UPDATE: With the news of Andy Levitre’s injury, we thought it might be worth bringing up this previous article about Levitre’s impact on the offense. The original article was published before the season.
There is much being made about the potential for the Falcons’ offense to have a “bounce-back” year in 2018. Despite the team posting top-10 offensive numbers in many categories, including yards per play (3rd), passing yards per attempt (T-4th), rushing yards per attempt (T-7th), and third down efficiency (1st), they lagged behind considerably in scoring (15th).
Plenty of theories exist as to why the team fell off in points compared to 2016. Most revolve around offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, whose shaky and inconsistent playcalling resulted in a lot of stalled drives in the redzone. Others point to execution issues and simple bad luck—the Falcons posted a -2 turnover margin, with the defense not producing anywhere near as many takeaways as in 2016 and Matt Ryan suffering from abysmal interception numbers from dropped and tipped passes.
All that is summed up nicely by PFF: Matt Ryan had the lowest percentage of turnover-worthy throws in the league (0.9% of his passes). Four balls were picked from throws that were considered to be Ryan’s fault, while a whopping eight interceptions were considered “unlucky”. That’s historically the most ever thrown by an NFL QB, so we can expect that number to come down significantly in 2018.
Outside of some positive regression to the mean on offense and a more experienced and comfortable Steve Sarkisian, what else does this offense need? The answer might surprise you, but I believe that the health of LG Andy Levitre might be one of the keys to the Falcons’ offensive success during the 2018 season. Levitre suffered a partially torn triceps during the Week 13 game against the Minnesota Vikings, and the offense just wasn’t the same without him.
Levitre missed Weeks 13-16, coming back briefly during the Week 17 match-up against the Panthers before aggravating his injury. He was placed on IR prior to the playoffs, and the Falcons would be without his services for the remainder of the season. While the Falcons’ offense didn’t disintegrate entirely in his absence, there were some notable drop-offs in production—particularly against quality defensive lines, like Minnesota and Philadelphia.
Below is a table highlighting the pretty significant difference in offensive production with and without Andy Levitre in the lineup.
Falcons Offensive Numbers with and without Andy Levitre
|Statistic||With Levitre||Without Levitre|
|Statistic||With Levitre||Without Levitre|
The biggest and most notable drop off came in scoring. Atlanta fell from scoring 24.1 points/game with Andy Levitre—a number that would’ve ranked 10th in the league—all the way down to 17.7, which would’ve been good for 28th in the NFL. For context, that’s just ahead of the Miami Dolphins, who had one of the worst offenses in the league in 2017. Losing almost a full TD worth of points per game is a huge difference in terms of statistical significance, as well.
Outside of scoring, the Falcons got worse in every single facet of their offense. Total yards per game dropped from 373.4 (good for 6th) to 333.3 (14th). In the passing game, the team fell from 256.5 yards/game (T-7th) to 223.0 (18th) and dropped from what would’ve been a league-leading 8.16 YPA to 7.01 (T-14th). The same negative trend was also observed in the running game. Rushing yards/game only fell from 116.8 (11th) to 110.3 (17th), but YPC dropped from a very good 4.42 (7th) to a well below-average 3.86 (25th).
In short, the Falcons offense became less productive—both in terms of scoring and yardage—and the team’s efficiency in both passing and running took a significant hit. Whether or not this can be fully attributed to the loss of Levitre is an open question, but it’s hard to argue that his loss did not contribute in a big way to this late-season offensive regression. While Ben Garland filled in adequately in many games, his lack of high-end ability was exposed in a few match-ups—with the Eagles game being a particularly rough outing.
Atlanta’s offense was able to weather the up-and-down play of RG Wes Schweitzer in 2017—who, despite being a fan punching bag for most of the season, didn’t torpedo the offense—but could not hold up to the inconsistency of Garland and Schweitzer on the field at once. Luckily, the team seems to have recognized their depth issues. The signing of Brandon Fusco—who is an underrated player and should provide a sizable upgrade over Schweitzer—gives the Falcons another above-average guard to pair with Levitre.
This also isn’t the first time someone has mentioned Levitre as being a key part of the offense. We had similar discussions earlier in the offseason, where it was an open question whether or not the team would bring back the veteran for the 2018 season. Atlanta ultimately got Levitre to agree to a pay cut to stick around, and we’ve heard the front office express confidence in his abilities since then.
On an offensive line that already has an above-average LT in Jake Matthews, one of the league’s best centers in Alex Mack, and an underrated RT in Ryan Schraeder, a healthy Andy Levitre could be the difference between above-average and elite offensive line play. Reports prior to training camp expressed positivity about Levitre’s recovery, so we’ll have to hope that trend continues.
I’m excited about the offense’s potential to “bounce back” in 2018, but perhaps even more excited to see how the new-look offensive line elevates the play of the skill players. We all know how dangerous Matt Ryan is with time in the pocket, and the return of a healthy Andy Levitre coupled with the addition of Brandon Fusco could be just enough to push the offense over the top.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons offense in 2018? Do you see Levitre’s health as a key part of a potential rebound season? How do you feel about the offensive line as a whole heading into training camp?