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Falcons’ offense should give defensive coordinators nightmares in 2018

The operative word here is “should.”

Atlanta Falcons v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons have been a predominantly offensive minded team since they drafted Matt Ryan in 2008, despite having two head coaches with defensive backgrounds in that time period. The talent Atlanta has possessed on that side of the ball has just been too overwhelming for the team’s identity to be anything other than offense.

While the Falcons have made great strides defensively, and hope to step into being a top-five overall defense in 2018, they will once again go into the season having an unimaginably talented offensive unit. This is, in my opinion, the most talented offense in Atlanta Falcons history, and probably the most talented team in general in franchise history as well.

The usual suspects

We all know the familiar faces on the offensive side of the ball, who help make this team what it is. Matt Ryan is a top-five quarterback in the NFL and is just a year removed from winning the MVP award. Julio Jones is an elite wide receiver and complete mismatch against every cornerback in the league — he must consistently be double teamed and game-planned around. Devonta Freeman is among the five best running backs in the NFL.

To have just those three players and some backups around a good offensive line would be enough to make the Falcons an incredibly formidable offense, but it goes beyond even that for Dan Quinn’s team.

A stellar line and supporting cast

The offensive line is not only good but elite. Alex Mack is among the three best centers in football. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are rocks at the tackle positions. Andy Levitre is a reliable veteran who has done everything asked of him at the left guard position. Atlanta’s weak link in 2017, right guard Wes Schweitzer, has been replaced by a reliable and sturdy veteran presence in Brandon Fusco. Pro Football Focus ranks the Falcons’ offense line second in all of football.

Atlanta’s secondary playmakers take this offense over the top. Mohamed Sanu is one of the most reliable WR2s in all of football. Calvin Ridley was a first-round pick and is expected to make an immediate contribution and Austin Hooper is fully expected to take that next step into being one of the league’s better tight ends. Hope surrounding the performances of Ridley and Hooper this season is growing following a superb showing by both of them in Atlanta’s second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Sarkisian question

The operative word in this article, however, is “should” and not “will.” Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who struggled in his first season with the Falcons, is expected to take a step forward with his play calling with continuity in his corner and Greg Knapp there to help him out.

The Falcons, who had one of the most talented offenses in the league last season as well, averaged only 22.1 points per game in 2017, good for a mediocre 15th in the NFL. Nobody is expecting them to get back to their 2016 form, when they averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game, but a comfortable medium between these two spectrums must be found if Atlanta’s offense is going to carry them to new heights.

There will be mismatches all over the field for the Falcons’ offense in 2018; it’s up to Steve Sarkisian to put the players in position to exploit those mismatches, and it’s up to the players to execute. Atlanta’s pass catchers recorded 30 drops in 2017, which was the most in the NFL. A repeat of this would be unacceptable, and thankfully, is unlikely.

Likewise, if this offense averages anything less than 26 points per game in 2018 (a mark which was sixth best in the NFL in 2017), then some very difficult questions will be asked of Steve Sarkisian and the offensive braintrust.

Very few teams possess a defense which can keep up with Atlanta’s high-flying attack, if any. I’m not interested in hearing anymore excuses for why the offense isn’t performing. To have a repeat of the 2017 season would be to waste a year of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ prime, and that’s just unacceptable.