“When all hope seems gone, and your season pawned, who you gonna call?” “Takebusters!”
“When you punch your couch, ‘cuz this team’s a slouch, who you gonna call?” “Takebusters!”
*melodious 80s guitar riff* I ain’t afraid of no takes.
Well, it’s time for another edition of Dirty Bird Takebusters. This week, the Atlanta Falcons are 4-4, and it’s hard to muster much of anything but a shrug and a pint of ice cream. The schedule looks like a meat grinder, and with the team’s inability to really seal a regular season home field advantage (they’re 1-2 inside the new stadium), it’s hard to really get too excited about where this season is headed, even with most of the upcoming games at home (five, to be exact).
This edition of the DBT will be like one of those Bizarro Superman storylines, where your fearless Takebuster must face the morphed man in the mirror – the Bizarro Takebuster. Our journey begins after the Falcons’ latest loss to the Carolina Panthers...
THE FALCONS SEASON IS OVER WE’RE RUINING THIS OFFENSE’S POTENTIAL THIS IS AWFUL ARGH
HOT TAKE TRANSLATION
The Falcons’ inability to score points and accomplish much in short-yardage situations, coupled with Steve Sarkisian’s troubling penchant for fading into games when adjustments are necessary, dictates that Atlanta’s offense cannot self-correct before it’s too late. With the defense completely unable to put forth a consistent effort with its youth on the field and in the box, this Falcons team just isn’t good enough to make it to postseason play. The next eight games are going to be a maddening churn on the sea of peek-a-boo potential and disappointing descent. These Birds just aren’t built to last.
HOT TAKE VALIDITY: 40%
Ok, confession time….
The above hot take is homegrown. It’s mine.
After the Carolina game, I scoffed at the idea that this team was worthy of postseason play. After yet another blown lead, yet another stymied set of calls from Sarkisian, yet another breakdown in defensive clamping, this writer seriously considered for the first time in 2017 that these Falcons really didn’t have it this year — like, miss the playoffs didn’t have it.
The fall in scoring troubles (they’re on pace to score around 200 less points than last season). The Falcons really don’t have a lot of problem moving the ball, but if they don’t get their yards in gashes, the offense wilts when faced with moving short distances – particularly the short distance between the green and red zones.
The reality of Sarkisian is this – he’s been nowhere near as bad as anyone would think, but he’s been so much worse than Kyle Shanahan that he’s sent Atlanta into the lower-tier of the league in points. The house Shanahan built still stands, but its new manager is struggling to keep the lights on.
That’s not to absolve the tenants – guys like Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Wes Schweitzer, Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo and Derrick Coleman all need to play better in order for this offense to really start gelling again. The offensive line protections haven’t been as sharp this go-around, and that’s not something Sarkisian can control. The penalties from the offensive line are also particularly frustrating – nothing kills any attempt at momentum like a holding call or a false start. Penalties aren’t an epidemic this year, but the team needs to play cleaner. Their penalties tend to come at awful times, too.
There are streams running under this team that aren’t fun to unearth when you really dig deep. When you couple the shaky play calling with lapses with on-field performance, that’s indicative of an offense that isn’t ready for the postseason. If the red zone scoring, short-yardage play calling and player struggles aren’t rectified, 2017 is not going to be Atlanta’s year on offense. Simple as that.
On defense, it’s just hard to tell what this unit really is outside of middle-of-the-road. At times, they flash dominance. At times, they look like pigeons scurrying away from a barrowing toddler on a New York sidewalk. The youth on the field and with the coaching still makes this a high-low variance unit. The run defense remains a major liability, though, and with Dan Quinn’s preference for small-but-agile linebackers, it might take another flush of talent on the defensive line in 2018 to really get that facet of the game going. Disappointing, but the likely reality.
Things don’t look great right now. But, with eight games to go, it’s still too early to call this season kaput. It’s mightily tempting by looking at the murderer’s row awaiting the back eight, but logically, the Falcons are still alive, and still has about 85% roster that played in the Super Bowl in February. If they can win six of their last eight games, they’re 10-6, with a chance to contend for a Wild Card spot if the dominoes fall their way. It’s not what we expected, but it’s the path forward.
Now, this won’t be easy, mind you, and a lot is going to have to float to the surface, particularly with the offensive play calling. If this job is to be Sark’s in 2018, he’s going to have to further improve in short yardage situations, and, even if he fails, dial up more creativity in the red zone, and in general. Even if that means throwing some darts that just look ugly, it’ll still be progress. Right now, Atlanta is placid when they get within the 20-yard-line, and that’s not something the team can afford to be with the championship widow steadily closing each and every time a player gets older, and a contract becomes that much closer to expiring.
Visions of Gary Kubiak danced in my head earlier this week, and it’s tempting to envision this offense being run by a Super Bowl-winning head coach who has been lauded for his stints in the booth. He is a much better play caller than Sarkisian is right now, and there is no guarantee that Sark would ever be as good as Kubiak. But, Quinn runs the show in Atlanta, and Sark is his guy.
The head coach has shown strong loyalty to his hires ever since he arrived, though he keeps them on a short leash (see Richard Smith). If you’re looking for a new guy in 2018, that’d probably have to be spurned by a decision Sark makes himself to accept an opportunity elsewhere. No matter how this goes, Atlanta is very unlikely to let Sark go, no matter how the season turns out. He’s their guy right now, and in all likelihood, he’s going to be given time to succeed.
Sure, no one really knows what Sark is going to do to fix the problems, so it’s a wait-and-see game to see how he further responds. In his defense, he really does seem to be trying to adjust (unlike Shanahan in 2015, who crossed his arms until it was too late), and the offense was close to stringing together back-to-back mid-twenties road point performances, and likely wins, if not for a Julio Jones dropped touchdown. So, perhaps the progress is coming, slowly but surely. That’s all you can ask for.
As for now, I’ll cool myself on planting the gravestone on 2017, as should you. If they drop the next two to Dallas and Seattle, things won’t be as rosy for the Falcons or this writer, and it’ll seriously be time to have a frank discussion on the current state of affairs. But, until then, away we go.
Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the new Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.