It’s hard to find a more lackadaisical, directionless team than the Atlanta Falcons. They are predictable offensively with an offensive line that’s massively underachieving. They are hopeless defensively with a plethora of problems on every level of their defense.
For a team with the star power they have, it’s alarming to see them consistently outplayed on a weekly basis. There were notable flaws going into the season for them. Between questions across both lines and the uncertainty at cornerback, the Falcons were going to endure some setbacks this season. For them to look utterly helpless is something nobody could have foreseen.
After a decent first half showing on both sides of the ball, they completely crumbled in the second half. The offensive line struggled to handle their individual matchups and Wade Phillips’ various blitz packages. Dirk Koetter’s inability to adjust played a major role in their abysmal performance. It was another game where there was a clear discrepancy in coaching between both teams. The Rams are one of the most forward-thinking, innovative teams in the league. The Falcons are one of the most outdated, flawed teams in the league. That was evident from watching the game unravel as the Rams took complete control.
Offensive line letdown
There are numerous things to be disappointed about when assessing the Falcons. What isn’t being discussed enough is how poorly the offensive line has played for the majority of the season.
The front office spent most of the offseason revamping the offensive line. They signed two veterans in James Carpenter and Jamon Brown to bring experience and size to a group in desperate need of it. Drafting Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary showed their long-term intentions of adding stability to the right side of the offensive line. With Jake Matthews coming off his best season and Alex Mack being one of the premier centers in the league, the offensive line was supposed to greatly improve.
They have performed nearly as badly as they did last season. Lindstrom’s injury was a major blow, but the signing of Brown meant they had — theoretically — a capable replacement for him. The mammoth right guard has played better in recent weeks, although multiple injuries have forced him to miss snaps in the past three games. That has forced Wes Schweitzer back onto the field. Watching him block the likes of J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald resulted in pure carnage. On the other side, Carpenter has been a major disappointment. His reoccurring penalties and blunders in pass protection ruin drives on a weekly basis. As poorly as Carpenter has played, McGary’s pass protection woes are even more problematic. The rookie right tackle looks overmatched, particularly when facing speed rushers.
On 32 drop backs, Ryan was sacked five times and hit nine times. The pressure started with Dante Fowler beating McGary around the edge repeatedly. Eventually, Phillips started dialing up a variety of blitzes to exploit Atlanta’s disorganized offensive line. With Alex Mack clearly playing injured, they were able to run twists around him without much resistance. The Rams were having loads of success without Donald completely terrorizing whoever was blocking him in sight. He still made his mark with a strip sack in the fourth quarter, where he injured Matt Ryan in the process. It was impossible for the Falcons to find any rhythm offensively, given that they couldn’t provide Ryan ample time in the pocket.
When trying to address their flaws in the offseason, the front office knew they had to get better in the trenches. Beating teams like the Rams, Eagles, Saints, and Vikings requires you to be able to compete in the trenches. The Falcons were routinely manhandled last season on both sides of the ball. That hasn’t changed this season, despite all their major investments. Lindstrom is due to come back at some point in November. That’s one of about three positives about the current state of the Falcons.
How poorly they’ve fared as an entire unit is up there with the biggest disappointments of the 2019 season. Nobody has played at a high level, while the reinforcements brought in this season have failed to make an impact. It’s also possible that Ryan could miss his first game since 2009 because of their inability to keep him from taking frequent punishment. Not having an astute offensive coordinator could be viewed as another reason behind Ryan’s ankle injury.
Koetter continues to flounder
As badly as the offensive line has performed this season, there is no greater disappointment than Koetter’s return. The embattled offensive coordinator continues to rely on his old methods rather than adapting to the modern game. Instead of making the necessary adjustments, he relies on running plays out of shotgun far too often and doesn’t get overly creative with his play designs. For all the criticism of Steve Sarkisian, he showed a willingness to experiment and adapt with today’s modern game. Koetter doesn’t do that.
His offenses operate at an alarmingly slow pace. He rarely incorporates rub route concepts or creative play action designs into his game plan. When facing a defense as talented as the Rams, this becomes a major problem. While the Falcons possess one of the most talented offenses in the league, there are times when you have to scheme players open. It was one of Kyle Shanahan’s many specialties when he was breaking records in Atlanta. Koetter’s play designs rarely scheme players open. They often put extra pressure on the skill position players to find space or create separation.
The Falcons offense has been run so poorly since 2016 that it should be considered malpractice. Excluding a few big games, Sarkisian was largely overwhelmed in his two seasons as offensive coordinator. Besides the Falcons’ lone win over Philadelphia, Koetter isn’t bringing anything to the table to scare opposing defenses. His philosophy is essentially bland and predictable. In a league where offenses are evolving, the Falcons are as stagnant as you could be. Look no further than running a jailbreak screen on third-and-11 when facing a 27-3 deficit. For all the criticism directed towards Quinn, there is no reason why Koetter should be exempt from facing the same amount of criticism.
There is a growing possibility that Quinn could be coaching his final game in Atlanta next Sunday. For it to be against the team that helped elevate him into becoming a head coach is a storyline in itself. The possibility of facing Seattle without his franchise quarterback is also another potential storyline.
Times are tough in Atlanta. Without any signs of improvement, Arthur Blank will have to take action sooner rather than later. It could very well be at this time next week.