Throughout my time writing about the Atlanta Falcons, they have been great at marketing the team. I’ve spent several years in marketing, and the measure of success really boils down whether people think you’re good at what you do. That’s harder to sell in football where the results are wins and losses and concrete statistics, but it’s still a sometimes herculean effort.
Atlana’s been better over the last decade or so than they have been at any point in franchise history, but when you’re selling greatness, there’s still work to be done. After two 7-9 seasons when the results are lackluster and the owner has made the controversial decision to keep the front office and coaching staff more or less intact, that work is even more difficult.
Credit the Falcons PR staff and marketing staff for selling Todd Gurley and Dante Fowler Jr. as transformative additions to the team, even if we knew in our heart of hearts that they’re great players but incapable of transforming this squad. Credit them for convincing many fans that changes in the coaching staff and better health for core players was going to make a difference that somehow didn’t arrive in “must-win” seasons in both 2018 and 2019. They did their job, and they should be praised for it.
The problem, again and again, is that the work that marketing teams do to make a product look great don’t actually make the product great. The Falcons reminded us of that on Sunday, when a team that matched up well on paper against a re-tooling Seahawks squad managed to lose by 13 points in a game that was actually worse at points than the final score indicates. As good as Matt Ryan and this receiving corps are, and as promising as the pass rush looks after the last couple of years, they couldn’t keep Atlanta competitive with Seattle at all.
It’s very possible I’ll live to regret this article in the coming weeks as the Falcons truly rally and show us what they’re made of, but I’m not sure so that will be the case. Atlanta has kept players and coaches and executives around with the expectation that they’ll be able to restore this team to 2016 glory, but with every passing week and month it becomes more evident that they’re not going to get there with the group in place. The additions to the roster don’t make up for the subtractions, and the shuffling of the coaching staff isn’t leading to better outcomes. The Falcons are a .500ish team with the talent to be more but the will and planning to be exactly that, and the fact that that’s unpleasant and unfortunate does not mean we can ignore it.
Atlanta comes to a long overdue crossroads, then. They can be the team the talent on hand suggests they are and stick their thumbs in the eyes of critics, myself included, who think their marketing team is far more talented than their coaching staff. Or they can be what too many us have come to believe they are, and prove once and for all that you can’t get the same calories from sizzle that you can from steak.