We’re at the halfway mark of the 2019 season, with next Sunday’s game against the Saints looming to tell us whether the Falcons have any surprises for us in the second half.
If we extrapolate first half performance into these final eight games, where will the team’s offense finish the year? The answer as a team is pretty disappointing, but for some individual performers, it’s probably close to the norm.
Points Scored: 330
Yards For: 6,164
How grim is this? The Falcons are on pace to put up their fewest points in a single season since 2007, and their yardage totals are much the same. They haven’t turned the ball over this much in many moons, either.
It would be hard to overstate how awful the Dirk Koetter hire looks right now. The Falcons offensive line was held together with duct tape a year ago, too, and still managed 414 points. Koetter has not been able to overcome injuries or scheme effectively to use this team’s host of weapons, and as a result his stay in Atlanta should be a very short one. When you take a very good offense and torpedo it, you ought to be held to account.
QB Matt Ryan
2019: 433/611, 70.8%, 4,650 yards, 7.6 YPA, 32 touchdowns, 17 interceptions
2018: 422/608, 69.4%, 4,924 yards, 8.1 YPA, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions
This has been a major off-year for Ryan, but when you look at everything but the interceptions, he’s more or less on track to enjoy a similar season to 2018 in one fewer game. His volume numbers are up because this team has been behind a lot, and he chucked a ton of picks in the first three games of the season. If the team can be more competitive in the second half, his attempts might deflate but hopefully his turnovers will stay down and his efficiency numbers will go up.
Overall, though, there’s little here to suggest that Ryan is declining or anything like that unless he chucks a ton of second half picks.
QB Matt Schaub
2019: 45/58, 77.6%, 525 yards, 9.1 YPA, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Schaub absolutely aired it out, but barring any further injuries to Matt Ryan, he’s probably back on the bench from here on out.
RB Devonta Freeman
2019: 184 carries, 666 yards, 3.6 YPC; 80 targets, 70 receptions, 544 yards, 7.8 YPR, 6 touchdowns,
2018: 14 carries, 69 yards, 4.9 YPC; 2 targets, 1 reception, 9 yards
Freeman’s 2018 was cruelly cut quite short, but he was off to a solid start before he was hurt. This year has largely been one long slog for Freeman, who can’t get it going behind an abysmal run blocking line and has found most of his success through the air.
Free’s not only being held back by the line, of course, as there are times he’s just a little slower to cut than he has been in the past. But he’s been a go-to option for Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub in the passing game and remains a solid blocker, and the team is obviously hoping offensive line improvement will lead to better outcomes for him in the second half of the season. It’s hard to see that happening, but it’d be nice for Freeman to crank it up a notch with a new coaching staff potentially on the way and a decision regarding his contract looming in the offseason.
I’m not going to bother projecting Ito Smith here because I am legitimately unsure how long it will take him to come back.
RB Brian Hill
2019: 24 carries, 120 yards, 5.0 YPC, 3 touchdowns; 6 targets, 6 receptions, 42 yards, 7.0 YPR
2018: 20 carries, 157 yards, 7.9 YPC; 2 targets, 1 reception, 9.0 YPR
Hill has all of 28 carries and three receptions to his name—let’s whistle past those numbers—yet even with that small sample size it feels like he’s being criminally underutilized by this team. With Ito Smith on the shelf for an indeterminate amount of time, Hill’s in line for a larger role, especially as the Falcons keep losing.
Hill is a restricted free agent in the offseason and is a player who should probably return, frankly, but Qadree Ollison looms over him most loomily.
WR Julio Jones
2019: 148 targets, 100 receptions, 1,424 yards, 14.2 YPR, 8 touchdowns
2018: 170 targets, 113 receptions, 1,677 yards, 14.8 YPR, 8 touchdowns
A year ago, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley had something like half of Julio’s targets on the year. This year, both Austin Hooper and Ridley are far closer, which is going to depress his overall numbers if things continue at this pace.
It’s sort of hilarious that 100/1,424/8 seems like a down year after 2018, because it’s still bigger and better numbers than 2016 and 2017, if a bit less efficiency for those numbers. You shouldn’t be surprised if those numbers lift if the offense finds its swing in the second half, but Julio will remain what he is: One of the game’s elite receivers.
WR Calvin Ridley
2019: 102 targets, 66 receptions, 886 yards, 13.4 YPR, 8 touchdowns
2018: 92 targets, 64 receptions, 821 yards, 12.8 YPR, 10 touchdowns
If anyone’s going to beat his projections for the year based on his first half performance, it’ll be Ridley. He’s got more targets now that Mohamed Sanu is gone to New England, he’s still got room to grow, and he’s still a big play waiting to happen.
For all that, though, he’s on track to finish wit ha slightly better year than he had a year ago, which would represent pretty stellar WR2 numbers for the year. I’m still waiting for Ridley to become the elite receiver he seems destined to be, but until then, he’ll just be a mighty effective one with quite a bit of week-to-week variance.
WR Russell Gage
2019: 34 targets, 22 receptions, 204 yards, 9.3 YPR
2018: 10 targets, 6 receptions, 63 yards, 10.4 YPR
Actually, Gage is probably the guy most likely to beat his projections. He pulled in more targets and receptions last week than expected, and while his game can improve, his speed and leaping ability alone ought to make him an attractive target going forward for Matt Ryan.
This is basically an extended audition for Gage for the third receiver job next year. If he’s just solid the team will probably look to supplant him, but if he can put on a show things could get interesting with no established options under contract to challenge him.
TE Austin Hooper
2019: 124 targets, 104 receptions, 1,182 yards, 11.4 YPR, 10 touchdowns
2018: 88 targets, 71 receptions, 660 yards, 9.3 YPR, 4 touchdowns
These are uncharted waters for Hooper, but the truth is that as he’s gotten better every year at the little things the team has asked him to do, his opportunity has grown and he’s made the most of it. His catch rate this year (83.9%) is not that far off from last year (80.7%), and there are no numbers here, however pretty, that suggest this is the kind of year that Hooper couldn’t replicate going forward.
That’s important because while those numbers could fall off a bit in the second half with Ridley and Gage set to gear up, Hooper is heading for a big contract and the team clearly wants to keep him. You’re looking for contract year mirages, and frankly, there’s not a lot of evidence that Hooper is doing anything but the kind of job that a tight end with crisp route running, excellent hands, and quality athleticism can do with a quarterback willing to target him.
He’s the likeliest Pro Bowler on this star-crossed team, to put it mildly.
TE Luke Stocker
2019: 18 targets, 12 receptions, 68 yards, 5.7 YPR
Stocker might struggle to hit even these modest projections, given that most of the times Ryan has missed him this season, the other team has wound up with an interception. Stocker has done a solid enough job this year, but his role has been smaller than expected and that’s probably fine.
It’s clear this offense has room for growth. Julio, Ridley, and Gage have a lot of room to pick it up in the second half if Matt Ryan is healthy and the offensive line gets at all on track, and Freeman basically cannot have a less efficient second half. One of the reason I think this team will win more games in the second half than the first is because they are clearly tracking well below where their talent suggests they should.
Depending on where you want them to finish in what is almost certainly a lost year, that’s either good news or bad news.