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What to know about the Falcons during the Week 9 bye

Where the Falcons are now versus last year, and their outlook going forward.

Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

It would be hard to overstate how much of a disaster the 2019 calendar year has been for the Falcons, but heck, let’s try. The Falcons are 1-7, they’re currently quite cap-strapped, and they’re in full seller mode. They cut, re-signed, and cut Matt Bryant again, they brought back Vic Beasley and only added run stuffers to a defensive line that hasn’t been able to bring any heat, they’ve lost three safeties to injured reserve, and they did all this in a year where two NFC South contenders were trotting out backups week after week and the division might have been somewhat in reach had they been actual contenders. They made a big show of shutting out outside noise but are now getting that noise from just about every quarter, Dan Quinn fired all his coordinators and took over the defense, and Dirk Koetter time traveled here from 2012 and has learned nothing.

Despite all of that, it’s still sort of astonishing that the team has fallen this low, because they didn’t contend in 2016 and 2017 and come very close to going .500 despite injuries in 2018 because they are an absolute butt football team. The only positive note to offer here is that players who have been very good in the recent past may well go back to being very good when the winds of change blow the stink of 2019 out of Flowery Branch, but that’s still a may. There’s just not a lot to feel great about.

We still have eight games to go, though, so let’s talk a little bit about where the Falcons stand and where they might be headed from here for the rest of 2019. We aren’t free of it just yet.

Falcons Comparisons

2019 vs. 2018 Falcons

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
2019 Falcons 1-7 21 7 1 29 31 27 23 21 31 26
2018 Falcons 7-9 10 6 4 27 25 28 27 25 20 7

It’s a half season versus a whole season, but behold! The 2019 Falcons are worse more or less across the board. They’ve been slightly stingier in terms of yardage on defense but worse in terms of points allowed, and they’ve both created fewer turnovers and produced more of their own in 2019, as well. The offense is worse, somehow, in every single way.

The offensive woes fall heavily on the shoulders of the offensive line and Dirk Koetter. Injuries have taken out Chris Lindstrom, slowed Kaleb McGary’s development, and taken bites out of Jamon Brown and James Carpenters’ seasons, but the healthy linemen just haven’t been great. The ground game has ground to a halt partly as a result of that. Koetter, meanwhile, consistently failed to scheme receivers open in the early going and, while he’s getting better about it, has also telegraphed the team’s intention to run far too often. It’s still a good offense, but it’s not longer even remotely great.

The defense has been an even bigger disaster. You don’t have to squint too hard to see good health and a better coordinator turning the offense back into a more capable unit in 2020, but my faith in this defense has been shaken a lot harder. They’ve managed a vanishingly small number of turnovers, few sacks, and have had lapses that are as remarkable as they are common. I still see talent on the depth chart here, but the defense is still the primary reason this team is where they are right now, standings-wise.

Even special teams hasn’t been immune. Matt Bosher went on the shelf, Matt Wile is gone, and now Kasey Redfern is the team’s punter. Matt Bryant is gone and replaced by Younghoe Koo, and generally this team just isn’t doing any of the things they traditional do well...well, well.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that the Falcons are worse than they were a year ago, despite more significant injuries in 2018. It’s time to make some serious changes up and down the org chart.

How the Falcons have changed

The most important things to hit the Falcons since the year began have been (what else?) injuries. That’s not to suggest the Falcons would be good without those—it’s beyond doubtful they would—but no discussion of how the Falcons have changed this season is complete with them.

Chris Lindstrom’s injury forced Jamon Brown and Wes Schweitzer to make starts at right guard. That’s been useful in a way because Brown has played well enough to be in the running for a starting gig next year, but getting Lindstrom back ought to help the line get back on track. The loss of Keanu Neal for the second straight season is more impactful, even if Neal didn’t quite look like himself in the early going. The Falcons have once again been putting it together with duct tape back there, with the latest move being Ricardo Allen spending time at strong safety while Damontae Kazee goes back to free safety.

Without an injury to Desmond Trufant, Kendall Sheffield doesn’t get much time, and he’s shown he’s at least ready for the opportunity. Overall, though, the Falcons haven’t changed enough to explain their total, systemwide failure.

How might they change in the second half of the season? With no major trades at the deadline—the Mohamed Sanu deal was a big deal, but happened last week—the most significant changes will be how the team juggles playing time for those already on the roster. I’m hopeful we’ll see more young Falcons who might be contributors down the line, but given this team’s ideological commitment to winning and their lack of willingness to entertain the idea that some of their reserves might be upgrades, I don’t expect that to happen until they pile up more losses. Sorry.

What should you know about what’s ahead?

It’s hard to find a game the Falcons will be favored in—or heck, even expected to really compete in—aside from the Buccaneers and Jaguars matchups.

The smart thing to do is set your expectations at zero, because the Falcons might exceed that. Normally I’d pick out a few games where I thought the team could triumph, but the reality is that if they don’t pick up their level of play significantly, they’re unlikely to win more than 1-3 games the rest of the way. If they get players communicating effectively and playing at a pre-2019 level, they might win more than those rooting for the best possible draft position will like, but that seems like a remote possibility.

What matters, now and for the rest of the year, is what the Falcons do with the time left to them. The team would be remiss not to take an opportunity to get rookies and second year players more playing time, as we know that the Vic Beasleys and De’Vondre Campbells of this roster are unlikely to be here in 2020, and so do they. They’re not going to flat out bench either guy—Dan Quinn’s unshakeable belief that they give him the best chance to win is why they’re still in there—but there will be chances for the Foye Oluokuns and John Cominskys of this roster to get on the field and make an impact, and I hope this team takes advantage of those chances.

We’ll root for a watchable team the rest of the way, and signs of promise from players who will matter in 2020. That’s the brightest note we can offer during this particular bye week.