Through the first 9 games of the 2020 NFL season, we’ve seen two versions of the Falcons. The first version appeared from Weeks 1-5, and was an abomination on a football field. Atlanta’s defense through the first 5 games was easily the league’s worst. Despite a productive offense that frequently gave the team a lead, sometimes even a big one, they could not overcome Dan Quinn. The Falcons blew 16+ point leads in back-to-back games for the first time in NFL history, and seemed to find new and exciting ways to lose every week. Quinn was fired after another poor showing against the Panthers in Week 5.
The second version appeared after Raheem Morris was named the interim head coach. This team has managed to go 3-1 over the past 4 weeks. It hasn’t always been pretty—the team blew a last-minute lead to the Lions and nearly blew a huge lead to the Broncos on Sunday—but it’s clear that this version of the team is at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. The offense is still hamstrung by a thoroughly mediocre offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter, and the defense is now just below-average instead of league-worst, but they’re a better team in all phases.
Would the Falcons be a playoff juggernaut if Quinn had been fired last season and a new coaching staff had been put in place for 2020? I don’t know. Possibly. I do find it hard to believe that they would’ve been worse than the team under Quinn, however.
Even this team under Raheem Morris for the entirety of the season would have likely been competitive for the playoffs, though. There simply aren’t any dominant teams in the NFC this season, and a whole lot of average ones. It’s clear to me this Falcons team could be average, at least, even with Koetter calling the shots on offense.
Take a look around: the Saints are the worst they’ve been in years. The Bucs just laid an egg on the road and clearly aren’t as dangerous as they appeared early in the year. Seattle’s defense is an atrocity. The Packers have similar issues, and the Falcons were up 16+ points on the Bears before...well, you know. Atlanta could have been a player in the NFC this year, even if they weren’t likely to be a Super Bowl contender.
I long to see the Falcons reach their potential. The offense is overflowing with talent at WR, and the offensive line has been about as good as we could have hoped. After a slow start, Matt Ryan has been playing at a high level. Todd Gurley is managing to find the endzone—and decent production—in spite of Koetter’s run game. The pieces were clearly here for a top-5 offense, if it was executed properly. It hasn’t been.
On defense, the simple introduction of blitzing regularly seems to have made all the difference. This isn’t a unit brimming with talent, particularly in the pass rushing department, but they do have a stout run defense and some excellent LBs. Even the secondary has begun to play a little bit better, with rookie A.J. Terrell coming on and Darqueze Dennard finally returning from injury. Keanu Neal has also returned to his hard-hitting self and seems confident again.
If the Seahawks can be 6-2 with the league’s worst defense, there’s no reason the Falcons couldn’t be .500 or better. They should be better. But they aren’t, and it’s sad to see another year of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones prime be wasted with a lackluster coaching staff.
Perhaps Raheem Morris really can pull off a miracle by winning out and taking this team to the playoffs. But he shouldn’t have to, because there was absolutely no reason for the Falcons to start the season 0-5. That atrocious start guarantees we’ll never get to see the full potential of this squad.