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The Falcons could finish 7-9 again, but how does the 2019 team stack up against 2018?

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It’s very possible the Falcons could have the same record both years, but obtained in very different ways.

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Falcons will, for the second straight season, finish the year against Tampa Bay with a chance to go 7-9 on the season. Ahead of that game, I was curious to see whether those two virtually identical records might be matched by virtually identical high level statistics on offense and defense.

Reader, they are not. Read on to see where the biggest differences have been.

Offense

Consider there is a single game yet to be played here, so these numbers will change. The takeaway is still crystal clear.

Falcons Offense 2019 vs. 2018

Year Points Total Yards Yards Per Play Turnovers Passing Yards Passing Touchdowns Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns 1st Downs
Year Points Total Yards Yards Per Play Turnovers Passing Yards Passing Touchdowns Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns 1st Downs
2019 353 5702 5.7 24 4428 28 1274 10 355
2018 414 6226 6.2 18 4653 36 1573 11 352

The Falcons had a better offense in 2018, despite having a stretch of four straight games where they scored fewer than 20 points. The 2018 version of this offense would need to score 61 points, pass for 225 yards, and run for 299 on Sunday just to equal their 2018 production, and they’re only on track to do one of those things.

The thing that really stands out is how much more efficient last year’s offense was, and that offense was considered underachieving to the extent that the team felt comfortable firing Steve Sarkisian. Under Koetter, they are averaging a half yard less per play, have turned the ball over six more times already, have been a lesser team on the ground despite the likelihood that they finish the year with more carries, and have been notably off the pace when it comes to scoring. For further context, the 2019 Falcons have run just one fewer play than they did in all of 2018 (1,009 vs. 1,010), making the lack of scoring and general production even more glaring.

There is no way to spin this positively, and it confirms what most fans have been suggesting all season long: Koetter was a bad hire.

If the Falcons do keep Dan Quinn, they’ll have an interesting decision to make with their offensive coordinator yet again. Keeping Koetter would be a dangerous move given how disappointing this season has been and given that he has a long track record to suggest that he isn’t going to magically elevate this team in a second year, but firing him would mean starting over again to some degree on offense and that would be unpalatable if Quinn’s around because the team would be trying to contend. If they clean house with the coaching staff, it’s a much easier call.

The one positive is that Atlanta has picked it up a bit in the second half of the season, scoring 188 points through seven games compared to just 165 in the first half of the season. Better line play and modest improvements on Koetter’s part have allowed Atlanta to be fairly productive in the second half, even if they’ve had the benefit of teeing off on some truly crummy teams. If you’re already considering keeping this team more or less intact, you can squint and find enough on offense to keep that thought rolling, even if you really shouldn’t.

Either way, the Falcons have to do something. They remain too talented to produce like this, and I don’t view just bringing Koetter back and counting on improvement as a realistic solution.

Defense

It took an agonizingly long time to materialize—the Falcons were on pace to be worse than 2018 in every major defensive category at the bye—but the improvement is real, noticeable, and will be reflected in the final statistics even if the Falcons don’t have a great day against Tampa Bay.

Falcons Defense 2019 vs. 2018

Year Points Total Yards Yards Per Play Turnovers Passing Yards Passing Touchdowns Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns 1st Downs
Year Points Total Yards Yards Per Play Turnovers Passing Yards Passing Touchdowns Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns 1st Downs
2019 377 5364 5.7 17 3725 26 1639 13 316
2018 423 6152 6 19 4153 33 1999 16 375

The Falcons would need to allow a whopping 46 points to the Bucs and nearly 800 yards to come out worse than they did last year, and as capable as Tampa Bay is of eviscerating this team, I doubt they’ll hit either mark. Atlanta’s not going to come out considerably better in most categories—thanks, first half!—but they will finish the year on a high note. Their second half results have been bonkers in comparison to where they were the previous 1.5 years.

We’ve been led astray by hot stretches and hot halves before, and there are personnel changes coming on defense that might diminish its strength. Even so, I do believe what we’re seeing here is at least somewhat sustainable, given that the Falcons have been good-to-great in six out of seven post-bye games thus far, and put forth a genuinely solid effort against the Seahawks just before the bye as well. They’ve also sustained that effort down the likes of Keanu Neal, Desmond Trufant, Takk McKinley and others, giving me hope that they can afford some attrition if they’re wise about who they do bring on.

If Quinn is back, again, the team needs to keep its current play calling configuration intact if possible, and resist the temptation to let Quinn assume control again for any reason after his stewardship buried the Falcons in 2019. If he’s gone, the new coach should strongly consider retaining Morris, Ulbrich or both unless he happens to be a defensive-minded guy with his own strong choice. They’ve worked some minor miracles to this point.

The defensive performance does work in Quinn’s favor, whether we all like that or not. His willingness to cede duties shows Arthur Blank he can make changes, and those changes can work, something many coaches wouldn’t have even considered doing before they were tossed bodily out the door. It shouldn’t be enough to get him back for 2020 by itself but I expect that it’s one of Blank’s major considerations, and it’s why I think Week 17 still may have some import for him. Tampa Bay blowing Atlanta off the field would be the kind of sour note that makes it clear this team has a way to go before figuring things out.

Overall

It’s striking how different this team is than it was a year ago, despite the ultimately similar records we’re expecting to see. The offense is diminished and the defense has righted the ship spectacularly in a way last year’s squad couldn’t quite manage, but only after spending most of the first half of the season making us cover our eyes in horror. The result is that I’m at least as concerned with the offense as the defense, something that hasn’t happened in a little while.

Ultimately, this comparison is useful for us but probably won’t move the needle for Arthur Blank, who is either going to take the massive second half improvement on defense (and smaller one on offense) to be the true measure of this team, or consider two straight 7-9 seasons on their merits as a whole when making his decision. The fact that this team is worse in some ways than the 2018 squad that led to sweeping changes to the coaching staff ought to give Blank—and everyone else involved with building this team—a lot of pause.