With the 2018 season in the books for the Atlanta Falcons, let’s take a look at the things that went right this year.
It seems like centuries ago that the Atlanta Falcons were taking the field on a Thursday night in Philadelphia to take on the defending Super Bowl champions on national television. Little did we know that the Falcons were embarking on a wild roller coaster ride of a season that concluded with a 34-32 win over divisional foe Tampa Bay.
The talented Falcons went 7-9 and undoubtedly underwhelmed in a season that many picked the Falcons to make a postseason run and a few prognosticators went as far as picking the Falcons to hoist the Lombardi Trophy by season’s end. So, to weed through the 2018 campaign, let’s highlight some of the highs of the season and what went right through the Falcons 53rd season in the NFL.
An Elite Season From Matt Ryan
You’ve probably heard a few times from the writers here at Falcoholic and few here and there within the sports media realm that quarterback Matt Ryan had himself quite a season in 2018. Dealing with a run game that was inconsistent to say the least and an offensive line that was equally inconsistent, Ryan posted stats that were eerily comparable to his 2016 MVP season.
2016: 373-of-534, 69.9% comp., 4,944 yards, 38 TDs, 7 INTs, 9.3 YPA, 13.3 YPC, 309.0 YPG
2018: 422-of-608, 69.4% comp., 4,924 yards, 35 TDs, 7 INTs, 8.1 YPA, 11.7 YPC, 307.8 YPG
Unfavorable circumstances surrounded Ryan for most of the season, yet the 11-year veteran showed why he is worth the contract extension he signed back in early May. During the season, Ryan also surpassed Peyton Manning for the most passing yards by a quarterback in their first 11 seasons. As it stands, Ryan is also 12th all-time in career passing yards. Unfairly, he gets the blame for the team’s downfalls but not enough credit is given to a quarterback that has made a case for a slot in the Hall of Fame once he hangs up the cleats for good.
A Gem In The Secondary
Injury after injury after injury haunted the Falcons defense, especially in the secondary. By the time the Falcons completed their third game of the season, the team had already lost starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen to season-ending injuries in the form of a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles, respectively.
So head coach Dan Quinn had to rely upon a young defender in second-year defensive back Damontae Kazee to help fill the void. That he did, as he totaled 82 tackles, a forced fumble, 10 pass deflections and landed in a three-way tie with with the Bears’ Kyle Fuller and the Dolphins’ Xavien Howard at the top of the league in interceptions with seven.
A sign of things to come was displayed during the preseason for Kazee with his aggressive play and penchant for always finding himself around the ball. As Neal and Allen look to return 100% and land back in their starting spots for the 2019 season, the task is to now find a role for Kazee as he is too valuable to be relegated to the sidelines.
Career Year For Grady
Sometimes, we tend to forget that he was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Four seasons on the job for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has proven that he is one of the better interior defensive tackles in all of football.
The 2018 season produced his best expedition in his career with 52 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles, and eight tackles for loss. Now, Jarrett enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent and deservingly so, will receive a hefty payday. Jarrett is a priority for the Falcons and their plans going forward and it is as close to a guarantee as you can get that he will be a Falcon in 2019 and beyond.
Top Notch Receivers
The success of Matt Ryan this past season was built in large part to the trio of receivers he has at his disposal. It starts with the first-class talent in Julio Jones. The eight-year dynamo led the league in receiving yards with 1,677, first in yards per game with 104.8, fourth in receptions with 113, and even added eight touchdown receptions to boot despite not finding the end zone until Week 9 against Washington. This was also his fifth straight season of earning a selection to the Pro Bowl.
Alongside Jones was an excellent rookie in Calvin Ridley, a fellow Bama product who posted 64 catches and led the team in touchdown receptions with 10. Rounding out the group was Mohamed Sanu, who also manufactured a career year with 66 receptions, 838 yards, and four touchdown catches.
Behind the combination of Jones and Sanu, the Falcons already possessed one of the best tandems in the NFL, but stealing Ridley in the draft with the 26th overall pick gave the Falcons another superb weapon to expand the offense. While this trio was unable to showcase their talents in the playoffs, they did prove that they are arguably the most lethal trio of receivers in the NFL.