When we’re looking for a comparison for 2019, the year that keeps getting dredged up, over and over again, is 2014. It’s obvious why.
The parallels are there. Both years have featured a coach coming off a deeply disappointing, injury-riddled year and knowing they’re on the hot seat. Both have featured heavy investments in free agency and the draft to improve the trenches. And both seasons, as we’re learning quickly about 2019, are massive disappointments.
With another regime change likely in the offing, it’s worth looking at the situation the Falcons were left with in 2014 versus 2019. The conclusion, as you’d suspect, is that this team is far more talented, but that does not serve to make us feel better about anything that’s happening here.
2019 vs. 2014 Offense
There is no doubt that the 2019 offense is more talented more or less across the board. Matt Ryan is better now than he was in 2014, Devonta Freeman is far better than Steven Jackson, Calvin Ridley is an upgrade on late-career Roddy White (albeit not a tremendous one just yet), Austin Hooper is miles and miles ahead of Levine Toilolo, and Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are obviously much better than...well, Jake Matthews. And James Stone.
There are places where the Falcons had more strength in 2014, of course. Fullback is an obvious one, given how good Patrick DiMarco was and is, and even late career Justin Blalock was better than James Carpenter. Jon Asamoah may not be better than Chris Lindstrom, but Lindstrom being hurt and the team having to dip into reserves makes that close to a wash. And it’s not at all clear that McGary, for all his considerable promise, is a better player now than Ryan Schraeder was then. Actually, it is: He’s not.
But here’s the funny thing: This obviously less talented 2014 team, run by the same offensive coordinator, was a better team through five weeks than the 2019 version. The 2014 Falcons scored 151 points in the first five weeks and stood at 2-3, while the 2019 team has 102 points and is 1-4. The offensive line has been a limiting factor despite everything the team has poured into it, but while this Falcons team has more talent, they’ve been considerably worse.
That’s extremely depressing, but does indicate that the Falcons don’t have a massive rebuild in the offing on this side of the ball. A line with a healthy Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, and maybe Jamon Brown and Alex Mack should be good enough to win games in 2020, and the playmakers are still everywhere. It’s just unbelievable how bad they’ve been thus far in 2019.
2019 vs. 2014 Defense/Special Teams
You can gin up some sympathy for Dan Quinn and this coaching staff when you watch the Falcons blunder in ways that can’t simply be due to scheme, like the failure to find Will Fuller in zone coverage over and over again on Sunday. But then you look at the talent disparity between these two defenses and it makes you really, really mad.
There isn’t a single position where you can say with confidence that the Falcons were better in 2014 than they are in 2019. Not at defensive end, where Kroy Biermann and some combination of Tyson Jackson/Jonathan Babineaux/Malliciah Goodman was not inspiring even if Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley aren’t having huge years; certainly not at defensive tackle, where Grady Jarrett is a star and Tyeler Davison is pretty good; DEFINITELY not at linebacker, where Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell compared to Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu isn’t fair on paper and isn’t fair no matter how much Campbell struggles in 2019. Maybe at cornerback, where Desmond Trufant was terrific in 2014 and Robert Alford was quite good, but not at safety, where Keanu Neal/Kemal Ishmael and Ricardo Allen are better than 2014 Kemal Ishmael and Dwight Lowery. The talent disparity is massive.
Here, you’d expect the results to be better for the 2019 Falcons defense, but again you would be sadly mistaken. The Falcons have surrendered 152 points this year compared to 143 in 2014, and while things continued downhill in awful fashion for the Falcons in 2014, that’s pretty damn shameful given what Dan Quinn and company are working with.
Special teams is the same, though obviously everyone is older.
Mike Smith left this roster is abysmal shape, which is still the worst part of his otherwise fine legacy as Falcons coach. The team hadn’t nurtured young talent in years, and the result was largely a veteran team with a lousy defense and holes riddling the offense. He did, however, leave Dan Quinn building blocks he didn’t know were building blocks, including Devonta Freeman, Ricardo Allen, and Ryan Schraeder.
Dan Quinn will leave the next coach far more talent to work with, which is about the only positive note I can see at the moment in this bleak year. The new regime is likely to clear out several high-priced players and is almost certainly not bringing back guys like Vic Beasley and De’Vondre Campbell, but even so there’s a legitimate foundation, and a turnaround shouldn’t take all that long if the right staff is brought in.
Unfortunately, comparing 2014 to 2019 just makes you feel worse about what we’ve seen thus far.