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Blame game won’t fix Falcons as season slips away

Things look cooked, but that’s not all within the team’s control.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons have fallen to 1-4.

As Falcons Twitter maven Evan Birchfield noted, no team has ever made it to the Super Bowl after a 1-4 start.

Unfortunately, 2018 might well be over. The reason for the slip? There are many, but Steve in Brooklyn put it well on Twitter himself recently.

Blame dirty, rotten luck.

Injury City

Go back to the second Keanu Neal went down, and then Deion Jones went down, and Devonta Freeman went down, and then Ricardo Allen went down, and then Takk McKinley missed a game, and then Desmond Trufant got hurt on a drive that let up a touchdown, and Justin Bethel went down, and Andy Levitre went down, and Derrick Shelby went down, and Grady Jarrett went get where this is going.

The Falcons came into 2018 with everything they needed to compete. Sure, you could say the defensive line didn’t have enough firepower, but you could survive that if the linebacking corps and secondary did what we all thought it was capable of. That offense? Well, it secretly was actually really good without any of us knowing it, though we didn’t see much of that Sunday.

If this team had not gotten smitten (smited? smitered?) by the bug of injury, they might be undefeated right now. They might not, given the state of the defensive line, but the You know, you can’t regulate luck. You either have it, or you don’t. Right now, the Falcons are running on empty in a car with two flat tires careening towards a flaming lake.

And it’s really not the team’s fault that they’re here.

Blame, Shame and Game

It’s fair to question if the team did everything it could’ve to make this not as bad as it could’ve been. When Neal went down, one wonders what would’ve happened if they’d just signed Eric Reid and let him get acclimated to the system. But then again, they also lost Debo and Devonta in that game. It was never just as simple as replacing one person, even if that would have staved off some o the criticism.

There’s no denying this defense is a problem. It’s an abysmal, injury-riddled shell of its former self. But do any of you think the Falcons could’ve just snapped their fingers to replace the heart, soul, brain and physical punishing force that Neal brought? We can be critical that a good safety like Reid was out there for the taking, but he was really it.

There was no easy cure for losing Debo, and should we really be all that critical of Dan Quinn wanting to see what he had in-house? Particularly when he knew what his offense was capable of? It’s fair to wonder if they waited too long to settle all of this once it was clear the in-house options weren’t working, but it was always just Reid. I’m still peeved they didn’t make that move, but would it have really made that much of a difference?

The offense has struggled on the road against outdoor teams with ferocious pass rushes. But they always used to do that. These are the types of games where defense is supposed to take over and make life easier on the offense. When the defense is virtually nonexistent, the good, even the best, offenses take a step back.

It’s fair to want more from what the Falcons have right now, but it’s not fair to want what was promised. That has been ripped away by the cruel specter of chance, and it won’t return until guys heal up and replacement guys can get comfortable in their new roles, and that may not come soon enough.

The missed tackles and busted coverages hurt, but a lot of that comes down to a lack of communication. Having your quarterback sacked six times stinks to high heaven, but that happens on the road sometimes against a pass rush willing to pin their ears back, even if it doesn’t say anything great about the line. We can coach from the sidelines as to who should play when, and why this guy is in or this guy is out, but there is method to the madness as to why they’ve done what they’ve done.

It might not have gone as well as hoped, but there wasn’t a lot they could do.

Aim for the Right Target

No, the Falcons cannot compete against good teams like we planned on them doing right now.

They’ve not navigated this period of malcontent with perfection, but they’re doing the best they can. They tried to lean on what they had, but it wasn’t good enough. Perhaps this team knows deep down what its limitations were without its favored sons. Perhaps we all expected too much when the foundation fell out on the house, including the team. Perhaps the season really was lost when the rain started to fall on that slippery Philadelphia field, and none of us knew it.

So stop blaming Dan Quinn.

He technically made the moves in the 2018 offseason to fix the offense and fielded what looked like for about a quarter-and-a-half against the Eagles to be a nasty defense (before it would become, well, a nasty defense).

Stop blaming Matt Ryan, who looked like an MVP for most of September after that first dud before struggling on the road to win games by himself.

Stop blaming Steve Sarkisian, who has wrung real improvement out of the offense after a rigid 2017 and who can’t do a ton when his offensive line can’t block.

Stop blaming the defense as it is, a ragtag assembly of guys out of position and out of their comfort zones, without the leadership, skill matching and communication necessary to really succeed.

Stop blaming some imaginary Atlanta curse that supposedly looms over the city’s sports teams, even if it seems like that sometimes.

Blame the bad draw. Blame the frustrating inevitability of what happens when the injuries begin to pile up. 2019 might actually be a huge change of fortune if the Falcons can actually field the team they planned on fielding, which will depend on better injury luck and some cap magic.

Yes, 2018 might be good and dead by now, but that’s not wholly on the Atlanta Falcons. It was poor luck, more than anything, that got this team to where they are today.