonstrably less effective so far under Steve Sarkisian, but you do have to remember that it’s his first year, the offense has been dealing with some significant injuries, and the Falcons have only played one team without a quality defense. I expect things to get better going forward, but as I opined before the season, I fully expect this to be a top 5-top 10 offense, not the best in the NFL. So long as the team can stop turning the ball over so frequently and start connecting on the occasional deep pass, they should be there.
To do so, they’ll obviously need a healthy Julio Jones, more out of secondary options like Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Levine Toilolo, and (eventually) Eric Saubert, and the kind of week-to-week consistency from Austin Hooper that his talent suggests he can provide. Jones is legitimately great, Sanu has proven himself to be a capable option for Ryan, and the running backs are just tremendous all around players who lift this offense up, and despite some early shakiness Ryan is one of the game’s best quarterbacks. Throw in a dash of good health from the offensive line and I’m still extremely bullish about the unit.
How about you?