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The Falcons are focused on winning the field position battle in 2018

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Justin Bethel’s signing is a sign.

Atlanta Falcons Practice Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Falcons’ season ultimately died out for a number of reasons, chief among them the sorry state of the offense. Steve Sarkisian’s unit simply didn’t score at the clip we expected it to, and that was particularly lethal against the Eagles, when the defense did yeoman’s work holding Philadelphia to 15 points only to watch their compatriots on the other side of the ball put up a mere 10 points. When you discuss the Falcons getting better in 2018, you start with the offense, period.

But as is often the case, the picture is a little more nuanced than that. The Falcons proved adept at ripping up plenty of yardage, but too often their drives fizzled short of six. That has a lot to do with the red zone offense, but it also has something to do with special teams.

The Falcons in 2017 “enjoyed” the second-worst starting field position in football, averaging a start from the 25.96 yards out. Andre Roberts had plenty of yardage as a returner, but the Falcons had far too many drives start from the 5, 10, or 15 yard line when a touchback gets you 25 to start with, and there’s little question more productive returns would have resulted in more points, if only through an increased number of opportunities close to the goal line.

The same is true on the defensive side of the ball, where the Falcons allowed the ninth-highest starting field position for opposing offenses. Matt Bosher had some weird, hiccupy weeks where he contributed to that, but the net effect of a listless special teams coverage unit had a much greater impact, and it led to the team cycling through gunners late in the year.

So it’s little surprise that the Falcons are focusing on that, because you can fix up special teams for a much lower price than fixing up your offense. They signed special teams ace Justin Bethel with an eye on improving their coverage unit, and they’ll move on from Andre Roberts and on to options like Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis and perhaps a draft pick with an eye on better decisions and more productive returns in 2018.

Whether this will help is anyone’s guess, but it’s also worth noting the Falcons probably aren’t done changing up what they’re doing on special teams. It is good to know that the Falcons simply aren’t focusing on getting Steve Sarkisian to improve his play calling and giving him more weapons, though that surely needs to be a focus. Anything they can do to help the offense start in a more favorable position—and give the defense a long field to work with—can only help them rise to new heights in 2018.