It’s now Week 5, and the Falcons (1-3) are coming off a thorough drubbing at the hands of the Titans (2-2). Next up on the schedule are the Houston Texans (2-2), who have a lot of talent scattered around the roster but have been having some coaching and execution issues early in the season.
The Falcons are in desperate need of a win, with 1-4 essentially being a death knell for any playoff hopes. They’ll need strong performances on both sides of the ball to secure the victory on the road. Here are some of the Falcons players and coaches that you’ll want to pay close attention to on Sunday.
It’s now Week 5, and Dan Quinn still hasn’t proved that he can coordinate the defense any better than his predecessors. We’ve seen extremely questionable coaching decisions with regards to the defensive scheme for several straight weeks. Ever since beating the Eagles in thrilling fashion, the Falcons defense has played a ton of soft zone. Quite simply, they look timid out there, and it’s led to big problems defensively.
When opposing WRs have 5-8 yards of cushion on every play, they’re free to make uncontested catches. That’s what happened against the Colts, when Jacoby Brissett started 16-of-16 and carved up the defense. Against the Titans, the Falcons allowed far too many free releases which led to huge plays for the likes of A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. Atlanta isn’t putting their CBs in a position to contest catches, which means there’s no opportunity to create INTs. It’s also causing problems for the pass rush, who have been winning their battles but can’t seem to get home before the ball is out.
It’s put up or shut up time for Quinn. The defense has to play aggressively, like they did against Philadelphia, if Atlanta wants to have any chance of slowing down Deshaun Watson.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Falcons are having similar issues with their scheme. Dirk Koetter was supposed to come in and provide a veteran presence at offensive coordinator, taking aspects of Shanahan’s, Sarkisian’s, and his own scheme and making it the best of all worlds. Instead, we’ve seen the West Coast concepts abandoned almost entirely in favor of Koetter’s predictable Four Verts attack.
The Falcons aren’t using their elite WR trio nearly enough, and they’ve been far too predictable out of 11 personnel. When you pass almost 85% of the time in 3 WR sets, you’re not fooling anyone on the defense. Koetter’s route combinations have been totally vanilla, and we’re not seeing as much play-action as we should. I haven’t even mentioned the rushing attack, which has essentially been shelved after a poor start to the season. Koetter needs to get it together, and quickly, or he’ll be out the door with Quinn in a few weeks.
The offense scheme has been doing Matt Ryan no favors, but one thing is clear: he must cut down on the turnovers. Atlanta is now -5 in turnover margin after only four games, which is downright abysmal. The turnovers are a big part of why the offense is producing yards at a top-10 rate, but is towards the bottom of the league in scoring.
We need to see Ryan be more careful with the football and get this offense back on track. A lot of that depends on Koetter and deploying Ryan’s weapons more effectively and creatively, but at the end of the day, Ryan makes the decision about where to throw the ball. If he can limit his mistakes, the Falcons will have a much better chance at pulling out a win on Sunday.
The pass rush
Lost in the Falcons’ 1-3 start has been the good overall play of the defensive line against both the run and pass. Despite facing a huge number of rushing attempts through the first four weeks, Atlanta’s run stuffers have continued to put in a strong effort—holding opposing RBs to just 3.7 YPC. They’ve also been effective as pass rushers, with a pass rush win rate that’s among the best in the league.
However, much like the Eagles, that win rate hasn’t translated into many sacks. The issue is the secondary, and a defensive scheme that makes it too easy for opposing QBs to dump the ball off. The Falcons’ CBs aren’t contesting any catches, and it’s not giving the defensive line much time to get home. Still, Atlanta’s pass rush has a favorable matchup against a Texans offensive line that has been giving up a ton of sacks. Getting pressure on Watson will be key to limiting the Houston offense in Week 5.
The offensive line
The Falcons offensive line has been battered with injuries through the first four games, and they’re now down to their 3rd string RG in Wes Schweitzer. There’s a chance they could also be without C Alex Mack, which would require even more shuffling as Schweitzer is the primary backup at C. Even though rookie RT Kaleb McGary has been solid thus far, the revolving door at RG is making continuity a huge issue for a unit that has had basically none of it since training camp.
Atlanta’s OL will have to play a very good game to keep the team in this one. Houston’s secondary is very vulnerable, but their pass rush is fierce. Giving Ryan time in the pocket can lead to big plays and a lot of downfield opportunities. They’ll also need to have a good game on the ground, as the Falcons have become far too one-dimensional on offense thus far. Solid blocking up front will go a long way in alleviating some of the Falcons offensive issues.
What are your thoughts on the Week 5 matchup between the Falcons and Texans? Who are some players and coaches you’ll be watching closely on Sunday?